Dennis BeaverMay 27, 2022 • By Dennis Beaver

“I work for a business strategy firm that encourages input from employees on ways of expanding our menu of services. Every few months we have ‘Pizza and Proposals Day,’ where employees are encouraged to pitch new marketing programs.

“After lunch we listen to presentations from colleagues; some, well-researched, feasible — while others, poorly thought out, damaging the employee’s credibility and their tenure. I have a couple of good ideas but do not want to make a fool of myself. Do you know of a guide, video, anything that would help me? Thanks, ‘Don.’”

Avoiding the Wrong Steps Enhances your Chances

Don’s question came in at the right time as I had just concluded an interview with Ray Sheen —author of the HBR Guide to Building Your Business Case: Tell a Compelling Story, Identify Stakeholders, Analyze Risk and Return.

In reading this excellent, by-the-numbers approach to turning a proposal into reality, it became clear that Ray understands the mechanics of reaching and persuading an audience of in-house decision makers to come on board with an idea developed by a colleague.

He is president of product and process innovation based in Greenville South Carolina. His firm trains and consults in the areas of technology deployment, and digital transformation. He is also an adjunct professor of business at the Southern New Hampshire University. With a BS in mechanical engineering from the U.S. Air Force Academy, a master’s in astronautical engineering from MIT, Ray Sheen is one of the most interesting people I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing this year.

Don’t Do It the Wrong Way

I asked him to set out what must be avoided if that new idea or concept is to have a real chance of acceptance.

1 – Fail to know your audience. Assume they will understand what you are talking about.

Consequences: Without explaining what parts of the business are being impacted and how your idea will make money – it will neither be understood by decision makers nor approved. So, find out who sits on the review board, and their level of education, experience and responsibility in the area you are discussing.

2 – Fail to know management’s hot button issue.

Consequences: What is the major strategic initiative they are working on right now? Popular ones today are: Sustainability, ESG (Environmental Social Governance) and Supply Chains. If your proposal impacts one of these, they will be interested, and if it does not, they might not.

3 – Fail to explain the results of both doing/not doing the project in financial terms:

Consequences: If they don’t see a negative consequence to idly standing by and doing nothing, they will take on some other project, not yours. Always keep in mind that money is the language of business.

4 – Fail to present your proposal as a story that you live!

Consequences: Numbers alone will put them to sleep! An audience wants the speaker to live the presentation! A good story helps them capture and experience your vision of what the opportunity will create.

5 – Fail to verify the accuracy and consistency of the information presented.

Consequences: If you tell them on page one that the project costs $1 million, and then on page 10, the figure jumps to $5 million, you have just destroyed any trust the decision makers have in you! So, a third party should proofread your material, as we become blind to our typos and other errors.

6 – When developing handouts, keep them vague so that unless the person has attended your presentation, they will be unable to reach a conclusion as to the project’s desirability.

Remedy: Be sure that even without attending the presentation, your ideas can be followed using the written material alone.

7 – When there are multiple options, fail to tell your audience the ones that you prefer.

Consequences: They will question your ability to make decisions! Always remember that when you step into the role of advocating a business case, your credibility is on the line.

8 – Be unprepared for either a Yes or a No.

Consequences: If they say “yes,” are you ready – and can you describe the next step? If you are not prepared for “what‘s next” the proposal may be approved but doesn’t get off the ground.

If they say no, then at some convenient time, approach a decision maker and ask for their feedback. Be polite! Make it clear that you care about the organization.

Possibly they do not trust the numbers or your plans for implementation were not well presented. They may love the idea but can’t say yes because they don’t have confidence in the implementation. If you do not have a well-thought out plan, then you come across as a dreamer, not a doer.

9 – Fail to anticipate questions.

Consequences: This undermines confidence in your ability to run the project or implement the solution. You lose face. It can put your job at risk.

10 – Fib! Make stuff up!

Consequences: You have destroyed your credibility. Once senior managers determine that you lie, you will never receive significant responsibility. You can’t be trusted.

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.