Avoiding the Unavoidable Helps No One
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Avoiding the Unavoidable Helps No One

Billy Ingram, Director of Lean Product Development, Interface
Billy Ingram, Director of Lean Product Development, Interface

Billy Ingram, Director of Lean Product Development, Interface

Every idea requires change. You have probably heard this phrase before. However, I would like to present a slightly more specific perspective. Every idea requires social change.

By adding one word I have upped the ante and significantly reduced the number of people who will take the initiative and act. This is an insight that is still relatively new to me and my understanding of personal motivation and individual engagement. How can the addition of this single word be so impactful?

Most people avoid any potential for negative social outcomes. This situation, which happens to most people daily, need not be as dramatic as it sounds. Most people can rationalize the fear of losing their job. However, they don’t fare as well with seemingly less impactful consequences. Ridicule is a common negative social outcome for the person who is brave enough to share an idea. A very powerful one at that. The potential that someone will share even a slightly negative comment about an idea originator that shows any initiative is enough to prevent most people from the action. I’m not sure I understand this bias for silence or if the understanding of it is even that important. What is important is what you can do to overcome it.

If most people avoid the potential for negative social outcomes, then removing or reducing the potential for negative social outcomes will enable many people to take the initiative and act on their ideas. More people acting on ideas create new value. Creating new value is foundational for economic growth. These are good things in any organization. So, how do you reduce the potential for negative social outcomes?

I’m sure there are many ways to do this. The method that worked for me and my team is training in socially responsible problem-solving. The new expectations that we needed to remove potential negative social outcomes were very different than what most people have experienced in their work-life to date. Getting everyone on our team to accept them would be challenging but possible. But first, we had to clarify our expectations and we, my team and I had to understand them.

  ​If most people avoid the potential for negative social outcomes, then removing or reducing the potential for negative social outcomes will enable many people to take the initiative and act on their ideas  

The principles of social responsibility aligned with our organization’s mission and its values. These principles also aligned with my personal beliefs and that of my team members. The seven principles of social responsibility are:

• Accountability

• Transparency

• Ethical behavior

• Respect for stakeholder interests

• Respect for the rule of law

• Respect for international norms of behavior

• Respect for human rights

The importance of this alignment cannot be overstated. Asking a person to accept or act on an idea when they are unclear of how it will affect them personally is irresponsible. Asking a person to accept or act on an idea that is bad for them can only be beneficial to the one who is asking. Instead, ensure every impacted stakeholder of an idea understands how it will help them and advance the organization’s mission.

All ideas impact stakeholders and involve social change. Avoiding social change inevitably leads to increased risk and often an enormous waste of resources. Changing expectations to remove or reduce the potential for negative social outcomes is a practical way to reduce risk and increase individual engagement. Finding and demonstrating alignment between personal beliefs, social responsibility principles, and organizational mission and values creates a thriving and dynamic culture. Training in socially responsible problem-solving methods is a great way to enable individuals to act on ideas that are good for them and their organization.

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