You’ve experienced this: you’ve been working at the company long enough to know how things work and you’re confident in your skills and contributions. It’s been long enough that you see more than just where the chinks in the armor are or opportunities than the company should be pursuing. At some point, you have the ear of one of the higher ups in your company. Maybe it’s at a company retreat or possibly a sidebar at the end of a meeting. You excitedly explain your idea and expect to have it rewarded with an enthusiastic response and possibly even an offer to lead the new project.
Instead you are greeted with a compliment sandwich of denial. “That’s a good idea but it’s not something that we can pursue right now. Keep thinking outside the box, though. It’s appreciated.” Such a letdown, right?
It’s happened to me on more than one occasion. After a recent discussion with a colleague who had a similar experience, I started thinking about why we’re surprised at these outcomes and how to be better prepared going into these situations by considering what we’re really asking.
Business is all about relationships. Not simply the internal and external ones with our coworkers and customers/suppliers, but the ones we have with our products and processes as well. When you advocate for a new process or product, you’re asking the organization to enter into a new relationship. And relationships take work. So you asking the organization to do more work.
But your idea is special in that it will make things better, right? Who doesn’t want better relationships?
Existing tools and procedures are established relationships, complete with a history of joys and disappointments. But most importantly, established relationships have trust. They are a known entity. They may be low tech and even inefficient but there aren’t any surprises. Your new solution has potential and could well be better than any/every existing one but it’s still an unknown.
If you’re just at the idea stage, you have the added disadvantage that it’s an idealized relationship in your head, complete with a wonderful future that may excite you and make your heart flutter. Yet, in the eyes of an outsider, which at this stages is everybody but you, it’s still a fantasy .
How can you move from this place and improve your chances of others being more receptive to you?
Provide something tangible. Give them something they can get excited about. A thing they can engage with physically and emotionally. It could be as simple as a paper design, a video demo or a prototype. Don’t think only in terms of completed products or processes. Many of the products and processes we used today started with the initial positive feedback we got from a sample.
Just remember, asking someone to enter a new relationship is a huge request. To paraphrase Aretha Franklin, give them something they can feel and you’ll have a better chance of winning them over.
What if you’ve done this, you think it has huge potential and they still don’t want to do it?
Consider how truly important the solution is to you. If you still think the idea has merit and pursuing it won’t conflict with the relationship you have with the company…