I’ve been at my company for more than 16 years now, and I was first given a leadership-Capital-L position in about 2002 when I had the chance to manage our after school programming. At that time it was a small program—we served about 10 schools in the Bronx and I had a staff of about 30. And let me tell you, in the beginning, I was awful. I was awful because I focused only on my Capital L leadership. I read books on what it meant to be a LEADER and tried to follow some sort of pre-designed script. It just didn’t work. I wasn’t connecting with my staff at all. It was only when I stopped focusing on my Capital L leadership and instead brought my lower-case-l leadership to the job that I started to have success. Meaning, I stopped worrying about what it meant to be a LEADER and instead I focused on what my team needed from me, Erika the person. What qualities I uniquely have that added value to the program and their success. For me, those qualities include things like humor, compassion, and creative problem solving. And each of you have your own unique blend; blends that can help you towards achieving staff buy-in.
I’ve spent the better part of the last 12 years bringing my lower-case leadership to the job, and watching others either do the same, or not (both at my company and at organizations across the country), and I swear it is the key to a healthy and thriving team.
Why? It’s simple: staff won’t buy-in unless they feel connected. They might do the job, but they won’t be as invested as they could be. And your staff won’t feel connected if you aren’t interacting with them on a human-to-human level. Remember this: you have the potential to positively or negatively influence everyone that you encounter. As Doug Conant, former CEO of Campbell’s Soup, said: “Even a brief interaction can change the way people think about themselves, their leaders, and the future. Each of those many connections you make has the potential to become a high point or a low point in someone's day.” Every interaction has the potential to be a high or low point in someone’s day. Every single one. As a leader, the first way to ensure staff buy-in is to simply remember that.
Another way to foster staff buy-in is to create a community where ideas are shared and heard, healthy debates are encouraged, and trust is high. If you make a decision that your staff doesn’t agree with, but they feel like they’ve had the opportunity to share with you their thoughts and feelings and that you truly took them into consideration, you won’t lose buy-in at all. Buy-in isn’t about everyone always agreeing; rather, it’s about everyone feeling like they are a part of the process.
So, a staff that feels connected and like they are part of a community: those are two keys ways to get, and maintain, staff buy-in. But that’s only the beginning! For staff to buy-in to what you’re asking them to do, they have to know why you’re asking: What’s the vision? What’s the plan? Sharing long term goals and objectives can help your staff remain bought-in during in the short term, especially if you’re encountering a difficult quarter: I’ll stay on the road with you if I know where we’re headed, but if I don’t know where the road is headed, I’m more likely to take the first available detour elsewhere.
Ultimately, staff buy-in is about staff commitment, and the level of staff commitment depends upon the level of trust that your staff feels toward you and the organization, and the level of passion or energy they feel around the work that you are doing. So what are you doing each day to cultivate trust and passion? Take a look at how you are creating connection between you and your staff, and amongst staff; examine the community that you are building; and check in on how often you are sharing long term goals and visions. If you build up these areas, your trust and passion will grow, too.
What do you think? How else do you garner staff buy-in? Where are you challenged? We’d love to hear your best practices and help troubleshoot your problem areas—tell us about it all in the comments below.
"Lower-case "leadership": Achieving Staff Buy-in through Connectivity", The Leadership Program, Inc. 2016