For most of us, the business world is one of ideas, proposals and pitches. Regardless of our authority level there comes a time when we must present proposals to others. Doing this well can boost the odds of generating approval. The following eight-step model – PERSUADE – can help get much-needed buy-in for HR initiatives.
1. Pave the way. It’s important to understand that your chances of gaining the attention of senior leaders, getting an audience for and consideration of your ideas, and getting the nod to move forward is based, not just on this specific proposal, but on the relationship and reputation you have established over time.
If you’re viewed as an HR professional who understands the business, works to ensure that your own and your department’s efforts are designed to move the business forward, and that your proposals are well-reasoned and framed from a business perspective, you’ll hit the ground running. That kind of reputation takes time to build and it requires knowing what your organization’s strategic goals and objectives are and being able to frame your proposals (all of them) from that point of view.
Remember, also, that any proposal is more than a one-time interaction. Paving the way may also involve a lot of up-front and behind-the-scenes work to lay the foundation for what you have in mind, to gather input and generate support from others, and to make sure you’ve done your homework to fully comprehend the implications of your recommendations for the business—and for those you’ll be presenting to.
2. Evaluate your audience. Whenever you’re making a proposal you need to be able to convey it from the point of view of the decision-maker, or decision-makers and constantly think of WIIFM (What’s in it for them?)
- How does what you’re proposing represent value for them, personally, and for the company as a whole?
- If this is a proposal you’re making to the CEO, what are his or her top-of-mind issues or concerns?
- What has he or she approved in the past and why?
- What proposals have been denied, and why?
Familiarizing yourself with other stakeholders’ drivers, goals and preferred type of language is a positive step toward achieving your desired outcome. For example, some people are very data driven while others are visual learners. Some like to “get right to the point” while others prefer to “shoot the breeze” before getting down to business. Being able to connect in the preferred manner of the person you’re hoping to persuade can help get the conversation started down the right path from the outset.
3. Research alternatives. Whatever you’re presenting, chances are it’s not the only option. To ensure that you can build a strong case for your proposal, it’s important to know what other options are available and how your suggestion is better. This might be in terms of several factors, including:
- Cost (time and money);
- Value (which you will need to quantify);
- Relationships and reputation; or
- Other tangible factors that could help make your proposal look optimal.
Understand the alternatives and be prepared to address why they just don’t cut it compared to what you’re proposing.
4. Select an appropriate time. Late on a Friday afternoon after a long week when your boss has been bruised and battered with a multitude of projects and problems is not a good time to make a proposal of any kind. Based on what you know about the audience, their preferences and the business cycles of your organization, select a day or time when:
- You are most likely to have the individual’s or group’s undivided attention;
- When they are least likely to be focused on competing demands; and
- When the internal climate seems most favorably disposed to hearing what you have to offer.
5. Understand, and be prepared to respond to, potential objections.
While you want to have a positive mindset in terms of the chances your proposal receives a green light, it’s critical that you consider all of the potential objections that your audience might have, and that you’re prepared to respond to those objections with specific, credible information. At the same time, you should focus on emphasizing the specific benefits of what you’re proposing.
Remember: “What’s in it for them?” Keep in mind that, whoever you’re making a proposal to, has self interest in play. They may have a boss, or a board, that they need to impress. If what you’re proposing can help establish them in a good light, your chances of success will be good.
The reverse, of course, is also true. Most actions or changes will have both pros and cons; how well you are able to deal with objections will determine how successful you will be in selling your idea. It’s worth preparing for these objections and asking peers or partners for their thoughts on what issues people might have with your idea.
6. Add up the numbers.
In a business environment, numbers talk. The more you can point to specific, bottom-line impacts of what you’re proposing—that your proposal will either be able to make money, or save money—the more likely you will be to get the attention of senior leaders. What is the current situation and what costs (in terms of actual out-of-pocket costs, staff time, productivity, product/service quality, etc.) exist? How would your proposal positively impact those costs?
Be prepared to “show them the numbers”—you can’t just claim benefit, you need to demonstrate benefit in tangible ways. So, not: “We can save a lot on the cost of having to hire legal counsel,” but: “Our current annual expenses for legal counsel are $X; X% of those costs are related to research on state law changes. If we were able to readily access that information ourselves, we could save $X per year.”
7. Deliver your pitch with passion. A weak proposal, with minimal eye contact, mumbled responses and an apparent lack of conviction in what you’re saying will diminish your chances of success. Make sure that you present with positive, high energy and that your communication—verbal and non-verbal—strongly conveys your conviction that what you’re proposing is absolutely the best option to pursue.
8. Exit gracefully. Regardless of the outcome of your proposal, keep your response professional and positive. Even a “no,” may not be a final “no,” but just a “no for now.” Keep the door open for reconsideration at some later date. Keep in mind, too, that you may not get a response immediately. That’s okay. If the individual, or group, you’re proposing to needs time to consider ask to schedule a follow up meeting or discussion in the not-too-distant future. Ask, too, whether there is additional information you can gather to help them with their considerations.
Being able to effectively deliver proposals that get approval more often than not, is both science and art. The science involves the ability to convey, and quantify, the real, bottom-line benefits to the business. The art involves the ability to deliver an informed, passionate, professional and respectful presentation. The eight steps above can help you do just that!