Lab Manager | Run Your Lab Like a Business

Getting Heard

Mastering the technique of selling ideas to upper management is not just a vital part of your responsibilities as a lab manager. “[Selling your ideas] has the potential of providing you with opportunities for professional growth and career advancement,” says Glen Fine, chief executive officer at Clinical and Laboratory Standards Institute (and a former lab manager).

by Lina Genovesi
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Tips For Selling Your Ideas To Upper Management

This article aims to provide you with tips for developing your selling skills so that you improve your odds of getting a greater number of ideas approved by upper management.

Understanding the framework

Before you start trying to sell your ideas to upper management, it is important to understand that that process does not occur in a vacuum but within a framework of ongoing business relationships.

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This framework is applicable to all levels of management. “Ideas and proposals have to be sold at all levels of an organization,” says Fine. “Whether you are a lab manager or an employee reporting to a lab manager, you have to sell your ideas to get buy-in, approval, and budget.” Within this framework, it is important to develop and maintain good relationships. “If you begin to create positive relationships from the start and continue working on maintaining good, clear communications with upper management, you will more easily be able to not only sell your ideas but also sell your projects and point of view,” says Daniel J. Scungio, laboratory safety officer at Sentara Healthcare.

In addition to developing and maintaining good relationships, it is important to communicate ideas in a convincing, relationship-friendly way. “You may not agree with some decisions made by upper management, but you need to remain positive and avoid arguments,” says Scungio.

Understanding your situation

Before you present your idea, you must understand your own situation to build support with all affected stakeholders. “You need to identify the major stakeholders and make contact with them to seek their support,” says Fine.

In addition to identifying all affected stakeholders, you must develop a clear understanding of the corporate strategy. “You must determine how a proposal around your idea fits in with the corporate strategy,” says Mark Lloyd, staff scientist, analytic microscopy core, at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute.

The information you gather from your stakeholders may make it easier to anticipate questions and concerns when you put together your presentation and will provide you with a gauge of the impact your idea can have and its potential for being disruptive. “Since impactful ideas have the potential of affecting your long-term credibility, based on the information gathered you should come up with a plan to mitigate any negative impacts of your ideas,” says Fine.

Your reporting manager is your first-in-line stakeholder and it is important that you align your idea with his or her belief system. “This will help you get him to buy in on the idea,” says Scungio.

It is also important to evaluate any potential for conflicts of interest with your reporting manager that would stand in the way of aligning your idea with his belief system. “It takes a certain level of patience in dealing with conflict of interest issues,” says Scungio. “A lab manager may need to decide if he can remain in a conflict-of-interest situation and continue to be successful.”

Credibility is an important factor in selling your ideas. “If you lose your credibility, advancing your ideas will be nearly impossible,” says Scungio. “Your reporting manager may suppress the idea before it reaches upper management.”

What is important to maintaining credibility is having all the facts when you present your ideas to your reporting manager. “Do not try to push your viewpoint if it is incomplete, as you will likely not reach your goals, and you will lose credibility for future projects,” says Scungio.

If you lose your credibility with your reporting manager, you should make an effort to regain it. “Ask your reporting manager what you can do to rebuild your credibility, and follow his suggestions.”

Good communication and avoiding communication mismatch with your reporting manager are key to selling your ideas. However, poor communication and communication mismatch are bound to happen and you should try to avoid these scenarios. “To avoid communication mismatch, the lab manager should consider writing the idea clearly and concisely, and presenting it to the reporting manager,” says Lloyd.

Presenting your idea

Selling your ideas to upper management is dependent on how well you present your business case. As you build your presentation, it is helpful to avoid certain “deal killers,” such as demonstrating a lack of business skills, focusing too much on technique, using offensive language, focusing narrowly instead of broadly, and being excessively conservative.

An executive presentation of your business case is the traditional format for presenting your proposal and business case around the idea. “You should tailor your presentation to what your stakeholders are accustomed to seeing in a presentation,” says Fine. “It should be brief and to the point and should not introduce any new ideas. It should only restate what you have already discussed with your reporting manager and the stakeholders.”

