Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 7, Issue 49;   December 5, 2007: Annoyance to Asset

Annoyance to Asset

by

Last updated: August 8, 2018

Unsolicited contributions to the work of one element of a large organization, by people from another, are often annoying to the recipients. Sometimes the contributors then feel rebuffed, insulted, or frustrated. Toxic conflict can follow. We probably can't halt the flow of contributions, but we can convert it from a liability to a valuable asset.
A hummingbird feeding on the nectar of a flower

A hummingbird feeding on the nectar of a flower. Nectar is a fluid rich in sugars, secreted by plants. It serves little purpose to the plant itself, except to attract pollinators, such as hummingbirds and insects, which consume it as fuel. Most plants are very particular — specific plant species often attract only one or a few different pollinating species. Pollination by traveling pollinators is one method plants use to gain access to pollen of other members of their own species. In effect, plants use nectar to acquire genes from other individuals of their own species — genes that might offer their offspring competitive advantage. In flowering plants, nectar is the incentive for animal species to provide transportation for those genes. Indeed, one way to look at sexual reproduction generally is that it provides a mechanism for rapid propagation of genetic innovation.

Encouraging cross-functional contributions within an organization can serve a similar function — it can make that organization more competitive, more quickly, and more cheaply than hiring consultants or acquiring competitors. Photo courtesy Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In large projects or small, the need for the big idea is the same: one project, one big idea. That's one reason why organizations that tackle large projects have disproportionately smaller needs for new or big ideas.

Since large projects are more accessible to large organizations, those that tackle large projects tend to have more people, many of whom are very capable and creative. In large organizations, we find more people with new ideas that have more trouble finding truly receptive listeners. That causes some of them to try harder, further annoying the people whose jobs are to generate and champion ideas. Tensions develop, and frustration builds. Sometimes, good people leave.

There is a better way. It begins with the recognition that capable, creative people have good ideas — lots of them — and those ideas often apply to parts of the company other than their own. Here are some tips for crafting a large organization that can deal with unsolicited cross-functional contributions.

Assign process and problem owners a responsibility to listen
Sometimes people who "own" a particular process or problem can feel that contributions from others are infringements on that ownership.
Make clear to everyone that responsibility for a process or problem includes responsibility to listen to and evaluate ideas from elsewhere in the organization.
Make originality a pre-requisite
Devise measures to control repetition and redundant suggestions. Deprecate rehashing of settled debates. One possibility: make previous contributions available to anyone contemplating making a contribution. Make the history anonymous if necessary.
Requiring originality dramatically reduces the load on recipients. By assigning contributors responsibility for determining that their contributions aren't redundant or repetitive, we reduce the flow of contributions and improve their quality.
Recognize that for new ideas, "not your job" is a toxic concept
Recognize that for new
ideas, "not your job"
is a toxic concept
When we tell people, either explicitly or otherwise, that thinking about a particular process or innovation isn't their job, we're creating frustration and tension, and discouraging initiative.
Sometimes, only the internal customers of a process can really see where it can be improved. And sometimes only people far enough away from a problem can see the solution. Contributions from afar are often critical to success.
Provide non-bureaucratic, responsive contribution channels
Since great people are always thinking, give them a way to pass their thoughts along. It can be as simple as an email address or a wiki. Or it can be an actual appointment with a person.
Whatever you do, be certain that people feel heard. Automated responses are ineffective. Mechanisms that just listen without evidence of active consideration fool nobody.

Unless you own the idea-management process of your organization, beware. If you offer these ideas — or anything like them — they'll likely be received as unsolicited contributions. Tread lightly. Go to top Top  Next issue: What We Don't Know About Each Other  Next Issue

52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your projects always (or almost always) late and over budget? Are your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around. Read 52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented Organizations, filled with tips and techniques for organizational leaders. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenTWuRIWubHNVAfRkCner@ChacHvwGjYdMQcjvMGicoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

Horses in a corralCorrales Mentales
Perhaps you've achieved every goal you've ever set yourself, but if you're like most of us, some important goals have remained elusive. Maybe you had bad luck, or you weren't in the right place at the right time. But it's just possible that you got in your own way. Getting out of your own way can help make things happen.
U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Robert Rubin (left) with Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan GreenspanThe Paradox of Confidence
Most of us interpret a confident manner as evidence of competence, and a hesitant manner as evidence of lesser ability. Recent research suggests that confidence and competence are inversely correlated. If so, our assessments of credibility and competence are thrown into question.
Example of an unsecured driver-side floor mat trapping the accelerator pedal in a 2007 Toyota Lexus ES350Risk Management Risk: I
Risk Management Risk is the risk that a particular risk management plan is deficient. It's often overlooked, and therefore often unmitigated. We can reduce this risk by applying some simple procedures.
Soldiers of IX Engineering Command, U.S. Army Air Force, putting down a Pierced Steel Planking (PSP) Runway at an Advanced Landing Ground under construction somewhere in France following the Normandy Landings of World War IIManagement Debt: I
Management debt, like technical debt, arises when we choose paths — usually the lowest-cost paths — that lead to recurring costs that are typically higher than alternatives. Why do we take on management debt? How can we pay it down?
Fugu Rubripes, the Fugu fishEmbolalia and Stuff Like That: I
When we address others, we sometimes use filler — so-called automatic speech or embolalia — without thinking. Examples are "uh," "um," and "er," but there are more complex forms, too. Embolalia are usually harmless, if mildly annoying to some. But sometimes they can be damaging.

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Problem Solving and Creativity for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Meerkats (Suricata suricatta), Tswalu Kalahari Reserve, South AfricaComing May 15: Entry Intimidation
Feeling intimidated about entering a new work situation can affect performance for both the new entrant and for the group as a whole. Four trouble patterns related to entry intimidation are inadvertent subversion, bullying, hat hanging, and defenses and sabotage. Available here and by RSS on May 15.
Portrait of Isaac Newton (1642-1727)And on May 22: Newtonian Blind Alleys: I
When we decide how to allocate organizational resources, we make assumptions about how the world works. Often outside our awareness, the thinking of Sir Isaac Newton influences our assumptions. And sometimes they lead us into blind alleys. Universality is one example. Available here and by RSS on May 22.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenmFeQBXclUhNbMoxyner@ChaceXVCORQaNmAiBhzToCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.