Instead of starting with all the reasons you can’t do something, start with the assertion that you will do it.
This thought popped into my mind the other say as I was thinking about the challenges faced by a client of mine. It reminded me of many times in my career when I would come up with an idea, only to be told all the reasons it wouldn’t work, or was too hard. Over the years, I learned to do my research and develop a case for my ideas, and that helped me push through a lot of positive changes. Yet as I travel around speaking and conferences at talking to potential clients, I still hear this “reasons we can’t” approach play out over and over again.
- “We can’t do this because of xyz …”
- “We want to do this, but xyz won’t allow us to.”
- “We tried it, but we hit a snag and so we’re not going to do it.”
How can a project succeed with this approach? It either can’t, or it takes much longer than necessary.
Yet it’s still quite common. When we get very ingrained in our work environment, our culture, the way we’ve “always done things,” we become blind to the bigger picture. And the bigger picture sometimes tells us that we need to make a change. We need to envision a solution that jumps over those self-imposed hurdles.
I’ll give you an example. Thirteen years ago, I had my first child. When I returned to work, I wanted to continue breastfeeding, so I invested in a pump. (I was so nervous, I even presented my boss with a pumping plan in writing so that we would both know what to expect.) I spent the next nine months pumping in an old storage closet. As I became more aware of the laws protecting womens’ rights to pump at work, I started to wonder about my coworkers at other, smaller locations. Where would they pump if they needed to?
So my problem-solving mindset kicked in. I shared this information with our Human Resources department, and suggested that they be proactive in identifying a place at every location where a woman could pump, even if there were no employees at that time who needed it. That way, the managers would be prepared, and there would fewer challenges for the returning mothers because a space would already be identified. Unlike me, they wouldn’t have to hunt around for an old storage closet.
HR’s response was, “We don’t have a space at every location, so we’re not going to do this.” Never mind that it was the right thing to do. Never mind that it was legally mandated. This was a classic example of starting with all the reasons you can’t rather than simply saying you will.
Flash forward to many years later, after I had two more kids and went through similarly challenging experiences. Now I was a manager and I had an employee returning from maternity leave who needed a space to pump. When I saw the space the facilities manager suggested she use – an old cubicle that was small, dark, dreary and partly open to the rest of the room – it was clear to me that we needed to do better.
I knew for a fact that there were private rooms near the staff lounge, but everyone I spoke to said they were unusable. So I fired up my problem-solver mindset and decided to see for myself. I got my master key and opened them up, only to find that they were spacious rooms, but they were being used as storage closets.
Wait a minute, I thought. We are making women pump in closets while we have perfectly good rooms being used for storage? This makes no sense!
These rooms had been around since I started pumping 13 years ago, but nobody had thought to question how they were being used and where women were being told to pump.
So again, I went to HR. Again, I got a list of reasons why these rooms could not be used. But this time, I refused to give up, because I had made a promise to my employee. It took a while, but I kept asserting that it needed to be done, and with support from others, it finally was. Facilities staff had the supplies moved out of one of the rooms, and ordered a chair and a refrigerator. The room was still pretty barren and not exactly cozy, but it was a start. Eventually they added a table and a basket for snacks. Overall, it was a great improvement over what had come before, and nursing women at that location could feel supported and valued. Happy ending!
What does this example have to do with my consulting business? Everything. It doesn’t matter if you are in HR, marketing and communications, facilities or another department. If your organization is going to thrive, innovate and succeed, you need to develop a problem-solving mindset. Whether it’s creating a place for nursing moms, building a better customer experience or developing an innovative program, it starts with the assertion that you will. And that’s where I can help my clients, by bringing that outside perspective and helping them realize what is possible.
If you start from that and work backward, I guarantee that you will be in a better position to achieve your vision. Will there be hurdles? Absolutely. But you will overcome them if you have the right mindset and a strong belief in your vision.