How to Create Buy-In Before you Blowup
The hardest thing to change is an organization’s culture. It’s exponentially more difficult when you see the need but others don’t. Some organizations die in the process. Others start, struggle, stagnate, and revert to mediocrity.
Changing organizational culture destroys leaders.
Implementing culture change produced the biggest mistakes of my leadership career. One thing I learned is people go along in silent agreement until change hits them personally. The moment of pain is the moment resistance begins.
The thing that motivates change stops it, pain.
A Leadership Freak Facebook follower offered this question to Amy Lyman, “How do you get buy-in from your employees to support culture change?”
Amy is the Cofounder of Great Place to Work®, and author of, The Trustworthy Leader. Amy has spent thirty years studying what causes some groups to thrive while others stall.
Amy points out a fatal mistake:
A fatal mistake in culture change processes happens when a small group of people tries to force a new culture on to a larger group of people.
Culture develops among people through:
- Active participation.
5 suggestions for creating buy-in by Amy Lyman:
Buy-in only happens if people are actively involved in the culture change process.
- Talk with them.
- Ask them to be involved in the process.
- Listen to their ideas.
- Give them projects to work on themselves.
- Implement some of their proposed changes.
My suggestion for creating buy-in:
Stories make us. Great stories make us great. Telling stories that illustrate the changes you seek makes change possible. I want people in the organization I lead to listen to their inner drive to make a difference. Last week we heard a “make a difference” story that made everyone applaud.
What’s your suggestion for creating buy-in during culture change?
Excellent post and insight. As you know Dan, I am in the throes of a cultural shift.
The problems that you guys have laid are are exactly where the process has stalled out.
The people who need to see the change have to be brought in and put to work during the change to accept it. The change-agent is usually so focused on what appears to them to be the obvious and desired results, they forget about those who will have to accept, do, implement and actually “do” the change.
It must be a group effort, for it to be a group result.
Your statement “the change agent is usually so focused on what appears to them….” resonates with me.
Passion is an enemy when it causes us to overpower people. I’ve been there and done that. It can be done with complete sincerity and honesty. … but it short circuits the change process.
I respect you and your contribution to the conversation,
Yep culture change is either ugly hard or beautifully rewarding, usually the ugly precedes the beautiful. I simple suggestion: create believe in your people, and let them know you’ll believe in them until they give you a reason not to (and then some). and after they have given you the reason not to, help them decide when they are leaving.
Cheers Dan and Amy
Croadie, you’re right that it usually starts ugly. That means persistence and perseverence are important.
Love the addition of belief to the conversation. People won’t go places they don’t believe in… they won’t try if they don’t believe they can…
Thank you sir,
Dan and Martina, you’re both speaking wisdom.
The implicit question is, who gets to decide what an organization’s culture should be? Either senior leadership decides, or if there’s a leadership vacuum, consensus of the group does. Either way, if you think the current culture is wrong, as an idividual your job is to persuade. Persuading is easier if you’re not confrontational.
It comes down to perceived benefits: is the end result worth the effort and disruption for all? If you’re trying to convince the boss, then you mostly need to make a cost/benefit case. If you’re trying to convince peers, then you need to cast a vision for a better workplace. If you’re trying to convince subordinates, you first have to overcome their suspicion that what you want is mostly good for you and the organization, and less so for them.
If your vision for a different culture is a good one, you’ll soon have people with you. If you find yourself fighting alone, then you’re probably the one who’s out of sync.
You cover a lot of ground in your comment… I think the best answer to who gets to decide is “we do.”
Of course a “we” assumes the culture already supports engagement rather than detachment. 😉
As always, you encourage me when you share your insights.
Spot on observations! I failed at providing the great stories that make us great. Won’t happen again.
A participant’s story goes further than a leaders exhortation! 🙂 Thanks for joining the conversation.
Want to add: Never underestimate the power of your own example. Be the change you want to see.
Great post! I love the “great stories”. I think one a leader’s important roles during change is to cast the vision of what things will look like after the change. I think descriptive stories can help do that!
I think casting the vision is painting a picture of the preferred future in language that resonates with everyone. Thanks for adding the vision component to the discussion.
Culture is what emerges when any group of people comes together for a particular purpose. It really can’t be imposed in my experience. Sure, leaders can set a tone, and there needs to be a high level of engagement across the organization to create the new definitions, if that is what is needed.
Comments from Marina and Greg move us in that direction.
