How many of you have had a great idea but couldn’t get it executed because people simply wouldn’t buy in? How do you create buy-in?

If you are working in a typical corporate environment, this is an all too common scenario. And it’s a frustrating one; you just know that your idea will lead to great results, but your colleagues and superiors just won’t get on board.

I have no doubt that many great ideas have been left in the ether because of this, and the world is poorer for it.

But let’s face it, change is hard and as human beings we are naturally resistant to change. And if you’re going to get your idea to work, you need to work with people and not against them.

Once they buy in to your idea, however, they’ll be just as invested in you as seeing it all the way through. And that’s a clear recipe for success.

So let’s take a look at some of the best strategies to create buy-in.

6 Strategies to Create Buy-In For Your Ideas

#1: Make Them Feel the Problem First

More than likely the idea you need to get buy-in for will help your organization fix some sort of problem. This is more than clear to you, so it should be clear to the stakeholders as well, right? In actuality, the stakeholders might not even be aware that there is a problem. And if there’s no awareness of the problem in the first place, why should they buy-in into your idea for fixing it?

You have to present the problem in a way that makes it feel real. And forget dry business cases. Harvard Business School Professor and New York Times bestselling author John Kotter, recalls one such case in his book The Heart of Change: Real-Life Stories of How People Change Their Organizations.

In that particular case, a manager saw that because his organization’s factories were handling their own purchases, there was a lot of wasted money. His idea was to save money by consolidating the purchases. He first presented his idea by putting together a business case; which went nowhere. So he tried a different tack.

He brought 424 work gloves to a boardroom meeting, each tagged with a different price and supplier. Due to the separate procurements throughout the organization, this was how much variation there was in something as simple as work gloves. Right in front of the senior executives, he dumped them all on the table. They got the point, and procurement consolidation soon took over the meeting’s agenda.

#2: Have a Clear and Actionable Vision

You proposed the idea so you better have a vision and plan behind it. No one will buy in to your idea if you appear to be wishy washy about it. When you present your idea, you better have a clear vision of:

  • What your idea will accomplish,
  • What it will take to accomplish it; and
  • An actionable and concrete plan to do so.

Not having at least those three points above handled make your idea much more vulnerable to objections and resistance, this of course hinders buy-in.

#3: Be Honest

When presenting your idea, don’t sugarcoat it. There is no such thing as an idea that is going to be 100% positive for 100% of the people involved. Somewhere, someone is always going to be at least a little negatively affected. This could be something as simple as having an increased workload, which let’s face it, very few people get excited about.

So, be honest about what it’s going to take to execute your idea, and what it means for each of the stakeholders involved. Not everybody is going to be elated about it, but if you explained the benefits of your vision well enough (see #2), they will still be willing to buy-in, but ONLY if you’re perfectly honest. No one likes feeling tricked, and if they perceive you as having tricked them, they’ll swing to the other side real fast.

Create buy-in infographic

#4: Address the Emotions

Continuing from the above, you should have done your due diligence to understand how each stakeholder might feel about the change brought on by your vision. A good reference point is the Elizabeth Kubler-Ross change curve, which roughly comprises six stages of dealing with change.

  1. Denial: Initial shock at the change and a sense of disbelief. May start looking for evidence that the change isn’t true.
  2. Frustration: Anger that things are different.
  3. Depression: Low mood and emotions from the change.
  4. Experiment: Initial engagement with the new situation.
  5. Decision: Deciding to learn how to work within the new situation. More positive emotional state.
  6. Integration: The changes are fully integrated into the individual. Good emotional state.

By understanding the emotional progression that people go through when dealing with change, you will be able to better manage their emotions. Not only will this lead to greater buy-in but a greater chance that your idea will be successful down the line.

#5: Nip Resistance in the Bud

You have to be aggressive in addressing resistance to your idea. If you let these objections go unchallenged, they will fester and create problems for you, if not at first, later. These objections may even end up poisoning the minds of those who have already bought in to your idea. Hence, you must address all these objections as soon as possible.

Now, don’t confuse aggression with hostility. While you do have to be proactive in dealing with resistance, you must not be hostile.

The most important thing you can do when addressing resistance to your idea is to show respect. If you don’t show respect, then it doesn’t matter how much objective facts and data you pull out; you will not be able to address the underlying resentment. In fact, you will probably make it worse!

#6: Be Flexible

No matter how confident you are in your idea and vision, realize that you are not infallible. Do not succumb to myopia, where you stubbornly plod forward with your initial idea despite valid objections or suggestions for improvement. Don’t mistake valid feedback with resistance to change.

So, while you should demonstrate total commitment to your idea and vision, you must still be flexible. Many times, the most valuable feedback will come from people who have already bought in to your idea, that’s why they’re giving you constructive criticism. But if they see that you’re stubborn and not open to change yourself, they may decide that buying in wasn’t such a good idea after all.

Remember, midcourse corrections and game plan adjustments are not ‘defeats’. They’re actually the best indicator that you value the buy-in the stakeholders have for your ideas.