Everyone wants to be the person trusted to solve “THE” problem. Great stories that grow into legend have their roots in someone solving a vexing problem. One great example is that of Katherine Johnson, whose story is told in the current movie Hidden Figures. She was an African-American mathematician working in NASA’s then segregated computer programmer area. Before putting his life on the line and being fired into space on Friendship 7 in 1962 John Glenn cared only about one person’s opinion on if the trajectory calculations were correct; hers. While it may not be as dramatic as keeping astronauts safe our work can still provide pretty dramatic opportunities to solve problems big and small. The very first issue, however, to solving a problem isn’t simply having the right idea; it’s getting the right someone to listen to your idea. So, how can you make sure your ideas are heard above the din of the daily urgencies in your workplace? Here are a few ideas:
The very first issue, however, to solving a problem isn’t simply having the right idea; it’s getting the right someone to listen to your idea.
Being seen as a trusted problem-solver will make you an incredibly valuable part of any team.
#1 Make a mission and values assessment.
This step is pretty short and sweet. Before you take the time to give deep thought to new ideas review the work’s mission, values, and objectives. If your idea does not cleanly align with all three of these then don’t waste the time pursuing the idea. A good leader won’t even entertain an idea that risks taking the work off of primary goals.
#2 Make sure you have a clear understanding of the problem AND are able to effectively communicate it.
Many good ideas never are heard because the person cannot communicate urgency without sounding like Chicken Little. Many leaders have, for better or worse, developed a filter that blocks out actions they perceive as distracting to the daily work and goals. Being overly dramatic about an issue or suggesting something that will involve a lot of sideways energy and changes will get you and your ideas ignored. This doesn’t mean your solution can’t produce changes in the work; you just have to be able to focus on effectively communicating the urgency before you can talk about the change. Taking some time and developing a brief, one page, bulleted outline of the current state, the problem you are solving and a possible solution is sufficient. Don’t load your supervisor down with a case file at this point. If it is a problem they see needing to be solved they will follow back up. Note: If your supervisor decides not to follow up it is only under extremely unusual circumstances (usually moral, legal or ethical) that you would ever want to consider going over their heads with your idea.
#3 Make sure you have a clear understanding of the benefits.
This is where the idea will likely be sold. Once a supervisor (or team) realizes what’s in it for them you can get traction. Most ideas move forward when you can clearly communicate the problem this idea solves for them. Try to frame your idea around the concept of benefits to the work or the organization. A good litmus test is if your idea produces a feature that other companies are already doing then it’s probably not strong enough of a concept yet. If your idea produces an outcome that is unique or takes a feature other companies are doing and adds something extra to it then you are on to something.