Have you ever designed an amazing initiative for your organization and set out to get your team on board, only to see the effort fall flat? If so, you’re not alone. The challenge of how to create buy-in plagues leaders and plans across sectors.

According to Forbes:

Organizations invest millions every year in launching workplace initiatives to improve engagement and culture, only to meet resistance or watch them fizzle out before they ever gain momentum.

What often distinguishes a successful workplace initiative from a failed one is the level of buy-in it achieves among staff, leaders, and other stakeholders. Unfortunately, we often don’t think about how to create buy-in until far too late in the process.

 

What Does it Really Mean to Create Buy-in?

According to Merriam-Webster, “buy-in” means:

acceptance of and willingness to actively support and participate in something (such as a proposed new plan or policy)

When it comes to workplace initiatives, however, most of us are looking for more than “acceptance.” We want to take it one level further, generating enthusiasm, excitement, engagement, and eagerness. We want our stakeholders invested in and committed to our initiative’s success. We want our staff and board to become ambassadors for our plan.

Getting this level of buy-in can make all the difference. Forbes reveals that:

programs fail because the team spends more time designing the program and not nearly enough building excitement and buy-in to ensure it is successful.

This is especially painful if your organization has just spent tens of thousands of dollars on strategy and planning. Imagine investing several months—and even more money—in creating a strategic plan only to see it fail to launch?

Which is why Funding for Good recommends leaders think about building buy-in BEFORE a planning or strategy process even starts.

Read more: Is Your Nonprofit Haunted by a Past Failed Strategic Plan?

 

The difference between buy-in and being informed

One mistake that leaders often make is mistaking information-sharing with building buy-in. Leaders figure that an idea or initiative will be so inspiring, that just learning about it will engage their teams.

But from the perspective of staff or other stakeholders, being informed is a passive activity. And even if staff think the idea is great, they have a million other competing priorities—including the ones they’ll get reviewed on at the end of the year.

When people fail to get excited, it’s easy to think they simply didn’t understand a plan. So leaders may lean even further into information dissemination. This might include presenting the same plan at several all-staff meetings. Making a roadshow to share the plan with each department. Sending a series of all-staff emails about the plan.

But the same problem remains. Employees and other stakeholders are positioned to be passive recipients of information. Buy-in happens with active engagement. Which is where an intentional strategic planning process can be an incredible tool to reimagine how your organization creates buy-in.

 

How to Use Strategic Planning to Create Staff Buy-in

What’s the best way to build buy-in? Engagement. A thoughtful strategic planning process can help you do just that. For example, you could:

  • Engage employees early in the process, such as through surveys, interviews, and focus groups.
  • Carve out ongoing opportunities for staff to be involved in specific elements of the planning process, such as providing insights for your SWOT analysis.
  • Include strategic employee representation on your strategic planning committee and planning retreat, right alongside your board and staff leadership.
  • Reflect back to staff how their input and participation has informed your organization’s overall strategic plan.
  • Involve staff in implementation, including giving people the opportunity to take on new challenges.

The key here isn’t that you have to do all of the above. Instead, it’s about making sure you take time at the start of the process to plan for how you will create buy-in.

 

How to Use Strategic Planning to Create Leadership Buy-in

Just as it’s important to create staff buy-in, a major initiative like a strategic plan also needs broad leadership buy-in. That includes, at minimum, your board and staff leadership.

When it comes to leadership, engagement should happen naturally. Board and staff leadership should be an integral part of your strategic planning process. Which means your focus should be on how you go about building consensus. You want to emerge from a strategic planning process with your leadership team feeling like they co-created your organization’s strategic direction. That means avoiding pitfalls like groupthink or rushing to an answer.

Luckily, your strategic planning facilitator should be able to guide you through not just the planning process itself, but the steps you can take to create buy-in at every stage.

Read more: What Does it Really Take to Arrive at a Consensus?

Engaging Staff in Strategic Planning

How to Approach a Strategic Planning Stakeholder Survey

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