Asynchronous buy-in

“What if your boss doesn’t get it?”

Someone asked me this in a recent ADPList mentoring session. The person asking had devised a unique user research approach and pitched it to his boss and had gotten a green light… only to realize from comments later that his boss hadn’t really understood the approach.

This is a practical question that comes up in a lot of real-world scenarios: pitching an approach to your team, selling stakeholders on a solution, etc.

Hidden inside the question are two implicit questions:

  • how do you pitch an idea?
  • how do you make sure you got your idea across clearly?

I won’t spend a lot of time on how to pitch an idea. Dan Mall recently wrote a great article about pitching that you should read. The takeaway is that when you’re pitching someone, make sure you understand what incentives are motivating them and be clear about the value of what you’re proposing.

I’m more interested in that second point, because it’s where people often get hung up, especially when pitching something complex. I’ve been guilty of this before. I recommend a complex approach that has too much nuance for adequate discussion in the meeting. People agree in general, but there’s enough ambiguity that they might not know exactly what they’ve agreed to.

Ideally, you would prepare details in advance, but that doesn’t always happen. And even with all the details, there’s often a lot of personal dynamics at play in meetings. Some folks don’t want to look dumb by asking for clarification. Some folks (like managers) may be sensitive to power dynamics and pretend to understand, fully intending to do their own research later.

So how do you ensure you got your idea across clearly? It depends on what you’re pitching, of course, but I often employ a useful little technique I like to call “asynchronous buy-in.”

Find small, digestible ways to reinforce or further explain your idea asynchronously after the proposal.

For example:

  • Send out a meeting recap that succinctly summarizes your proposal
  • Use a frequent update channel like a newsletter or team blog to explain further your proposal and its value
  • Record a Loom (or other short video) and walk through the more complex parts of your proposal

These small artifacts don’t just educate, they provide asynchronous ways to clarify and convince people of the merits of your proposal (and welcome feedback in lower-pressure settings).

Jesse Gardner

Up Next: In praise of generalists...

← Full Archives

Design Systems Daily

Sign up to get daily bite-sized insights in your inbox about design systems, product design, and team-building:

New to design systems?
Start with my free 30-day email course →