In your work, you see ways to make things better. All the time, everywhere. Things to fix. This is great. This is a gift. You are a person of vision, a person for the future.
And YET, seeing so many things to fix can also feel like a curse. A great idea that can’t find traction is irritating, a precious pearl trapped in a big bag of thwart. People are too busy to hear you out. Or they just don't get it. Or they would love to work on this with you, but maybe later. Or their idea is so much better, they think, than yours.
So how do you get people to slow down and consider your ideas? How do you get the allies and momentum you need to change things around here?
Here are some attitudinal and process suggestions for you, from my own experience driving change in organizations and learning the humility that requires, and from my work helping bright future-focused people just like you.
First, take a deep breath. Or three. Don't let your own great ideas stress you out. And really do the deep breathing. Deep breaths help. (Science says so.) Making change happen is hard work, so go easy on yourself. And stress or even happy enthusiastic urgency can seem like anxiety and pressure to others; you don’t want to trigger reflexive resistance by coming on too strong. Be happy, but be cool.
Next, get it down in writing. This will show you what you have figured out and what you still need to develop. (It always seems more complete in your head.) Whether it’s a system for better meetings, a better way to handle project communication, or a direct way to make things better for your clients-patients-customers, write down your vision for how it will work. What will happen? Be specific. Very important: If you are successful in moving your idea forward, what you put down in writing will not be the thing that gets implemented in the end. Other people will change your idea. You want this. This is teamwork. This is collaboration. Or just call it life.
Now, consider the people you need to enlist. One by one, what are their biggest priorities, hassles, needs right now? What do they want to see happen in the next month, the next 3 to 6 months? Take notes. Making change is a process of empathy and alignment.
Do the same empathy-alignment thinking for the organization as a whole: What’s everybody working on? What are the latest surprises coming down the line? Where does the whole ship need to be in a year? Put down in actual words how your idea makes it easier to tackle these challenges.
Gather evidence for your idea, if it exists. Do you have quantitative or qualitative data that shows the need for change, or how well the change may be working somewhere else? Put that kind of info here. If your idea is truly innovative, there may only be data about how much room for improvement exists in the area of your work your idea would affect.
Put it all together and tell people about just the idea, ego-free! Start with someone from your Enlist List who is most likely to want to go for it. Use your detailed written vision of the change and the info you wrote down about your idea’s alignment with this individual’s and the organization’s priorities and needs. Consider using a simple short outline or diagram. Just the idea: No ego, no attitude, no righteousness, no dramatic backstory about how long it has taken to get people’s attention, no assumption that this will make you famous or get you promoted. Just “Here’s something I have been thinking about that I think will help us and our clients out. What do you think?” Repeat one or more times with more people, based on your relationships and how free people are in your organization to develop ideas across teams and departments. (If your organization has a strong improvement-minded culture, you are perfectly free to circulate ideas.) Ask for agreement to allow or help you to test some part of your idea. PDSAs and prototyping are your friends.
Listen, listen, listen. Humble inquiry and unconditional positive regard are two hallmarks of effective social work practice that are useful here. (I’m a social worker.) Take notes on what the person says. You will want to review their input and ideas later. And taking notes tells the person that you value what they are saying. Because you do. Because you aren't just trying to ram your idea through to win ... something.
Finally, take stock and plan next steps. What did you hear? Common answers from bosses include “Let me think about it” and “Give me a written version of this conversation to consider.” Common answers from everybody include “I’m not sure that would work” and “I can’t deal with this right now.” Sometimes you get a green light to move forward solo or with a small team. If you get the “slow down” response, take another three deep breaths, make sure the rest of your work is going well, and decide the right time to bring it up again: two weeks, two months? Or get started breaking down the change into small steps you can test out with key partners or by yourself.
What do you think? Is this useful? Have a story to share? Let me know. Let’s learn together.