Classic: Behaviors Managers Hate, Suggesters

I had some difficulty coming up with a label that adequately describes this hated employee behavior – no pithy title seems to get right to the heart of what a “Suggester” does.

After all, being a "Suggester" doesn't sound undesirable.  Without new ideas, recommendations, and fresh ways of looking at challenges, won't businesses stagnate and ultimately fail?  The answer to that question is:  Absolutely.

The problem with the “Suggester,” is that all she typically offers are ideas.  The “Suggester” invariably stops at that point, leaving the remaining 99% of the work of implementation to someone else – normally management.  The “Suggester” doesn’t normally rest with this, however, instead she goes on to blame management when her idea (which is often unworkable, impractical, or downright dumb) isn’t immediately implemented, and/or doesn’t transform the business.

“Suggesters” used to drive me crazy.  Why would it seem reasonable to these folks that the relatively small percent of the organization's management employees should be expected to do all the heavy lifting when it comes to implementing new ideas?  “Suggesters” always seem to know what is wrong and how to fix it, but they rarely get off their posteriors to actually help make changes happen.

It’s the corporate version of armchair quarterbacking.

An example

I recall one “Suggester” that visited me while I was a division President in order to describe how we could restructure our overtime award system to make it more “fair” (For my observations on fairness in the workplace, see the first post in this series: Classic:  Behaviors Managers Hate, Fairness).

It never ceased to amaze me how often the “Suggester’s” ideas also personally benefitted him, and this incident was no exception.

I listened patiently to the idea, an overly complicated method of tracking offers for overtime that would have quadrupled the supervisor’s work when trying to organizing after hours work.  As a bonus, it would have effectively precluded overtime on short notice.  After pointing out some of these problems but still finding the “Suggester” undeterred, I did what I often resorted to in the latter years of my corporate career – I sent the “Suggester” off to actually try to implement the idea.

“If you can convince your supervisor to give this a try, I’m game.  To do that you’ll have to figure out how to handle the record keeping and how to deal with any complaints from your peers.  But if you can’t figure that out, I’m sure your supervisor won’t want to test the concept.”

I was hoping to give the “Suggester” an appreciation of the difficulties in actually putting his overly complex proposal into practice.  Probably all I succeeded in doing was convincing the “Suggester” that I was just another one of those “idiot” managers that couldn’t see the “truth.”

Needless to say, the idea (which I would classify as “impractical” rather than outright “dumb”) never got off the ground.

Over the years I’ve found that most of the “Suggester’s” ideas have already been conceived, discussed, and discarded – usually with good reason.  In cases when the idea isn’t downright “dumb,” it has probably been debated, prioritized, and put on a back burner because there were no resources available to pursue it.  If you find yourself tempted to say something like:  "Can't management see that this needs to be done?"  you can bet they are already well aware of the issue.  Management usually knows what needs to happen, they simply can’t scrape together the horsepower to do it now.  Managers are invariably forced to prioritize, a fact that a high percentage of non-managers can’t seem to grasp.

Which brings me to this point – What managers generally need is more help on implementation, not more ideas.

“Suggesters” -- at least the type that ONLY propose the ideas -- are a dime a dozen.  Give me an employee that can conceive of an improvement to the business, AND do the work to make it a reality.  That’s someone worth their weight in paper paystubs.

Someone that can make the new idea happen is worth ten times the value of the idea generator – at least that's the way I see it, and I suspect most other managers would have a similar take.

There is one subset of the "Suggester" category that deserves special comment:  I'll call them "Bad Idea People".  They're the employees that suggest strange, inappropriate, or completely off-target ideas, and then get angry when nobody jumps up and down in excitement.  Being a "Bad Idea Person" requires an especially vast capacity for ignorance or self-deception.  As one of my business mentors was fond of saying:  “You can't fix stupid.”

In my experience, "Bad Idea People" will never recognize themselves -- it becomes the manager's job to discover and classify this especially annoying employee behavior.  I don't have an easy way to deal with this type of person, other than sending them on their way to find employment elsewhere.  Experience tells me that their managers will never satisfy them, and they will become progressively more disengaged until they are bringing down the whole team.  Maybe others have had successes rehabilitating "bad idea people."  If so, I would love to hear about it.

Summary

Work is all about getting things done, and ninety-nine plus percent of the job is implementation.  As an employee, you should focus on being both the implementer AND the idea person – and if you can only be one, focus on being an implementer.  Doing just this will make you stand out in your organization as a contributor.

