Support from the start Featured

2:56pm EDT February 17, 2011
Chris St. Hilaire Chris St. Hilaire

Want to get maximum buy-in from employees when you’re introducing a new project? Make your goal their idea. The more people feel invested in your plan from its inception, the more support and enthusiasm you’ll have weeks — or even years — down the line. Inviting your staff members to speak up with their thoughts and concerns at the very first meeting is crucial to getting sustained support. Here are my top strategies for building enthusiasm on day one.

1. Forge the goal together. You can often do this by presenting a challenge instead of a plan. Ask for ideas to help meet the challenge, then listen for answers that align with what you hope to accomplish. In most situations, there are not infinite possibilities, so if you ask the right questions, sooner or later people are going to respond with the answers that support your goal, at which point you can agree with them. Now it’s their idea, too.

2. Use other people’s comments to tie your plan together. Pay attention to what the others are saying. Jot down notes next to their names so you won’t forget who said what. When you want to move the discussion to the next topic or underline a point, use their comments: “That goes back to what Maggie said about product liability, and it also relates to Walt’s ideas about building the consumer feedback links. With that in mind, I’m thinking a time frame of four months.”

3. Use your listeners’ language to describe the goal. It can be playful, like adopting a term someone coined as part of the unofficial lingo of the project. Or you can repeat key points made by the others, incorporating the person’s phrasing. A great way to use your listeners’ language is to ask them to name an element of the project, whether it’s a product, a strategy, a document or even just the schedule.

4. Say, “From my perspective.” This phrase liberates your listeners by implying that everyone is entitled to an opinion. You have a perspective, and so can they. It automatically opens up the discussion.

5. Recognize their reality. No matter how gung-ho your employees are, they probably have a different perspective than top management. For important projects, take the time before you launch an idea to carefully consider how your staff may perceive it. Your challenge is to recognize their reality, align it with yours, and then create a common benefit that is your goal. For everyday situations, use a light touch. When my team is slammed with a big workload, I may say, “We’ve got to complete six rounds of documents this month — and when I say we, you do realize that I mean you, right?” They laugh, because although they’ll be doing most of that work, at least they know I’m aware of it.

6. Play devil’s advocate. In any open discussion, there will be doubters. A good way to deal with them is to play devil’s advocate or ask the doubter to do so: “That’s a fair point. Want to play devil’s advocate? We can try to get a handle on potential problems sooner rather than later.” Now the doubter has a specific role in the discussion, and you’re still all on the same side. The same is true if you play devil’s advocate yourself — you’re not disagreeing with the doubter; you’re playing a role in order to root out weaknesses in the plan.

The unity you build with your team at the beginning of a project affects how they will feel about it from that day forward. If you must change course later on, this approach pays double dividends: Everyone had a hand in the original idea, so there is far less finger-pointing when it needs to evolve.

Chris St. Hilaire is the author (with Lynette Padwa) of “27 Powers of Persuasion: Simple Strategies to Seduce Audiences and Win Allies" (Prentice Hall Press). He is an award-winning message strategist who has developed communications programs for some of the nation’s most powerful corporations, legal teams and politicians. He is the founder, president and CEO of both Jury Impact and M4 Strategies consulting firms. Reach him at