How to Suggest a Change at Work

By Erica Halmstad posted 13 days ago


This article is reprinted from VantagePoint magazine, the quarterly publication of WSAE.

Most professionals have attended educational and professional development events in their careers. And the goal for these events is that attendees leave with a take-away to bring back and implement at the office. Often, the change is within the attendee’s control to make, but many other times, the boss is mandating or expecting certain behaviors and the attendee is afraid to ask for a change in procedure, if they even have any idea how to present the proposal.

As a young professional, I often come back from conferences and events with new ideas or suggestions on how to make things more efficient, but just as often, I run into the roadblock of not knowing how to propose the idea to my boss. Not that my bosses have been unapproachable, but change is a scary thing and many people are apprehensive about it.

Looking for guidance on this, I went to my Dad and general life advisor, who has over 30 years of experience in management. He gave me a three-step procedure on how to present a change to the boss without making too many waves across the system.
Let’s pretend the change you’d like to suggest making is to not have to attend the daily production/summary/sales/thing meeting. You really don’t need to be there at all, but it’s the boss’ meeting and you think by telling her it’s not of value to you, it will aggravate or disrespect her in some way (but really, most days it is a big waste of your time).

Try this three-pronged approach to selling her on the change:

Step 1: Reduce, don’t eliminate
Elimination is scary. It’s the biggest change, and it has the most risk associated with it. After all, this is the way I’ve always done it and it works! Mitigate the risk for the boss by negotiating (in this case) attending only the Tuesday and Thursday meetings, freeing up three hours a week for you. Modification is less scary than outright elimination or wholesale change of a procedure.

Step 2: Draft an informant
Lessen the risk in the boss’ mind further by drafting an informant. Think of this person as a personal spy. Work out a deal with a co-worker who does have to be at all meetings. The deal is, if there is anything that you really need to know or do, this person will let you know as soon as possible after the meeting. This gives the boss another layer of confidence that all bases are being covered. You may have to buy this colleague beer once a month after work, but it will be worth it!

Step 3: Tell the boss what you will do instead—something that adds value for your organization
Give the boss a WIIFM (What’s in it for Me) reason to say yes. In this case, you could tell the boss that on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, you will be reviewing your work for errors, or calling on clients or members you don’t normally have time to touch base with on a regular basis. The more specific and well-thought-out your WIIFM reason is, the better. Just make sure you actually do those things when you pull this off, ok?

This procedure is not guaranteed to work, but it can help your chances significantly. And you can always modify each step to suit your situation. Here’s what I know from personal experience—a technique like this will have a much higher probability of being adopted than just announcing that you want to stop doing X or make a wholesale change of Y.

One more thing—give the boss a fail-safe. Emphasize that this is only a trial, and if it does not seem to work or produce the desired results, or ends up causing problems for anyone, you agree to flip it back to the way it was within 60 days. How can the boss say no now?