Get The Buy-In You Need
In organizations, there’s an ever-present conversation about gaining buy-in. Most of the work in companies is done through influence rather than hierarchy due to corporate team-based structures, requiring professionals to have considerable skill at getting support for their ideas. After all, you can have a revolutionary idea for your company but without buy-in for it, nothing will happen.
In his book Buy-In, Harvard Professor John Kotter explains the importance of gaining others’ support in order to create real institutional change: “Buy-in is critical to making any large organizational change happen. Unless you win support for your ideas, from people at all levels of your organization, big ideas never seem to take hold or have the impact you want. Our research has shown that 70% of all organizational change efforts fail, and one reason for this is executives simply don’t get enough buy-in, from enough people, for their initiatives and ideas.”
As any leader can attest, getting true buy-in isn’t easy. One significant factor is that the process we use to secure buy-in is inherently flawed. In fact, we don’t approach it as buying at all – but about selling in. I call it “describe and defend.” We develop an idea, sell it to ourselves first, and then go about selling it to others. We consider every objection and develop an air-tight defense for each one. The problem is that we need others to be open to our influence. When they feel sold to, they are more likely to resist or ignore our entreaties. We may get compliance but we won’t get the kind of buy-in that motivates others to deeply support our ideas.
Real buy-in involves at least some element of co-creation. It invites discussion, debate, and allows everyone to feel even more vested in the outcome.
To lend a structure to buy-in, I developed a model called Dial-In™. It involves having a crisp idea but holding it in draft form. Then before it’s confirmed in our minds, taking it out to others to invite discussion, acknowledge ideas, and leverage those ideas back into the whole.
This doesn’t mean that every opinion about our idea is accepted. We let others know that their views are helpful for us to finalize our idea, and we’re looking at varying viewpoints. Most people understand that they are part of a larger process, if explained up front.
Here’s a walk through how to get true buy-in, using the Dial-In™ model, and blending in advice from Kotter and other experts.
Formulate a coherent idea or vision – but keep it in draft form.
The first step is to lay out your idea as clearly as possible. Start by presenting the problem. As Kotter states, “People aren’t going to consider anything until they are convinced there is a problem that truly needs to be addressed.” Once you’ve presented the issue, then use concrete examples to demonstrate how you came to your solution. Lay out your reasoning for others to see and provide both hard data and resonant examples that support how you reached your conclusion.
It’s also important that you convey your concerns. Express where you think this idea may be risky or need some improvement, which will function as a lead-in for others to provide their input (thereby feeling welcomed into the conversation).
Expose the idea to outside criticism – and acknowledge it.
Kotter calls this step of the process, “inviting in the lions.” “Conflict engages,” he says. “If people have no opinions, no objections and no emotions, it usually means they don’t care. And you’ll be hard-pressed getting their help when you have to actually implement your idea. But conflict shakes people up and gets them to pay attention in a novel way. This gives you the opportunity to say why your idea really is valuable and explain it in a way that wins over hearts and minds – securing their commitment to implementing the solution.”
A crucial part of this stage involves productive advocacy. The implicit message of this type of advocacy is this: “I see the situation from a limited perspective…I don’t think this is the only possible way of making sense of what is happening. So I want to share my observations, thoughts and interests with you, and get your reactions to them. Together we can create a more effective outcome than I would on my own.” You need to take a genuine interest in others’ opinions and not come to the table needing to have the right answer or being overly invested in a particular outcome.
I like the questions: “What am I missing?” and “How can this idea be stronger?”
This is also where we should practice productive inquiry: “This kind of inquiry is more than knowing what questions to ask and learning how to ask them skillfully. Productive inquiry is a method of engagement, a way to be present with yourself and with others. Attentiveness and genuine curiosity are your most important tools if you wish to inquire effectively–that, and the willingness to really listen to the other person.”
Acknowledge others’ criticisms. Say, “So what you’re saying is…” to make sure everyone is on the same page. If you’re not clear on what they’re saying, probe further, e.g., “Would you walk me through your thinking?” Use clarifying statements such as, “Let me make sure I’m understanding you correctly.” The ultimate goal here is mutual understanding.
Leverage others’ feedback for improvement to achieve your end goal.
Now that you’ve made the other people know their opinions are being heard and respected, you can use their feedback to improve upon your initial idea and include them as players in the process. Say, “With that thought, we could…” Use “we” type phrasing that conveys that you are on the same team. You are not trying to force your idea; you are trying to work together for the benefit of the organization as a whole.
Communicate your progress.
People will continue to feel part of the solution if you keep them updated about the progress you’re making. Research shows that people who ask for advice are seen as more credible, not less. So if you need more input, don’t hesitate to ask for it.
If you encounter resistance, use strong, open-ended questions to promote understanding on both sides. Start by asking the employee how you can work together to overcome their concerns. What would make them more comfortable with this solution? Most people tend to reject ideas out of fear, and particularly fear of the unknown, so you may need to assuage that fear by showing what’s possible.
If you are stuck along the way, remember the golden question: “What would you do if you were me?” Asked this way, people tend to be the most candid, and can provide valuable guidance to keep your idea on the right path.
Comment here or @kristihedges.
This post also appears on Forbes.com.
Kristi Hedges is a leadership coach, speaker and author of The Power of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage Others. She blogs at kristihedges.com.
Image: Stephanie McCabe
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