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I work in a team (six of us including my boss) that focuses on marketing and events targeted at young adults. We are constantly working on new ideas. Once in a while, my boss, a Gen X-er, will contribute some ideas and wants the team to execute them. However, I find that his ideas may be a little outdated and may not be effective considering our target audience. What should I do? Can an executive like me reject my boss’ ideas?
Responses from our Careernomers
Dear Frustrated Fadli,
I must commend you on two things. In the first place, it appears that you have an understanding of your target audience and their preferences. Secondly, it is commendable that you have the maturity to consider alternative approaches as to how to deal with the situation with your boss. Most executives would just “listen and obey”.
1. JUST DO IT!
This is probably the easiest and most welcomed solution by many executives. That said, it is not necessarily the most beneficial solution for you or the company. There is a danger of blindly following instructions, so that you may be seen as unimaginative, having no ideas of your own, whose mission is to please the boss. More importantly, in the long run, you may become so comfortable to have others do the thinking for you that you stop using your brain to develop your own great ideas – a trait that many good bosses look out for.
2. JUST SAY NO!
Tell your boss outright, that the idea is not a good one and why. In doing this, remember to be polite. Seldom has the content of what we say evoked anger but rather the manner in which it is delivered! Remember that no one likes an outright NO, especially when they are extremely excited about their ideas. Rejecting your boss’ idea in this manner may potentially cause a strain in your relationship with him. Or you can do it the Malaysian way where you say it as a joke and end it with a laugh. “Aiya boss, where la kids these days like things like this. Hahaha”.
BE A MAN, DO THE RIGHT THING, as Russel Peter puts it. This means that if you want to disagree with your boss (which you are allowed to do, by the way), then let’s do it in a mature and professional manner. Here are a few steps :
- Ask for some time to consider the idea before giving your comments.
- Consider the impact if this bad idea is implemented. Is it worth taking the following actions? Some small bad ideas (like where to go for the departmental dinner) may not be worth the time and effort.
- Take an objective view of the idea. Make sure you are not biased about any element in the idea. It could be the theme, the colour, the venue, the people involved, or your boss himself. Put this aside, and reconsider the pros and cons of this idea. It may not sound as bad as it did the first time.
- Research the idea. This is very, very crucial. One thing that I have learned from dealing with top management is the need to JUSTIFY your position! Every idea you have should be backed by facts, research, and numbers. Do the same for your boss’ idea. Research the outcome of a similar idea. Present the research and show him the behaviour and interests of the current generation and how his ideas may not be the best fit. Research, Research, Research. If you are going to agree, state your reasons. If you are to disagree, state your reasons too.
- Once you have formulated a concrete case, compile, and share it with your boss.
- The best thing you can do in this entire process is – COUNTER PROPOSE. Don’t stop at justifying to your boss why his ideas can or cannot work. Go a step further. Share with him your idea or a (major) improvement on his idea that is more suited for the project. Many bosses appreciate subordinates who not only come to them with problems, but also with solutions in hand. This is one great way to stand out among your colleagues too!
- Last but not least, do it with a smile. Don’t approach your boss angry or frustrated. After all your efforts, you don’t want to be seen as an arrogant trouble-maker. Don’t make it personal, just focus on the ideas.
If you don’t win this time, don’t quit. Keep your mind active with the research. Build your confidence in speaking to your superiors in a professional and respectful manner. Believe me your boss and your colleagues will start to notice that this young executive is more than meets the eye and they will one day listen to your ideas and perhaps seek your opinion. When that day comes, you will have won the respect of many.
All the best!
Elisa Dass Avin
Elisa currently heads the Assessment and Career Growth at Leaderonomics. She grew from the role of an FES counsellor to an identified Young High Potential in Sunway Group, where she also led the Career Services Team. She was later recruited as a Senior Talent Assessment Consultant prior to leading Inspired Minds.
It tickles me to read how you introduced your boss, a Gen-X’er. I do hope there are many Gen X’ers out there who don’t give you a perception that we are outdated. Gen X’ers are cool too!
Firstly, kudos to you for having an opinion and having the desire to ensure that your team efforts really pay off with real impact for your targeted audience. Too many young executives have withheld their opinions and decided to just follow the boss’ instructions simply to avoid confrontation/conflict or to avoid having more work assigned to them in case they suggest an idea.
Organisations need more young executives like you who truly think through who your target audience is and what the organisation should focus on to make the best use of resources for the greatest impact. And organisations need people like you who consider questioning their bosses (in a polite and genuine manner of course) and challenging the status quo.
Before you decide to “reject” your boss’ idea, may I suggest that you give due consideration to the idea first and perhaps also check with some of your other colleagues concerning their take on it. Sometimes, we think an idea is not workable based on our experience and perception. But each of us is limited by what we think and know/experience.
If many more of your team members agree that the idea may not be suitable, that at least gives you confirmation that “someone” needs to raise it with your boss. Likewise, if the majority of them believe in your boss’ idea, then there may be some sense to it and there is a chance it might work.
Now, if the idea is really not going to produce results and you and the team members have reached a consensus, there have to be good reasons to believe so. However, don’t go “rejecting” your boss’ idea… rejection is painful and hurtful to anyone. Instead of “rejecting” your boss’ idea, compile all the reasons so that you or your team can have a good discussion with him on your thoughts.
And before you do so, it is also important that you and your team have a better idea than your boss’. What can be worse than telling your boss that his idea won’t work? Telling your boss that you have no clue what can work! Propose to him an idea that would give you better results with your target audience.
Now on the part as to whether YOU should be the one to raise to your boss the issue of a “potentially-not-so-effective-idea” of his, do consider the working culture your team has. If your team has an open working culture where ideas, thoughts and opinions are valued, then regardless of whether you are just an executive or a senior leader, you should voice your thoughts in a proper manner (i.e. not rejecting, but considering other alternatives). In a culture like that, keeping silent when you do not agree on something does not add value and will not be appreciated.
If your work culture is that where everyone just says yes to the boss and there is a strong hierarchy, it means you are going up against the comfort zones of everyone. This is a sticky situation and you do need to consider whether it’ll be better to:
- Just follow the boss and not rock the boat – this would ensure the security of your job and not offend anyone;
- Raise your thoughts and concerns on the boss’ idea to a more senior person in the team who could talk to the boss (i.e. respecting hierarchy) – provided you trust the senior not to back stab you or take all the credit for it;
- Prepare a formal counter proposal and present it to your boss/senior or;
- Challenge the status quo and let your boss know your disagreement – with the risk of not knowing his reaction/acceptance and the rest of the team’s reaction as well
Whatever choice you make, do remember that in a not-so-open culture, it is best not to disagree with your boss’ idea in public. If you want to do so, do it privately in his office. Asians live in a culture of respect and “face” – this is something we should never underestimate.
I believe good bosses and leaders will value inputs and opinions of their team members. It is the approach in which it happens that determines whether or not your opinion is accepted. If your reasons are valid and you have a better proposal, there should be no reason why your boss would not give you a chance.
Good luck in being a great team player and all the best in your discussions with your boss!
Ang Hui Ming
Hui Ming was part of GE’s elite group of hi-potential talent. She was a business leader to GE’s Global Business Service division and later led the HR functions for GE at the Asean level before being made Asia HR leader for GE’s Oil and Gas division. She is a co-founder of Leaderonomics and a prominent HR leader in Malaysia.