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Buy-In for Leadership Directives

Buy-in for leadership directives cannot come just from organizational leadership. It must be about the whole organization. Buy-in starts with leadership. Leadership has to set the direction, and buy-in has to move down from leadership throughout the organization. In nearly all organizations, there is a natural distribution of people. Some are naturally positive. They like challenges. They like overcoming obstacles. They comprise about 10 percent of the organization. Usually, about 15 percent of people in organizations are negative. They are the ones who are critical. They say things like, “We’re never going to get there,” or “How are we going to overcome these obstacles?” That leaves about 75 percent who listen to the loudest voice. Most of the time, the loudest voice is a negative voice unless leadership deliberately focuses on taking an affirmative step forward to answer the questions about where we are going, how we are going to get there and what is important.

Leadership does not immediately know that they did not achieve organizational buy-in. They find out after they have lost momentum. They end the year with the same goals with which they started and they do not know why. The biggest problem with not getting buy-in is that it culminates in a breakdown of the integrity of the planning and execution process. Next year, when they go through the process again, everybody has been through it and knows what to expect. They go through the flavor-of-the-month process knowing that, after three months, they will not hear about it again, and they will just attend to their jobs the way they do every day, and they will act independently. They will answer e-mails and phone calls and attend to whatever issue is most urgent instead of the ones that are most important to achieving goals.

One warning sign that the organization has not achieved buy-in shows up as what leadership interprets as a lack of engagement. Lack of engagement is the effect. The cause is lack of buy-in. Leadership will focus on engagement. They will look at research on engagement to find out why people are not engaged, but the real question should be, “Why aren’t people buying in?” and that is a leadership issue.

Another sign is that since everybody has more to do every day than there is time to do in the first place, there are a lot of things that take the place of where their focus should be. There is always a reason that, in the weekly and bi-monthly meetings, you end up in the same place you were two weeks before or the week before. There are other priorities that are moving in place of what should be done to achieve the key initiatives and move forward. There are always new priorities that we can rationalize, justify and believe in because, from the beginning, we never really bought into the direction we should be going.

There are three ways to know buy-in is working.

-There is a lot of conversation around it. You hear people being authentic and candid in their conversations. What makes it work from their position is that they are part author of the decisions that are being made because they are getting to express themselves in the conversation.

-People are talking about the right topics. They really think this is what they should be talking about and they express their opinion and they listen to others. They gain an understanding and sometimes change their opinions, but at the end of the day, they perceive themselves as authoring the plan.

-There is evidence of progress and momentum. People actually do like change. What people fear most about change is being promised that things will change when no change actually occurs. When change begins and slow progress is made, even through little steps, people get behind the change. They also get excited, and they start to give priority to the milestones.

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