by Danielle Collazo, Featured Contributor
SO YOU have a great idea you think the company could really benefit from. Before presenting the idea to your employer, it’s important to do some prep work. Just like you would never show up at a client’s office without a strategy to get their buy in, it’s necessary to develop a strategic plan for getting internal decision makers onboard with your idea. Your action plan should take into account the chain of command for approval, your company’s mission and values, and your employer’s priorities.
Defining a Solution
If your department’s printer constantly breaks, proposing a new high-tech printer may not be the best option if the company is trying to shift to a paper-free office. You may propose a solution to make online documents more portable, such as investing in tablets or extra computer monitors. Similarly, if the some of the decision makers are in a different location, and you think the office needs new conference room chairs, you may take pictures of the current furniture (focusing on rips and stains!) so they more accurately assess the situation.
In the case of most problems there is more than one solution. Once you identify the product/service that would solve the perceived problem, focus in on that problem and brainstorm other ways it could be solved. Once you have a diverse list of solutions, analyze which one would be best suited for your situation. For example, if you initially think a Pitney Bowes machine would make mailing more efficient, you may later realize that much of what you are mailing can be sent through email, which offers additional benefits of cost reduction and timely delivery versus a Pitney Bowes. Try to find solutions that not only solve the problem at hand, but also provided added value.
Fine Tuning the Solution
The value of primary research is to gain an understanding of what is already being done, to analyze perceived hurdles, and to gain supporters. Begin by ask colleagues their general opinion of the issue at hand.
By bringing up the idea in an informal way, you may find that:
- There is already a solution being developed
- Management is actively looking for a solution
- The problem has been acknowledged but put it on the back burner.
Your colleagues may also:
- Address hurdles to adopting your idea that you had not considered
- Provide suggestions that could improve your idea
- Jump onboard and be enthusiastic about it.
Use this feedback to refine your idea based on their commentary and give them credit for their suggestions when presenting your idea – this demonstrates that you are a team player, and shows decision makers that you have already received initial feedback.
Choose colleagues that are likely to be affected by your idea. If you think your office could benefit from a Twitter page, try getting feedback from someone who you know frequently uses social media or the person who manages your current social media accounts. The latter person may tell you it is a great idea but their plate is full – then make sure you can find someone who can manage the account before continuing.
Develop a Formal Proposal
Now that you have initial feedback, it is time to transition your idea into a formal proposal.
- Introduce the problem: describe the problem your proposal will address. Use quantitative metrics such as length of time, costs, losses, or dedicated man hours to define the current situation. You may develop a SWOT analysis, competitive appraisal, or financial charts to assess the problem. For example:
The IT department has been short-staffed for three positions on and off for the past 18 months. Two staff members have been hired within that time frame, with the average tenure of only 9 months. The average cost to hire a new employee is $15,000 and utilizes ~50 total man hours. IT staffing could benefit from improved retention rates and reduced waste (man hours and costs).
- Propose solutions: do your homework; chances are with any idea, an external company will be involved. Whether you want to buy more comfortable chairs for the office or find a new payroll contractor, due diligence on vendors is very important. Research vendor reviews, costs, corporate social responsibility, and overall stakeholder satisfaction. Identify three vendors you think would be best suited for your company and understand their offerings
- Demonstrate the value: explain how your solution will benefit the company. Clearly describe how the proposed vendors’ solutions would solve the aforementioned problem with product literature and white papers. Further, tailor your points to address the main concerns within each of the departments you are presenting to. You may address the need to quickly increase overhead with the IT department, the reduced waste with accounting, and the ability to pre-screen candidates with HR
- Resource Utilization: present the costs of implementing the solution, including overhead, capital investment, ongoing maintenance, and product lifecycle. You could present this in a table or scatterplot, or use a feature comparison template, paired with a qualitative analysis of your findings
- Timeline: present a timeline for implementation that accounts for any predictable hurdles, such as the holiday season, other deliverables, and standard “busy times” for the company.
Finally, consider what questions you will likely be asked when you present your solution. A good place to start is with the initial feedback you received. What questions and hurdles were presented then? You can also preempt the audience by addressing those concerns in your presentation:
- Concern of resource utilization – the initial investment is high, but the company will begin seeing an ROI after X number of months/years
- There’s no room for it – this all-in-one copier also faxes and scans, so it could go in that spot and we could move the scanner and fax to the mail room
- We have to take care of x, y, and z first – implementing this would only take about 10 hours total, and I’m willing to work overtime to get it done. With this solution, x and z could be done faster and Z would be a great project to beta test the proposed solution.
Changes take time to go through, but it is important to follow up with feedback, schedule meetings to keep the project rolling, and continue to get buy in from coworkers.