5 Ways to Pitch Innovative Ideas

What to do when leadership says they want to make changes—but you suspect they really don’t.

Sondra Levitt

Career Coach, Korn Ferry Advance

In job postings and during interviews, it’s common to be recruited for your fresh ideas. But once you’re actually on the job, eager to contribute and add value, it’s unfortunately just as common to have your suggestions shot down by management.

According to Gallup research, only one in four employees strongly agree that their opinions count at work. Never being solicited for your feedback—or being asked for it, only to have it be rejected—can be an employee-engagement killer.

Experts say it’s important to remember that the reasons your ideas aren’t getting picked up probably aren’t personal. “The instinct to immediately shut down ideas comes from the amygdala, the part of the brain whose job is to keep us safe from perceived threats,” says Val Olson, a career coach at Korn Ferry Advance. Your manager may be overwhelmed with work, incentivized to keep the status quo and achieve short-term results, or hesitant to sell a new idea to upper leadership. Or the company culture may just be less innovative.

But that doesn’t make rejection any less frustrating. Here’s how to handle it.

Think through the implications of the idea.

Whenever you pitch an idea, you should know the goal behind it, the solution it offers, its potential value to the organization, and whose support or influence it requires. If it doesn’t gain traction, are you willing to let go of it? Or are you so passionate that you have to pursue it? “Be sure to reflect on what the idea will require from you, the team, and the organization,” Olson says. “All of the above need to have the bandwidth for implementation to be successful.”

It’s also important to reflect on what pitching ideas means to you. If you’re a person who enjoys coming up with ideas for their own sake, but you don’t feel appreciated for them at work, find an alternative setting to play with them, like a side gig or a hobby.

Find out why your ideas are getting ignored.

Depending on your relationship with your boss or colleague, share your concerns and ask why your ideas aren’t being well received. Career experts say to ask your boss or colleague what’s putting them off and why, specifically, they aren’t moving forward with your idea. They may just be caught up in day-to-day tasks and may not have noticed your frustration.

Mention that you may not yet have found the niche where you can use your strengths, and see if you can take on some tasks that require a creative thinker. Ask to jump in on a project whose momentum has stalled, or let leaders know you’d love to brainstorm with them in their next whiteboarding session.

Read the room.

If you lob an idea into a group meeting after a decision has been made, the likelihood that it’ll get picked up is low. Suggestions need to be presented at the right time, in the right way, to the right audience. And—unfortunately—not every idea is a good idea, or even an actionable one. “Just because you have ideas doesn’t mean everyone else is going to jump on your bandwagon,” Olson says.

Find out what kinds of things do and don’t work.

While there’s certainly value to coming into a team with fresh eyes and ideas, a lot of time gets wasted when a new person tries something that has already been ruled out as an option for good reasons.

“As you get to know your new role, spend time finding out what the people who have been there longer than you have tried and what happened as a result,” says Sondra Levitt, a career coach at Korn Ferry Advance. “Dig deeper and learn why the experiment failed or the team decided to go in a different direction, and attempt to learn some pitfalls and organizational bottlenecks you can avoid.” Conversely, try to get to the heart of what made successes successful.

Get more role clarity.

If leaders still aren’t receptive to your suggestions, career experts suggest getting clarity about what they hoped for when they hired you, and what they want you to offer. You may have to come to terms with the fact that the organization thinks it wants to change, but just isn’t ready for action.

Consider looking elsewhere if you ultimately don’t feel like your creative tendencies are a good match for the environment you work in. Many idea people make good entrepreneurs or consultants.


Learn more ways to accelerate your career at Korn Ferry Advance.