Promoting Innovation in the Workplace: The Internal Proposal

Article excerpt

Today's managers expect employees to be able to contribute not just their labor but also their analysis and ideas, yet little training is provided for writing the major document that contains such ideas: the internal proposal. Business and academic textbooks, as well as academic courses, focus almost entirely on external proposals, which are most appropriate in areas such as consulting and sales. The internal proposal (also known as the justification report), on the other hand, is applicable for almost any student's future career. It provides an opportunity for students to develop the competence and confidence to express their ideas in the workplace, encouraging them to demonstrate awareness and initiative, utilize problem-solving skills, and create a persuasive strategy. Because students are motivated to complete this real-world assignment, it also inspires some of their best work.

Keywords: Business proposals, internal proposals, justification reports, teaching proposal writing, teaching report writing


WHETHER THE TERMINOLOGY is "Total Quality Management" (TQM), Six Sigma Quality, empowerment, or teamwork, one of the main themes promoted in today's workplace is that employees are expected to contribute actively to the direction of their organization. Therefore, students should not expect simply to be told what to do once they are hired; they should be prepared to participate by sharing their ideas, both orally and in writing. While making increasing demands on workers, however, the workplace usually does not provide much training to help employees to promote their ideas through proposal writing. One Fortune 500 sales executive interviewed by Joseph Conlin (1998) fondly remembers a time over a decade ago when salespeople were provided with the support of a typing pool and boilerplate proposals. Now salespeople in the same company are simply handed a laptop and told to develop their own prototypes. The result, he laments, is that "no one can write any more" (Conlin, p. 72).

Students often do not receive much preparation from their academic training either. The fortunate few are taught proposal writing in a required or elective business communication course, but the assignments generally use imaginary scenarios, and they are written for the teacher as audience (Wahlstrom, 2002). Students are often not required to do complex business writing in their own entry-level or part-time jobs, so they fail to see a clear connection between writing and work. The solution is to ask students to write an internal proposal.

I teach both internal and external proposals together, but I sell students on the internal proposal by telling them that it will be easier for them. It is often true that if students have noticed that a change is needed in their workplace, chances are good that they have already thought about this subject a great deal, discussed it with others, and even gathered evidence. Students are more motivated to write about a subject of personal interest, and they are certainly better qualified to write than they would be if they were simply to imagine a scenario. They also learn more as they analyze the real-life issues, arguments, and facts relevant to their proposals.

Benefits of Teaching the Internal Proposal

The result, as you may expect, is better quality work. The proposal assignment usually generates the best quality work that I see all semester from a student (for an example, see Appendix A). The assignment also ensures that students will be better prepared for the workplace in terms of their analytical and persuasive writing skills. Once students have completed a good proposal, they also have more confidence in expressing their ideas in the workplace.

Many students actually submit their proposals within their organizations, allowing the students to see some real-world results. Students have proposed new equipment purchases such as new forklifts, new computers, or new security systems. …