How to Improve Team Buy-In on Major Changes

Jennifer Goldman Consulting Getting your staff on board buy in

Enforcing big, complex change within an organization is an ongoing struggle, and the rate of success tends to be alarmingly low. So, what is the challenge?

In many cases, the staff are the challenge. According to Harvard Business Review research, getting the team on board is the biggest hurdle and the one with the most impact on change outcomes.

Change Resistance and Overcoming Human Psychology


Change, by its very nature, is a disruptor. It not only threatens the status quo, but flat out says, “What we’re doing isn’t working and we need to enact something new.” It is difficult for staff to hear this without internalizing some sense of responsibility for whatever process or system needs replacing.

But more this, staff internalize the problem with thoughts of “How will the proposed solution affect me? What is my new value to the business?” Psychologically, this resistance to change is pretty easy to understand and comes down to two things: (1) the human need to belong and (2) a sense of security.

As noted in the Harvard Business Review article, “How to Get Your Team on Board with a Major Change,” “Belonging refers to the survival-based belonging that enables any human infant to make it to adulthood and any human adult to fully function in collective settings they give loyalty to and receive identity from. Change will always threaten this kind of belonging and challenge its dearly held loyalties.”

The challenge is to enact change in a non-threatening way to increase buy-in.


4 Ways to Get Your Team on Board

1. The Life Career Mission Statement

One of the biggest common denominators is supporting the human around change. The Life Career Mission Statement is a tool that allows people to write out their desired career path, their personal goals, and the steps needed to get there.

As Director of Financial Psychology at Morningstar Sarah Newcomb, notes, “When talking through organizational change with individuals, leaders can reduce fear and threat by helping employees see how they fit into the company’s new vision. If their sense of belonging or value is threatened, they may not see their role in the new structure as easily as you can from the vantage point of management. Helping them to see how their efforts directly contribute to company goals can affirm their value and quell unconscious fears of no longer belonging to the tribe.”

The Life Career Mission Statement allows staff to see how they fit into the vision—the vision they help to create. It also helps guide staff habits and behaviors and shows them how their roles may shift and change as the business shifts and changes.

2. Sell, Don’t Tell through Productive Collaboration Before Changes Are Made

The idea here is to include your staff in the decision to make changes instead of cementing those ideas and forcing them down the line. One great way to put this exercise into practice is by collaboratively building a digital communication board that allows staff to revisit when their minds and guts are open to change.

Instead of having the executives propose a top-down solution to the problem, you ask staff to go in on their own time and pin their ideas and proposed solutions to the board. This accomplishes three things:

  • It includes staff in the change process, allowing them to advocate for what they’d like to see happen.
  • It allows them to participate on their own time outside of the scheduled meeting so they are bringing their most meaningful ideas to the table.
  • The act of writing out their ideas helps to encode cognitive change.

3. Collaborative Whiteboarding

There is nothing that replaces putting pen to paper. According to research performed by Chief Behavioral Scientist, Nick Hobson, “Scientists are finding that the pen is mightier than the keyboard. The somatosensory experience of putting pen to paper sends signals to the brain that help encode and effect lasting cognitive change.”

So bust out a good old fashioned white board and list out the company’s major initiatives for the quarter. Post this whiteboard in the hallway where people can see it, visit it, and internalize it on their own time. Remember, not everyone can cognitively process what is presented at a meeting right away. They should be given the space and time they need to take it all in.

4. Get Unstuck to Ease the Transition

Change can just be downright exhausting. That because habits can be super tricky to change. Once our habits are cemented into our daily behaviors, they are in “The Habit Loop”. This loop rewards us for completing the habit, which makes us happy.

The loop goes like this:
Step 1: Trigger
Step 2: Behavior
Step 3: Reward

Here’s an example  below, or you can watch a video:
Step 1: We see our phone has a notification.
Step 2: We check the notifications.
Step 3: We get a dopamine rush.

Checking our phones for instant gratification satisfies the habit loop. So, how do we “get unstuck?”

Author Leslie Goldman shares these steps:

  • Reduce friction to change (i.e. lock your phone in a safe for periods of time)
  • Practice the change to lower exhaustion (more practice => less thinking => more involuntary=> less energy=> less exhaustion)
  • Play a game (i.e. dare everyone to leave their phone in the other room when having a meeting)
  • Get curious (when you break the new habit, ask yourself why you are doing it)

This can be applied to all types of change. Want to improve your long-distance run? Start by adding a few more minutes to your practice runs each day. Want to improve employee participation in meetings? Turn the first portion of the meeting into a game. Anything is possible.

Want Better Change Outcomes? Just Ask.

So much friction can be eliminated from new business initiatives when there is proper support around the human and staff are able to see how they fit into the vision they help create. Staff become a part of the change, rather than a byproduct of it, and are able to see themselves as valued catalysts of the business evolution, rather than cogs in a machine who could be easily replaced at a moment’s notice.

These four methods, combined with a genuine care and understanding of the dynamic you have with your staff, illustrate how company-wide changes shouldn’t be a threat and truly benefit all parties.

It’s remarkable when positive change happens and staff feel supported, valued, and invested. That’s a great dose of dopamine that lasts for years!

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Good luck. And as always, health and sanity to you!

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