8 Steps to Suggesting a Change at Work That'll Actually Get Taken Seriously
Everyone wants to be that person—the one who looks at the same information as everyone else, but who sees a fresh, innovative solution. However, it takes more than simply having a good idea. How you share it is as important as the suggestion itself.
Why? Because writing a new script—literally or figuratively—means that other team members will have to adapt to something new. So whether you’re suggesting a (seemingly) benign change like streamlining outdated protocol, or a bigger change like adding an hour to each workday so people can leave early on Fridays, you’re asking others to reimagine their workflow or schedule. Not to mention, if the process your scrapping is one someone else suggested, there’s the possibility of hurt feelings.
To gain buy-in on an innovative, new idea, follow these eight steps:
1. Be a Salesman
Great ideas don’t stand alone. In other words, you can’t mention your suggestion once and expect it to be adopted. To see a change, you’ll need to champion your plan and sell its merits. In addition, you need to be willing to stand up to scrutiny and criticism and be prepared to explain your innovation in different ways for various audiences.
2. Give it Time
So, you want to clearly and fully explain your thinking, but then you need to give people time for consideration. Creative genius could strike at any time, but implementation can take months or even years—as was the case with hand washing and sterilization in hospitals.
3. Use Channels
Sometimes it makes sense to go to your boss first. But other times, it’s useful to build a coalition among your co-workers or other stakeholders. When it works, it works great—because you’re ready for your stubborn supervisor’s pushback with answers like, “Actually, I connected with a few people in our tech department to discuss how much time these kinds of website updates would take, and they suggested they have the bandwidth.”
However, just be certain you can explain your end-around approach as one that built your case, rather than simply circumvented your manager. The last thing you want is for your boss to feel embarrassed he wasn’t informed—which could lead him to quash the idea before it even takes off.
4. Be Humble
One of the biggest barriers to gaining buy-in occurs when the owner of an idea is viewed as argumentative, defensive, or close-minded. Because, let’s be honest: No one likes a know-it-all. So, if people disagree with you, don’t be indignant. Instead, listen to their concerns fully, try to understand their perspective, and include their concerns (and possible remedies) in future discussions.
So, instead of saying, “Martha, our current slogan is confusing and should be updated,” you could try, “Martha raises a great point that our current slogan has a long history for our stakeholders, but I wonder if we might able to brainstorm a tagline that could build on that—and be clearer for new customers.”
5. Don’t Mistake Disagreement for Personal Rejection
Yes, it can hurt when you present a brilliant suggestion and are shot down. It can feel territorial, even personal. However, unless you have a sworn mortal enemy in your office, someone rejecting your idea probably isn’t meant as a personal attack.
Getting too attached and having it become “my idea” pulls focus from what your innovation really is—a suggestion that will better things for the entire team, company, or project. Don’t let ownership prevent you from listening to valid concerns and criticism.
6. Expect (and Invite) Resistance
Another reason to really engage with the naysayers? New ideas can only be adopted as quickly as the culture of the organization will allow them. Innovations often represent change or a new, unfamiliar paradigm. So, explore people’s dissent and disagreement—that’s part of helping them learn to accept change.
7. Respect the Past, But Don’t Get Stuck There
New ideas are the grandchildren of old ones. In other words, don’t throw old solutions under the bus to make your improvement stand out. Remember that in light of whatever the problem the old system solved—or, maybe, has failed to solve in recent memory—it was a great idea at the time. Appreciating the older contributions as you suggest future innovations helps bolster the credibility of your idea.
8. Stay Positive
When pitching a new idea, it’s important use the language of abundance instead of the language of deficit. Instead of saying what is wrong, broken, or suboptimal, talk about what is right, fixable, or ideal. For example, try, “I can see lots of applications for this new approach” rather than, “This innovation is the only way.” Be optimistic but realistic, and you will stand out.
There is rarely value in pointing out a problem without also offering a solution. Innovation isn’t seeing the problem, it is being able to see a viable solution to the issue. So, use the steps above to pitch your new idea—they should help you overcome the barriers to buy-in so that people will be on board and excited.
Photo of team meeting courtesy of Shutterstock.
The constant in Jim's career has been teaching and preparing people at all levels to be better leaders. He started his career working with kids in the wilderness, and today works as a speaker, facilitator, author and educator working on he calls "people centered leadership" for organizations around the world. He is a principal for Moementum, Inc., a global boutique training consultancy and serves as adjunct faculty for a variety of leadership programs including the American Leadership Forum, Duke University and Virginia Tech. Read more of his writing on the Moementum Blog or follow him on Twitter @jmorris_jim.More from this Author