Over the past two decades doing talent risk management and knowledge transfer work, I’ve discovered a recurring problem many organizations face in their quest for innovation. They recognize the need to hire new people to bring in their ideas, but too often, those hotshots fizzle out before they are able to make an impact. You’ve heard the phrase, “The road to hell is littered with good intentions”? Well, the hell these new hires face is often a political one. “He had such great ideas, but they just didn’t seem to get any traction in our culture…”
How can knowledge transfer help in this situation? Let’s take something as simple as presenting an idea, a crucial skill in many innovation experts’ Skill Development Plans. With knowledge transfer tools, and the 20 Test Questions in particular we can take something as esoteric as presenting an idea and make it totally practical. Think about the people in your organization who are best at presenting their ideas and then have them help you shape answers to these test questions for your company.
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Test Question #2: What are the steps in presenting ideas at this company, and why is each important?
The steps could include guidance on how to prepare to share an idea. Below is a common sense list, but the magic might be in getting these bullets done in the right order. Which comes first at your company?
- Research the history of the idea to see what has already been done in the past. We have a long institutional memory, and you’d better have done your homework.
- Write up a quick 10 bullet email first and socialize it with 3 key people as a starting point before coming in with a big PowerPoint. No one around here will sit for a big presentation. Or, the opposite could be true. If you don’t put the presentation in PowerPoint, no one will give it a thought.
- Make the business case first with ROI built in on the front end. We’re data junkies and won’t listen if you don’t have the numbers. Or the opposite could be true, and you’d better tell a good story about the benefits before anyone wants to see your spreadsheets.
- There is a committee meeting once a quarter, and you’d better get on that agenda because that is where the big decisions get made.
- Big, radical ideas get discussed in the beginning of our planning cycle just fine, but if you try to bring one in at the last minute when people are tired, they’ll be really grumpy.
Test Question #7: Who should be involved if you’re going to present an idea and why?
We like to think that politics is not going to crush every new idea, but of course, it’s a big issue. How can we coach a new leader on the people they have to meet and present their ideas to, and in what order?
- Mario needs to see the business case before anyone else…
- Vishal needs to see the prototype…
- Chris needs to look at the design first…
- Kelly can get you that meeting…
Test Question #8, How do you identify and define a “problem” vs. a “crisis” when presenting an idea?
How do you know if you’re in over your head? How do you know if your idea is going to be dead on arrival?
- When the boss gets up and start pacing, that means you have his attention. Or, when the boss gets up and starts pacing, that means he’s lost patience.
- If you get a third set of questions on the same data, you’d better retreat and come back later. No one will fault you for that, but digging in will hurt your chances of being heard.
- You’re not over your head if they start yelling. In our company, if they attack your idea it is because they think it is worth attacking. Much worse would be to be ignored or dismissed.
Test Question #14: What are the standards or rules that exist, and how rigorously are they applied?
- Format (PowerPoint, Templates, Color copies, etc.)
- Timing (How long? When?)
- Flow (Goal, ROI, History, Data, etc.)
The value of using knowledge transfer to manage talent risks for new hires is not only in just taking full advantage of their ideas, but in retaining those talented people for the future. If you hire a hotshot to come in and bring her ideas, but she bangs her head over and over again because she can’t figure out to permeate the fortress, she won’t stay. She’ll have other opportunities, and she’ll be gone. That’s a big risk.
Summary: This problem of acclimating to a new environment is for anybody who has to present an idea. There are people in every organization who are really good at presenting their ideas. They may or may not have the best idea, but they excel at getting their ideas out. Knowledge transfer can help innovators bring their ideas forward to have the biggest impact possible.