I can’t get senior leadership to buy into a proposal. What am I doing wrong?
Possibly, you’re doing nothing wrong. Maybe, they just don’t buy into it.
That is the most common reason why your proposal doesn’t get accepted. You’ve put a lot of time and effort into crafting a proposal that is valuable, from your perspective, but it doesn’t align with what leadership are trying to achieve or what they consider as most valuable at that stage.
Remember, leadership teams have a great deal of competing priorities and must keep a firm eye on the big picture whilst you may be deeply embedded in a very small piece of the organizational puzzle.
Your proposal may seem critically important to you, but it is competing against several other high-level priorities in their world.
The higher you travel up the organizational ladder, the broader the view. Being embedded in a team environment simply means that you have less insight into the big picture and the organizational priorities than your leadership team do.
So, you may simply not be aware of what you are competing against.
Step 1 – Get Feedback from your leadership team
Acknowledge their decision and ask them, politely and respectfully, why your proposal failed to win the resources or opportunities you pitched for.
Remember, you worked hard on your proposal for a specific reason, and you don’t need to give up at the first obstacle. If what you need is critical, you simply need to understand all the variables that leadership are taking into consideration and to rework your proposal to align with their priorities.
You can’t do that effectively if you don’t have feedback on your proposal and insight into what your leadership team consider critically important.
Acknowledge that they have rejected your proposal and ask them to provide you with insight into what they are choosing instead of your proposal. What are they electing to go with and what are they putting on the back burner for the time being?
You want to get closure. You want to understand that your proposal was solid, it is simply not the right time. You want to understand whether it is worth reworking your proposal and pitching the team at a later stage or whether the idea simply doesn’t have merit and must be abandoned.
Either way, you know exactly where you stand. It is either good, but not good enough or it is simply a matter of timing and worth exploring at a later stage.
A manager or leader is responsible for allocating the organization’s resources to maximise returns on investment. If your proposal looks great from your perspective but doesn’t align with expected returns on investment for your leadership team, it simply won’t be accepted.
Worst case scenario, you simply have a bad proposal. Getting feedback will allow you to understand why your proposal isn’t good enough and empower you to craft future proposals with more insight into the things that matter to your leadership team.
Step 2 – Get feedback from people around you
In my experience, most proposals don’t explain why the concept or idea is relevant and important to the people you are pitching.
Before you submit your proposal, take time to share your proposal with people around you. Get their feedback on whether the proposal makes clear why this is a priority, valuable and worth investing in or whether you need to go back to the drawing board.
If you have a coach or mentor, share your proposal and your line of reasoning with them and get feedback that can help guide you in the right direction. A coach will often help clarify your thinking and help you identify why this is important, how it will deliver returns on investment, and why the leadership team will benefit if they approve your proposal.
- Do you understand what your leadership team’s goals are?
- Do you understand what the organizational goals are?
- Do you understand how your proposal aligns with those goals?
- Do you understand how your proposal helps your leadership team achieve their goals?
- Can you talk to the metrics and measures that they are interested in?
- Can you talk to the strategy that they are interested and invested in?
Getting feedback from people within the organisation will allow you to hone your pitch and craft a proposal that is more likely to be accepted than if you attempted to pitch it alone.
Step 3 – Think bigger picture
Very often, your leadership team simply don’t have time to explore all the nuances of your proposal. They simply can’t come down to your level and attempt to understand how this fits on the local level.
They are optimising for the whole, the entire organisation, and can’t invest time in understanding how a proposal improves one small department of the business. You need to think bigger, and you need to show them how it fits into the big picture.
They need to be able to look at your proposal, understand how it fits into the big picture, and have a conversation with you about the impact your proposal will have on the organization.
Armed with your feedback from others and guided by your increased understanding of what the leadership team and organisational goals are, you can craft your proposal in a way that allows them to immediately understand the value and importance of your proposal.
Respect their time and respect the opportunity you are being given by thinking bigger and showing them that you have considered goals and strategic objectives that are greater than your team or department’s goals.
I’m very outcome orientated rather than output orientated so I am not interested in the work that has been invested in a proposal, I am interested in how your concept or idea is going to help me move the needle on goals and strategic objectives at the executive level.
Make it easy for people like me to understand how your proposal will move the needle on those strategic goals and objectives and you are more likely to win approval for your proposal.
If you invest the time and effort in speaking to people within the organisation, people who work around and closely with leadership teams, you are going to gain insight into what the leadership team are working on and why that is important to them and the organization.
When you pitch your idea in a way that immediately demonstrates how your proposal will help them achieve their goals and objectives or move them closer to achieving high-priority items, you are more likely to succeed in winning approval and resources.
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