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I have recently read for the second time the excellent book buy-in, by John P. Kotter and Lorne A. Whitehead.

John P. Kotter & Lorne A. Whitehead: Buy-In

Buy-in is a short handbook addressed to all who want an idea to be approved by a group of people, in its wider sense. Clearly, all professionals who need to get through a board or committee to approve a project should be interested.

The title may be a little misleading, but the book cover is crystal clear: this book is about «saving your good idea from getting shot down». Not about being persuasive, but to stop common attacks aimed to abort your intentions. It offers a simple method to build strong support for your ideas.

This method is clearly exposed. Buy-in first presents an example scenario of project approval: an inexperienced manager who has made up a sound plan to overcome a real problem and must have it approved by a committee. Through fun and engaging narrative, Kotter and Whitehead display the different types of attacks any proposal may be faced to. Different specific examples, small and uncomplicated enough to focus the reader’s attention on how the attack is defeated, show the mechanics and effect of such attacks. The example is a clear parody of what may happen in any company, and readers will easily relate to their own environments and colleagues.

The second half of the book is the proper handbook, where Kotter and Whitehead go over a categorization of twenty-four typical attacks, depicting for all of them a simple and effective response.

I insist on what is this book and what is not: buy-in is not on how to get the board or anyone else to buy your ideas, but to avoid the strategies that naysayers’ and nitpickers may use to prevent them to be implemented and deliver results. The method the authors present assume your proposal is solid enough to be approved by a sensible board, and you introduce it appropriately. This is not a book about developing either documents or conducting presentations, nor to create new ideas or achieve consensus.

The authors suggest an effective 4-step method to deal with unfair attacks:

  1. Treat everybody with respect.
  2. Capturing people’s attention.
  3. Winning over their minds.
  4. Winning over their hearts.

The method emphasizes on contributing short common sense pills and to avoid lengthy, deep, convoluted debates when seeking for approval. Twenty-four useful responses are proposed to deal with the most typical attacks.

Following these four guidelines and the answer examples, we should be able to avoid the four deadly strategies to attack any proposal:

  1. Death by delay.
  2. Confusion.
  3. Fearmongering.
  4. Character assassination.

Obviously, the contents of Buy-in relate to the much broader topic of transformational change. The book includes an appendix detailing the eight steps to undertake to achieve success in large corporate changes:

  1. Increase urgency and develop a gut-level drive to get up each and every day determined to do something.
  2. Build a guiding coalition of collaborators who volunteer to help and learn to work together as a team to lead the transformation process.
  3. Create a change vision that show how your team and your company will look like if they succeed. Which strategies will lead you there?
  4. Communicate the vision and strategies to all involved stakeholders to obtain broad buy-in. When enough people have truly bought in, both intellectually and emotionally, the process may continue.
  5. Empower the guiding coalition to eliminate obstacles and do what the change effort requires.
  6. Create short-term wins to gain momentum and turn skeptics into supporters.
  7. Make every effort to keep the urgency up and avoid complacency.
  8. Make the change stick: transformation only truly succeeds after the changes have been institutionalized.

Both times I’ve read buy-in I’ve enjoyed a lot. I appreciate Kotter‘s and Whitehead‘s straightforward approach and how they keep the explanation simple. They show empathy with all the book’s characters, emphasizing the open and respectful attitude they advocate in the book. The applicability of their advice is rapidly sensed and this boost the reader’s engage to their suggested process.

Definitively, Buy-in delivers. I find it enlightening, instructive, and entertaining. It is genuine and provides clear and simple advice that once read have the flavor of common sense. And it motivates the reader to perform the author’s approach and achieve his goals by focusing on a single question: don’t get derailed of what you were doing.

At the end, buy-in triggers the will to read on further and connected topics: how to be persuasive, how to read people and their agendas, keep calm and focused, creativity, …

Thanks for reading. Please leave your comments.

Ivan Ferré.

John P. Kotter, * Lorne A. Whitehead*: buy-in. Saving your good idea from being shot down. Published by Harvard Business Review Press (2010).

Published in Notes


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