• Arianna Campbell, Consultant

Everyone Doesn’t Have to Buy-In


In our work with firms, we talk a lot about buy-in. Whether we’re implementing new software or improving processes, every firm wants their people to get on board and excited about the future. While buy-in is important, we also find that sometimes those expectations are unreasonable. You’ll never achieve 100% buy-in, and if that’s what you’re waiting for to make a change, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Success can be found in anticipating resistance and understanding how this opposition can benefit the change initiative.

Expect resistance

Even when the change is a solution to a problem that has been plaguing employees, there will be resistance. Research on brain function shows that resistance is not simply a psychological reaction to change, but a physiological reaction. It actually provokes sensations of physical discomfort.

As soon as you think about change, do you automatically think of the individuals who will resist the project? Often, project leaders know exactly who is going to oppose a new plan, but they do nothing to address the resistance up front. There are five main reasons people resist change:

  1. Fear of the unknown. The occurs mainly when change is pushed onto people without giving them adequate warning and helping them understand why the changes are needed and how their jobs/work will be affected. Informed employees tend to be more supportive.

  2. Mistrust. When there is a lack of trust in the motive behind the change or the intent of those leading the initiative, people tend to be less open to getting on board.

  3. Loss of security/control. Changes that can be seen as downsizing or restructuring can cause employees to fear losing their jobs or being moved into other positions without their input. They may worry their skills will become obsolete or that they won’t be able to develop the new skills necessary and won’t survive the transition.

  4. Bad timing. Too much change in a short period of time can cause resistance. Some people who are overwhelmed by continuous change may resign themselves and go with the flow, but don’t mistake compliance for acceptance.

  5. Individual predispositions. Individuals have different tolerances for change. Some people enjoy it because it provides an opportunity to learn and grow. Others prefer a set routine.

Expect the resistance and be proactive and specific about where it will come from and what objectives will drive it. Then you can act before the resistance has a chance to derail your project.

Overcome opposition

Change is a constant, and most people dislike change, at least to some degree and for a variety of reasons. People prefer comfort and stability over change in both their personal and professional lives. So we shouldn’t be caught by surprise when a handful of people aren’t on board.

Some of that resistance can be overcome by engaging those who oppose the change and listening to their concerns. When you allow employees to give their input, they can be assured that they’re part of a team that cares about its employees.

Work to help people understand your why questions: why do we need to change and why will this be better than before? After answering these questions, don’t be discouraged by having a few detractors. As Tom Luken, Partner and Chief Operating Officer of Sikich LLP noted in his client spotlight, detractors are a good thing because they force you to truly answer your why. “If you manage to win them over,” Luken says, “you’ve managed to answer your why. They’ll become your biggest proponents.”

Move forward anyway

Problems arise when the firm stops their forward progress to cater to the handful of people that didn’t buy in. While we should continue to try to get those detractors on board, the reality is that some just won’t. They’ll either find that they are isolated, or they’ll see that the process actually did benefit the firm and get on board. Of course, the third option is that they find another sandbox to play in. Yes, you may lose people, but you will attract others who share your vision and are passionate about helping you achieve it.

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As a consultant for Boomer Consulting, Inc., Arianna Campbell helps accounting firms challenge the status quo by leading process improvement initiatives that result in increased profitability and client satisfaction. She also facilitates the development and cultivation of future firm leaders in The P3 Leadership Academy™ Academy. Internally, she blends concepts from Lean Six Sigma and leadership development to drive innovation and continuous improvement within the company. Arianna also enjoys the opportunity to share knowledge through regular contributions to the Boomer Bulletin and other industry wide publications, as well as public speaking at industry conferences.

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