Achieving Management Buy-in to Change

One of the most difficult things to accomplish within any organization is the successful implementation of change. In almost every case change is not simply the implementation of a new system or procedure, but is also the necessary cultural changes required when implementing a change within an organization. This makes the successful implementation of change one of the biggest challenges that face today’s organizations. Whether the change involves Agile, Lean, or a basic business process change, most often failure to implement a successful change can be tied directly to a lack of management buy-in. Without this buy-in cultural inertia will fight against the proposed change making any change fail regardless of how important or necessary it is to your future success. What is most often overlooked is that lack of management buy-in can come from two places, top down buy-in or bottom-up buy-in.

Buy-in drives change forward and dictates the success of any approach or change. An organizational change is only effective if it is supported at the highest level of management and filtered down throughout the organization, otherwise the process of change can be difficult. In almost all cases true change requires buy-in coming from the top down (senior management) as well as from the bottom up (from operational management). While both forms of buy-in are essential to implement change, senior management buy-in can often times be cascaded down to operational staff quite effectively. Conversely, it is harder for buy-in from operational staff to be pushed up to senior management. Regardless of whether buy-in comes from a top down or bottom up direction, if buy-in is not achieved at all levels of the organization any change within an organization is likely to fail.

One of the first things to consider when establishing buy-in is to establish a team of champions at both senior and operational levels to ensure top-down and bottom-up acceptance of the proposed change. This will significantly improve internal communications between the business units involved in the proposed change. It will also enable the development of “trust” between the participating teams, which help support the sharing of information.

If Senior Management does not follow the proposed changes, the lack of buy-in will guarantee its eventual decline and failure. A few initial steps can be undertaken to help ensure both buy-in from Senior Management and the success of the new endeavor.

  • Understand the short and long term needs of the business.
  • Make sure that your proposed change strategy is aligned with overall business goals.
  • Measure the existing level of support for your proposed changes before starting.
  • Review and use goal-setting materials. The SMART method of developing goals may help you achieve success in implementing your new change strategy. SMART goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-conditioned.
  • Deliver on time throughout the change life cycle, building credibility with Senior Management as you achieve each milestone.
  • Avoid surprises by discussing issues before they become problems with Senior Management. Doing so will assure Senior Management you are on top of problems associated with your proposed changes before they even occur.
  • Throughout the change process always present facts, not opinions.

Even with Senior Management’s buy-in, lack of buy-in from operational management can have such a negative cultural impact on a new endeavor that it is derailed before it even begins. The following steps will help in establishing and maintaining bottom-up buy-in throughout the change process.

  • Develop implementation content for the proposed changes that are specific to each operational department.
  • Deliver the proposed changes with a Senior Business Leader to show both support and buy-in from the start.
  • Follow up with a session to review the proposed changes with each operational department.
  • Observe your change strategy in action within departments. All of the affected departments should demonstrate equally high levels of support for the proposed organizational changes.
  • Meet with operational managers regularly. Keeping connected with each department during the transition will prevent minor issues from becoming real problems later on.
  • If one or more departments do not buy-in to the changes, meet with each department individually and discuss their concerns. Adapting discussion techniques such as a Brainstorming, Round-Robin, Planning Poker, etc. to list and then rate the level of each concern within each department will help you and the department identify the true impediments to change implementation and help direct resources where they are needed most.
  • PR what you do and make sure to give credit where credit is due. Recognition for those doing the work in each department will help you maintain momentum throughout the entire change process.

While not an all-inclusive list, the above steps will assist in helping change implementation become successful. Most failed change implementations fail before they even begin, not because the proposed change was not beneficial for the organization, but because the necessary buy-in was never achieved at the outset.

About the Author:
Mark Townsend is a Senior Business Analyst with OneSpring LLC ( in Atlanta Georgia. Mark has over 15 years of experience in Process Design, Business Analysis, Product Development, and System Implementation.

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