How do you present new ideas at work?
Have you ever pitched an idea to our boss and run into a brick wall? Was your idea shot full of holes or dismissed? Today I provide insight into why some new ideas get off the ground and others die on the vine. Of course, I am going to share tips to strengthen your pitch, so your ideas are launched to success.
As an HR and Operations lifer, I have seen many employees present new ideas to improve the company, department, products, and processes. Even simple ideas like the selection of the snacks in the kitchen have fallen flat, simply because of the way the new idea was presented.
It’s not what we say, it’s how we say it
Unfortunately, there are great ideas, but because their pitch or presentation was lacking, the new idea didn’t get off the ground. Everybody has ideas. The difference between successful ideas and ideas that die during the pitch is directly related to how the idea is presented.
Why is it important to get your ideas off the ground?
As an HR lifer, I can tell you that the employees who pitch and launch new ideas will have more career options than those that pitch ideas that don’t take off. This can translate to new opportunities, promotions, transfers, and general likeability by our manager. In a nutshell, these employees will lead a charmed life. Regardless of where you work, or what level you are within your career, you can make a name for yourself by executing on ideas. The key is making sure the pitch is approved.
One way to set yourself up for new opportunities is to execute on ideas that improve your company. This makes sense because if you are making the company better, the company wants to give you more opportunity to make bigger and more impactful improvements.
How most new ideas are presented and the results
Leaders present their ideas using specific methods. I have seen many ideas from outside of the leadership circle presented in the following way:
- An employee runs into a decision maker who is on their way to a meeting (or bathroom) and asks the decision maker if they “have just a minute?”
No decision maker is in the mood to listen to pitch when they need to take a pee. Leaders are role models, so to show graciousness, the leader doesn’t cut the idea person off or ask, “Can we do this later?” One minute quickly turns into a few minutes which turns into the decision maker concentrating on their bathroom break and not hearing the idea. Leaders take note, here we can suggest a later time and volunteer to give our full attention.
Because we don’t have the full attention of our decision maker, we are not able to build support or engagement. Ideas don’t just “take a minute”. There is usually discussion, and this is what our decision maker (with poopy on the mind) doesn’t have time for at the moment.
How ideas die on the vine no. 2
When a new idea is presented, the decision maker will provide feedback based on their years of experience. Usually, this feedback includes additional work or research which the employee didn’t consider. The employee becomes frustrated with this feedback and concludes the decision maker is either dumb, uncooperative or both. (Think teenager and parent relationship) No further work is invested and of course, the idea dies in the land of “pissed off and frustrated.”
Very rarely are new ideas passed through on the first try.
The first lesson to learn about pitching a new idea is to realize the original idea is rarely the idea that will be the version which will be launched. Expect feedback on your original idea and realize it isn’t a reflection on you as a person!
Think about it this way:
- Thomas Edison didn’t invent the lightbulb on his first try, it took over 100 attempts. (The first 99 bulbs were feedback for improvement)
- The Wright Brothers first airplane wasn’t the first one that flew at Kitty Hawk. (The first few planes were push back)
I don’t have concrete data on this, but I would guesstimate that the number of employees that give up on their idea after the initial pitch is close to 80%. Of this group, 30% of the folks show frustration with the decision maker.
Ask for advice
The way to get buy-in from your decision maker is to ask for their advice. Getting your decision maker to feel invested will go a long way in the journey of an idea. A few questions you could as your mentor, sponsor, or decision maker:
- I believe I have thought this through, what am I missing on this idea?
- What kind of push back would you expect in my presentation?
- What could I change to make this idea more successful?
If you show frustration towards the decision maker, they are not going to be motivated to help.
Believe it or not, pushback/feedback from a decision maker is a good sign. Consider their feedback to be your career gold nuggets. At the end of the day, decision makers that provide feedback are invested in you and your idea. These decision-makers will be more prone to lending support when they are involved and feel appreciated.
Your number 1 goal is to have your idea listened to. A negative reaction to the decision makers feedback will influence how much support is provided.
How to pitch your idea
There are two things I believe you can do when pitching a new idea.
- Try not to take suggestions personally. Take feedback provided seriously, but don’t be offended, and don’t take it personally. Regardless of how the feedback is delivered, recognize the feedback is on the idea and not on your personality.
- Recognize that you have been thinking about your idea for days or weeks and thought through various scenarios. This is brand new information for your decision maker and they will need time to get up to speed. They need simplified and easy to understand explanations with time to digest what they are hearing.
Get an endorsement
I run my new ideas by peers before pitching to my boss. They may have insight that I missed and can keep me from embarrassing myself. Peers and mentors can also get on board with the idea and support me in the future. This dry run can help you avoid disappointment with your decision maker.
What does my pitch consist of?
Your initial pitch will be easier to digest if you present your idea at a very high level. Written documentation shouldn’t be more than a single page. This can also save you a lot of work. Set the expectation that you have an idea and want to just explore whether or not it is worth exploring. Explain you are going to keep your explanation at a very high level and don’t let your decision maker pull you into the weeds. Just get buy-in at a high-level and go deeper on the second meeting.
My personal pitch formula
My pitches will fit on a single page and I refer to them as a “one-pager”. They consist of the following data points and I only give a few sentences for each section. There are other models out there for pitching ideas and your decision maker may have a preferred method. Asking them directly for their preferred model will put you on the fast track to success. A few points I like to include in my one-pager:
- (Summary) Problem we are trying to solve
- (Action) How we are going to solve it
- (Result) Desired outcome
- (Budget) Financial impact
Ask for feedback and then come back with a more thorough document outlining various steps incorporating the feedback.
This process allows your decision maker time to understand and become engaged with your idea. When you are ready to execute, your idea can be flushed out and we can drive support behind the project.
Next time you are pitching a new idea, think about your audience and present your best self.
See you at the after party,
nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.
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