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What are we selling?

Getting buy-in is one of the most widespread leadership terms that exists. For school improvement or any other change initiative, leaders are constantly striving for buy-in. We all know that if there isn’t buy-in, then there is little chance that we will be successful. The problem isn’t that we aren’t good enough at getting buy-in. The problem happens well before that.

In most cases, “buy-in” means that we have something we are trying to sell that we want people to buy in to. It presupposes that we not only have the answer, but that we have identified the right problems. If you want to generate “buy-in,” start during the problem identification and diagnosis stage, not the solution finding stage, and definitely not the solution selling stage.

This is one of the first things I listen for when I’m working with a new leader. When leaders talk about buy-in, are they talking about authentically engaging stakeholders in a process or do they mean selling their solution?

It’s easy to see this difference when we think about other people. If you’re a school leader, think about your district office. If you’re an instructional coach or teacher, think about your building principal. Which type of “buy-in” do they engage in? Do you really buy-in? How successful is that work?

Much more challenging is to honestly reflect on your own style. This isn’t just for formal leaders. The same principle holds true, if you’re a coach working with teachers or a teacher trying to create change in your building. Think about it. No matter your position, if you’re trying to influence other people to make change, then how you create buy-in is critical to your success. Do you already have the problem and solution identified in your own mind, without gathering input from others who are involved?

Here’s what to do:

  1. Recognize that this is not just someone else’s problem. We all have the tendency to do this.

  2. Rather than “selling” our solutions, engage people in a process that identifies shared problems and shared solutions.

While the process may just involve honest conversations about what's working and what isn’t working, here’s some more targeted tips:

  • Listen for connections between what other people state as problems/solutions and the things you’ve identified as possibilities. Sometimes we don’t recognize that people are saying the same thing, just in a different way. Or, it might be a different problem/solution that they are most passionate about and yet can be easily connected to what you've identified.

  • Create systems and structures that routinely “uncover” possible problems. This might be creating common assessments so that teachers can discuss results or taking teachers on classroom walkthroughs. Helping people see possible areas of need for themselves is one of the best ways to engender true “buy-in.”

What other ways have you found to help “uncover” possible problems in your work? Share an idea below to help us all get better in our work!

Have an idea, but want some feedback? Send me a note or leave it in the comments below.

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