Leadership buy in – four tips for internal comms success

Paul Summerhill

Paul Summerhill

As a group of internal communicators, the committee members have a wealth of experience and exertise between them. They each share somethoughts and ideas with us on a regular basis. This latest post is from Paul Summerhill who works at Lockheed Martin, where he develops, plans, co-ordinates and conducts internal communications, employee engagement and community outreach activities across UK/Europe, the Middle East, Australia and Canada. He shares his tips for getting leadership buy in on internal communication projects and making them successful. Over to Paul:


Many great ideas pitched to business leaders, whether it’s on Dragons Den or a new way to engage or inform employees, are often discarded because they never fully get the support they need to be successful.

Given the nature of our role, generally internal communicators already have close working relationships with senior leaders in their organisations. However, that doesn’t mean obtaining support is always easy.

There’s no guaranteed formula for securing leadership buy in, but over the last 20 years, having had a number of good (and some great) ideas consigned to the desk drawer, I’ve got some tips that may help.

  1. What’s in it for me?

Whether it’s a divisional leader, finance director (FD), managing director (MD) or chief executive, be clear in how your project benefits them. What motivates/interests them and does your idea address that?

  1. Is it easy to understand?

You’re dealing with intelligent people, with years of business acumen, but you’re the internal communication professional and you may speak a language they don’t fully understand. Avoid internal communications / employee engagement jargon and explain it in detail in their own language i.e. the language of business – what’s the business benefit and how does it impact the bottom line in terms of the £s, $s or €s.

If you can use the points above to gain their Awareness and Interest, then the next two points, should help progress your cause and gain their Desire and Action to support. I know AIDA is primarily associated with marketing, but isn’t the leadership part of our customer base? The difference is that we shouldn’t try to sell them our idea. We want them to work with us to develop it into the final product for the benefit of our end users – our employees.

  1. Help your leaders become ambassadors

You need your leaders to be as enthusiastic about your idea as you are, by giving them the information and tools they need – when they need it. I once developed a new approach for a senior leadership conference. Although I was confident it would work – as was the MD – my failure to involve the rest of the leadership team at an early stage nearly resulted in them withdrawing support, when they were due to play critical roles on the day.

  1. Collaboration leads to shared ownership

That close call meant that future conferences and internal comms projects weren’t just briefed to the MD and FD, but the whole of the management team at an early stage. Their comments and ideas generated through discussion and debate (from the outset – not a week before implementation) improved the various projects as they developed. They each then had a joint interest in ensuring it succeeded, as they all owned it.


It’s important that when thinking of key stakeholders to help develop your ideas, you’re sure to think of who the key influencers are on the route to development and implementation, rather than just your organisational hierarchy. For example, given the events I’ve run generate as many comments about the food as the content, the catering team can play a key role!


A simple method…

I personally like the Engage for Success employee engagement model, and I try to apply it to all aspects of my own communications and particularly when I’m developing a new internal comms project, as I find it combines the above:

I’m clear on the Strategic Narrative – how this activity will support business objectives

I ensure everyone involved in implementing the activity has a Voice in its development

I involve Managers so they know what’s planned and how it impacts them

And finally, I do my utmost to ensure the activity delivers what was promised at the outset and minimise the ‘Say Do Gap’.

As I say, there’s no guarantee it’ll work, but the above has stood me in good stead and hopefully others will share their top tips too!


Thanks to Paul for sharing his thoughts on leadership buy in. What has been your experience? Any particularly tricky situations or projects that have needed a different approach to make an impact? We’d love to hear your top tips and any pros and cons you’d add to these? Get in touch if you have a story to share: ciprinside@gmail.com

Image credit: Featured image splashbase.co CCO Dan & Levi


Does your internal communication make an impact?

CIPR Inside’s next annual internal communication conference is on 13 October, and the day is full of award-winning communicators who will share with us what they have done in their organisations to make a real difference with their internal communication. Find out more here

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *