How to Get Your Boss to Say “Yes,” Part 2

The ability to sell an idea or project to your boss is critical to your success. If you can’t get your boss’s approval when you need it, you are not going to go very far in your career. In this three-part series I share six steps for doing it more effectively. In this post, I cover the second two steps. (You can find Part 1 here and Part 3 here.)

In my last post, I wrote about the importance of seeing your boss as the customer. To get him to say, “yes,” you have to first understand his needs. Moreover, you have to frame your proposal in terms of how it will help him accomplish his goals.

Man with a Laptop Against a Blackboard - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/mattjeacock, Image #19460301

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/mattjeacock

Then, you have to commit to success. You must be determined to get to “yes,” because your reputation depends on it—first with your boss and second with the people you lead. Once you have taken these first two steps, you are ready for step three.

Step 3: Write Your Proposal

In my experience, the number one reason people don’t get to “yes” with their boss is because they haven’t done their homework. They simply haven’t thought the proposal through. As a result, it is full of holes. Each of these provides an easy out for the boss—and a quick “no” for you.

Several years ago, I developed a Recommendation Briefing Form (a.k.a. “RBF”) as a means of summarizing my proposal and making the recommendation to my boss. I wanted to make sure I covered the key points—briefly and in order. (Click here to download a zipped copy.)

The form contains five major headings. Here’s how to use them:

  1. Recommendation. Start with the conclusion. It is so much easier for me (and probably your boss) to concentrate if he knows what you want up front.

    This keeps me from constantly being distracted with thoughts like, I wonder where he is going with this? What does he want? Get to the point! etc.

    If you start with the conclusion, your boss can relax and listen to the rest of your proposal.

    Also, be sure to state precisely what you are recommending. Don’t beat around the bush. Be brief—two sentences at the most. And don’t include more than one recommendation per form. Keep it simple.

  2. Background. Usually, your boss will need a little context for your recommendation. Give him the background.

    But again, be brief. Only provide the background necessary for him to make an intelligent decision. A paragraph should be sufficient. Stay focused and keep moving.

  3. Rationale. List all the reasons why your boss should accept your recommendation and approve your proposal. Shoot for five to seven reasons. (If you come up with more, select the most important ones and delete the others. You want to convince him, not bore him!)

    In addition to including why he should approve your recommendation, also articulate the consequences of not approving it.

    Once you have your list, prioritize it. Start with your most important reason and then work down your list, including the next most important reason, then the next most important reason, etc.

  4. Timetable. Indicate when you will implement the proposal if approved. If the rollout will be “staged” (i.e., done in segments), briefly outline the key milestones.

    Remember: most projects take longer than you think. Under-promise and over-deliver. Take into consideration Murphy’s Law: “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.”

  5. Financial Impact. State this negatively (i.e., the cost or investment) and positively (i.e., additional sales, return on investment, etc.).

    Make it clear, and shoot straight. Don’t downplay the cost or hype the benefits. You want to develop a reputation of being conservative, but not overly so. Again, take into account Murphy’s Law.

Keep in mind that the entire RBF should be no more than two pages long. Shorter is better.

I have seen very effective RBFs that are only a page long. If you have more information, bring it to the meeting as backup, in order to answer specific questions. Note: make sure all the documents you intend to distribute are neat and professional.

Step 4: Anticipate Objections

This is where the battle is won or lost. Unfortunately, it’s a step that most people skip—to their own detriment. Spending thirty minutes working on this aspect of your proposal is the best investment you could make in getting to ”yes.”

First, think of every question your boss could possibly ask. To prime the pump, use the “who, what, why, when, where, and how” helpers.

Make sure each key question is answered in your RBF. Don’t risk getting a “no” because you haven’t carefully thought through the questions and possible objections.

Next, on a separate sheet of paper, list every objection to your recommendation you can think of. Play devil’s advocate. However, don’t try to answer the objection yet.

First, get them on paper. Once you’ve done that, go back and write out talking points (i.e., bullets) for overcoming each objection. Don’t go crazy. Three to five bullets should be sufficient for each objection.

