Does it stress you out when you suggest an idea to your boss?
You think you’re too young. You’re not “senior” enough to suggest something impactful. You don’t know how your boss will react. You don’t know how to gain confidence.
But imagine you could speak up confidently every time. Think about coming up with proposals that everyone happily takes on board. Envision executives asking for your insights.
It’s absolutely possible to land a “Hell yes! Let’s try it” each time you sell an idea to your boss.
If you’re a young talent wondering how to get your next innovative idea adopted, here’s how to suggest an idea to your boss.
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Know your success trail
You can’t shoot your next big idea out of the blue. First, you need to be trusted to execute what you’re suggesting.
Consider your past results. Which ones would support the initiative? What can you cite as an example to show you’re bold enough? Once you have a few options, time to reach out – who could testify to your achievements?
The way people speak about your success is as important as the achievement itself. Before you suggest an idea to your boss, make sure you have strong references who can attest to your good work.
- Related: What You Must Know To Connect With Senior Leaders: Use Powerful Conversations To Build Trust
Before you suggest an idea to your boss, build credibility
Even if you have an impressive track record of achievements, people like to see it for themselves. Therefore, a good relationship with decision-makers is essential to get buy-in for your ideas.
Build the habit of suggesting ideas to your boss in conversations and meetings – when appropriate. The more you expose your peers to your critical thinking, the more they’ll get used to your ideas. And the lower the defensive attitude often associated with the unknown.
Learn to challenge positively
You can’t claim you’re going to change the world if no one listens when you make a point.
Here, we’re entering the delicate territory of constructive challenge. Constructive challenge doesn’t mean changing for the better, it means enhancing what exists. During a team discussion, acknowledge the main idea or point, but suggest an add-on that would move it from good to great; a different approach, a special way to challenge the idea and take risks safely, an unexpected benefit…
Show you can think of alternative solutions and add value without compromising others’ work. Be thoughtful though, as different personalities respond to challenge in many ways.
- 4 Personalities You Need To Educate A High-Performing Team (Part 1)
- 4 Personalities You Need To Educate A High-Performing Team (Part 2)
Sharpen your individual communication
Know your decision-makers inside out. How does she/he make decisions? Do they like detailed wording, or visuals? Are they detail-oriented, or prefer context and to open a conversation? Do they prefer an informal briefing or an Executive Summary?
Take the time to understand how they communicate. The way you suggest an idea to your boss counts – make the message attractive to them (not to you).
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It’s all about timing
To be successful when you suggest an idea to your boss, there are only 2 factors: when you communicate the idea, and how your message lands. You can be the most cooperative, insightful and collaborative person on earth, but if your suggestion is not timely, all your efforts will go to waste.
Do you have a rough idea of your decision-maker’s schedule?
They’re back to back on Tuesdays? Then avoid it. Maybe their son has football on Wednesdays, therefore a late afternoon meeting is not appropriate. They have to work towards an important meeting this week? Wait for next week, when they’ll be less stressed.
Patience is your friend. Shoot when your manager is most likely to be open to hearing what you have to say.
Achieve group cohesion
Sometimes, it’s not about one decision maker, but several. It can be intimidating to present to a committee, so let me share a tip with you.
See it as a panel – some people will be supportive, some people won’t have an opinion, and others will strongly disagree. Don’t waste your time guessing whether you’ll get a yes or a no. Reflect on the audience. Who can support you and influence the neutral ones to be on your side? Who’s likely to soften the ones who don’t agree?
At an executive level, decision meetings are prepared behind the scenes, to ensure the conversation remains focused on reaching a decision. Do the same.
Always test the waters before you suggest an idea to your boss
Don’t be afraid to test the waters in advance, and gather support and feedback. Better to be prepared for challenge beforehand and “tweak your speak”, rather than getting hammered with uncomfortable questions.
Find a mentor, or better, someone close to the person you’re presenting to (such as a direct report), and suggest your idea to them first. It will help you spot what’s not clear in your message, and gather useful insights on possible challenges.
Rejection is not the end of the world
Maybe this time, you won’t win your case. The more you practice, the better you become, and the more you’ll get noticed. Take feedback on board, work on improvements, and hopefully next time you suggest an idea to your boss, it will be a “hell, yes!”
As a proud member of the next generation of leaders, you are bursting with innovative ideas. But to sell them to the senior sphere, you need to position them carefully. Lead through trust, find the best way to communicate with your decision-makers, and be mindful of their communication preferences.
But more than anything, here’s the secret to be successful when you suggest an idea to your boss: show tangible outcomes, and open the conversation around benefits.
What’s the best idea you’ve landed? Share your story in the comments!