Leaders are encouraged to get buy-in from those they lead when making a major decision, particularly a decision that will bring change to the organization. Kotter outlines 8 steps to manage change, and the fourth step is “communicate for buy-in,” and that is, indeed a critical step.
However, many leaders have misinterpreted buy-in and see it as input in the decision-making process. This can lead to confusion. Picture this all-too-common scenario: a leader calls the team together in a meeting, presents a problem, and then asks the team to come up with solutions. The team works diligently to hammer out possible solutions, which the leader graciously thanks the team for creating. A few days later, an email outlines the new solution that looks nothing like what the team created.
Here is what happened: the leader already had an idea about what the solution should be. She knew she needed buy-in from her team, so she asked them what they thought, hoping they would come up with the solution she already had in mind. Unfortunately, they did not, so she sat on it for a few days pondering her options. Ultimately she decided to go with the plan she already had and sent it out, thanking the team for their input. In an effort to create buy-in for a pre-determined plan, she actually created angst and frustration on the team as they wondered why they worked so hard on a solution that was dismissed.
Although it may seem ideal to get the team to come up with the solution, there are times when, legitimately, the leader has a prescribed solution that must be followed. When that happens, it is best to be clear in communication with the team.
Present the Plan
Meet with the team and go over the problem that the team is facing. Outline the plan that you have created and provide the reasoning and context that caused you to create that particular plan.
Open the Floor for Discussion
Before you gather feedback from the team, be clear about the parts of the plan that are not negotiable. Which parts of the plan must remain in place? Which parts must be there but could be modified? Then, ask the team to provide their input. What are aspects of the plan that could face challenges? Without changing the plan, what can the team do to help overcome those challenges?
Consider the Feedback
Let the team know that you value the time they have invested in giving you feedback. Tell them you plan to consider the feedback and you will determine whether changes will be made to the plan or not. Then, spend time honestly considering the feedback. You may even want to bring in one or two trusted team members to act as a sounding board while you consider various pieces of feedback and how they might affect the plan.
Communicate your Decision
If possible, call the team back together to present the final plan. Talk about aspects of their feedback that you included in the plan and how you believe that feedback made the plan better. It may help to talk about certain aspects of the feedback that you left out and why. This sort of transparency builds your team communication in two important ways: 1. The team can hear evidence that you listened to the feedback, even if you rejected it. This will make your team members feel heard and valued. 2. This provides the team with a glimpse into your decision-making process – how do you consider feedback and how you decide what gets included and what does not. This will help your team give you feedback in the future that will be more in line with your thinking.