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Persuade Your Boss: Get the Tools You Need

We’ve all been in this situation – we need something to do our job faster and more effectively, but we lack input about using company resources. What do you do when you need something at work but you’re not the final decision-maker? You’ve got to learn how to persuade others.

We’ll explore that concept in this post. This is a step-by-step guide to helping you get the resources you need to do your job more effectively, more efficiently, and improve your company’s results. You’ll learn how to use persuasion to get the resources you need.

One word of caution: this process will only work if you have your company’s best interests in mind. As this article in Inc. states, if you fake interest, you won’t be heard at work. If your motivations are genuinely selfish in trying to “get something,” this won’t be much use to you. 

Key to Persuasion: Ask Questions First

The first thing you need to do is to make sure this issue impacts others throughout your company. If this is only affecting your day-to-day, you’re going to face a much more challenging road to get your ideas adopted. If you get the sense that others are struggling with the same issue, you’re far more likely to build momentum for the changes you’d like to see. Asking good questions is one of the most important steps in learning to persuade people.

You don’t need this to be a unanimous coalition of people. You need to know that this isn’t a one-off circumstance. If the issue you’re trying to address (lack of funding, the need for a new tool to help you work more efficiently, or a way to improve internal communication) only affects you, you’ll need to adjust your strategy. If you get the sense, others are feeling this exact pain point, you’ll have an easier time getting buy-in from leadership.

A word of caution here: approach this step carefully. You most want to avoid the impression that you’re stirring up dissatisfaction with the workplace. Spend more time asking questions about the challenges others face day-to-day than proposing solutions. You don’t want to submarine your career by being seen as someone starting a mutiny. 

Float the Idea Behind Closed Doors

One of the ways I’ve impacted change in organizations I belonged to when I wasn’t the decision-maker was through informal conversations. (In a healthy culture, people can speak up freely.)

What do I mean by this? I’ll start by telling you what I don’t mean. I am not suggesting you walk into people’s offices and start a conversation about your troubles. That’s not how you persuade anyone.

I am suggesting that you have business conversations with others from your organization. If you’re the office manager, learn more about what the operations manager is doing day-to-day. If you’re in finance, talk to sales leaders at your company and find out their daily routine and challenges. 

Ask how you can support these people in your company. And most importantly, mean it. 

What’s the purpose of this exercise? Well, there are a few reasons for this. One, you’re getting a free education about how the business runs. You’re learning the ins and outs of what gets done, when, and who executes those tasks. 

The second reason is that you’re gaining more information about whether your solution is valid. Yes, other day-to-day users at your level of the organization might see the value in your idea. But do those who lead in your organization see it that way? What challenges can you identify to adopting your concept? Is lack of funds the issue? What about the ramp-up time for the new program to be fully operational across the organization? 

By engaging in these thoughtful conversations, you get information directly from the leadership about what obstacles must be overcome to implement your solution. They’re telling you how to “sell” them on the change. 

Lastly, you do get the chance to plug your ideas. After you’ve asked thoughtful questions about how the business operates and asked good questions to clarify, you’ll have a better understanding of the challenges others face. Then you can ask, “Would this solution I discovered  help that area you’re struggling with?” 

The answers you get in these conversations inform the next step. 

Persuasive “Whys” Point to Business Results

The conversation you need to prepare for focuses on business results. You need to have some research ready (either done by a third party or, ideally, some internal data) that shows why the change needs to happen. Begin to prepare your case for making the change by using the most convincing information you can gather. Per the Harvard Business Review, this is one of the critical steps towards getting your ideas heard.

Internal data is best. Next would be information from a source your boss or leadership team will be familiar with, such as an industry organization. For example, if you’re an arborist, details on recruiting from the ISA or TCIA will be more convincing to your boss than information from Indeed. 

You need to prove that this change will be better for the business overall. You’ll never get traction on an idea that is only about your role in the organization. Prove to others that your idea will help the business achieve its stated goals. 

