I wrote recently about a study that highlighted the malaise present amongst the ranks of middle managers. It generally found them to be rather unappreciated and under valued by their colleagues (and indeed the wider world).
It’s probably rare to find much sympathy for these often hidden cogs within our organizations, but research has shown them to be rather crucial in directing the flow of information within a business, which is of course so important for innovation to flourish.
A big factor in the dissatisfaction of middle managers was that when they passed on ideas and information to those above them, they were often ignored.
I’m sure that’s something we can all empathize with. After all, pitching an idea is often a pretty nerve wracking business. Failure to achieve buy-in can feel like a rejection of your worth as a professional.
Alas, it seems such an event is all too common, with studies revealing that the ideas of managers are too often rejected out of hand by senior executives. If executives can’t instantly see the merits of the idea, then it’s quickly swatted aside.
Picking your battles
So how can you get better at having your ideas accepted? A study from last year suggested that the key was strong emotional intelligence. Or to put it another way, knowing when to pick your battles.
“Anyone taking personal initiative should first make certain that one’s own activities are also actually desired,”the researchers say.“Anyone who doesn’t do this is frequently considered to be a troublemaker.”
Being assertive (at the right time)
Another study explored the role of general pig headedness in innovation. You know, if you’re a pushy and assertive person, are you more likely to get your ideas heard?
The results from this experiment highlight the importance of context when it comes to giving our ideas the best chance to succeed. For instance, if the environment is challenging and hostile to new ideas, then being headstrong can help to push those ideas through.
If the environment is much more supportive to new ideas however, you being headstrong tends to make your peers dislike you instead.
“It seems that being a ‘jerk’ may not be directly linked to who generates original ideas, but such qualities may be useful if the situation dictates that a bit of a fight is needed to get those original ideas heard and used by others,”the researchers say.
Looking for the positive deviants
All of this is largely a sign of the immune response in action. Most of our organizations are set up to do what they do as efficiently as possible, and most of the time that’s how people like it.
So when someone comes up with a radical new idea, it often triggers an immune response from within the organization, and that ‘virus’ is stamped out as quickly as possible.
The chances are there are some positive deviants already operating in your organization. They’re probably operating under cover so you’ll need to look hard, but they will surely be out there.
They’ll have found a way to do innovative things within the constraints of the existing system. They tend to fit the cultural norms of the organization, but have just managed to stretch them in new ways.
All of which means the organization is much less likely to reject them when they raise their heads, which is immensely important if the innovation is to succeed.
So, although middle managers are clearly struggling to have their voices heard when it comes to innovation, the above shows it can be done, providing you go about it in the right way.
Hopefully these tips will help you with your own innovative pitching in 2015.