How to Create Organizational Buy-In

by Sharlyn Lauby | Posted | Communication

How to Create Organizational Buy-In

Recently, I had the privilege of co-presenting a webinar titled “5 Alternatives to the Annual Performance Review” with Connie Costigan, director of marketing communications at Halogen Software. If you didn’t get the chance to join us, you can listen to the archived session here.

We received several great questions after the webinar, but one of them really stood out, so I thought I would answer it here.

What kind of things can you do to create buy-in? What are top managers most concerned with related to this process?

What is buy-in?

Before we go any further, let’s define buy-in. I define it as the willingness to support an action or decision. And I’m a huge fan of the process to achieve buy-in. As a general rule, I think most people are.

What keeps us from getting buy-in?

That being said, there are a couple of things about getting organizational buy-in that keep us from actually doing it:

  1. It takes time. In some cases, a lot of time. So we have to be patient when creating buy-in.
  2. Buy-in requires us to know our audience incredibly well. We have to communicate the message the way the audience wants to receive it.

These are the concerns top managers (and everyone else) have with buy-in.

People will ask, “Has everyone bought in?” without giving the process enough time. Or they say, “We need to get buy-in.” without thinking about how the message is being delivered.

Individuals want buy-in but they don’t always want or have the means to make buy-in happen.

And in fairness, it’s not always the manager’s fault. Companies might decide to implement a new policy or procedure and look for management to get buy-in for the change. But they often don't provide the time or the resources to create buy-in.

8 steps to success in getting organizational buy-in

If you’re trying to create buy-in for a new idea, policy, change, whatever… there are a few things you can do to help yourself and the rest the organization.

Remember the goal: to get support for an action or decision.

1. Understand the other person’s communication style. When you're trying to create buy-in, it’s about them (i.e. your audience). If you want their support, then you must deliver the message their way. At a time that works for them. In the environment that also works for them.

2. Create a conversation based on trust and respect. Is the thing you’re trying to get buy-in for confidential or sensitive? It wouldn't be unusual to be soliciting support for something that needs to remain a secret — at least for the time being. If so, you’ll want to initiate the conversation so that the other person knows and respects that confidence.

3. Clearly understand the change. If you’re going to ask for someone’s support, you need to know what you’re talking about. Often conversations about buy-in start with a discussion of the past — a problem or challenge that’s prompting a change. It's critical to have the facts straight.

4. Prepare for questions. Once the conversation starts, questions are sure to arise, such as “When is this going to happen?” As the person initiating the discussion, you want to be honest and knowledgeable.

5. Know if the change is negotiable. This is tough. Buy-in conversations can generate good ideas. Can those good ideas be considered? Or has a final decision been made? Be prepared to address this both during the meeting with the person you're asking for support and after the meeting with senior management.

6. Ask the question. You’re at the point where you need to ask for the person’s support. You’ve talked about the change, you’ve answered questions and listened to suggestions. Be clear about what you’re asking for. “Can I count on your support for ________?”

7. Determine how to handle feedback. This ties into #6. Make sure you have a clear yes or no response. It might be “Yes, but only if you do this…” Or “No, unless you do that…” But creating buy-in is never about vague responses. 

8. Follow-up appropriately. Regardless of the person’s reply, thank them for considering the request. You might not agree with their decision, but it’s important to keep the working relationship on a positive tone. Also, let them know what you'll do with any comments that they’ve made.

Imagine having to do this with a handful of people for a new policy or procedure you’re trying to implement. Now you see why people might like buy-in conceptually but not in practice.

Don't underestimate the power of organizational buy-in

Never underestimate the power of creating organizational buy-in. Individuals who you often disagree with may support new ideas and each other because they were asked for buy-in early in the process. It fosters respect and trust. The actual exercise of creating buy-in is a terrific workplace relationship builder. Something to consider the next time you need to implement change.

Your turn: What do you do to create organizational buy-in?

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