Idea theft. It can be the most rampant form of theft that occurs daily in workplaces. Yet many victims suffer in silence. When you’re the victim of having an idea stolen, you very likely fume with hidden anger. “What can I do to stop this?” you ask yourself. “It’s not fair. Someone else is taking credit for my ideas!”
Well, firstly, you’re not alone. A 2009 survey of 367 Canadians by Office Team found that 58 per cent of employees say a co-worker has taken credit for one of their ideas. Forty-one per cent of those who had an idea stolen did not respond to the theft. However, 27 per cent did make it known that it was originally their idea.
Why is idea theft so rampant these days? It has a lot to do with a workforce that’s nervous and fighting to stay ahead at the same time. That’s what happens when an economy hits tought times, jobs are lost, and employees are under more and more scrutiny through increasingly regular performance appraisals. This all drives the urgency to achieve internal promotions, win greater job security, bigger status and salary.
So, what can you do to prevent idea theft in the workplace? Here are some tips for dealing with managers and co-workers:
Talk about your idea in the open: Most people who fall victim to idea theft do so because they keep their ideas too closely guarded. If you have an idea, start talking about it with co-workers. This approach flips the traditional method of idea-pitching upside down, as opposed to taking an idea straight to a manager. It can be effective if you suspect a manager may be secretly pitching your ideas as his/her own in closed-door management meetings. Co-workers will always know where the idea came from. And that kind of knowledge eventually trickles upwards.
Use email: Got a great idea? Do you have a good rapport with other managers or key personnel, including regular email contact? It can never hurt, in a casual email, to add a…. “by the way, I had this idea that I mentioned to ______. I’d welcome your thoughts too…” You have now planted your idea with another influential staffer. By doing so, you’ve created a key defence strategy in case your idea is pitched by someone else in a management meeting.
Talk to the person you think has taken credit for your idea: This step always requires tact. Accusing someone of theft in any workplace can be risky. Remember, it’s possible that there was miscommunication. It’s possible the person may have changed the idea and then pitched it (giving you some credit, would still be appreciated). Avoid pointing a finger. If it’s a boss, you certainly must beware pointing a finger. Be extra careful with your use of the word ‘you’. Don’t use it in reference to the other person. Keep the focus on you and your idea. Your main purpose is to get a sense of how the other person reacts to the discussion. Based on the reaction, you’ll know if you have to consider resorting to new approaches (see tips above) when talking about ideas.
Help establish an environment where people talk about co-workers’ ideas: This is one of the best ways to defeat an environment where idea theft is common. When it’s done effectively, idea thieves know they stand less chance getting away with something. Got a great idea? Start sharing it with co-workers. Does a co-worker have a great idea? Start telling others about your co-worker’s idea. By doing so you’ll encourage a workplace where credit is given where credit is due.
Everyone likes to get credit in their workplace. Just beware: pick your battles wisely. Lashing out can do your career more harm than good. Remember, communication is still often about strategy. If you are being victimized by idea theft, change your strategy. A good idea doesn’t always need to be kept secret. Great ideas can get people talking, if enough people know. And that includes talking about how great YOUR ideas are.