Have a Plan for the Newly Gained Resources

Obviously, you need a plan around what to do with the new “thing” you’re asking for – additional funds, new software, upgraded equipment – if your idea has any chance of succeeding. Of course, plan for that conversation. 

But as part of showing your company’s leadership that you’ve thought things through, have a plan for the additional resources gained, and also tie those back to business results. This is critical to persuading leaders to get behind your idea. What do I mean by this? 

Let’s say you’re asking for new equipment. This new equipment will save you a ton of time on each job site. For example, you’re a full-service landscaper, and you’re asking for a trencher.  You’ll no longer have to dig trenches by hand, saving you potentially hours on each French Drain you’re installing throughout a season. 

Do the math on this change. How much time is it going to save you? Does it improve efficiencies by 10%? 50%? What’s the gain to getting it? 

Then – and this is critical – what are you suggesting they do with the extra time? The business has just gotten 20% of its man-hours back for the season. Tie that to a business result – how many more jobs could they get it (and bill) with those hours? What would that mean for the company’s revenue? Does the difference reflect a net gain for the business over and above the equipment cost? 

Lastly, there are secondary (or tangential) benefits. Were there safety incidents last year involving injuries from manually digging these trenches? Would buying the trencher avoid safety incidents? How about service calls your company had to make to repair lingering damage to lawn areas adjacent to the trench? Would a reduction in the amount of damage done to each property, creating less re-seeding or re-sodding that needs to be done, help improve efficiencies? 

Get all your reasonings for the change thought out correctly and lined up, with numbers to back it all up. Then, think through the implications of that extra “savings” for the business and plan for those. 

Schedule a Meeting

You need to take this idea to your supervisor first. Schedule a meeting with them to do that. 

Why? Two excellent reasons. 

First, no one likes being surprised by a huge change. I talked to a landscape company owner recently who said, “If you pressure me into making a decision ‘right now,’ the answer is always going to be ‘No.’ I know what to expect from making no change – things will keep going the way they’ve been going. I need time to think through the implications of the change first.” 

I’ve never worked for a boss who liked surprises. Don’t drop something huge on them on the spur of the moment. You’ll never persuade someone to make a change if you spring it on them suddenly.

Secondly, you want to make sure you are heard. They must know what the meeting is about by telling them the point. Something like “I’ve got some ideas on how to do things better” is too vague. Something like “Hey, I believe I’ve found a way to help the sales team operate more efficiently, allowing them to make an additional two sales calls per rep, per day” is sure to gain their attention. 

Once you’ve done that, you’ll most likely have their undivided attention for that meeting. 

Be Patient

I’ve worked in organizations that quickly moved on decisions, and I’ve worked in places where those decisions were made with decided caution. 

Even in companies where decisions are made relatively quickly (like a sole proprietorship), there are likely other people involved in the decision-making process. Smart owners rarely implement a significant change without getting feedback from others in leadership at the company, especially if those people will have to live with and be responsible for implementing the change. 

When you set the meeting and walk out, you may have to wait weeks (or even months) to see an answer. 

In the meantime, do the best job you can do with the situation you’ve got. Politely but persistently remind your supervisor that you’re waiting on an answer. More frequently than every two to three weeks is probably overkill, especially if your leadership team meets infrequently. 

Keep it on their radar, but don’t become overbearing. You’ll just anger your supervisor, and they’re less likely to become an advocate for your ideas. 

Offer to Present

If this is an idea that you’re passionate about, and you’ve done the research on it, offer to present it to the leadership team. No one else, not even your boss, will advocate for the change the way you will. There’s not another person as prepared to be persuasive as you are.

Make sure you’ve organized your notes and are professionally presentable. Running through your presentation a few times in front of the mirror will help. You might feel silly at first, but it really will make a difference. I’ve got a massive amount of public speaking experience, and I still do this before each presentation. Sometimes I’ve done it two or three times before presenting. 

This has the added benefit of making you feel more confident when you speak. It also helps people with public speaking anxieties (like me) calm down before the event. 

