Ways to Get Management to Listen to Your Ideas

One often hear disengaged employees complain that their management is close-mined, not open to change, stuck in their ways, and just not open to new ideas. “Why’s that?” I’ll ask? “Why would a perfectly reasonable person not be interested in a good idea?”

Sometimes, the person or group that has formed this belief works for a pointy-haired boss (PHB). Or maybe a BOSS (double SOB spelled backwards). This article isn’t about those managers, because frankly, I’ve never had much success getting idiot managers to listen to good ideas. In these cases, you’re better off looking for a new manager to work for or pitch your idea to.

The good news is, most managers are relatively intelligent, successful people who are working as hard if not harder than you to help your team and the company succeed. They’re always looking for good ideas. They also often have experience, know more, and are in a good position to evaluate the merits of an idea. When they reject your idea, chances are, your idea may not have been as good as you thought, or maybe you didn’t do a good job pitching it.

Another reality is that most ideas are never implemented. I’d compare it to baseball. A 300 average (3 ideas implemented out of 10) and you’re an all-star. However, if you never even step up to the plate, or take a swing, your batting average will always be 0. So start by having a realistic expectation of what success is when it comes to innovation.

What can you do to ensure your ideas at least get listened to? Managers are as different as people are different, so there’s no one way that will work for all. Knowing your manager’s style will help, so you can adapt your approach. For example, using a social styles model, a “Driver” will want you to get to the point and present the facts. With an “Amiable”, you’ll have a better chance if you’ve built a good relationship first.

However, for many managers, or least for me, consider the following tips:

1. Develop an inspiring vision of your idea. Describe it in a way that brings out your enthusiasm, your passion, and commitment. Most people have a hard time not listening to someone that’s genuinely fired up about something. And if YOU’RE not excited about it, how can you expect someone else to be interested?

2. Take the time to think it over, list the pros and cons, and come up with a plan. Check to see if it’s been thought of or tried before, and what were the results. In other words, don’t waste your manager’s time “thinking out loud” – do your thinking on your own time, then present a well developed idea.

3. Test your idea with a few trusted co-workers. See if it makes sense to them, ask them to be critical, and provide feedback. Check for their understanding to see how well you’re explaining it. While you shouldn’t let resistance squash your enthusiasm, be prepared to accept that if five people tell you it’s ugly, it just might be ugly.

4. While I can’t speak for all managers, here’s some ideas are more likely to get your manager’s attention:
- A way to reduce expenses
- A way to increase revenue
- A way to get more done with less people (improve efficiency)
- A solution to a problem your manager has been trying to solve
- An idea that will help your department achieve one or more of its goals
- An idea that will help one of your co-workers be more successful (rarely do we come up with these kind of ideas… that is, being an advocate for your peers, and not just yourself or your manager)

5. Here are a few ideas that are more likely to lose your manager’s interest in the first three minutes:
- Something obviously self-promoting, or blatant empire building
- A way to make your job easier, but at other people’s expense
- Something that has a great potential to embarrass your manager (and you)
- Something that’s going to cost a LOT of money in a tight economy
- An idea built on the assumption that 2+2=5
- Fluff

6. When you present your idea, answer your manager’s questions patiently and with respect. If you don’t know the answer, admit it, and commit to getting the answer.

7. If your manager starts making suggestions, then you’re there! That means he/she is starting to buy in, and taking some shared ownership. Don’t be rigid about the details – give a little, if anything just to get buy-in, and who knows, your manager’s suggestions just might improve your chances for success.

8. Be willing to let go of the notion that the idea is “yours”. The best ideas are the ones where multiple stakeholders have had a hand in shaping, and you’ve been able to build a broad base of ownership and support. Insisting that you get “credit” for “your” idea will be seen as immature and selfish. Don’t worry; enough people will become aware of your involvement, especially if you keep coming up with good ideas. Don’t expect your name and picture to be inscribed on the idea.

9. Decide on who else should be involved. Determine who the stakeholders are: who will be impacted the most, whose support do you need, and who else could contribute to refining the idea. Agree on who should talk to whom and by when.

10. If needed, follow-up with a more detailed, formal business case. Stay on it. Ideas are a dime a dozen, but execution is what separates the great from the average. This is not a “drop and run”. That is, drop your proposal or business case on your manager’s desk and sit back and wait. Step up and take personal responsibility for making sure the idea gets implemented. That’s a good way to get yourself heard the next time.

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