“Idea people” constantly scan the environment inside and outside their organizations for product ideas and new ways of doing things. They don’t consciously do this. It just happens. For them, operating in this way is as natural and essential as drinking water.

Idea people gravitate toward all things new and have little patience for inefficient processes and corporate silos. They can live in any department at any level of any organization. They can be any age, any color, male or female. To you as a manager, they may represent a breath of fresh air in your department or a colossal thorn in your side. Regardless of how you feel, idea people may be the key to your organization’s future. The question is…how are you engaging them today?

If you listen to National Public Radio, you’ve probably heard of StoryCorps. It’s a nonprofit that invites Americans to share and preserve important stories from their lives. In a similar vein, I invited idea people to share some of their experiences and observations of the corporate world. My next few posts will feature their input. My goal is to provide vital food for thought and inspire action where needed.

Let’s start with “Mary.” That’s not her real name but these are her words.

In-house counsel discarded

“I am an attorney for one of the largest insurance carriers in the country. I want to pull my hair out at the inefficiencies that occur because no one wants to implement a fresh idea or try something new. I don’t even know where to begin with my frustrations. Let me share three ideas I brought up to my company to save money and help us work more efficiently. All three were rejected.

“Our claims department asks for certain information on a routine basis. Our case management system has some limitations and prevents us from being able to provide the requested numbers. I suggested inputting the information into an Excel spreadsheet.  Excel could perform the needed tabulations so we could serve our client. Why should I even need to ask permission to implement something this straightforward?

“I suggested hiring law students as law clerks to handle some of the routine paperwork attorneys have to do. Such a program would let students build skills that will help them get jobs in this struggling economy. Our attorneys would be able to handle more cases, reducing the overall number of cases that need to be referred to expensive outside counsel.

“When I proposed this, my manager thought it was a great idea. But the insurance company did not want to pay for the extra computers that interns would require. We even came up with a very conservative estimate of $90,000 per year of savings for every intern hired. I volunteered to train them and be in charge of the program (and asked for no additional compensation…I saw it as a resume builder). I guess an extra $500 for a computer is just too much money.

“I suggested a monthly brainstorming session among the attorneys to discuss issues of the law or rulings that have created difficulty. The goal? To come up with better ways to defend the carrier and litigate our cases.

“These are not far-out, whacky ideas. They are easy and inexpensive to implement. They solve an existing business problem. You’d think we could just implement these without a complex permission process.

“I have never seen a company that celebrates mediocrity and the ‘sheep’ mentality like this one. I’ve stopped contributing new ideas. I even try to stop myself from thinking of innovative solutions, because I know it will only lead to more frustration. Do you know any companies looking for a bright, energetic legal professional with PR experience?”

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CEOs: Do your corporate processes support or frustrate idea people? Do you know the answer with certainty?

Managers: Do you have anyone like this on your team? When you think about them, do you smile or cringe? Why? Be honest.

Frustrated idea people: I hope you’ll add your stories below.

Wildly happy idea people: My next post will be for you. Stay tuned…

Note: Idea people need a manager who can Relate and Require effectively. Do you? Find out via the free assessment at www.ManagingPeopleBetter.com.

Leigh Steere
Co-founder, Managing People Better, LLC—a management research firm/think tank. Professional kettle-stirrer. Writer. Curriculum developer. Connect with Leigh on her LeadChange profile, website, or Twitter and check out the Managing People Better assessment where you can get some feedback on your management style and help with a research project.
Leigh Steere