Finding the Perfect Time to Pitch an Idea

One day you suddenly get a tingly sensation all over and sort of feel like you’ve just been hit by a bus. But it’s not the flu – it’s the feeling of a brilliant idea flashing in your brain!

Perhaps it’s a new way to use technology to solve a chronic problem with employee turnover or a way to eliminate troublesome bugs in a new process, but you know you’ve hit on something big.

Your tingly feeling quickly dissipates, however, when you consider that the boss will never buy into your idea. The last time you tried to tell him about an innovative idea his eyes started to glaze over within the first two minutes of your pitch. The next time you thought of an idea, you sent him an email about it.

He never responded.

If you’re someone who has great ideas but struggles to communicate them, you may become so frustrated that you consider leaving your employer. You believe that another company may appreciate you more, and your proposals will be heeded and appreciated.

Wrong.

The truth is that if you’re unable to advocate successfully for your own ideas in one company, the problem is sure to follow you no matter where you go. That’s because the problem lies within you, not within your department or company.

If you want the boss to listen to your ideas, one of the most important strategies is learning when to pitch your idea. Time it wrong and you get the glazed-eye stare.  For example, you don’t want to suggest a new idea when his plate seems full with projects or deadlines, or he’s rushing out the door for a business trip. Often, you can strike up a friendship with someone who works closely with his schedule, such an executive assistant or an office manager, who can give you a clue as to when he might not seem so stressed about deadlines.

However, if your idea would help the boss handle a major problem he’s currently trying to solve, don’t hesitate. That issue will be top-of-mind for him, so jump in.

Here are some other ways to get any boss to perk up and take notice when you propose an idea:

Gauge the mood

Bosses will be in a better frame of mind and more receptive to ideas if they’ve just landed a new client or come through an audit with flying colors. They’re also more likely to be open to spending money if it’s still early in a new budget. Money gets tighter as the year goes along, so try to propose your idea in the first quarter.

Pack your suitcase

One of the best times to talk to the boss is while traveling with him.  Whether stuck in airport security lines or killing time in the hotel bar, sharing a road warrior experience gives you great opportunities to make a pitch. If the chance arises for you to travel on an assignment with the boss or attend a seminar with him, take it.

Communicate urgency

Most leaders move from one crisis to another. They’re constantly in firefighter mode, ready to jump in to put out one fire before moving to the next critical need.  Make sure the boss understands why he must listen to your proposal now and not put it off.

Tie it to the bottom line

Any proposal must immediately convey to the boss why the idea is going to have an immediate impact on the company. Will it bring in new customers? Save money? Position the employer ahead of the competition? Boost employee morale and productivity?

Be prepared

Bosses don’t want to ask you how such an idea will work and you stammer out “Well, uh….” If you pitch an idea, you better be ready to answer questions about how it can be put into place without costing too much time or money.  Bosses are more open to ideas that seem to already be off and running, so do due diligence beforehand.

Fit the culture

If you work in a conservative culture, proposing something really risky is likely to turn off the boss.  You’ve got to pitch the idea in a way he can see how it will fit in with existing practices or projects that already have the green light from senior leadership.

Avoid office politics

Any proposal that could step on the toes of another department may be immediately vetoed by a boss. If you need stakeholders from other areas for your proposal to work, try to get initial buy-in from them before you meet with your boss. You’ve got to make it appealing to those who will be affected or you’re likely to get resistance from your boss and other department heads.

The thought of becoming a bigger advocate for your ideas can be a bit scary.  But once you do your homework and time your pitch correctly, you’ll find greater success that will help you in this job and others.

What ways have you found effective in being a better advocate for your ideas?















Anita Bruzzese

Anita Bruzzese is a syndicated columnist for Gannett/USA Today on workplace issues and the author of “45 Things You Do That Drive Your Boss Crazy.” She has been on the Today show, and quoted in publications such as O, The Oprah Magazine, Glamour, Self.com and BusinessWeek.com. Her website, 45things.com, is listed on the Forbes top 100 websites for women.

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