Vi) Lack Of Buy-In/Ownership Of The Change Agenda By Staff (Especially The Informal Leaders)

Lack of "buy-in" and its consequent lack of ownership can result in an absence of relevance, involvement, understanding, agreement, acceptance, responsibility, credibility, participation and commitment - by people involved in the change, especially those who implement the change, ie not engaging staff fully. In other words,

"...the key is to engage the members of the community you want to change in the process of discovery, making them the evangelists of their own conversion experience..."

Richard Pascale et al, 2005

There can be different emotional responses to change, ie ask people to compare the different emotions they experienced when they initiate change compared to when they experience change, ie mandated from above. Those initiating change will talk of mostly positive emotions like feeling excited, empowered, perhaps overwhelmed, pressure, enthusiasm, determination, charged, etc. By contrast those having changed forced on them will describe more negative emotions like feeling daunted, oppressed, disengaged, disenfranchised, dreading coming to work, etc


"...learning and change cannot be imposed on people. Their involvement and participation is needed in diagnosing what is going on, in figuring out what to do, and in actually bringing about learning and change. The more turbulent, ambiguous, and out of control the world becomes, the more the learning process must be shared by all members of the social unit doing the learning..."

Edgar Schein, 2004

Ideally, this involves staff understanding the organisation's direction and being involved in shaping each direction, ie they have the authority to influence and enact the change. This is over and above the 'traditional employment contract' of

- compensation (rewards and recognition), ie exchanging time and expertise for money

- employability, ie developing skills that increase marketability

- personal job satisfaction


"...People value their own conclusions more highly than yours..."

Annette Simmons, 2002

"...people are more likely to implement decisions willingly if they have been involved in them. As well as improving relations between workers and management, joint decision making can also help achieve greater levels of performance..."

Russell Lansbury as quoted by Fiona Smith, 2009f

Too often, management tries to achieve the buy-in into the change process after they have introduced it. This is too late. Buy-in must occur at the start of the change process.

"...Getting the buy-in to change after you introduce it is working b-ass-awkward..."

Robert Kriegel et al, 1996

Some ways to achieve "buy-in" and overcome staff ambivalence and/or resistance to change:

- usability lab- (where the proposed change of existing operations is subject to a close-to-real-world simulation including frontline employees interacting with customers, ie see the demonstrated benefits of change before their full-scale implementation)

- infuse the entire decision-making process with transparency and brutal reality. By doing this from the outset, the right decision often becomes self-evident. Full disclosure means going beyond the data, analysis and reasons to tapping into staff emotions and feelings, ie delivers a smack to the gut. This is sometimes called "see-feel-change" pattern. The emotional reaction will provide the energy that propels people to push along the change process

- use "chunking", ie break the initiatives down into manageable chunks. Many times staff become overwhelmed by their perception of the change process. To mitigate this impression, break the project down into discrete phases or steps, complete with interim goals that will demonstrate momentum and progress.

One of the most common complaints from senior management is the difficulty in getting staff to change their behaviours. Even when presented with the most brilliant strategy imaginable, most staff will shrug their shoulders and go back to the old ways of doing things even when the organisation's survival is at stake. Instructions from top management are rarely effective as most people are cynical. They have seen leaders and corporate change projects come and go. To handle the situation, it is important to get the informal leaders, eg movers and shakers, on side. These people have credibility within the organisation and show the desirable behaviours. Furthermore, they develop personal relationships and understand people management, ie treat people how they want to be treated. This is sometimes called "peer-to-peer" influence.

Not "co-creating" - it is important to take or bring staff with management during the change process. The support of the top management is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for a change process to be successful.

It needs to be remembered that cultures cannot be formed arbitrarily; they grow organically over time. If management wants change an existing culture, it must first understand the current culture by talking with people who work in it. They need to identify and understand the driving forces of the current culture, as it is very hard to dictate cultural change from above.

"...Little significant change can occur if it is driven only from the top"...CEO proclamations and programs rolled out from corporate headquarters are a great way to foster cynicism and distract everyone from the real efforts to change" management buy-in is a poor substitute for genuine commitment and learning capabilities at all levels in an organisation. In fact, if management authority is used unwisely, it could make such commitment and capability less likely to develop..."

Peter Senge et al, 1999

"...organisational change is not a spectator sport, and it's easy to be a cynic when you're in the stands......It's tough to be a cynic when you're on the playing field..."

Dennis Donovan as quoted by Ram Charan, 2006b

Not encouraging staff who are "positive deviants" (they successfully challenge the status quo and are the best performers within the organisation). This means the leadership role within the organisation becomes more about facilitation, ie the CEO becomes chief facilitation officer (CFO) who helps identify the positive deviants and encourages their behaviours throughout the organisation.


"...the classic KAP (knowledge, attitude, practice) behavior-change model holds that knowledge changes attitudes, which in turn change practice. Positive deviant facilitators turn this upside down and they employ a PAK (practice, attitude, knowledge) approach instead. Once...... the community discovers who the positive deviants are and identify their change people's attitude through action. Why? Because people are much more likely to act their way into a new way of thinking than to think their way into a new way of acting..."

Richard Pascale et al, 2005

The Taoist sage Lao-tzu stated very succinctly:

"...learn from the people

plan with the people

begin with what they have

build on what they know

of the best leaders when the task is accomplished the people all remark we have done it ourselves..."

as quoted by Richard Pascale et al, 2005

Commitment rather than compliance or coercion is required. The latter tends to happen when change is driven from the top down and is usually driven by fear and distrust

People in a change process need to understand how they fit in, how they can contribute, and how they will benefit. If these needs are not met, a commitment gap develops and people will not support the change process, ie merely pay lip service

Too much cop and not enough coach

"...just a few decades ago, managers focused on processes, products, productivity and planning. They were cops and organizers assigning tasks and making sure you followed the rules. Their word was law, and they ruled with an iron hand. When the manager showed up at your office it was the equivalent of a highway patrol pulling up alongside your car......Today's managers......are essentially in the people business......this means motivating employees to be excited about change, overcoming employee resistance to change, and creating a culture in which innovation flourishes..."

