Often you have a great idea but need to convince management (or a Board of Directors) to redirect a preplanned investment to support implementation. Convincing leadership to alter plans and take a risk that you are advocating requires you to make a compelling case ideally supported with data.
At P&G, successfully presenting and defending proposals to management is considered a key leadership skill. It is an expectation of every marketer to develop this skill. It is a skill I know you will find valuable to build support for your project ideas.
Successfully presenting ideas is not a random exercise. You can think of it as a learnable 6-step process that can be reliably repeated.
Step #1 – Summarize the Situation.
Step #2 – State Your Idea/Proposal.
Step #3 – Explain how it works.
Step #4 – Reinforce the Key Benefits and Offer Supporting Evidence.
Step #5 – Describe the Risks and How to Mitigate.
Step #6 – Suggest an Easy Next Step.
If you master this process, you will create support for more of your ideas and will reinforce your personal equity as a leader.
Step #1 – Summarize the Situation
One challenge is that you know significantly more about your idea than your management. As a consequence, you will need to provide enough background to create context for your idea. Generally speaking, this often is a description of the current situation and what needs to change in order to improve it. There is a fine balance between providing too much data versus enough to get them grounded in the facts that help articulate the need for change.
Step #2 – State Your Idea/Proposal
Simplicity is key. The more complicated the change, the less likely it will be supported. Management’s experience would suggest that complexity generally precedes failure. The more moving parts the greater probability of an error in execution. My counsel is to think in terms of fundamentals. If the idea is expected to increase the number of RFPs then say so clearly. Don’t make this a complicated discussion. If you do, your idea will likely be summarily rejected.
Step #3 – Explain How Your Idea/Proposal Works
This is the meat and potatoes portion of your presentation. You can expect management will have a lot of questions and want confidence that you have done your homework. If changes in the way your Organization does things is being proposed, management will want to know you have spoken with and gained the support of the people required to implement your proposal. They may also want to know what the feedback was and how you incorporated that input into your proposal. Management is less interested in you as the idea originator and more interested in your willingness to listen to relevant counsel and adjust your thinking to improve the probability of successful implementation.
Step #4 – Reinforce Key Benefits and Offer Supporting Evidence
Once management understands what you are proposing, you need to explain why it is worth changing current plans and supporting your concept. Remember risk must be offset by an appropriate reward. Be very clear and as quantitative as possible when describing the expected benefits. If your idea is expected to generate more capital investment leads, then describe how many incremental leads you expect from implementation. The less specific you are, the less confidence you exude and the less believable your proposal’s benefits are perceived to be.
In addition to specificity in describing the expected benefits, you need to offer compelling evidence that what you claim will happen actually will. Precedent and competitive benchmarking are two good ways to support your proposition. Look to present market research data to support your idea whenever possible. I often hear from economic development professionals that market research is hard to come by. But, I believe it is more often a convenient excuse to avoid the work required to get data than it is a reality. You’ll be surprised what you may learn if you only take the time to call the IEDC or other EDOs you believe may have faced the same challenge you are. You might also be surprised what you learn if you reach out to the private sector or academic sector. Even if the situations you find are not exactly the same as what you are facing, the learning may still be highly relevant and helpful in getting management comfortable with your proposal.
Step #5 – Describe the Risks and How to Mitigate
All change is risky. Management’s job is to effectively manage risk. Your job is to be through in divulging the risks that need to be considered before supporting your proposal. If you suggest your idea is risk free, you will lose all personal credibility and your idea will wither and die from lack of support. Be objective and up-front in describing the risk. You won’t scare management. In fact, you might be surprised at the helpful suggestions they provide on how to ensure your idea is successful. If you are proposing an idea that requires a major investment or carries a high risk, consider proposing an implementation plan that includes a pilot phase.
Step #6 – Suggest an Easy Next Step
Tom Peters has suggested the missing 98% for success in any business is execution. One of my mentors, A.G. Lafley, often said (and I paraphrase) that the best idea with poor execution translates to marketplace failure.
Consequently, having a well-conceived action plan that describes what steps are needed to execute your proposal, the resources required (money, people, process changes, approvals, etc.), and the timing is an important element of your recommendation. Gaining approval to a meaningful action step, particularly if it requires an investment, is a strong signal of real support. It is a clear sign management is putting “skin in the game” and is committed to the success of your idea.
Hopefully the 6-step process I’ve outlined makes sense to you. This process has served me well throughout my career and should help you be successful as well. It is one of those easy to understand, but challenging to implement processes. But practice makes perfect. Be certain to leave yourself enough time to do the homework required to create a quality presentation of your idea. Don’t shortchange the process and you won’t be disappointed.
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