Big organisations are executing new ideas (but not in a good way).

I find the word execute quite ironic. In one sense it is about putting a plan in place to achieve a goal or end state. And in a completely opposite definition it is carrying out a death sentence. So I might be just as likely to want to execute a new idea as I would Hannibal Lecter. The English language is a curious thing.

Unfortunately, when it comes to having new ideas within big organisations there’s been a terrible misunderstanding. Because they seem to be killing them off, instead of bringing them to life. Big organisations are like the executioners of new ideas.

It’s no secret that executing a good idea isn’t easy. This is a reality. Not something to be upset about. But why is it almost impossible within big organisations? We’ve been grappling with this question for a while now, and we think it boils down to this…

1. Because everything has to be approved by everyone

New ideas call for a merry go round of approvals. Marketing, HR, Legal, IT, and then back to Marketing, back through Legal, HR again. By now weeks/months have gone past. People have lost interest. And you’ve heard ‘No’ so many times you have no fight left.

2. Because everyone has a day job

I have yet to meet someone whose sole job is to implement awesome idea and make cool shit happen. Usually people have more than enough on their plate to fill their day. They’re probably putting out corporate fires. Attending long meetings. Replying to emails. Keeping their head above water. Then you ask them to shift their attention to a project that isn’t part of their KPIs, may or may not be successful and requires intense effort. Chances are, the ‘too busy’ excuse arises.

3. Because short-term results win over long-term gain

We find companies would rather focus on increased efficiency and reduced cost as a way to continued success. Better sameness is safer. It keeps the board happy. It keeps shareholders happy (in the short term). But the reality is those ‘breakthrough innovations’ that everyone is chasing are seldom found when we’re focused on instant results. It takes ten years of hard work to be an overnight success.

All of these create a vicious cycle within big organisations. We know that a new idea will be very difficult to execute, so we stop proposing our ideas. Then we stop having good ideas altogether. Then we start to think that we suck for not having any new ideas so we hire someone external to have them for us. Then we shoot those down too.

We’ve spent a lot of time in this cycle – experiencing it first hand and experimenting with different ways to break it. This is what we’ve discovered – five things that you can do to make executing your new idea less hard.

Make a lot of friends internally and get them to believe in what you believe in

Bringing new ideas to life is a job for many people – not just one. Build your internal network early. Be comfortable getting to know people from all over the organisation. Take the time to understand their reality. What is their top priority? What is their area of expertise? Strong relationships will make it much easier for you to call on people when you’re ready to execute.

When we start working on a project we invest hundreds of hours connecting with people. We’ve been known to travel to offshore oil rigs and have taken a day trip to Manila to do so. We don’t just speak to senior executives – we engage at all levels and in all departments. Then we map the connections we’ve made to identify those people who are influential, intensely passionate or have a unique skillset, so we can reach out to them later.

Tell a great story tailored to your audience

If you want to sell your idea to the world (or at least your colleagues), storytelling is your most powerful tool. Tell, don’t sell. Your story doesn’t need to focus on the product or service at the heart of your idea. It should be about how it’s going to make people feel. And be conscious of your audience. The story you tell to the Board might be different to the one you tell to your team or people in Legal. You need to make it apparent ‘what’s in it for them’, having a strong internal network makes this easier. We like to tell stories by getting our audience to “Imagine the new bliss….”

Start by imagining failure, and get all stakeholders doing a ‘Pre-Mortem’

Executing a new idea is a journey. It is going to take blood, sweat and tears. We start every journey with imaging failure. A ‘Pre-Mortem’ exercise is a great way to get all the risks on the table, all the potential landmines. This helps to understand where the resistance will come from and what will block the idea from being successful.

Ditch detailed project plans at the start, and excite people with visuals

Excel spreadsheets and project plans won’t always get an idea off the ground. People get lost in the complexity and give up before they try. We need to make it seem as easy as possible, and keep people engaged, excited and focused on busting through bureaucracy. Take every opportunity to tell people about what you’re trying to achieve. Write a newsletter. Stand up in a team meeting. Volunteer to join other peoples’ team meetings. By making people aware, you can harness their support and maybe, even get them involved.

Celebrate often, your successes & failures

Like we said – execution is a journey. And it’s not a short one. It’s easy to lose interest. Lose sight of the vision. Lose hope as time passes. Celebrating often can help to keep everything in focus. And it’s not just big wins that you can celebrate – small wins are worth a glass of champagne too. In fact, so are failures. They all take you one step closer to final execution.

At the core of the work we do is fighting against the untimely death of good ideas and navigating the organisational labyrinth so they can be brought to life. We love hearing stories of successful execution, reach out to tell us yours…