Robert Kriegel et al, 1996

Top management suffers from "attention-deficit disorder" and has an enormous capacity for denial, ie

"it's only an execution issue"

"it's an alignment problem"

"we just have to get more focused"

"it's the fault of the regulators"

"our competitors are behaving irrationally"

"we are in a transition period"

"everyone's losing money"

"the rest of the world went bad"

"we're investing for the long-term"

"investors do not understand strategy"

Robert Kriegel et al, 1996

The obvious perils in being too focused on the wrong and unimportant issues such as

- the formal organisational structure rather than the informal one

- strategies rather than purpose

- tangibles (incentives, job descriptions, etc) rather than intangibles (winning their hearts and minds, morale, customer satisfaction rather than loyalty, etc).

In other words, too much focus on high-level strategic initiatives and not enough on individual behaviours

Furthermore, it is best to draw the organisational structure in pencil so that it is never formalised and/or regarded as permanent. Realise that good organisations are like living bodies that change to meet the challenges. As Peter Townsend stated in "Up the Organisation"

"...A chart demoralises people..."

as quoted by Helen Trinca, 2001a

In fact,

"...we tend to meet any new situation by reorganising; and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency and demoralisation" and for destroying the informal networks within an organisation..."

Gaius Petronius AD 66 as quoted by AIM, 2002


"...some people believe that formal authority still offers a magic potion. A position of power may amplify your voice but formal authority may also trick you into thinking you have influence that you don't actually hold..... in the new networked economy, open access to information and the freedom of choice it offers means that authority no longer exists. Hierarchies had to control the flow of information, resources and rewards to maintain the illusion of authority. That control erodes daily.......Holding a false sense of authority (I'm the boss) is dangerous. It shrinks your perspective, shortens your time frame, and decreases your curiosity..."

Annette Simmons, 2002

Not appreciating that organisational power/authority has limitations It needs to be seen as legitimate, ie involves rules and regulations that foster fairness (includes people having a voice, inclusiveness & being treated equally), predictability & transparency.

Not appreciating that a great deal of human behaviour is an extraordinarily complex process, ie

" is the product of many different factors - instinctive, physiological, rational and emotional - and protection becomes impossible..."

Robert Winston, 2003


"...We are dealing with people......we are not dealing with creatures of logic. We are dealing with creatures of emotion, creatures bristling with prejudice and motivated by pride and vanity..."

Dale Carnegie, 2003

Furthermore, unpredictability of behaviour, or randomness, is part of human make-up

" an intrinsic part of our neural make-up..."

Robert Winston, 2003

It is claimed that unpredictability of behaviour or randomness is linked with survival times when our forebears in prehistoric times were being attacked/chased by a predator, ie doing some thing unpredictable increased the chance of survival

Not realising that change is a personal journey and needs to be understood at the individual level, ie organisations do not change unless the people in the organisation change.

Generally change programs are more acceptable to senior management, and less acceptable to implementers below senior management. This can be partially explained by peer group pressure and recognition, ie it is not in the group's interest to accept the change process.

Incorrect handling of resistors, such as wasting too much time with them and hoping that they will get "buy-in". Consequently, management does not take the productive path of maximising time with staff who are on-side in the change process

Not realizing that getting someone to admit that he/she is wrong is a losing battle because it conflicts with egos. Remember:

"...Let your listener's ego sleep. Concentrating instead on providing a visceral experience of a new story with new choices makes more sense. Don't back someone into a corner. Don't preach down at them. Let them sit back and enjoy your story. Lead the conscious and subconscious minds on a tour of a different point of view. Awaken their senses and emotions. Intrigue and activate the imagination. Use sounds, music, pictures, imagery, humour, dialogue, tactile elements, whatever makes it real for them, to engage them in co-creating a story that touches both their conscious and subconscious minds..."


"...the firmer you believe that you are right, the more susceptible you are to labeling those who disagree with you as wrong. People don't respond well to someone who believes that they are wrong.......Only when you acknowledge the honorable aspects of the other side do you have a snowball's chance of influencing them..."


"...our culture celebrates grand triumphs to the point where peaceful solutions are frequently viewed as weak or, worse, as giving in. The problem is rooted in our culture's adversarial model of influence as power...", ie them versus us

Annette Simmons, 2002

Not persevering enough, ie giving in too easily. Managing this requires the support of people who believe in you, especially at the most trying moments

Not realising that communication is a continuous process and not a single event. In all communications, the message about the change process should be included, eg

- in routine discussions about a business problem, the proposed solutions are discussed as to how they fit into the new direction;

- during regular performance appraisals, employees' activities, behaviours, etc are discussed in relation to the new direction;

- when reviewing business performance, in addition to discussing the numbers, the behaviour of individuals is discussed in ways contributing to the transformation

But most senior management members communicate poorly by

- holding a single meeting to communicate the new direction

- making speeches to selected employee groups

- behaving in ways that do not reflect the new direction

Remember: change is only possible with the help of staff and they need to be communicated to so that they understand what the change is all about. Without credible communications that capture their hearts and minds, staff will not make the necessary sacrifices, even if they are unhappy with the status quo.

Sometimes short-term sacrifices in the change process will include job losses. Because it is hard to gain support and understanding when downsizing is part of the future, any statement about the future should include new growth possibilities and a commitment to treating everyone fairly, including those who are losing their jobs

(source: John Kotter, 2007)

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