Finding Your Office LeBron James
Forget about warmer weather and the promise of spring. In North Carolina where I live, the month of March means one thing — the unbridled excitement of basketball fans relishing in March Madness.
There’s a business lesson to be learned from one of America’s most popular sports, and I’m not just talking about the art of negotiating multimillion-dollar contracts. One of the most enigmatic players to emerge from the game in recent years is LeBron James. His athletic skill helped him leapfrog from high school straight to the NBA, where he’s been named MVP four times. Along the way, he’s racked up a number of high-paying retail endorsements and used his celebrity for charity interests, including starting his own foundation.
Like any superstar, he’s not without controversy. But that hasn’t diminished his influence.
When it comes to pitching your ideas at the office, I recommend finding your LeBron James. Let me explain…
In corporate culture, great ideas often get lost in the daily shuffle or the desire to cling to the status quo. More often, great ideas never germinate because they lack support, either from above or below in the office hierarchy. An entry-level staffer may have a terrific solution for, say, improving how mail is delivered. Likewise, a mid-level manager has learned how everyone can migrate information off the whiteboard and onto Google for more efficient communication. Or maybe a senior employee has found a way to save thousands of dollars a year by switching to a different vendor than the one the company has been using for the last 10 years.
Without support, their ideas can’t gain traction and fall on deaf ears. That’s where Office LeBron comes in.
Your LeBron doesn’t have to be a manager or even a coworker. He or she must be someone who benefits directly from the idea, so there is buy-in. More importantly, Office LeBron needs to be someone of influence, someone who is respected, well-liked but not a pushover, well-connected across departments and known for getting things done.
Remember those cheesy E.F. Hutton commercials from the ’70s? They featured two fat cats in a crowded room, discussing stocks. One guy would mention E.F. Hutton, and the background folks would stop their nattering to lean in. The slogan was, “When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen.”
It’s not enough just to get Office LeBron’s blanket endorsement. You must be mindful of the pitch. Communicating your innovative idea, whether through a formal meeting before the board, a one-on-one with your boss, or a casual encounter in the hall, requires clarity, brevity and cold, hard facts. Don’t linger on the problem before you present the solution, and do your diligence. Provide data that you’ve researched on the topic or product, the potential savings or profit, specific ways it would improve efficiency, technological advantages, use by other companies — whatever would bolster your argument. While you’re at it, you should also mention who in the organization benefits and how, and proactively counter any possible objections or roadblocks.
Finally, establish a timeline for implementation and a budget for getting it done (if applicable). If the change is costly or risky, propose a pilot program that can be removed or reversed in the event the idea fails. Create goals along the way, and formally report your progress.
If your idea bombs, accept the failure. If your idea is tweaked by others, incorporate their ideas with grace and give them credit. And if your LeBron gets more credit than you do, well, sometimes that’s the price of admission with a celebrity endorsement. Winning hearts and minds means thinking bigger than yourself.
In other words, handle it like a BOSS. With each success, you’re one step closer to creating a more innovative work environment. And over time, you’ll find that you’ve transformed into the Office LeBron that others seek out for help pitching their ideas.
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