The foundation for getting employee buy-in

We are constantly dealing with and coaching leadership teams to build their effectiveness in getting their job done through their respective teams. One issue that almost always comes to the forefront is getting buy-in from their people, getting them on board with what needs to be done, and even getting them excited and positive as they move over the next hurdle. This is even more common today than a decade ago, since change is happening at even a faster pace. With that pace of change comes a need to at least adapt to, if not stay ahead it.

The challenge that many of these leaders face is people who do not want to change. I once heard from a colleague that “change is good, as long as it’s happening to someone else — not me!” The other challenge is that these same leaders, in many cases, have not built and fostered strong relationships with their people. They take an “all business” attitude and truly believe that knowing the individuals on their team at a deeper, personal level is not necessary in the business world. Wrong!

In one of my past training sessions there was an executive from a major manufacturing company that serves as a perfect example. Her boss had told me that the members of her team were at his door almost daily with complaints of insensitivity, hostility, and out-and-out rudeness. A hard case, to say the least. When introducing herself at the first session, she said, “I’m from the East Coast and believe that you always take the shortest distance between two points, regardless of personal relationships.” She also admitted that the reason she was in the class is that her boss very strongly told her she needed to work on her people skills. After several sessions she finally saw the light and leads a great team today.

So, if you need/want to get genuine buy-in and even excitement from your people, you better darn well have a solid relationship in place and think of where they are coming from, not what you need/want them to do. There are a few Dale Carnegie principles from his book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, which really help if they are sincerely applied:

1. Become genuinely interested in other people.

Get to know the people on your team on a personal basis. What kind of activities get them excited outside of work, what is their family situation, what sports are they interested in, etc. — just get interested in them as a person.

Just last week I had a leader in a training session tell me about a fairly hostile relationship she had with a former boss. Now, she needed to get a job recommendation for that same person. Rather than going in and just asking, she spent the first part of the meeting truly getting to know the person at a deeper level. Without going into detail, she came across as caring for her former boss. Needless to say, the job recommendation followed.

2. Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.

Paul Tillich, a 20th century philosopher, once said, “The greatest compliment you can give someone is to listen to them when you are listening to them.” Don’t just try this as you get to know your people — do it!

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3. Arouse in the other person an eager want.

In a recent consulting assignment, I was working with a company that was in the throes of change; everything from dramatic, negative changes in company benefits to office closings. In visiting with the CEO, I asked him if there was one behavior change that could immediately and positively impact his leadership team. After a short pause, he said it would be great if they could all be professional salespeople! He went on to explain that sales pros — the real ones — never, ever just sell, sell, sell. Rather, they try as hard as they can to deeply understand the customer’s needs and wants. Only with that depth of understanding will they begin to address solutions. You will notice that this last principle does not say: “Shove my eager want down their throat till they choke.”

With all of the above in mind, if your goal is to get your team on board with a new process, to get them excited about (not negative about) new ideas and get their willing (not forced) buy-in, always remember Dale Carnegie’s words: “There is only one way under high heaven to get anybody to do anything. Did you ever stop to think of that? Yes, just one way. And that is by making the other person want to do it.”

You can’t follow Dale Carnegie’s advice if you do not know the other person.

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