Four Innovative Buy-in Ideas for Leaders

10 April 2017 By Will Brodie


Change is the constant in today’s working world, and adapting to it means leaders need support for their ideas. They need ‘buy-in’. 

Here's how Simon Dowling, author of Work With Me: How To Get People To Buy Into Your Ideas sums it up.

“You achieve better results when people go along with your ideas because they want to, not because they have to… It's not about using power and authority, it's about building support and commitment to your ideas and initiatives.”

Most modern leaders accept this collaborative approach, but how do you help make it happen?

There are obvious fundamentals.

  • Communicate the issue clearly.
  • Include all relevant stakeholders
  • Be flexible
  • Engage with feedback

Here’s some other, more colourful suggestions for achieving “intellectual and emotional alignment” with the people you need on board.

1. Use an imaginary sullen teenager

Anyone about to propose a big idea must test that it is clear in their own mind. Dowling told Radio National that he imagines “a surly teenager sitting across the room… with their arms crossed and with a slight frown on their face saying ‘so what? Why would I say yes to what you’re proposing to me?’ ”

Once you confront this scary apparition and you can answer what makes your idea essential, you are ready to start “taking that idea out to others”.

2. Keep your idea in draft form

Executive coach and author Kristi Hedges says once your idea is “crisp”, but not fully formed in your mind, take it to compatriots. Invite discussion, acknowledge suggestions, and then use them to refine the original conception.

“Express where you think this idea may be risky or need improvement...”

She says the canny leader asks ‘What am I missing?’ and ‘How can this idea be stronger?’

Exposing the idea to criticism allows others to offer their input and take ownership.

If peers care, they will make the idea better. It is less likely they will care if they are offered a finished product, created without their participation.

3. Use a GSD scoreboard and debug personnel

Entrepreneur Paul English attains buy-in by hiring the right people, and monitoring their relationships.

“When I interview people, there are two things I look for. One is their GSD “get s--- done” score. Do they have technical chops? The other 50 percent is: Are they energy amplifiers? Are they someone whom people enjoy being around?”

He sees himself as a coach or organisational psychologist, observing and “debugging” interactions.

“If I have two people who don’t work well together and I just separate them, I’ve lost the ability for those people to give each other positive energy. So when something is dysfunctional, I talk to each person individually and then bring them together and say, “You’re both extremely valued here, but you’re not clicking, and I want to know what we need to do.”

English says he’s not interested in running a successful company. He wants “… an exciting company where people love their job”. But he’s extremely successful…

4. Keep it (feeling) real

The guru of buy-in, John Kotter, Professor of Leadership at Harvard Business School, says it is important to make the need for change “feel real” to others.

He calls the process See, Feel, and Change, as opposed to Analyze, Think, and Change. “The latter is all head, no heart, and often fails to motivate people to recognize the importance of a given problem.”

An example?

A mid-level executive at a large organisation suggested procurement changes, but was ignored. Before the next team meeting, he gathered 424 gloves purchased by the company’s various factories, each tagged with its different price and supplier, and dumped them on the boardroom table. 

This “powerful visual display of waste” caused the CEO to scrap the meeting agenda to talk about procurement “because what he was looking at was so memorable, so compelling, so real.”

There are many ways to foster collaboration. One of the most important might be knowing when to give up. If a plan isn’t working, making “midcourse corrections” or even starting from scratch may be necessary.

As executive coach Lindsay Broder puts it, “that's not defeat—it's the ultimate sign that you value the buy-in your employees have for your ideas.”