Business writing expert Lucy Gregory shares her three top tips for winning over management with your training proposal.
A few weeks ago an L&D director shared an important story with me – one that inspired this article. For the past couple of years this director (let’s call her Jane) had found it difficult to develop training in her organisation. Management responded well to her team’s ideas, but the decision-making process was slow. Over time, the training programme had stalled and now management planned to cut Jane’s budget.
Eventually Jane met with the board. The problem lay with the team’s proposals: they were long, waffly and didn’t address the right issues. No-one in management had time to work through the proposals, so they were never read. If the L&D team could rework the proposals into something readable, they stood a much higher chance of winning over the board. Ineffectual proposals are a common problem, not just in learning and development.
‘If the L&D team could rework the proposals into something readable, they stood a much higher chance of winning over the board.’
So what are the signs to watch out for? Answer these three questions:
- Do colleagues sit on your documents for a long time?
- Are you regularly asked to talk through or explain your documents?
- Are you often misunderstood?
If you answered ‘yes’ to one or more of these questions, there’s a chance your proposals fail to hit the mark.
And even if you had a clean sweep of ‘no’s, it won’t hurt to have a quick glance over my three top tips for writing the perfect proposal.
Keep it short
Do you like reading long work documents? No. And if you had a hundred things to do in one day, would you prioritise a 20-page proposal? Of course not. So if you want management to give your document the attention it deserves, keep it short. Preferably one or two pages of A4. Being succinct is difficult. It’s much easier to waffle than express yourself clearly, but you must take the time to do it. If there’s detail you can’t bear to leave out, put it in an appendix at the back.
Focus on the benefit
Imagine you’re meeting management to present a new training idea. How does it run? I bet you summarise the idea in a couple of sentences then you list all the reasons why it would benefit your organisation. You focus on this information because that’s what management want to know. They want the business case for your proposal. Yet for some reason, when it comes to putting a proposal in writing this logic often goes out the window. Valuable space on the page is taken up with introductions, policy statements and logistical minutiae. If management have to sift through irrelevant detail, they’ll lose sight of your main points and, most importantly, the business case. So work out what your readers need to know and present it in the simplest way possible.
Watch your language
Let’s say you have a great idea to develop a new blended learning intervention focusing on three core competency frameworks. The course will combine a virtual classroom and a funky new LMS system. Your SME will feed into the storyboard and then your design team will create an adaptive course that incorporates m-Learning and gamification. How much of that would you include in a proposal to management? The answer should be none of it.
When you spend all day using certain words, it can be hard to remember that people outside the industry don’t know what you’re talking about. ‘SME’, for example, is more commonly defined as ‘small and medium enterprises’, not ‘subject matter expert’; most people associate an ‘intervention’ with drug rehabilitation; and ‘gamification’ could mean anything at all. Jargon and technical language doesn’t show expertise or intelligence; it isolates the reader. And how could anyone agree to a proposal when they don’t understand half the content? Try to understand your readers and use the right language to explain your ideas.
And remember Einstein’s famous quote, ‘If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.’
Lucy Gregory is the managing director of Attica, specialist trainers in business writing.