I walked to my desk and flung my diary. It thudded loudly and jolted my teammates out of their seats.
“What happened?” Arun asked.
“He just doesn’t get it, does he?” I said.
“Did you speak about your idea with the boss?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said, working hard to stay calm. “And he said it’s not a priority right now. I mean, what part of ‘improved user experience’ doesn’t he understand!”
“That sucks. It was a good suggestion,” Arun chuckled. I would hate his chuckling as much as I hated my boss.
“I should change my job,” I mumbled. “The new boss will appreciate me.”
“He won’t,” Arun said.
That hurt. I didn’t speak to Arun for a couple of hours. But it was the truth. I needed to hear it, even if I didn’t want to.
Imagine this: you come up with an amazing idea. It may be not the best thing since the internet. But it’s good enough to benefit the company. You pitch the idea to your boss, only to be dispirited by his lukewarm response.
What’s worse, he approves a lame idea from another team member. Not just him, your whole team approves of it.
The approved idea, glorified beyond measure, turns out to be a failure. You pitch my idea again. This time, he’ll accept it, you think. But it’s déjà vu. Yet again, your ideas get a shoulder as cold as my ex’s heart.
You end up in a shell, or start looking for another job.
Getting bosses onboard is a huge challenge – one which every corporate executive grapples with. Yes, everyone, including the manager’s blue eyed girls and boys. Studies suggest that senior executives often don’t even pay attention to good ideas if they cannot relate it to organizational performance.
Your boss is a human being. And like with all other humans, there are a zillion factors at play when you pitch your idea. You cannot control them all. But you can adapt to ensure that you address the most critical ones.
In the next few months, Arun taught me how to pitch my ideas. The results were not instant. But my boss gradually warmed up, and so did I. From a dismal five percent, my success rate shot up to around sixty percent. Here’s some career development advice to get your boss to like you:
A. Show, Don’t Tell
“Paint a picture of the larger opportunity. If this worked, what kind of impact could it have?” – Dharmesh Shah
65 percent people are visual learners, meaning that they soak in more information through their eyes than their ears. According to Ed Fry, visuals with comments are far more effective than explaining using text.
If you want to suggest changes in your website, create a mockup and share it with your boss. If you want to suggest a change in marketing strategy, connect with potential customers, collate the observations, and present them pictorially. Show what your company could miss out on if they don’t grab the opportunity or address the concern.
B. Be Prepared
“The worst thing you can do is show up underprepared.” – Nina Stepanov
Preparation doesn’t mean a powerpoint or fancy visuals. It means being ready with answers to questions that your boss will ask. The main questions, which will also help you lay the foundation for selling your idea, are:
- Why should the company invest its limited resources in this idea?
- Why should we do this now as opposed to sometime in the future?
- How will this contribute to our current mission?
Help your boss connect the dots on the significance and how you’ll mitigate risk. Don’t assume he knows everything you do.
C. Manage Your Emotions
“The ability to manage your emotions and remain calm under pressure has a direct link to your performance.” – Travis Bradberry
Subordinates displaying negative emotions while offering inputs and ideas are often perceived as complainers, not change agents. Strong emotions can evoke a positive response, but when unregulated, they diminish the influence of the seller. This study by Adam Grant also shows that people who can control their emotions receive higher performance evaluations.
It’s also important to keep your boss’ emotions in mind. Show him that he will come across as someone who catalyzed a positive change.
D. Leverage an Unfair Bias
“You can accomplish anything in life, provided that you do not mind who gets the credit.” – Harry Truman
The success of your idea is directly proportional to the number of people who agree with it. And people jump onboard faster when they feel like it was their idea all along. Leverage this cognitive bias by first planting the doubt in your boss’ mind that the status quo isn’t okay. Don’t tell him, pose questions till he says so himself.
Once he agrees, sow the seed. Use his own terms and phrases, restructure your questions, and lead him on to your conclusion. This takes time. Impatience will spill water on your invested effort and time.
E. Invest in Relations
“In business it’s all about people. It’s all about relationships.” – Kathy Ireland
As mentioned above, the success of your idea depends upon the number of people who get onboard. If the idea that you want your boss to buy into is important, and your equation with your boss is not the best, Harvard Business Review suggests that you can use one of two options: asking someone else to speak up for you or asking a group of colleagues to speak up with you. I suggest the latter.
As social animals, we follow another cognitive bias: that of social proof. People’s actions and choices influence us. They sometimes make us act against our will, as this experiment conducted by Soloman Asch suggests. Hence, to sell an idea to your boss, it is important to include individuals whom he trusts, studies say.
Having strong relations at work also lets check the viability of your ideas with others, and get honest feedback. Take time to know your colleagues well. Build genuine business relationships and reap the rewards all along your career path.
F. Advance Incrementally
“Slow and steady wins the race.” – Ancient Proverb
Change makes people uncomfortable. If your idea proposes a big change, it almost certainly will be turned down. The key is to position your input as an experiment worth running and not a large project that needs funding.
Break a large idea into smaller stages. This doesn’t just make your boss feel more secure, but also helps you validate if your ship is headed in the right direction. You can make course corrections if needed.
G. Timing is Paramount
“Life is about timing.” – Carl Lewis
You have to time your pitch. Not just crispness, but also the opportune moment. Pitching your idea up when she’s preoccupied with other thoughts… Well, good luck with that.
Not only does it dim your chances of success, but it also portrays you as insensitive. It’s essential to develop patience and the right amount of knowledge to judge the best time. That comes with experience and observation.
A recent survey by the National Academy of Sciences, USA, reported that judicial rulings in courts in USA were more often in favor of the criminal at the start of the day or after lunch. Yet another aspect of influence which you can adopt. First thing in the morning may not be a good idea, but after lunch or towards the end of the day when your boss is in a relaxed mood is a good time to breach the subject.
H. Choose Your Battles
“Sometimes by losing a battle you find a new way to win the war.” – Donald Trump
Even the boss’ blue eyed girls and boys know that they cannot win every time. And sometimes, even if they do, the reward is simply not worth the effort. To fathom whether you must invest time and energy in an idea, ask yourself two questions:
- How important is this to my company?
- How important is this to me?
Some ideas are just too far ahead of your audience’s current understanding. In such cases, you have an uphill task no matter how skillfully you frame the issue or manage emotions. It’s best to accept “no” for an answer at such times. It lets you save energy and also pleases your boss because you accepted his point of view willingly. Studies have pointed out that the best ‘idea sellers’ notice when more people begin to care about a larger topic related to their issue, and then position their idea to catch the wave.
Your business ideas could be wonderful. You might look at them like a parent dotingly at her newborn baby. But your idea is worth nothing if your boss and colleagues are not invested enough in it.
Imagine becoming the employee whom you boss relies on more than himself. Imagine the salary hikes, awesome new responsibilities and career growth that will come with it.
Imagine getting noticed by all higher ups in your organization, and being marked as the next person to go up the hierarchy chain. And imagine reaching this level while keeping your principles intact. Yeah, you can tear up that pact you made with the devil.
It might take some time to achieve, but it’s not difficult. What’s easier than being yourself!
Practice the above mentioned techniques diligently. They will take you far when you pitch ideas. They will help you build a constructive relation with your seniors, and build strong reputation at work.
Get started now. And keep me posted about your hits and misses. There’s nothing more I love than hearing from you.