It is important to remember that the manner in which you make your presentation and its organization will reflect on you as a professional and reinforce or undermine your credibility. “A lab manager who presents wellthought- out proposals that are convincing and effective improves the odds of getting the approval he is seeking,” says Fine. “In the process, the lab manager is also building long-term credibility as an independent thinker and leader within the organization.”

Before you get to the meat of your business case, your presentation should start with an executive summary. “The executive summary should be a brief summary of your idea and the financials such as return on investment, costs, and payback period,” says Fine.

Following your executive summary, your presentation will outline your proposal, which must speak to the stakeholders. “What the stakeholders are usually looking for in a proposal is how the idea meshes with the mission of the organization and advances strategic goals,” says Fine. “It is important to include in the proposal a breakdown of the budget and financials, and an analysis of the effect of the idea on quality, cost reduction, and improvement in turnaround time.”

In your proposal, it is important to be as clear as possible. “Do not use vague terms,” says Scungio. “If you utilize data points, use easy-to-read or easy-to-understand figures.”

Your business case must define and explain the need for the idea. The extent of the explanation of the need for the idea depends on the complexity of the idea and the need. “If the need for the idea is based on technical issues or is specific to incidents, a clearly defined explanation of the idea and the need must be provided to all stakeholders,” says Lloyd.

By the time of your presentation, you must have established your standing through your professionalism and previous work. As you build your business case, you need to put forth your competence and abilities to implement the idea. “Having a complete understanding of the project and its benefits will display your competence and ability to facilitate your idea,” says Scungio. “You should discuss your short- and long-term goals for the implementation and how you intend to accomplish your goals.”

In putting forth your competence and abilities, Lloyd believes that the lab manager should be honest about competencies or abilities so that resources are allocated to make up for any deficiencies. “This is where allocation of resources can be particularly valuable,” says Lloyd.

In making your business case, quantifying a benefit in terms of the dollars gained in excess of the dollars lost will help you make a strong case. “Always include a summary of the benefits of the project,” says Scungio. “Include items that you know are important to upper management, such as safety, finances, workflow improvement, and employee benefits; these should be translated in terms of dollars gained in excess of the cost.”

Your business case must present an implementation plan, which should provide a clear implementation road map. “It should also provide a breakdown of all the steps that will affect workflow,” says Fine. “For the implementation road map, all stakeholders should be able to understand at a glance the effort and investment necessary to implement the idea.”

Your implementation plan should also define the resources needed. “It should be carefully put together, as it would be a significant mistake to have to request additional resources halfway through the project,” says Lloyd.

As you make your business case, it is important to introduce the team members who will be part of the idea implementation stage. These team members may need to lobby upper management on their own for assistance in getting resources, which could only help you in selling your ideas.

“Before your presentation, discuss with each team member the benefits of his contribution to the implementation of the project, and repeat it once the project is completed,” says Scungio. “And in your presentation, explain how each team member will contribute to the overall project.”

Securing a commitment

To get formal approval of your idea and close the sale, you need to ask upper management to give you their commitment. “You need to ask for a commitment from upper management at the end of your presentation,” says Scungio. “If a decision either way cannot be made immediately, ask upper management when you might meet again to discuss the decision.”

Getting a commitment may be as simple as having management send an email to a group list endorsing your idea, or as complex as allocating funding and staff to implement your idea. The process of securing this commitment may require you to overcome your own fear of rejection, and you need to realize that it is all part of your learning experience and is an opportunity for you to grow as a manager. You need to remain confident in the merits of your idea. Your idea may still be a good one, but you may have submitted it at the wrong time.

“Changes in business conditions may make it worthwhile to resubmit your idea later,” says Fine. “Understanding the reasons for the idea’s rejection will help you determine if and when to resubmit it and can also help you with other ideas you may submit later for approval.”

Final note

It is important to note that how well upper management accepts your ideas is not only dependent on your doing your homework and presenting your business case, it is equally dependent on the credibility of your own reporting manager. “To help your case, it is important to continue building your own brand with all stakeholders,” says Fine.