Few things in business are as disheartening as presenting a new idea or exciting project, only to be met with a lukewarm or negative response from the boss. The key to wowing a manager is a plan custom built to align with the boss’ priorities.
That’s the advice of leadership expert Jon Lokhorst, CPA, PCC, author of the book Mission-Critical Leadership: How Smart Managers Lead Well in All Directions (2021, Indie Books International).
“Many worthy ideas fall by the wayside because those who propose them don’t show how the ideas will move important organizational priorities forward,” says Lokhorst. “It’s like climbing a tall ladder to paint the peak of your house, only to discover you didn’t move the ladder close enough to reach the peak!”
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Lokhorst is a leadership coach, speaker, and author with over three decades experience in the finance and non-profit sectors. As a consultant, Lokhorst works with companies to develop strategies to increase employee engagement, reduce turnover, and to teach employees how to “lead up” and form partnerships with their bosses.
“Leading up is an often neglected, but essential function of leadership,” explains Lokhorst. “Remember, you will likely spend your entire career with someone above you. The best leaders learn the delicate-yet-bold art of leading up.”
Lokhorst’s advice for avoiding the dreaded boss yawn is to “seek clarity on your boss’s top priorities and execute on them. Those priorities may relate to important initiatives that flow from higher levels within the organization. By helping move them forward, you gain credibility and visibility, not only with your boss but his or her peers and superiors as well.”
According to Lokhorst, any idea presented to your boss should be a business case that lays out a well-designed argument as to why the idea is advantageous to the organization.
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Here are Lokhorst’s nine framework components of an effective business case:
- Define the problem. Most change initiatives are designed to solve problems. Create a clear and succinct description of the problem to attract attention.
- Explain the implications. Outline the consequences of the problem in the immediate term as well as long term. Help your superiors envision the repercussions of not making a change. Describe the current approach to the issue as a band-aid. As I often tell coaching clients, “Pull on the band-aid and let them feel the pain.”
- Offer potential solutions. Show that you’ve done your due diligence by identifying multiple solutions to the problem. Provide a summary of the alternatives you explored. Consider creating a chart that compares the critical elements of each option.
- Present a recommendation. Offer your proposed solution and a high-level description of how it will be implemented. Explain the most significant advantages of your proposal over other options. Anticipate the question, “How much will this cost?” and outline the financial investment
- Identify resources. Another question that’s sure to arise is, “How are we going to pay for this?” Identify potential funding sources for both up-front and ongoing costs. Determine the budget lines that will pay for your proposal or describe the financing for it. If future cost savings will fund the initiative, show the payback calculation.
- Provide a cost-benefit analysis. Include nonfinancial costs and benefits along with the financial ones. For instance, in the healthcare industry, increased patient satisfaction and retention would be among the benefits you could present.
- Acknowledge potential risks. Rarely are change initiatives without risk. Leaders are naturally wary of proposals that include all benefits without acknowledging the potential for failure or setbacks. Be transparent about those risks.
- Include criteria for measurement. This step assures your superiors that you have a long view of success. Describe how you will measure success and determine whether mid-course adjustments are necessary along the way.
- Request a decision. A clear ask speeds the decision-making process. A lack of clarity slows it down. Prepare your request in the form of a question that compels a prompt response or at least advances the discussion.
Lokhorst adds that even great “ideas can fail because they lack due diligence. Instead, show your boss that you’ve done your homework.”
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