Here’s a test of your boss’s self-control and a measure of your standing in your department. Go him or her and say, “I have an idea!”
Watch his or her face carefully. Odds are your boss will do a slow blink. (That’s how skilled bosses cover an eye-roll.)
Then, make a note of what he or she says next, and you’ll know where you stand in your team’s ranking order.
If you hear, “Great, let’s hear it.”
Then you know you are indispensable and that you have a track record of innovating.
If you hear, “Okay, but I’m in a bit of hurry.”
Then you’re a typical performer.
If you hear, “That’s good, but hold that thought because we really need you to focus on your work.”
You should understand you’re on the secret list of employees to be axed in the next layoff.
When The Horse Rides The Jockey
Said another way, you earn the ear. With most employees, management doesn’t really want your ideas. I know, I know… management keeps saying “innovation is our future,” and the words “creative” and “innovative” are as inevitable around the Mission Statement and the Company Values as stray cats at the McDonald’s dumpster. But what upper management really had in their minds is that employees should welcome the latest management ideas like they’re Justin Bieber visiting a junior high.
Why? You go to a manager and say, “Here’s an idea” and what have you given them? A task. It inverts the assignment relationship, the horse is now the jockey. You’ve given the boss something for the old To-Do and now you are the one to say, “Did you ever do anything about that suggestion of mine?” But it gets worse: You’ve given your boss work without giving over credit; it still your idea.
Does this mean you should just forget about making suggestions? Yes. Don’t make suggestions; make improvements.
Change The Conversation: Problems Vs. Solutions
Example: You’re a retail clerk and you’ve noticed a lot of returns of one type of cellphone. You could just shrug and think, “Those jerks make a lousy phone.” Or, if you’re bit more helpful, you could say, “I have an idea – we need to get the company to re-label the buttons.”
Or, you could just go ahead and jump beyond ideas to experiments. You start explaining to customers how to avoid the problem. Maybe you print off a brief instruction sheet. And then you go to your managers and say, “I’ve been tracking returns of that phone and found that if I explain the problem, returns fall in half. If I hand them an instruction sheet, returns fall in half. But if I do both, those suckers never comes back.”
The keyphrase in that example: “AND THEN….” When you hand management an idea, you hand them work. When you offer them the results of an experiment, you hand them solutions.
Example two: You might go to your boss and say, “I have an idea – we should have a class in how to deal with product returns.”
Compare that to going in and saying, “I’ve noticed that Carol is just great with customers who are bringing back products – she always sells the customers more than they brought in. So, I tried doing some of what she does, and I read a few articles and we both tried some new things, and I think Carol and I could do a little presentation at the next department meeting about what we learned.”
It’s Not About You
One problem. Sometimes you have ideas about a change that you can’t just experiment with – the idea requires some investment or approvals or client involvement. Do NOT… Do NOT… use this as an excuse to burble, “I have an idea!” Instead, invite management into the solution. You say, “I wonder if a change would help our customers?” That way you ask management to think with you, to share the work and the credit. In the second version, IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU; IT’S ABOUT THE CUSTOMER. That’s a different conversation.
Earn The Ear, Earn The Promotion
That’s how you earn the ear. Give it what it wants – not ideas, which are often just complaints – give it solutions. When I ran a market research company we had a motto, “Our job is to make our clients’ jobs easier.” If you treat managers as clients whose problems you’re solving, then you on your way to being beloved.
What’s the best way to get promoted?
Get your boss promoted.
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