Most managers are looking for and open to ideas. They often have experience and are in a good position to evaluate the merits of an idea. If they reject your idea, it 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. There are plenty of ideas that have never been realized, usually due to the level of difficulty or failure to convince others of the benefits.
Managers are people and are just as diverse, so there’s no one way that will work for all. Knowing your manager’s style will help, so you can adapt your approach. Once you've had an "Aha!" moment, it's best to develop the idea, conduct some research, test the idea, and then develop a method to implement it.
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.
Be enthusiastic about your idea, but try not to appear overly excited. It may be your first professional idea, but controlling your emotions lets your managers and executives see that you are clear headed enough to thoroughly analyze your suggestion.
Do Your Homework
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 out or tried before, and find out what the results were. 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.
Test Your Idea
Test your idea with a few trusted co-workers. See if it makes sense to them, ask them to be critical, and provide feedback. Listen, 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 not that great, maybe it wasn't meant to be.
The best conceived, tested and researched idea will go nowhere if the implementation method is not planned, too difficult or too expensive. As you are developing and researching your idea, work to identify methods to ease the impact of the implementation.
If you cannot seem to come up with methods for enabling your idea, consult your peers or others who may have some ideas.
Your ideas are more likely to get your manager’s attention if they identify:
- A way to reduce expenses
- A way to increase revenue
- A way to get more done with fewer 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
Avoid These Kinds of Ideas
Here are a few ideas that are more likely to lose your manager’s interest:
- 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 too much for current circumstances
- Ideas for the sake of having an idea
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.
If your manager starts making suggestions, then you’re getting close. That means they may be starting to buy in, and are least curious about the benefits. Don't be rigid with your idea—if the intent of your idea is to make improvements, the more flexible you are the more it will help everyone.
Develop a Formal Proposal
Ideas are a dime a dozen, but execution is what separates the great from the average. Good ideas rate a “drop and wait.” That is, develop a proposal with the necessary executive summary, problem to address, and solution explanation.
Be sure to include your method of implementation, risk management plan, and how it will benefit the company. Drop your proposal or business case on your manager’s desk and wait. If they approve, they'll likely be looking for someone to oversee the changes.
Volunteer to Lead
If you truly believe the idea is worth the time you spent on it, you'll be willing to take responsibility for the implementation and success (or failure) of your idea. This not only demonstrates your ability to come up with ideas but assures others that you are confident that the idea will work.
Credit for the Idea
Be willing to let go of the notion that the idea is “yours” if you developed it for the place you work. Not only does it seem petty, but employers often have clauses in hiring contracts that give them ownership of ideas and products created for their business.
If the idea is original, the company may file for a patent or copyright since the idea was related to work that you do. You may be able to retain patent ownership or copyrights of an idea depending on your relationship to your employer.
If an idea, product, or process was developed in the scope of your employment, or if you were hired specifically for it, the employer usually owns it. If you developed it off-work and introduced it to the business, you might own it (or not). Lawyers may need to help you and your employer decide ownership if it is not written and agreed upon in your contract.