How-To get Senior leaders bought in to Automation program

As soon as a business gets involved in automation many teams immediately run out to hire a developer and start building their automated processes. But without getting senior stakeholders and their teams bought in to this revolutionary new technology, most teams hit brick walls, momentum and progress slows down and sometimes delivery holts. 

There are many things an automation team must do before they start automating but the Number One thing that will make your automation program succeed or fail is to get senior buy-in.  Without this, it will inevitable cause your team a lot of frustration and pain.


I’d like to walk you through my 10-stage step-by-step approach for getting key stakeholders excited about what Intelligent Automation can do and how it can benefit them

Senior stakeholders will accelerate your progress and supercharge your delivery. Many challenges and pitfalls that I’ve seen new teams make time and time again stem from not getting Top-down buy-in.



Do’s and don’ts

Did you know that over 50 percent of businesses have less than 10 bots and less than 5% have over 200 bots?

If most businesses, no matter what size they are, have hundreds of automation suitable processes, why are so many businesses struggling to scale?



One reason is that many newbie automation teams will try to do a bottom-up approach where they get the buy-in from the teams to start automating and then try to work their way up get senior stakeholders brought in. The issue with this approach is that process experts though generally happy to work with he automation team and excited about  technology, they have their day job and before long may become unavailable or have limited time.

This is why getting senior management support your program early is key. They can carve out sufficient time for their process owners and subject matter expert to give your projects the attention and commitment it needs to deliver solutions.  For example just mapping out the current state of a process may require a few iterations and revisions to get it right and designing the solution take a bit of coordinating to get the right experts in a workshop and designing the solution take a bit of coordinating to get the right experts in a workshop. Your teams also need access to applications and test data to build a robust solution, all this requires commitment from the team and management.



Not having commitment and sufficient time with the team, can tempt new automation teams to cut corners, leaving out the process experts and end-users from critical milestones. It isn’t advisable to just design it  and develop the automation yourself without being sure it’s what the business team wants or assuming your analysts know enough about the process.

Professional automation teams know the importance of co-designing solutions with the business team. In fact this is paramount. The business teams know the process, its issues and are aware of any pending changes. They know why exceptions happen from time-to-time, they know where the application glitches. They are best  placed to know (with your tech knowledge and guidance) how the process can be improved and design a solution which is fit-for-purpose.

Even if an analyst in your team used to do the process and can re-design it themselves without the teams help, it’s not good practice to impose changes on staff teams. By getting staff involved the solution becomes their solution and there’s a greater chance it will actually be used. Remember it’s people first, then it’s process and technology



RPA is a powerful tool but it’s not a silver bullet. Automation teams need to make it very clear to the business that this is not a quick fix, and it can’t fix everything. Yes, it can be implemented in a little as four to six weeks for certain simple processes, or maybe a few months, but it still requires significant time spent with the business users to get it right. Automation shouldn’t be rushed. Cutting corners just leads to technical debt,  basically where you pay for it  later on in support costs for fixes, change requests and re-builds.



Getting senior buy-in is challenging. Here are 10 steps I use to get TOP-DOWN buy-in to accelerate Automation programs:


Step1 – Senior leadership awareness

Gaining and keeping senior stakeholders excited and bought-in is challenging. Automation Programs work best when the Automation sponsor is from the C-suite or has their backing.

The senior leadership team are directors and heads of departments and their subordinates.  They are very busy and their time is scarce. Furthermore, they most likely aren’t fully aware of what intelligent automation is or what is can do so they require some education on how it can benefit their division and help them meet their corporate objective.

You may only have one opportunity with them, so the first thing to include in your presentation is a high-level view of how your technologies work, and highlight key benefits that Intelligent automation can bring their teams and the central role it plays in Digital Transformation.


Step2 – Use case studies

This is the second thing you should include in your presentation.  Case studies shows that while they are not automating, their competitors already are succeeding and benefiting from this technology. Industry-based use cases can also identify the hidden potential in the business that is ready to be unlocked by your Automation team


Step3 – Build-a-bot sessions

If you have time, this can make a last impress for hesitant stakeholders who aren’t sold on the technology. It’s also something fun and interactive. A Build-a-bot session is where you have senior stakeholders build a very basic robot in a workshop. The purpose of this is to show them how simple and fast-to-implement automation really is, and unlike other technologies can add immediate value.

Have attendees chose a simple but useful process to automation, like sorting their emails or automating their expenses. They will see what goes into building a bot, how they (with minimal training) were able to easily build something useful, and they can actually then and there, see immediate value and real time-savings from the 30-60minute session

If you don’t have the time for them to build the robots themselves then run a demo (preferably recorded) of you building one yourself.


Step4 – Create a Proof of Concept (POC)

A proof of concept is a simple, low-cost method for showing the business that RPA and Intelligent Automation works well on the business’s infrastructure and applications. This is better than a generic demo, this proves that not only can this technology stack work in their working environment, but also that your Automation team is capable of delivering robust automated solutions quickly.


