Persuading Your Employees to Adopt Your Plans

Leaders are continually challenged to assess their organizations for any changes needed to improve function and long-term outlook. They take a deep look at many aspects of the operation, studying information from various viewpoints and departments. Leaders are also tasked with ensuring that all policies, procedures and processes are in alignment with the mission and vision statements.

Mission statements declare an organization’s purpose; what they do and why. Vision statements are (as the name suggests) a vision of where the organization will go; what the results of all efforts will be.

Both statements are intended to unify and focus people with a common purpose and goal. Leaders should understand that ultimate success is possible only when everyone is on the same page at the outset, supporting each other, believing in the mission and the vision. The days are gone where mandated edicts are willingly adopted.

Many leaders struggle to overcome the initial requirement of unity and engagement. Without buy-in from their people, all the magnificent wording of statements, all the splendid planning and budgeting is for naught. The ideas fail before they can be implemented.

What Prevents Plan Adoption

Companies are handicapped when employees are not engaged in the basic mission. Gallup reports that almost three out of five employees don’t know what principles or purpose their company upholds. This lack of assurance leads to another Gallup survey finding that four out of five employees strongly disbelieve their leaders have set a clear direction for their organization’s future.

Why is there such a disconnect between leaders and their people when it comes to their company’s direction? Two possible causes emerge:

  • Leaders may not be communicating what their people need to know, or may not be communicating it effectively.
  • The employees may be disinterested or unwilling to understand what they’ve heard.

Most employees would say that they and their coworkers care about their future and the company they work for. They‘d state that they also make every effort to understand the information their leaders pass on to them about their company’s current state and where they may be heading. The have a vested interest.

The likely cause for the disconnect employees feel about their employer is that they are not sufficiently informed by their leaders. Herein lies the essential issue behind the need for leaders to get employee buy-in when future plans are announced. It comes down to sufficient communication. When all is considered, communication is the essential element in the management of an organization.

People want the assurance that their future is stable; that it’s in good hands, and their careers are safe. When plans or a vision are announced, employees want to feel that they’re a part of it all. They need to sense that the plans were fashioned for their benefit, not someone else’s. These are crucial needs leaders need to understand to get buy-in from their people.

How Communicating Plans Can Go Wrong

The most successful leaders know that communication is two-directional, not one. Developing future plans or visions are monumental tasks. They affect everyone but don’t necessarily involve everyone in each step of their development.

To get broad adoption from your people, they need to have a stake in the plans and see a benefit for them. Employees who see more pain than gain have no reason to approve of your plans. They must be informed to have a way to judge.

Effective communication in big and small settings is the only way to assure this. For every effective way to get buy-in from employees, there are ten ways to fail at it.

The procedural top-down approach to communication doesn’t work in today’s environment.  When managers decide to pass along only the information they believe their people “need to know”, barriers are erected. Filtered information always creates contradictions and errors.  The narrative is often spun to soften its effect, depending on the audience. These things erode trust.

Without trust, people tune out, grumble and become less engaged. At the far end of the spectrum, they stop caring. No leader can gain employee acceptance to any initiative under these circumstances. The same holds true for plans that are mandated from the top office down the line of command, as if they were strict orders to be followed. Employees feel trapped and controlled when they hear about directives they never saw coming, announced after the fact.

Gallup’s Vibhas Ratanjee also notes that if leaders present the need for change under a negative, fix-it mindset, employees become focused on what’s wrong with the company rather that what’s right. If the leadership approach is from a crisis-management perspective, employees formulate a negative impression of their workplace and leadership. This not only stifles buy-in, but may advance desertion.

Another way communication can go wrong is when leaders only inform select people, as if they were more privileged than others. This is done under the assumption that the word will get out well enough. Instead of an equal opportunity for involvement, the “privileged” continue the selection process as they see fit. The disconnection, distortion and discord resulting from this give rise to a resistance of the plans a leader wishes to implement.

Getting Buy-in With a Great Approach

The primary way great leaders have received acceptance for their plans or vision is to involve everyone in their organization from the beginning. People know they are valued and respected when their leader not only informs them throughout implementation, but includes them in its origination.

The beginning steps are key. As Ratanjee explains, visions that include people, with their ideas and feedback, also get their support. Buy-in is at its highest when collaboration is at its greatest. When people see that their needs are being addressed, they commit to seeing the plans put in place. They see a benefit not only for the company, but themselves. This is a double incentive.

Working though the development process—explaining it, talking it out, deciding on directions together­—gives people a sense of empowerment and freedom. There are few things that engage people more than that. Encouraging, challenging and expressing gratitude for all contributions raises the buy-in to its peak.  Everyone will want to see the vision succeed.