I also agree that stories are instrumental in establishing culture. What are the stories people are telling themselves and one another? The themes and metaphors in these stories will be the clearest indicators of what the culture is at any given moment.
In addition to pain and fear, love and joy will instigate change – and in a more sustainable way. As we listen to our stories, what is the meaning we make of them, and what choices do they present for the future we want to create together?
Another really rich vein for conversation, Dan. Thanks for giving me something big to think about this morning.
Thanks for another insightful comment.
As I read your thoughts on listening to the stories people are telling, I got a bit uncomfortable. Sometimes, I don’t like hearing their stories. However, listening for what I want to hear vs. what is actually being said causes disconnection and failure.
Thanks for the challenge.
Create a culture means live the culture. Set example. Be a “hands-on” leader. As example, let’s tak about create a Best Experience culture. What this means ? Create a real Best Experience for Customers, Suppliers, Processes, Board of Directors , Associates. If you belive that within your ratio of control you can create the best experience for your peers, boss, direct reports, etc, you will be commited to perform at that level. And not necessary means smile all day (which also is not a bad idea) , but means DELIVER FINISHED GOODS every day. And if the entire Company is committed to it, you will see an environment of accountability, ownership, perfomance oriented but also with a high morale , a motivated company.
As Leader, the man who drives all this has to be the one with more energy, and again, a hands-on leader. Not only demonstrate on speechs, but demonstrate it with facts. Walk the production floor or offices, talk to tha associates, use emphaty, show the acknowledge of the whole business, show interest from Operating Statements to the daily duties of a Janitor, treat them equal, have fun with all , create a team,, create Best Experience for everybody. And have always in front of everybodythe Vision, where we will get together ,,,,, soon.
Welcome back. I can see your real-world experience in every sentence.
In one sense leaders always lead by example. Sometimes it’s a bad example but they are still leading. I love how you call us to intentionally exemplify the culture by turning our focus not only on external customers but internal ones as well. It sounds like a way to create an authentic organization.
Best to you in Mexico,
As leaders it is so easy to run ahead to that future or solution that seems so crystal clear, and yet is not felt or understood by others.
I totally agree with the comment that culture emerges from any group of people interacting together. The need for inclusion in the change process can’t be overstated.
Values on a wall don’t mean a thing by themselves. It takes time, the aforementioned stories, repetition with multiple points of contact, and strong leadership by example. And even with all that, there are sometimes still individuals who do not want to be a part of the new culture and may need help moving on.
Thanks for the post, Dan.
OUCH..OUCH…OUCH!! You really kicked me in the pants.
I’ve been the victim of running to fast and far ahead because of passion gone wild.
Makes me think of Coach Wooden’s quote… something like.. “go slow in order to go fast.”
Best to you,
For what it’s worth, I was kicking myself in the pants. If my foot was a little too wide, sorry about that 😉
Go slow to go fast is one of my mantras…consistently have to reel myself back in.
Dan and Amy,
Your insights are so inspirational. The telling and sharing of stories is so truthful. Culture change is hard and being able to share the vision for your district (I’m in education) is vitally important. Once the vision is there, hopefully the buy-in will come with it. But…got to keep telling the stories. Thanks again for your continued great posts.
I’m taking away.. “keep telling the stories” …. there is no once and done in culture change.
A very interesting post with great insight. Lot of good practical tips to initiate the change process.
The easy way of bringing a change in an organization culture is to take people along with conviction and introduce better systems & procedures what can transform the work habits and ensure better results.
You need to create a task force team who would be required to lead from the front and win confidence of people to work differently with a positive mind-set.
Dr. Asher, your comment about a task force or leadership team is interesting, and brings with it the question of measurement. Teams formed for a specific purpose have to know when they have fulfilled that purpose. I wonder how we know when culture change has been achieved. Are there any measurables?
Thanks for sharing your views in support. The task force/ leadership team will of course be given the necessary tasks for bringing in the desired changes in organization working for better results. There will be time-bound schedules for completing the activity chart.
The measurement will be in the form of specific impact that would come with collective refined efforts; be it in terms of becoming more professional, following good values & ethics as part of regular acts, customer orientation/ satisfaction, interpersonal relationship with higher productivity etc. The factual information/data by way of actual results and employee satisfaction level can speak of organizational culture change. Six months to a year’s time after completion of the assigned tasks will reveal the real benefits.
Employees change their work style and increase their commitment levels once they see and experience the benefits of a changing work/ organization culture. It’s the primary responsibility of a CEO along with HR Head to effectively plan and ensure finest execution by forming good teams of deliverable.
