4 strategies for pitching ideas to your project leader

Your strategy should be to present your idea in a way that affirms the identity of your project leader. (Credit: Getty Images)

There are strategies you can use to successfully pitch your ideas to a project leader at work, says an expert in organizational behavior.

Kimberly Elsbach, professor at the UC Davis Graduate School of Management, draws the tactics from a recently study that, building on earlier work about both Hollywood pitches and toy car designers, took her inside a multinational food company. There, she interviewed researchers, scientists, and engineers from the research and development division, observed creative team meetings, and later interviewed the project leaders.

1. Know your project leader

First, figure out whom you’re pitching to. Creative workers—those whose work involves creativity or innovative problem-solving in most any setting—generally identify in one of two ways, Elsbach says. Idealists view themselves as artistic, independent, and unique in their creative approach; pragmatists see themselves as practical, collaborative, and rational.

2. Affirm their identity

Your strategy should be to present your idea in a way that affirms the identity of your project leader. “They have a lot of their identity invested in the ideas,” Elsbach says. “They’re threatened with ideas that will change it,” she adds. This means using different approaches for pitching ideas to pragmatists and idealists.

3. Work it out for the pragmatist

You’re much more likely to encounter pragmatists as project leaders. Elsbach says about 80% of those in the role are pragmatists because organizations value their problem-solving approach and drive to keep project timelines. In earlier research, she found pragmatists are more willing to consider ideas from others, especially if those ideas seemed to improve the feasibility of their projects.

Three things are key for them:

  • Present ideas with a practical approach to improving a pre-existing idea.
  • Make detailed suggestions that are quick to implement.
  • Invest passion in how you support your ideas, what Elsbach calls a “high-conviction approach.”

4. Soft sell the idealist

Idealists see the projects they are leading as a direct reflection of themselves. So for them, the approach should be opposite. Here you want to show appreciation for the idealist’s pre-existing vision and artistic approach and preserve their sense of ownership. In a dispassionate manner, offer general and vague suggestions with an open-ended timeline. Elsbach identifies this as a “low-conviction approach.”

Elsbach emphasizes that your own identity as a pragmatist or idealist doesn’t need to limit you in pitching your project leader. “The (self-identified) personal identities of the idea givers did not prevent them from using either a high- or low-conviction approach to idea giving,” she writes.

Elsbach’s study appears in Innovation: Organization and Management.

Source: UC Davis