As a manager, you have to decide how best to handle the myriad of suggestions that will come your way.  Wherever possible, I suggest you send the “Suggester” off to work on implementation of their own ideas.  Perhaps you might successfully turn the odd “Suggester” into something more in the process.

I was hoping to give the “Suggester” an appreciation of the difficulties in actually putting his overly complex proposal into practice.  Probably all I succeeded in doing was convincing the “Suggester” that I was just another one of those “idiot” managers that couldn’t see the “truth.”

Needless to say, the idea (which I would classify as “impractical” rather than outright “dumb”) never got off the ground.

Over the years I’ve found that most of the “Suggester’s” ideas have already been conceived, discussed, and discarded – usually with good reason.  In cases when the idea isn’t downright “dumb,” it has probably been debated, prioritized, and put on a back burner because there were no resources available to pursue it.  If you find yourself tempted to say something like:  "Can't management see that this needs to be done?"  you can bet they are already well aware of the issue.  Management usually knows what needs to happen, they simply can’t scrape together the horsepower to do it now.  Managers are invariably forced to prioritize, a fact that a high percentage of non-managers can’t seem to grasp.

Which brings me to this point – What managers generally need is more help on implementation, not more ideas.

“Suggesters” -- at least the type that ONLY propose the ideas -- are a dime a dozen.  Give me an employee that can conceive of an improvement to the business, AND do the work to make it a reality.  That’s someone worth their weight in paper paystubs.

Someone that can make the new idea happen is worth ten times the value of the idea generator – at least that's the way I see it, and I suspect most other managers would have a similar take.

There is one subset of the "Suggester" category that deserves special comment:  I'll call them "Bad Idea People".  They're the employees that suggest strange, inappropriate, or completely off-target ideas, and then get angry when nobody jumps up and down in excitement.  Being a "Bad Idea Person" requires an especially vast capacity for ignorance or self-deception.  As one of my business mentors was fond of saying:  “You can't fix stupid.”

 This is the cover of LEVERAGE, the Prequel to PURSUING OTHER OPPORTUNITIES.  Click image for more details.

This is the cover of LEVERAGE, the Prequel to PURSUING OTHER OPPORTUNITIES.  Click image for more details.

In my experience, "Bad Idea People" will never recognize themselves -- it becomes the manager's job to discover and classify this especially annoying employee behavior.  I don't have an easy way to deal with this type of person, other than sending them on their way to find employment elsewhere.  Experience tells me that their managers will never satisfy them, and they will become progressively more disengaged until they are bringing down the whole team.  Maybe others have had successes rehabilitating "bad idea people."  If so, I would love to hear about it.

Summary

Work is all about getting things done, and ninety-nine plus percent of the job is implementation.  As an employee, you should focus on being both the implementer AND the idea person – and if you can only be one, focus on being an implementer.  Doing just this will make you stand out in your organization as a contributor.

As a manager, you have to decide how best to handle the myriad of suggestions that will come your way.  Wherever possible, I suggest you send the “Suggester” off to work on implementation of their own ideas.  Perhaps you might successfully turn the odd “Suggester” into something more in the process.

Posts in the “Behaviors Managers Hate” Series (Chronological Order)

Classic:  Behaviors Managers Hate, Overview

Classic:  Behaviors Managers Hate, Fairness

Classic:  Behaviors Managers Hate, Blinders

Classic:  Behaviors Managers Hate, Entitled

Classic:  Behaviors Managers Hate, Performance Cluelessness

Classic:  Behaviors Managers Hate, Business Cluelessness

Classic:  Behaviors Managers Hate, Blaming

Classic:  Behaviors Managers Hate, Hiding

Posts in the “Extreme Leadership” Series (Chronological order):

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Novels:  LEVERAGE, INCENTIVIZE, DELIVERABLES, HEIR APPARENT, PURSUING OTHER OPPORTUNITIES, and EMPOWERED.

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This is the cover of  PURSUING OTHER OPPORTUNITIES, released in April, 2014.  This story marks the return of LEVERAGE characters Mark Carson and Cathy Chin, now going by the name of Matt and Sandy Lively and on the run from the FBI.  The pair are working for a remote British Columbia lodge specializing in Corporate adventure/retreats for senior executives.  When the Redhouse Consulting retreat goes horribly wrong, Matt finds himself pursuing kidnappers through the wilderness, while Sandy simultaneously tries to fend off an inquisitive police detective and an aggressive lodge owner.

My novels are based on extensions of 27 years of personal experience as a senior manager in public corporations.