Leaders who support people to a higher level of excellence conduct the entire development process from a positive perspective, not looking at how to fix what’s broken, but building on what already works. People want to identify with success. Draw them into a vision that paints that picture.

People need regular communication and update sessions to remain engaged and supportive. Gathering people face-to-face is the most engaging way to involve them in the process. Encourage dialogue and provide opportunities to interact as their ideas, concerns and questions are considered. Great leaders appoint a team of people to facilitate meetings, minutes and follow-up.

Andre Lavoie, CEO and co-founder of Clear Company, stresses the importance of communicating with clarity and specificity. When employees grasp your compelling vision, and then hear a plan entailing concise, logical steps that will require their help, they’ll commit their best efforts. Design plans that create tasks your people can take on, which will enhance their personal goals and address their long-term needs.

If the entire management staff participates in communication and workshop activities, the sense of unity that results will pave the way for maximum employee buy-in and the most rewarding results.

Better Leadership Decision-Making

An organization’s health is only as sound as its leader’s decisions. Some companies prosper from wise leadership directions, while others struggle after flawed choices—the kind that receive extra publicity because of the adverse impact on their organizations, people and communities.

The pressures and expectations that face leaders in today’s demanding climate may prompt a skewed, rushed or compromised decision process. But leaders who approach decisions with objective, rather than subjective, criteria can maximize their organizations’ potential.

Decision-Making Basics

Two fundamental forces determine our prosperity: decision quality and luck, asserts World Series of Poker champion Annie Duke in Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts (Penguin, 2018). Leaders instinctively (and rightly) dislike depending on luck and want their decisions to shape the future.

In our fast-paced world, important issues never become simpler, only more complex. You have less time to take each course of action and make each choice, with an ever-increasing impact on outcomes. Decisions that don’t go well are critiqued and analyzed. The need to make good decisions has never been more paramount—not just for leaders’ well-being, but for everyone under their authority.

People have two different modes of thought when a decision is required, and each has its place:

  1. The automatic, or “flash,” mode is more reactive than responsive. It’s based on instinct and feelings when emergency situations can’t wait for much analysis. Leaders must react immediately or fail.
  2. The analytical mode calls for deliberation and analysis. This is, of course, a slower and more methodical decision process, where time allows for (and requires) thorough evaluation of all options and outcomes. Long-term planning calls for the analytical decision mode, where a leader must respond wisely or fail.

A leader’s decision-making success hinges on resolving the balance between these two modes, Duke maintains. React when necessary, but learn to shape your reactive thinking with as much analysis as possible. Great leaders also learn to prioritize choices that benefit everyone over those that advance their personal agendas.

Decision-making burdens many leaders because each choice rules out an alternative. Other courses of action must be abandoned, and their potential outcomes never come to fruition. This can cause hesitation or paralysis. Leaders are misled into thinking they can hold off making decisions without consequence. But making no decision is in itself a decision, with a separate set of consequences. There’s no escaping it: You always make a decision at every crossroad.

Uncertainty is another challenge for decision-makers. Conditions are constantly changing, and information may be incomplete. Some data are misinterpreted or misunderstood. Some situations are subject to chance, and unknowns may not be recognized until after a decision is reached. Experienced leaders know that even a wisely crafted decision, one made with full analysis and care, can go south. There are no guarantees. Yet, decisions must still be made, and leaders must be held accountable. It comes with the territory.

Decisions Roadblocks

Numerous innate traits inhibit our decision-making process. Executive coaches are trained to spot these human tendencies and help mitigate them to manageable levels.

The executive consulting firm McKinsey & Company describes a basic decisiveness roadblock: being overwhelmed by a situation’s complexity. When this occurs, leaders experience anxiety, doubt and hesitation that can distort the thinking needed to make a wise decision. Everyone has a specific threshold for discomfort. If you’re easily taken aback by uncertainty, you’ll be challenged to effectively work through the decision process.

Associating a decision’s quality with its outcome is another damaging roadblock. Leaders beat themselves up, thinking “I should have known better,” even when they’re not at fault. Duke calls this “hindsight bias,” which occurs when seemingly unassailable ideas fail after unforeseen factors take their toll. Leaders have a hard time seeing that unfortunate outcomes don’t necessarily mean their decisions were flawed. They may have made the best decision possible at the time, which is all anyone can do.

Leaders who struggle emotionally with failure often envision only positive outcomes, despite any information to the contrary. In their need for certainty and comfort, their thoughts can be irrational. They misunderstand causes and their effects, can’t spot some painful truths or avoid negative ideas. This roadblock to reality produces severe consequences.

An offshoot of irrational thinking is bias. Leaders may rely on a slanted worldview or preconceived opinion, passing input through a subjective filter. Leaders tainted by ingrained belief systems see and hear what they want to believe. Minimizing emotional threats insulates their beliefs and offers protection. Important decisions based on biased thinking are often riddled with errors.

