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A Guide to Winning Support for Your New Idea or Project


Jun. 19, 2015 Harvard Business Review

You’ve got an idea for something that will improve your company’s bottom line or make it a better place to work. Nice going. Now for the hard part: How do you get people on board? How do you get funding? And what should you do if your idea doesn’t catch on?

What the Experts Say
In an ideal world, you’d come up with a genius new idea, tell your coworkers about it, and they’d immediately grasp its brilliance. Your boss would love it — and you! — and give you the resources you need to execute it. But that’s not reality. “It’s very hard to start a new initiative,” says John Butman, author of Breaking Out: How to Build Influence in a World of Competing Ideas. “It’s hard to get people to listen to your idea, to understand your idea, and to take action.” It may be difficult, but it’s also a vital skill to master. “Organizations need to keep changing, adapting, and innovating,” he says. “If they don’t, they stagnate and disappear.” But it’s not only the success of your company that’s at stake, says Susan Ashford, professor of management and organization at Michigan’s Ross School of Business. The ability to get new initiatives off the ground is also critical to your career. “You want to stand out, be visible, and get noticed as a leader,” she says. “And one of the ways to do this is by suggesting change ideas and implementing them.” Here are some pointers on how to get your idea moving.

Understand what’s motivating you
Before you breathe a word about your idea to a colleague, you must “think through your motives,” advises Butman. Ask yourself two questions: Why am I doing this? And what do I hope to accomplish? “You need to be able to express your motives” in a way that’s relatable and compelling to others, says Butman. “If the initiative seems like something that will only make you more successful, give you more exposure, or help you get a better job,” people will be skeptical. “It needs to benefit more than just you. Otherwise you’re going to run into trouble.”

Think small
Next, you need to pinpoint “your idea by making it as specific and small as it can possibly be,” Butman says. Pick precisely where you want to focus. If your new initiative involves, say, improving employee health, zero in on a particular goal, such as decreasing employees’ back pain or helping workers quit smoking. This exercise helps you “articulate the issue” you’re trying to address, and explain why your initiative “offers a possible solution,” says Ashford. Your colleagues are more likely to respond to specific initiatives rather than lofty, ambiguous goals.

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