When I worked at an advertising agency as a junior account executive (or "suit") responsible for managing accounts, we had a client who didn't like any of the ad copy our creative team had presented for a certain ad. And the publication deadline was literally hours away. As a "suit" versus a "creative," I still took it upon myself to write some ad copy, which my boss reluctantly shared with the anxious client, who loved it.
My copy won the day for the agency, but made my boss look bad. It appeared that he had lost control of the situation by letting me solve the problem instead of having the creative team create the ad. My relationship with my boss never recovered.
Most organizations preach a "credit where credit is due" policy among employees. Management often rewards individuals for coming up with cost-saving improvements and other ideas about how to make the organization a better place to work and more profitable. The environment can become competitive with everyone vying for promotions, pay increases and the favour of senior management. Egos will almost always be in play, as with the ad agency where the question of who actually solved the client's creative challenge became more important than the fact that the agency finally fixed the problem — and kept the business.
If its immediate and positive impact is obvious, your boss may be more inclined to use it.
When presenting an idea to your boss, it's wise to consider six things:
Best for you or the business
Is your idea based on solving an existing problem or building on an opportunity that will help your business? If its immediate and positive impact is obvious, your boss may be more inclined to use it. However, if it appears to promote your best interests first, then rethink sharing it.
Assess the risk level
Is your boss on solid ground or is she being watched closely due to lacklustre performance? If it's the former, she may be willing to try out your idea as she can afford to take a risk. If it's the latter, ensure that your idea is essentially bulletproof (largely risk free) and will make her look good.
Timing is everything
Timing the sharing of your idea is just as important as its benefits. Trying to get your boss' full attention in pressure-filled moments will be difficult. Even worse, you may irritate him with your lack of sensitivity to his stress. Rather, arrange to meet for coffee in a relaxed setting and give him several scheduling options. Based on his schedule and mood, he may unexpectedly say, "I am free now. Let's talk." Agree to meet then and there only if you are fully prepared.
In my enthusiasm, I have presented a "half-baked" idea only to be asked to come back with the answers I should have prepared. (I felt the wind leave my sails when I had to go back a second time.) Not thinking through key details reduces the chances of him liking your idea and can hurt your credibility, which can be hard to restore.
More career advice from Evan Thompson:
Confidence is key
My success in pitching an idea to a boss or client has always come from covering the details and my confidence in my idea. My body language reflects this confidence. Rather than taking a "take it or leave it" stance, I weigh her business role, personal likes and dislikes as well as current state of the organization or business.
Consider your organizational position
Instead of suggesting that my idea is a natural and can't-miss strategy for our organization, I say something like, "I've spent some time considering this idea and I'd appreciate your thoughts on how you see it benefiting our organization." If you are presenting to a boss who is preoccupied, consider saying, "I appreciate your time and will be concise. Let me begin with the what, when, why and how behind my idea."
Justify and walk away
After covering the details, close by offering a succinct summary of the idea and its benefits. Here's an example:
"Our business is growing so fast that we have more clients than account people to manage their needs. Clients have complained about dealing with a different account person every time they contact us. I suggest that we designate one team member only to manage specific client files and act as their contact person for the long term. That way, our team members can focus on certain clients who will save time while building a deeper relationship with each team member. This will lead to increased sales as our team members get to know clients' needs more fully."
Then, go silent and let your boss think. Avoid the temptation to say, "Well?" or "What do you think?" Silence is a powerful negotiating tool. And you will appear less anxious if you curb your enthusiasm for a response.
By seeking your boss' input, you are respecting his role in helping to ensure the success of the business, which is important to your ongoing relationship. If your pitch goes well, he may ask you to present to those higher in the organization. Again, remember to give credit where credit is due, especially when your boss listened carefully and offered ideas early on that make your idea even better.
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