Ames EDC

Creating an Innovative Environment- Dare to Dream. Dare to Act

Posted on 10/09/2019 at 09:00 AM by Guest Writer Guest Writer

Written By: Terry Rich, Retired 25-year President and CEO, Speaker at 2019 Leadership Series Capstone Event


When I took over as CEO of the Iowa Lottery, my charge from the Governor was to improve the lottery’s image and grow existing lines of business. I hoped that my reputation at the zoo would allow me to befriend both sides of the political aisle.

Once again I had a lot to learn...but in a sense, I had a blank chalkboard on which to write the next chapter of the Iowa Lottery. Having come from a world in which innovation and trial and error were encouraged, I instinctively explored new approaches to tried-and-true practices, policies, and game styles at the lottery. Wonder what this game would look like in red? Can we give away an elephant? What about offering discounts at retail stores to customers who purchase a Powerball ticket?

All fun ideas to contemplate.

What I didn’t realize was the stress I was creating for employees. Too often, staff left a meeting thinking all my ideas had to be executed—and to be done immediately. After a few months, the management staff demanded a “come-to-Jesus” meeting.

“All I wanted,” I explained sheepishly, “was to pitch out ideas to consider. You can throw them out if they have no value to you.”

It took a while for the management team to believe that I didn’t expect every idea to be viewed as an order. Once they did, however, the group devised a way to manage the flow of ideas.

It was brilliant!

Henceforth, the subject line in memos and e-mails would define the desired response in one of three ways:

Action Required (roughly 5 percent of our e-mails): You’re expected to follow up on the idea. Enough said.

FYI (used 45 percent of the time): Read and be aware of this for future discussions, but you don’t have to do anything immediately.

C.O.T. (50 percent of our communication): “Consider or Throw Away.” The feeling of the sender should be “Hey, I just wanted to get this idea off my chest before I forget it.” The rules were simple: No response is expected. Heck, if you’re busy, just hit delete.
If you have an idea and want to send it to me, go for it... but don’t expect a response.

There it was! C.O.T.—the newest innovative idea created by need in my sixty-year existence. Almost immediately, staff stress was reduced.

An unexpected fringe benefit of the C.O.T. solution was that it provided a “safe harbor” under Iowa’s “Sunshine Laws” that allow anyone to file a Freedom of Information request. Since all work e-mails are considered public documents, the law discourages simple and direct e-mail communication by state employees.

By identifying e-mails as C.O.T.s, we reduced the odds of a news report that, for example, “the lottery plans to launch a new marijuana ticket.” Of course, a reporter might write the story and check the facts later. But there’s no doubt that C.O.T. improved the staff’s communication—and out-of-the-box thinking.

Once we opened up the ideas tunnel for all to enjoy, we increased yearly profits for Iowa by over 50 percent ($35 million) over my tenure.

What’s your idea to consider or toss?

Categories: Growing Business

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