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 ©, Image #19460301

Photo courtesy of ©

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? Share your answer on , , or .

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