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Want change? Why your team isn't buying.

April 26, 2021

By Randy Hall


It’s fairly often that I have conversations with clients about how change happens in their business. Businesses that are growing, thriving, and sustainable are constantly in a state of change.  No one improves without change.

But also, often, leaders spend time thinking about how they can get others in the business to “buy in'' to the changes they want to make.  Most leaders understand that if others in an organization are going to successfully execute or engage in a change effort, they need to agree with it, support it, or otherwise think it’s a thing worth doing.  So countless hours are spent trying to get teams of people to “buy in” to the new way of doing things.

If you doubt that, google “getting buy in for change” or something similar and you will find hordes of articles with titles like “10 ways to get buy in for change,” or “the key to change management is getting buy in”.

To be fair, there are some good thoughts in some of the articles about how to lead effective change inside an organization.  The challenge starts though, with leaders thinking about change as something they decide on and then sell to others as a good idea. 

That usually doesn’t work.

You can find lots of well-done research out there that says that somewhere between 65% and 80% of organizational change fails.  Ever try to make a change happen on your team or in your business and have it not gone well?  Either it takes too long, or it is poorly executed, or it never gets the results you expected?  Well, you are surrounded by others who feel that way too.

The core of why many, if not most, of these failures happen is this central belief that we should decide on a direction and then get others to agree with it and move toward it.  That somehow, our powers of persuasion, or fantastically compelling arguments will clearly demonstrate why others should be passionate about the direction we think is best and will fully commit to going in that direction with us.

That’s also part of how we come to believe that great leaders must be charismatic, or gifted orators, or negotiation experts.  It’s not true and I can introduce you to plenty of great leaders that aren’t those things and that can lead organizational change exceptionally well.

The truth about human change is that no one executes the ideas of others very well.  They need ownership of an idea to even have a chance to execute it successfully. The whole reason this buy in thing became a thing is that people inherently get that.  They wanted to make change, something that was everyone’s idea.  But the path most managers take to that, is to convince people to agree with an idea about change, and agreement is light years away from ownership.

The reality is that we don’t even execute most of our own ideas very well.  Ever have something that you intended to do, believed was best for you, and thought was valuable, but didn’t do it?  When that is true about humans, how do we ever expect others to execute the things that they agree with, but don’t have genuine connection to?

Our only chance at leading anything more than a basic process or procedure change in any organization is to create ownership of an idea among the team, not agreement.  And the only way to create ownership is through involvement.

Agreement is a surface level acceptance of a thing and it can sometimes generate compliance with an idea, but change doesn’t happen through compliance.

Ownership is a complete connection to the success of the idea, and it can generate commitment.  Commitment is essential for real lasting change to happen successfully.

Ownership happens when people process an idea in ways that help them understand it more completely, connect deeper value to the effort required to execute an idea, and then think through the actions, challenges, and opportunities associated with the idea.  Ownership means that I am connected to something, not that I just allowed it into my life.

Think about these differences:

  • I agreed with the salesperson that this would be the best value for me in a car purchase
    vs.
    I couldn’t wait to be sitting in and driving that car.
  • I think a vacation to a certain area would be cost effective and give us a nice break from work
    vs.
    One day, I have always dreamt of going to a certain place and experiencing it.
  • I think working out might help me be in better shape and feel better
    vs.
    Physical fitness is essential for my health and it must be part of my day or I don’t feel good.

Now think about the time, focus, mental exploration, and repetitive thoughts that drive the second set of beliefs in those statements.  That’s what we have to create in our business and on our team if we want real change to happen sustainably and successfully.

I am not talking about minor changes in a business or team. Those are more easily connected to than changes in strategy, culture, direction, focus, or a different vision, future, or approach to the marketplace.  That’s what I mean about real change and those are the ones that will never happen without deep thinking and time for real connection to them.  That only comes with involvement.

Involvement means I am part of a change, not just responsible for executing it.

Involvement means I helped shape a change, not just bought into someone else’s picture of how it would look.

Involvement means someone chalked the field for me, but I got to call the plays myself.


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