How to get buy-in

If you’ve ever had a great idea that was shot down in a meeting, or a proposal that was put on hold until it died a slow death, you must read Buy-In: Saving Your Good Idea From Getting Shot Down by John P. Kotter and Lorne A. Whitehead.

And if you’re trying to get organizational buy-in for a change or initiative, this book is a must.

The brilliance of Buy-In is its counterintuitive advice. You may think that the best way to get buy-in for a proposal is to sidestep the naysayers and worriers who tend to squash a new idea. But based on the authors’ extensive experience leading change, they propose a completely different approach.

“Don’t scheme to keep potential opponents, even the sneakiest attackers, out of the discussion,” the authors advise. “Let them in. Let them shoot at you. Even encourage them to shoot at you!”

Why? Because encouraging people to express dissent, fear, anxiety, etc. gets everyone (even supporters) fully engaged. When people are engaged, you get real buy-in, not just noncommittal nods.

Buy-In’s success formula is based on three elements: First, you need to capture people’s attention. Second, once people are paying attention, you need to win over their minds. And, finally, you must win over their hearts.

“When people are paying attention,” write Kotter and Whitehead, “their minds become engaged. That’s a crucial requirement for understanding an idea and for overcoming incorrect impressions. You can then use that attention to your advantage in gaining the intellectual and emotional commitment that is at the heart of real support.”

Sounds good, but what about the naysayers? Buy-In devotes many pages to how to handle attacks, which fall into four basic categories: fear mongering, death by delay, confusion, and ridicule and character assassination. The book offers responses to 24 specific attacks (such as: “It’s too simplistic to work.”) that you can use in real time (while you’re in a meeting, for example).

Overall, Buy-In advocates this response strategy:

  • Let the attackers into the discussion, and let them go after you.
  • Keep your responses clear, simple, crisp and full of common sense.
  • Show respect. Don’t fight or collapse or become defensive.
  • Focus on the whole audience. Don’t be distracted by the detractors.

The advice makes Buy-In well worth the cover price. And the book is well-written: clear, concise, tangible and jargon-free. So if you need help getting buy-in for your ideas (and who doesn’t?), this book is for you.

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