While people spend much time developing good ideas, very little knowledge exists about how these ideas can be successfully implemented. Management guru and Harvard professor John P. Kotter, who along with Lorne A. Whitehead, professor at the University of British Columbia, has written the new book Buy-In, illustrates how you can get people to listen to you, understand your ideas, and support them. Edited excerpts from an email intervew with Kotter:
Why is it not enough to have a good idea? What are the common problems with ideas that individuals have?
Think about it. There is no shortage of good ideas in the world. But ideas don’t produce anything if they aren’t put into action. Unless you can inspire people to support your idea and mobilize them to help make it happen, it doesn’t provide significant value.
Buy-In—Saving Your Good Idea Getting Shot Down Harvard Business Press, 192 pages, Rs 495.
There are many number of attacks people can use to shoot down an idea—we outline 24 of them in Buy-In, but of course there can be more. We call them attacks, but the reality is that in many cases, people aren’t intentionally trying to be nasty. Sure, sometimes it’s because they’re self-centred and have their own hidden agendas, but more often, it’s because the idea, for whatever reason, makes them uncomfortable or anxious, and they don’t even realize it. And since the “attacks” we mention in the book have often been used on them before, they’re floating around in people’s brains and it’s easy to let one pop out.
What are the four common “attacks” and how can one counter these?
Common attacks are based on one or more of only four strategies that people employ. These four strategies are: fear mongering, death by delay, confusion, and ridicule or character assassination. Attacks do not have to be based on only one of these strategies. The biggest bombs often draw from two or even three. The four attack strategies actually get executed using about two dozen very familiar, difficult-to-handle questions, arguments, and concerns, any of which can hurt or kill a genuinely good idea.
While there are very specific response tactics for each of the 24 attacks (mentioned in the book), some general wisdom applies to them all. First of all, always prepare thoroughly. Then, don’t try to overcome attacks with lots of data—keep your responses short and whenever possible, use common sense rather than data or lists to make your point. You should not focus on your attackers and forget the rest of your audience, nor should you try to crush attackers with ridicule, counter-attacks, or condescension. Be clear, direct and respectful. This will allow you to win heads and hearts, and gain true buy-in.
Your idea is great but your manager does not think so. What is the next step?
This will be different depending on the structure and culture of your company, but the same key principles from the attack responses apply here. Be prepared, be direct, and be respectful. Make sure that you have thought through problems and potential attacks before presenting your idea to your manager. Is your manager going to find it disrespectful if you go over their head to someone senior? If so, you may not want to do that. Do not be afraid to ask for help developing your idea or your ability to present it.
How important is it for the leadership to be receptive to ideas?
It is very important that leadership be open to suggestions from their teams. Research clearly shows that even experienced executives are not very good at transformational change, or change of any significance. Multiple studies have shown that 70% of the time, when significant change is needed, people back away, go into denial, try but fail miserably, or stop, exhausted, after achieving half of what they want using twice the budgeted time and money. Executives who are good at change, and are using it to exploit big opportunities, understand that they must be receptive to ideas from employees at all levels in their organization, or these employees will never feel motivated to change with them.
At the same time, any one of us can be hit with 10,000 suggestions, ideas, proposals, or demands in a single week. This can be especially true of people in leadership positions. With this kind of information overload, your manager may not even notice your idea.
How do you know if you are prepared to present an idea? Are there any mock drills one can do before presenting an idea to the manager?
In most cases, you are ready to present your idea when you’ve taken stock of opposing points of view, thought through likely attacks and are prepared to defend your position. It never hurts to double-check your thinking. Have you really listened to feedback carefully and incorporated good suggestions? Once you are able to say “yes” with confidence, you may want to set aside time for one or more brainstorming sessions.