‘Cause That’s the Way it’s Always Been Done

Written By: Eric Brunkow

Effectively Communicating a New Idea to Your Boss

Being prepared and organized are your first steps in delivering a new idea to your boss. (Picture: ZuGuide.com/Paramount)

How often does an employee go to work day in and day out, doing the tasks he or she is assigned only to grumble to colleagues, family, and friends about how things should be done differently. I am guessing it’s more times than not. But the true question is—who is really to blame for this mentality? Is it management, the CEO, the career path that was chosen?  Some would argue it’s all of the above. I, on the other hand, believe the blame falls on the employee.

Before you get up in arms and begin mentally detailing how the employee is an innocent victim of the system he/she did not create, let’s take a step back and look at things from a different angle.

Job Functions are Not Set in Stone

Individuals tend to look at things from the inside out (i.e. their world and how it is affected by the outside world).  I say a better way to dissect your environment is to understand it’s origin then look for ways to improve it.

There are basically three phases of a business: the newly formed, the recently expanding, and the long-time established.   For the sake of this article, we will focus on the more established business since start-ups and new companies are extremely volatile in the beginning.

When a company hires an employee, it is hiring a skill set that matches the needs of a vacant position as determined by past holders of the position, CEOs, managers, etc.  These positions most likely carry with them certain tasks, responsibilities, and processes.  The job functions are perceived by the “inside looking out” employee as set in stone. Their feelings are usually confirmed by others in the company who carry the “that’s the way it’s always been done” mentality.   What this ultimately leads to is the grumblings mentioned earlier—”things should be done differently.”

In order to get past this stuck feeling, employees must realize they have more to offer than just fulfilling a predetermined set of tasks, responsibilities, and processes.  In fact, one could argue it is their duty as a working professional not to be shackled to “the way it has always been done.”   If there is one thing employers understand, it’s the importance of growth.

If a business isn’t growing, it’s dying. This lesson was made all too clear in the movie, Tommy Boy: “In auto-parts, you’re either growing or you’re dying. There ain’t no third direction.”  Growth cannot come about without change. As an employee, it’s important to understand this and use it to your advantage with your employers.

Communication is Key

Good employers are smart. They didn’t become owners of a business by being close minded. But they are also extremely busy. If they are not made aware of a problem, it’s hard for them to fix it. That is where the obligation of the employee, as a hired professional in his/her field, is to educate the employer on ways for improvement. After all, it is the employee who is in the trenches day in and day out. They have the most intimate knowledge off current operations and all the gaping holes contained therein; they are the experts in their positions.

Instead of looking at a position from the inside out, look at it from the outside in and  try to  understand the limited visibility CEOs have to the day-to-day operations of a position. Then work on ways to educate, inform, and improve.

This sounds easier said than done. Most would argue employers possess this strong, almost narcissistic desire to always be right, to always have things their way. It can be perceived as a level of control.  I believe this couldn’t be farther from the truth. As mentioned earlier, employers are smart. With those smarts come skepticism, defensiveness, patience (perceived as non-reactionary), and a host of other behind-the-scene traits that have helped them be successful.  So don’t look at the employers as a huge barrier to how things should be working, but as a smart individual who will help guide your ideas for improvement to better serve the company as a whole.

The boss isn’t always right, but then again, neither is the employee. Here are a few do’s and don’ts on how to communicate an idea to your boss and change your work environment for the better.

DO

  • Come prepared
    • Solid data backing up your change request will go a lot farther than an emotional plea. Remember, your boss is smart and skeptical. He/she has to know beyond a gut feeling that this change would benefit the company and how.
    • Do your research.
  • Be organized and detailed
    • Make sure all your ducks are in a row before presenting an idea.
    • Have proper documentation.
    • Have visual aides.
    • Use industry standard statistics.
    • Show examples.
    • Prepare a list of possible questions your employer might ask, so you can do your research beforehand and provide educated responses.
  • Get buy-in from others
    • If possible, collaborate with your team members and others in different departments. Their input could help shape your argument more effectively and help point out some weaknesses in your plan.
  • Request feedback
    • Regardless of whether your idea is a hit or a rejection, get as much feedback from your employer as possible. This will help shape your plan of attack for future requests.
  • Think of the whole picture
    • Small changes often have large effects. Be sure to consider more than just yourself and your department when presenting a new idea. How does it help the company as a whole?

DON’T

  • Be selfish
    • If the only reason you want change is to better your own personal work environment, then you are suggesting changes for the wrong reason. Change is for an ROI for the company, not yourself.
  • Get discouraged
    • Your ideas might sound good to you, but when flushed out against your boss and his direction for the company, your ideas might start to make less sense. This is OK; it has opened your eyes to a larger vision and you gained some valuable company knowledge from it.
  • Overstep your bounds
    • There is a fine line in presenting an idea that would help the company and coming off as disgruntled employee belittling the company.
    • Tact is needed here.  The company is a success for a reason. A lot of decisions made by management have gone right, so downplaying accomplishments while selling your idea as the only way to go is a recipe for disaster.

Remember, a business is only as good as the sum of its parts. Employees play a huge role in shaping the direction of a company. It’s your ideas and in-depth knowledge that can help improve efficiencies, promote growth, and create  a happier work environment.

Eric Brunkow is the Director of Marketing at Bastian Solutions and has been with the company since 1996.

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1 comment

  1. “Employees must realize they have more to offer than just fulfilling a predetermined set of tasks, responsibilities, and processes. In fact, one could argue it is their duty as a working professional not to be shackled to “the way it has always been done.” If there is one thing employers understand, it’s the importance of growth.”

    This is a great point, but too often management treats this as an “unspoken” expectation… Management needs to foster an environment where ideas can be brought forward and ask employees questions about what could improve processes and increase growth.

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