Advocating up

You have figured it out (lightbulb)! Something that will make your job easier, streamline your process or just shave a few precious minutes off of your daily to-do list. Now, the question is, how do you pitch this new idea to your Director or VP?

Whether it’s your first time developing a proposal, or your thousandth, there are a few best practices to keep in mind.

Shift perspective and think like your boss. This is the starting point for all good pitches. When you speak to a student about study abroad, you frame the conversation in their own terms. You often consider why they would want to do study abroad, not why you think they should. You may be making the same points, but it is the perspective that makes all the difference.

While your boss cares about giving you the tools to do your job well, they are also thinking about the big picture, and their strategic goals and targets for the year. You may not have heard them explicitly communicated, but are there subtleties that you’ve noticed over time? Perhaps you’ve heard them talking a lot about a certain issue or challenge. Or perhaps you see how worked up they get after the monthly budget meeting with the higher department. To start thinking like your boss, you can begin by asking yourself some questions:

  1. What is’s most important to them?
  2. What is the organization’s mission, and goals for the year?
  3. Will your boss have to get approval for this, and if so, what is that process?
  4. What is their Area of Responsibility and Area of Operations? (see figure 1 below)

Once you’ve got your Boss Hat straight, you can move on to what you will be solving and how best to frame it.

What opportunity are you addressing? Maybe it is a process problem you are trying to solve (efficiency), or a challenge you are trying to meet (growth) or perhaps it is a repurposing of funds because you think it would be a better use of money if spent on something else (budget). Whatever it is, your idea is the opportunity to address any of the above!

The important thing is to frame the discussion on the problem rather than on the solution. Why? Because the solution is your perspective, and the problem is your supervisor’s perspectiveIf you’ve done your prep work in Step One and put on your Boss Hat, then you should be able to describe the problem in terms that are important for your boss. What falls within your AO (Area of Operations) or AOR (Area of Responsibility), that may also impact others, and rolls up into the organization’s strategy? These terms come from the military and are shown on the diagram below. AO pertains to the area that an individual or group specifically operates in, and the AOR is what an individual or group is responsible for. As an example, a Vice Provost probably will not be advising directly with students, so that isn’t their AO, but they ARE responsible for what happens with the advising, so it DOES fall in their AOR. (Fig. 1)

Area of Responsibility graphic. One person at the top of a pyramid, three people below on the bottom of the pyramid. The person at the top is the V.P. Their AOR is the entire pyramid. The people on the bottom have smaller AOR's below them.

Figure 1

Here’s a simple example: You have a “pre-advising” form that is two pages long and asks a lot of questions. You know you hand out hundreds of forms every week, but only 10–15% of students ever bring them back, and those that do, often have questions. You deduce that the complexity of the process might be a roadblock for many students. You think that if you simplify the process, more students would complete the forms and come back to speak with an advisor. This contributes to the organization’s goal of increasing participation by 20% this year.

Think ROI. Never thought of things in terms of Return on Investment (ROI)? I bet you have. Would you do your same job for half of your current wage if you could do something similar making what you are currently making? Your time in this case is the investment, and your salary is the return. Other times, the investment may be monetary. Let’s look at an example:

Situation: Currently send 150 students abroad per year

Goal: increase SA participation 10% this year (15 students)

Historical: 5% annual growth over last few years

Game plan: Advertise on Radchat*

Investment proposed: $1,000

You could run some numbers to see if this makes sense for your office to invest in. You read that 77% of college students use Radchat daily, and since you have 10,000 students on campus, you expect at least 7,000 students to see your advertisement. If just half of them are eligible (for various reasons) you are getting 3,500 of the RIGHT students and then of those students, you estimate that 15% of them might come see you. That means 525 students could come meet with you AND if you just get 10% of THOSE students to actually go abroad, that could be 52 additional students. If your office retains $200/student as a program fee, then that could be $10,400 dollars to your bottom line. Using the ROI formula from we see:

ROI = (Return — Investment)/Investment

= (10,400–1000)/1000

= 9400/1000

= 940% ROI

I’d say that’s pretty darn good!

Provide a visual. Crunch some numbers and create a visual that effectively captures your idea, and how it will get your team closer to your goals. You could make a full blown Prezi or Powerpoint presentation, but sometimes a napkin sketch is all you need. Make sure the visual matches the situation and the recipient’s preferred style. If you know they like numbers, then a chart with calculations might be the way to go. If they are a more visually oriented person, then a graphical representation may be more effective.

Recap. You are full of ideas, and you want to implement them. The starting point should always be in thinking like your boss (and perhaps even your boss’s boss!) in order to determine the best way to frame the problem and the solution. Engage your boss in the discussion and brainstorming the solution. I have frequently been pleasantly surprised by my boss’s desire to help craft a solution to a problem that is important to them. And then I remember, “of course she wants to help, we’re on the same team trying to accomplish the same mission!” Go out there with your amazing ideas and don’t be afraid to be told “no”. You may not get what you want every time, but you can still count it a successful presentation if you reflect on what you learned in the process!

About the author: Jorge is the Director of Business Development at Via TRM, and holds an MBA from IE Business School. He has made thousands of presentations and pitches over the years, to everything from CEOs of Fortune 100 companies, to front line decision-makers at governmental institutions. Having spent 14 years in the Marines, he even made his fair share of battlefield proposals using a stick in the sand!

by Jorge Pongo, Director of Business Development, Via TRM

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