Volume 12, Number 2
How Leaders Get Buy-In
Ms. Brenowitz is the
principal at Brenowitz Consulting, an organization development
consulting firm dedicated to improving productivity through
teamwork and collaboration (www.BrenowitzConsulting.com).
Dr. Manning, principal at Manning Consulting, specializes
in resolving difficult people and team problems through mediation,
coaching and facilitation (www.MManning.com).
As the global marketplace becomes more dynamic and
competitive, organizations must become more efficient, effective,
and productive. To do
this they need to become more dynamic and flexible and 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. The
new leaders must have buy-in to the decisions being made rather
than simply relying on their position in the hierarchy to get
Safe and Trusting Environment
A safe and trusting environment is a necessary precursor to
achieving buy-in. This involves people’s 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
When team 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.
Trust gets built over time as people trust a little and
learn that it is safe to do so, then trust some more, and so on
until they believe that they do not need to self-edit their ideas
and comments. When
leaders model this behavior in their organizations, they are
taking a key first step to building a safe environment.
Having a 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.
Disagreement 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.
Agreements and Norms
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 doesn’t 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:
1.Have 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.”
2. As a group, prioritize the
values and choose 3-5 everyone can agree to.
3. Discuss each value and why
4. Identify which behaviors and
actions reinforce this value, and which behaviors can undermine it
or are non-reinforcing.
For example, “respect” may be one of the values agreed to
by the team. It is 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.
Readiness and Follow-up
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.
The following 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.
Establishing Benefits and Needs
with the team to identify major issues, articulate timelines, and
asses resources needed to come to closure.
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. You may want to 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 decision-making process.
should 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.
Communication and Follow-up
one likes surprises, so open lines of communication, both formal
and informal, are essential for assuring buy-in. Formal
communication forums include staff meetings, regular management
team meetings, all hands meetings, internal newsletters, and
These are 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.
Shared Decision-Making Process
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.
The most common form of collective decision-making is
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
Trust is 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.
In order 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
asses who must participate in the decision-making process, ask
yourself the following questions:
Consensus 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 team’s ideas promotes
participation and can positively impact morale, productivity, and
level of ownership and buy-in.