How “Buy-In” Gets It Wrong

How “Buy-In” Gets It Wrong

By Ella Ingram & Kerice Doten-Snitker

Change leaders know that the agreement, support, and participation of others is necessary for successful change. They may hear about the need to gain “buy-in” (often focusing on surly faculty members or those all-important department heads). They may be admonished by others who say, “You have to get buy-in or this project will never go.” They spend a lot of time thinking about how to make buy-in happen. In the noble work of change, change agents spend considerable mental energy and social capital on buy-in.

The problem is that buy-in represents only one engagement goal. A change agent with a focus on buy-in invites varied problems. Buy-in is an incomplete approach to engaging with stakeholders because:

  • it is hierarchical and one-way, instead of collaborative;
  • it appears to be a first step that can be checked off a list, when the reality is that issues that block change require ongoing engagement; and
  • its perspectives match dysfunctional aspects of academic units (e.g., buy-in is oppositional) rather than fitting the approach of highly functional units.

We recommend a different strategy for change agents–one that is more holistic, on-going, and empowering to stakeholders. This strategy amplifies project success, provides new and exciting insight to problems, envisions new solutions and teams, and builds bridges instead of hierarchies between change leaders and their colleagues. The strategy? Creating shared vision. We contend that shared vision supersedes buy-in. Shared vision by its nature helps change be more sustainable and more institutionalized than change based solely on buy-in.

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The Importance of Communication in Change Projects

The Importance of Communication in Change Projects

Sriram Mohan
Associate Professor

Communication is often an underutilized asset in academic change projects. Most change agents are enthusiastic about the project they are working on, the new vision they are casting, and the technical details they might encounter during the project. While these are valid issues for all of us to focus attention on, communicating our ideas and process beyond our immediate change team is key to success.  In fact, effective communication from the start of the project can often be the difference between success or failure in a change initiative. Successful change depends on how the outside world perceives it. When a project is announced and gets started, many people on campus—faculty, students, staff—are curious about the project, wondering how the effort will impact them.  Their desire for information is natural, since the project may require changes in the tasks they must complete for their own jobs.

My experience with change projects has shown me that change agents are quite enthusiastic about beginning their project but are averse to sharing information during the ideation phase of a project. The lack of information can be damaging. In the absence of information flowing from the change team, rumors, misleading information, and damaging inaccuracies rise to prominence. Stakeholders outside the change e team can get the wrong vision or perception of the project.  For that point on, the change team is fighting an uphill battle to make their project a reality.

The solution then is to start any new change project with a communication strategy.  An effective communication strategy can create awareness about the project early on and facilitate understanding about the project during the later stages of change implementation.  This can help persuade stakeholders, improve buy-in, and create commitment to the change idea. The Project Management Institute (PMI) has produced a roadmap for creating an effective communication strategy. This strategy identifies that “Good communication should never be an afterthought, but rather a significant part of the program’’ [1]. PMI has identified the following key ideas behind a good communication strategy:

  • Clearly communicate the change vision early
  • Outline the benefits and importance of change
  • Ensure that the leaders actively communicate throughout the change process
  • Use multiple methods and channels to communicate
  • Provide opportunities for dialogue and true representation
  • Repeat the change message often
  • Monitor and measure the effectiveness of the communication

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Retooling for the Future

Retooling for the Future

Craig Downing
Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning and Professor of Engineering Management

In the article The Skills Future Higher-Ed Leaders Need to Succeed, authors Amit Mrig and Patrick Sanaghan observe, “The playbook of the past does not offer a sustainable path forward for all institutions.” [1] They further suggest that academic challenges are too complex and dynamic for senior-level leadership to resolve on their own.  The path forward, they argue, is characterized by multi-level, internal and external, collaboration:

“These [issues] are whole-campus challenges, and they require whole-campus solutions.  Identifying and actually implementing appropriate responses requires the engagement and participation of the whole campus.” [1]

I find this last statement both encouraging and concerning.  Seeking a whole-campus solution will require contributions from a new array of individuals, including individuals who do not consider themselves as change agents or influential.  Additionally, the array may contain individuals who are against changing the status quo.    From my perspective as a change agent on a tight-knit college campus, I am always seeking out tools that can help me persuade faculty to look at themselves from a very different perspective.

For those who have the opportunity to influence possible changes, Mrig and Sanaghan suggest we consider the adoption of a refined skill set.  More specifically, they believe leaders (agents of change) should be:

  • Anticipatory thinkers
  • Risk-tolerant and supportive of creativity and innovation
  • Effective conveners/brokers/facilitators
  • Courageous decision makers
  • Resilient and able to “bounce forward” after a crisis or setback

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