Did You Create Buy-in?

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Did You Create Buy-in?

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If you have ever been involved in a workplace change effort, you probably already realize the significance of creating buy-in. CEO’s to front line staff often feel responsibility to encourage and support change efforts and buy-in is a significant part of the change process.

Business man at team meeting point flip-chart

Recently I wrote about tips for creating buy-in for change efforts but this leads to additional questions about understanding if, when, or even how to know if buy-in has been achieved. Perhaps worthy of exploration is to consider what are some of the factors that would indicate a lack of buy-in?  Here are a few:

  • Chronic expressions of why the change won’t work
  • Silence or only one-way communication (no feedback) regarding the change
  • Limited or no discussion about any problems or roadblocks, only criticism for the solution
  • Extremely low morale and lack of enthusiasm, poor attitudes
  • Tardiness, absenteeism or worse, employee turnover

If you are a change leader, you’ll quickly recognize that some of these problems are a natural part of the process but that isn’t where it ends. Often one of the biggest challenges for change leaders is not so much about facing the problems, it is the thought or belief that there should never be any. Problems will occur and so will some resistance. Welcoming and carefully analyzing all feedback, not just the feedback that you really want to hear helps change leaders measure not only levels of buy-in but also provides a gauge for progress. Keep in mind that sometimes buy-in is obtained by selling the problem, not by selling the solution. 

Have you achieved buy-in?

Unfortunately I’ve witnessed many change leaders connecting observations of workplace behaviors to success, when in fact these behaviors might be more representative of a deepening problem. Here are a couple of good examples:

“People are just working, there isn’t any conflict.”

“Lately, I haven’t heard of any problems or issues.”

Certainly both of these can be very positive observations, but make no mistake about it that sometimes a lack of conflict really means a lack of commitment and often signals a presence of fear. Fear of retaliation or fears of job loss are two of the most common examples. When you ask people privately, they’ll tell you they are, “just doing my job” or “I not saying a thing, I’m not getting fired.” Any of these circumstances are representation of a lack of buy-in and a lack of commitment to achieve the future vision. Sometimes people are going through the motions, but there is no forward progress.

Buy-in definitely has strong linkages to motivation and inspiration. Individuals and teams that are bought-in are energized. There should be chatter, smiles, and an intense focus on achievement. Change doesn’t always mean that we will like it, but when we understand it we can more easily commit to it.

Levels of buy-in.

Can there be different degrees or levels of buy-in? Sure, there probably can be, and most buy-in is not on or off like a light switch. Many people will give change a try, the key is sustaining efforts that are in support of the vision. Feedback is going to be critical and those involved in the change need to help each other actualize the vision. This is most often achieved by building on each success, no matter how small. There will be obstacles, hurdles, and likely some mistakes, but when the correct path is being followed the intensity of buy-in will grow.

A closing thought, it is often easier to measure the hard costs (tools, equipment, and front end capital) of a change initiative than it is to measure the time required for an organizational (people, culture, values and beliefs) transition.


Dennis E. Gilbert is a business consultant, speaker (CSPTM), and coach that specializes in helping businesses and individuals accelerate their leadership, their team, and their success. He is the author of the newly released book, Forgotten Respect, Navigating A Multigenerational Workforce. Reach him through his website at Dennis-Gilbert.com or by calling +1 646.546.5553.

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