Hiring a good consultant to bring in the desired organizational culture change is very practical. The things what insiders find difficult to do is done by an outsider after assessing the need gaps areas. HR, of course, then takes the responsibility of its continuous execution by introducing result-oriented systems and procedures.
You may need to weed out those who are problematic and reluctant to change their work styles.
Dear Dr. Asher,
Greg and others have already cheered your important contribution to the conversation… create a task force.
I’ll just say… thanks for adding value once again.
Love your insight and comments. Most of my experience with this topic comes from within the church culture. In recent years the push for church to be culturally relevant has caused significant push back from those who have become comfortable with “what is.”
Your 3 steps( Interaction, Inclusion and Active participation) can not be over-emphasized or ignored in importance, especially in a volunteer based organization. You must engage your most invested individuals if you ever expect a successful cultural shift..
We share a similar orientation and I know exactly where you are coming from.
Working to shift culture in the nonprofit sector is a great way to lose key volunteers who have both created and sustain the existing culture.
In the not for profits world… never demonize the past in order to create a future. When you do you insult sincere, dedicated, followers who built that past.
A lot depends on the size of the company; number of employees potentially involved in the change. Obviously smaller companies will likely have less difficulty with change because of having less people affected.
Here’s one of those typical stories.. bear with me here. Years ago I was a supervisor in a major national office supply mail order company. At the time we had about 350 employees; a combination of warehouse (shipping & receiving) and a large clerical staff to process orders, work the phones, etc. One day the owners came up with the idea (no doubt “sold” to them from a firm that made money at this) of starting “Quality Circles”. Some of your readers might not have even been born when this idea came out in the 80’s. Essentially it was an attempt to empower the employee through group interaction to make effective changes within their own work area.
It was a concept spawned from the Japanese, who in turn had it introduced to them after WW2 by an American. It required that each work area… accounting, customer service, inventory control, etc. would organize the employees within their area into “circles” (a variant of the “focus group”), with the facilitator being the immediate supervisor. At circle meetings ideas were expressed through “brainstorming” (a relatively new term at the time)… the idea of allowing creative thoughts to be spewed forth randomly, and without judgment from the rest of the group, and written down for later discussion and prioritization. These thoughts being spewed out were to be areas and/or processes within their own departments that people thought needed change. From there each thought area was researched by sub-teams of that circle then openly discussed. In the end changes were made to make their little work area better. Now, the strength to this entire process was that it was MANDATORY that everyone be in a circle; no one employee could bow out because workload was too much that day. Also mandatory was management’s acceptance of any changes that passed muster in the circle process. The success of this entire process was the commitment of corporate management to time and resources, the enthusiastic implementation by middle management , and the acceptance by the employees that all this time away from their desk will end up making their jobs more efficient.
This was a real culture-shock when it was first being introduced within the company. For the most part our firm was fairly progressive anyway and the average employee could generally “champion” an idea through the process. The company was younger at the time compared to most, and not overly cemented in management fiefdoms and protective political bubbles. The first blush reaction was, “Why?”. The first “hard sell” was to middle management.. managers and supervisors. Without them doing the rah-rah thing within their own departments the process would likely not work. We had copius numbers of training meetings (on top of all the regular meetings in running a company). But in the end, in spite of all the initial rolling eyes and wondering where all this time was going to come from… each of us management types had to conform. Then we went to our subordinates and again with all the rolling eyes and objections about time limitations in the course of their individual workdays. But at this level there was also the other thing… the natural employee skepticism that management… uh huh… was going to change anything that they dreamed up; that they had the power to make change within the organization that management had to accept. This was the crux of accepting this total company commitment and getting it to work. But it was not easy in the beginning. But for the most part, as the circles became accepted, employees were encouraged, and changes were made that did indeed improve the workplace and make the company operate a little better.
But the problem ended up being one of continuing to feed this culture “monster”…. keeping interest alive at all levels. In the end what killed it was that most of the major issues within each department had been addressed, changes made, and the progression down that original prioritized brainstorm list had reached the level of relative insignificance given the time needed to continue with the circle process. Which also illustrates that simply introducing a culture shift within a corporation is not enough. It also requires that this new culture constantly be fed from the top… led from the top down. Continued focus; continued application of the elements that make it the culture.
Anyway, all this simply illustrates that changing a company culture can be as tough as keeping the momentum going. Hence many falter and retro back into that one “default” culture… complacency.
