Guide on the Side – Getting Proposals Accepted Within Your Organization

Marie Wallace has enjoyed a fulfilling career as a librarian, beginning in 1951 in academia with the University of California and transitioning in 1971 into the private law library world until her 1995 retirement from O’Melveny & Myers. She is the 1997 recipient of the American Association of Law Libraries’ highest honor, the Marian Gould Gallagher Distinguished Service Award. Throughout her professional life, Marie has been a guiding force in the Southern California Association of Law Libraries, Practising Law Institute’s programs for law librarians and Teaching Legal Research in Private Law Libraries (TRIPLL).

Today, Marie has commenced on a new path she terms “Life in Progress,” which enables her to pursue a diversity of interests as a master swimmer, law librarian, trainer, storyboarder and designer of wearable art. She continues to be a dynamic speaker and prolific writer on such topics as private law library management, presentations and training. She is a member of Toastmasters International and is active with the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) and in continuing education for private law librarians. She devotes her “free” time to various non-profit and civic activities. Always open to new ideas, Marie can be reached at: [email protected].

(Archived June 1, 1998)

Internal proposals differ from competitive or grant proposals in that the decision maker (DM) is inside rather than outside the organization. There is the advantage of propinquity but the drawback of requiring an escape from a prison of familiarity. You may think you know the players and “the score” when actually you see only part of the big picture. Conversely, the DMs in your organization may think they know about you and make unwarranted assumptions about your function, motives or abilities. They may not really listen to what you propose because they are also in a prison of familiarity.

So how do you break out? Disrupt habitual thought patterns, create a tri-lingual proposal and use this five step model:

1. Front end analysis

2. Enroll supporters

3. Synchronize your calendar

4. Map the content

5. Design the delivery

1. Front end analysis

The virtues of your new idea may be obvious to you but unless you perform a front end analysis to determine how the proposal impacts your organization, you will not know whether it meshes with current organizational goals, design or systems. Front end analysis looks at the organization and observes how the people, process, structure and strategy systems are working. This first step is at the macro level. You are an explorer mapping the terrain and looking for a “fit” between your proposal and your governing galaxy.

2. Enroll supporters

Select a needs assessment tool and use it in each relevant department to get feedback on how other units are solving the problem your proposal addresses. Needs assessment not only illuminates the problem but can enroll support and identify pockets of resistance. It differs from front end analysis in that it is at the micro level and is a measuring instrument. Properly done, needs assessment results in quantitative data. It will document need and help transform your ideas into practical applications that others may accept. Consider co-creating your proposal with other stakeholders in the organization.

Try to build trusting relationships as the needs are assessed. If it is obvious that turf is threatened, address that issue immediately. Build a coalition with other departments or functional units for your proposal. Articulate your values concerning the proposal and test to see if they align with those of the organization. In organizations that are widely dispersed geographically, look for different cultural values by geographic region. Without needs assessment, new ideas are often perceived as a threat by others. This is true in both profit and non-profit organizations, such as professional associations.

If you are unable to enroll broad based support for your proposal, you should re-think your proposal at this point. The idea may be good but the timing off.

3. Synchronize your calendar

Synchronize your calendar with the organization’s. Just as farmers observe lunar seasons, proposal designers need to wait for organizational fair weather to plant. Ideas launched in a storm have a high mortality rate. Avoid surprising the DM for two reasons: Surprises are not appreciated and the DM may be in the middle of a crises you know nothing about. If you get informal permission from the DM in advance regarding the proposal, you avoid the element of surprise plus get a tacit reading on timeliness. When you hear the DM articulate a problem, it is your cue to respond with “Would you be interested in a proposal to eliminate that problem?” Test the waters in a series of elevator speeches (watch for a future “Guide” on elevator speeches) or get a reading from the DM’s secretary.

4. Map the content

Once you get informal permission to submit a proposal–your “building permit” so to speak–start designing the proposal in earnest. How do the outcomes fit into the organization design, who is involved, what are the results, how does the organization benefit, what are the costs, what are the risks, what is the schedule? Collect as many facts and details as possible so you can structure them for the delivery.

Keep the focus on the recipient, not on you. “The organization gets…” not “I propose…” Do not dwell on the past or what is not working now. Concentrate on results–what your proposal will do in the future. Look for data that shows how the proposal impacts communities of practices, competencies, human capital, and intellectual capital. Benchmark if you can.

