4 Questions Successful Leaders Ask That Build Buy-in You Can Learn From
The first thing I’m gonna say is that creating buy-in is a waste of time. I say that because of the premise that creating “buy-in” is based upon. . . the idea that I’m gonna convince you that my idea or solution is right.
If you’re thinking “how am I gonna get them to get on board. . . to buy-in. . . to go along” then you’ve already lost.
And I know it's just a saying, as in, “Tim’s bought in!”, but it actually distorts how we see the change process. . . it limits our ability to create real adoption.
I’m more interested in talking about how to create advocacy than buy-in. That’s powerful to me. Its not semantics either. There’s a big difference between a team going along with a change and a team driving change. And at the center of that difference is how we approach the conversation.
Simon Sinek talks about the Golden Circle (Why, How, What). At the center of the circle is "Why", the next ring that moves outward is "How", and finally "What." He posits that most of us start conversations from the "What" or the "How" instead of coming from "Why."
Think about a change you introduced to your team (IT implementation, New process, New tools or concepts). How did you introduced the change?
50% of the time leaders make the mistake of starting the conversation for change with the WHAT (the change, the tool, the goal/outcome) or the HOW (the plan, the method or business rationale).
The other 50% of the time leaders make the mistake of starting the conversation FROM THE WRONG WHY.
Often leaders focus too heavily on the “customer” as a the rallying point for change. We talk about being customer-centric, or we focus on customer-oriented goals. None of these things are bad or wrong, they just happen to be incomplete. You can’t be “customer-oriented” if you haven’t first committed to being “employee focused.”
Leadership SHOULD BE centered on continuously aligning your staff’s need for a just work environment with your “customer’s” need for exceptional value. You cannot separate these.
So what is a powerful “WHY”?
Here's the deal, people will rarely follow WHAT YOU SAY. They do what THEY BELIEVE. So you need to tap into their beliefs.
As a leaders, we need to stop focusing on what we're going to SAY; how we're going to message the change or what we think people need to hear. Our attention needs to be on how we plan to LISTEN.
So how do you do that reliably and effectively?
Here are 4 questions that I think ALL leaders need to get really good at using to PULL people's beliefs out in the open to create the opportunity to build advocacy for change.
Question 1. What are the Pain-Points you or your team struggle with that get in the way of your [choose one] performance, engagement, workload, collaboration, etc? Expect to hear responses like, "too much on our plates, not enough time, unclear priorities, etc."
Be open to responses regardless of what you think. If you can, write them down on a flip chart, white board, or a pad of paper. Why? It speaks. It demonstrates a level of taking someone seriously AND you're literally beginning to transform concerns that were previously in people's heads and putting them out in the world. . . you're making them "real."
Question 2. What Impact is this having on you or your team? Really dig and explore how the pain-points impact your people. Some ways to dig further:
What's the Impact on your team’s ability to perform or get the work done?
What's the Impact on your time?
What's the Impact on your team’s engagement?
What's the Impact on the issues you have to deal with?
What's the Impact on your personal goals?
What's the Impact on your team’s lives?
Reach for REAL human-level responses. Don't be okay with conceptual responses, like "our productivity is lower, our engagement is lower, our quality suffers. . ." All those are true, but no one talks that way in real life. Push. What is the impact of experiencing low engagement or poor quality on YOU? You'll hear things like, "I feel burned out, I feel checked out, I feel anxiety, I feel blamed, I feel isolated. . ." Real human experiences.
Look, you're not there to be a therapist or to assess the validity of the concern. You're listening to honor your people's experience and to surface the concerns in their words. This is a process. I didn't say there were 2 questions. . . 4 questions.
Question 3. How SHOULD things be? If this is how our team/process/operation is currently operating (pains & impact), how do we want it to operate?
Don't forget to keep writing. You may end up hearing words such as, "reliability, transparency, focus, clarity."
By the way, expect the energy to rise, but also for some cynicism to show up. It's normal. People have probably voiced their ideas and opinions before. Folks have experienced disappointment. Own what you need to.
Question 4. If things were different, what DIFFERENCE would it make for you or your team? THIS IS THE MONEY QUESTION. Really dig here. Some ways include:
What difference would it have on your team’s ability to perform or get the work done?
What difference would it have on your time?
What difference would it have on your team’s engagement?
What difference would it have on the issues you have to deal with?
What difference would it have on your personal goals?
What difference would it have on your team’s lives?
This is the question that rarely gets asked. This is the question that leaders are spending time guessing at when they craft their "WHY."
The answers to Question 2 & 4 (impact & difference) IS your "WHY." The beauty is, you don't have to PUSH IT on anyone. You get to PULL IT from them, in their words, with them attaching their own meaning to it.
Impact – “I see/hear you are overworked and feeling blamed as a team”
Difference- “I’m committed that you experience every day feeling valued & trusted”
The answers to the Question 3 is the HOW.
Should- “I can see how creating transparency & consistency will help with that.”
NOW, you are in a better place to introduce your WHAT. . . your methods or tactics for change (i.e.- visual management, policy change).
“I’d like to introduce a tool/concept that I think will help create transparency & consistency AND contribute to a culture/future where we feel valued & trusted. It’s called . . . “
We think communication is about finding a clever way to talk about something. We forget that in order for effective communication to occur, the other person has to be listening. BUT here’s the mistake we make. We think we can share about the change, AND THEN listen to input, when really what we should be doing is listening for the needs & desires of the team AND THEN connecting the change to those needs & desires. The 4 questions help pull out those needs & desires to help you as a leader create a compelling WHY that comes FROM those who will experience the change.
I want you to go, I want you to try this out & I want you to share with me how it goes for you. Leading is hard. . . and you're the right person to do it!