Introducing Change: Three Ways to Engage Your Stakeholders

“I don’t need to tell you that now, more than ever, we need sideways thinkers like you.  We need more dents in the status quo, more disruptions of business-as-usual and more people realizing their dreams, large and small.  Thinking sideways is about stepping off the beaten path and carving your own road.”
Think Sideways, Tamara Kleinberg

Copyright 2013 Dollar Photo Club by Oberonsk
Copyright 2013 Dollar Photo Club by Obersonsk

A week ago, I was listening to Tamara Kleinberg describe a situation in which she and her branding team had come up with super creative ideas that they were pitching to a reluctant customer…

And they were falling flat.

The customer would come up for reasons why the ideas would fail or complained that the idea had been tried a few years ago and failed.

Nothing they said seemed to be getting through to the main stakeholder.  On their return home, she ranted about the dismissal of the new ideas – then realized that her team’s approach was *the reason* the customer “didn’t get it.”

In her book, Think Sideways, a short book on unconventional thinking, she explains that the hardest part of introducing ideas may not be developing them, but in getting buy in from your stakeholders.  While the book provides a wide variety of exercises to help nurture new ideas, I wanted to cover three of her suggestions on how to sell your ideas to others.

From her perspective, engaging others in change or accepting new ideas is about building bridges between you and your stakeholders. She tries to engage stakeholders by:

  1. Giving them credit.  
    She doesn’t mean give them credit for your idea.  You worked hard on it and should get credit, she says, but you need to show your stakeholders how your thinking and their thinking are connected, not opposed to one another.  The key here is to make them a part of the vision.  Explain how their point contributed to the idea or played into it’s creation.
    She writes: “People want to feel important, and explaining how it was their genius point that led you to this idea is a great way to do that….In some ways, this tool is more work for you.  It means you need to work double time listening and connecting the dots between their conventional thinking and your unconventional ideas.”  To help with this, she even gives you sentence starters…

    • What I love about what you said is..
    • What I found interesting about what you said was…
    • What you said about ___ really made me think

      Copyright 2015 Dollar Photo Club by LaCozza
      Copyright 2015 Dollar Photo Club by LaCozza
  2. Throwing questions back
    This does not mean throw them back in their face.  She recommends throwing questions back in order to get a better read on the person and the motivation behind a question.  An example might be, “That is a great question.  What makes you ask? That one question has helped me uncover the real issues and gain buy-in without having to convince anyone,” she writes.

    Following are other questions she says might help build bridges:

    • Interesting, what makes you ask?
    • Help me understand why you are asking, so I can focus my answer.  Finally, she recommends….
  3. Demonstrating your idea’s value
    When you cannot convince people with your words, let your actions speak.  She wrote about Art Fry, the inventor of the Post It note.  Initially, no one saw the value in the Post-It Note.  But instead of trying to convince his colleagues with words, he gave all the secretaries in the company a stack of Post-It notes.

    When they ran out, he told them “The Marketing Department says that there’s no practical application for this product.”  The admins lobbied their bosses for Post-Its and the rest, as they say, is history. What you need to do, she writes, is think about how you can show someone the potential in your idea.  How can you get them to take the idea out for a test drive?  That may do more to convince them than your words ever could.

    The three suggestions she makes in Think Sideways are good approaches to keep people from rejecting your ideas. In summary, Give them credit, Throw back a question and Demonstrate the value may make your idea seem less unconventional or threatening to “their way of doing things”.  Do you have any other suggestions on how to introduce your ideas to others in order to fast-track acceptance?  Leave a comment or send me a tweet, my idea is jgodfrey

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