Pride is yet another roadblock to sensible decision-making. Leaders who believe they’ve cornered the market on good ideas dismiss others’ input. They avoid new thinking because they fear they’ll appear inferior. Prideful leaders sidestep risks or the unknown to prevent the kind of failure that draws questions about their competency. Pride also leads them to cover a trail of mistakes, which prevents them from learning. Decisions made under the influence of pride rarely go well.

Fear is perhaps the most stubborn roadblock to effective decision-making. Leaders plagued with insecurities and terrified of failure worry about their image. Averse to risk, they lean conservatively, always concerned with the cost of a wrong choice. They’re prone to making decisions out of self-preservation, bypassing what may best benefit the organization. Most leaders’ fears are rarely justified.

Decision-Making Solutions

Leaders can use three primary tactics to overcome decision-impairing roadblocks:

  1. Minimize the level of uncertainty.
  2. Raise their comfort level with unavoidable uncertainties (perhaps harder to adopt).
  3. Refine their thinking to process information better and draw reasonable conclusions.

Each strategy contributes to a sturdy foundation for making choices, pointing the way to higher levels of knowledge, improvement and expertise. Leaders can thereby bolster their confidence and heighten their ability to make better decisions.

Notice that the first tactic doesn’t focus on eliminating uncertainty. Virtually all decisions carry some degree of uncertainty. If a situation is 100% certain, it wouldn’t require much of a decision (or a seasoned leader to make it).

Minimizing uncertainty requires the most accurate information available. Leaders can turn unknowns into facts by asking questions and considering as many angles as possible. Thinking outside the norm helps identify obscure issues. There should be no instances of “we never thought of that.” Great leaders take advantage of an experienced team to address relevant issues. Trying to attack decisions alone never matches collective brainpower.

McKinsey’s consultants advise leaders to remember they needn’t know everything. Strong leaders tap the resources at their disposal and admit they can’t do everything themselves. Such transparency also raises the trust they earn. Greater support from respectful followers eases pressure, reduces perceived threats and lowers the anxiety of making decisions. There’s power in unity.

Leaders who embrace the discomfort of uncertainty make the greatest strides in growth, both personally and professionally. Becoming comfortable with some risks and strengthening one’s resolve through uncertainty makes decision-making less daunting. Draw solace in knowing all leaders are in the same boat, working under the same conditions. It’s part of the universal leadership experience. Allow risks to sharpen your focus and determination. Ultimately, you have little control over certain circumstances, so some degree of uncertainty is acceptable. It doesn’t prevent you from making great decisions.

Duke suggests shifting your focus away from how much uncertainty you have to the degree of confidence you’re facing. Make uncertainty a quantitative and objective analysis rather than an emotional concern. If you can estimate your confidence level, you can gauge where you stand and assess how much improvement you need to be comfortable making a decision. Gather pertinent facts to reduce uncertainty and make the wisest possible decision.

Clearer Thinking

Fact-finding and information management can be taxing, even to seasoned leaders. Emotions influence most thought processes, and leaders can be left with distorted impressions. McKinsey’s experts advise leaders to pause, take a step back and calm the mind. Approach thinking more rationally, and don’t allow anxiety to overrun reason.

Leaders who come to appreciate other perspectives solve problems most productively. Active listening skills are the best tool for engaging staff and enhancing rational thinking. Taking an objective approach, with input and choices, reduces emotional influence, bias, fear and rumors. Getting to the truth always leads to more accurate decisions. Consider hiring an executive coach to provide training in active listening.

Clearer thinking also comes from lessons learned. Legends and unsubstantiated beliefs can finally be put to rest. Leaders who continue to learn, read, ask questions and research gain more real-life knowledge of how their world works. Ask friends and colleagues about their experiences and what they learned from them. These steps reduce misconceptions of current problems and their causes. They also clarify effective solutions, ensuring better outcomes for future decisions.

Our culture draws a heavy line between right and wrong. Outcomes are considered either failures or successes, with few gray areas. Rightness is praised, and wrongness is condemned. Leaders therefore strive to be right to protect their reputations. Duke urges leaders to stop trying to be right, as our culture defines it. Good decisions can still go awry, and a poor outcome doesn’t mean a decision (or leader) was bad. There are too many factors at work behind the scenes, some of which are truly out of your control. Clearer thinking takes this into account and allows greater satisfaction in making the best possible decisions.

Leaders known for their good decisions employ the approaches discussed here, maximizing their certainty, clarifying their thinking and enhancing their confidence. Their decisions benefit their organizations, in lieu of themselves, and garner the respect and trust that seem to be sorely lacking today.