Why I Hate the Words “Buy-In”

A consulting project I worked on a few years back involved assembling a sales team from the ground up for a start-up technology firm. We hired two national sales reps and turned one existing employee into a sales rep as well.

Before one of our weekly meetings, the guys were discussing a document the CEO had just distributed to all the employees of the company. This CEO had just gone on a planning retreat and returned to announce the organization’s core values. The document, with each core value meticulously defined, was distributed to get everyone’s buy-in. The reaction of the sales team was amazing. They read the attached document and laughed. That’s right laughed, genuine, gut-busting laughter

Why did this happened?

A small group of closed-minded leaders determined these values at a closed-door retreat, isolated from the rest of the company. Not one of the values listed, or the definitions so dutifully written, reflected the reality of living and working in that organization. In distributing this document the CEO seemed delusional. Predictably, my consulting engagement ended prematurely and the salespeople I recruited moved on to other opportunities.

At that’s why I hate the words “buy-in”. In using those words an us-them relationship is immediately established and any chance at commitment is destroyed. And while your employees might not laugh out loud at your efforts, I can guarantee traveling down the buy-in road will not bring out the best in them. What will? Intense discussion. Robust dialogue. Even fierce debate. In short, collaboration.

The Better Option: Collaboration

Whether you are seeking to define your company’s core values or setting measurable outcomes for your next marketing initiative, collaboration is key to success. Here’s why:

The business marketplace today is exceedingly complex and one person alone, or even a small group of persons, can’t know all the dynamics at play. You must include your people in the planning process because they are the ones working on the front lines and know, perhaps better than you, what’s actually going on. And they are the ones who must implement those plans. You may not agree with every conclusion they reach, but you must have the information they possess for plans that are rooted in reality.

When people have a say in the direction of an organization, and are truly listened to, there’s skin in the game and they put their heart and soul into their work. Yes, there will be terrorists who will want to blow-up any plans that are made. But these people are few and easily ignored. Most people genuinely want to give their best effort with full commitment to the cause.

Collaboration doesn’t need to be exhaustive to gain the commitment of your people. Just make sure that all stakeholders are fully represented in the discussion. Neither do you need to turn your business into a democracy. Employees know that you as a leader have the right to make the final decision, and they’re okay with that when they’ve been heard.

What About Results?

The best part of this process is that it works. Patrick Lencioni said it best in his brilliant book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, “Not finance. Not strategy. Not technology. It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare. A friend of mine, the founder of a company that grew to a billion dollars in annual revenue, best expressed the power of teamwork when he once told me, ‘If you could get all the people in an organization rowing in the same direction, you could dominate any industry, in any market, against any competition, any time.'”

That’s one hell of a lot better than buy-in, isn’t it?