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You Don’t Need Buy-In to Implement Change

The challenge of selling change in an organization is right there in the metaphor we use when we ask the question: “Alright, great work everyone, now how do we get employees to buy-in?”

You’re (probably) doomed!

Take a salesperson you know for a cup of coffee. Preferably someone who sells professional services or technology products to enterprise customers. Ask them to explain their sales process to you.

Without a doubt, somewhere early in their description, they’ll describe the process they use to understand a prospective customer’s problem or need. If they’re really good at their job, they’ll tell you stories of how they’ve helped prospective customers uncover problems or needs the customer didn’t even know they had!

The lesson here is no one can sell a thing to someone if they don’t know they have a problem. The same goes for the employees you’re now trying to convince to adopt your change initiative.

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If there’s time for a second cup, ask them about their success rate on cold sales pitches. They’ll have one of two reactions: 1) an uncomfortable chuckle followed by a number close to zero or 2) a puzzled look accompanied with a question like, “What do you mean?”

Here’s what they’re telling you: cold sales pitches don’t work.

The act of selling works when buyers and sellers participate in a sales process together. When it’s done effectively, in partnership, in a trustworthy manner, it doesn’t feel like you’re being sold. 

The same can be said about the change process. When it’s done effectively, in partnership, in a trustworthy manner, it doesn’t feel like you’re being changed because you’re an active participant in the process.

John Kotter and his iceberg taught us this lesson. We’ve just gotten a little too linear and process-oriented on the implementation. It’s, unfortunately, what we do.

Refocus your change “selling” efforts to helping your team get engaged in the change process at the beginning. Understand the problem together. Then work on the solution together. It’s that simple. And that difficult.

But so much easier than getting employees to buy-in to any change initiative you’re peddling after the work has been completed.

“Communication of ideas helps people see the need for and the logic of a change, wrote Kotter, “The education process can involve one-on-one discussions, presentations to groups, or memos and reports.”

It’s a message that probably sounds like what you’ll hear from your salesperson friend over coffee: You don’t need buy-in at the end, you need enrollment from the start.

This article also appeared on LinkedIn

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