Getting buy-in on a big change

Some changes call for heroics where others will catch on later. Other changes need the buy-in of constituencies before anything much can happen. Lots of wonderful changes in the world get stuck because of the disconnect with those who need to buy-in. The change gets approached as a call for heroics when it actually needed constituencies (like customers, funders, higher-ups, journalists, academics, etc.) on board from the start. Here's a look at the different alternatives for getting buy-in on a big change prior to implementation.
  1. The worst alternative is to criticize the status quo within earshot of those who maintain it, value it and defend it from attacks. This merely escalates the war between the advocates of change and stability. Each side demonizes the other and trashes any emergent understanding of the others' interests.
  2. The second worst alternative presents the features and benefits of buying into the change. This comes across to the constituencies as pushy, hard-selling. It raises suspicions, undermines the presenter's credibility and make the constituencies more defensive. This approach usually has the effect of criticizing the status quo without making any mention of it. It's enough to imply that those who don't buy-in to the features and benefits of the change are stupid, stubborn or malicious.
  3. The first of the good alternatives talks about the constituencies in terms they can relate to easily. It characterizes them as solving problems with available resources, doing what they think is best after considerable thought, and discovering what works for them better than other alternatives. In other words, it frames the constituencies as worthy of respect, admiration and collaboration. This approach creates a frame where the constituencies want to know more about the change because it seems like it might be a better solution to their problems. Their minds open and new decisions become possible.
  4. The most effective alternative counts on the constituencies to believe in what they see and do first hand. The approach gives them tangible evidence to sort out. It like a free sample to taste or a test drive to get a "feel behind the wheel". It messes with their minds that ruled out the change from being feasible, functional or cost-effective. It walks them through demos, prototypes and proof of concept models. It runs a pilot project to show how it's done and to morph those first on board into big believers. The constituencies hear about the change they don't experience first hand from their trusted, high-cred, word-of-mouth sources.
The combination of the last two alternatives is practically irresistible. The constituencies have sold themselves on the change by their immediate experiences. They have also learned how to explain it others and justify it to themselves which makes them articulate spokespersons for others to get on board. They are further sold on the change by how they were sold the value of the change on their own terms. Getting buy-in on a big change falls into place with a winning combination of approaches.

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