Go Beyond the Business Case to Persuade Your Boss

Getting someone — especially someone with discretionary authority — on your side is often a case of perspective. Employees might think framing a suggestion in terms of its business benefits will get higher-ups to take it more seriously. It's not an off-the-mark instinct, but there may actually be a more effective way of getting what you want.

Psychologists at the University of Michigan have just published a study on how companies agree to take on corporate responsibility programs, such as committing to sustainable energy practices. A survey found that while many workers have approached management about beneficial workplace practices, the most successful tactic was appealing to a sense of social good or morals. In short, you're more likely to get buy-in if you say that sustainable energy practices, for example, are in line with the company's mission and values, as opposed to only showing how they might save money.

There is a catch: You can't just pull that connection out of thin air. "Using moral language without drawing explicit links to the organization's values might backfire because it highlights the irrelevance of the issue to the organization's core agenda," said lead author David Mayer in a press release.

One other reason to use a light touch on ethical language is how it can unbalance a workplace if used as a wedge. Ethical leadership or participation isn't automatically good; that said, employees are far more likely to go the distance for a management team that walks the walk on workplace ethical issues. That means every day is a great opportunity for anyone to lead by example.