Dear Doug’s BoomerRants,
Your insights and experiences are great. I agree with your points and suggestions. I believe that leaders at top plays great role in changing culture. This change could be healthy as well as unhealthy as well. It depends upon the values and personality of the leaders. What is his parameters for success. Leaders of successful organizations keep the interest of organizations above their interest. on the other hand, leaders in unsuccessful organization, keep their interest above everything. That makes all the difference. To make change and culture better, leaders need dogged courage. They will face resistance but they will win. There are other category as well. They are pleaser. They do not want to change because they do not want do displease others. This category actually ruin the organization, culture and people. Unfortunately, in most of the organizations, leaders at the top are in second category.
Dear Doug’s BommerRants,
I admire the concept of ‘Quality Circles’ to bring in the needed improvement in various functional areas. During ’80s, many large- sized Indian progressive firms implemented Kaizen and Just In Time [JIT] practices and benefited.
This was one of the bold ways to bring in the cultural change. Here again, the smaller teams with specific tasks did wonders in reducing the cost and increasing the productivity.
Nothing like real world experience to bring sobriety to the topic.
First… I love your comment regarding first response… “WHY”… Without a compelling “why” attempting change is futile.
I started feeling the conclusion you felt as I read your comment. After awhile the benefit to time ratio fades and the process loses significance.
Anyone reading your comment will be helped. Thank you for taking the time to share.
Dr. Asher’s task force is the approach I have seen/been in that has work well. That is the cadre of 10%, the banner wavers, the ‘French foreign legion’ or trailblazers need leadership, endorsement, support and allocation of resources. That group most likely will be able to identify milestones along the way that would be measurable. That group needs to passionately own ‘the stories’.
That is definitely work to be done ‘during’ culture change.
Before that, the leadership vision (however acquired) needs to be aligned with what those we serve are telling us…the true stories.
Before that, the person that tells me, “that was one of the worst experiences of my life, I will remember it for the rest of my life” or “this was an amazing experience, why aren’t others doing it the way you all do it?” has given me my marching orders. I own and am responsible for that experience for the rest of my own life as well. That is a true experience or true story.
Leaders often get lost in the ‘Eureka’ lights. Your ‘a-ha’ moment may not be in the same time frame as mine or as those who are doing the work. This requires leaders to respectfully, pace,pace, pace change and step back periodically. Of course it makes sense, of course it is the ‘right thing to do’ and of course it will provide better service…however, pacing change is an an art and a science. The leadership streets are scattered with the best intentioned ‘flavor initiatives of the month’. This is of course counterbalanced with an intuitive sense of urgency…ouch.
Before implementing culture change, look at what you have, look at where you think you want to be and begin mapping and factoring in pace before implementing. Know that each person’s pace is slower than your pace or at least different. Respect that.
Doc, appreciate your comments regarding pace and allowing time. People need opportunities not just to consider, but to discuss. Everyone processes things partly with their brains and partly with their mouths; those opportunities to talk it through are significant.
I used to be one of those.. “it can’t be fast enough” types. Sometimes, when execution is in view, speeding up may be appropriate. However, when it comes to culture change, speeding up results in eventual crash and burn.
Once again your wisdom and experience shine through and you help us all.
Is there any way to get a copy of the story, “Make a Difference” that you mentioned above?
The “make a difference” story is a generic expression I used to categorize a specific story that came from an individual in our organization. Sorry for the confusion. “make a difference” isn’t the title of the story.
Hi Dan and Amy,
great post, insights and comments. We have been going through a cultural transformation over the last five years. Our biggest nemesis has been trying to stay connected by communicating as often as possible. With 1200 staff members and now close to 220 providers in 20 different locations, getting the word out on a continual basis is a challenge.
We have learned that the task force concept works but we have also discovered as Dan pointed out that folks seem supportive until the change knocks on their door. Then all of a sudden they never heard about it or it was misconstrued. I have come to appreciate the statement especially with physicians but it applies to everyone that “if the party is in the room it is called planning and if not it is called plotting.”
I tthink the comment about the “pacing” is spot on and more than once we have had to do a “gentle brief retreat” for fear of derailing. Getting people to tackle the concept of “enterprise” vs. “silo” has been onerous and tongue in cheek of course the administrative team has thought about investing in a flock of parrots to help us with the infinite re-iterations necessary for the amnesic minds which appear to function on demand.
