Getting the best from people is an essential part of any job at any level – we all have to get along with our co-workers and work together towards a common aim. Getting co-operation can seem difficult at times but how successful and enjoyable our job is can depend upon it. As a manager it can be tempting to assume that your job is to tell people what to do and how to do it, but I don’t think that’s true. A manager’s job is to be accountable and lead things in the right direction; to ignore the talent of staff and the contribution they can make is almost certainly to incur the wrath and alienation of said talented staff.
If you just tell people what to do you’ll create a workforce of “jobsworths” who will only do as they are told and not use any initiative. And they will be waiting avidly for you to get it wrong so that they can get their opportunity to speak after all. You might not have given them the chance to say “I told you so” but it is what they will mean.
Buy-in means “in”
As a manager I have succeeded in delivering fantastic performance and I believe that this is because I have expected the people doing the work to contribute to the method and empowered them to do so. Our skills pooled can achieve so much more than mine alone. If we come unstuck that’s my responsibility, but I trust them in their ability enough to know that it is a low and worthwhile risk and, importantly, they know that. As a result we do great things together. We are, in fact, a team: I support them and they support me; it’s symbiotic. In a high pressure environment though it is easy to find yourself taking a one-way approach with the intention of saving time, but it is a false economy when you realise that buy-in means “in”: in-clusion, in-volvement, in-side; not out.
Email doesn’t help
Email can take a perfectly good intention and make it sound dictatorial if you forget that the conversation is only happening in your head when you write it. I recently received an email that to all intents and purposes was asking for my help, but it came across as condescending just because it was presented as a foregone conclusion and my buy-in was assumed. The same goes for management. In a busy and stretched technical support environment there is always a good reason to use email: it is inclusive – you won’t miss someone who is out on a call; everyone gets the same information; it is quicker than getting everyone together. I think this can sometimes mask avoidance too, using email can avoid discussion but also arguments. When things become contentious it takes up time and emotion. Unfortunately though, taking this approach can reinforce contention and make resistance a self fulfilling prophecy.
Getting buy-in can be a tricky business but here are my tips.
You get buy-in by including people, genuinely, from the start of an idea, not the end of an idea, the final decision, or some point in between. If you don’t ask people what they think at the very beginning, by the time you do you have already let them know that you are not really interested in what they think. They will resist.
Other people have skills and knowledge, and a valid contribution to make, so ask for their contribution - and actually consider it. Don’t assume that only you know what’s best. Other people might have ideas that will improve what you are trying to achieve. If you exclude them you exclude their improvements.
Other people have their own interests and designs, and a right to feel entitled to decide for themselves what is good for them. Don’t assume that your brilliant idea, developed in isolation, will be embraced by others as just what they have been waiting for if you haven’t asked them about their needs and aims.
If you must use email use it in stages. Ask the question and wait for responses, then take it to the next level. If you ask the question and tell them the answer in the same breath you’ve indicated that you’re not expecting input. You've closed the door on buy-in. And email is easy to ignore.
Co-operation is a two-way street. If you want something from someone, then already it’s not just about you. In the meantime, how do you get the best from people? You only have to ask.