Hoarding an idea can make it worthless

Dear Joan:
Am I too untrusting? If I had wonderful ideas about streamlining an operation, I would be nervous about sharing them. Do you have any suggestions about how to protect one's authorship of an idea or do you think it isn't necessary.

Have you been victimized by an idea thief? Is your corporate climate so competitive that you feel the need to hide ideas from others? Do glory-grabbers get ahead in your company?

These are the only reasons I can think of to protect your ideas. But I certainly agree that how ideas are shared can make all the difference.

In a recent column (Sept. 20), a reader wrote that she wanted her employer to create a director of volunteers position and she wanted the job. I suggested that she write a detailed proposal and take it to her boss for advice about how to sell the idea in the organization.

In order for her recommendation to happen, she had to get her boss on her side. Her idea would have wound up back on her boss' desk even if she had attempted to go over his head or around him. If her manger had been surprised by her idea after the fact, he probably would have been irritated that she hadn't discussed it with him first. Creating a new position requires much top management discussion, so her boss had to thoroughly understand and support her proposal in order for it to sail.

An idea is no good without the right people behind it. In an organization, the first person you must convince is your boss. Most supervisors are delighted when their employees have suggestions for improvements. It's the way to get recognition and show your worth and talent to the company.

There are many subtle ways to get the visibility you need for your ideas. Many people talk to their boss first to get his or her reaction before pursuing it. This also lets the boss know that the idea is yours in case it takes on momentum of its own. Another way is simply by talking about your idea with others and getting their input on it. Many corporate ideas are hatched over a cup of coffee. As the idea grows, those who would be needed to approve and implement the idea are gradually brought in.

Talking to others about your idea also helps you discover what has been tried before and what some of the barriers will be. By the time you finally propose it, many of the wrinkles can be thought through.

A great deal depends on the kind of position you hold and the boss to whom you report. If you're in a supervisory job, you can probably implement may ideas without gaining specific approval. If the idea requires major changes, however, getting approval is always required. If you are not a supervisor, informing your boss becomes even more important, since he or she is accountable for what goes on in the work group.

If your boss implements your idea and gives you no credit for it, you have a different problem. Bosses who steal your ideas can't be trusted to give you the visibility you need to get ahead. Most people don't work for them for very long, if they can help it.

Don't be naive about getting credit for all your ideas, however. Some bosses are better than others about recognizing their employees' contributions. Just because all your ideas aren't making headlines, don't think you're being cheated.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
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