November 03, 2005
Horses, Barns and Buy-In
You're actively involved in some significant change -- for example, a new strategy, a major reengineering project, a shift in brand approach and so forth. There are a variety of folks -- from many perspectives -- whose buy-in will matter to the success of whatever choice is made. Buy-in itself is a subtle concept. Those making the choices typically interpret buy-in by others as one part intellectual understanding and one part emotional commitment. As actually approached and practiced, however, it more typically generates the first (intellectual understanding) than the second (emotional commitment).
It's a good idea to identify all consituencies and why/how they matter to the choice at hand as well as the success of the implementation of the choice. If any constituency's emotional commitment is critical, it's advisable to (1) find ways to engage in ways beyond "Q&A's"; and, (2) make sure the engagement happens before the 'horse is out of the barn" -- that is, while the choice is still in formation.
For those whose intellectual understanding of the choice is needed, "Q&A" approaches are just fine. Still, to be effective, you need to recognize and approach the communication differently depending on the horse and barn. If the horse is still in the barn -- the choice is in formation -- you can say as much. You can let those in the conversation with you know the general direction of the effort, the kind of issues and concerns in play, and you can seek input, critique, and other possibilities. But, if the horse has left the barn, you simply cannot take this approach because it violates credibility and truth.
Once the choice has been made, any communication with any constituency is part of the implementation of the choice -- not the formation of the choice. Seeking 'buy in' after the horse has left the barn is a different challenge than beforehand. And, you're well advised to put the context of your conversation squarely in some specific aspect of implementation. Put differently, you're now seeking buy-in to some critical aspect of moving forward with the choice -- not to the nature of the choice itself.