How to Write Powerful Proposals

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As storytelling is such a popular way of conveying business messages these days, this is the story of a catering manager who wants her/his Board to fund a "tasty" new kitchen, and we work through her/his exercise of writing up the proposals that will secure what s/he wants...
The scenario You are the catering manager of a large company.
You're responsible for a team of 20 staff who cook and serve subsidized canteen lunches for the workforce of 500 people.
The equipment in your kitchen is ten years old and pretty worn out.
Your kitchen staff are unhappy about this and are forever complaining.
You decide to put some proposals together to convince the Board (your direct report is the HR VP or Director) to allocate funds for new equipment.
This is how you might go about thinking through your writing project, making notes as you go - but not writing it yet.
1.
What is my desired outcome - that I should keep in my mind at all times? Obtain available funds to buy and install new kitchen equipment for the staff restaurant.
2.
What secondary objectives do I have? It would be nice to have carte blanche to spend the money how I like and buy what equipment I want without having to justify every last penny/dime/sou to the financial people.
To achieve this and equip the kitchen appropriately would: **Improve my relationship with my staff and ease my conscience about their need to work with out-dated and slow equipment **Stop the stream of complaints from the workforce when they have to wait for their food longer than is reasonable - which wastes my time as I have to listen to them and deal with them **Ultimately reduce my costs through more efficient energy usage and faster turnaround **Create happier employees, which will make me look better to my superiors 3.
So what exactly is needed to achieve these outcomes? I need to produce a short, sharp and convincing document that Board members will read during the week prior to the next meeting.
The HR VP/Director has promised me that he will include it as an item in his section of the tabled agenda.
I've only got one shot, so it had better be good.
4.
Who are the people in my "audience" and what does it feel like to be them? They're senior executives who seldom eat in the staff restaurant, so the issue is unlikely to be of personal importance to them.
They are likely to feel stressed at the moment because of recent rumors about a hostile takeover bid from one of our competitors.
Sales have been down a bit lately and so they're likely to be in the mood for cost cutting.
The last time someone applied for money to be spent on staff facilities they actually were very generous and sanctioned funds for a complete refit of the restaurant itself, and that was just last year.
They may not be in the mood to spend almost as much again, especially as the kitchen facilities are not visible to them, to visitors, and to the vast majority of staff so they won't perceive much PR value.
However the HR Director is going to discuss a major recruitment problem at the Board meeting and all Board members are going to be made aware that we are losing much in the way of local work skills and talent to our competitors in the next town.
This is partly because of their superior training schemes and personal development programes but also it is due to their superior staff perks, including a superb restaurant and gymnasium.
5.
How will the audience receive my message? In the form of a document along with a stack of other documents one week prior to the meeting, probably lumped together in one file or binder.
They're likely to be pressed for time so will probably skim all documents while traveling by train/plane/chauffeur-driven car, or maybe at home at the weekend or late at night in a hotel room somewhere.
In the meeting the topic will be flagged up by the HR Director but this will be secondary to the recruitment problem, and in any case the whole HR section is likely to be quite a long way down the agenda.
The executives are likely to be tired and grumpy by this time, especially if earlier news has not been good.
It may be possible to put a summary of my message on the Board level company intranet, which if it's read at all will be read after the document has been circulated but before the Board meeting.
6.
What's in it for them - what benefits are there for my audience? In this case, more than in most, I've got to sing out a benefit for the recipients of my message so fast it isn't funny, otherwise the whole thing will be shuffled to the bottom of the deck and may not even get discussed at the Board meeting.
What could possibly be in it for the Board, as they don't even eat in the staff restaurant? Hang on...
the competition in the next town recruiting staff on the basis of a better deal including a brilliant staff restaurant.
That's going to be discussed before my project.
Now we're getting somewhere...
7.
How can I make the negatives look as un-negative as possible? The cost.
Yup.
Tricky.
I can hear them now saying "but only last year we paid to have the whole restaurant refitted, and now we're being asked for more?" But supposing that was step one? Hmmm.
How about this? A heading that reads something like...
"Maximizing staff satisfaction - our final step in gaining the lead as local recruiters" - yes! I like it.
