One of the biggest challenges that L&D professionals at all levels face is getting buy-in for brilliant ideas.
That isn’t meant to be a flippant statement. If you know your stuff and you are following what leading organizations are doing to support learning, you have no shortage of brilliant ideas – proven standards and creative designs along with emerging approaches and innovative techniques.
What can be hard to understand – if you are not on the front lines – is how very difficult it can be to get support for implementing some of these brilliant ideas in the workplace. Brilliant ideas often take time to develop; they involve some risk; they are unfamiliar territory to the powers that be. Skepticism and resistance can be tough to overcome.
Many professionals tell me that among the most difficult-to-sell of our brilliant ideas are those that are well grounded in theory and research. Some of our stakeholders and leaders have a mistaken impression that all academically-generated ideas are “ivory tower” and not useful in the real world.
Here are some of the key factors that can help you ensure that your theory- and evidence-based brilliant ideas get a chance to shine.
Theoretical frameworks can be perfect in theory, but sometimes not quite so much in the real world. You need to take a hard look at your environment to analyze whether aspects of the approach you are applying may be unworkable or in some way objectionable. It’s appropriate and wise to tweak approaches in order to make them more practical for your situation.
When you do so, however, make sure you are not compromising the very thing that makes the approach work. Scrutinize the details of the approach and identify the critical ingredients that contribute to its success. Like the strategy game, Jenga, you need to understand the elements that are providing structural support before you try pulling any of those elements out. If you have to eliminate or change some of the approach, you’ll want to imagine the impact of those customizations and consider whether you can introduce some counterbalancing features that help to minimize any new weaknesses.
Also, listen carefully to any objections you are hearing. Ask lots of questions so that you can continue to consider and address practical concerns as you structure your solution.
Speak your stakeholder’s language.
The most important thing we can do to get a fair hearing for our brilliant ideas is to express them in language that is relatable for the stakeholders. Using jargon terms and formal academic language tends to raise the concern that the ideas are not useful in demanding business environments.
In order to “speak their language,” you must get to know your stakeholders and become well versed in their business concerns. As you work with your stakeholders, you’ll come to understand their unique concerns – and you’ll learn the kinds of messages that appeal to them. Consider, for example, whether the person prefers examples or data, formal language or casual language, a one-page presentation or a detailed slide deck, a more intense approach or a laid-back one. Your ideas should address some business concern or need, and you should position them as being a way to ensure that goals are being met.
Keep it real.
In Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath laid out a number of characteristics of ideas that have staying power. Among those important characteristics are that ideas should be simple, concrete, and credible.
We need to simplify ideas so they don’t come across as over-engineered. That can be difficult when approaches are indeed complex. But when you are involved in a project through implementation, you have opportunities to communicate some of the important nuances that may be too much for your
initial communications. I’m not suggesting that you hide important details, but I am suggesting that you don’t want to get mired in details when you are attempting to persuade stakeholders to consider something new.
As you explain your ideas, present them in a way that shows that they are indeed do-able. Name concrete steps that will need to be taken, and the resources that will be required. Use graphics and charts – or prototypes if you can get that far – so that stakeholders can literally see what you mean.
Much to our chagrin, the fact that an approach is academically grounded does not necessarily make it credible in the eyes of stakeholders. Credibility is gained by demonstrated results (if you have them) and a personal track record of making recommendations that prove to be successful. Credibility is also gained by demonstrating that we understand our stakeholder’s perspective and concerns. We have to nurture our personal credibility as much as we need to establish the credibility of our brilliant ideas.
Inspire your stakeholder’s imagination.
Oftentimes, it isn’t logic that influences, it’s emotional connection. When you want to inspire people to take action, it’s useful to communicate with an element of surprise and with engaging stories. Use offbeat and powerful analogies to establish background and draw others in. Inject drama and realism into your examples by sketching characters and detailing a plot line.
Nancy Duarte (author of Resonate) reminds us that people who take action can be seen as heroes, and we who wish to inspire them are the mentors who guide them to see the problem, own solutions, take action, and defeat the thing that’s preventing achievement of goals. This arc of the hero’s journey is very tempting, and if you can cast your stakeholders as heroes overcoming the obstacles that hinder success, you can indeed inspire them to engage your brilliant ideas.
In business environments, we tend to try to be business-like, and in academic circles, we encourage a very formal and careful approach. But what’s needed here is more spark and vigor. We need to use powerful story language and invite stakeholders to engage on an emotional level. Don’t be afraid to show your own enthusiasm for the idea; it can be contagious!
For more, check out my Promoting Brilliant Ideas webinar on November 12. Sponsored by LaSalle University’s Instructional Technology Management program and TrainingIndustry.com.
Also, Martin Kormanik and I are going into more depth on this topic in the Mining for Gold workshop prior to the Academy of HRD conference in Houston, Texas, in February of 2014. You don’t need to attend the conference to enroll in the preconference sessions.
This post was originally published as part of a 4 Your Development newsletter in April of 2013.