What’s The Big Idea?

When faced with tough competition, challenging budgets or declining market trends companies frequently respond by getting  groups of people together to brainstorm “big ideas” to address the situation.  They start out thinking ‘big’ and ‘bold’ but frequently end up with ‘tweak’ and ‘old’.   Why is that?

I experienced this when I took my first executive job.  I spent the first 100 days in my new role studying the landscape and came to the conclusion that we needed some big change.  I got the leadership team together, challenged them to come up with some ‘big, bold and innovative’ ideas to move us forward and set them loose in working groups.

When they returned I was taken back by the types of things they identified.  Stop doing this little thing, don’t fill out this form, or my favorite “let’s reorganize”.  You get the picture.  It was then I realized that I had not done enough to help them see what was possible outside of their box.  So in typical “Good to Great” fashion, I threw out some BHAGS – Big Hairy Audacious Goals.  The sound of people gasping for air is an understatement.  And so was born what I coined the “paper bag moment” (and yes I used to hand out paper bags with big goals).

Over time people were given the opportunity to try new things, take risks, and when successful they got rewarded.  And so new behaviors were cultivated.  This type of transformation takes time but I am happy to say that my team got there quickly.  Over the next few years they accomplished things previously thought impossible, achieved goals that seemed improbable and transformed into a high performing team that provided better service at a lower cost – go fig.

Upon leaving the organization I was delighted when one of my directors sent me a card that said that they used to dread those paper-bag moments but now appreciate them as it made them grow as a person and leader.  If any of them are reading this blog, I would bet they are smiling.

Cultivating a work environment and culture that encourages innovation, embraces change and can envision the next “big idea” is a huge undertaking – more so on the people side than the process side.  In their haste to get results, too many companies skip the people side of change and then wonder why their team can’t come up with the next ‘big idea’.

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