Leaders Get Buy-In
R. Brenowitz & M. Manning
appeared on HR.com in July 2002, in Innovative Leader in February
2003, and in Supply Knowledge in the May 2003 issue.
As the global
marketplace becomes more dynamic and competitive, organizations
must become more efficient, effective, and productive. To do this
they need to move away from a command and control
leadership style. The role of the manager is shifting to that
of a team leader and team builder. New leaders must have buy-in
to the decisions being made rather than simply relying on their
position in the hierarchy to get results.
A safe and trusting environment is a necessary precursor to achieving
buy-in. This involves peoples willingness to take some risk
and perhaps expose their own ignorance or their unpopular opinion.
Our survival instinct leads us to avoid or minimize risk when
we are feeling unsafe. Employees who experience their work environment
as risky put a lot of energy into avoiding those risks rather
than taking them. High trust is the condition that supports and
enables high risk-taking.
leaders are willing to ask questions and admit that they do not
have all of the answers, members of the organization will be more
likely to do the same. If leaders implement and stick to team
decisions, members of the group will be more willing to express
their ideas. When leaders model positive behavior in their organizations,
they are taking a key first step to building a safe environment.
safe and trusting environment, however, does not mean that each
member of the team agrees with everything being said by everyone
else. Some conflict is both inevitable and desirable in every
team. How this conflict is handled makes the difference in what
type of environment is created.
among team members may point to problems that were previously
unrecognized, and can lead to creative solutions. Some level of
productive conflict should be encouraged, with the understanding
that too much conflict can weaken trust and destroy the team.
Once a safe
and trusting environment is created, people will be more willing
to show their vulnerabilities, ask questions, request, and experiment
with new ideas. At that point, they are ready to buy-in -- both
to the decision and its implementation.
Another key element for achieving buy-in is a strong set of agreements
and norms about how the team will behave and how the members will
treat each other. If a team doesnt have clear, measurable
agreements or norms, it should consider holding a session to develop
them. The following 4 steps may prove helpful at such a session:
each individual submit the five values that are most important
to him or her in the workplace. Examples would be honesty,
accuracy, teamwork, risk-taking.
group, prioritize the values and choose 3-5 everyone can agree
each value and why its important.
which behaviors and actions reinforce this value, and which
behaviors can undermine it or are non-reinforcing.
respect may be one of the values agreed to by the
team. Its needed to build loyalty and mutual trust, key
ingredients in getting buy-in. We can reinforce respect by seeking
others input regarding decisions that may affect them. On
the other hand, we undermine respect when we change direction
without giving others an explanation.
It may prove
to be more manageable to set only a few ground rules at a time
and then to build from there. When the team keeps its focus, the
chance for success is greater. Consider asking your team: What
are the behaviors our team needs to focus on for the next quarter?
When a team fully participates in defining and enforcing the norms,
a new level of ownership and buy-in is possible.
When decisions are reactive and not well planned, you may find
yourself stuck in a defensive cycle. Many employees view rushed
decisions as a threat and become defensive, reacting with a range
of behaviors from blaming to avoidance. On the other hand, when
a decision-making process is well planned, your team can function
much more productively.
steps should help you get your team open to and ready for the
decision-making process. Your team may resist participating because
they are suspicious or fearful of the impact or risk in certain
decisions. Part of readiness is alleviating fears as much as possible.
Benefits and Needs: Work with the team to identify major
issues, articulate timelines, and assess resources needed
to come to closure.
Discuss past decisions and learnings. What has worked well
and why? Which have failed and why? Make sure you give people
ample time to talk about resistance and fears, as well as
what they expect from you and from each other. Consider inviting
your boss to a team meeting to articulate his or her vision
for the organization and to help set the groundwork for the
Relate decisions to the mission and values of the team and
organization. Mission-driven organizations are more efficient
and achieve a higher level of buy-in than rule-driven groups.
and Follow-up: No one likes surprises, so open lines of
communication, both formal and informal, are essential for
ensuring buy-in. Formal communication forums include staff
meetings, regular management team meetings, all hands meetings,
internal newsletters, and one-on-ones.
opportunities to keep everyone informed, to celebrate successes,
to offer some skill building, to hold open dialog, and to let
people know how and when you have used their ideas.
When people participate in decision-making, they are more likely
to buy-in to it fully. The time lost in collective decision-making
is regained at the implementation stage.
common form of collective decision-making is consensus. Consensus
is a mutual agreement among members of a group where all legitimate
concerns of individuals have been addressed. It is not a unanimous
vote, but rather an agreement to move forward with a decision
each member of the group can support even if they think it might
not be the best possible decision. Consensus building can foster
creativity and innovation, cooperative attitudes, improved interpersonal
communications, and increased accountability.
a crucial factor in building consensus. It is advisable to have
as safe and trusting an environment as possible before embarking
on a move toward shared decision-making.
for shared decision-making to stick and for people to be willing
to buy-in, it is essential that all the right people be involved
in the process. To assess who must participate in the decision-making
process, ask yourself the following questions:
implement this decision?
impacted by this decision?
the most knowledge about the topic being decided upon?
sabotage the decision once it is made?
the key stakeholders in this decision?
requires a commitment to the process, active participation of
the group leader and all group members, creative thinking, and
open-mindedness. It takes time; therefore, consensus is not the
best way to make insignificant decisions. Rather, it can be highly
effective for those decisions that have significant impact on
the work of the group where buy-in is essential.
Achieving buy-in is not a singular event. Rather, it is a continuing
process that includes the elements described above. Ongoing solicitation
and implementation of the teams ideas promotes participation
and can positively impact morale, productivity, and level of ownership
For more information on this topic,
contact Randi Brenowitz at
650-843-1611 or firstname.lastname@example.org.