In my management consulting practice, I am frequently asked, “What is the key to business success?” I invariably tell clients that the answer is simple: employee buy-in.
If most of a business’s employees believe in the company, its leadership and its prospects, success is significantly easier to attain. Examine companies that have outperformed the competition in their industries, such as Southwest, Starbucks, Facebook and Google, and you will discover that they invest significant resources to generate employee buy-in and have subsequently benefitted handsomely from it.
Competitors frequently are able to replicate the business practices of these market leaders but are seldom able to achieve the same level of employee buy-in — the key to generating a powerful, intangible competitive advantage for businesses.
Employees who buy in are invariably passionate, energized, committed, dedicated and creative. With this frame of mind, they are far more valuable than those working to earn a paycheck by going through the motions of the job, let alone going the extra mile. They may even go out of their way to frustrate or sabotage the company’s success.
Getting the necessary conditions
While the concept of buy-in is relatively simple, achieving it takes a serious commitment. Buy-in is neither difficult nor costly to achieve, but several conditions must exist to generate that highly valuable disposition.
• Employees need to understand the vision and direction of the business and recognize that they are realistic, attainable and motivating. To accomplish this, a business must have a comprehensive, up-to-date vision and strategic plan that is shared with employees in a manner they can understand and embrace.
SS&G Parkland’s research indicates that fewer than 10 percent of businesses have a comprehensive and up-to-date vision and strategic plan. And for those that do, only a tiny fraction of them share the plans with a significant number of employees. Employees who are not presented with a vision and plan that clearly communicate the path to success cannot be expected to buy-in.
• Employee involvement and empowerment are key catalysts to buy-in. Those who are invited in and trusted to participate in determining the company’s direction invariably feel good about their role and their employer. Involvement and empowerment unleash pride, ownership, energy, and creativity — the key ingredients for buy-in.
• While fair, respectful, consistent and honest interactions with employees will not by themselves generate buy-in, the absence of these qualities can critically undermine buy-in. Employees who are not treated well are not likely to feel good about the organization or its future.
Change in management style is needed
None of the conditions described above are particularly difficult to implement or likely to require any significant financial investment. They will, however, require a change in the management style and approach, including the following:
• Management accepts the responsibility for developing a comprehensive vision and strategic plan, which is likely to lead the company to success. This is management’s most important role in a business. Instead, unfortunately, many managers are more comfortable focusing on day-to-day issues, challenges and opportunities.
• Sharing plans and information with employees. Many managers prefer to keep employees somewhat in the dark, expecting them to keep their heads down and just do their jobs.
• Changing from command and control management to coaches and cheerleaders.
These changes might be uncomfortable for some leaders at first. For them, successfully embracing and accomplishing these changes may take training and coaching. Conversely, employees invariably love the changes and adapt easily. Employees may be skeptical about managements’ commitment to the changes — requiring management to demonstrate its commitment to this new approach.
Without buy-in, most employees function as a pair of hands. With buy-in, employees throw in their heads, hearts and souls into creating a very compelling and powerful force. Buy-in is the simple trade secret that offers any company a huge competitive advantage.
Larry Goddard is managing director of SS&G Parkland Consulting LLC, the management consulting affiliate of SS&G Inc., the 41st largest accounting firm in the U.S. Goddard has been providing management services for more than 25 years. Contact him at www.ssandg.com.