get buy in

How to get buy-in on big ideas

Big ideas come from inspired, creative thinking. But having that idea and thinking it through, doesn’t take it anywhere. The next is figuring out how to pitch your idea and get buy-in.

If you really want to create change, you need support from folks across your organization. If you can’t get buy-in, your idea (even if it’s REALLY good) may not get the traction it needs to be fully realized.

Without buy-in from others, big ideas can be met with resistance to change, avoidance to new ways of thinking or doing things or apathy for yet another “flavour of the month” initiative.

Being able to get buy-in isn’t just desirable, it’s crucial. John Kotter, a Harvard Business School Professor, lectures internationally on leadership and change. In his book, Buy-In, Kotter mentions research shows that 70 percent of organizational change initiatives fail — 70%! He identifies lack of buy-in from enough people to be a major reason for big ideas faltering.

How do you secure buy-in when you bring your big idea to members of your organization? And by this I mean people actually embracing it, promoting it, and actively participating in it — not just giving it lip service.

It’s less about polishing your sales skills and more about involving others in the idea process.

Here’s what change experts recommend:

Articulate your vision. It helps to have a very clear way of stating what your idea is and why it matters. Just as screenwriters create an elevator pitch to share a story idea with movie producers in a few minutes, you’ll benefit from being able to briefly articulate your idea and why it is important to the future of your organization. What makes your idea revolutionary, essential or innovative? What will it do or fix? How is it attainable and what is their role in its execution? If you can help others imagine this idea and understand what problem it solves, you’re more likely to pique their interest. Even better, you might help them see how this idea can make things better for them (and they will have an interest in helping you bring this idea to fruition). Pro tip: aligning vision with organizational values can drive change.

Involve others in the process. To get buy-in, you need more than a sales pitch. You need to help others on the team or across the organization recognize they have a say. What this looks like might be inviting others to discuss the idea, encouraging constructive feedback and actively seeking viewpoints from diverse sources. (What about your idea would benefit from brainstorming or input? Is there anything that’s problematic, uncertain or risky that could use the hive mind?) Remember that good leaders are open to criticism and benefit from hearing the good AND the bad. Not only will you cultivate support from stakeholders, you’ll benefit from opinions and ideas that can help you refine and improve your idea. People generally feel better about accepting (and even embracing) change when they’ve been informed, consulted and have an interest in the outcome.

Harness dissent and use it. We’ve discussed before how leaders benefit from building a culture of conflict around ideas. Healthy conflict allows for honest conversations about challenges so that your organization can be better and stronger. When you encourage this kind of conflict, you’ll be able to work through issues that you might otherwise have missed as they were whispered behind closed doors. This is an opportunity to get buy-in from nay-sayers who are able to bring concerns out into the open for discussion. It requires that we as leaders let go of needing to have all the answers. Try asking:

  • What have I missed with this?
  • Can you see any weak areas?
  • What could make this idea stronger?
  • What do we need to be careful of, if we were to proceed with this?

Really listen to critics of your idea. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again (and again!): Listen with the intent to understand, not the intent to reply. Be curious and make sure you know what they’re saying. Recap what folks share, giving them the opportunity to clarify what they’re thinking or confirm that you’re on the same page. Seek clarification by asking people to tell you more or walk you through what they mean. This helps to encourage people to share what they’re really thinking, which gives you as the leader the opportunity to incorporate some ideas you otherwise might not receive.

Watch your wording. Once you’ve got people involved in the process and you’re starting to get buy-in for your idea, be mindful of your language. It started as your idea, but now it’s time to move from “me” to “we.” Talk about “our goal” and “our thoughts” and “our plan.” If you retain ownership of the idea and speak about it in the first person, you’re pushing the people you’ve been trying to bring onside over to the sidelines. This underscores the feeling that this isn’t you pushing your agenda but rather that everyone is now working to have this succeed so that the organization achieves success.

Keep the lines of discussion open. Implementing an idea takes time. What bugs are there that need to be fixed? What other issues that have become apparent that need to be addressed? How are we measuring success? Keep everyone on the team involved in updates about how things are going — and involved in potential refinements. Again, when you keep involving folks and listening to their input, they’ll feel a sense of ownership that helps people buy-in more readily.

Coach’s Questions:

What big change ideas have you seen embraced? Which have you seen that failed? What was the difference in approach? What can you do to lead change and get buy-in for your big ideas?