Ever heard that old saying that ‘ideas are a dime a dozen’? Well, what that actually means is that having a great idea is worthless unless it gets executed and generates a desired outcome. The value for the business or the organization isn’t in the idea itself but in 1) how well it is aligned with and supports the future that matters to them and 2) in how well it is executed upon to get the desired results.
It’s said that most ideas fail because of poor execution. But there’s another reason that ideas fail that doesn’t get talked about as much. That reason is that the idea never gets presented in the first place.
I’ve worked with too many women professionals – at all levels of management/leadership – that give me a million reasons why they don’t present their ideas. They’ll say things like: I don’t have all my data to back it up yet, it’s not right timing to present this yet, everyone is too busy to consider a new idea, “they” usually steal my idea anyhow, I don’t have the ear or the support of (fill in the blank).
When I challenge their assumptions, what I often hear back, in some version or another, is that underneath their reasons is a fear of looking bad, silly, incompetent or just wrong. I hear this more from the women I work with than the men so I think it’s worth calling it out, especially if it happens to be one of your challenges.
Maybe it’s our preference to create collaborative work environments, or our habit to wait for permission rather than charging ahead and asking for forgiveness. Maybe it’s a need for approval or to be liked. Whatever it is, when I push even further, everyone realizes that what they’ve made up in their heads about the potential negative consequences of speaking up is way worse than what would likely happen. They KNOW that speaking up, making suggestions, presenting offers and ideas is not only their responsibility but an important differentiation from those who are good performers and those who would be good leaders.
I was recently working with a female middle manager who is part of a team of mostly women financial professionals. She suggested to the women that they start meeting once a month, outside of work hours, to discuss challenges and opportunities they faced in their organization. They put out an invite and 15 women responded with great enthusiasm. They also invited the men and got 4 of them to attend. They created a mission statement, identified values, and established rules of engagement. One of their intended goals is to support the organization to innovate around diversity practices and also to support each other in speaking up and ‘leaning in’ (as Sheryl Sandberg says). The CEO heard about it and is thrilled with the initiative and kudos for her courage to put her idea out there.
So, let’s assume you have an idea you want to offer. And let’s also assume that you’re going to step up and offer it – fear be damned. How do you best do that?
From my years of experience, the best thing you can do to be successful is to PUT YOURSELF IN YOUR STAKEHOLDERS’ SHOES.
You want to show your stakeholders how your idea could translate into results that matter for them and/or the organization.
It’s not that they won’t try new things. It’s not that they don’t want to hear ideas from YOU. It’s highly probable that your stakeholders are overwhelmed with immediate challenges and threats. They are looking for solutions that will help address them. You need to help your stakeholders connect the dots between your idea and how it solves that concern or challenge. If you can do that you’ll have a much greater chance of your idea getting adopted.
Let’s imagine you have an idea to streamline a process that could potentially increase productivity in your division by 5%. If your division is missing critical deadlines and you can show your boss that your idea can help reduce processing time and help them meet more of the deadlines, your idea will be seen as valuable.
But let’s imagine your division’s biggest challenge is that it is consistently missing its sales targets. Your idea to increase productivity may be a good one but it doesn’t address the challenge that is front and center for your boss which, in this case, is how to increase sales. It may be a good idea, but to be adopted it also needs to connect with what matters most to the boss.
Your ability to articulate your idea and show how it can help address the pressing concern is going to be the key to your success. In the conversation, you need to be able to present a well thought out idea that connects to what he or she most cares about right now. I want to stress that it needs to be well thought out. Don’t just throw out a half-baked idea. What’s a possible plan of execution? What resources might be needed to execute it? What other areas or people need to be considered with this change? Etc.
Your mood is also critical here. Don’t get defensive and don’t be attached to your idea. Be willing to listen carefully to whatever objections the boss or team may have so you can rework the idea if necessary. Whether your idea is adopted or not, being proactive and aware of how your idea aligns with what the organization cares about will demonstrate your leadership skills.
Remember, a good idea is only good if it addresses the right problem at the right time. But here’s the other side of the coin – don’t wait because you think there’s a perfect time or a perfect moment or a perfect opening. That won’t come and you’ll be left behind….waiting….