Career development professionals are deeply committed to helping students and often have ideas that could make a difference, but before sharing those ideas, it’s useful to take time to develop your strategy. This will involve taking a moment to assess resources such as time, energy, and funding needed to turn this good idea into a reality.
With that in mind, this article provides tips and strategies for effectively communicating an idea to significantly improve the possibility of getting buy-in.
Introducing a New Idea, Innovation, or Initiative
Calls for change in higher education have been sounded for decades, and for change to happen, there needs to be a catalyst. New ideas and initiatives, whether large or small, are the result of a decision to make a change, often led by an individual who takes the initiative to propose the change.
However, when introducing a new idea, be mindful of possible trouble spots. Below are four common mistakes to avoid.
Mistake 1: The benefits of the initiative aren’t clearly communicated.
Even the best of ideas can fail to get traction if the potential benefits aren’t obvious. What’s in it for your manager? Or for you, your students, and colleagues? Approach the identification of benefits from multiple angles. For example, think about how the initiative might increase engagement, reduce costs, save time or streamline processes, and be ready to describe these in as much detail as possible.
Mistake 2: The initiative isn’t aligned with the organization’s priorities.
An important thing to keep in mind when proposing a change is that the person overseeing the department is managing the office with certain priorities in mind and a new idea can either contribute to that or not.
To help your supervisor assess the value of a new idea, make the connections directly on how this new idea will help meet departmental goals. Invoking items such as a strategic plan, published goals, or tracked and reported outcomes that are tracked and reported are great for explaining how a new idea can contribute to existing priorities. For example:
“Adding this new digital assessment tool to our office will allow us to not only increase student engagement in classroom presentations but also reach more students than we did last year. We will be able to extend our services to 1,000 online students who aren’t on campus and the 2,500 working students who can’t visit us during office hours.”
Mistake 3: You shared the facts, but not the story.
You’re probably familiar with the saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Visual communication is powerful, persuasive, and conveys a message quickly. By conveying a new idea with images, graphs, or charts, you can tell the story of an existing problem, a possible solution, and the potential impact on stakeholders.
Use storytelling to explain the problem your idea can solve and its potential impact on your office. Develop examples of when the problem prevented the achievement of target goals and outcomes or resulted in dissatisfied students or staff members. Illustrate how the proposed initiative could help by writing the story of a student, their obstacles, and how this solution helped them.
Mistake 4: You decided to “wing it.”
As another old saying goes, “failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” Going into a conversation about a change without having done any preparation may well lead to a missed opportunity, especially if getting time on your boss’s calendar is a challenge.
To make the best possible first impression for a new idea, and the best use of everyone’s time, prepare! One great way to do this is to prepare a pitch using the following questions to craft an approach, and then practice.
How will you introduce your idea for a new initiative? Think of this as developing an elevator pitch. Quickly describe the initiative, how it aligns with established goals and priorities, and how implementing the initiative would positively impact your work.
What questions or challenges can you anticipate? Connect the dots, draw the picture. Think about what reservations your supervisor might have about the idea and be ready to provide evidence or examples of how the new initiative would work and what outcomes they could expect.
What are you asking for? What will it take, based on your research and preparation, to successfully implement the idea? Be as specific as you can in terms of time, personnel, and anticipated costs.
How will you follow up? Plan in advance to connect after your initial pitch, whether it was well received or not. Send a follow-up email message that reiterates potential benefits and ask for a next conversation or meeting.
The strategies described above will boost your communication and presentation skills, as well as an understanding of your office and institution’s goals. This will increase your odds of making a successful proposal or pitch to your boss.
Any new idea, approach, or tool has the potential to positively change the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of students. This is why investing time in crafting a pitch before sharing it with others is so important. When dealing with finite organizational resources, it’s best to follow the maxim of “hope is not a strategy.”