Training & Development

Help your supervisor know enough to say yes to your ideas

Quint Studer leads the Studer Community Institute's Performance Management workshop at WSRE at Pensacola State College on April 6. Credit: Shannon Nickinson.

So you have this idea. A great idea. A sure-fire winner.

You take this idea and march down to your boss’s office. And your idea gets a quick … no.

So much for great, right?

But before you get discouraged, take a closer look. Is it a “no” or a “know?”

Many times, a boss says no at first when it’s really “I need to know more” or “I don’t know enough to say yes.” In the busy life of a manager, the quickest thing to do is just say no.

Someone recently told me their idea was rejected by a supervisor. I asked if the idea was shared verbally or in writing. They said it was verbal. I said that the supervisor’s reaction didn’t surprise me.

In a perfect world, every time a person brought the boss an idea the boss had time to discuss in detail and follow up. My experience is that managers are so busy on a multitude of tasks that ideas get relegated to the sidelines or get abandoned with no action.

More than that, at times a supervisor may be so overwhelmed that any idea just seems like more work.

When I was at Baptist Hospital, we adopted an “idea program” based on what author Clay Sherman had created at Holy Cross Hospital in Chicago.

If you’re thinking that these idea/suggestion programs rarely work, I agree. But for this column I’m focusing on supervisors who are rejecting ideas. Here’s what we did right: We got every idea in writing. We also had a process by which every submitted idea that was rejected was reviewed by me, the president.

Most of the time, I agreed with the dismissals. However, there were times when good ideas got rejected due to the work they would require to implement or the all-too-common rationalization “there is no money.” There are times when money can be found if idea has a good return on investment.

Here are my tips on how to get your idea understood and across the finish line with your boss. What’s most important to understand is to not take rejection personally. It can be quite confusing when you are trying to help the company and the boss rejects something you feel will do just that.

Start the conversation with the outcome that can be achieved. We established that an idea in writing is the best way to go. However, a supervisor’s interest will perk up if the conversation starts out right. Don’t start chronologically. An idea that has merit will accomplish a desired outcome, and the ones that get enthusiasm from the boss will either grow revenue or reduce expenses. Imagine if you were on the receiving end of these statements: “I have a suggestion that will grow sales!” I’ve got an idea that will reduce our expenses!” I bet you would listen.

Move to the how. Once you have your supervisor’s attention from the outcome, share the how. This is the time to be more detailed in the steps to make the idea work.

Use the words “it is my perception.” Here’s a Pensacola Blue Wahoos example: There is likely a specific reason for the process we use to provide food to fans, perhaps steadfast policies or code compliance issues that prevent a lot of new ideas. However, go in saying something like “It is my perception, which may be wrong, but with current technology available, the fans could use a mobile app to order food at games. This would lead to happier fans due to less wait times, increased sales and better fan experience.”

— Put your idea in writing. Start with the outcome just like you would in a verbal conversation. Address the how, the barriers and the return on investment. If the return is too hard for you to figure out, make sure keywords like dollars generated, dollars saved, efficiency gained are included. Efficiency is important in that it creates time. And we all know time is vital.

While managers can be busy, it doesn’t mean that quickly dismissing ideas should be the standard protocol. As a manager, how can you create a better culture to have employees share their thoughts? Here are some quick tips:

Be specific. Don’t merely ask for general ideas. Pick an area of focus and then ask for ideas for that issue. For example, getting customers up to a second floor retail space is difficult. So instead of just saying “we need your ideas,” explain why it is important to attract customers upstairs and ask staff to send ideas to accomplish that.

Make a big deal of ideas. Even ideas that cannot be implemented shows the person who proposed it wants to be helpful. Collect all ideas and do a monthly drawing that includes names of all those who submitted an idea. In another drawing, include those with accepted ideas. Idea generation is like panning for gold. I find there are about three times as many rejected as accepted ideas. It is important when rejecting an idea to not reject the person.

Try to help the person adjust idea if it has promise. Sometimes the idea can be adjusted or implemented partially.

Say yes as much as you can. Those first ideas may not be great, however the persons sixth one may be great. If they were discouraged after “no’s” on the first five, the sixth may never happen.

Be experimental, even if it is just a “pilot.” My philosophy is if an idea won’t cost money or be harmful in any way, let’s try it.

People want input. Bosses want staff buy in. Learning to create that idea generation culture takes great skill, but it helps create great companies.