“I hope that works out for you”

Subtitle: Ideas are cheap; results matter

I’ve worked in many places that have an unhealthy incentive problem where ideas are rewarded and results are not.

People with fresh, new ideas were the movers and shakers. They could do even better if they could argue in hostile forums why their ideas would work  (folks who gain success at this are also called bullies).

The problem was that nobody asked these folks to prove their ideas with actual results.   Ideas won and lost by how passionately their champions fought for them and how good they sounded, not whether they worked or not. Often, ideas won out because the champions essentially repeated over and over, “I just know it will work! We have to try it.”

If your idea was selected by management, you were golden. If the idea later failed, there were plenty of excuses used. It was executed poorly. The messaging wasn’t right. It just wasn’t the right time. Rarely did the idea champions or the management who green lighted the idea ever just come out and say, maybe this just isn’t something customers value.

This environment generated lots of ideas and lots of infighting to get ideas selected, but not a lot of results.

I was never in charge, but I had the ear of some of the folks that were, once or twice removed, and I started a subtle campaign to curb this toxic, non-results driven, environment.

I suggested that the folks who had the ideas be responsible for proving them out with real world results and, since they usually felt with such passion that their ideas would work, I suggested they carry out their ideas within their own budgets. Why not? You are so sure it’ll work, put your money where your mouth is. If this will work so well, this should help you achieve your targets.

I coined a phrase, “You should give it a try. I hope that works out for you.”

The folks with the ideas use to win when someone in management would say, “Okay, we’ll try your idea.”  Now they started hearing, “You should give it a try. Let us know how it goes. I hope that works out for you.”

Suddenly, the folks with the great ideas were more open to criticism of their ideas and shooting holes in them before they got started proving them out, because they were more concerned whether the idea would actually work and less concerned if a few decision-makers in management would pick it.

I was reminded of this when I read a recent blog post on Arnold Kling’s askblog, The Left’s Post-Election Self Examination, where he comments on a leftist’s suddenly (post-election) more critical examination of Obamacare.

When Obamacare passed, it was easy for Democrats to claim victory that they had “fixed” health care. The actual results of their great idea wouldn’t be known until after the next election cycle, since that’s when it would start kicking in. They were like the folks at my work who got their idea selected by management.

One positive to this year’s election outcome is that many of the people in the Senate and the person in the White House responsible for passing Obamacare will still be here when the Obamacare realities begin to materialize and they may be held to account for the results of their great idea.

I wasn’t surprised to hear talk of Nancy Pelosi considering stepping-down as House minority leader shortly have the election. She’s probably thinking it would be good to get out of the spotlight before the Obamacare stuff starts to hit the fan.

Not surprising either that the leftist that Kling commented on is becoming more critical of Obamacare. This is what I saw happen to the idea-folks when they were faced with answering to the results of their ideas.

So, perhaps one unintended positive outcome of this election is that the American people are told the folks responsible for Obamacare, “Let’s give this a try. I hope that works out for you.”

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