Opinion - CNBC Work

For workers who want a promotion, don't lead with a demand or even a request. Lead with this instead

Tom Gimbel, founder and CEO of LaSalle Network
Key Points
  • A new survey from YPO finds that across the globe, companies want employees to offer innovative ideas.
  • Thinking like an innovator may be the best path to getting ahead in the current job market.
  • There are two questions that any innovative idea must be able to answer before being presented to management.
Jacobs Stock Photography | Getty Images

If you work in an industry or at an organization for long enough, you begin to notice opportunities for improvement. The average employee sits on those ideas or only vocalizes them to their peers. They don't realize the impact their idea could have on their team or the greater organization.

If you truly want to grow, make more money or have more responsibility, don't be hesitant to speak up! Leaders may not want to hear the complaints of an office malcontent and may fidget when dealing with straight-up demands for a raise, but they want to hear from you when it comes to innovation. Why? They want to continue to grow their companies.

Employees rank as the No. 2 source of innovation inspiration for companies, second only to customers, according to a new YPO survey of more than 1,600 YPO member respondents from 105 countries. U.S. business leaders, in particular, cite employees as one of their top sources of inspiration (39%). Consultants (10%) and think tanks (7%) lag far behind in the minds of the executives actually running businesses.

Leaders know well enough that the best ideas often come from those at the ground level, doing the work. They can more easily identify processes that are broken and efficiencies for doing things better. Additionally, because they might be talking to customers or working with the products, they could have some great new ideas that would be a game changer for the organization.

Some companies have even implemented Innovation Days, where they break their employees into teams that are tasked with spending 24 hours creating a new product or improving existing products. This is done a lot in the tech space, and technical talent is paired with non-technical talent. The meeting of the minds has yielded some great ideas for companies large and small.

Of course, many employees may find that a direct supervisor is resistant to change. Don't let that be the end of your effort to become a source of innovation. In this labor market, if you truly want to get and stay ahead at work, lean in to innovation. Find out what the avenues are for innovation at your workplace. Ask how new ideas are brought to the table, and who new ideas are run up the flagpole to.

David C. Novak, co-founder and former CEO of Yum! Brands reacts during an interview after the opening of a company KFC restaurant in Calangute, Goa, India in 2013. While at PepsiCo, he spearheaded an innovative idea that flopped, but he did not let it dictate his future risk-taking path.
Diriaj Singh | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you seek opportunities to be seen as a source of innovation:

Your 'day job' still needs to get done. New ideas aren't received quite as positively from someone who isn't doing their "normal" job responsibilities. Managers don't appreciate the employee who has lots of new ideas but can't execute their current role. Don't be that employee. Make sure your performance is up to par, and take notes about anything you see that you think could be done differently or better. When you feel you have the respect of your manager and you've met expectations for your performance, then it's time to share.

Ideas don't need to be fully formed. Rome wasn't built in a day, and great ideas aren't formed overnight — they take time, insight from multiple parties and the right person/people to execute them. If you see an opportunity to do something differently or better, think through the possible obstacles or objections to doing it that way before you approach your boss. But don't feel like you need to have the idea fully baked to discuss with a superior.

New ideas boil down to two things. Typically, leadership has a few main goals for the year. Two almost always revolve around saving money or driving revenue. Keep that in mind when you bring new ideas to the table. Ask yourself, "How would this drive revenue?" or "How will this cut costs?" If you can't answer one of those two questions, it may not be a great idea … yet. Oftentimes, it just takes a moment to reframe the idea with the end goal in mind to come up with something even more impactful.

Realize not all leaders want to innovate. Some managers are old school. They like the way things have always been done and are reluctant to change. You know if you report to someone like this, and if you do, you will need to find another avenue to vocalize ideas to someone who is more receptive. It's not about going behind your manager's back — it's about finding another advocate at the company who will value your perspective and ideas. Oftentimes, it ends up making your current supervisor look good because someone on their team brought new ideas to the table that drove revenue or resulted in cost savings.

So find the ear of someone who is open. And if you find that your organization as a whole is resistant to new ideas, you might want to find a new job, because your company may soon be out of business.

If at first you fail, definitely try again. David Novak, co-founder and former CEO of Yum! Brands, spoke at a conference I was at recently and mentioned an innovation flop he had after he became chief operating officer of Pepsico in 1992. At the time, there was a rise in the buzzwords of "pure" and "clear" for all types of products. He saw an opportunity to lead Pepsi into this market and introduced Crystal Pepsi, a colorless soda. Fast forward, and once the product was ready, it didn't taste much like the Pepsi many consumers know and love.

Novak went to market anyway. He felt the product would take off and customers would love it. You probably know how this story ends — Pepsi doesn't have any colorless colas in the market. He pushed hard to execute an innovative idea and it flopped for a number of reasons. His mistake cost the company a lot of money, and he had to answer for it. Yet today, he has continued to climb the ladder and is the CEO of Yum Brands. He didn't let that setback derail his career. He continued to voice new ideas. He continued to raise his hand for new projects. And most of all, he learned from his mistakes and factored them into the new ideas he was bringing to the table.

For job seekers going out on interviews

For many companies, the key to having innovative employees is identifying talent early on who tend to be more creative and innovative. Many organizations have a method to how they do this, which starts in the interview process. So, if you are a candidate going through the interview process, here is what you should expect:

Expect behavioral interviews. One of the best indicators of future performance is past performance, so expect questions about when you were forced to think on your feet, when you brought new ideas to the table or were responsible for improving processes. Practice your response to this question, and ensure you have details.

How did the situation arise? Who did you approach with your idea? Were you responsible for just the generation of the idea, or the execution of it as well? What were the results of the implementation of your idea?

Prepare to discuss your innovation flops. Employers want to see how you handle a setback. So another question to expect is, "Tell me about a time when an idea you had wasn't accepted?"

The most innovative people get turned down all the time. High-growth companies like Apple, Facebook and Uber are constantly vetting new ideas, most of which don't make it past the ideation phase. But innovative employees know how to handle rejection. They don't let it stop them. They either figure out how to overcome the objections or go back to the drawing board and come up with another fresh idea.

Hiring managers may also ask you about a time you took a risk and it didn't pay off. Throughout your career, you are going to take gambles and bet that something is going to work, and it won't. It's inevitable. Just like the CEO of Yum! Brands, we can't all bat .400 all the time. So how did you respond? Did you stop innovating and stop bringing new ideas to the table? The hiring manager wants to see how resilient you are.

By Tom Gimbel, founder and CEO of LaSalle Network, a Chicago-based staffing, recruiting and human resources firm and a member of the CNBC-YPO Chief Executive Network.

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About YPO

CNBC and YPO have formed an exclusive editorial partnership consisting of regional "Chief Executive Networks" in the Americas, EMEA and Asia-Pacific. These Chief Executive Networks are made up of a sample of YPO's global network of 26,000 top executives from 130 countries who are on the front lines of the economy and run companies that collectively generate $9 trillion in annual revenue.