Gain the confidence to pitch ideas at work

Don’t feel that you’re too inexperienced to contribute.
By Samiha Khanna

When Andy Nguyen, CPA, learned his small California firm would be expanding and hiring a number of new graduates in the coming years, he thought about his own experience launching a career while also prepping for the rigorous CPA Exam.

Those new workers would need test-prep materials. Nguyen, who is a tax supervisor at Duffy Kruspodin LLP, realized he might be able to save the firm some money. He reached out to a test-prep company to negotiate a bulk discount.

"I got the bid proposal and everything else, went to human resources, and ran it by the manager," Nguyen said. Leaders quickly approved the idea, Nguyen said. Nguyen hoped the idea demonstrated that he takes initiative and always has the firm's best interests in mind.

Not all accountants, however, are so comfortable proposing new ideas. Pitching a new idea at work can be intimidating. Nguyen and two career coaches offered several suggestions on how to get management and colleagues to buy in to your ideas:

Don't let youth or fear of inexperience hold you back. What's important to remember, Nguyen said, is that everyone has to start somewhere. Even the most senior managers and partners at one point had to demonstrate their value to build influence at work, he said.

Many young professionals may feel they lack credibility with more experienced colleagues. But it's important that they abandon worries that others may be biased against them, and focus instead on developing the skills to set themselves apart, said Rachel Montañez, Forbes contributor and founder of Sleep 10:2, a career coaching service and consultancy that focuses on work/life balance and preventing burnout.

"To me, it's about putting age out of the window and focusing on adding value and building strong relationships," Montañez said. "While we're not in control of others' biases, we are in control of our professional development, and being at the top of our game can help us be taken more seriously."

Test ideas with colleagues and mentors. "I've been blessed with a strong network of professional mentors," Nguyen said. These mentors include more experienced colleagues at his firm as well as fellow members of the San Diego chapter of CalCPA, of which Nguyen is a leader.

"I've gotten a lot of great coaching on how to be effective while being proactive, how to pitch something, and how to build up that base of support," he said.

Use your network as a sounding board for new ideas, he suggested: "You never want to fire something off without knowing people are amenable to it.

To test out your ideas with a senior leader or mentor, being direct is the best approach, said business consultant Ned Parks.

If you find the prospect of approaching them with your idea intimidating, consider this advice from Parks, who is also the founder of Aegis 360 Consulting, a global firm that advises on culture, leadership, and strategy. "The one human trait that I think people across every boundary, every culture, every gender, every age, every generation, share is that we all want to feel that we are valuable to others," he said. "Most people would be honored and probably humbled [to be asked]."

Beware of political pitfalls. Those mentors and trusted allies can also help young workers avoid stepping into a political quagmire, or what Parks and colleagues often call the "third rail," a reference to the electrified subway rail that would deliver a fatal shock if touched.

Employees who are new to an organization often have difficulty understanding its internal politics, Parks said. If you face resistance to an idea you proposed, a mentor or trusted colleague with more experience in the organization can give you insight into why you're running into roadblocks, and whether another strategy might be more effective, he advised.

Bounce back from rejection. Sometimes it takes a long time to gain support for an idea, Nguyen said, and it's important not to get discouraged.

"Look at how many times Thomas Edison had to try with the light bulb," he said. "The key is being able to step back and not take things personally. Everyone wants the best for the organization, and you have to realize that just because this one didn't go through doesn't mean you can't pitch another idea."

It might be easier said than done, but try not to take a rejection as a personal shortcoming.

"Detach yourself from it emotionally," Montañez said. "Doing so helps you think logically about things. If you have a solid career plan, then the idea that got shot down could become a motivational steppingstone for further career growth and success."

PCPS Section members can use the Make Your Case tool to help them present ideas.

— Samiha Khanna is a freelance writer based in North Carolina. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact senior editor Courtney Vien.

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