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Driving Positive Change

The business world is full of great ideas that don’t get adopted. Some require too many resources, some are too expensive and others don’t fit within an organization’s strategy. Then there are the millions and millions of ideas that fit within a budget, aren’t too hard to execute and perfectly align with an organization’s goals … and still aren’t adopted. Why not? People fear change.

When it comes to business decisions, there are two ends of the spectrum. On one end, there are the innovators. The folks who want to try new things and aren’t afraid of failing. On the other end of the spectrum, there are those that are afraid to make a bad decision. They feel they will lose a chance at a promotion or even lose their job if they go out on a limb to try something unique. In my experience, the vast majority of business decision makers sit on the “afraid to fail” end of the spectrum.

And who can blame them. In the Great Recession of 2009-2012, unemployment reached 10% and many businesses were buckling down on new innovation. Business leaders were looking to cut expenses and employees who “didn’t get it” by trying something new often found their job on the chopping block.

One of outcomes of this environment and subsequent fear of failure is that it now takes a committee to approval any significant purchase or process change (and some would argue, it doesn’t even have to be that significant). According to Brent Adamson, co-author of The Challenger Sale, 6.8 decision makers, on average, are involved in a B2B purchasing decision. Meaning, you can’t decide to buy something for your company unless you consult with six of your coworkers. The same sort of decisional morass is associated with internal decisions like process improvement and pricing changes. You’d better be able to get your coworkers’ heads around your idea or there’s a good chance it won’t be implemented.

I know what you’re thinking: How am I supposed to do that?

Here’s a 6-step process for driving adoption of your idea:

1. Find a visible champion. This is a senior leader who will promote your idea from stages and in meetings in which you don’t have access.

Tip: Unsure if your champion is explaining your idea correctly? Write your champion’s talking points. I’ve had senior leaders read my remarks verbatim on global all-employee calls.

2. Create a shared need. You think your idea is in the best interest of others, but do they see it that way?

Tip: A threat/opportunity matrix can help. What is the threat if your organization doesn’t adopt your idea – layoffs, stock price drop? Likewise, what’s the opportunity if they do adopt your idea – increased profits, company positioned for growth?

3. Create your vision. Stephen Covey had it right when he recommended we “start with the end in mind.”

Tip: Consider what behaviors will change in your improved state. When your idea is adopted what will there be more of and what will there be less of, from a behavioral perspective.

4. Gain Commitment from other key stakeholders. As you build out numbers 1-3 above, find ways to get stakeholders beyond your champion on board.

Tip: Think through what influences each stakeholder. I’m willing to bet it’s one or more of the following “3 D’s” – demand (leadership mandate), data, and/or demonstration (competitor or other industry best practices)

5. Measure and communicate your success. This starts with taking a baseline measurement of whatever you’re trying to improve and then sharing across your organization how you’re tracking … even if it’s a small pilot in one part of your organization.

Tip: Add a Finance representative to your team. Very few improvements can be completely isolated from other parts of the business so when you become successful, other functions will lay claim to the results. “It wasn’t your initiative that drove the increase in profitability. It was sales/operations/marketing/fill-in-the-blank.” Your Finance rep will be an independent third party who can add credibility to your claim.

6. Change systems and processes. You want your change to last and it won’t unless you change the functional processes that support it.

Tip: Think through how sales is measured and incented. For example, if you want to increase profit margin, but pay your salespeople solely on revenue, you’ll have a conflict of interest that will be hard to overcome.

The world is full of amazing ideas that are never implemented because the innovators can’t get their coworkers to support their initiative. We live in a world where nearly seven employees have to weigh-in on every purchasing decision and that number continues to trend up.

In order to drive successful and lasting change, leaders must be thoughtful about how they build adoption for their ideas. The six-step process above has been proven to help innovators like you quickly build momentum for ideas while also establishing you as a leader within your organization.

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