It seems that every guide to career success has the same advice: Be a creative problem solver at work, and you’ll get ahead. “Bosses hate it when you just bring up issues without providing solutions,” guides say. “Always have some ideas for solving the problems before you bring them up.” And chances are, your boss would agree with that advice, at least in theory.
Yet, if you’re like many people, you’ve encountered a fair amount of resistance when you’ve presented new and creative ideas to your boss, due to budget concerns or timing issues. And of course, there’s always the chance that your boss said no just because he or she didn’t like or understand it. Regardless, constantly having your ideas shot down is frustrating, and might leave you wondering if your contributions even matter. Why even bother working so hard to stay on top of industry trends, complete training and education in communication, and attend conferences if you aren’t going to have the opportunity to put your learning into action?
While your boss may never be open to certain ideas (mandatory afternoon naps, anyone?), if you present your good ideas in the right way, you’ll have a better chance of actually seeing them come to life. This means being strategic in your approach.
Connect your great ideas to company goals
The best way to get your boss to listen to your big idea is to show how it can move your boss, your department, or the entire organization, toward its goals. Do your homework: How can your idea increase productivity, reduce turnover, or attract new customers? If you can quantify your idea not only in terms of cost, but how it can make a measurable difference toward specific goals, your boss is more likely to listen.
Show your boss how he or she benefits
The best way to get anyone to see the merit in any idea is to answer the burning question: “What’s in it for me?” What does your boss want? This might be different from or unrelated to his or her stated goals. For example, your boss wants employees to be productive, so presenting your idea of a rotating schedule of half-day Fridays for your department in terms of productivity (“We can schedule personal appointments during those hours instead of taking time off) will likely be better received than presenting it terms of “We’ll get to start the weekend earlier.”
Have a suggested plan for execution
When you have a flash of brilliance you might be tempted to share it at the first opportunity. It’s just too good to keep to yourself! But before you blurt out your amazing idea – and risk being shot down – do your homework. Presenting an idea without any plan for executing it is a good way to have it end up in the circular file. After all, how would you respond if someone presented you with an idea, and when you asked for more details, they just shrugged and said, “I don’t know. I thought you could figure it out?”
Take the time to flesh out the details of your idea, getting input from others if necessary. You want to walk in to the meeting prepared to answer all of your boss’s questions and answer his or her objections. You might still encounter unexpected obstacles, such as factors that you weren’t aware of, but the better you’re prepared, the better the chances of a positive response.
Time your presentation for your great ideas right
Not only is it important to present your idea in person (not via email or worse, in a text) but you need to time it right. Watch for signals that your boss will be receptive to a new idea; for example, if you have an idea for improving a process, the best time to bring it up is before your team starts a huge project that requires that process – not when you’re in the throes of the project and stressed out.
It’s also best to present an idea to your boss in a private meeting. You might think that asking for some time during a staff meeting shows initiative, but your boss might feel blindsided or backed into a corner – and react negatively. You may be asked to present your idea to a larger group after your boss has had a chance to consider it, but allow him or her to have the first look.
There’s no need to let your great ideas languish in the back of your mind, never to come to fruition. But as the saying goes, you only get one chance to make a first impression, so if you want your boss to react favourably take the time to polish that idea until it shines.
Dana Wilson is a freelance writer.