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“Innovate or die.” This often-used quote was made famous by Tom Peters and used by people ranging from Bill Gates to United States senators. Where does innovation come from? It’s fairly simple: Innovation requires creative people with new ideas. What is not so simple is getting people to listen and buy in to new ideas. What about new employees? One of the benefits of adding new employees is that they are a great source of new ideas. How can we best take advantage of their imagination and brain power? Were you once that new employee who had a great idea that could have resulted in significant improvements but struggled with getting acceptance?
Generating new ideas is only part of the equation. We must get our ideas accepted as well as implemented. One of the immediate reactions we encounter when we try to convince people of new ideas is resistance. People attack our ideas, question our motives, table our discussions and give us the famous “it’s a great idea but it will never work here” statement. How many times have we witnessed good ideas get tossed aside? While it may not seem as simple as brainstorming new ideas, there are definitely some positive steps we can take to generate buy-in for our new ideas.
Our organizational environment can make it difficult to generate buy-in for new ideas. Is the environment built upon partnerships or silos? Is there a culture of openness and trust? Do people feel safe or is every day a battle for survival? Remember that one of Deming’s key points for a successful organization is “no fear”! Success in achieving buy-in is directly affected by the level of mutual trust and teamwork that exists. The greater the risk an idea introduces to individuals and the organization, the greater the level of trust that is required. How about you? Are you a team player or are you only a team player when it fits with your priorities?
Improve your environment by building partnerships and knocking down silos. Encourage everyone to communicate openly. Find ways to facilitate discussions. Make it easier to do so without fear. Encourage people to get out of their offices, have one-on-one discussions and meet informally, especially within those parts of the company that have limited interactions with each other. How can you drive innovation without diverse yet cooperative opinion? Diverse opinions can not only drive your innovative ideas, they can fuel their support.
Passion and persistence is a given. You must truly believe in the idea. Your passion and enthusiasm will be infectious and create a positive influence. Without passion, there may not be sufficient energy to propel your idea. However, even the greatest of passion will have a lesser effect if you lack credibility. Do you consider yourself an expert? Are you considered to be an expert? The two questions are not the same. Remember that credibility is in the eye of the beholder.
It is not about what you think. It is about what others think. Whether you are a consultant or a new employee when you walk in the door, you are given some level of credibility based on your education, background, and experience. What you do next on a day to day basis will either boost or diminish your credibility amongst your superiors, subordinates and peers. There is always the need and a constant opportunity to create relationships and build trust.
Strength in numbers
Even when your credibility is not an issue, there are times that our individual credibility is insufficient to make ideas a reality. We must gather support of other key individuals who are well respected and also have credibility. This may require you to be honest about your strengths and weaknesses and know the strengths and weaknesses of others. If data and crunching numbers are not your forte, then get someone on your side who is an expert. If public speaking is not your strength, then find a person who has that strength and add them to your coalition. You must build a strong coalition to successfully adopt and implement new ideas and change.
Our ideas cannot be forced upon others. We need to communicate, communicate, and communicate. To communicate effectively we must speak the language of our audience. Do not use technical words that your audience will not understand. Stick to the facts. Provide very concrete examples and avoid the theoretical and abstract. Answer the questions in their mind. These are the same questions we ourselves ask when changes are presented. What are we trying to change? Where are we going to change it? Why are we trying to change it? Will there be a payback? When should we change it? Is there really a sense of urgency to do it right now? Who needs to change? How will we be able to make the change?
Seniority counts double
As we strive to convince people to consider our new ideas, innovations and partnerships, one thing becomes very clear. People care about what their boss cares about. If the boss’s number one priority is productivity then your number one priority is productivity. One of the best ways to change someone’s mind is to change their boss’s mind.
Even in work environments that embrace driving authority down, making decisions at lowest levels, empowering employees, etc., you must get as much support as you can from senior leadership. Their support carries greater weight and in the end, for any great idea to be successfully implemented, it will require their active sponsorship. Having members of your coalition with high seniority is critical to your success.
Everyone has a vision and agenda to achieve that vision. Are all the visions within the organization aligned? Are we trying to get to the same place? To obtain buy-in from most people, even with a good vision in place, you must still answer the question “What’s in it for me?” Will your ideas help them achieve their goals? Alignment is a critical key factor for success. In order for someone to positively respond to your idea, they must see how your idea is aligned to the key company goals. If their goals are also connected to the key company goals we then have further alignment.
Be sure to frame the idea/agenda as a “we” agenda. “What are our specific business challenges?” “How can we improve?” “How can we achieve our corporate goals?” Is this idea about advancing the goals of what “I” want to achieve or what “we” want to achieve? Yes we can!!
We cannot forget about the bottom line. In the end, our ideas must positively impact the bottom line. Since money talks, you must build a solid business case. There must be measureable results. Without tangible benefits tied to measurable, specific results, selling a new idea will be extremely difficult. To sell an idea you need to be able to have a plan, a proposed budget, and an associated return on investment.
The benefits must also be tied to achieving the company’s vision. You must answer some of the key questions: Will this idea make us a stronger company positioned to capitalize on future economic growth? Will the effects of this idea become increasingly visible in our earnings, cash flow and performance? How will this positively impact our position with customers? How will this improve our competitive edge?
Knowledge is power. Learn what best practices are out there. Read books, take training classes, attend seminars and connect yourself to the “expert” networks. Learn from the people who did it right as well as those who did it wrong. You will undoubtedly get the “it won’t work here” comments. Be prepared to prove your ideas. Can you show evidence of where it has worked somewhere else? Can you provide some benchmarks, case studies, or comparable companies where something similar has worked? Can you provide some information from credible external sources?
One of the best ways to prove concepts is conducting them within a controllable pilot area if at all possible. Document and track the benefits, both the tangible and non-tangible benefits. Document and track the measurable results. Publicize and communicate the results!
Whether you are an innovator, leader or someone just trying to have their voice heard, you must have an understanding of the key elements that must be addressed to properly present yourself and your great, innovative idea.
Creating an innovative culture and achieving buy-in is not a one-time event. It is an on-going process built over time. It requires the involvement of senior leaders, customers, stakeholders, external business partners. It requires building coalitions. It requires communication. In effect, it is all about building teamwork, trust, and partnerships. The big difference between companies who successfully innovate and those that don’t lies not only in the long list of ideas available, but in the level of true partnerships that exist in achieving a common vision and attainable goals.
This article first appeared in the RxToday, Life Cycle Engineering’s e-newsletter.
About the author:
Dave Berube, a senior consultant for Life Cycle Engineering (LCE), has more than 29 years of experience in leadership and management within the maintenance, reliability and operations realm. His expertise includes change management, project development and management, and business process re-engineering. You can reach Dave at dberube@LCE.com. For more information about LCE, visit www.LCE.com.