Always think your ideas through

Beth had a solution to the workflow problem. She rushed in to her boss' office. He nodded and smiled and thanked her. Nothing was ever done about it. Now Beth keeps her ideas to herself.

Tom had an idea, too. He wrote a memo to his boss and department head. The two men discussed Tom's idea and concluded it would probably be too difficult to implement. His idea died, too.

Seems like these are played out every day in companies across America. Good ideas die on the vine because they are either picked before they are ripe or left to rot.

Proper cultivation of an idea requires careful tending from both the suggester and listener if it is to grow.

Tom and Beth didn't have bad ideas, they just didn't think them through from every angle. They expected their bosses to figure out these details.

Their bosses made mistakes, too. They didn't follow up with Tom and Beth to tell them why their ideas were rejected. They didn't encourage Tom and Beth to shoot holes in their own ideas and figure out ways to get around any possible problems.

This is fairly typical in a business culture that is accustomed to having ideas and orders come from the top.

A new way of thinking is needed for bottom-up ideas.

Here are some guidelines to help you present a recommendation that will be heard. Even if it doesn't get approved, this approach will win respect.

What is the issue? Include a detailed description of how the situation adversely affects your team, the department, your company. Look for bottom-line consequences to the effectiveness and efficiency of the work itself.

For example, if you say the problem "results in frustration," those above you may have sympathy but won't be motivated to act. However, if you say the problem "results in wasting approximately eight hours per week tracking down missing information," you'll get their attention. Hard data sells.

What, specifically, do you recommend to improve the situation? Paint a clear picture of your idea. Imagine all the questions that will be asked and give the answers. Shoot holes from every possible angle and fill them with solutions. Look at the effects your idea will have on other people and get their input.

This kind of thorough problem solving will impress the decision-makers and help them to relax. It will create confidence in your suggestion, because you'll be way ahead of them.

You may want to outline several alternatives. If you do, be specific about the ramifications of each one.

What are the benefits to the work team/department/company if this recommendation is implemented? Again, look for bottom-line benefits. Will the work go faster? Will the quality improve? Will complaints stop? Will turnover be reduced?

Sometimes your group's gain can be another group's loss. Examine all benefits for snags. It's important that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. Think from the decision-maker's perspective and ask, "What's in it for me?"

Who could do it or work on it? This is where many ideas fall flat. They were great fun to dream up, but nobody wants to do the extra work necessary to make them happen.

Figure out who the most logical person(s) or group would be and then poke more holes. Do they have time? Would they benefit from it? Do they have the appropriate authority and responsibility? Do they want to do it?

Who should be accountable? Usually one person within the group is the best place to put accountability. He or she will take personal responsibility for following through.

When should it be done? Spell out a reasonable completion date. After all, you've thought through the details of the suggestion. Make it easy for the decision-maker by spelling out when it should be done and why.

When could progress be reported and to whom? Even the best intentions can be forgotten in the press of daily demands. If the accountable person doesn't know to whom they are accountable, the sense of urgency is lost.

It's unrealistic to expect that every recommendation will be approved. But if you package your ideas wisely, they will certainly get a fair hearing.

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,, or 
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