4 Tips for Engaging Your Executives in SharePoint

4 Tips for Engaging Your Executives in SharePoint

You may have snuck SharePoint Foundation 2010 under the radar, or it was an official but unfunded project. You’re trying to figure out how to get the support you need for the new intranet the organization needs or to extend it to the Internet so you can get partners engaged and get some real value from the platform.

However, you can’t seem to find an executive sponsor to drive the project forward.

All of the “experts” keep saying that you need to get executive sponsorship or executive buy-in, but they’re noticeably absent on how to make that happen. So here are four tips on how to get your executives to buy into SharePoint:

1. It’s not about SharePoint and it’s not about technology. What I see most frequently when people are having trouble selling SharePoint to executives is that they’re trying to sell SharePoint. The word “SharePoint” simply shouldn’t come up in your conversation with an executive.

I understand that’s what you believe the solution is, but the executive doesn’t care what the solution is. Executives have a set of organizational problems and they don’t care whether it’s SharePoint, .NET, PHP, or voodoo that solves them. (As long as it’s not their head that gets shrunk.) Don’t speak of technology or SharePoint unless you get a specific question from the business about how you’re going to make it happen.

2. Find a real, tangible, and urgent business problem, and then talk about it. Executives are paid to solve organizational problems. The more tangible or concrete the problem, the easier it is for them to commit to a solution. The more urgent it is, the more willing they will be to commit to the solution quickly.

The good news is that SharePoint can be used to solve a wide variety of problems, so you have a huge palette of options to draw from. For example, you might want to look for the CEO whose email to an attorney, with sensitive information, was intercepted. Then talk about secure collaboration with attorneys, CPA firms, and other trusted advisors via SharePoint as an extranet.

Or perhaps find the HR person who’s struggling with employee retention and explain how employee surveys can help pinpoint the retention problem, and how employees who feel more connected to the organization through having a portal for news are less likely to leave.

Maybe you should wander by the VP of research and development’s office to find out about their project management or knowledge capture needs. Then you can explain how to reduce the burden of analyzing a mountain of test data.

If you don’t know how to get started, sit in the break room and listen to the complaints and frustrations of your co-workers. Often the issues of the organization are discussed more candidly in the break room than in the board room.

3. Propose a solution, or, at the very least, a partial solution. To the business, what is needed is more than a tool, it’s more than a platform, and it’s a solution that’s necessary. You can’t just say, “Let’s install SharePoint.”

You have to explain how the solution fits together to solve the problem. You might know the solution when you walk into the executive’s office, but don’t propose it immediately. Offer to think about the problem and propose a solution later.

In the case of the sharing information problem, you want to propose that the entire solution includes getting the external users set up, managing their passwords, and training both internal and external users. Ideally, when you show the solution, you’ll want to have a mock up, prototypes, or a sample SharePoint site to demonstrate how the solution will work. This makes it real.

Sometimes, as IT people, we forget that even partial solutions to problems can have value. We’re taught that we have to solve the problem completely. The business realizes that sometimes partial solutions are valuable too. If you can solve enough of the problem to add value, that’s enough. Do, however, make sure that you’re direct about the parts of the problem you know you can’t solve.

4. Do your part. Dropping off the beautiful solution in the executive’s office isn’t the last step. The last step is to follow through. Remember, executives are busy people. You’ll need to follow up on the plan, ask what’s missing, learn more about the problem, and perhaps modify the plan to support new things you’ve learned. The good news: Once you’ve solved one problem for an executive, they’ll likely come back to you for their next challenge.

You might find the support you need for your SharePoint collaboration or intranet project--but you might find that support not because of SharePoint but because you’re using SharePoint to solve a business problem that an executive cares about.


Robert Bogue is a Microsoft MVP for SharePoint, an internationally renowned speaker, and author of 22 books including the SharePoint Shepherd’s Guide for End Users. You can find out more about Robert’s work to encourage business value out of SharePoint at the SharePoint Shepherd website  or more about his technical solutions at Thor Projects.  

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