John Kotter in his article entitled “Need Buy-In? Invite the Lions in” has some good advice about protecting your good idea.
I am sure you have experienced that sinking feeling that comes from a good, even great, idea that is trampled and crushed by the usual suspects before it can take flight. Mr Kotter suggests that the way to protect your idea, or even come to the rescue of someone else’s, is to understand the strategies of the naysayers. Mr Kotter sets out 4 strategies that are used to kill a good idea:
- Death by delay;
- Fear mongering; and
- Character assassination.
To these 4 strategies I suggest you can add two types of “smiling” assassins:
- Capacity limiters – those that believe that the agenda is already full and bringing in another idea is beyond the capacity of the organisation; and
- Guaranteed deliverers – those that need a guarantee that whatever idea is taken on, there must be a safe passage to a guaranteed result.
Both of these groups are ‘on-your-side’ and want to progress your idea, its just that their conservative nature or perhaps their being worn down by experience that desires or needs a greater certainty from everything they commit too.
Using your understanding of the nature of the naysayers and their strategies, Mr Kotter suggests that you should “invite in the lions” to critique your idea. Engage your attackers and answer them fully, let them see the value of your idea and win them over. At the very least you will know what they will say when you present your idea for wider acceptance. Great advice, but you will need to wear a thick skin and keep the faith!
Another interesting comment from Mr Kotter is that:
“competent creation and implementation of good ideas is a basic life skill, relevant to the twenty-one-year-old college graduate, the fifty-five-year-old corporate CEO and virtually everyone else. This skill, or lack of it, affects the economy, governments, families and most certainly our own lives.”
I like the thought that the creation and implementation of good ideas is a basic life skill. We need to be taught more and I agree with Mr Kotter, more work needs to be done around implementation. I myself struggle with implementation, whether it is due to not knowing where to start or simply that existing commitments or a lack of resources gets in the way.
In talking with others, there are a few of ‘rules of thumb’ that seem to be essential if you are going to get your idea across the line.
- First up, timing is everything. If there is no ‘clear air’, or the key decision makers have very little ‘left in the tank’ then you are pushing things up hill;
- Next, the messages need to be crafted so it is easer to ‘say yes than to say no’ – it links with the first point, but you need to avoid ‘deal breakers’ upfront;
- As well, your language is crucial. Creative types use a language that scares or disenfranchises a lot of people – you really need to communicate with them ‘on their terms’ and use your energy and enthusiasm to drive them from within.
- And finally, spend the time ‘one-on-one’ with the people likely to be key in the room (this is very much like Mr Kotter’s idea of inviting in the Lions). Give them a chance to voice concerns and problems in privacy – and for you to take those on board or explain how you have catered for those issues already. It means that they then see a piece of themselves in your pitch.
- And remember – if you can’t describe ‘what success looks like’ then its pretty hard to ask people to follow you!
Do you have any tips for advancing good ideas? Please share your experiences, I would like to read them.
A public servant since 28 June 1999.