A Vision without “Buy-in” falls flat. It fails to inspire, to motivate, and to align the employees toward a new and important common purpose. Buy-in is a current buzzword using the images of co-ownership and investment (“buy”) to capture the ideas of belief and commitment to Vision (see Vision Development: The Leader’s Role). Employees who buy-in accept the envisioned outcome as a good thing for the organization, and for themselves as well. Further, they are willing to devote substantial effort to achieving it.
Techniques to Win Buy-In
Winning buy-in is all about communication: words, symbols, and actions. The leader and the leadership team must communicate their vision all the time, more often than too often! Techniques include:
- Broad Participation: People are honored to be asked to co-develop the vision; later they become convincing communicators to their own networks. They are proud and passionate to be able to say “I helped define where we are and where we must get to; I helped to define the major projects we need; I am leading or working on an important project team.” Involve more people early in the process to create the most widespread buy-in downstream.
- Personal Explanation by the Leader: Employees first look to the leader’s personal commitment as a model for their own. When they see the leader reach out to them with a simple, honest, and passionate explanation, they feel valued and appreciated, and become predisposed to agree if the leader has credibility.
- Training: Applying the Vision to each individual work group is the key to buy-in, so everyone understands how it can affect them. They need to learn from their boss why change is needed, what the changes will produce, and how that affects their tasks. The buy-in becomes personal when they understand how the changes can make their work more useful, more effective, and hence more satisfying, such as removing obstacles and fostering more cooperative behavior.
- Everyday Communications Support: Training is supported by reminders, models, and observation. Post a graphic showing the new Vision. Begin new rituals in support of implementation, such as awards or short meetings or a new dress code or fewer privileges of rank. Publicize “heroes” and stories to model the new behaviors. Hire new people with the special skills that have been missing. Provide funding to support new efforts. Pursue “quick wins” and publicize their success to show commitment and gain credibility.
- Accessible Leader: The personal presence of the leader in a way that invites employee contact helps win buy-in for two reasons: (1) creates another opportunity for the leader to reinforce his or her message personally and (2) shows the leader’s respect for the people who must achieve the Vision, by taking time to be with them and listen to their concerns.
Why Some People Withhold Buy-in
See Why Employees Don’t Do What They’re Supposed To Do and What To Do About It by Ferdinand F. Fournies for an excellent short, common-sense guide for what managers can do to understand and change employee motivations. We can apply its approach to Vision buy-in this way:
- Don’t Understand: I will not buy into a Vision if I do not understand why we need to change, and/or why the new goal is better for the company and for me. Solution: define reality, long form vision, training, and personal access to the leader.
- Don’t Know How: If you are asking me to do things differently, or do different things, show me how. Show me the difference between the old way and the new way. Give me a model. Give me references and reminders. Enable me to practice, and give me feedback on how well I do things the new way.
- Don’t Think the End Result is Feasible: People who know what is to be done and why it would be good to do so, and know what is needed to get there, may still feel “We can never become that kind of company because….”
Listen to these people. Understand the roadblocks they see, and show progress in removing them. Here is where leaders earn their credibility. Refusal to listen says you don’t respect your people. Refusal to act on their concerns says you yourself don’t understand the company, or you are not really committed because you are not ready to take the difficult actions necessary for success.
- Don’t Agree the End Result is Desirable: “Rather than become the envisioned company, we should become something else.” The boss must listen, and explain the Vision rationale as often as necessary, in a variety of ways. Perhaps the Vision is a means to an end that could encompass such an employee’s dream, or perhaps the Vision itself should be altered.
If neither of these is true, and the employee does not accept the rationale and the Vision, then the employee should find another place to work. Failure to act to remove a vision opponent is the worst sort of poor leadership. It undermines the commitment of those who buy-in, and reduces the boss’s credibility with them.
- Incentives and Consequences: “It may be good for the company, but it will not be good for me.” The boss must understand the employee’s viewpoint, and change the incentives to support progress toward the Vision. This includes recognition and rewards for doing the right things well, and coaching potentially followed by negative consequences for working on the wrong things, or using the wrong behaviors.
Recognize that the reaction of co-workers is an important incentive. Manage the group’s incentives to align them in support of the desired behaviors.
- Personal Limits: Employees may not be able to accept new expectations for work hours or travel or even a move. The boss’s first step is to listen, and make sure the employee perception is correct. If it is, job redesign or reassignment may be possible. If accommodation is not feasible, the employee should find a different workplace able to meet their needs.
Developing the Vision is only the beginning of the leader’s task. Gaining and retaining buy-in is the real test of leadership skills. It’s a test without an end, requiring daily effort by leaders to communicate, listen, reflect, explain, adapt, model, remind, motivate, and act.
Tom Gray helps owners save and grow their companies. He is a management consultant focused on small business and telecom, a Certified Turnaround Professional (CTP), a Certified Business Development Advisor, and a Certified SCORE Mentor. He can be reached at 630-512-0406 or email@example.com. See www.tom-gray.com
Small Business Techniques, Vision Development
Tags: align employees, communicate the vision, techniques to win buy-in, vision