If your anxiety is at a level that genuinely prevents you from doing this, offer to help your supervisor with the presentation. Hand them your research. Offer to do the PowerPoint or Google Slides for it. Prepare their notes and hand them the research you’ve discovered. Make sure they’re equipped to be the advocate for your idea if you can’t be. 

Be Grateful

If (and hopefully when!) your ideas are presented, and the company moves in that direction, display gratitude. Thank your manager or supervisor, the owner, and the leadership team. 

This goes for “partial” implementation as well. Let’s say you need additional funds to accomplish a specific task, and you only got half of what you asked for initially. Guess what? That’s 50% more than you had when you started this process, and that’s a win. 

I’ve learned that hand-written thank you notes and casual drop-ins to people’s offices to say a sincere “Thank you” go a LONG way. 

Practical Example: Higher Budget

One job I had was a full-service landscape company where I ran the marketing and supervised the inside sales team. I believed that I didn’t have the budget needed to deliver on the company’s goals, so I started asking questions. 

I asked the scheduler what the backlogs were like. Then, I asked sales reps about the quality of the leads they were getting. Then, I asked our pest control techs how the expectations were being set for the new customers they talked to. I was more convinced than ever that I needed more money to deliver high-quality leads and to help drive more volume. 

Next, I asked the applications manager how they were trending towards their goals. I asked the landscape operations manager what challenges he was facing. A conversation with our controller showed me where the financials were at, and how we were progressing towards the company goals. 

Where possible, I asked how I could help. The landscape operations manager and I discussed qualifying leads, and we worked on that process. The applications manager and I worked on messaging around upselling additional services like grub control, fungicides, and anti-desiccant sprays. 

During those conversations, I asked about whether an increased volume of sales would help. The answer was almost always “yes.” 

I calculated our closing percentage, by rep. Next, I figured out our average customer value, and how many leads we’d need to generate to get to our sales goals. I then figured out how much it was costing us to generate a lead. I did the math and figured out that we’d likely come up a bit short. (We didn’t, but that’s another story.)

I started having conversations with the managers. After they’d agreed that yes, the measures I’d already taken have helped and yes, we need more leads, I made the business case. I not only worked out the math on why I needed additional funds but I also figured out the secondary results. (In this case, the owner really wanted to create more jobs and donate to charitable causes. Also, we’d opened a second location, and the additional funding would allow us better brand awareness in the new market.) 

I scheduled a meeting with my boss. I laid out all the math I’d worked out. We had an outside consultant that also said the same thing; we needed more money to work with. He was sold. 

I offered to present to the leadership team, but he declined. He told me that, armed with this information, he could effectively advocate for a higher budget. He did, and the following year, I got a substantial increase in the budget. I wrote him a thank you card and made sure I stopped by the office of each member of the leadership team to say a personal “Thank you” as well. 

Recap: The Process

Did you see how I walked through those steps? 

  1. Started with talking to front-line workers to see what the reality on the ground was before proceeding. 
  2. Talked with managers and C-suite-level people to make sure I understood the business processes and goals before proceeding further. Floated my ideas in these conversations as they fit in naturally. 
  3. Created the business case behind why we needed to adjust the budget. 
  4. I went into it with some plans for what the additional funding would allow us to do (branding for new market AND more sales would allow the owner to donate more). 
  5. Scheduled a time to talk with my boss about why this was important, and presented my case. 
  6. Waited most of a year before a decision to up the funding was eventually reached. 
  7. Displayed gratitude. 

One Pitfall – Idea Theft

This is a tough one for a lot of people. I’ve struggled with it myself for a lot of my career. But it’s going to happen. 

You have to decide what’s most important. Is it necessary that you get “credit” for every idea? Or is it most important to you that the business succeeds? If it’s the former, you might want to prepare yourself for a fight, or at the very least for disappointment. 

If it’s the latter, congratulations – you just got what you wanted by helping your organization move forward towards its objectives. 

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