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 nonbureaucratic, 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. Top Next Issue
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