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Seeking Buy-In for Process Improvement? 100% Is Not the Goal



In our work with firms, we talk a lot about buy-in. Whether we’re implementing new software or improving processes, every firm wants its people to get on board and excited about the future. While buy-in is essential, 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. You can succeed by anticipating resistance and understanding how this opposition can benefit the change initiative.


Expect resistance


There will be resistance even when the change solves a problem plaguing employees. 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.

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

  1. Fear of the unknown. This often occurs when firm leaders push change 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 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 can cause resistance. Some people overwhelmed by continuous change may give up 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 opposition derails your project.


Overcome opposition


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

Firm leaders can overcome some of that resistance by engaging those who oppose the change and listening to their concerns. When you allow employees to give their input, you assure them 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. Detractors are good because they force you to answer your why. If you win them over, they become your biggest proponents.


Move forward anyway


Problems arise when the firm stops its forward progress to cater to the few who 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 see that the process benefitted 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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