Ever get an innovation project rolling along well and then bump into a hidden corporate policy or procedure that stops the project dead in its tracks? When faced with the obstacle of a bureaucratic "NO" here’s what we do: Celebrate and get to work!
A hard "NO" can be a frustrating and disheartening obstacle to face when a new innovation project requires a change to the "way things are done" or a change to a rule, process, or policy. These “NOs” can be real impediments to the continuation of an innovation project and can kill a project quickly or zap it of its momentum. Therefore, dealing with them effectively is important.
Instead of being frustrated, we take a different point of view and have come to celebrate these situations as confirmation that innovation is happening. We get to work retooling our communications and converting the "naysayer" into a team member and project champion.
Assuming that there are no legal or ethical issues, these “NOs” will need to be dealt with as they come up or they can sideline a project. We find that typically, the “naysayer” has not been involved in the innovation project and quite possibly knows nothing about its relationship to the organization’s strategy or its relative importance or even why a change should be considered. In our experience, it helps to immediately engage the “naysayer” and begin the process of recruiting them onto the innovation project team. Brute force, top-down mandates might give short-term relief but ultimately fail. Here are some of the things we have found that work:
- Listen: Respect their expertise, empathize with their position, learn from them - maybe they’re right and they can help you find a better solution
- Give the backstory: Strategy fit, project history - get them imagining the future
- Cultivate empathy: Let them hear the voices of the beneficiaries of the innovation project
- Do your homework: Really understand their concerns and get resources to help them help you: bring thought leadership, external partners, or best practices
- Address cognitive fixedness: Use the opportunity to help them develop another point of view and develop innovation competencies by practicing divergent thinking and using “yes, and”
- Get them excited: Make them a part of the story - highlight their contribution and its relationship to the outcome and include them in celebrating milestones
- Reflect on the innovation team’s contribution: What led to the initial “NO” and what is there to be learned?
It may take a little more time initially to recruit team members, but it will save time over the course of the project as the new recruit helps move the project along by anticipating and dealing with other potential roadblocks. Though not everyone will respond quickly and positively, we have found that people come to embrace the project as their own, enjoy creating something new, and appreciate playing their part in making an innovation project a reality. And ultimately, their innovation experience builds more agility and openness to change into the organization.
The biggest challenge is your own mindset. If you view this as an innovation mentoring opportunity, you will find it rewarding - it’s that simple.
Identify the reason for the “NO” response. Innovation disrupts the status quo and often operates in and around the edges of corporate rules, policies, and business operations. The “NOs” that may results from these conflicts can manifest themselves in various ways. Here are some examples:
“We don’t have that / we don’t do that”
Possibly a result of working in white space – something totally new or in areas adjacent to the current business operation
“You can’t do that”
Possibly a result of an exclusive contract, or a standards violation – for example, a vertically integrated service or a new technology or contract terms that simply don’t apply to the new way (digital territory versus geographic territory)
“You can’t do things that way”
Conflicts with existing processes or best practices or other rules that haven’t been questioned in years
This article has been written as one of the requirements to obtain the Innovation Mentor Certification credential at iVia: a program founded by the University of Notre Dame, Whirlpool Corporation, and Beacon Health System http://innovationcertification.nd.edu/
Beacon Health System