how to get buy-in from your staff on tough decisions

It would be nice if your staff wholeheartedly supported every decision that you made. In reality, there may be times when you need to make an unpopular decision – for budget reasons or strategic ones. Here are some steps you can take that will increase the chances of getting buy-in from your team.

1. Ask for input – and genuinely listen with an open mind. Team members are much more likely to support your decisions if they feel that they had a chance to give input and that their input was considered with an open mind. Even if the decision ultimately doesn’t go their way, simply feeling that their concerns were heard and considered will usually make people more willing to support your final decision. (Truly engaging with people during this process – asking questions and explaining where you disagree – will increase the changes that people feel like you truly heard them.)

What’s more, hearing people’s input – and truly considering it with an open mind, not just paying lip service to hearing people out – will often lead to better decisions! You might get insight from someone else’s perspective that will help you implement a better solution or avoid land mines that you hadn’t considered. However…

2. If asking for input would be insincere because it won’t impact the decision, don’t just go through the motions. If people realize later that the decision was already made, they’ll be less likely to trust you in the future and to believe that their input matters. If you know that their input won’t impact things, instead explain why that is and what the reasons are for the decision. For example, you might say, “I didn’t solicit input on this from the team before deciding to go in this direction because the short window of time meant that I needed to make a decision quickly over the weekend (or because it was clear that our finances required to this move, or whatever the reason is), but I do want your input into figuring out how to best implement this with a minimum of inconvenience.”

3. Explain your thought process. Too often, managers announce decisions, even potentially controversial ones, without explaining the “why” behind them or what considerations were taken into account. This often dramatically decreases buy-in and leads to discontent and lower morale. Even when staffers don’t agree with a decision, they’re much more likely to support if it they understand why it was made and that their viewpoints were heard.

4. If you get significant push-back, ask people to try it for a while, with the option to revisit it down the road. Sometimes staff push-back comes from thinking that a tough decision will be the absolute final word on something and that they’ll just be expected to live with problems that result. Knowing that the discussion can be reopened if worries about it come to fruition (for instance, if customers hate the new policy, or it unacceptably decreases production time, or makes it harder to get work done) can give people peace of mind. For example, you might say, “I do think that after a few weeks of using the new system, we’ll find that we’re able to process clients at the same rate that we do currently. But if that’s not happening a month from now, let’s plan on revisiting this to make sure that it’s still the right decision for us.”


I originally published this at Intuit QuickBase’s blog.

{ 9 comments… read them below }

  1. AMG*

    I think this apies pretty well to cross-departmental decisions. We have to get buy-in from peer groups and run into these problems for the reasons mentioned in the article.

    It’s a bit of a balancing act because when you are trying to improve dysfunctional processes and patterns, people get defensive and don’t want to change. There’s such a thing as involving people too early, but this is exactly how I think we can improve when we do get them looped in. Thanks!

  2. NJ Anon*

    I left a job of 11 years for this exact reason. Huge changes were shoved down our throats. The morale plummeted and the board and ceo just didn’t care.

    1. Not Good At These*

      This happened at my work place a few years ago when we got a new CEO. Major changes were implemented, often in disorganized and scattered ways, and people got very frustrated. Turnover was huge for a couple years, rumors were crazy. Things have settled down now, in part because specific people left, and some of the initiatives were abandoned so people could actually get their work done.

      1. Artemesia*

        I have been in this situation where a new boss swept in and immediately changed a bunch of things that had been created over time to address particular issues. And of course when he abolished those policies and practices the old problems they had solved reasserted themselves — well duh. It is wise for a new boss to not assume that everything that has gone before was done for stupid reasons. Change may be needed, but one should understand why things are as they are before making that change.

        It is critical to get input even when you can’t incorporate it all. If you can’t then it is critical to make clear why a particular choice must be made. My boss several times made stupid decisions over my objection but in each case, she knew it, and let me know that she had no real choice due to political pressures she had to respond to. I can live with that and can help clean up the resultant mess. “I hear you, but because of Y I have to do ABC.” can go a long way to keeping people on board.

        1. NJ Anon*

          Agree. Same thing happened to us. Nothing we did before he (the new ceo) was right. So he would change it and problems would happen. So then he’d change it back. We would all “eye roll” and want to say “told yous so.” What a jackass. He would waste people’s time with “trying things out” only to go back to the way they were done. A huge time-waster and demoralizing. So glad I left.

  3. Artemesia*

    An example of this sort of mindless change without getting input first was a Notre Dame coach who swept in a few years ago and as coaches like to do was going to make his mark. One of his first decisions was that these stupid gold helmets needed to have big ND decals on them — he couldn’t understand why they had these stupid plain gold helmets. Had he asked, he would have realized that it was a long and valued Notre Dame tradition that symbolized the golden dome at ND. Much push back against the ordinary just like everyone else helmets he wanted to impose — and no change.

  4. Jennifer*

    I kind of laugh at the idea of getting a buy in at this point, honestly. We generally just get told to lump it and like it because nothing is under our control and this is what the higher-ups decided.

  5. Not So NewReader*

    Ideas that are forced. I have been very lucky because in talking over the forced idea, people came up with ideas to ease the pain of the forced idea. Some of their ideas were quite clever.
    So just because an idea is being forced on a group does not mean it’s the end of the world. If people in the group feel they can speak and be heard, good ideas might flow. Also, keeping people informed so they can come up with ideas that might work. Uninformed people are just taking a shot in the dark and getting more frustrated.

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