All Aboard! (If Only It Were That Easy)

Do you sometimes feel like a train conductor – trying to get everyone on the train so the doors can shut and the train can move away from the station towards its destination?

Only for you, as a Business Owner or CEO, it’s not as simple as yelling “All Aboard”. And it’s not as simple as pulling away from the station and leaving those who didn’t get on behind. You need all your team to get fully on board if the train is going to move at full speed to your desired destination.

The problem is, if you leave too many standing on the platform, the train will limp along or not be able to leave the station at all, Perhaps worse yet, if all your staff get on the train but have another destination in mind, you could end up flying down the tracks but to a destination you had no desire to visit.

In a recent blog post, What Does It Take To Grow Your Business, I talked about five key components that must be in place if you want your business to grow. In this post I’m going to take a more in-depth look at one of those components: staff buy-in and employee engagement.

In the book, The Work of Leaders, by Straw, et. al. the authors identify three key drivers of what they call alignment or the process of getting your staff on board with your vision, direction, or outcome you have for the business. These three drivers are:

  • Clarity
  • Dialogue
  • Inspiration

Having clarity means you are very clear as the business owner, CEO or leadership team what your desired outcome is. It does not matter if the desired outcome is a capital “V” vision of where you see the company in five years or a new supplies ordering process, you must be clear on what you want the outcome to be and why. And then you must communicate (over communicate actually) this desired outcome and why it is important to those who will be responsible for implementing it. Here are some keys to clearly communicating:

  • Look at the situation from the perspective of your employees
  • Explain the reasons and rationale behind the decision: “We are doing this because…”
  • Communicate a consistent message over and over and over again.

Simply communicating a new direction as a fait accompli however will not work. Those affected and those responsible for implementing the new direction – your staff – must have an opportunity for dialogue. I find this one of the most difficult aspects for business owners and CEOs to do. It is as if they fear that letting staff ask questions, express concerns and give input will lead to the passengers hijacking the train.

In reality this is a critical step in getting staff buy-in. Patrick Lencioni, author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team says, “If people have the opportunity to weigh in they will buy in.” It’s not that people have to have their ideas accepted but they do need to have their ideas heard. In a study done by Inscape Publishing (now a division of John Wiley & Sons, Inc.) one of the factors that had the highest correlation with job satisfaction was “a chance to have my opinion heard and considered.” Notice it did not say adopted – just considered.

If after allowing for an exchange of perspectives staff are still reluctant to get on board ask the question: “What would it take for you to get on board and support this? And then really listen to the response. You might end up with something better than you started with.

Finally you must inspire your staff if you are to get buy-in at an emotional level which is required for staff to truly adopt the vision or change as their own. This requires that you paint an exciting picture of the future. This isn’t enough though. You must also paint a picture of the consequences of continuing down the current track – both for the organization and for the individuals that are part of the organization.

Realize that you have had a lot more time to get used to the idea of the change or new direction than your staff have. Give them time to process the change – even if it means the train must sit in the station a little bit longer. You will ultimately get to your destination much more quickly if the team is on board.

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POSTED ON: Strategy and Vision