“What’s in it for Me?” Getting Buy-In from All Your Stakeholders

By Dan Showalter
June 25, 2014

The one constant thing in today’s world — perhaps besides new taxes — is change. We see it at work, in our communities and even in our own lives. And, we make it work. But, why does it seem so easy when we are doing it, and yet, it is so stressful when we are just part of it?

Consider buying a new car — it does not have to be brand new, just new to us. OK, overlook the occasional buyer’s remorse and think about it. Are we not just thrilled with our new purchase and all the new stuff it comes with? Think about the heated seats, the sun roof, the improved handling, the better gas mileage. Wow, what an improvement over your old ride. You are thrilled … and why shouldn’t you be? You defined your needs, did your homework, and went out and found something that fit with your budget.

Unfortunately, there are a few things that are different, things that require you to adjust your driving habits. The dials are gone and now the sound system looks like a PDA. The blind spots have shifted. You have to figure out how much room you have in the front and rear so parking and backing up can be achieved without incurring a ding or dent. And, where is that spare tire? Do you even have one? Most importantly, how much gas do you really have left in the tank when the gauge reads empty? All these things require change from your comfort zone. You have to learn something new, to adjust in order to gain the benefit of owning that new vehicle. And, you are happy to do so. Why? You can clearly see what’s in it for you  — that new driving experience.

Well it’s no different when you introduce an idea that will help improve the profitability of the company — call it price initiative. The first question is obvious. Will this investment in time and money deliver the results projected? This is not an automatic, but let’s assume that we have overcome the hurdle and our management team in the ivory tower has sent us on our way. Now what?

Now, what about all those folks who play critical roles in your business process, the folks who will drive that new vehicle? Think of the sales team, the marketing department, the business management team, customer service, invoicing, accounting, adjustments, analysts, etc. Could anyone find fault with an improvement that helps the company and perhaps translates into raises or bonuses?

The big problem is that the folks driving that pricing vehicle throughout the business process did not make the decision to buy it. They were not consulted or had but minimal input. Yet, they are now expected to drive that car and use all the options and conveniences that come with it — even if gas mileage is not a concern to them, or they like the radio they have, or the current car is much easier to park. They each have a certain way of doing their job so that they deliver the best results and service and these processes — the historical ways of doing things — are pretty well entrenched. So, what can you do?

Some try the military approach and make use of the new process and technology a condition of employment. This works well with a new hire because they see this as just the way things are done. That person learns and applies. It’s not so easy with long term successful employees who know “best” how things work in their small part of the world. They may resist the change in the interest of ensuring a continued high level of performance. In other words, they keep the old car parked in the garage and bring it out when they need it.

Others try to build consensus, working with each function to help them understand the benefits, overcome concerns and encourage adoption.  Eventually, most people are on board but this may take a long time and significant effort. The danger here is that by the time we finally get there we just may have forgotten the reason we were embarking on the change.

The right answer is probably a little of both. Leadership must be visible and vocal with their strong support and encouragement throughout the change. The project team has the challenging part. They almost have to help each function go through that same buying process. Find their need or problem and offer a solution – – one that is enabled by that new purchase. Show the sales team how the sleek new design attracts customers’ attention. Help the support organization see how easy it is now to monitor the systems and perform the routine maintenance. Teach the analysts how easy it is to track and measure the total cost of ownership. Show the business management team how the improved gas mileage improves the bottom live.

So, long before you plan to flip the switch do yourself a favor and ask:

  • Who are the critical users or stakeholders?
  • To what degree will they be impacted?
  • How do they feel about this project?
  • How would you like them to feel?
  • What is their level of influence within the organization?

Now you have a place to start. Prioritize audiences, determine what needs to happen, document the messages, create the change plan, assign responsibilities and act.

Lastly, remember the lesson learned from the automotive industry. They discovered that advertising serves two distinct purposes. It gets you excited and into the showroom where the sale ultimately takes place. And perhaps more importantly, it helps you feel good about your decision to buy — long after you drive home.  The change process here is much the same. To drive the greatest success, it must continue long after “go live”.