Ever had a great idea for an improvement at work (a new category for the home page, switching to the Costco variety pack for the office oatmeal) and been told, “Sounds interesting, write it up”? You’ve just been asked for an internal proposal.
If you’re familiar with business proposals, the idea of writing a whole one on your own just to get the oatmeal switched can sound pretty daunting. Business proposals involve research, committees, detailed guidelines, and fancy graphics. Your internal proposal, however, need not have any of these things. It just needs to follow a basic structure that makes life easy for the people in charge of deciding things, hopefully in favor of the thing you want.
Spell out exactly what you’re suggesting in the title. Don’t title your proposal “How to Improve Our Oatmeal Selection.” Title it “Proposal to Improve Our Oatmeal Selection by Using the Costco Variety Pack.” Remember the goal: making things easy. It’s entirely possible they’ll think your idea is great without even reading your carefully prepared arguments. Don’t make a person who agrees with you have to read the proposal to find out what you’re suggesting.
Next, you want a paragraph that lays out the problem and your proposed solution in brief or, if you’re suggesting a new idea, what your idea is and why it would be good. If you remember five-paragraph essay structure from school, this is your thesis paragraph. Be direct. Your proposal is for internal-use only, so you don’t need to be flowery.
“In order to improve our current oatmeal selection, I propose we begin buying oatmeal from Costco, specifically the Quaker Oats Variety Pack. Not only will this improve office morale, but the price per unit will be cheaper and we can cut back on stocking cinnamon and sugar.”
Exception: If your proposal is very, very short, you can skip the introduction with the assumption that it would take longer to read it than to just read the next two sections. If you’ve got a full page or more, however, including an introduction falls under “making things easier for the reader.”
If your proposal solves a problem, present the problem. It’s okay if this section is short, but back it up with facts. For example, if you say “Our current oatmeal selection is very bland,” follow it up with “Only one flavor, ‘Original,’ is kept in stock.” Explain why that’s a problem. “With only one, dull flavor available, morale suffers, especially during break time. Additionally, the break room supplies of cinnamon and sugar frequently run out as people attempt to make their oatmeal more palatable.”
If you’ve got any applicable graphs showing how dire things are, feel free to add them here.
The Solution/The New Idea
If you’re solving a problem, your next section is to present your solution. If you’re introducing a new idea, talk about what that idea is. Make sure to say why it would a good idea, and back yourself up with facts.
“Costco stocks a variety pack of oatmeal with three different flavors: Maple & Brown Sugar, Apples & Cinnamon, and Cinnamon & Spice. I propose that we immediately switch from our current brand to this variety pack. Three different, tasty flavors to choose from will alleviate break-room tedium, and a poll of several departments found that all workers like at least one of these three flavors and a plurality like all three (fig 1). The poll also asked if people would be likely to cut back on their usage of the break-room cinnamon and sugar supplies if these flavors were available. The results were a resounding “yes,” with a projected reduction in consumption of over 75% (fig 2).”
“I propose adding a new category, “Beach Products,” to our store’s homepage. Customer Service has fielded over a dozen calls in the past week in which customers asked for products specifically to use at the beach. While our reps were able to make recommendations, it would be simpler for customers to have a category easily visible when they’re shopping.”
Depending on how complicated your solution or idea is, it’s often a good idea to include a suggested implementation or two, or at least the broad strokes of one. How specific you are should be determined by how involved in the implementation you’d be. Mention that the office already buys products from Costco, but don’t volunteer Bob to purchase the oatmeal during his office supply runs. If you’re in Customer Service, include a mock-up picture of the homepage showing what it might look like if you added a Beach Products category, but don’t talk coding unless you’re also part of the web team. If you are part of the web team, however, show some example code or say you’d copy the PHP from the existing Winter Fun category. (This is less making things easier for the reader and more office politics, but it’s important to keep in mind.)
If you’ve written a long proposal (more than a few pages), close with a conclusion restating your thesis and why your idea is a good one. This will remind your reader of what you just said or sum up everything if they merely skimmed the pictures. It makes it easy for them to decide “yes” or “no” (hopefully yes) when they’re done without having to go back and re-read. If your proposal is short, skip it with the assumption that your introduction is close enough at hand that they don’t need a reminder.
That’s all! Just outline your points clearly and you’re good to go. You’re not writing for the Pulitzer or trying to land a government contract here; you’re making a suggestion internally to improve the company. Even if your suggestion doesn’t get approved, the higher-ups will appreciate that you made the relevant issue so easy for them to understand, and that’s worthwhile all by itself.