Selling new ideas to the boss

Article by: Coach Kriengsak Niratpattanasai
Photo: Kampus Production

“Coach Kriengsak, my boss has asked me to come up with initiatives at work,” Rakang tells me. “But whenever I present an initiative, I always get a rejection from him. What should I do?”

“Khun Rakang, there could be several issues here,” I begin, drawing some pointers from Influence Without Authority by Allan R. Cohen and David L. Bradford:

  • How well thought out are your ideas?
  • How are you presenting them? Do they speak to your manager’s concerns?
  • Is his response a reflection more of his style than the quality of your ideas? Is he really rejecting your ideas, or is that his way of checking out the quality of your suggestions?

“Let’s look at these one by one,” I say. “The authors suggest you review yourself based on the following guideline:

“Does your manager like fully developed ideas (rather than wanting to have input early on)? If so, it is probably necessary to ‘sort’ your ideas, testing them with colleagues to be sure they are feasible. Because you know from experience that your boss is likely to be resistant to new ideas, don’t bring any that you have not worked out or aren’t reasonably certain will be beneficial.”

“Coach, I have to admit half of my ideas were not well thought out,” says Rakang. “I think I will apply what the book suggested. But what about the other half, for which I was well prepared?”

“Khun Rakang, based on your many years of experience, why do bosses resist good ideas?”

“There are a couple of reasons,” he suggests. “How well do you present the idea? Will your idea end up creating more work for your boss?”

“The authors of Influence Without Authority propose some solutions,” I tell him:

  • If your boss is overloaded, what can you do to help? Are there things you could do to ease his burdens, rather than add to them? Can you do more of the homework on your idea, so you can show how it’s already fully worked out and how you are prepared to take on more burden to make it easier to implement?
  • Can you do the analysis, the lobbying, or the rounding up of supporters that would make it more attractive for your boss to agree?
  • Another way to lighten your boss’s load is to find a part of his current job that you could help with _ an aspect that would be easier for you to do than for him to do because of your skills _ or a part that you would like to learn about. That adds to the values you have to offer. If you are thinking like an influential partner and not a lowly subordinate, you will want to find ways to help.

“Coach, what if I’m not good at presenting an initiative?”

“It depends on your boss’s style. Some bosses go easy if they trust you, regardless of how bad your presentation style is. This probably happens with a lot of Thai leaders who have spent several years with the presenter.

“Some bosses have bias against the younger Generation Y. These Baby Boomer bosses climbed up the corporate ladder believing in ‘no pain, no gain’. They expect everyone to well prepared, do all the homework, perfect all the grammar and propose a risk-free initiative. You have to do a lot of homework.”

“Coach, what if my boss doesn’t trust me?”

“Why is that, Khun Rakang?”

“Probably, he thought that I was blaming him.”

“What made him think that?”

“When I proposed an initiative, I always complained about the status quo. Sometimes I blamed previous people who had been in charge in my position, or sometimes I referred to best practices in other organisations.”

“What made you say that?”

“I believe the saying that ‘the new wave will replace the old wave’.”

“Where did you get that belief?”

“When I was doing my PhD. Most of my lecturers always preached this slogan.”

“Khun Rakang, do you think this belief is an absolute truth?”

“No, there is no absolute truth.”

“Khun Rakang, our behaviour comes from our thoughts. Our thoughts come from our beliefs. Our beliefs come from our experience. In this case, your belief triggers your inappropriate behaviour with your boss. What alternative belief should you tell yourself from now on?”

“Usually, a new way of doing things replaces an old way. Nevertheless, there are some good old ways we can preserve,” he suggests. “We don’t need to change everything at one time. Human beings evolve. We transform ourselves all the time _ little by little. We can appreciate some good old ways and replace the ones that do not fit new circumstances.”

“Khun Rakang, what would you do to affirm this new belief?”

“Coach, I meditate every morning. I will reaffirm this belief after the meditation for a month.”

“Let’s try for a month and follow up on it.”