Why “buy in” does not work.


I do not like the phrase “buy in” as a parent or as a consultant. As a parent of mostly grown children, when there was a rule to be followed, I was never concerned with buy in. Whether it was chores, curfews, or how much TV time there would be, my job as a parent was to manage compliance. When I was working as a therapist, parents would tell me that they wanted their children to make their bed every day. I let them know that they could set that rule with appropriate consequences. However, when they said that they wanted their children to “want to ‘make their bed every day, i.e. get buy in, I let them know that that would cost a lot more.

Buy in does not work because it is compliance dressed up as an invitation. When we invite someone to do something, we are saying that either a yes or a no response is equally acceptable. When only a yes response is acceptable it is no longer an invitation. It is now a demand.  I never really was inviting my children to do their chores. My request was not an invitation where either compliance or non-compliance was equally acceptable. And the same is true in the workplace.

When there is an initiative that leadership is looking to “roll it out” they often look for strategies to get buy in from others. Not only do they want employees to change their behavior to align with the new strategic initiative, they want them to “want to” change their behavior. You guessed it – that will cost more!

The clarity is that as an employee there will be rules that you will need to comply with if you would like to work anywhere, without consequences. Living in human society has rules. And those rules have consequences, if you do not comply. Rules are not invitations.

Collaborative engagement strategies suggest that as much as leadership desires voluntary participation in any new initiative, the sooner leadership engages employees as adults/partners in the decision-making process and engagement, the more ownership and participation they will experience. Ask yourself if you are pursuing buy in or compliance. Knowing the difference is essential to working better – together.

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