December 12, 2019

Amelia Herring

Getting Organizational Buy-in

Getting Organizational Buy-in
Amelia Herring
Allow your peers and leadership to digest your vision, and become convinced that it’s the right decision- creating organizational buy-in.

According to John Kotter, author of the book Buy In, 70 percent of organizational change efforts don’t work. Why? According to his research, it’s because the executives don’t get enough buy-in. That’s where things can get tricky. You’ve got an amazing idea that you know will benefit your organization, but without majority support (especially from leadership teams), your idea will most likely fail. 

So how can you prevent that from happening?

First, create a vision.

You need to create a clear path for the new future of your organization. It could be similar to what you’ve already got with some minor changes- or be totally different. That part’s up to you. Either way, you need to clearly illustrate your idea and how it should be achieved. It should appeal to a broad audience (hopefully the majority of your company), and be easy to communicate. 

Can you sum up your vision in a sentence or two? Will it appeal to your board and stakeholders? Will your employees be excited about it? How will it benefit everyone involved, from the board to the employees to the clients? 

If your vision is clear and beneficial, it’ll be easier for you to sell- and easier for your peers and leadership to accept. 

Make sure you’re getting feedback.

Feedback is key at the beginning of the process. Make sure you ask for the majority of input when your ideas can be easily molded. Ask questions like, “How can this be stronger? What am I missing? What else would you like to see from this? What is troubling you most about this?”

One method that works well for organizational buy-in is to create a draft of the idea, and then float it passed others in the company for their opinion. Acknowledge their ideas, consider their concerns, and make changes as you see fit. If you can make everyone in your company feel like they’re part of the process, they’ll be more inclined to approve your proposal. 

Most of the time, you may choose only to have departmental leaders in strategic meetings. You should also consider asking a few key employees to sit in on those sessions, in addition to being consulted before and after each meeting. That’ll generate more employee participation during the organizational buy-in process, which should help your outcome. 

Be authentic when you’re asking for feedback. 

Don’t ask for feedback just for the sake of pretending you want it. The Harvard Business Review found that if employees perceive you as being fake- or if they think you’re simply trying to advance your agenda- they’re not going to support what you’re trying to do. On the other hand, seeking advice for big decisions actually enhances your credibility and helps build employee trust, the review says.

The takeaway: If you’re asking for outside opinions, make sure you incorporate them into your final proposal.

The way people feel matters. 

Emotions can be very swaying, even in the business world. John Kotter, mentioned earlier and also author of The Heart of Change: Real Life Stories of How People Change Their Organizations, wrote that people change after they learn something that influences their feelings: 

“This is true even in organizations that are very focused on analysis and quantitative measurement, even among people who think of themselves as smart in an MBA sense.”

So appeal to the emotional sense within your organization. Start with a conversation instead of laying out numbers, figures, and stats. It’s all about connecting with your co-workers and employees, which can only happen through honest and open conversations. Explain how the changes will affect them on a personal basis: how will their job titles be different? What will happen to their roles on a day-to-day basis? What new tasks will be expected of them? How will this change benefit them?

Fear of change is huge- but you can conquer it. 

Even if your organization is chiming in and helping to create your vision, you’re still going to have to consider the overall fear of change, which seems like it’s coded into everybody’s DNA. The largest recent study on “fear of change” was done in 2010 and published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. Essentially, it asked one group of people to analyze a painting they thought was created in 1905. A second group was asked to look at the same painting, and was told it had been finished in 2005. 

The results: The group who believed the painting was created in 1905 rated it “higher” than group number two, who believed the painting was done in 2005. Why? Because older is better.

People believe that the longer something has been around, the better. It’s complicated and isn’t necessarily logical, but people are hardwired to fear uncertainty. Researchers in 2006 published a study in Nature Communications finding that we prefer predictable outcomes (even if these outcomes are negative) over unpredictable outcomes.

Still, our brains can be trained to adapt and even thrive when it comes to change. 

Consider the change curve. 

Just like the stages of grief, there are stages of acceptance when it comes to change. The change curve, which was created by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, displays the emotions that most people go through when confronted with change. Stage one is shock and denial, followed by anger and fear, then acceptance- and finally: commitment. 

If you understand the change curve, you can use it to help your company adjust. For example, you’ve entered the danger zone when people start to feel concern, fear, or anger. To make your proposal go smoothly, consider your worker’s objections ahead of time and clearly communicate that you understand. Accepting change can be very emotional, so you need to be a good listener, and offer thoughtful responses when concerns are raised.

Clearly explain what your ideas will mean for everybody. 

If everyone understands their role within the new process, they may find it easier to accept the changes. They’ll also need to know how their roles relate to the organization’s vision and mission. It’s key to outline accountabilities so your peers will be able to align their decisions with the strategies. Your employees need the tools to be able to implement their role in the larger strategic plan. For this, you’ll most likely need to offer additional training to get everyone on the same page. 


You may think you’ve made your point, but a study in Science Daily found that most people need to hear something three to five times before they believe it. More specifically, the American Psychological Association found that repeated exposure to one person’s opinion would have almost as much influence as exposure to shared opinions from multiple people. Hearing the opinion multiple times increases your sense of familiarity- and can even give you a false sense that the opinion is more widespread than it actually is. 

Use that to your advantage. Repeat the information as often as possible, in as many forms as possible. Focus groups, meetings, presentations, one-on-one discussions, social media- when you hear the same message over various mediums, it’s easier to remember it emotionally and intellectually. Allow your peers and leadership to digest your vision, and become convinced that it’s the right decision.

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