You Won't Go Far Without Buy-In


I've moved up to a new leadership position, replacing someone the employees really liked. I want to make some changes, but even the minor moves I've made so far have met with a lot of resistance and some outright anger. What can I do to move us forward?

I can see why your boss put you in this position. You aren't just waltzing in with the sole intent of blending in and staying out of trouble. You want to lead this organization to a better place and you have some ideas about how that can be done. You're rolling up your sleeves trying to find a way to do it well. Kudos to you.

But this is a big challenge. Since your predecessor had the respect and loyalty of the staff, they won't mind a few cosmetic changes — but they are puzzled. They're probably thinking, “If it ain't broke, don't fix it.” When they see you trying to change their ways, they feel defensive.

As Christians, we tend to want it both ways when it comes to leading people. We have the gift and command to be loving and accepting — but we also want people to grow and be transformed. Accepting and changing at the same time is so tough, most people opt for one or the other.

Before you charge in and shake things up, you should do a hard self-examination. Ask yourself: “Do I want to make these changes to assert my will? Or to improve the organization and help our customers and employees? What's driving my desire for change?”

Once you understand your own motivation, you'll want to understand theirs. A mistake many leaders make is in imposing a solution from the top-down — that is, without making a serious effort to understand key players’ perspective on the issue at hand.

Make no mistake: Buy-in is an integral part of the solution. If people don't feel like they're in on a key decision, they won't be motivated to implement it with passion and conviction.

It sounds like you have some specific changes in mind. Good for you. But hearing your staff out on what you have in mind — or, even broader, on the mission and vision of your business — is a good place to begin making those changes. And making them stick.

If your people feel their positions are understood, cooperation should increase and defensiveness should recede. Besides, you're sure to hear some good ideas you hadn't thought of on your own.

This could occur at an off-site or retreat where you and your key employees get together to identify the most important goals and to clarify the organization's vision and mission. This step will improve the likelihood that your priorities and goals are the ones that everyone will be more motivated to support and work toward.

Move away from the idea of forcing changes on a reluctant group. This group is your team and you will probably get the best solutions working closely with them. You may have to deliver an ultimatum or terminate an employee who can't see or contribute to the mission and important goals. But this is rarely the case when buy-in is actively sought.

Art Bennett is director of Alpha Omega Clinic and Consultation Services (