You have an idea. It’s a great one; an idea that will save the company a lot of money, increase revenue, improve customer service, or just make everyone’s job easier. And it’s a no-brainer; nothing huge; just a small tweak that will move the needle in a positive way. Now you can’t stop thinking about it. In fact, the more you’ve thought about it, the more you’re convinced that this needs to happen.
So you pick up the phone, or draft an email, or walk across the hall to the one person who stands the best chance of helping you get this idea out of your head and into the real world – your boss. After laying out the basics of your suggestion, you pause to gauge their reaction and … nothing. No smile. No nod. No enthusiastically worded agreement. At best, you get “we’ll think about it.” More than likely, it’s some form of “No.”
Today’s organizations are in desperate need of innovation. Competition, regulation, and economic pressure are constantly at work – forcing companies into static, boring molds of mediocrity. Broad, sweeping change is harder and harder to accomplish. More than ever, we need employees who can identify micro-improvements; tiny, incremental, seemingly insignificant shifts in the way business works. It’s through these tweaks, compounded over time, that huge change can actually take place.[Tweet “It’s through micro-improvements, seemingly insignificant tweaks, that huge change takes place.”]
Unfortunately, it’s the boss who typically stands in the way. They just don’t see the benefit. There are bigger fish to fry. Now isn’t the time. Resources aren’t available. It’s just easier to leave things the way they are. Your idea is dead before it ever gets out of the starting gate.
According to Susan Ashford and James Detert, the problem may not be the boss, but you; or more accurately, your approach. In a 2015 study of “issue selling,” they identified seven tactics that spell success when to comes to championing organization change. Here are their steps, along with some thought prompts to consider before making your run at management.
- Tailor your pitch. Where does my audience stand on this issue? What does my audience find most convincing or compelling?
- Frame the issue. How can I connect my issue to organizational priorities? How can I best describe its benefits? How can I link it to other issues receiving attention? How can I highlight an opportunity for the organization?
- Manage emotions on both sides. How can I use my emotions to generate positive rather than negative responses? How can I manage my audience’s emotional responses?
- Get the timing right. What is the best moment to be heard? Can I “catch the wave” of a trend, for example, or tap into what’s going on in the outside world? What is the right time in the decision-making process to raise my issue?
- Involve others. Which allies from my network can help me sell my issue, and how can I involve them effectively? Who are my potential blockers, and how can I persuade them to support me? Who are my fence-sitters, and how can I convince them that my issue matters?
- Adhere to norms. Should I use a formal, public approach to sell my issue (for example, a presentation to upper management)? Or an informal, private approach (casual one-on-one conversations)? Or a combination of the two?
- Suggest solutions. Am I suggesting a viable solution? If not, am I proposing a way to discover one instead of just highlighting the problem?
Selling an issue to management looks a lot like selling a product or service to a prospect. Your approach is just as important as your message. Effective salespeople always think through an upcoming interaction, seeking the right combination of timing, words, and circumstances to help them communicate clearly and effectively. This same consideration should be taken when approaching management with your request for change.
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