The world is filled with books, conferences, trinkets, magazines, journals, consultants and seminars to generate ideas that will improve the bottom line. People get excited about the ideas generated through these resources, and sometimes they spring them on their unsuspecting organizations. Yet the vast majority of spontaneous (even great!) ideas never make it past a manager’s desk. Why?
I researched this issue by asking participants three simple questions:
What always goes wrong when a new idea comes your way?
Why don’t things change in your organization?
What support do people need to make a new idea a reality?
Five findings emerged as I spoke with people from a wide range of organizations, organizational levels, with varying levels of experience. Here’s what I found.
Are you serious?
Many new ideas go nowhere because they are part of an endless stream of ideas that managers dream up but rarely follow through. Simply put: employees have watched ideas flow out of reactions to problems, or discussions during a meeting, or from a passing conversation in a hallway, or at a bar after work. These reactions generally lead to enthusiasm on the part of the idea generators, which leads to action and effort on the part of the recipients. People rush to do work or come up with a plan only to find out their managers really weren’t serious. So the effort they put into the work comes to nothing. This leads to cynicism. If you’ve done this a lot throughout the years, don’t expect people to come running toward your great idea. Your next idea will be met with a sense of “wait and see.” They really need co know you’re serious. As one of my favorite VPs used to say: “Follow up or foul up.”
What does this mean to me?
What does it mean to the organization?
Why are we doing this at all?
A primary concern of human beings is: “Where do I fit in?”. An important corollary is: “What is my role? What am I supposed to do? How will my job change?” Unless you answer these key questions, or at least provide opportunity for dialogue, your great idea will sit on your desk. People may pay lip service to your presentation, but at the end of the day, if they don’t understand what is expected of them, your idea is dead on arrival. In addition, you must be able to answer the question of every three-year-old. Why? People need to be able to answer the question: “Why am I doing this?” If you don’t give a solid, clear and precise rationale, your idea won’t make it past your desk.
Is someone checking on this?
If there is no metric in place to assess progress, people will get the idea that this is a non-issue. On the other hand, if they find out that your new program or idea has some teeth in it, they’ll pay attention. In other words, is someone checking to see if it’s happening? In addition, if there is some peer pressure, they will normally respond in a positive way. Most importantly, design a way to show progress.
People get enthusiastic when they see results. There is a deep need in human beings to close the loop on an activity. They need to know whether their efforts made a difference.
What training will I receive for this new role?
What do I need to do differently?
What latitude do I have?
Setting expectations for change is one thing, preparing people to do something new is an entirely different matter. Managers fail here because they expect people to just jump in and change without the requisite learning. They expect people to come up to speed within seconds, when it may take a few weeks or months to become skillful at a new activity. Without proper training, people will not be confident with the new program or idea. When they’re not confident, they’ll back away and not support the change. Why? Because they will feel incompetent, and no one likes to feel incompetent. If you put an idea in place without training those who must implement the change, you can plan on failure.
So if the new idea goes wrong, then what do I do?
Who do I go to?
Where do we get support?
So expectations have been set and training has been conducted. But even with all that effort to introduce a new idea, things still go wrong! Organizational change is a multivariate activity. In other words, no matter how much you anticipate issues and develop backup plans, sometimes things don’t work. The effective manager will have one more step of support to manage the change if things go wrong. Remember, early in the game people aren’t comfortable with the change, so they can’t make adjustments on the fly. In psychological terms, they are not at a tacit level of undemanding. They need backup because the change hasn’t become part of their lives or part of the culture yet.
You have great ideas. Every leader and manager does. But the idea is not enough. These five actions are critical if you want your idea to become reality.