How to sell your idea to your boss

“I think it is a great idea. I also know my boss won’t buy it.”

“Why not?”

“ I am not sure. This is my hunch.”

“ What kind of objections could he have for your idea? Do you know?”

“No. I don’t know.”

“Then how do you say this? Has he ever thrown your ideas out in the past?”

“Not really.”

“What worries you then?”

“I am just uncomfortable…”

By Sanjiv Khamgaonkar

“Ok, let us approach it from another angle. Let us try filling this blank. My boss will support this idea if _________________”

“My boss will support this idea if, it improves our profits substantially”

“My boss will support this idea if, it will improve our productivity in some way”

“My boss will support this idea if, this makes us look like heroes in front of our parent company in the US”

“My boss will support this idea if, this idea is capable of producing short term sales increase”

“My boss will support this idea if, this eliminates waste dramatically”

“My boss will support this idea if, it improves the company image”

“My boss will support this idea if, it helps us retain our market share”

“My boss will support this idea if, it improves our speed to market”

“Any more?”

“No, this is it more or less.”

“Do you know his priorities? The top three where he would put most of his energy, people and money?”

“Don’t know really.”

“What if you have to make a guess? Think about his talks with colleagues, his presentations, press releases etc.”

“It could be company reputation, profitability, and  speed”

“Ok let us go with it. Now look at your idea. What do you really like about your idea? How do you think it will fit into your boss’s top three priorities? How will it help the company?”

“I am not sure. I have not thought about it this way.”

“Would you spend time on something that is of no interest or relevance to you?”

“Certainly not.”

“Right. That will be the response you will get from your boss if you take your idea to him. Not because you have a bad idea, but because you have not thought about it well. Look at your idea from your boss’s perspective, and present it in that context. If you can’t do that, get back to your desk and do your homework. ”

People who come out with good ideas don’t work hard to help others understand the value of that idea. They don’t communicate the idea’s benefits or relevance convincingly. They don’t demonstrate the passion or the commitment required. As a result many ideas get killed. Not because the boss is dumb but because the person who proposes the idea is lazy.

Here is an excellent example of how it must be done. The marketing manager of a major insurance company got a group of colleagues to generate ideas for her. Her team processed the ideas and developed three interesting solutions. The next step was to take the solutions to the Managing Director for approval and budgets.

She refused to present the ideas as they were. Instead she created interesting Direct Mail Examples and posters for each of the concepts. Powerful copy and pictures brought the concept alive and made it easy for the MD to relate to it.  She got the approval in just one meeting.

In another case I know a friend took across copies of The Economic Times with imaginary headlines. These headlines communicated news about a break-through idea (my friend’s idea) from the company. That  triggered the CEO’s imagination and got him really interested.

Some times a clear demonstration that you have done your homework thoroughly, is a big plus point. A team working on a project wanted sponsorship and budgets. They knew only the MD could sanction it. They worked on a presentation to the MD and spent three weeks polishing it. They brought in a colleague who knew the MD really well. He asked all the tough questions and raised all the objections. This helped the group in smoothening the rough edges.

Finally they chose the junior most person, most passionate about the idea to present to the MD. The other team members were present observing the MD’s reactions. When the presentation was over the MD felt that the idea was very big and they were underestimating its potential. He sanctioned a bigger budget and also put them on to some specialists who could help. The idea got the support it deserved.

Another thing that comes in the way of idea acceptance is our ego. Here is a good example of this issue. A good friend went to the CEO of his company with a well thought through idea that could benefit one of the top three brands of the company. The CEO gave him a polite hearing and nothing happened. Our friend thought he had done a nice job but was frustrated that nothing was done.

As luck would have it he talked about the idea to his immediate boss, the R&D Chief. The R&D chief knew where the problem was. While the idea was sound, our friend was just one year old in the company and had no credibility or track record to warrant serious attention. So he spoke to the marketing chief to examine the idea. The marketing chief saw the power of the concept but felt that it required a lot of refinement before it could be presented to the MD. A cross-functional team worked on it to dot the i’s and cross the t’s. It was then presented to the MD. Our young friend was present in the meeting and saw the complete difference in the communication of the idea.

They say that walking the last mile is always difficult. Presenting an idea and getting acceptance from the people who matter is in itself a creative task.

It is not for the lazy or the weak minded.

“Would you say there is more work to do, after you have an idea?” Asked Prasna**

“Yes, indeed.”

Then why do you spend so much time talking about generating ideas? Why don’t you spend more time helping people their ideas forward?”

“You have a point Prasna. I will do that.”


**Prasna Rao is an unusual friend. He appears every time I start writing something. He is almost always there when I am writing my blog. He asks questions that are razor sharp and often makes me uncomfortable. He is relentless till I answer his questions in simple, clear terms. You might find that he is most of the times asking questions that you want to. Therefore he is on your side, while he is putting me in the dock. I call him my Uninvited Coach



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2 Responses to “How to sell your idea to your boss”

  1. Sumit Roy says:

    Hi Sridhar.

    I use a variation of this technique that I call THE OTHER YOU.

    In it, you list three people you know would have been able to solve the problem. One of these people should be the person who will approve the solution: your boss.

    Now you take four sheets of paper and at the top of each page write down the following:


    Person 1 you know could solve the problem:
    LEONARDO DA ViNCI is a favourite

    Person 2 who could solve the problem:
    SATYAJIT RAY is another favourite of mine. But these two “idea crafters” can be chosen depending on


    Now spend five minutes on each sheet.

    What would you do to solve the problem. Write down your ideas.

    Now share those ideas with LEONARDO DA VINCI in an imaginary conversation. Note down what he does to improve your ideas. Or the new solutions he comes up with.

    Now take all your solutions to SATYAJIT RAY. (Usually a good person to have help you, especially if the solution you are looking for involves a low budget film! But you can choose this “guru” depending on the likely solution.) Watch him improve and refine the best ideas.

    Now take the three best ideas to your BOSS. Note down what he would do to make it his own.

    Now you are ready to present your ideas. And because your BOSS helped you craft them they usually sail through.

    While at Lintas, I used to put ALYQUE PADAMSEE on the last page. And that was how at least two of the best ideas I was part of at Lintas – The AQT Diary and Thursday Strategy Review Boards – got implemented so easily.


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