In my last post, we discussed the tactics of process change, in particular choosing either a “big bang” or incremental approach. This time we’ll address the other big factor in making a process change successful: team buy-in.
Why Does Buy-In Matter?
The gap between a decision and change is huge. Deciding to make a change is a solid first step, and one you could theoretically make in isolation. Taking the next steps — actually making the changes — will fall to you, your peers, your bosses and your staff. You can have an idea alone, but you can’t finish it alone.
Any proposed process is a strategy. It describes at a high level what should happen. Where your new process actually happens is at the tactical level. For example, an element of your process change could be “use feature branches.” That’s process, and that’s strategy.
In implementing the change, there are many details to be considered. “Feature branch names should start with the initials of the developer, to avoid naming conflicts.” That’s a tactic. “Developers need a deployment area to show off their features for acceptance.” That’s a tactic. For any strategy there can easily be hundreds or thousands of tactical decisions, and your strategy won’t anticipate all of them. This is where buy-in comes in: A team that understands and accepts the change strategy will make appropriate tactical decisions. A team that hasn’t bought in to the strategy will make tactical decisions that undermine or negate the strategy.
For example, a team that hasn’t bought into the “feature branch” strategy will make a tactical decision to have no naming scheme for feature branches, and at some point will accidentally mix up two features because the branches are named the same. “Guess the strategy doesn’t work,” will be the refrain, all because they didn’t buy in and therefore didn’t make the right tactical decision.
To get from strategy to reality, you need buy in.
Tactics for Buy-In
Unfortunately, buy in doesn’t come for free. It has to be earned. “Because I said so,” is a joke in business just like it is in parenting. So how do you earn buy-in?
- Believe In Your Own Idea: You have to believe in your idea because you’ll have to defend it. You’ll have to justify it. You have to truly believe it’s a better way so that you can convince others.
- Articulate Why: Most teams are a little bit cynical. They know that change isn’t inherently good but that it is disruptive. So be able to explain why this particular change is good. What pain points does it address? What benefits does it offer? Most importantly, how will it make the team’s life better?
- Accept Modifications: When someone on the team has a good idea or modification to your strategy, accept it. Applaud it and be flexible. The team wants to feel like you’re all in this together, working toward the same end. Accepting improvements resonates with that theme, showing that the strategy’s success is more important than credit for the idea.
- Be fully engaged: If you’re telling the team that this is important, then you need to show that it’s important to you. Don’t cut off discussion about the idea. Don’t check your phone during training sessions. Don’t skip the feedback meetings. Be aware and engage with the team all the way through the process.
- Create Forums for Discussion: It’s risky to think that silence is acceptance. Create forums for feedback and discussion about ideas. Those forums can be meetings, online chats, one-on-one conversations or all of the above. This has the benefit of keeping the process change visible and demonstrating your engagement, as well as providing opportunities to refine and improve the process change all the way from idea to acceptance.
What Does Buy-In Buy You?
Going through the effort of getting team buy-in.
- It Makes for a Better Strategy: Every team member sees different aspects of the process. As you’re formulating a process strategy, the team can help refine and hone the strategy, increasing the odds of success. This has the ancillary effect of having the team feel ownership of the process, and that’s buy-in.
- It Creates Evangelists: The team that has achieved buy-in feels like they’re responsible for the new process. They’ll brag about it, enforce it, seek to make it better.
- It Speeds Adoption: A team that has bought in to a process is excited about it. They want to see it succeed. They’ll make time for the process changes needed, whether that’s training, mentoring, learning or simply doing it the new way even when the new way is unfamiliar. Over time that adds up to faster adoption.
Combine a good process change with an intelligent implementation plan and team buy-in, and you can make a major improvement across the board.