That's the angle to use: I've got to show them how investing in new kitchen equipment will help put us in a much stronger staff retention and recruitment position, and as such is a particularly relevant issue for consideration now when our competitors are threatening to take the best of the local workforce for themselves.
8.
Have I genuinely demonstrated that there's something "in it" for everyone? Yes.
And there's nothing dishonest about it; the point I'm making is absolutely true.
It's just that from where I sit, I wouldn't necessarily have looked at it that way, and it was only by putting myself into the audience's shoes that I looked at it from another direction.
The final proposal...
Page 1 / cover In-house catering - the final step: ...
crucial to secure staff satisfaction and maximize the benefits of last year's restaurant refit How a relatively modest investment in new kitchen equipment will complete our excellent in-house catering service...
...
and ensure it earns its keep as a significant staff benefit that's better than anything our competitors offer their employees Page 2 The immediate problem Last year saw the refurbishment of our staff restaurant which has gone some way towards making our in-house catering service the best of any employer in the city.
However equipment "behind the scenes" in the kitchens themselves, has not been replaced since 199X.
This old equipment is slow and laborious to use - even by our highly trained and well-motivated kitchen staff - which results in frequent, lengthy delays in delivering food orders to diners in the restaurant.
Consequent dissatisfaction among restaurant users is on the increase, especially in view of our recent productivity and sales drive which has led to shorter lunch breaks and resultant pressure for orders to materialize faster - not slower.
The secondary problems At a time when Bozo Ltd are featuring their staff facilities as a major incentive for people to join their organization, the last thing we need is for our staff catering service to let us down and make our company less attractive.
Last year's investment in improving the "front of house" restaurant fittings made a substantial contribution towards putting things right, but without modern kitchen equipment to keep up the pace those restaurant fittings can't do the job on their own.
Also, there is now a risk that our old kitchen equipment may fail to meet current health, safety and hygiene requirements which would necessitate replacement in any case before too long.
The solution Compared with what was spent last year on restaurant refurbishment, what's needed now for kitchen equipment is actually less, though its effect will be, if anything, more valuable.
This is because the spend on new equipment will lead to a huge overall improvement in service - important for our staff recruitment/retention.
Implementation As you will see overleaf I have conducted an exhaustive cost/performance comparison survey of all appropriate equipment.
Based on my long experience of industrial kitchen management I have made detailed recommendations for the most cost-effective choices.
I am also happy to oversee the purchase and installation of the equipment personally, to save on management time within the Purchasing and Finance departments and to ensure the most efficient overall solution.
The outcome Updating our staff restaurant kitchen equipment will be the final link in the chain of ensuring our staff facilities not only meet, but excel those of Bozo Ltd and any other local organizations seeking to attract high-calibre staff.
As you know, often it is these relatively small issues - and these relatively small investments - which tip the scales in favour of a star recruit's decision to join one organization, or the other.
We want them to join and stay with ours, and this initiative will help ensure that they do.
Page 3-4 How much will it cost? (details of equipment required and costs thereof) What it will achieve (cooking/serving time reduction, also energy usage reduction, etc) Implementation plan (what needs to be bought now, how/when it would be installed) Outcomes measurement (how soon improvements could be measured, what would be anticipated, staff satisfaction survey prospects, etc.
) And the post-mortem...
First of all, consider the style and tone of voice.
We are direct and to-the-point and do not use flowery or formal language, but at the same time we are not familiar or chatty.
This is straight business-speak with no frills, to get our message over as effectively as possible in the shortest possible time, while providing them with enough information to understand the whole issue.
Page 1 / cover In-house catering - the final step: ...
crucial to secure staff satisfaction andmaximize the benefits of last year'srestaurant refit This acts like a headline and has to flag up the key points of "what's in it for them," which particularly in this case is quite different from what's in it for me, the catering manager, and even for the staff who will benefit from it.
As the message brief defined it there are two key pressure points for the audience - one, attracting and retaining staff in the face of growing competition and two, the fact that last year they already spent quite a lot on the restaurant.
This latter point could easily be used by them as an excuse not to contemplate this extra spend, which is why I've made such a fuss about the kitchen equipment being the "final link in the chain...
" almost hinting that it was their deliberate policy to refit the catering operation in two stages, this being the second.
