How to Guarantee Your Proposal Gets Heard

Jonathan and Thomas both have a great idea for their companies. Jonathan works at a multi-million dollar firm, and so does Thomas.

They are equally qualified and talented.

They both give their proposal to senior team members at the same time of the fiscal year. They both speak to the key decision-maker, who is equally open-minded in both cases.

They both have a professional and polished presentation.

Both are well-spoken, quick on their feet, competently answer questions, and seem to have a solid handle on the implications of their proposal.

Thomas’ idea ends up adopted and implemented, with positive results for his firm and his career. Meanwhile, Jonathan’s proposal ends up at the bottom of a file cabinet.

What was the critical difference? Why did Jonathan fail where Thomas succeeded?

Social proof and buy-in.

While Jonathan presented his idea one day, out of the blue, Thomas had been building support and buy-in from his fellow team-members for months before the “official” reveal:

  • Discussing and debating his idea with colleagues
  • Throwing out quick questions to senior team members over lunch or on the walk to the parking lot after work
  • Researching similar proposals from the past and what the outcomes were
  • And getting feedback from multiple divisions and departments to learn what the costs, benefits and implications would be from their perspective

Gradually, week by week, he was planting the seeds of his formal proposal.

When he finally did present it, it was not “his big idea.” It was a rising consensus that had been building in the entire organization.

While he may be recognized as the leader of this proposal, he now had the support of dozens of people, including senior people, behind him.

Jonathan, on the other hand, had not discussed anything with anyone. While he had done his homework and created a great presentation, that’s not enough. It fell flat because he didn’t have any real momentum or support.

In order to move a big organization in a meaningful way, it takes a significant amount of energy.

That social energy cannot come from just one person (unless that person is at the most senior level… and even then, it can fail).

It comes from a process of building consensus, and leveraging the agreement and support of many individuals.

If your ideas consistently fail to be heard, there is a good chance you are neglecting the power of social proof and getting buy-in from others.

You have to think and act strategically.

Start testing your idea with lots of different people, get their feedback. Ask questions of senior people and leaders in the organization, see what their reaction is.

Over time, as more and more people at all levels of the organization get on board with your idea, your support builds.

Your idea becomes more and more real. It becomes “normalized” or even “common sense,” not just a random thought that one person had one day.

And you have also given the many brains in the organization time to digest the idea, play around with it, and get comfortable with it.

Treat your proposal not as a one-shot event, but rather as an ongoing, low-level campaign of persuasion on a large scale.

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