Steven's Blog

The Fallacy of the Buy-In Imperative

Staff involvement in decision-making is useful means of ensuring buy-in and achieving success, as long as staff involvement does not entail abdication of your role as a leader. Not all staff involvement is good, and buy-in is not always imperative for success. Some decision are best taken unilaterally, and some changes are best imposed despite objections.

People act in their own best self-interest as they perceive it, and this does not always align with your best interest for the business, particularly when attempting strategic change.

You as a leader set direction as you see fit, even over objections and resistance. Click To Tweet

However, this does not mean that you cannot involve your staff and achieve the ever sought-after buy-in. The key is in how you involve your staff in the decisions at hand. My most successful client CEOs always make decisions of “whether” to do something unilaterally, whereas decisions of “how” to do it with staff involvement.

For example, a CEO client of mine decided that the company should drop a business line of trading in commodity products in order to make room for growth in their technologically differentiated product which the company produced. Sales managers balked at the suggestion. Half of sales were in the commodity line, and customers typically bought both.

“How will we make sales and profit quota? Will customers leave us? Will my bonus be cut? Will the company be forced to lay people off?” The sale staff ruminated on their fears. Their own perceived interests superseded the strategic business interests of the CEO.

The CEOs first inclination was to take the time to convince staff of the merits of the decision and getting buy-in before taking. However, this was unlikely to happen. The longer he waited, the more entrenched staff became in their position. In fact, the hesitation of the CEO became validation of their concerns. In the meantime, the company was missing out on business opportunity, and putting its future competitiveness at increasingly greater risk.

This is precisely the kind of “whether” decision that a leader must make unilaterally. Whether to drop the commodity product line was not a valid question to be put to staff. This decision is in the sole purview of the owners and leaders of the business. Yet “how” to go about doing it is precisely where to seek staff involvement. The CEO made the decision to drop the line, and worked with staff on the how. Initial resistance and fear gave way to productive action. Most bought into the decision and came up with great ideas for how to make the plan a success.

There is nothing wrong with consulting with your staff to help you make a decision related to strategic change. However, you make the decision as you see in the best interests of the business. Lack of buy-in should never be the deciding factor or a reason for delay. Yet once you have decided, involve your staff in the how. width=

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