Most employees will have been in the situation where they have suggested a new idea that initially arose from a training session or a change that they have discussed with colleagues and finally have got round to proposing – and the idea got good feedback. Your manager liked the idea and suggested you propose it to senior management.
You’re now really enthusiastic about this idea. It is going to really help save time/save money/make money, and you think this kind of inventive thinking will get you the promotion you really think you deserve. The idea gets a small trial run in your department and the results are fairly good. Clearly there is room for improvement, but, as it was the first try, this was expected. However, this new idea somehow gets lost amongst an especially busy week in the office, and after this has died down the excitement from you and your managers isn’t there anymore – and the idea is gone forever.
The question is – how do you get your new ideas to ‘take root’ in your business? How can you stop your sapling of an idea from being ripped up by a strong gust of wind or a particularly heavy downfall? Like every good tree – an idea needs to be cultivated when it is a sapling in order for it to grow and flourish. All levels of the company need to ensure that the seeds planted for a new idea are given the proper care and nurture to become a stable part of your company’s landscape.
A nice patch
First of all you need to ensure that your idea has been properly thought through and all the aspects and issues likely to be associated with it need to be planned and researched. If you plant a water loving tree such as a Weeping Willow in a desert, no matter how much enthusiasm and money you have for it – it is never going to grow. An idea that maybe isn’t right for the company culture, strategy, values or objectives, the financial climate or industry conditions is unlikely to succeed – no matter how much backing you have at the beginning.
Conditions when the idea is introduced aren’t the only thing that needs to be considered. If you really want your idea to be sustainable and be a part of the business for the long term, you have to plan for what the future might bring. Contingency plans for the future financial climate, changing customer trends and other things such as sales forecasts are needed – inflexible structures and static ideas will never thrive in the long run. Ask yourself – is the winter ahead going to be freezing cold and kill off your sapling or be more accommodating and support its growth?
Your idea has to be able to change and adapt to the environment around it. Sometimes, a business environment may be forgiving and rarely change – meaning longevity is easier to achieve. However, some business environments are fast paced and constantly in a state of flux rather than equilibrium, like a desert with its extreme high temperatures in the day and low temperatures at night. Business environments like these require cactus-like levels of adaptability!
The key to all of this research is constantly staying on top of both the external factors (market conditions, political, economic, social, technological, environmental, legal influences) and internal factors (company’s financial position, culture, strategy, internal politics, company assets and capabilities) , as it is these that change and will decide the fate of your idea both short term and long term. Not only will they heavily influence the idea directly, but research will also keep managers assured that you are on top of the idea and will encourage continued backing.
For your idea to be a long term success it is likely going to need support and buy in from more than just you. The Eden Project is a fantastic array of plants and trees that will likely be a part of the Devon landscape for many years to come – but do you think that one gardener keeps all of the plants alive? They have a significant team of gardeners and you will need them too so that you can cover every angle needed to ensure your idea succeeds.
Who your choice of gardeners is will also make a difference. Although support from the co-workers you have around you on a day to day basis is needed and can really help with the research at the preparation stage of the idea, you can’t ignore the need for buy in from higher level managers as well as support from employees in different departments. Most ideas will often affect not just you and your team, but also different members of staff around the company. Therefore, you need them to be every bit as enthusiastic about the idea as you are. So to make a new idea stick and become sustainable make sure you have support from your managers, their managers as well as staff from departments different to your own. Naturally you will have people drop out of the idea in the process, but, as long as you have plenty left to push it through, you stand a greater chance of continued success.
Remember, the key to gathering support lies in one question – what’s in it for me? This is something you will have to tailor to your audience just like a garden is designed whether its viewers care more about aesthetics or rarity. Fellow workers in your team may want some of the recognition or just the knowledge the idea will make their lives easier. However, managers, directors and other higher level employees will likely be more interested in bottom line figures so solid projections will help more when presenting ideas to them.
Talk to your plants
Studies have shown that plants grow quicker when spoken to regularly and particularly in a Geordie accent, and the same could be said of new ideas – apart from the Geordie accent bit where there has been no evidence either way (although it has been voted Britain’s third favourite accent). The fact is both large scale and small scale ideas will need a steady stream of communication from all parts of the process in order to keep it going in the long run. A lack of communication is a commonly cited reason for why mistakes happen – and in order to be sustainable, mistakes must be lessened as much as possible.
When your idea is in full swing, make sure you and everyone else involved are regularly told how it’s going, what issues there have been, what aspects have worked particularly well and so on. Always encourage communication as you don’t want people involved hiding issues that may cause long term problems if left to fester. Encourage a culture where communication isn’t something people feel they need to do, but is something they want to do.