In many organizations, big ideas cause change, and thus they tend to encounter a significant amount of resistance and inertia. The solution, according to Jeffrey Baumgartner, is to cultivate idea stakeholders. Read on to learn how to build support for your big ideas.
Big ideas are ideas which result in significant changes in an organization’s operations, products or services. Because big ideas cause changes, they fight against corporate inertia at every stage of their early lives, from selling the idea to senior managers, colleagues and others to implementation of the idea.
Most people in larger organizations do not really like change. Managers worry about the risk implicit in any major change. If the company is performing well, they fear that a big change could adversely affect performance. If the organization is in trouble financially, managers worry whether the change might hasten the collapse. That said, managers of companies in serious financial trouble are often more willing to take chances with new ideas than are managers of companies that are performing acceptably.
Employees, for the most part, become comfortable in their job responsibilities. They know they are performing competently, they understand their jobs and they know where they fit in the corporate structure. Big changes engender uncertainty. And for the average employee with a mortgage – or monthly rent bill – car payments and possibly a family to support, uncertainty is not a desirable feeling.
It is only when an idea is implemented and functioning that people become accustomed to it, settle into their new responsibilities and convince themselves that they had always favored the new idea.
Overcoming corporate inertia
The challenge is how to give away stakes in something that people fear – or about which people are wary.
One of the best ways to overcome corporate inertia is to bring as many people as possible into your idea by making them stakeholders. A stakeholder, of course, is someone who owns a small piece, or stake, of an idea. The challenge is how to give away stakes in something that people fear – or about which people are wary.
Once the idea has been devised and its potential recognized, the next step is typically to bring together a team to evaluate and develop the idea. You should populate this team with diverse people who are sufficiently influential in their divisions, particularly with senior managers, to help push the idea through. Ensure that each person feels she has contributed to the idea (even if she has been a critical trouble-maker, antagonizing other team members, being counter-productive whenever possible and generally abusive, make her feel she has made a positive contribution). Once people feel they have contributed to an idea, they will also feel they have a stake in the idea. Thus it behooves them to push the idea through to implementation.
The project team in charge of overseeing the implementation of the big idea should likewise include a diverse group of people from different divisions in the organization. However, this team should be particularly influential with their subordinates and colleagues. A significant part of their responsibility will be ‘selling’ stakes in the idea to the people in their divisions.
To accomplish this, the project team must not only be encouraged to contribute to the idea’s implementation – in order to acquire their own stakes – but they must also be given the tools to get their colleagues and subordinates involved in the idea.
Getting regular employees involved in the idea, so that they have stakes in the idea, requires working with them to define their responsibilities once the new idea has been implemented.
In other words, rather than giving an employee a new job description and orders to follow it. Her manager should sit down with her, discuss the new idea, the value it will bring to the company and the value it will bring to her. Then, together, they should draw up new job responsibilities for the employee. By participating in redesigning her job description, the employee becomes a stakeholder in the new idea.
Depending on the scale and scope of the new idea and the people involved, such discussions can take place on a one-on-one basis or in groups, getting entire divisions or subdivisions to work together to redesign their individual and divisional job descriptions.
As more and more people acquire stakes in your idea, they become more enthusiastic about the idea and the value the idea’s success will bring not only to the company, but also to themselves. Once this happens, it is relatively easy to overcome corporate inertia and implement a big idea.
By Jeffrey Baumgartner
About the author
Jeffrey Baumgartner is the author of the book, The Way of the Innovation Master; the author/editor of Report 103, a popular newsletter on creativity and innovation in business. He is currently developing and running workshops around the world on Anticonventional Thinking, a new approach to achieving goals through creativity.