I am a big fan of welcoming naysayers and devil's advocates into the conversation. I reminded myself of this last week and enjoyed the outcome, so I thought I would share the concept with you. Not only is inviting a challenge a great way to unearth diverse ideas, it helps enroll people into the process and improve their acceptance of my work. Naysayers make great evangelists!Inviting a challenge means asking others to critique our work – really critique it. If you are coachable – highly coachable – you might be ready to invite a challenge. Give it a try yourself and then you will have a story you can share with other peers and employees. Say, “bring it on!” Take on this mantra for a month and see how this impacts your focus and results. I like to designate a devil's advocate at team meetings to encourage diverse ideas and spice up the conversation. Rotate the responsibility to give everyone practice. Here’s an example of how to invite a challenge for a new idea you are thinking of proposing:
- Create a rough draft of your proposal. Offer the rationale, describe the idea, and give as much context as possible.
- Select a small group of pre-early adopters. These should be people who you think can – and will – give you interesting feedback. Include people who are the most logical detractors.
- Create a list of questions you would like your pre-early adopters to answer. Include questions like, “what are all the reasons that you think this idea will not work?” and “what about this idea do you find least appealing?”
- Invite the pre-early adopters to review the plan and provide feedback. If possible, invite them to a 15-minute meeting where you hand out the rough plan and questions and ask for their feedback within XX days. If a meeting is not possible or practical, give each person a quick call asking them to participate and letting them know they will soon get and email with the plan and questions attached. Let your pre-early adopters know that you do not want them to sugar coat the feedback and that you believe that all feedback is a gift – even when it is tough to hear.
- Once you get the feedback, thank everyone sincerely and warmly, regardless of how critical they were of your ideas. Then use their feedback to improve your plan.
You will find that when you invite a challenge, you create many more fans than detractors. Even those who do not like the idea will become more accepting of the revised plan implementation. It’s magic! In addition, when we establish an environment where people feel comfortable sharing their concerns and ideas, we will be more likely to hear about and catch mistakes and head off problems as they emerge. You want to know what’s happening as soon as possible; otherwise your options for dealing with barriers will quickly diminish.Inviting a challenge can be a wonderful and enjoyable experience - it will help you keep your ego from getting in the way of your best work (that never happens, right? :-). As a manager, model the way and share your successes with the practice of inviting a challenge and you may just help others reach a higher level of success and peer acceptance.