We’ve all had that experience: We come up with what we think is a brilliant idea, share it with a colleague or boss and watch it go nowhere. It can be demoralizing, and it can leave us less likely to pitch new ideas in the future. As if what our organizations need more of is groupthink.
It doesn’t have to play out that way. While you won’t get takers on every idea you have, you can improve the odds that innovation will find a foothold. In human resources (HR) parlance, this falls in the category of business acumen, and it can help you make a bigger impact in your agency — and advance your career.
At GovLoop’s 2021 NextGen Training Summit, an expert panel shared tips and best practices for bringing new ideas to the table.
1. Recognize that your idea is unrefined.
When someone comes up with a new idea, rarely is it spit-and-polish clean and ready to go. And that’s a good thing.
For a new idea to take hold, you need buy-in from your coworkers, and one way to get it is to give them a sense of shared ownership. So, get people involved early in that creative process, rather than presenting them with a finished product.
“You present somebody with this hacked-together, half-beat-up thing and say, ‘I need help,’ and there’s a place that they can jump in and engage you,” said Michael Lawyer, Deputy Director of Performance Resource and Optimization for Field Policy and Management at the Housing and Urban Development Department.
2. Don’t worry about winning over everyone.
How many coworkers need to support your idea before it gets traction? Not many, according to the Rogers Diffusion of Innovation Theory.
Just 2.5% of the people in an organization fall into the innovators camp, but at the outset, those are the only people you need. They can help shape the idea and attract early adopters.
Say you have an idea for how your division could do something differently. If your division has 50 people, then you need just one other person, said Mel Kepler, Training Consultant at LMI, and a Gallup-Certified Strength Coach. “That’s not that much. You can do this,” she said.
3. Be prepared to have your heart broken.
This is one of the risks of shared ownership: Your good idea is no longer your own, and people might change it beyond recognition.
It can go one of two ways, Kepler said. You may decide that while it’s not what you envisioned, it’s still a good idea, or perhaps a better one. Or you may no longer want to be associated with it.
If you feel burned, Kepler recommends following the Stop, Drop and Roll Rule:
- Stop what you’re doing. If you can’t rescue your idea, you need to move on.
- Drop your resentment. Yes, your idea changed, but that’s inevitable when you get other people involved. And you can’t get anywhere without their buy-in.
- Roll with what’s happening. If the new idea is good, engage with it. If you can’t get behind it, then figure out your
next step, such as finding a new team to work with.
4. Don’t worry about the haters.
The Rogers Diffusion of Innovation Theory also stipulates that 16% of the organization will resist the idea. You need to accept that as a given.
“It does not matter what brilliant, wonderful, world-changing idea you have come up with — 16% of the population’s going to hate it,” Lawyer said.
But before giving up on them, see if they can become an asset, said Rachel Niebeling, a Human Capital Consultant at LMI, a Certified Recognition Professional and an Employee Engagement Specialist.
“Haters have a role to play,” she said. “Take the opportunity to sit down with them and ask, ‘What don’t you like about it?’ Be very curious, and ask if they have any input that would make them turn from a hater into a supporter.”
5. Find the right moment.
Often, the success of a new idea is a matter of timing. However brilliant an idea might be, if people aren’t ready to hear it, it will go nowhere. But timing is also about preparation. Lawyer recommends considering three questions:
- When will the right people be listening? Once you flesh out your idea, figure out whose support you need to get some buzz before going to the top of your team or organization.
- When will the right information be at hand? If a new report comes out that is germane to your idea, take advantage of that. For example, if you are working on an idea for improving employee morale, you might present it after the latest Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey has been released.
- When will attention be on your topic? If you’ve built a network of support and you hear that buzz growing, seize the moment. But don’t wait until that moment to get prepared. Have your pitch ready. Have your team ready. Get word out that you’re ready to go.
This article is an excerpt from GovLoop’s guide “Tackling Professional Development Taboos in Government: Imposter Syndrome, Workplace Conflict and More.” Download the full guide here.