|You have great ideas to enhance your organizations performance. All you need to do is craft a solution and present it, in a compelling manner, to get it approved. Using a simple structured approach, you can succinctly and convincingly position your thoughts and research into a presentation that gives your manager the information he needs to make a considered decision. And your skills development and exposure will position you for a greater leadership role within your organization. |
Before starting your solution development process, learn the cost and/or service metrics by which your manager is measured (and thereby compensated) and align your solution with her objectives to gain support for your proposal. Let’s begin.
Problem Synthesis: Understand the challenges facing your organization
Gather information from diverse sources. Speak with front line staff (accounts receivable, billing, customer service and operations) about the issues they manage. Provide them with a discussion context such as “Delivery service can be improved and here’s an idea…what do you think?” to help your colleagues organize their thoughts. Where you can, provide empirical information to your co-workers to facilitate a better discussion.
Ask open ended questions to obtain their most creative thinking. What issues do customers regularly raise? Do managers have timely access to information (reports, not raw data)? What processes hinder your front line staff’s ability to provide the service customers want? Keep asking “Why?” to gain an in-depth understanding of the topic. Several rounds of discussions may be required as you incorporate the lessons learned during your research.
Create a problem statement / hypothesis. If your issue is broad, it may be best resolved through a series of smaller projects. A successful first project will help justify future commitment from your organization. Projects that are narrow in scope encounter less organizational resistance than large projects during the approval process.
Ask respected co-workers for their opinion on your project’s value and feasibility. Don’t be disheartened by comments like “we tried that before” or “we operate much better today than we did so we don’t need to revisit that process”. Ask what was missing from the previous project or why operations are better today. When you encounter resistance to change, try to determine the source of the resistance and develop a plan to address it.
Organizations must adapt to evolving market conditions to ensure they remain relevant in customer purchase decisions and, more importantly, deepen the customer relationship. Customers are far more likely to actively search for alternate solutions if they view your organization as stagnate.
Test your hypothesis with empirical data. The data could validate your position, or the data may point you towards a more impactful solution. Not an expert in Access or Excel? You don’t need to be. You can harness powerful analytic tools like pivot tables that can be quickly learned using Microsoft online tutorials.
Assess the organizational impact of your solution using process maps. Document the before and after process that you are evaluating to refine your solution (Visio is a great tool). Include any tools (software, etc.), new or existing, that may be required to support your proposed process. Process maps can also generate excitement during your solution presentation because they quickly convey the inefficiency of a process in a simple, easy to understand format.
Anticipate the potential objections or concerns of your manager. Document the possible objections your manager might have to your proposal. You can then either develop a response for each concern or you may determine that a few modifications will improve your solution. Consider presenting your solution to a respected colleague first and incorporate her/his ideas and suggestions into the solution.
Evaluate your solution, again. Does the value delivered by your proposed solution justify the resources and financial investment required to implement it?
Schedule a meeting. A casual conversation will not allow your manager the time or focus to give meaningful consideration to your idea. Plan for a 20 minute discussion but be prepared to deliver your core message in 10 minutes should your manager need to end the meeting early. Provide reference materials, in part so your manager can review your proposal again later when he has time to contemplate your proposal. Remember to sell the benefit of the project.
Presentation structure and communication. Always frame your presentation from the perspective of your audience. Your personal observations of your manager’s decision style will help you determine the best communication strategy. You might emphasize data if she is analytical or perhaps explain the potential impact on customers if she prefers a more reflective approach.
Few tasks are more difficult than making a complex idea easy to understand. You will struggle to distill your ideas into a simple format, so expect to spend significant time editing and revising your presentation materials. Identify a person whose communication style you admire and ask for help.
Be brief. Use a short outline to communicate your message. Too much text and data will overwhelm your audience and they will quickly lose interest in the subject and you.Your solution presentation should include measurable objectives that include a baseline and metrics by which success will be judged.Organize your data into meaningful groups to ensure your audience quickly grasps your message. Document all financial and service support (IT) required to achieve your objective. Minimize resource requirements because resource intensive projects are less likely to be selected for implementation.Include a list of risks, if any, associated with your solution and mitigation strategies.
Need help crafting a solution? This is a great opportunity for you to identify and seek the help of a mentor, who could be colleague, senior manager or industry peer. Ask your prospective mentor for guidance on a specific project, with a defined time line (and therefore a limited commitment on her part). She will be more inclined to participate because requests for generic mentoring generally yield little value for either the mentor or the mentee.
Whether successful or not on a specific project proposal, you will surely be better prepared to succeed on future projects. Additionally, project activities will serve as meaningful training for you, which is important in this time of ever shrinking training budgets. Take control of your professional development by enhancing your skills in problem solving, analytic thinking, writing, presentation, project management / organization, team building and political maneuvering. You will also be building relationships during the course of your project that will most certainly benefit you as you advance in the organization.
Richard Oye is a principal with Helix Logistics. An accomplished business leader with an engaging, entrepreneurial style, he has led start-ups and Fortune 300’s alike through complex systems design, optimization and strategic pricing analysis where network efficiencies, service excellence and cost containment are critical to success. To learn more, visit www.linkedin.com/in/richardoye, or send him an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.