I used to type this up on a separate document that I took to the meeting with my boss. I kept it in my folder for reference.

In part 3 of this series, I will explain exactly what to do when you finally get in front of your boss and are ready to make the pitch.

Question: How is this process the same or different than what you have used in the past? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • Pingback: How to Get Your Boss to Say Yes, Part 1 | Michael Hyatt()

  • http://www.thadthoughts.com/ Thad Puckett

    I think we don’t often understand the load our bosses are under.  We frame our own experience and work load around them (or project it on to them).  The result is, when we don’t prepare for our “pitch”, they don’t grasp what it is we are recommending/suggesting and go quickly to “No”.

    I also think the larger the company/organization, the more important your RBF becomes.  

    • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

       I would argue that most bosses start out at a “no” due to the load they’re carrying. Any kind of pitch is often about converting a “no” to a “yes.”

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      “No,” was definitely my default response as a CEO. Partly, I wanted to see if people really believed in what they were proposing.

  • http://successbeginstoday.org/wordpress John Richardson

    I like your idea of an RBF, Michael. It gives you a clear way to articulate your ideas. To take your idea a step further, I might suggest adding a mind-map or process diagram to make it easier for your boss to visualize the idea. An area that has really been helpful for me when presenting ideas is to run them through a mastermind group. It’s amazing the objections, problems, and pitfalls a group like this can uncover. Once you have these fleshed out, It’s a good idea to have the group come up with solutions.

    Another helpful technique is to do a reverse debate trick, by debating with someone and taking the side of someone that doesn’t want to promote your idea. It’s amazing how helpful this is when preparing for a one-on-one. You know the objections in advance and have thought through solutions.

    BTW… your RBF form is in .dot format which will not open on a PC. I’m not sure what program is supposed to open it? You might want to convert it to a PDF for wider accessibility.

    • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

      Good, sound advice, Richard. This certainly broadens a person’s ability to prepare.

    • Jim Martin

      John, I like your idea about using a mastermind group.  I can think of several  presentations I have made through the years that would have really benefited from this process.  I would have been more prepared for what seems now like very foreseeable objections.

      • http://successbeginstoday.org/wordpress John Richardson

        It’s amazing Jim, how many ideas you can glean from a roundtable discussion with a good mastermind group. Some of my best mentors have been the ones that ask the tough questions..

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      These are great ideas, John. Thanks for your insight.

      The *.dot format is a Microsoft Word Template format. It works on PC or Mac—or at least last time I checked a PC. Regardless, I have converted it to a *.doc format and re-uploaded it to my server. You should be able to re-download and use it. Let me know if that doesn’t work.

  • http://joeabrahamlive.com/ Joe Abraham

    RBF – that’s a very helpful idea! Thanks for sharing. 

  • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

    I see your advice being applied in two specific areas of life outside a typical work situation.  Your first point, “start with the conclusion,” is good advice to young couples. In my premarital counseling, I tell couples to be assertive about what they desire from one another rather than thinking, “If he loves me, he’ll know.” This doesn’t mean a person gets what he or she asks for but it does mean no one has to guess what’s being asked of the other person.

    And the other obvious arena is the publishing world. As an author, I can use this layout in preparing a book proposal.

    • Jim Martin

      I really like your application to marriage.  You are right, teaching couples to start with the conclusion could be very helpful to many.  Seems like we often expect one another to be able to read our minds.

    • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

      Great insight. I thought the same about the publishing world.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      As you may know, I have two e-books specifically designed to help you create book proposals. You might want to have a look at those. Thanks.

  • http://www.whiteboardbusiness.com/ Dallon Christensen

    The RBF is a really smart document to have! I think RBFs are also really important in a virtual work environment, because you may need to offer a proposal without being able to just pop in the boss’ office and start the conversation going that way. I’m going to use this with my clients as a way to make sure we are all clear about my recommendations. I also liked the ideas behind bullet-pointing the objections and not going overboard on handling those. 

    This is definitely under the “ounce of prevention = pound of cure” category. Thanks!