5. Delivery

Delivery is a critical step and involves three communication modes: speech, graphics and writing. Although you use three languages, they can be orchestrated as a unit in a single short time frame. Start with a verbal presentation using selective graphics and then close with the written proposal also containing graphics.

Dynamic Phase – Verbal Presentation

Begin with a verbal presentation because the spoken language is the language of persuasion (see previous Guide on communication). Presenting a proposal verbally allows for interactivity and flexibility by adding:

  • Questions and answers session
  • Hands on experimentation
  • Demonstration of actual objects or processes
  • Field trip via video
  • Simulation of results
  • Testimonials
  • Exhibits

The verbal presentation allows you to introduce color, humor, the power of your personal enthusiasm, clarify any confusion and get immediate audience feedback. Also, it provides an opportunity for a team presentation. It is best not to present a proposal to a large group alone. You become an easy target. A presentation team broadens your base, varies the communication style and adds layers of multi-disciplinary expertise.

Visual Phase – Graphics

According to a recent study by the Management Information Systems Research Center at the University of Minnesota and 3M, reported in Presentations, Mar, 1998, p. 20, “presentations that use visual support are 43% more persuasive.” There are several reasons. Graphics help listeners understand abstract concepts. Complex data can be organized and compressed in a chart or table to make a point clearly and concisely.

Use graphics to display workflow, schedules, time/money relationships, time/space relationships, decision tables and unique qualities that words can not describe. Use graphics with both the verbal and the written presentations. It does not matter that they are redundant because the context in which they are presented differs. For instance, financial statements and other quantitative graphics give a “black and white” picture in a written document. When the same graphics are used in a speech, the presenter adds “color” to the graphics by pointing out unusual features and making personal comments.

Visuals communicate swiftly and powerfully but do not over use them. For a 20 minute presentation, five or six is the limit. There are only so many ideas that people can take in before they experience overload. Incorporate any remaining critical charts, graphs, or diagrams into the written proposal where the information is reader-controlled.

Depending on the size of the DM audience, graphics can be anything from an easel binder with visuals in transparent sleeves, to overheads or presentation software. Stand to the left of the screen so the focus comes back to yourself after the audience has had an opportunity to digest the point of the visual. Set the lights so both the visuals and people can be seen. Each visual should have only one idea. Avoid using visuals as your script.

Analytic Phase – Written Document

Begin with the proposal’s outcomes. Organize the proposal like a pyramid with the results at the top supported by a base of facts, details and bottom line information. The written proposal is the handout for your verbal presentation. It says the same thing but analytically. Although written proposals are formal and precise, they can be fast-moving and content-rich. Remember to include interactive features to make it user-friendly: transmittal memo, executive summary, table of contents, and action page designed to document approval of the proposal.

Pay attention to the selection and size of the font. You can create meaning through selection and composition of type and add to its legibility at the same time. Try looking at each written page as a stage set. What is the focal point? What message does the shape, texture and pattern convey? Have you used contrast and scale to support the hierarchy inherent in your proposal? Does the style look crisp? Is it easy to scan?

Examples of Internal Proposals

An internal proposal can put a variety of new ideas on the decision table:

  • Assuming new responsibilities
  • Altering a process
  • Changing the organizational structure
  • Upgrading technology
  • Modifying a strategy
  • Re-configuring the human resources
  • Offering a new service or product
  • Redesigning space
  • Celebrating success.

Celebrating success is a relatively new management technique but is actually an old and almost instinctual human bonding activity. It might work like this. Your law firm installed an Intranet about a year ago. It is working well but support staff do not see each other much any more. They grumble there is a “lose of camaraderie” and the attorneys and clients seem to sense the lose of the personal contact. You conceive a low-tech, low-cost solution. Bring the attorneys and the support staff together for a social event to celebrate the success of back office functions. Highlight the old technology–pencils, pads, books and people–and spoof the new technology by calling the celebration “Revenge of the Luddites.” Have information games, light refreshments and humorous demonstrations of how the old and new technologies work in tandem. Celebrate pre-cyberspace navigational tools. Make it the culminating event of National Library Week to tie into a larger context of global change balanced with continuity.

Posted in: Guide on the Side, Writing Skills