How to Present a New Idea so People will Listen
Why does it sometimes feel like the best ideas get stuck in the process and never find their way up to the people who can make them happen?
In the course of your day, have you ever come up with a brilliant idea for improving an IT system or process that you wish someone would implement at your organization? Maybe you have and you've even managed to enthusiastically describe the change to a few people - only to run into a wall of sorts when trying to bring it forward to the IT department or to a member of the leadership team.
Why do some ideas get stuck at the end user level?
One of the more frequent IT related frustrations that I hear from end users is that there is a disconnect between those who use the applications and the IT staff and/or leadership teams who make decisions relating to technology. Now, before I go on, it's important to mention that the level to which this frustration exists in an organization's work culture varies greatly .... which signifies that this is something that can be managed and improved upon.
I've been fortunate enough to have experienced this particular issue from both sides .... As an end user myself, I've overheard (and probably uttered in my earlier days) statements like "no one ever listens to us" or "they aren't interested in hearing our ideas" .... On the flip side as someone who has been in the position to make decisions on which IT opportunities to pursue for an organization; I've encountered several scenarios where it seems that there are primarily just complaints coming forward instead of ideas. Or the ideas that make it through are great but highly unrealistic from a budget, timeline, or resourcing perspective. So .... where does the break down happen, and what exactly is breaking down?
I can tell you that, for all the organizations I've experienced and in conversations with all of the leaders I know, the part about not wanting to listen is not true - "they" (IT and leadership alike) do want to listen to user experiences; and they do want to hear ideas on how to improve things. The challenge seems to be in how the conversation occurs and how the ideas make their way through the org structure.
What helps an idea gain traction?
Whether we like it or not, there is an innate characteristic in humans to think in terms of how situations impact them as individuals. (Ever heard the phrase "what's in it for me?") For many people, it is sometimes challenging to present a want or a desire in terms of the benefits it brings to others and to the organization as a whole. This characteristic holds true, to some extent, through all levels of an org chart. In order for a change or idea to gain traction .... the message needs to be articulated from a number of different angles - with sufficient detail to satisfy each person with the ability to influence the viability and the capacity to make things happen. For things to really take off - the details need to be presented in a manner that highlights not only the benefit the idea will bring to the receiver, but also the opportunity or gain it presents for the receiver and the larger group.
In healthcare we have an advantage over many other industries in that we have a unique common interest that transcends all other interests (as it should). There is a very, very high percentage of individuals in our respective health systems that do what they do, first and foremost to serve patients. Financial gains, personal fulfillment, prestige, etc. may all be present, but the desire to make a difference and serve the population as a whole by returning them to, or keeping them in, a healthy state is a goal that's almost universally shared in our field. This is a key component that needs to be included when presenting ideas that you want to have come to fruition.
How to frame the proposal or suggestion.
When you are ready to share one of your great ideas, be it large or small, you'll need to decide if you want to carry the idea through the ranks yourself, or if you want someone to champion that idea for you. (Don't worry .... if you decide you want to 'be the voice' and then change your mind along the way - you can always recruit champions.) The reason you'll need to decide this early on is that it becomes a key part of the conversation - especially if you want the other participant to carry things forward .... and they have no idea that you expect that of them ....
There are some key components that you should include in the conversation when pitching your idea to colleagues and leaders if you are interested in having them considered for implementation. Following the suggested framework below may assist with formulating your thoughts and can help flush out some of the ideas with high viability.
1) Introduction - Introduce the topic and provide some general context on the scenario that your upcoming idea will be in reference to. Include in the introduction a description of the desired outcome or improvement that you hope to achieve.
2) Background - Provide any necessary background information the recipient may require to properly understand elements of the proposed idea. (Think of this as an opportunity to demonstrate that you have looked into why things are currently done as they are and that there isn't a medical/legal barrier to making a change.)
3) Pitch - Present a summary version of your idea. Make sure you include some information on the number of people and processes that would potentially be impacted. For example, is it a simple and straightforward change that you believe just requires some communication and a bit of training? Or is the change larger in magnitude so that changes to IT systems and organizational policies, guidelines, and/or workflows are required?
4) Benefits - Present the presumed benefits of implementing the idea. Where applicable, include:
- benefits to patient care,
- benefits to patient experience or to staff morale,
- improved efficiencies (turnaround times or reduction in resources),
- financial benefits (if the change will save $ or has the ability to generate income),
- improvement to data capture and reporting.
5) Risks and Assumptions - Summarize any risks that you are aware of and mention any assumptions that you have made in formulating the idea. Comment on any factors or areas that you feel may need to be investigated further.
6) Closing - Finish up the pitch/presentation with any requests or directions that you have for the receiving party. Let them know if you are interested in hearing their feedback; if you are hoping they will support your idea as you take it forward; or, perhaps you would like their opinion and guidance on how you can present further and to a larger or more senior audience. (Note: If a specific change idea has not yet been flushed out, it is perfectly fine to propose that an investigation into potential solutions be the next step.)
Some key things to consider.
The level of detail that you need to include, and the format you will use to present, will be directly related to the type/magnitude of the idea you are bringing forward and the audience that the pitch is being made to. For instance, ideas that involve a few people modifying a process where no changes to IT systems, organizational policies/guidelines or larger workflows are required, you may be fine with a few short conversations with key individuals. On the other hand, if the idea involves significant change and is likely to result in the formation of a project or large scale initiative - you will want to ensure that you have an appropriate level of detail for each audience that the idea is presented to, and that you are presenting in a format they are accustomed to.
As you work on formulating your idea so it can be presented to the right individuals, it is important to consider which aspects they are likely to focus on in relation to their overall role and level of responsibility. You will want to frame the conversation so that it aligns with these aspects to increase your chances of obtaining support. For example, if you are presenting an idea that will require funding to members of a finance committee or a decision making body, you will want to make sure that along with the overall benefits there is some information on timeline, potential cost expenditures and/or savings, and any resourcing requirements needed to implement. If you are presenting the same idea to individuals in the quality improvement department or to someone responsible for patient safety, a heavier emphasis on positive patient outcomes may be helpful and you might be able to just summarize the financial components.
As a final thought, you may feel that you ideas are smaller in nature and that a full series of presentations and pitch conversations is not necessary. Even if this is the case, consider approaching conversations with the same general structure and format so that over time you become more comfortable framing things in a way that increases their potential for gaining support. You never know when that one huge idea that will transform everything will come to you - and when it does, you want to be ready.
"No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world." - Robin Williams