Did you ever think of a great idea and then, later, see someone else turn it into a successful product and reap all the rewards? If so, you probably walked around muttering, “I thought of that! Why didn’t
I do something with it?” If you had turned your idea into reality, you would have been an “innovation
Innovation champions implement ideas by ensuring that they get transformed into successful products, services, or business systems. And champions are crucial. An “idea” person may be creative, but it
takes an implementer’s know-how, energy, daring, and perseverance to turn bright ideas into
something others will value.
How do innovative champions operate? They communicate an idea to others through an inspiring vision statement; cultivate a support network; quantify an idea’s potential value by making a business
case for it; and overcome any resistance to the idea. While all steps in the implementation process are important, two of these steps are especially critical:
Cultivating a support network, and
How does this work in practice? First, let’s look at cultivating a support network. We’ll see how
Deborah, a home care physical therapist at a health services agency, handled this critical step. Deborah loved everything about her job — except the paperwork. After all, she had gone into the field
because she liked working with people, not paper. But as the insurance claim process had grown more complicated, she had been spending more time writing evaluations, reports, and progress notes. To get these forms to her boss, she drove to the agency’s headquarters at the end of each day and typed in the handwritten notes she had taken after each patient visit. Or, if her last patient visit was close to her home, she returned home, typed her notes, and e-mailed them to her boss.
Deborah resented the extra travel time and hours she spent during the evenings working on her notes. Also, when she typed her notes at the end of the day, she sometimes had difficulty reading her handwriting and remembering all the details from each visit.
On one frustrating day, Deborah had an idea: What if the agency gave each physical therapist a laptop that was tied into the agency’s server? The therapists could record their notes after each visit and
e-mail them immediately to the agency.
Deborah felt convinced that this new system would increase efficiency and save travel time. But she knew she lacked the knowledge and skills needed to implement her idea. For instance, she knew nothing about the technology or costs involved in setting up the system she had in mind. However, she did know people at the agency who had experience in these areas, and she set out to win their support. She began by sharing her idea with Patrick, her boss, and asking him to serve as the sponsor for her proposal. As sponsor, Patrick would help her tackle the practical challenges involved. And he would know how to present her proposal effectively to upper management. A former home care therapist himself, Patrick was quite intrigued by Deborah’s suggestion.
Next Deborah described her idea to several people in the IT and finance departments. Impressed by its
potential, they agreed to draw on their expertise to investigate any technical and financial issues the proposal might raise.
Finally, to lend credibility to her idea, Deborah asked Claudette, the chief financial officer, to lend her support. She knew that Claudette had clout in the organization. Moreover, the CFO would value the cost savings and new efficiencies the agency might gain by implementing Deborah’s proposal.
But Deborah knew that cultivating a support network wasn’t enough to turn her idea into reality. She also had to tackle the second critical step: overcoming resistance. Many new ideas — no matter how
promising — encounter resistance from people concerned about how the innovation might affect them personally. Innovation champions anticipate and chip away at resistance.
For example, Deborah realized that some of the other physical therapists might worry that the new system would end up increasing their caseloads rather than reducing evening paperwork and extra
travel. And she suspected that several IT managers might have concerns about the network’s security. If she didn’t address such concerns, these individuals might loudly oppose her innovation — and stop
it dead in its tracks.
To overcome resistance from these sources, Deborah applied several tactics. For example, at the therapists’ weekly team meeting, she presented a graph illustrating how much time they would save each week by using the remote technology. She also asked their boss Patrick to assure them that there would be no caseload increases beyond normal working hours. She also met with IT managers to acknowledge their security concerns — and called on the support network she had developed to help
investigate various firewall technologies to determine which would best serve the agency. Cultivating a support network and overcoming resistance took time and effort. But it finally paid off for Deborah — and the agency. Three months after she had first broached the subject with Patrick, the agency’s management team approved implementation of the system Deborah had proposed. By the following quarter, the other physical therapists were marveling at how much time the system was saving them — allowing them to both better serve their patients and reduce evening work. In fact, they found that they could comfortably increase their caseloads within working hours. The CFO was delighted with the efficiencies, including increased caseloads and decreased travel expenses. And case managers throughout the agency appreciated getting information more promptly from the home care therapists.
Thanks to her persistence, Deborah’s idea became more than just a passing idea. Once she had championed a solution to the paperwork problem, she again loved her job — and working with people,
It’s easy to think up ideas and then forget about them the next day. But by becoming an innovation champion — including cultivating a support network and overcoming resistance to your ideas — you
turn those ideas into measurable value for your organization and for its people.