The one fear even the best business leaders have
MPW Insider is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: How do you get buy in for a new idea? is written by Mary Godwin, VP of operations at Qumulo.
There it is — in the manila folder sitting at the corner of your desk — that idea that came to you in the shower on how to make everyone at your company more efficient. Since the original epiphany, you’ve put the numbers together and the graphs that make the benefits of your program crystal clear. The folder is almost quivering with possibilities.
But now comes the point where you will either grow your trembling, sapling of an idea into the crowd-cheering miracle you believe it to be, or have it crushed into toothpicks by the bulldozer of cynics, naysayers and change haters who may be part of the team. So, here are some things I’ve tried that may be helpful:
1. It is always good to know your audience and understand their motivations and concerns. You have to be able to show the stakeholders what’s in it for them. So get out there and make like a politician. Network with your constituents. Let them know what you’re up to and why it’s important to the company and to them. Try to get a pre-read on how team members will react when you present your idea. Their input may be helpful and present a perspective that you hadn’t considered. At a minimum, it will allow you to prepare your approach to address their concerns. Use this as an opportunity to ask them if they would like to get involved. “Help” is a really good four-letter word.
2. You learned this when you were a child: It’s always more fun to do things with a buddy. Early on in your idea generation, get a team member on board. All of the clichés apply, like, “Two heads are better than one.” If that colleague is also one of the more change-averse members of the management team, then that’s even better. His or her acceptance of your idea will give it more credibility. Your colleagues will be impressed: “Wow, Joe hates change. If he likes this idea, then it must be good.”
3. Don’t present your idea fully formed. Give others a chance to guide the direction. Once others can see their fingerprints on your idea, it’ll be much more likely to be accepted. The presentation of your idea will then transition from being exposed to a firing squad to sparking a conversation — which is far less stressful. One point of caution, however, when you follow this approach, is that you must be genuinely open to the suggestions of others. If you have a preconceived perspective and continue to drive the team back to that perspective, your efforts will come across as phony, which can have a long-term impact on your trustworthiness.
4. Don’t be afraid of losing ownership of your idea. Stay focused on the big picture and what you are trying to accomplish for the company, rather than on kudos for yourself. If your idea is adopted, even with a few flourishes from others, you win. More importantly, the team wins. You get the reputation of being someone who can rally a team to a common purpose and will likely get the opportunity to repeat this process for your next great brainstorm.
5. Be passionate about your idea. If you’re not committed to your project, no one else will be. This can be scary because you’ll feel exposed. Don’t be afraid. Emotional commitment is a very strong motivator, especially if it’s for a good cause. It’s what will keep you and the team going while overcoming the hurdles during the dark days of implementation. It’s also what will keep you pushing your idea forward, even if it becomes splintered during its maiden voyage. Sometimes the timing isn’t right or the problem you’re solving has not reached a critical level yet. It doesn’t mean that you don’t have a great idea. Since you’ll receive lots of feedback and perspectives during the journey, you will come back much wiser and have a more fleshed-out idea — something more than a sapling.
Read all responses to the MPW Insider question: How do you get buy in for a new idea?
How to avoid complete failure when pitching a new business idea by Laura Cox Kaplan, regulatory affairs and public policy leader at PwC.
Proof even the best business ideas get ripped apart by Jodi Cerretani, senior director of marketing at MobileDay.
Here’s how to make sure your next ideas meeting isn’t a total fail by Kristin Kaufman, founder and president of Alignment, Inc.
Why managers need to stop sugar-coating the truth by Perry Yeatman, CEO of Perry Yeatman Global Partners.
How this CEO keeps her employees coming back after maternity leave by Gay Gaddis, CEO and founder of T3.
The number one way to motivate employees by Karen Quintos, CMO of Dell.