Strategies for breaking down barriers that stifle projects, progress and profits.
Whether you’re the Big Kahuna or middle management, you wake up every morning knowing the buck stops with you at the crossroad of Leadership and Management in your own little metropolis of Boss Town.
At times, this puts you in the uncomfortable position of being the rope in a game of tug-o’-war. You’re torn between the needs and wants of those whom you manage and the push for profits (which, by the way, are earned through the hard work of those same employees). You can’t be a softy. And you can’t be an authoritarian either. So, what’s a leader to do to mitigate the unavoidable potholes that come with launching a new project, pivoting direction, or engaging employees in your company’s purpose?
Unfortunate metaphor mashup aside, what you need is your team’s “buy-in.”
When you have buy-in, it looks like excitement, curiosity and readiness to meet the challenge. Your team is on the same page for reaching the goal, which allows them to move in lockstep and with greater efficiency and effectiveness. You have your best-case scenario of what all this can mean for your project—but getting there is another matter entirely.
Determine where your team is by listening to their feedback and asking questions with an ear toward underlying motivation. After you have a handle on why a team member is dragging their feet on drinking the Kool-Aid, work on removing the barrier. No, not with brute force. You aren’t trying to silence the opposition—you want them to want to join Team Boss.
Take a look at some of the common barriers—and what you can do about them.
Barriers Based on Ego
Sounds Like // “I’m the subject matter expert/team lead/authority in this area. Why wasn’t I consulted as part of the preliminary decision-making process/before you talked to the group?”
- Consider // Not talking to them sooner potentially caused problems/delays by moving in the wrong direction or undermined their authority with the team.
- Do // Own the oversight, get their input and rework the plan accordingly. Support their authority with the team moving forward and look for opportunities to help them reestablish lost ground.
Sounds Like // “This is grunt work; my time is better spent elsewhere.”
- Consider // For what you’re paying them, they should be doing higher-level tasks, and it makes sense to outsource the “grunt work” less expensively.
- Do // Move tasks where it makes sense. For the rest, let them know you understand where they’re coming from. Stress that the goal is important, and you need them to roll up their sleeves with the rest of the team.
A note on ego // If, in hindsight your employee’s response is valid, that’s one thing. But what if it’s a case of Big Head Syndrome? You don’t want to encourage future challenges to your authority from an employee who possesses an overinflated or fragile ego, but neither can you afford dissention. How can you earn buy-in without admitting non-existent fault or supporting “me first” behavior?
- Consider // The thing you dislike in this instance may be what allows your employee to do their job It does have its time and place—just not this time and place.
- Do // Listen actively to what they have to say and rephrase it back to them to ensure they know you understand where they’re coming from even if you don’t agree with them.
- Do // Ask for their buy-in for the project. A direct ask for support can soothe egos and put your employee back on track toward achieving the common goal.
Barriers Based on Fear
Sounds Like // “I’m not sure I’m professionally ready to take on this responsibility.”
- Consider // Is it is a training/experience issue or a confidence issue?
- Do // Provide additional training or mentorship, along with assurance that you know they’re stepping out of their comfort zone.
- Do // Schedule regular one-on-one meetings to check progress and provide feedback and guidance where needed.
Sounds Like // “I don’t think I can fit this into my current workload and still do my job well.”
- Consider // Is your team at risk for burnout or overwork? What is your minimum viable product from a resource allocation perspective?
- Do // Shift or deprioritize certain responsibilities to make room in their work-load. Consider hiring or outsourcing work that is still operationally essential but too much to fit into your team’s workload.
Sounds Like // “I have concerns about what this goal will mean for my role with the company.”
- Consider // The project, while making things better for the company, may negatively impact the individual employee. If you’re hearing pushback on a goal without a clear reason, it may be because your employee fears demotion, downsizing or drastically changed job responsibilities.
- Do // Alay their fear of the unknown by outlining possible outcomes and assure them that you have their best interests in mind. If the employee’s concerns are valid, earning buy-in may not be a possibility. Your employees have a right to self-interest too.
A note on fear // Taking steps to alleviate the root of a fear-based barrier, regardless of your feelings on its validity, should earn you the buy-in you need. But what if it keeps cropping up, or it’s not something you can solve?
- Consider // Whether time is needed to show the employee their concern is unfounded, and how likely it is that the employee’s fear will impact their portion of the project and/or the rest of the team.
- Do // Be willing to wait the employee out if time can solve the issue for you without damaging the project. If not, watch for opportunities that allow you to demonstrate there is nothing to worry about.
Barriers Based on Apathy
Sounds Like // “This means I have to do more work/learn something new/change how I do things.”
- Consider // Resistance to change is not always a sign of laziness. Your employee may thrive on routine and stability or need other motivation.
- Do // Verbalize to them that you know this changes their routine and that you appreciate the work involved with that change. Where possible, give them time to acclimate to the idea, provide feedback and let you know what they need to meet the goal.
- Do // Find out what motivates your employees. Can you provide incentives for reaching the goal before deadlines, under budget, etc.?
Sounds Like // “I truly don’t think the project will work/further our company mission/should be a priority.”
- Consider // The employee may need more information to bring them on board. If they have a solid understanding but still have reservations, a “devil’s advocate” can provide crucial checks and balances to a project that would otherwise run amok with too many “yes” people.
- Do // Provide additional context and detail until you’re sure they fully understand, but just don’t agree. Recognize the difference of opinion and ask them to continue to provide their ideas on how to make the project better while following through on the goal and supporting their team members.
A note on apathy // Apathy can be the hardest to overcome, because there are only so many ways you can try to make an employee care. You may not be able to gain buy-in right away.
- Consider // An apathetic team member can impact others’ motivation. You will need to factor this impact into your potential success or failure and mitigate where you are able.
- Do // Watch for opportunities to find out what motivates the employee and be willing to try something new.
- Do // Watch for signs that the team member’s attitude is having a negative impact on others. Speak with the employee about the impact they are having and create consequences as needed.
Earning buy-in from your team can be a leader’s most difficult goal. It involves recognizing and meshing sometimes wildly differing personalities, motivations and concerns in order to give your project its best chance for success. You are working to utilize your most important resources to their fullest ability and greatest potential. This may require that you revisit and re-earn buy-in throughout the project, but the rewards are worth the time.
You’ll also find that the more you endeavor to gain buy-in from your employees, the more they’re predisposed to give it to you. By intentionally seeking support from your team, you’re showing them that you buy-in to their abilities, needs and wants as valued individuals.