Buy-In is Overrated

A big mistake leaders make when implementing change is spending too much time trying to get buy-in.This well intentioned approach not only delays getting to the change that matters but creates severe unintended consequences. What Happens Some of the people will buy-in today. Take their buy-in and enjoy it. This is proof that someone will try what you are asking and that this group will likely provide initial examples of it working.  This is the group that will be able to share success stories. Ask them to do so early and often. Some of the people, and it’s usually a small percentage, will never buy-in.You can listen with empathy to all of their reasons for why the new change effort won't work.

The empathy is fine but the constant talk about things beyond your control is not helpful. Beware. You won’t get that time back. Some of the people won’t buy-in today, but will when they see the new change working. Spend your extra time and effort here. Encourage this group to try the new change, help them see it work, and help them make small changes to what they are trying so that they can see it work sooner rather than later.  This is the group that has some of the biggest supporters of the new change later. They initially were skeptical (Shouldn’t they be, based on their history with change?) but saw it work and then found real reasons to change their view. The groups that buy-in today and might buy-in later if they see it working are by far the two largest groups, likely accounting for 80-90% of employees. If we design an approach to deal with those who will never buy-in, we’ll end up wasting our time and stalling the change.

If we push for verbal buy-in, we’ll probably get it.  But is that what you really want: People telling you that they buy-in, but then talking about how it won’t work when leaders aren’t listening?  In this scenario, we create public verbal buy-in but we are unlikely to get full commitment when we aren’t looking. Do you want change or people just telling you what you want to hear? We want people giving the new change an honest attempt AND we want their ongoing honest feedback on what worked and what didn’t. 5 Tips for Earning Buy-in

  • Ask people to try it. We can debate the merits about whether or not something works or we can try it and then talk about it. I remember talking to someone for 30 minutes hearing him tell me that he didn’t have time to have a 3 minute meeting with one of his employees. After 30 minutes, I pointed out that we had been talking (or he had been, I was listening to all of his many reasons about how busy he was) for 30 minutes. Why not try the 3 minute meeting now? He did and then we talked. We had a lot more experience with it after he tried it rather than beforehand. We simply reviewed what worked (plenty did), what didn’t work (some things didn’t), and what to change so that it worked better the next time.  He then agreed to keep trying it and tweaking it over time.
  • Help them to see it working. A simple way to do this is to ask people ahead of time to describe what “it works today” looks like. If we are talking about a long-term change, that outcome won’t happen on day one. Help the performer describe what good would look like today that would indicate a good positive step forward.  So often, the “see it working” part is hiding in plain sight.
  • After they are trying it, help them shift to trying to make it work. This includes asking them to describe what they did and making one or two suggestions to tweak what they did so that it works better the next time.
  • Highlight the good examples.  These good examples emerge from people who are giving it an honest try. Identify what they tried and what they did to make it work.
  • Don’t take the bait. Those intending to stall the new change are a constant threat. Listen to concerns as they arise. Be careful though not to inadvertently reinforce complaining and long discussions of things that are uncontrollable.

Read more at Coaching for Rapid Change