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4 Ways to Justify a Good Idea

Sometimes, just being the boss isn't enough.
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As a pragmatic leader you have to justify your agenda if you want others in your business or to take action.

It is not enough to simply say, “This is a good idea. Let’s start right away.” You have persuade those around you that there is a need for timely, immediate action. While personal credibility and legitimacy are crucial to pushing a new agenda-;you must also be able to justify your new agenda with compelling reasons.

In trying to enlist people to join you in your effort, you should consider the four scenarios that you can use in making your case.

1. Rational Scenario: Look at the Numbers 

By using a rational scenario, you present a by-the-numbers case for change. You show your business or team all of your careful analysis, detailed cost-benefit projections, and examinations of all the alternative options. You prove, to the degree that you can, that your idea is a sure-fire, clear-cut winner.

By asking people to look at the numbers, you’re asking them to take voluntary action based on sound data and logical projection. It is a great way to take raw emotion out of the debate and bring it around to the calculated benefits of your new idea.

Weakness: Some will argue with your calculations and challenge your assumptions, no matter how accurate or well-grounded they are. These objections can cause delay by subjecting your team to endless circular arguments about numbers, figures, and projections.

Relying on the rational scenario is difficult, especially when - as it does now - the economy seems uncertain. It will always be a challenge to have a “perfect” solution when we live in a world of bounded rationality, with incomplete information and data. While the rational scenario, in some ways, seems to the easiest to implement, it can be extremely time consuming.

2. Mimicking Scenario: Everyone is Doing It

Making the case that “Everyone is doing it” may seem simplistic, but it is often a very sensible justification when you don’t have the time or resources to experiment with an array of alternatives. 

The mimicking scenario is great because it shows that your proposal isn’t that risky: “This has been done before and it worked. Why can’t we do the same thing?”

The fancy term for this, which you’ll hear in board rooms and meetings, is “best practices.” 

Weakness: The mimicking scenario is very easily attacked by critics and skeptics. They can claim your idea is uninspired or, worse, claim that it won’t set well within your specific team or organization. Just because someone else has done it doesn’t mean you can match their results.

3. Regulation Scenario: They Made Us Do It 

Laws or regulatory changes occasionally require an organization to change its processes and/or the way it operates. You can use these changes to justify your change agenda.

With a regulation scenario, there is a strong third-party mandate for change. It is not difficult for you to obtain information about rules and regulations particular to an industry to determine whether the regulations actually require changing operations. Though not always quantifiable, regulations are nearly always accompanied by a body of written documentation that can be easily accessed and cited when necessary.

Weakness: Acquiescence to regulation and pressure does not automatically translate to increased organizational effectiveness. Many industries may see regulatory changes once every decade, while changes in their business take place annually or every couple of years.

4. Standards Scenario: People Expect it of us

While regulations provide an explicit measure to justify change, standards expectations provide implicit reasons for change. When you use the standards scenario to justify your agenda, you are not proposing that the organization has to do something as much as you are suggesting that if the organization doesn’t do something, it will be at a disadvantage. Or, that if the organization does act, good things are likely to happen as a result.

While you may recognize that in the short term, this may not be beneficial to the bottom line, you believe that taking action that meets community expectations will have long-term benefits, such as customer loyalty, community trust, etc.

Weakness: This justification can  attract critics who claim the short-term costs are too high and the change is basically unnecessary.

No argument is perfect. But these are the four basic, tried-and-true scenarios that will help you make the best case for your plans.

IMAGE: Shutterstock
Last updated: Sep 26, 2013

SAMUEL B. BACHARACH | Columnist | Director, Cornell's Institute of Workplace Studies

Samuel B. Bacharach is the McKelvey-Grant professor in the department of organizational behavior at Cornell University's ILR School, and is director of Cornell's Institute for Workplace Studies in New York City. Among his books are Get Them on Your Side and Keep Them on Your Side. His latest volume, A Good Idea Is Not Enough: Leading for Change and Innovation, will be published this November by BLG.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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