The proposals that staff members and consultants submit to your company provide its lifeblood, whether you run a for-profit business or not. The main categories of proposals include solicited or unsolicited, formal or informal, and internal or external. Although each type has its own strengths and weaknesses, the internal proposal usually results in lower costs for investment, interpretation and implementation than a solicited external proposal.
Internal proposals often retain much of the formality of a solicited, external proposal. But one advantage of an internal proposal arises from the fact that the person writing the proposal and the intended recipient share common experiences and have a similar understanding of industry terms. A second, more important advantage is trust.
It Is a Matter of Trust
No one can ever overestimate the importance of trust in a potential business deal. Your team leaders, floor managers and supervisors already know that they can trust you. They see you working every day: arriving on time, assisting a lagging teammate or helping cover the floor when team leaders cannot do so.
Quite often, external, unsolicited proposals make so many exaggerated claims that they wind up sounding ridiculous. Such proposals only see their way to the CEO's desk if his administrative assistant thinks he needs a good belly laugh.
Internal proposals break through that initial skepticism to at least get the first reading. The CEO queries HR and discovers that you have sound judgment. As a matter of record, HR identified you as a necessary member of the company succession plan the day they hired you. In short, your internal proposal already has a willing eye and ear.
What Is a Proposal Letter?
A proposal letter consists of identifying a problem, proposing a solution and providing evidence that implementing the proposal will achieve its goal. Common goals include to make a task easier, improve the efficiency of a process, increase workforce effectiveness or save the company time, money or aggravation. Saving the company from aggravation may sound frivolous, but everything from government fines to potential lawsuits can reduce profit margins, slow down production due to more rigorous inspections or even result in jail time for improprieties.
In its initial stages, the letter follows a simple proposal format. When you ask, "What is a proposal letter?" you should already know that even in a paperless office, you do not send your proposal as an email. You create a formal letter and save it to whichever cloud storage option your company favors. Begin the document as you would when sending any other formal correspondence: with the heading.
Using Formal Style
Just as you would in a formal, external letter to a business, use a left-justified, block-style heading and body. Use your name and job title, along with your department name, instead of the name of your business and your company mailing address. Skip a line and write the date, using a month/day/year format for your American corporate office or a day/month/year format for any overseas offices.
Skip another line and write your recipient's name and job title along with their department name. Follow that by stating the problem, from the mundane: "We need an ice machine in the employee break room," to more serious concerns, such as, "Suggested modifications to our current 'active shooter' training module for new staff members."
Who Should Write an Internal Proposal?
While anyone can write an internal proposal, not everyone should. The person who first recognizes the existence of a problem sets the process in motion by expressing the need for solutions. Avoid the temptation to view this person as an instigator or a complainer. Putting a problem into words allows coworkers and supervisors an opportunity to evaluate the situation and decide whether to ignore the issue, seek other employment or join the instigator and generate potential solutions.
If you hold that supervisory position and you notice that turnover has gotten out of hand, take note. If you notice that fewer applicants interview with you after every new job posting, swallow your pride. Create a beautiful certificate thanking the invaluable employee whose diligence exposed the need for a solutions team. And most importantly, start selecting candidates for a solutions team.
Your newly-minted solutions team should substitute griping and low morale with a sense of purpose and something to prove. The team will bring the solutions from their impromptu brainstorming session to your desk. All you have to do? Decide which three scenarios to CC to your direct supervisor.
If you are on the solutions team side of the coin, each solution your team generates should ideally consist of 140 characters or less, just like a classic Tweet — or for old-school problem-solvers, as if writing a three-line want ad in a town newspaper. State the potential solution in clear, jargon-free language that does not require a master's degree in English literature or a Ph.D. in contract law to read and understand.
Writing Effective Internal Business Proposals
Among the many sources for a simple proposal format or an external proposal sample are universities, grant review panels, business magazines and trade journals. Not only will you find an endless supply of ready-made templates, but you will discover numerous helpful videos as well. Take the time to watch them and read their transcripts, when available.
These videos include discussions of quality issues, such as the need to include a section in your proposal on the steps the team took to ensure full inclusion of diverse viewpoints. In addition, the professional discussions the videos contain cite everything from the ideal number of team members for a brainstorming session to how to avoid locking the department into a never-ending feasibility study.
The mistaken belief that perfection outranks choosing a course of action leads many companies to fail. Thus, it is more important to put your ideas out there than to sit on them waiting for them to feel like they hae matured beyond faultlessness. Every good suggestion helps the company grow, and hopefully earns you recognition.
Researching All Pitfalls
While many businesses appear to play chicken with rules and regulations, research all of the potential pitfalls in every new proposal, even your own. Run it past the company legal team. Reach out to the IRS and the Federal Exchange Commission, as well as the Chamber of Commerce and the local planning board. Meet both the letter and the spirit of any pertinent legislation — it is just good business.
Check for Errors
Examine every word, sentence and paragraph of the entire proposal. Look for missing punctuation, or copy-pasted boilerplate and non-inclusive language. Make the proposal the best piece of writing it can be. Check for its completeness and ensure that implementing the recommendations will be feasible and not lead to any unintended consequences.
How will you know when your proposal should pass muster? Treat it like a dissertation. Whether you have ever defended your own or you have simply absorbed the steps of the process, treat every proposal you submit like a masterpiece. Pick over every word, and look for misspellings, poor grammar and weak phrasing.
Creating an Exit Strategy
No matter how well-intended, every new policy results in unplanned consequences. Include extensive documentation detailing any potential negative effects of any new policy on the recruitment and retention of new employees. Consider creating something that meets the needs of every employee, from the CEO to the assistant janitor. Include the possibility of using stock options and 401(k) matches or on-site daycare services and gym memberships to offset any drawbacks. In short, every benefit under the sun should hit the negotiating table, including paid leave for new parents and adult caregivers alike.
Get Everyone On Board
If you do not include all stakeholders in the entire process, from framing the problem to anticipating any unintended consequences on the rank and file, your business risks excessive employee turnover. Encourage those employees who gripe the loudest to put their complaints in writing, alongside three solutions they wish to implement.
Task the complainers with creating and administering formal surveys to gauge the popularity and feasibility of each solution with current employees and customers. Have this survey squad seek three cost estimates for any workspace retrofits, necessary training hours or the recruiting and onboarding of new employees. Include estimates for lost work time due to the learning curve.
Revise and Refine
No solution fits every situation. Once the new policy rolls out, hold open comment sessions. Provide suggestion boxes for the shy and filter the volume from those who have no hesitation or embarrassment with sharing their opinions loudly. Make sensible adjustments and renew the feedback-seeking sessions. Keep making tweaks and maintain transparency throughout the entire process. The boost to company productivity and profitability makes the entire process worth every ounce of effort.
- Your Dictionary: A Sample Informal Proposal
- Corporate Finance Institute: What Is the Proper Business Letter Format
- Sandra Gurvis: When Salespeople Regress - Turning Whiners Into Winners
- Wellesley College: Writing Tools - Becoming a Grant Reviewer Mock Review Panel
- University of Massachusetts Amherst: Basic Components of a Proposal
- Inc.: How to Write a Winning Proposal