How to get employee buy-in on new initiatives

A lot of planning and work goes into creating a new initiative, policy, or project, but it can all fall apart if employers don’t get buy-in from employees. Employees are your most important resource and the backbone of most of your key business activities, so it’s important to get them engaged with any new initiatives or ventures your business may be planning.

Gaining employee buy-in is all about communication, and it’s not as tough as you may expect. Despite this, many employers fail to get buy-in from their talent, making the rollout of new initiatives rockier than necessary. If you’re planning on introducing a new initiative or some form of workplace change, here’s how to gain employee buy-in so that your team will support this next step for your company.

What is employee buy-in and why is it important?

Employee buy-in means that your employees understand and accept a proposed change or new initiative. When employees buy into a new initiative, they are more willing to support it and contribute to the end goal.

While leaders are generally the main decision-makers around organizational changes or new initiatives, it is often the employees who need to actually carry out the changes. If they’re not on board with a new way of doing things or new company goals, you’re not going to get the best possible results.

Introducing new initiatives without obtaining employee buy-in can also lead to decreased employee engagement or motivation. This decreased engagement and morale can lead to several problems including increased absenteeism, lower employee retention, or the initiative simply not taking off.

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How to gain employee buy-in on new initiatives

Below, you can explore several key strategies for obtaining employee buy-in. You’ll notice that almost all of them relate to leadership communication. This is because good communication is the most important tool for obtaining employee buy-in.

Create a communication plan

Part of the planning process for any new initiative should include creating a communication plan. Decide how you will communicate the new change or initiative with them. It’s really important for leaders to understand how to deliver news in the right way. This not only includes delivering news with a positive, uplifting tone, but it also means choosing the right communication channel.

employee-buy-in-450x350pxIt’s also helpful to try to anticipate any employee concerns that are likely to arise and work potential responses into your communication plan. Consider what the likely concerns will be and come up with a plan beforehand for how you will address them. If you know that people will have questions or concerns, be sure that you’re providing an outlet for employees to share them with you.

A huge mistake that many leaders make when leading change is to drop a huge announcement and not provide any time for questions or comments. If you make the announcement via email, tell employees where to respond with questions. Even better, if you anticipate an announcement to elicit concern or lots of questions, announce it during a team meeting and leave ample time at the end for employees to share their thoughts or ask questions.

If you don’t provide this outlet immediately after sharing news with employees, tensions and anxieties can build up. They’ll also likely end up venting to each other about their concerns or frustrations and that can cause a ripple effect throughout the organization with more team members buying into that frustration rather than buying into your new process or initiative.

Sometimes morale can significantly decrease over a simple misunderstanding because the communication plan didn’t proactively address a concern or provide time for employees to seek clarification.

Share the why

Effective communication is the cornerstone of change management. Employees can’t buy into something without getting a clear understanding of not only what the new initiative will be but also why it is needed. Where possible, it’s often helpful to connect your new initiative to your company’s established mission statement and core values. How will this new initiative improve the company’s product or service, provide a better customer or employee experience, or support the company’s mission in a meaningful way?

Communicate how this new initiative aligns with your organization’s core business goals. It’s alright if the primary goal is profitability as long as that message is delivered in the right manner. Increasing profitability or decreasing costs is a perfectly reasonable “why” in most busineses. Many companies are looking to improve their bottom line to maintain financial security.

However, it’s important to frame that in a positive manner that makes it clear that the business is looking to improve profitability so that it can continue to support its employees and customers in the best way possible or generate income to expand in some way. You don’t want employees to walk away from the conversation or email feeling like the company is financially unstable or their jobs are in jeopardy.

Be transparent about the process

Employees often become stressed when they feel a sense of uncertainty around organizational changes. One of the best ways to alleviate any anxiety or feelings of uncertainty is to clearly lay out what employees can expect throughout the change process. If you’re introducing a new initiative, share the timeline and key milestones. If you’ve already introduced a new initiative and it’s hit a snag, provide an update on the timeline so employees don’t feel like they’re being left in the dark.

It’s also helpful to try to explain what any new processes or work will look like from the employee’s perspective. You’ve shared the “why” to help employees understand the initiative from a high-level organizational perspective, now share what it will look like in terms of the employees’ day-to-day work. Will employees need to adjust any of their normal procedures or processes? Does the new initiative take priority over existing projects? Be clear about how it will impact employees.

Welcome feedback

It’s incredibly important that leaders be open to receiving feedback and making adjustments based on that feedback. One thing to keep in mind is that leaders often don’t get to directly observe or participate in many of the day-to-day work of their employees. Leaders of very small businesses or front-line department managers will generally get a clearer picture, but they still often won’t know each process as well as the person handling it.

Sometimes top management will propose a new initiative without fully realizing how much time or work it will actually entail. Something that seems like a small change or added task may exceed the team’s bandwidth. Soliciting feedback from the teams that will bear the most responsibility for a new initiative allows leaders to collaborate with employees to adjust the initiative timeline if needed, set more realistic end goals, or find more efficient ways of doing things.

On the other hand, one of the biggest mistakes that the leadership team can make is asking for feedback when they’re not willing to actually utilize it to make adjustments. In the Achievers 2022 Employee Engagement and Retention Report, only 18% of employees surveyed felt that their company consistently acts on employee feedback. If you solicit feedback and then don’t act on it, employees may feel ignored or not heard.

In the event that it’s not possible to implement any of the major pieces of feedback received, communicate with the team why that is. Perhaps the changes requested by team members would be too costly or would cause you to miss key milestones and deadlines for the proposed initiative. It’s better to show that you considered their feedback and attempted to make adjustments than just going radio silent.

Recognize and incentivize employees

Often new initiatives mean more work for employees. If you’re asking employees to add to their workload, you may want to look for ways to compensate them for these added duties. One way to do this is to create a bonus or reward structure to incentivize employees to care about the new initiative and strive to meet set metrics and goals related to it. The ideal way to do this will depend on the available budget and the type of change or initiative that you’re hoping to get employees to buy into. Some initiatives may require a formal bonus structure, others may work as a friendly competition where a few team members can win a bonus or gift card.

In addition to financially incentivizing buy-in, it’s also important to recognize employees who are actively contributing to a new initiative or following a new process. Public recognition is great for generating buy-in as it can show other team members that their coworkers are participating and have bought in. If you have a team Slack or Teams channel, that can be a great place to provide public shout-outs.

Obtain buy-in from internal influencers

It’s important to know who the key influencers are in your workforce. These are the people that other employees trust and look up to. It can be a department manager who is beloved by employees, a senior trusted co-worker whose opinion others respect, or even a lower-level employee who has a really positive spirit and the ability to get others excited about company events or initiatives.

Putting in a little extra effort to check in with these internal influencers and get them on board can help get everyone else on board too. Inversely, if they are unhappy and you don’t take the time to address their concerns or questions, other employees may become hesitant to buy into the new initiative too.

Keep communicating

Everything is about communication when it comes to change management. That doesn’t end once you’ve introduced a change or a new initiative. Keep communicating and checking in regularly. Provide project updates or timeline updates to the team. Allow them to continue providing feedback as they get further along in the process. This should remain a collaborative process in order to not only get employee buy-in, but to also maintain it long-term.