Karin’s Leadership Articles

When you’re running full speed ahead with a great idea, be sure to look back over your shoulder to see who’s with you.

A Great Idea

My staff team had a great idea. They were buzzing with excitement. We needed some fun recognition to inspire call center reps to provide great customer service.

“Let’s give the reps a lanyard like in Disney world. You know the kind where you collect pins. The employees can use the lanyard to carry their ID and access badge, and then they can earn pins each time they do something extraordinary. We can have a contest to design the pins.”

The presenter (a big Disney fan) could hardly contain her excitement about their great idea. After all reps love contests, and this one had bling. What a great way to reinforce our new priorities. We needed to act fast, so lanyards were ordered and pins designed. There were about 9000 folks to buy for. Anything x 9000 is not cheap. But it would be worth it.

The staff team held a conference call to roll out the plan. Boxes of lanyards and pins shipped to call centers across the country. Game on.

Fast forward 3 months later, I’m on a tour of the call centers, not a lanyard in site. “Oh, I think we have them somewhere.” That somewhere was most often in a storage closet underneath the Halloween decorations. What went wrong?

5 Reasons Your Great Idea Isn’t Working

  1. Lack Of Field Testing – “I’m from staff, I’m here to help” is a phrase that makes field leaders cringe. I’m allowed to say that since I’ve spent much time on both sides of that imaginary line. Always get the folks who you’re trying to help to kick the tires early in the game. A small pilot goes a long way. Test the concept, but also the logistics. In this case the lanyards didn’t fit with every centers badge. Programs developed in a vacuum suck the potential out of potentially great ideas.
  2. They’ve Seen This Movie before – Your new idea may feel like old news to veterans in the field. Check for scar tissue and past experiences. Ask what’s worked well (and not so well) with similar programs in the past. Talk about what’s different this time. Whatever you do don’t say: “this is not just another flavor of the month”. If you have to say that, it probably is. Reconsider.
  3. It’s Lost In The Sauce – Know what other priorities and programs are competing for attention. Support programs work best when they’re supportive of the priorities at hand (shocking, I know). If your idea feels like one more thing do on top of an already stressful job, it’s not going to get attention.
  4. Lack Of Leadership Support – If your middle managers and front-line leaders are not passionate about your idea, I’d bet my paycheck it won’t work. A great idea without excellent execution is useless. Be sure the folks you need to make your great idea happen are overwhelmed by the value. It may take a minute to get there go slow to go fast.
  5. Lack Of Clarity – Most plans feel straightforward when you’re sitting around a conference table at headquarters. Remember it’s 100 times noisier where that idea is headed. Be sure everyone knows what you expect them to do and vet all questions. Sure leave room for creativity, but leave nothing to chance. Explain what needs to be done 3 times, 3 different ways, and then check for understanding.

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.


  1. Alli Polin

    I could totally relate to your story! In our case it was buying a large gong to have call center reps “hit with joy” every time they made a placement. It was fun for five minutes and after that it was simply an interruption. We never stopped to ask what would motivate or inspire the team but instead tried to please the people above us who were, um, into gongs. Great question to ask is who you’re really trying to engage… your boss or your team.

    • letsgrowleaders

      Alli, I happen to love gongs… but I can totally relate to your story. I’ve seen my fair share of variations on the gong show in call centers (bells, whistles, shout-outs followed by applause…and other noise making contraptions). Some reps love em, some reps find them a complete distraction. Some reps hate them on behalf of the customers on the other end of the line.

  2. James McKey

    I’ve been on both sides too, and its embarrassing to make the same mistakes you saw others make when you were ‘in the field.’

    I would say that if you aren’t tapped into the key pain points of the agents and don’t understand the priorities of what to fix then any idea can fail no matter how well vetted. If you are attacking what they see as priority #12 and not explaining why you are skipping over 1-11 then everyone will become a saboteur.

    • letsgrowleaders

      James, great add! So important to be really in touch and in tune with the priorities. And yes, it’s most embarrassing when you’re the leader of the whole endeavor. In hind site this mistake (which happened really early in our team’s work) became a “warning word” that we would use to make us pause… if we hadn’t vetted something enough, and were starting to talk ourselves into it, someone would ask…”hmmm and maybe would buy some lanyards to go with that.” We would laugh and go slower.

  3. Jon Mertz


    Great points. We need to really put ourselves in our customer shoes to ensure we are delivering the right shoes! More importantly, we need to frame our idea around our customers and also go ask them without letting our opinions get in the way of really hearing what their feedback is.


