How can I sell improvement ideas to my manager?

To get your ideas taken up will require some form of presentation or, in Dragon’s Den terms, a pitch – you are looking for approval and only have a short time with the decision-makers to get their buy-in. You may not be looking for a hard cash investment but you want someone to invest time and/or money in order to get your ideas implemented. Making presentations is part of working life. It is a skill like many others and can be developed even if you are not initially comfortable with selling.

There are a few general rules to take into account:

  · First, make sure of your facts. Hopefully, as quality people, we have a constructive attitude to the ideas of others, but unfortunately this is not the case with everyone. Office politics mean that sometimes others will see your ideas as challenges or an invasion of their territory. The areas to prepare for are facts on current state and future opportunity, considered in the next paragraph. So if you are dealing with waste then get the current costs in terms of time wasted or the number of times that work has to be redone. If you can put a financial cost to this based on the average hourly cost of workers then it tends to bring reality to those who are used to looking at balance sheets.

  · Second, make sure you can demonstrate real benefits in terms of effectiveness or efficiency, preferably in terms of the money that will be saved. If you are asking for an investment, even if it is just in terms of your, or others’, time, then it has to pay off in the medium term. Some organisations are expecting a payback in 18 months, particularly if cash has to be spent. Again prepare to be challenged – you need to be confident both that the improvements will result in benefit and that you will be able to come back in front of the same group and show real cost savings. Third, make sure you have captured all the spin-off potential benefits including those related to people such as a reinforcement of company policy, improvement in morale and increased engagement. All of those things that, while not reducing money outlay, will help those in the audience looking at the organisation from a wider perspective to support your request.

  · Finally, prepare to deliver your presentation, including having a dry run in front of someone you trust to point out  any flaws in your delivery and who can ask some of the tricky questions you might have to face. Make sure your presentation is slick, not of the rabbit out of the hat variety, but remember you are presenting to busy people and they will appreciate it if you keep it short. You may also want to support your presentation with a more detailed hand-out to be read afterwards.


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