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All too often, our bosses make key decisions and inform us after the fact. Whether it’s a decision to realign the organizational chart, move forward with a major project or invest in new technology, reactively learning about these decisions isn’t nearly as fun as being at the decision-making table.
At some point in your professional career, especially if you’re in a senior role, it’s more beneficial (and often, expected) to proactively build your own recommendations for major decisions rather than reactively wait to find out what happened. Doing so, however, needs to be done carefully. If you’re planning to propose a solution to a problem, here are five things you’ll want to make sure you do.
Related: How to Write Proposals That Get Accepted and Don’t Take Forever to Write
1. Make sure your proposal benefits others, not just yourself
All great proposals are built with the overall organization’s success in mind, not just yours. So, if you’re passionate about pitching a new direction for your division or the whole company, check your intentions. Make sure your recommendations don’t just benefit you. Seek to understand the position of others. To do this, don’t just assume you know how people feel. Ask around, and gather evidence. Fully consider the problem statement as if you were the CEO. Pretend you don’t have your own pony in the race. Work incredibly hard to be unbiased and objective.
Anytime you’re making a recommendation, you should be able to clearly state why it’s a good idea for all. Be prepared to state how your proposal helps the overall business achieve its strategic objectives and goals whether that be generating revenue, controlling costs, improving efficiency or delivering better customer service. Of course, the best recommendations will solve a previously existing pain point of the organization or seek to improve something that’s in complete alignment with the company’s direction.
2. Anticipate objections
Know what pushback you’re likely to get from your audience and prepare for it in advance. If you have an opportunity to directly ask your audience about their concerns while you’re preparing for your proposal, that’s even better. Tailor a good portion of your proposal toward overcoming these objections. As always, be specific. Be sure to state exactly why and how you plan to overcome the reservations of your audience.
There’s nothing worse than being caught off guard or surprised by an objection in the middle of your presentation and having to say: “I/we didn’t consider or look into that yet.” Don’t let that happen to you; the best proposals are thorough and will already have considered alternative courses of action and debunked or invalidated them as the best course of action.
3. Do your homework
It’s hard to argue with data — so find it. Research all relevant information. You might consider what successful peer groups or competitors are doing, how similar projects have worked out in the past and what people are saying about such projects or endeavors. Cite facts and figures anywhere you can. Research your audience, too. Learn about their preferences and thoughts. Make decisions on what research to include and where to put it. Some reviewers might prefer to see the data or evidence throughout the presentation, others in an appendix or at the end. Know this and plan accordingly.
Related: 8 Crucial Tips to Win Every Business Proposal You Ever Send
4. Talk to others for input
Get advice or input from key stakeholders. Find people who would be directly affected by any changes your proposal creates and get beneficial statements from them. You might ask questions like: “What are your pain points with the current process? How much time are you losing on that process weekly? How would this change benefit you? What are you wanting?” Ask these people if you can quote them. Sometimes a live testimonial or real story paints a picture that hard facts won’t by themselves.
Find people who have made similar proposals with success and learn what they did and what worked well. You might ask: “How does Tom like to absorb information? What kind of slides does he prefer? When you presented to him last year, how did you approach this component of your presentation?” Also, ask key advisors and confidants to weigh in on your thinking. Share what you’ve got and ask: “What do you think of this so far? What am I missing? What do you think I should add or change?” The more you talk with trustworthy people that have experience and wisdom in your field, the more opportunities you have to consider new and alternative avenues.
5. Make sure you consider as many scenarios as possible
It can be easy to get tunnel vision whenever we have a new idea. Be sure to take time to consider all the possible avenues, not just the most obvious or the ones easiest to spot. The low-hanging fruit or fastest, cheapest route isn’t always the best route. Oftentimes, we get hung up on two or three possible solutions for a problem and begin debating their merits before considering the rest of the possibilities out there. When we do this, we run the risk of missing the right solution. The best proposals are those that come from presenters who can readily say, “We looked at these other alternatives, but decided to go in this direction instead — and here’s why.”
Presenting a proposal or recommendation for action can be scary and intimidating, especially if you haven’t been formally asked to weigh in on the topic. However, if you take all five of these steps, you’ll find that you can feel well-prepared and ready for questions. If the topic is something you’re passionate about, asking permission to prepare a proposal on it is often the right thing to do. Often, those closest to the problem have the best ideas on how to solve it — and that idea just might be yours.