You have an awesome idea to improve product packaging. You feel the pain of the people who work for you and your peers (not to mention your own pain). You’ve got an idea to help digitize the packaging process by introducing a process change or a technology change, but every time you think of bringing it up to your boss, you’re at a loss for words. What to say?

For design and packaging leaders looking to reduce rework and improve communication while pulling brand colors throughout the process and introducing new materials to make designs pop, understanding what attracts leaders to an idea is critical to gaining executive support.  

For the designer who aspired to be the change agent and transform not just one department, but how the entire value chain operates by digitizing the process and implementing quality tools, learning which levers constitute a real business case for change is absolutely imperative.

Unfortunately, sometimes we, the ones who so easily empathize with the consumer, the user, the audience – yes, we are the ones who lack empathy for the very people we work for.

Supposedly, the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, but I’m here to tell you that the way to an executive’s heart (i.e., their support and approval), is through five specific words.

So, let me give you a peek into the five elements executives really want when it comes to a big idea. Cover these five elements that drive leaders and you’ll get their attention and get the results you desire.

5 Crucial Elements of a Big Idea

Visibility. Executives’ hunger for information is greater than any teenager who was grounded and missed a party on a Friday night or any expectant parent about to have an ultrasound. Your VP didn’t get to where they are because they turned a blind eye to problems or because they were content to leave processes behind a big black velvet curtain. Executives want to know facts. They want to see where projects are in the process. When you give an executive visibility, you give them understanding and more control over the specifics of the process. Visibility helps leaders to identify and clarify issues objectively, with their own eyes.

Risk. Part of gaining visibility is shining a light on potential risks in the process in efforts to reduce risk. It’s the ethical imperative of an executive to reduce risks in as many ways as possible. Risks from packaging could include the risk of product recall due to incorrect information on packaging, rejection by the retailer or the shopper if packaging doesn’t ‘look right,’ incorrect forecasting that leads to excessive inventory or rush production costs. When executives hear that risk is reduced, they gain confidence not just in the outcomes, but in the fact that you understand and respect the great responsibility that is on their shoulders.

Cost. Business is about math. The income has to be more than the expense. This can be hard for some of us creative and collaborative types to remember. Executives are held to their cost and revenue forecasts with exacting specificity by their bosses and the company owner or shareholders. You absolutely have to show that you’re reducing costs (at least in the long-term) in order to get executive attention and support. When you do this, you show that the business matters to you just as much as your project or your request and that there are desirable outcomes at a future point, like a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Also, executives secretly abhor the massive cost that packaging creation and production incurs to the business. They don’t know why it costs so much, so tell them digitizing the process will help cut costs.

Quality. Most executives are at least familiar with Lean principles. They know that improving quality in the process, especially early on in the process, will reduce costs and speed things up. When each person at every step in the value chain receives and contributes high quality work, everything runs more smoothly and that’s very satisfying for everyone involved. Productivity also increases when quality improves, which often means your company will make more money. Seriously, when you tell executives that your idea will improve quality and help preserve high quality throughout the process, they see the dollar signs and they’re hooked.

Responsiveness. If you haven’t noticed, your boss loves it when you respond to their requests quickly, completely and accurately. (I have worked directly with Presidents and CEOs for 11 years now and I’ll tell you, this makes you indispensable.) Beyond your personal brand, in terms of overall process, the ability to respond quickly is a cost-reducer and money-maker all in one punch (like quality above).

The two ways to get to the finish line faster are to run faster (be more productive) and to shorten the distance (remove sections of track). If you can show that your idea helps people work faster or removes steps (small or large) from the process altogether, you will show that you’re increasing speed to market, which is more than just cutting costs, it’s potentially increasing revenue (now you’re in the money). Responsiveness is also about being a better, more agile competitor. I’d go so far as to say it’s essential for survival to have the ability to respond quickly, whether to competitors’ moves, to changes in consumer preference, to changes in trend or to changes in regulatory requirements.

Two tactical ways to get your boss to pay attention: make your idea visual and summarize on one page.

Here’s an example. Because packaging is complex, my colleagues and I have created a framework, The Digital Maturity Model for Brand Packaging, to help illustrate and organize the benefits of disrupting packaging with digital technologies and processes. We share this with executives almost every day. It helps them understand their current position as well as where they’d like to be in the future, and which tools and processes can be implemented to get there; feel free to share it when you’re making your business case.

When you can translate your ideas to improve packaging into your boss’s language, the language of business, you demonstrate empathy and you’re much more likely to be successful in gaining her or his support for your idea. There is so much improvement to be made in packaging, so many extra steps and rework to be removed, so much opportunity to improve quality. What are you waiting for?