Getting Buy-In

Getting Buy-In

Getting buy-in is tough in the best of circumstances and can be positively fraught when your ideas are competing for resources or when the uninitiated find the raison d'etre impenetrable.

Smart CIOs and business sponsors know user buy-in is achieved by continually including, in all aspects of the implementation process, the people who will use and be responsible for the solution

The woman listened impatiently as "grand-daddy of knowledge management" Bob Buckman addressed the UK knowledge management conference. Then, clearly anxious for answers, she said: "We've just implemented a knowledge management system but nobody will use it. How do we make them use it?"

Now perhaps Buckman was a little flummoxed, perhaps he was too tired to think straight. Maybe he had not clearly understood the question. At any rate, he gave what to fellow panellist David Gurteen's mind seemed a less than satisfactory answer. Since the cosmos loathes a vacuum, soon enough most of the audience seemed to be eagerly proffering their own sage advice. Suggestions flowed: What about offering incentives? Perhaps she could promise air miles as a reward for using the system?

Gurteen, who is an independent knowledge consultant, winced, thinking the whole notion of paying people to do their jobs smacked of bribery. Pay for performance is one thing, but start giving people incentives to do what they are paid for anyway and you are likely to end up offering bonuses if they will just get to work on time, he thought.

"They were talking about air miles and God knows what, and then I chipped in and I asked: 'To what extent were these people involved in the conception of the system, in the design of the system, and the rollout of the system?'," Gurteen told CIO. "And she answered: 'Oh, we didn't involve them at all'.

"She must have seen the look of utter astonishment on my face because she came back and said: 'We did actually think of it, but we didn't have time because management wanted the system yesterday'.

"I'm sitting there thinking: Okay, so you delivered this system on time, on budget and I guess probably to quality, and nobody uses it. That's really, really smart," Gurteen says


Smart CIOs and project managers know they need buy-in to get their proposals accepted, to tap the resources needed to implement them and to persuade people to embrace new ways of working. But getting buy-in is tough in the best of circumstances and can be positively fraught when your ideas are competing for resources or when the uninitiated find the raison d'etre impenetrable.


Buy-in is not just getting a multi-thousand dollar budget for a new project; it is getting the resources needed to see the project through and the commitment of stakeholders to capitalize on the new system or offering.

"Buy-in is the enthusiastic support, not merely compliance, by those responsible for providing information and implementing the actions," CEO for Executive Wisdom Consulting Group Ric Willmot writes in a paper called "Gaining Buy-in". "The best strategic and macro-management plans in a good organization are insufficient. Without buy-in, strategy remains on the tarmac and the flight to commercial prosperity remains at the end of the runway."

Although you probably will not need to get the entire enterprise to buy in to every project, failure to get buy-in from the right people can cripple your project from the outset.

"I use the term 'sniper' to describe where you have a stakeholder and everybody is committed, but there is a guy on the outside that can bring you unstuck. But because he's difficult to deal with, or because you don't think he has direct control, you ignore him," says General Motors Holden (GMH) CIO Julie Fahey. "It's absolutely critical that you don't ignore him, that you bring him into the fold, that you do everything in your power to educate him and bring him on board, because [such people] can be some of your best advocates when you're off and running."

CIOs attempting to swing buy-in positively in favour of new strategies and ideas will invest time and effort seducing spectators and victims alike into being enthusiastic implementers, Willmot says. "Having 100 percent buy-in prior to change or implementation is not always necessary. Being clear about who has to have buy-in is necessary."

Indeed, trying to get buy-in from everyone - even those with no stake in the system - actually can be highly counterproductive.

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