#283 from Innovative Leader Volume 6, Number 6          June 1997

FORUM—from our readers

Innovate for Attention 

When we were children, we usually spent a good bit of energy trying to get the attention of our superiors, our parents.  This need for attention, it seems, carries forward to our professional activities.

I direct a corporate department and I, and my staff, had been jealous of all the attention the executives were giving to some of the other departments.  These executives bypassed our offices to spend many hours a week chatting informally with the other groups.  This certainly hurt our morale as we play a key role in keeping the company afloat.  It’s amazing that, as adults, we still need that attention.

Now, I should explain that my department’s responsibilities are more “housekeeping” than “innovative,” and so it made sense why we were overlooked.  Still, it was annoying.  There didn’t seem to be anything we could do about it.  Our responsibilities were always achieved on time and with no special problems. 

I would have been laughed at if I would have asked the executives to visit us more frequently.  They obviously visit whom they wish; in this case, the people who have the greatest potential to make big impacts on the future of our company.  Business development and marketing were getting most of the attention.  And well they should as their activities will have more long-range impact than what my department could achieve.

I, and my managers, had spoken about this frustration informally on a couple of occasions.  Finally, I decided to meet with all my department managers, and have an open discussion on how to handle this frustration.  One manager said, “Why don’t we do something special to attract attention.”  After a bit of humor (e.g. dyeing our hair yellow a la Rodman), we came up with several ideas by which we might be able to improve the functioning of the company.  One idea would free up significant space, space that was sorely needed by other activities.  Another idea would cut 30% off the cost of order fulfillment.  What’s more, these ideas seemed to be easy to implement.

I summarized our new innovations in a tidy report which I sent to my boss.  Finally, we were noticed!  The executives now spend some time with us when they go on their weekly company “tour.” And we enjoy the attention.  What we also enjoy now is the opportunity to meet and discover other “special” things we can do for the company.  In fact, through the informal visits, they explain some of the company’s problems, problems that we hadn’t previously known about (or, if we did, we didn’t think much about).  We usually have an idea or two to help solve those problems.

My lesson, therefore, is to not waste time and energy complaining about insufficient attention; rather, do something special and deserve that attention.  It wasn’t that difficult for us to find something special to do, and I’d bet that you could easily find something special to do as well. 


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