We have made forward progress and surprisingly have had minimal to no casualties but quite honestly one wonders about the risk benefit ratio of stopping the bus to let someone off or better said show them off and forfeit some forward momentum. Longstanding organizations (160 years for us) tend not to have the necessary plasticity where quick agile moves can be made although dynamic changes are occurring continously.
The “change mover” as has been mentioned may be passionate and might even apppear clairvoyant but not everyone buys it and that reality needs to be understood and accepted. Sometimes it takes something dramatic and disruptive like the ACA (Affordable Care Act ) to wake everyone up and realize the train has left the station and there is no way to go back other than stopping it, getting down and walking.
What has saved us so far is the very slow recruitment of additional members who then take the message further inside giving us much needed traction. Act III is about to start and we will see what the critics say about the show. thanks for listening. 🙂
One of the things underneath your comment regards the reasons motivating culture change. In your case internal growth and external regulations. Both are powerful pain points. Yes, growth hurts too.
I wonder if one factor for motivating culture change is the depth at which various constituents feel the pain that motivates the change. There must be a tight rope between letting it hurt and offering solutions.
Toward the end of your comment you mention recruitment of additional members. I’ve also found that new people, who have credibility, are a tremendous help in helping organizations move forward.
Your contribution to the Leadership Freak community is greatly appreciated. I love your spirit.
sometimes culture change is really difficult to establish in an organization, in my country and in the company I am belong now there are 69 regular employees who work with the company 10 years above a certain culture establish even the manager would like to make some changes, the plan nver became successful…although I really hopes for the best and I pray it soon…:)
YOu have my best wishes as you work to create a successful future for yourself and your organization… Cheers, Dan
I agree with the suggestion given by Mr ” Amy Lyman”. We can get buy-in to support culture change through interaction, inclusion and active participation. The classic example could be ” Toyota” culture. Here, they involve almost every employee in decision making process and seek their suggestion. While executing suggestions, 99% of the suggestions are implemented. This is the way, they create buy-in. In the same way, organizations can create buy-in. It is rightly said, that problems occur when few people try to impose change on large number of people. I also see, recognition of deserving and honest employees are great area of concern. This is the ability of the leaders to identify real resources of the organizations.
Routine meetings are time wasters, if they only complete formality. I have seen that there are usually few people who impose and direct meetings. Here leadership capability comes into play. The need is to create culture of freedom, unbiased, equality, respect, where each and every employee irrespective of position, can share his feelings and opinions. This can be great push in changing culture.
I strongly believe that leaders should be people person to change the culture positively. Simply sitting in the cabin and circulating memo can not change culture.
Your comment reminds me of Francis Hesslebien who every time I heard her say engage people… she had to say engage three times.. engage … engage … engage… It was like a holy trinity to her.
“Routine meetings are time wasters, if they only complement formality”… KaChing!
Thank you for adding value to the conversation. You matter.
I’m going through this at work right now, except in the opposite direction. The employees want change and management is resisting out of fear. It’s a small company and we’ve all worked together and built this little company up over the years. We’re all really proud of it but feel that the time has come to change in order to grow. And we’ve always done things like you mentioned in your post: “Stories make us. Great stories make us great. Telling stories that illustrate the changes you seek makes change possible”. But for reasons related to fear of change, management is resisting; believing that we have gone far enough and done enough to make the company great. Can stories change management’s attitude?
Another culture change challenge occurs when the newer employees are more open to the transition than those who are more tenured. This can cause resentment on the part of the more senior employees.
The biggest mistake with culture change is not linking it to the business results, and not having it driven by the leaders. So much of the discussion around culture change is still fluffy and confusing to leaders, and that contributes to the difficulties described here.
Using definitions of cultural elements that are behaviorally described, backed by hard research which shows the linkage between culture and financial results, and is language that everyone from CEO to front line employees helps a lot.
Additionally, after seeing, and trying to lead so many culture change efforts, we’ve seen all the major ways to fail, and more importantly learned that there are some short cuts. Several management practices when implemented by nearly every modern organization – large, small, whatever the industry – find their culture producing better results. And without the gut wrenching that comes from trying to “transform the DNA” of the organization. The later is not recommended, as that is brutally hard.
Good post on the real value of inclusive change verses imposed change.
As John Harvey Jones put it so well the task of leadership is to make remaining in the status quo more risky staying than launching into the new unknown.
When we can work to truly understand someone’s intrinsic motivators then apply strategies and appropriate rewards to meet them we’re on course to assist personal growth of the individual. When you have positive self worth of everyone you have a chance and that starts with removing a ‘fear’ based culture which often change brings.
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