Four Thoughts about Selling Ideas
In my work with quality professionals, I am constantly amazed at how many lament that their wonderful ideas did not see the light of day because ‘short-sighted’ management didn’t endorse them. I’ve discussed this issue in an earlier column (“Selling Your Idea” in the May 2012 issue). Worthy ideas fail to get support for a number of reasons. Three of the more significant are: They compete with other priorities and for limited resources. They fall short in adequately selling the idea’s merits. Sometimes the financial benefits are even under-sold. They don’t adequately address the political aspects of idea/project approval. To gain support it is absolutely necessary to manage relationships and build consensus. Quality professionals typically want to avoid politics, but like it or not, office politics usually trumps the technical aspects. We all typically think our ideas are good.
Many even think of our ideas much like we do our children—we highly value them and are very sensitive to how they are treated. But ideas, much like children, have to be nurtured. Therefore, the following thoughts are presented as a roadmap. 1 ALIGN YOUR IDEA. Typically ideas that are closely aligned with organizational strategic goals such as vision, mission, values, strategies, etc., have a better chance of gaining support. The more an idea is directly linked to such goals, the harder it is for managers to say no, and the better chance it has to compete with other ideas. If your idea doesn’t link to organizational goals that already have management buy-in, then why is it being presented? As an example, you might believe your organization should pursue ISO9001 registration but it’s unlikely to get support unless you can show how it relates to a larger business strategy. Your manager’s departmental goals and plans as well as your own personal development plans represent other alignment opportunities. The main point, though, is to avoid pushing an idea. Instead, let it be pulled by a business goal or objective. 2 BUILD A BUSINESS CASE. While business cases can at times become complex, they can also be simple and straightforward. Business cases should address three fundamental questions: Why are we doing this? What if we did not do this?
What are the expected outcomes? The business case should offer clear logic to staff at all levels of the organization. For management it must describe the rationale for the idea and what can be expected from it. For the other members within the organization, it should also address the reasons behind the idea. 3 QUANTIFY THE IDEA. The better you can quantify a benefit in dollars (or more precisely, the dollars gained in excess of dollars cost), the stronger the case. After all, as Philip B. Crosby stressed, the language of business is money, making more money, and not losing money. But, if this is true, why doesn’t everyone do this instinctively? Usually in the quality profession we are more enamored with the technical aspects of an idea and are not necessarily skilled in attaching dollar values to proposed changes or ideas. Also, the assumptions required in the course of dollarizing an idea are frequently subject to challenge. While preparing for an executive presentation a number of years ago my team sought input from the accounting group. That way when it came time to present the idea we were armed with the necessary input to counter any attempts to challenge assumptions as being overly optimistic. 4 ENGAGE PARTNERS. Many of us associate too closely with the idea we are promoting.
For example, we know our organization needs to have its QMS registered to ISO9001. We take any resistance personally and let our self-esteem ride on how well the idea is being received. Such attachment damages both us personally and the chances the idea will be accepted. We need to guard against letting that level of attachment occur. If we’re able to effectively achieve these steps, others in the organization should also be able to see it. Should that not happen, we need to objectively appraise the situation to determine how to further elaborate the benefits, or whether it’s worth continuing to fight. If we truly have a worthy idea that others can accept, solicit their help. Approach key individuals by considering how the idea will help them. Seek out an influential manager to serve as a sponsor (someone other than your direct manager can at times be better). Success of moving an idea forward rests with the idea owner.