We've all heard the age-old saying, "Be the change you want to see," and that's especially important in the plight to level the business playing field for Black entrepreneurs. Tiffany Johnson, corporate manager at Amazon, is one such person who decided to do just that, mastering how to pitch an idea at work and winning.
By sheer observation within her community and while participating in a key role with the company's Black Employee Network (BEN), Tiffany found that Black sellers are underrepresented. "In 2019, I transitioned into a sales role where I assist sellers in the U.S. and help them expand into Canada and Mexico. During that role, I was able to grow many of my seller's accounts to millions of dollars," she said.
"Seeing that as a Black woman who grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., it was really impactful because I just didn't know that people made that much money on Amazon. Being able to influence these small businesses to create high impact in their communities--that was eye-opening for me."
She thought it was important to make more Black entrepreneurs aware of how much of an "economic engine" Amazon is. "Talking to my friends, thinking about my experience growing up, and seeing how my parents built different businesses—this is something I knew they weren't aware of," she added. "That really led me to thinking, 'What if we were able to build a program to build awareness around Amazon within the Black community?"
Image by Lucas Jackson/Amazon
In seeking to find an opportunity to serve and build a solution, she teamed up with colleagues Jeremy Erdman and Rachad Lewis to bring the Black Business Accelerator to life, forging a $150 million pledge to provide Black entrepreneurs financial support, strategic business guidance, and mentorship, and marketing and promotional opportunities.
Getting the initiative greenlit took research, planning, collaboration, and pitching, and we can all take a nod from Johnson on how to spark innovation, build initiatives to serve communities, or back important values that we're passionate about at work.
Check out a few tips from Tiffany's journey on how you can step up your leadership game at your company and empower others—and yourself.
1. Get to know your company's mission, values, and cultural protocol to create the best plan for approach in pitching your idea.
Tiffany had learned about the company culture and mission during the interview process as well as in her early days as an employee. She'd watch and observe. "At Amazon, we pride ourselves in thinking about the customers and working backward," Tiffany added. "I had to tell the story of why this product is needed and what problem it was solving."
As in Tiffany's experience, it's always a good idea to know the ins and outs of the company as well as the people to whom you're pitching to. So, actually read your company's handbook (yes, that huge packet they give new hires) and brush up on your company's mission statement, bylaws, or principles. Talk to coworkers and keep an open line of communication with not only your manager, but those who are in leadership in other departments (if not against any company rules, policies, or ethics.)
Keep up with any interoffice or online news of company wins, business strategy implementations, promotions, and failures. This will surely help you to learn more about career moves and communication methods that work and those that just don't, and it will allow you to get to know the types of things that hold merit for leaders at your company.
Clockwise from left, Tiffany Johnson, Rashad Lewis
Image by Lucas Jackson/Amazon
2. Find collaborators and supporters who will back your idea and help bring it to life.
To have a fighting chance at a yes for a proposal or idea, the more support and help you can get, the better. "At the time, I was still pretty new into sales, and [Rachad] was my onboarding buddy who was helping me ramp up in my role," Tiffany recalled. "I went to him and said, 'Hey what if we had a program similar to what we're doing now, for minority businesses on Amazon?'
Rachad connected Tiffany to "the right stakeholders," including Jeremy, another colleague who was building a platform for employees to pitch their ideas. "I got in contact with Jeremy and he gave me the link to that accelerator program. I wrote the first one-pager and submitted my idea. This was July 2019. You have to get the right people in the room to pitch your idea to."
Just as Tiffany did, it's ideal to think about the people whose jobs or everyday work might be impacted by your idea or concept, and try to align yourself with them. Also, look into company resources or programs that call for presenting new ideas or proposals or that support the change you'd like to see. Think of the benefits in a holistic way in terms of why your company should back your idea and what tangible results will come from it (i.e. revenue boost, better employee satisfaction, expansion of customer base, or increased brand presence) versus general things like "It's just a good idea," or "Everybody's doing it."
3. Do your research and allow the data to drive the pitch home.
"When we fast-forward to COVID-19, over 40% of Black businesses had been impacted, which is a big deal, but only 6% of Black businesses make up the retail space," Tiffany added. "When you're pitching such a huge program to leaders, it's important that whatever your story says, it builds that trust. I think, for the most part, it was a matter of reading the data."
Whether it's implementing incentive programs for your team, asking for a raise, or even pushing for something as seemingly small as new chairs for your office, having numbers or insights to back up your why can mean the difference between getting a slow yes or a quick no. And even researching the process and impact of implementation (ie. who is supposed to hear you out, what departments should be notified, or any possible tax or legal issues that might arise) to be able to answer questions or address opposition is important.
No matter what your game-changing idea is, be inspired by Tiffany's journey to make millions of dollars in resources available to Black sellers on Amazon, and be smart in setting your plan in motion to turn a dream into reality.
Featured image via Getty Images