How to pitch an idea to management and executives

This post will show you a great presentation structure you can use when you are requesting funds or resources to help you implement an idea.

pitchpostexecutiveWhen presenting to an executive it’s important that your presentation be clean, concise and to the point!

If you know the individual there may be a format they expect or prefer for presentations. For example, Max Long was president of Microsoft Canada and he believed you could do anything with one slide so when you presented to Max your best bet was to use one slide whenever possible

But not all exectuvies have pre-defined powerpoint templates you can borrow before you meet them. That’s when it’s important to have a solid strategy for presenting a proposal. This is true whether it will be you delivering the presentation or someone else is presenting on your behalf. When I taught ITIL there was a model they recommended when defining a strategy that makes an excellent format for executive proposals. I’ve had great success with this model and wanted to share it with you today!

Slide 1 – The vision

Does your company have a vision? Although sometimes from the ground visioning can seem a little vague and you may wonder why executives go offsite to discuss vision, it’s actually very important for a company’s success. What differentiates you from other companies? Why would someone choose your company’s service or product over another company? What are we good at? What do we want to be best at doing? If you can’t answer these questions it’s hard to set a direction for the company and to make the right decisions as to which opportunities to pursue and which to put aside for now.

One of my favorite quotes is “I can do anything, but I can’t do everything!” This is true for companies as well as individuals. How do you decide which plans are worth your limited time and money? You look for plans that help you achieve your vision. When you have an idea to put forward, you need a vision as well.

A vision is your ultimate goal.  Let’s be clear, your proposal or idea will not achieve this vision, but, it will be a step in the right direction! A vision is something you strive for. I strongly recommend taking a few minutes to look up the vision of the company you are presenting to as well! It can certainly help if your vision aligns with theirs!

I think this will make more sense if we look at a few specific examples:

I want budget to buy everyone new laptops because our existing laptops are out of date – Perhaps your vision is a team of employees who feel empowered and productive! Will buying new laptops make them feel empowered and productive? Not necessarily, there are other factors in play which affect their productivity and sense of empowerment but it will help!

I want to take some software we have in house and make it open source – Perhaps your vision is a company seen as leaders in their field.  Will publishing some open source oftware make you leaders in the field? No, but it shows the development community that you have software in that field and you are confident enough to share that software with the developer community. It should certainly help your reputation (as long as the software is good )

I want to upgrade to the newest version of Office because of the data capabilities. Perhaps the vision is a team with the information they need to make the best decisions!  Once again, Excel doesn’t guarantee you will have the information you need when you need it or that they will make the right decision, but having tools that help you analyze data effectively will help!

So slide 1 should be a single sentence that states your vision and possibly an image that captures your vision.

Slide 2 – Where are we now?

Now that you have presented your vision, it’s time to create a sense of urgency. You want to provide your audience with a feeling that the current situation is not acceptable and something needs to be done. You need to provide an honest assessment of the current situation. If you are taking the time to present to the executive, presumably it’s because you see something you feel needs to be fixed or an opportunity that should be seized. Now is the time to help them understand that need or opportunity!

This is a good time to present data or statistics that demonstrate the need  for change. You want new laptops? Get some data, tell them exactly how old the current laptops are, maybe get some data from the service desk to see if you can find out how many users are losing productivity because of laptop issues.

If you don’t have data, a good story can fill the gap. Was there an incident where a customer was unhappy because your team didn’t have accurate data that shows the need for better data analysis tools? A strong management team understands the value of a good customer experience and the potential negative impact of a bad customer experience so if you can provide specific examples where customers were unhappy because of the current situation that can also demonstrate a need for change

Slide 2 should provide some data or some specific examples that demonstrate why the status quo is unacceptable.

Slide 3 – Where do we want to be?

Okay, slide 1 was your vision, a long term goal you would like to reach eventually. This slide should be a very specific goal you can reach in the foreseeable future. It should be a SMART goal. A SMART goal is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely. Which basically boils down to “what do you really think we can achieve if we implement your proposal?” What exactly will get better?  Will customer satisfaction be 50% higher? Will employees spend 10 hours less a year dealing with IT issues? How long will this take? Will you achieve this goal in 6 months? a year? Ideally you want something that will show a return in a single year, you are going to have a tougher time proposing something which takes multiple years to show a benefit.

If you do have an idea that will help the company in the long run you might want to break it down into smaller proposals. What could you achieve in year one, in year two? in year three? Most companies do their budgeting one year at a time, so it’s easier to approve or finance a project for one year. After your first year you can approach them for a follow up project.

Slide 3 should provide a realistic goal for the end of the project you are proposing. Be specific general statements such as “employees will be more productive” or “users will be happier” won’t cut it. You need something that can be measured such as 15 % less calls to the service desk for this application, 10% increase in satisfaction on the employee satisfaction survey.

Slide 4 – How will we get there?

Okay, you’ve got their attention. They understand the problem, they understand where you want to take them. Now, they are ready to hear your proposal! This is the one section that may take more than one slide, because this is where you pitch your actual proposal. This is where you ask for the funding, the time, the resources, the commitment from other teams to help you, whatever it is you need to execute your plan!

Slide 5 – How will we know when we get there?

On slide 3 we specified a specific and measurable goal we were going to achieve. On the last slide we specify how we are going to measure how close we are to that goal. If you said there would be a 10% increase in employee satisfaction, when will that employee survey be distributed? Will you need to issue an extra survey to measure the success of your project in a timely manner? Will you work with the Service Desk to get reports on the amount of time spent on incidents for the application you are trying to improve?

If you are lucky there is already a reporting structure in place you can use to measure the success of your project, however you may need to work with another team to collect some baseline data now and agree on data that will be collected as the project progresses to make sure you can tell if your project is working!

What gets measured gets managed! It’s important to monitor your progress as you execute your plan. If the reports indicate things are going well, then you have some great data to share with your boss to show that their investment is paying off! If things are not going well, you want to know that sooner rather than later so you can determine if you need to make adjustments to your plan if needed. You don’t want to go up to the executive a year after they gave you the funding and say, oh well it looks like it didn’t work. If at the end of the year your project doesn’t work (which is a possibility, lots of things can go wrong, unexpected barriers may prevent your success) when you go back to your boss, if you can show them you were monitoring the progress and you tried to redirect and adjust when things weren’t going as well as you hoped that’s going to be a much better story to tell than saying, we did ‘x’ then at the end of the year we found at that didn’t work.  But hopefully, the reporting you set up will showcase that you met or maybe even exceeded your original goals!

You may think the reporting is just something management wants, but it helps you as well!  It allows you to monitor the success of your project so you can tweak as needed along the way, and it allows you to concretely show the impact your project delivered when it’s over.

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