How To Get The Green Light For Your Big Idea

Saying yes to innovation is a step into the unknown. Ease your fears with these tips when you’re trying to sell your big idea.

How To Get The Green Light For Your Big Idea
[Image: Flickr user William Warby]

If you want to rocket to the top, then it helps to have a big idea–something that visibly changes your company for the better. But large companies can move slowly. They have good reasons for being risk averse. How do you convince the higher-ups to give your idea a shot?


Be Excited

Robin Jenkins, regional marketing manager at RMH, a large Applebee’s franchisee with more than 100 restaurants, spearheaded the launch of a new employee rewards and recognition game called Bee Block. Servers get points for suggesting desserts or appetizers to guests, and engage in friendly competition with each other. She was intrigued by gamification, and thought RMH’s young employees would be, too.

“It’s going to take a lot of work to get a new idea going, so you better like what you’re trying to do or otherwise it won’t go anywhere,” she says.

Get Visible

If you need approval from decision makers, then you need to get in front of these decision makers. Some companies have good mechanisms for this.

Pamela Radford, senior director for global engagement marketing at Electronic Arts, got the green light to create FIFA Fan Rewards–a gamified customer loyalty and marketing program tied to their soccer products as a result of winning an internal marketing competition. But if your company doesn’t, then you’ll need to start networking. It’s nice if the big ask isn’t the first time you’ve said hello.

Look For Open Ocean

Executives at RMH knew they needed something better to motivate employees. Jenkins says that turnover was running 135% per year, which is much higher than average in the restaurant industry.

“We were replacing our previous reward and recognition program,” Jenkins says, so RMH didn’t have a lot to lose by implementing Bee Block. New ideas are often welcome when the old ideas are obviously broken.


Show a Path to Success

In most cases, success means your idea makes or saves your company money. Jenkins wanted to lower RMH’s turnover, and suspected that the lure of a game is that employees “start to build their reputation.” And that a reputation doesn’t follow an employee if they decide to decamp for another restaurant.

Likewise, millennials always want to know “how am I doing?” and the constant feedback of a game answers that question. “We didn’t have to move the needle too much to make it worth it,” she says. If check averages rose too, thanks to extra desserts, then that would be an easy win as well, she adds.

Have the Answers

Or at least as many as possible. EA’s Radford says: “It wouldn’t be enough in many organizations to say ‘I have this idea, give me some money to figure out how to make it happen.” You need to do this ahead of time, she explains, cobbling together help from other people who are excited, and working at night if necessary. If you don’t know an answer, make it clear that you know who you need to talk to. Especially if what you’re proposing is quite different, you need to help people feel comfortable.

“The hard part is that no one had done this in the restaurant field,” says Jenkins. “I couldn’t show them what it would look like.” But she could make brochures about how other companies had gamified programs and let people make the leap from there.

Get a Champion

Even if you get the yes, implementation is never easy. You may be asking lots of people to change things, and it’s always easier not to.

FIFA is a huge property for EA, so having high-placed sponsors within the FIFA brand helped Radford go from winning the marketing competition to having FIFA Fan Rewards actually exist. “[That] really opened the doors I needed to have opened,” she says.

About the author

Laura Vanderkam is the author of several time management and productivity books, including I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time (Portfolio, June 9, 2015), What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast (Portfolio, 2013), and 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think (Portfolio, 2010). She blogs at