How to Successfully Sell Your initiatives to Your Boss

Author: Adriana Beal

In my previous article for Bridging the Gap, I wrote about the importance of right-sizing your initiatives to get beyond a career plateau as a business analyst. A reader left a comment saying, “if your management listens, you can think about taking initiative, else, its just a waste of time and energy”.

That comment made me realize that we should be discussing also how business analysts can significantly improve their chances of being heard as they try to create new opportunities, from getting help with eliminating skill gaps, to participating on more high-visibility projects. The formula for successfully selling your initiatives to your boss is actually simple, if frequently overlooked by brain-powered workers:

  1. understand your management’s framework;
  2. persuade your audience not just to accept your point of view, but to take concrete action as a result of it.

In order to sell your ideas effectively, first you must have a clear understanding of what your organization is trying to achieve, and why. This will help you establish a clear “line of sight” between your initiative-taking goals and your team’s and organization’s goals. But you can’t stop there; you also need to present your ideas in a convincing way. If you typically find it difficult to create buy-in for your ideas, read (or reread) Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die and start learning the mechanics of persuasion, and practicing the ability to deliver your message to your target audience.

Remember, your ability to “get management to listen to you” is directly dependent on your ability to take information, select key points, and deliver them in a manner that convinces the listeners to accept your message. The way you present your initiatives to your boss (or the people you need approval from) can have a dramatic influence in how your ideas are received.

The steps below, adapted from an article published at The Cranky Product Manager, provides a good framework to help you to achieve this goal:

  1. Create a short, easy to read handout for your boss, making the case for what you want, and including if possible several options for him to consider (see an example in the article mentioned above).
  2. Make an appointment with your boss to review your handout.
  3. Go over your points one by one, finishing with a persuasive review of the benefits for your boss and the company.
  4. If your boss doesn’t immediately choose one of your recommendations, negotiate a time frame for a decision, and immediately set a meeting for follow-up.
  5. If you get a “no,” don’t get overly frustrated. Try to understand the rationale behind your manager’s decision, focusing on any bottom-line implications, and see if you can come up with a different strategy to get what you want.

Remember the lessons from Made to Stick: a good story engages the listener with something worth listening to. Make your message relevant and interesting to your management, and the probability of your ideas being heard will rise dramatically.

 

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Comments

  1. Akarsh MG says:

    @Adriana – Great article.

    I am might be late to comment on this article; but what i would like to add in here in even though you create great idea for “buy-in” my personal experience says if your manager is not supportive along with you to “sell” the idea to the management it does not work well to sell it to the clients; if manager is co-operative and supportive this works GREAT.

    Also i agree with your point that show your ability to “get management to listen to you” ; i think this works wonder specially if you have customer feedback which shows business impact, your creative ideas to customer will help management to listen to you(this point Aaron has pointed out on delivery and responsibilities)

    Final one thing i would say along with your boss; keeping your customer happy will open up great opportunities for additional buy-in.

  2. Totally agree with you both. One further thought to add related to Aarons thoughts on delivery. I have found in the past that if we focus on delivery, ensuring that whatever tasks and roles we’re given we deliver excellence, the opportunities for higher profile work, more interesting projects, advancement, responsibility, etc. come to us without having to ask. Contribution is recognised and rewarded. Later in my career, being in positions of management the reverse is true.

  3. Aaron, excellent related advice about the need to “speak from a position of respect”. No doubt it will be really hard to sell an idea if you aren’t delivering on your current responsibilities (unless your idea is to own up to the problem and offer a credible solution for it:-).

    Thank you for adding your thoughts. I’m sure they will help many readers reevaluate their current situation and take steps toward improving their marketability.

  4. Adriana, very good advice. Understanding your manager’s “framework” as you put it and staying within the Organization’s goals and strategic initiatives is necessary to have any chance of getting a favorable response. Going outside of those two areas is a sure fire way of getting “shot down”. Understanding those two also helps form your “appeal” to get the most favorable response possible.

    Another thing I feel is necessary is to “speak from position of respect”. If you are requesting to work on higher profile projects or take a more strategic role within the organization but you can not deliver on your current responsibilities, then your likelihood of success is greatly reduced. “Selling” management on an idea starts with delivery. If you deliver accurate and timely on your current responsibilities, then you gain a position of respect and a louder voice with management.

  5. Adriana, very good advice here. Understanding your manager’s “framework” as you put it and staying within the organizations goals and strategic initiatives is absolutely necessary to have any chance of having your point heard. Going outside of those two views is a sure fire way of getting “shot down” and understanding those helps you form your “appeal” to get the most favorable response.

    One other point that I believe is necessary is to speak from a position of respect. If you are asking to work on higher profile projects or take a more strategic role within the organization, but you can not even complete the work of your current role, the likelihood of getting more responsibility is greatly deminished. “Selling” management begins with delivery. Accurate and timely delivery on your current responsibilities increases your respect and gives you a louder voice within management.

  6. Derek, I’m with you. When I mentioned “understand your management’s framework”, the idea of “understanding our managers individual motivations and goals” was implicit in my thought — thank you for making it clearer for everyone reading.

    I’d only rephrase a bit your statement to say “where there is a variance, we need to ensure that our initiatives ALSO supports the goals and aspirations of our manager”. A good initiative will help everybody involved, without leaving behind the organization’s objectives. And let’s face it, if a manager’s goals are significantly misaligned with the organization’s, it’s probably a good idea to start looking for a new job anyway, because not only it’s a recipe for frustration — the writing is probably on the wall ;-).

  7. The recommendation to “have a clear understanding of what your organization is trying to achieve, and why” is a really important one because it doesn’t matter how persuasive we, if the initiative and idea’s we have aren’t aligned, they will not get support.

    I’d like to nuance this with the suggestion that we also need to understand our managers individual motivations and goals aswell as how he/she is being measured by the organisation. This may be in complete alignment with the overall organisations goals, however it often varies.

    Where there is a variance, we need to be ensuring that our initiatives will support the goals and aspirations of our manager and be able to identify how this is the case in order to get their support and buy-in.