5 Strategies for Increasing Buy-In
When firms plan to make significant changes, such as implementing new software or improving an existing process, there are often questions and concerns about how to ensure a high level of buy-in. The hope is that everyone will get on board from the very beginning and it will be smooth sailing. The reality is that not everyone is going to buy in. In fact, from our experience, a small percentage of people will resist a new change no matter what. This resistance to change by just a few can be frustrating, but there are productive ways to help you navigate this challenge. Here are five strategies we have seen used within CPA firms to improve the success of their change initiatives.
#1 - Clarification and explanation
Sometimes confusion or miscommunication about a new plan or process causes a lack of buy-in. Even after a full rollout of the new plan, some people may miss an important detail or step. What was clear to one person may be difficult to understand for another. Instead of asking for clarification, some people attempt to follow the new plan without these critical pieces of information. This impacts their ability to be successful. What started as a need for more information can lead to a lack of support for the new change as discouragement settles in.
Understanding how people retain new information can help to increase buy-in. Robert Frost, an engineer and instructor at NASA explains, “Retention means being able to easily access the information later. To do that, one needs to ensure the following during learning and after: 1) Repetition 2) Connection of new information to old information.” Be proactive about providing written step-by-step documentation and resources for people to reference. Explain the new plan or process multiple times, both in a group setting and individually as needed. Connect the new information to the old by explaining differences and similarities to add additional clarity.
#2 - Training
When people challenge change, it can indicate a need for training. For example, decreased participation might be caused by not knowing how to access the correct area in the new software or from not understanding how to use a new scanner. It is important to ensure that people have been properly trained to complete new tasks and use new systems.
Training is essential for buy-in because it builds the confidence needed to perform new responsibilities. Trust also increases as people begin to master new skills. What was once viewed as change becomes the new normal. The Professional Learning Board says, “As a skill is practiced or rehearsed over days and weeks, the activity becomes easier and easier while naturally forcing the skill to a subconscious level where it becomes permanently stored for recall and habitual use at any time.” Protect time for training and anticipate the need for in-depth sessions on more challenging topics.
#3 - Gather Feedback
If you want to know why someone is opposed to change, talk to them to get a better understanding of the reason behind their reaction. This feedback, when expressed constructively, can be a gift. Give them a chance to share their thoughts and to be heard. Getting their perspective can provide insight that may not have been discovered in previous discussions. Opening up the communication can also help to build trust. However, keep in mind that addressing significant concerns is best reserved for a one-on-one discussion.
While gathering feedback can be valuable, don’t get stuck in this feedback loop. Take their comments into consideration and follow up to communicate how their feedback was implemented or will be used for continuous improvement in the future.
#4 - Share Success Stories
Do the changes have positive results? Share them! In some cases, people wait to get on board until they see that the changes are successful. It is important to capture and share success stories and statistics to help increase buy-in. This contributes to making the change more tangible and relevant.
Firm-wide change initiatives should include regular updates on progress and accomplishments. Designate several early adopters as representatives to capture “wins” from different departments and levels. People become motivated to participate in the firm’s progress, and an overall feeling of excitement and accomplishment becomes contagious.
#5 - Give it Time
For those who still aren’t convinced, time can be the best persuader. Achieving buy-in just takes more time for some people. Continue to encourage them to get on board, but don’t sacrifice the forward progress of the firm for a select few who are slow to adapt. Over time, the overall success of those following the process will far outweigh any negative impacts of those who are not.
Change is challenging, especially when it is met with resistance. In the words of Steven Covey, “Seek to understand, then to be understood.” To increase buy-in, it is important to get beneath the surface to understand the cause of the opposition. This will allow the firm to achieve alignment and growth.