  • http://www.frymonkeys.com Alan Kay

    It’s the same with our clients. Our job is to make them look good by thinking through the issues in a way that works for both us and the boss / client…before we hit them with the big idea.  

  • http://garymorland.com/ Gary Morland

    I’m reading “Eisenhower in War and Peace” and this is totally the kind of thing he majored on – and it led to winning a war and leading a nation.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      That sounds like a good book. I’m adding it to my list.

  • http://www.mattmcwilliams.com/ Matt McWilliams

    I love the RBF Michael. I am so glad you made #1…well #1.

    I always told people to use BLUF – Bottom Line Up Front.

    I swore that if I got one more email (or speech) that started with “So I have been thinking a lot about such and such and last night I ran into an old friend from college and then I was driving home and I just could not stop thinking about our budget. Our budget is out of control and Frank is not…” You get the point.

    How about: “Matt, We need to hire two new salespeople. Here’s why.”

    Thank you BLUF-user. Thank you.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      I REALLY like your BLUF acronym and concept. Excellent.

      • http://www.mattmcwilliams.com/ Matt McWilliams

        Thanks Michael.

        Like so many good ideas, I stole it from the military :)

  • Jamie Martina

    This is a tangent: The only point I wish to raise in response to your great post on how to be brief and thorough is that there is only mention of the male representative as boss or employer. It is a small detail but one that has a powerful impact on our subconscious when imagining the most competent person for the job. Please read this comment as a friendly request to represent female representation as executive leaders more in future posts. 

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Thanks. It is something I struggle with as a writer. Not because I don’t want to be inclusive; I do. (I have fine working daughters.) But it is a conundrum. One writer I read summed it up this way:
      “… ‘he or she’ seems too awkward and ‘he’ seems sexist. I’ll add that exclusively using ‘she’ also seems sexist, the hybrid ‘s/he’ seems silly and awkward, and switching between ‘he’ and ‘she’ can be downright confusing to readers. [Some call this] ‘whiplash grammar.’”
      Instead, I simply stick with the masculine convention, believing that this is the closest thing we have to a gender-neutral pronoun available in the English language. It’s not the perfect solution, but I think it’s better than the alternatives. Thanks.

      • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

        I’ve struggled with the same thing (not having five daughters, but using “he” as a gender-neutral pronoun :)) and I love this explanation! 

  • http://www.softskillsforhardjobs.com/ Jim Ryan

    Excellent as always Michael.

    When I prepare my proposal, I try and avoid giving an opening for an “easy” no. I do my homework, get input and buy-in from others, show passion. I want to be hard for my boss to say no, not to get what I want, but for her to really think it through and work with me. If I get the no after that, then it was probably the right call and I respect it.

    • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

      Great point. If we do our homework ahead of time and still get a “no,” then there’s probably a good reason for it.

  • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

    I love this, simply because it’s all about clear and focused communication. This same approach can be applied in a variety of settings. This is essentially what a writer does in a book proposal. Excellent.

  • http://twitter.com/thejoshbjones Joshua Brandon Jones

    Thanks Michael.  This is so good for me in learning to manage upward organizationally.

  • http://salesheartbeat.com/ Alan

    Michael, it sounds much like what we used to call a “one sheet” in broadcast sales.  Many times it worked better than a full blown formal presentation.  The customer (that includes the boss) is time conscious.  The simple and fast can work wonders.
    Thanks!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Yes, that is exactly what it is like. It requires more work to boil it down to a couple of pages, but is helpful to everyone in the process.

  • Julie Swihart

    There’s a lot of practical content for getting anybody to do anything here. I don’t have a boss right now, but I have a husband, parents, siblings, in-laws, friends, etc. This info can help me with convincing people to do all kinds of things differently . . . thanks for the tips!

  • Siqiang

    great!!

  • Pjanecki

    amazing article. youre a champion, thanks

  • HopefulManagerinthemaking

    I just wanted to bring to your attention that you have a typo in Part 2:

    “In part 3 of this series, I will explain exactly what do do when you finally get in front of your boss and are ready to make the pitch.”
    Thanks for these Posts, they are extremely helpful!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Thanks for catching that. I have corrected it.