Over time, people only implement what they understand and what they believe in.
Any parent knows you get a better response from children when you take time to explain why a desired behavior is important and win their cooperation than when you issue orders like a drill sergeant.
If this is true with children, how much more with grown-up employees?
The riskiest and most expensive implementation is the one that is mindless, with passionless people carrying out a strategy while being either heavily policed or bribed to stay on task. And that’s why, between a strategy’s creation and its execution, there lies a step you can’t afford to skip—making allies of everyone else within your organization for the new strategy.
Before you can expect the others in your business or nonprofit to make your idea a reality, you’ve got to present it to them in such a way that they can grasp it and accept it. In fact, you want them fired up about it! You want them not just willing but eager to come on board the sailboat you’ll be tacking to the destination.
You know the leaders own the strategy. After all, they created it. But the rest of the team have to own it too. That’s buy-in.
In the mid 1990s, Hamot Health Foundation of Erie, Pennsylvania, was undertaking a strategy to reinvent itself. The leaders decided they needed to eliminate an entire layer of staff, including 125 people. They knew this action could devastate morale and threaten the participation of the remaining staff in the change actions that still lay ahead. But even in a situation as fraught with fear and resentment as this, gaining buy-in from the non-downsized employees proved not only possible but highly effective. A journal article reported:
Frank disclosure of the downsizing and its purposes by Hamot’s leaders, along with ongoing dialogue with employees and the community, averted most of the negative consequences. Since then, Hamot has won recognition in multiple categories as one of the top 100 hospitals in the United States, gained seven percentage points of regional market share, and operated consistently in the black.2
Are you buying into buy-in yet?
The process of helping others understand what you want to do in your organization will take time, patience, and planning on your part. Here is some advice for introducing your strategy in a way that gets everybody on your side:
• First, establish the need for having a new strategy. Help the others understand why your company is at a point where it has the opportunity, and even the requirement, to try something different.
• Then present the new strategy clearly and simply. Keep it short, avoiding unnecessary detail and background. Be realistic yet upbeat. Radiate enthusiasm.
• Anticipate questions. After all, upon hearing a new strategy, people will always think, What does this mean to me? They may be feeling fear. So invite questions, even push-back, and be receptive and respectful when you get it. Have answers and assurances at the ready.
• As much as seems appropriate, seek input and constructive ideas on the strategy. If people can get their thumbprints on the strategy (at least the execution end of it), it will magically become theirs. Strategy can’t be all top-down; this is the bottom-up piece. Put the chalk in others’ hands for the moment.
• Don’t get sidetracked by criticism or resistance coming at you. Stay on message. Funnel the conversation toward positive action. Although the strategy may still be in development to some degree, it’s a go. And you’re leading the advance.
Ask yourself, what would happen to your strategy if something intervened and you couldn’t be involved in any of the implementation? Would the people you have passed the strategy on to take it and run with it? Or would the wheels quickly come to a stop?
John Kotter, in his book Buy-In, argues, “Our insufficient knowledge about how to get good new ideas accepted by others—a central piece of making anything happen—is becoming more and more of a problem as the world changes faster and faster.”3 Knowing how to gain buy-in, then, is a skill you’re going to have to learn as a practitioner of Strategy 3.0.
When you’re heading into the uncertainty of a new strategy, it’s a great feeling to know your team is lining up at your back.