Robert F. Abbott

Article Summary:

How to write a better internal proposal.

Internal Proposals

A colleague of mine has a problem. We belong to the same association and he’s been trying for quite some time, without success, to get support for one of his proposals.

His lack of results came to mind when a reader asked for ideas about making internal proposals more effective. As she noted in her message, it’s necessary to make a business case for proposals, including costs and returns.

She’s right, and I agree wholeheartedly. In fact I just finished a proposal to an organization I work with and had it accepted on that sort of basis.

But, I think all good proposals start where my colleague has trouble. They start with a clear and concise statement about the project: "This is what I recommend, this is the issue (problem or opportunity) it addresses, and these are the consequences (benefits) of doing what I recommend."

I frequently come across situations where ideas don’t fly because the person making the proposal hasn’t prepared that kind of analysis and statement. While the virtue of the ideas seems apparent to him or to her, it’s not at all apparent to others. I’ve referred to it elsewhere as the ‘Everybody knows’ syndrome.

To do the analysis, and later write the statement, start with a description of the action that you want taken. In just a few words, write down the what you want to see happen, and how it changes the status quo. For example, I recently went to a meeting with a proposal that went like this: Change the duration of our event to four weeks from the current duration of six weeks, to reduce our costs during a slow period.

Next, name or list the people or functions involved. Who will take the action? Do you want just one person to act, or several, or many? And, if it involves a multi-stage action, set out the stages. For example, "I would like this committee to formulate a recommendation we can put to a vote at the annual meeting."

Follow that with a list of people and organizations affected by the action. Be thorough in this consideration; it’s all to easy to forget the peripheral players. And very often peripheral players make a critical difference to our plans.

Now, is there a timeline or sequence of events that needs consideration before a decision can be made or implemented? Almost everything we do in large modern organizations is interconnected to other people and resources. And, what about contingencies? Does your proposal depend on something else happening?

Having thoroughly explored the proposal and its implications, we now turn to costs and benefits, the business case. What are the tangible and intangible costs? In the intangibles column, make at least a mental note of the emotional costs that key stakeholders will pay. The same is generally true of benefits, or the returns if we’re talking about financial components. Remember the important role emotions often play in decisions.

In summary, then, take a strategic approach to internal proposals, an approach that identifies the issues, the players, and the consequences. This exercise allows you to be clear and concise because you have thought your way through the proposal carefully, and you know the key issues.

Robert F. Abbott offers three free chapters from his book, A Manager’s Guide to Newsletters: Communicating for Results. He also offers free subscriptions to Abbott’s Communication Letter, a free newsletter that helps you enhance your career through improved business communication.

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