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Problem-solving ideas are worthless if no one listens

Coach's Corner--September 21, 2009

The Client
Name: Pat
Age: 50
Title: Director, Client services
Industry: Health care
Issue: Getting your ideas heard

Q. Our company has developed some persistent quality problems, and I have some really good ideas to help improve things. However, I can't get anyone to listen -- got any ideas?

A. Double-check your ideas and approach, then try some new strategies to get your ideas heard.

The inner game
Start by looking at your attitude. Your question hints at victimhood, so be sure that you aren't falling into the martyr trap. Focus on positive goals, such as better service to customers or better outcomes for your company, and step away from your personal frustration or ego deflation.

Verify your diagnosis of the quality issues, and be sure that you're on track with the root causes. Do some in-depth analysis, continuing to explore until you get down to foundational issues.

Then, take an objective look at the solutions you've suggested. They may not fit the culture of the organization, or they may be out of scope with the problem -- a sledgehammer to swat a fly.

Finally, consider the perspectives of the people to whom you've made suggestions. What does the situation look like from their vantage point? You might be seen as stepping on others' turf, going over their heads or putting them on the defensive. None of these is a reason that you should stop trying to make a difference. However, these considerations may help you fine-tune your approach to get a better outcome.

The outer game
First develop the business cases for your ideas, and then take a strategic approach to advancing them.

The larger the change, the more you'll have to justify it. Organize your information about the reasons for making the change, the problems it will solve, the cost to implement it and the cost of not changing. Also include a plan to evaluate it. Anticipate the perspectives of all affected parties, and include information that will be important to them

Be selective about what you propose. Some people have a new idea every minute but don't think them through, so many aren't viable. If this is the case, you may be seen as "crying wolf," and good ideas you have may be ignored. As you seek to become a change agent, bring forward a very small number of carefully selected ideas. A note of caution: Be sure that you're doing your regular job in an exemplary way before focusing on these other issues.

Get your boss' buy-in, if needed, and then do some other prework. Talk with others to refine your ideas and enlist them as champions for the proposal. If you get plenty of people on board in advance, you'll have less to do to defend your ideas later.

If you get an opportunity to pitch your suggestion, prepare carefully. In particular, think through how you want to interact with others and the kind of impression you want to make. Combining a strong and assured presence with well-thought-out logic will increase your chances for success.

The last word
Evaluate your ideas and your approach to help take your company in the right direction.

Liz Reyer, President RCC - Posted September 20, 2009
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