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Navigating the Politics of Innovation

March 18, 2019

Before you pitch your innovative ideas to your company, take these steps to avoid a politics-motivated response within the company.

Every company needs innovation, but it’s not always easy to make it happen. Whether it’s a new product or an improved process, the change you envision may seem like a slam dunk to you, but it’s likely that someone may feel threatened by the change to the status quo.

Follow these steps to anticipate political resistance and give your innovative idea the best possible chance for success.

> Look for hidden agendas. If you encounter opposition, the stated reason may not be the only one. Maybe your idea would force a change in operating procedures for another division whose leaders don’t want the disruption. Such unstated reasons may be difficult to address head on. Be sure you discover hidden agendas and make a strategy for overcoming them.

> Break a big innovation into smaller ones. Many big changes are truly made up of small steps that add up to something much bigger. Splitting your innovation into pieces that can be implemented one by one can help make each change easier to sell and implement.

> Find allies. Testing your idea before you pitch it will usually make it better. You’ll probably have to convince more than one person in authority to give you a chance, and you’ll definitely need support from other people for a successful implementation. Do yourself and your idea a favor and bring in allies before you need them. 

> Find a champion. Maybe it’s a former mentor who’s willing to go to bat for you. Maybe it’s someone in another department who can confirm that a key element of your idea is feasible. Whatever the details might be, an advocate in a position of authority can be invaluable.

Warning: Politics at Work

Opposition is only one way that workplace politics can derail innovation. The following personal behaviors are also political, and they can stop an innovative idea in its tracks.  

> Blaming other people for problems

> Creating barriers between people

> Developing relationships in the company only for advancement

> Creating conflict without being part of the solution

> Supporting only people with shared goals

> Withholding useful information

> Taking credit for other people’s work

Avoid these behaviors in yourself to help your idea succeed. If people on your team or in positions of influence over your proposal are doing these things, make a plan to address them.