How a relatively modest investment innew kitchen equipment will completeour excellent in-house catering service...
and ensure it earns its keep as asignificant staff benefit that's betterthan anything our competitors offertheir employees Relatively modest means little, but it sounds low.
We're also hinting strongly that without new kitchen equipment the restaurant refit might have been a waste of money, which is probably true, but it wouldn't be very tactful of us to spell it out.
Page 2 The immediate problem Last year saw the refurbishment of our staff restaurant which has gone some way towards making our in-house catering service the best of any employer in the city.
However equipment "behind the scenes" in the kitchens themselves, has not been replaced since 199X.
This old equipment is slow and laborious to use - even by our highly trained and well-motivated kitchen staff - which results in frequent, lengthy delays in delivering food orders to diners in the restaurant.
Consequent dissatisfaction among restaurant users is on the increase, especially in view of our recent productivity and sales drive which has led to shorter lunch breaks and resultant pressure for orders to materialize faster - not slower.
Self-explanatory, really.
Also note that I anticipated another potential "get-out clause" for someone not wishing to sanction the spend - that it's not the age of the equipment that causes delays, but the inability/sloth of the kitchen staff.
The sentence above might not convince them that the kitchen staff are superb, but it shows I've anticipated that possible objection and will fight it if it gets brought up.
Often that's enough to stop it in its tracks.
The secondary problems At a time when Bozo Ltd are featuring their staff facilities as a major incentive for people to join their organization, the last thing we need is for our staff catering service to let us down and make our company less attractive.
Last year's investment in improving the "front of house" restaurant fittings made a substantial contribution towards putting things right, but without modern kitchen equipment to keep up the pace those restaurant fittings can't do the job on their own.
Also, there is now a risk that our old kitchen equipment may fail to meet current health, safety and hygiene requirements which would necessitate replacement in any case before too long.
Here I substantiate and reinforce the notion that the refit of the restaurant was stage one of a two-part project, and that my stage two - re-equipping the kitchen - is necessary to complete the picture and if it doesn't happen, it could have dire consequences regarding our efforts to attract and retain good staff.
Despite the new restaurant fittings.
The solution Compared with what was spent last year on restaurant refurbishment, what's needed now for kitchen equipment is actually less, though its effect will be, if anything, more valuable.
This is because the spend on new equipment will lead to a huge overall improvement in service - important for our staff recruitment/retention.
If this were a sales document it would be the "final push" section.
However with a document like this once you've established your objective, which we have here (earlier on), this solution section acts more as a bridge, and offers us the chance to remind the audience how what we want them to do relates to a benefit for them.
Implementation As you will see overleaf I have conducted an exhaustive cost/performance comparison survey of all appropriate equipment.
Based on my long experience of industrial kitchen management I have made detailed recommendations for the most cost-effective choices.
I am also happy to oversee the purchase and installation of the equipment personally, to save on management time within the Purchasing and Finance departments and to ensure the most efficient overall solution.
This section covers my "secondary considerations" from my message brief, whereby I would like to have carte blanche to organize the whole thing without other departments and managers breathing down my neck.
Having searched high and low for a possible benefit to the Board, what better benefit than my own long experience as an expert in this area, and my considerate desire to save on others' management time by overseeing the project myself.
Actually, it's win-win for everyone - I get to run the project as I think best and they don't have to wear the additional time and effort.
The outcome Updating our staff restaurant kitchen equipment will be the final link in the chain of ensuring our staff facilities not only meet, but excel those of Bozo Ltd and any other local organizations seeking to attract high-calibre staff.
As you know, often it is these relatively small issues - and these relatively small investments - which tip the scales in favour of a star recruit's decision to join one organization, or the other.
We want them to join and stay with ours, and this initiative will help ensure that they do.
Really this is just a wishful-thinking summary, but it serves the purpose of wrapping up the main page and reminding the audience of the key points / potential benefits for them.
The "as you know" phrase, provided it's used in a respectful rather than patronizing way, can hint at a sort of conspiratorial partnership between writer and reader which can get the reader's head nodding up and down in silent agreement - always a usefully positive precursor to potential agreement.
And so? A proposal that will convince even the most cynical of powers-that-be to think and act our way.
Good luck!
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