    • letsgrowleaders

      Jon, thanks so much. I so agree. True empathy and communication go a long way.

  4. Bill Benoist

    Hi Karin,
    I would add gaining feedback from past ideas.

    For example, our IS team is dispersed across the country, but once a year we come together for a couple of days as a team building event. We’ve learned that by asking for anonymous feedback after the event has passed, it has helped us be more successful with our future events.

    • letsgrowleaders

      Bill, That’s such an important add…. getting feedback as you go along really helps.

  5. Steve Borek

    People are afraid of change. Status quo is their comforting best friend.

    When you recommend an idea, which in their minds might be way out there in woo woo land, naysayers will have lots of excuses of why it won’t work. We’ve tried something like that before, we’ve always done it this way (status quo) so why change, they’re thinking “Will this idea create more work? Less work? Will I have a job if it’s successful? How will this impact my world?”

    Result? A complacent organization. That’s slow death.

    p.s. I’m off to the Carolinas for sand, surf, and golf.

  6. Karin Hurt

    Steve, That’s the other side of this challenge for sure. What if the idea IS good, and folks just can’t get there. A balancing act for sure. Have a great time on vacation.

    • Steve Borek

      Even if the idea is good, I’ll stick with the original reply.

      There’s many answers. I’d give you more Karin but you don’t pay me enough. 😉

  7. Shawn

    One of the things that I have found to be successful with this is to get the support of one of the typical naysayers in your group. If you can get the buy-in from some of your more negative employees or those who lack motivation more so than others it goes a long way. The grassroots approach has worked for me in the past.

    • letsgrowleaders

      Shawn, Terrific add. Bringing folks in one person at a time, either the naysayers or the opinion leaders can work wonders.

  8. David Tumbarello

    I read above that “people are afraid of change”. I don’t believe people are afraid of change. People buy the latest digital phone or device the moment it goes on sale. People wait in line for the latest sneakers or new improved hamburger. I think a better way of saying it is that “people resist change that is being done to them.” I also read above that a spoonful of pilot testing could have helped this initiative. Instead of this, I am more interested in how the lanyard & pins were introduced at Disney. Was it Top-Down? Was it Grass Roots? Was it Pilot Tested? How did it become culture at Disney? I don’t want the answer specifically, but I am interested in the story of change implementation. And how can that story inform us?

    Another way of saying this is that when purchasing 9,000 of anything, there is no going back. There is no way to learn a lesson & move on.

    Ah, that’s ironic. We are learning a lesson about a team that implemented with no room to learn a lesson.

    • letsgrowleaders

      David, Terrific points. I totally agree that “people resist change being done to them.” Looking at best practices is a great start, although every culture is different, so I’m always a bit skeptical of following someone else’s play book to change management.

      Trust me, we still learned. It was an expensive mistake, but it was made early in the game. Our subsequent approach to change was much better (and successful). Even expensive mistakes can teach us. But you’re right, not without cost.

      Yeah, I love the irony in your comment too 😉

      Thanks as always

  9. bill holston

    I have lots of occasion to learn, ‘not everybody is like me..” The things I enjoy and appreciate are not UNIVERSAL. I need to ask for input especially for appreciation.

    To use a marriage analogy, buying lingerie for my wife is probably going to be much less appreciated than vacuuming the den…..Come to think of it, I should probably do that now.


    • letsgrowleaders

      Bill, vacuuming is always a good choice 😉 Your points are spot on.

  10. LaRae Quy

    I’ve also found that projects need visionaries, leaders who can see the big picture. But often, visionaries are the not ones to communicate their idea or motivate the team…interesting phenomena.

    Different skill sets are needed to set a project in motion. Always a great reminder that it does take a village…

    Great post, Karin.

    • letsgrowleaders

      So true… we do need visionaries…how are willing to change the game… and others to carry through.

  11. Ali Anani (@alianani15)

    Karin- silence is the best comment following all above absorbing comments and responses.

    • letsgrowleaders

      Ali, I’m with you. Fantastic comments today. I LOVE IT!

  12. Terri Klass

    This recently happened to me when I launched a follow-up program for a training workshop I did. HR decided I should meet individually with all the participants and interview them on how they were doing with the concepts they learned. The problem was that the department managers weren’t supportive of releasing their team members and HR did a lousy sales pitch on explaining why the follow-up sessions were important. So poor turnout and little feedback.

    Great ideas only gain momentum when there is support and buy-in.

    Thanks for a great post, Karin!

    • letsgrowleaders

      Terri, Thanks for sharing your story. Another great example.

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