Leadership Qualities: Buy-In.

Ever heard the phrase, “You can lead a horse to the water but you can’t make him drink?”  Well, good leaders know that they need to have their team members commit to the goal and the process in order to achieve success.

As we continue to celebrate Easter, imagine a kindergarten teacher shepherding her little brood as they make Easter bonnets as an art activity.  As their little hands work she shares stories of the people who wore such bonnets and how the photographers snapped their photos as they paraded down the street.  During the music session, the little brood is again taught the song, “Easter Parade” and told how they will sing this song and wear their Easter bonnets as they parade around the grounds of the school.  The little brood works hard at creating their bonnets and learning the song knowing that the day is coming when they will get to parade around the grounds with their parents and teachers and the entire school family watching them!  These are special memories from my childhood as I reflect on the power of buy-in.  Leaders can accomplish any goal if they have buy-in from their team – young or old.

In business, buy-in has two meanings, a personal one and a financial one.  For our purposes we will define personal buy-in “as the acceptance of and commitment to a specific concept or course of action. We hear the term used often in the context of people agreeing to accept something and provide their support” (Martin in Small Business Network, 2007).  Research has shown that 70% of all organizational change efforts fail.  A major reason given for this is the lack of buy-in for executives for their initiatives and ideas” (Kotter in Hedges, 2015; https://www.forbes.com/sites/work-in-progress/2015/03/16/how-to-get-real-buy-in-for-your-idea/#2172b1594044).  

Success is dependent not only on money, but also on the buy-in and support of stakeholders (including, community, corporate, political).  So, partners must be identified and deliberately cultivated (University of South Florida, slide 21; http://www.grad.usf.edu/inc/linked-files/Principles%20of%20Leadership%20Skills.pdf).  However, as you will see from the data and the cases highlighted below, not everyone knows how to prioritize this skill in organizations.  But, the impact is phenomenal for those who are able to get buy-in.

Photos courtesy of Unsplash.

According to Jason Foster (2018), CEO and Founder of Cynozure, a company committed to changing the way people do business by using data analytics and artificial intelligence, companies face leadership challenges when implementing a data strategy.

CEOs consume data!  So, there is an increasing urgency for collaboration between them and their  Chief Information Officer (CIO) or Chief Data Officer (CDO) to use data to transform the organisation and to increase the data literacy of their organisation.  But,

  1. The responsibility for data in an organisation is often undefined. 39% of leaders surveyed say that their CDO is responsible for data strategy and results; 37% assign that to other members of the C-suite, and a further 24% don’t have anyone accountable for data use.
  2. There needs to be a strong data culture. 99% of firms surveyed understand that they need to cultivate a data-driven culture. 33% of those companies say they have succeeded in this.
  3. CEOs do not trust data.  56% of CEOs flag concerns about data integrity and don’t fully trust the data that they are using for decisions. A further 36% feel they need to invest more in data quality (https://medium.com/@cynozure/getting-leadership-buy-in-your-data-strategy-needs-a-motivated-ceo-a151eaef2f56).

The only way to fix this problem is to get leadership buy-in!

A few steps to do this are: by showing the how you can improve profits by 5% or 20% by implementing this strategy; provide information on competitors who are using data and outperforming the company; focus on quick wins in projects that are least costly and will deliver quickly; highlight the added benefits of improved data literacy, better customer service and more informed decision making; and, most importantly, get everyone involved (Foster, 2018).  

One successful entity maximizing employee buy-in through their corporate culture is Rakuten, and their CEO, Hiroshi “Mickey” Mikitani.  Rakuten’s values the spirit of entrepreneurship, lofty ambitions and a sense of unity are embodied in the Asakai (mandatory morning meetings) and weekly desk-cleaning traditions. These strategies have led to the success of their englishnization programme which has been closely monitored by Harvard Professor Tsedal Neeley since 2011.

Of note is that the Asakai provides real-time connection for more than 10,000 employees in branch offices in Japan and overseas.  Highlights of these meetings are the shared  goals requiring daily improvement; employees updated on developments across the Group; and, boosting yoko-ten (Rakuten’s term for disseminating best practices throughout the Group).  Through weekly desk cleaning, everyone (including the CEO) gets a chance to “clear the decks” in one’s mind.  It also strengthens employees’ awareness that they are connected to every aspect of the company (https://rakuten.today/blog/rakuten-corporate-culture.html).

For leaders assuming new positions, they need innovative ways of creating employee buy-in. As the new Director of Research at the Vanderbilt Ingram Cancer Center’s (VICC) Clinical Trials Office,  Kelly Willenberg (2014) had to think of new ways to engage employees.  The solution was the GLUE (Greater Loyalty Utilizing Empowerment) Committee started by the staff.  Over the years it assisted her in building a sense of community in her team and also allowed for the necessary problem-solving and feedback loops (https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1038825.pdf).

Also, Miriam A. Campo (2014) thought that it was her job to revise the outdated  policies and procedures manual in the Office of Sponsored Programs at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville campus.  However, being unsuccessful for several years, she decided to form a team of volunteers.  Her aim: “to engage those who had an interest in writing procedures, and to have employee buy-in” (p.4).   And, what began as the “Policies and Procedures Manual Committee” soon became the “Website Committee.”  The team set regular meetings, set goals for one another, and held each other accountable.  At the unveiling of the website, the team members glowed with pride at what they had accomplished (http://www.ncura.edu/portals/0/docs/rmr/v20n1_campo.pdf).  

Photos courtesy of Unsplash.

Getting buy-in takes time, but the dividends are worth the effort!

Here are a few of the steps suggested by Shannon Kluczny (2016), Chief Revenue Officer at BizLibrary for improving buy-in:  

1. Know your leaders.   Knowing their personality will guide your approach, including selecting their choice of charts and graphs, detailed information or simply numbers.  

2. Identify above or bottom line indicators.  State if the company will make money or save money.

3. Identify the strategy.  Needs mutual buy-in to align it to a business objective, goal or challenge.  Develop related goals and metrics to presenting to leadership.

4. Build an accountability plan.  Note expectations and agree upon an overall marketing plan to the rest of the organization.   

5. Consider timing.  Be aware of budgeting processes and business dependencies to minimize the risk of conflicting demands.

6. Be invested.  Show enthusiasm, focus and credibility.

Leadership buy-in within your organization can be your biggest support system!

No one knows this more this Easter season as French President Emmanuel Macron in the wake of the fire at the Notre Dame Cathedral. After his address to the nation, every class of citizen, from billionaires to the average man in the street, pledged money for the rebuilding.

Three other black church leaders and communities in Appaloosa, Louisiana are also having to find buy-in for rebuilding efforts after their churches were burned by the sheriff deputy’s 21-year old son (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BIXIG9ZrvYk). Already, they are reaching out to each other. Additionally, the world watched in horror as bombs exploded in Sri Lankan churches and luxury hotels on Easter Sunday morning. For their ashes, they are seeing the world united in love to support them in crisis (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4CPCeFQ7jLg).

So, as you attempt to gain buy-in for your organization’s goals, listen before you speak!  Understanding and articulating the needs of your organization will go a long way in establishing buy-in.  Learn more in Be Prepared and other works at  http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/KeishaAMitchellPhD  and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zfPWaPCJ0vE  .

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