Step5 – Staff Automation 101 Roadshow

This is where you’re team is visiting the different areas of the business (or department) and answering the question “What’s in it for me?”. By now your senior stakeholders are bought in, they’ve seen the proof of concept but you still need to take the rest of the business along the digital transformation journey with you, if this is going to be a smooth ride.

Roadshows get staff teams (the process experts who will be working closely with your automation team, interacting with and working alongside these digital workers) excited about the potential benefits automation can bring them. This requires answering sensitive questions, squashing myths and misconceptions. Intelligent Automation has a wider range of capabilities that can benefit the team and the individual.

Show team managers and staff real examples they can relate to, have them trigger an email sorting process, or a tedious copy-and-pasting process, and empathise the benefits on user experience, customer experience and work-life balance, as this is a technology which should be celebrated, not hidden from the masses.


Step6 – Nominate automation champions

An Automation Champions is someone in each team or business department who can be an advocate for your program and keep the excitement and enthusiasm going.

They should be in an influential position, so someone who’s fairly senior. By giving them extra training on Automation, they can be your eyes and ears within teams to look for opportunities, gain feedback on staff’s true opinions and apprehension and they can sell the benefits. 


Step7 – Create an Opportunities map


Creating an Opportunities map is a high-level view of all the opportunities that exist throughout your business, in each department. By gathering high level information on different teams and their activities, heads of department and team managers can see where the potential savings lies across their entire business area.

This is a great visual to show the senior leadership team all the opportunities so that they can align on how you’re Automation team should prioritise projects and roll this out company wide. With alignment and excitement on the size of the opportunities, the next step is to put your best foot forward by carefully choosing the target team to start


Step8 – Find the target team

 The targeted pilot team should be a team which is rich in opportunities which are easy and fast to implement, and will deliver significant benefit.

These opportunities should be small enough so they can be delivered fast (because as a pilot the pressure will be on to deliver something, and something too big could kill momentum and stall your program!), but big enough so that the benefits can be felt by the team (if it’s a small seemingly “pointless” project, stakeholders will lose faith in the technologies ability to impact the bottom line).

Also, the target team should be readiness technically (so no pending changes to major applications), and business ready (teams have sufficient cover to allow for process experts can dedicate sufficient time on automation projects).


Step9 – Generate your shortlist

With your target team carefully chosen, your team can work with the business to build a short list of the best opportunities to start with. These are the BEST opportunities, in the BEST team, out of all the teams/departments that your team have reviewed.

It’s important to not let the business dictate what should be on your shortlist without considering your data-backed recommendations. The business understandably will want to start with the biggest most painful project in their team, but as mentioned early, if you don’t start small and go too big too early, this could kill all the hard work you have done in the last 8 steps!


Step10 – Create a Proof of Value (POV)

So, to recap on your achievements:

Teams and the SLT are excited, you’ve scanned the business for loads of automation opportunities (to be added to your backlog), key stakeholders are aligned on how to roll out this technology out, and the priority in which to do this.

Finally, it’s time to run a Proof of value. More than a proof of concept, you’re building a real solution, running a full automation project, that will deliver real value to the business. This will be the proof in the pudding, where all stakeholders will see how your team can quickly implement a solution which can deliver tangible savings and other benefits in-year. Yes, a project that makes net savings in a matter of months.

This also is a test of your implementation process and governance model (right first-time can’t always be expected so you will refine this as you go along). Having a repetitive process for churning out automation solutions on demand will be crucial for maintaining a stead “drumbeat” for your program. Now that you’ve delivered the proof of value, and have a shortlist of “Quick Wins” in your target pilot team (as well as a long list of opportunities in your backlog), perfecting your repeatable governance model will be a vital tool in achieving Digital Transformation. Let’s call that …step 11.   



Which of these10 steps you need to take depends on how mature and far along your automation journey your team is right now. Once you’ve achieved all 10 steps mentioned above, it becomes a no-brainer for senior stakeholders to be fully bought-in and heavily invest in supporting your Intelligent Automation program. You’ve shown in real time how this technology can alleviate their pains and deliver on many of their objectives faster than any alternative solution.



Subscribe to my YouTube channel Tony IA (Intelligent Automation, Simplified) for videos created weekly, to simplify intelligent automation for business leaders and professionals who are new to automation to level-up your knowledge. Become empowered on how you optimise your business and discover new technologies, in a lean and accelerate way. You can also learn more from my book, Business @ the Speed of Bots: The AEIO YOU method HOW TO IMPLEMENT ROBOTIC PROCESS AUTOMATION THAT SCALES. Get ready for the new digital transformation age for more information. The foreword is written by Guy Kirkwood, who is the Chief Evangelist at UiPath, and a very well-known advocate of RPA with over 20 years of experience in outsourcing.


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