18 April 2016

Effective communication: getting your boss to consider your ideas

Author: Kyle Hauptfleisch

As an employee, working for someone can be tough; and getting your manager to acknowledge an idea, process or strategy change can be tougher, especially with regard to long term decision making.  Employees are “on the ground”, seeing the developments of the market first hand but often on a micro level – challenges and developments that are immediate and short term.  Managers, on the other hand, may be “out of touch” with the day to day, but are probably looking at the market on a macro level – the longer term,  bigger picture.  Both perspectives are important, and need to be considered.

Often, however, the employee will discount the manager’s perspective citing a failure to see the perspective on the ground; and the manager will discount the employee, citing inexperience.

It is here, in this gap, that we find the source of most issues within an organisation.  The gap in communication.  Although it is, for the most part, a deliberate gap.  For most managers, sharing context with subordinates isn’t appropriate.  For most employees, simply knowing how to share context is challenging.  Context is, however, the most important concept that can exist – in my opinion.  It makes sense of the random points in various paradigms.  It guides perspective, ensuring the important bits are focused on.  It directs communication, minimizing ambiguity.  Yet it is so often hidden behind ego or insecurity.

In order to get your manager to take note of your ideas, you need to employ some tact.

Figure out what their department/company goal is

Request time with your manager.  Fifteen minutes is usually a good sweet spot.  To a manger, fifteen minutes is usually manageable in a busy schedule.  Develop a good relationship with their personal assistants if they have, and ask them for insight as to when would be an appropriate gap.

When requesting time, define the purpose.  I find that something simple like “to get a better idea of what the company’s goals are” works well.  It shows that you care about what you are doing and the really sharp managers will spot the hidden desire to be effective.

The goal is to get an understanding of where the company is heading and what they are trying to achieve.  You want to get as much clarity as possible.

Be sure to ask them if they can recommend resources, websites or reading material that they use as  inspiration and as a resource.

Figure out what the market is doing on a macro level

This is a little more time consuming, but will pay off in the end.  Start off with searching for those resources combined with keywords from your industry or business sector.  Find out who the authors are and see if they publish a blog.  If the resources are books, look for summaries.  The goal here is to find some more context about what your company is actually trying to achieve within the context of your industry.  You want to get an idea of the bigger picture.

Test your idea/tweak against the grand objectives

Managers need to ensure that their employees are spending their time on priorities.  Employees can lack some perspective.  So managers could write off ideas or implementations because they believe that there are more important things to concentrate on.  The goal here is to figure this out for yourself – and that involves some tough questions:

  • Is my idea actually going to push the needle, that is, get the company closer to the goal?
  • Does my idea further the overall goal and, if so, how?
  • What sort of resources or assets will my idea need in order to work?
  • What does the company already have in terms of skills/clients/structure that can be leveraged for my idea to work?
  • Is this going to make or save the company money?  If so what is the probable timeline?

Remember that the point of a business is to make money, so you want to look at that before the strategic benefits.  In the end, strategic benefits should result in revenue generation anyways.

Structure your argument

Based on the tough questions that you have already posed, structure your argument.  Put together a short, high level list of how your idea will tick the following boxes:

  • Relevance to the end goal;
  • Using resources already available or that will compliment other areas of the business;
  • Revenue generation; and
  • Strategic value (in relation to the overall goal).

You want to make sure that the benefits of your idea are clear and relate to what the company is trying to achieve.  Think about how this will impact the business in terms of finances.  Is this going to generate revenue or save on costs?  It has to tick one of those boxes.

Always think about implementation in terms of “challenges” and “solutions”.  You want to be clear of the problem you are solving, as well as clear about how it is going to solve it.

The pitch

This is obviously a crucial part of the journey.  Book a follow up with your manager and think about the timing.  You want to make sure that your manager is open to hearing what you have to say.  My advice is to go for late in the day – preferably just after hours when there will be few interruptions.

Make sure the challenge or inefficiency is clearly communicated and show how it is impacting the business in terms of revenue.  Time being wasted can be calculated at a cost, estimate it and show your manager.  To managers, the bottom line is important.  They are there to ensure, on some level, that their staff are contributing to the overall revenue generation of the company.  So if something is taking longer than it should, estimate the hourly rate and show how much money the company is losing.  If it is a new stream, show how the company can make money off it.  Communicate this before any strategic value.

Think about the questions your manager will ask.  Pre-empt them.  This will ensure that you are well prepared.  But be open to them too.  Your manager has more context and experience.  They will more than likely add constructive input.

In the end, if you can show how the business will save or make money with your idea, you are made in the shade.  Be realistic about it and do your homework.  Worst case scenario, your manager will be impressed with the initiative and the approach.  Best case scenario, you make a positive impact on your business.  Shall we say win win?

About the author:
Kyle is the sales director at Dash of Lime (Primedia Online). He is passionate about humans, digital and any food that is not marzipan. He is also an avid believer in a selling process that is ‘value centric’. Rule of thumb: make or sell things (products, services, paradigms etc.) that solve problems; that way selling is easy, ethical and not conducive to banging heads against walls.
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