In a recent post, I shared a handful of “Innovation Obstacle” personalities that can be found in most office settings. Many readers remarked about working with some of these personalities, and a few readers were brave enough to admit they assumed some of these traits from time to time. Now that we have identified the obstacles, we need to identify ways to overcome, or work around, these individuals within your office.
The Outlier: The Outlier is the person on your team who always focuses on the 1% negative instead of the 99% positive when trying new ideas. When this individual begins to resurrect the outlying examples where the previous attempts at innovation did not work, I recommend two possible approaches to counter his concerns.
- How can we avoid these scenarios from happening again? Since the employee insists on bringing up the negatives, ask him for ideas on how to prevent these situations from happening when this program/idea is implemented. This will help create some buy-in from the employee (his idea of how to fix the problem) while communicating that you are moving forward with the program/idea. Bob, what ideas do you have to prevent the scenario you just described from happening when we implement the new program this fall?
- Focus the conversation on the 99% Keep the conversations on the positive outcomes that were generated from the previous iteration of the program/idea. This approach is preferred if there are no solutions to the outlying problems or if the employee continues to focus on the 1%. By keeping your end of the conversations on the overwhelmingly positive outcomes, you will build momentum for the idea with others in the office.
The History Major: “But we have always done it this way,” says the employee who does not want to implement a new idea. When I encounter this individual, I try the following techniques:
- Why? Ask the question, “Why?” the next time you hear the objection about always having done things a certain way in the office. Be genuine in your request as the individual may have a valid reason for the procedures and may convince you to abandon your idea. If the person cannot provide a solid reason as to why things are done a certain way, your asking the “‘Why?” question will initiate a discussion where the other party does not have a defensible position.
- Burning Plank: The History Major likes to hearken back to some mysterious time when things were simpler, gas cost $0.85 a gallon, Archie and Edith were still belting out “Those were the days…” Since you cannot transport to the 1970’s you need to motivate the History Major to action. Creating a “Burning Plank” scenario can help. If you need to cross a ravine via a plank, you may be very timid and move slowly for fear of what may happen. If that plank was on fire, you would cross the ravine with a sense of urgency before a catastrophic event occurred. Can you create a scenario where the status quo is such an unattractive option (staying put on a burning plank) that action is the favored option? A few years ago I had to convince my office to change software packages from a home-grown system that had been used for several years to a packaged solution. The home-grown system had begun to break down and the IT professional who built the system was no longer an employee. I was able to convince the staff that it was a matter of time before these small outages turned into a five-alarm meltdown and staying with the homegrown (i.e. known, comfortable) software was not a viable option. This scenario caused a group of people who were usually resistant to changes in technology to openly migrate to a new software package.
- Utopia: Seeing the past through rose-colored glasses may be the MO of the History Major and you can use this to your advantage. Believing in a future that is markedly better than the current state of affairs, employees will be willing to live with some short-term grief. Consider a kitchen remodeling project. It is dirty, expensive, time-consuming, and disruptive process. However, the promise of new appliances, cabinets, and counter tops is so appealing that tens of thousands of homeowners go through the pain of a kitchen remodel every year. Help your staff see the promise of a new tomorrow to encourage them to take action today.
Tomorrow we tackle how to overcome the personalities of the Role Player, the Unknown, and the “Just One More” obstacles to office innovation.