Engineer to Leader
"Whether technical manager or engineer,imagine being as adept and successful with people as you are with your technology..."

STCerri International E-zine/Newsletter

#21: January 26, 2009

Building Buy-In Is Easy?

I'm often asked how to build buy-in.  It's seems a daunting task to get people to agree that they should do what you want them to do even if it's a pain for them.

That's what this Ezine/Newsletter is about.  It's actually not that difficult to get buy-in, but you have to know the motivational drivers of your team.  I'll explain below.

Be well,

Steven Cerri

P.S.  Feel free to pass this Ezine/Newsletter on to a friend.

Note:  If you have missed my previous Ezines/newsletters you can find them archived at: 
Archived E-zines/Newsletters
"How To Get Buy-In"
The big question is...
I often get asked these questions:  "Steven, how do you get buy-in from people?"  or "In this difficult business environment, how do you get people to buy-in instead of worrying about other things that take them away from what they need to be accomplishing?" or "How do I get the team to give buy-in and have everyone pull in the same direction?"

It doesn't much matter how you phrase the question... it usually boils down to "How to I get everyone to agree to contribute their best efforts to what I want them to be doing?"

The answer comes in 3 parts and Part 1 is...
If you read my Ezine/Newsletter of last week, you know that the first part of the answer to getting buy-in is to understand that no one does anything they don't want to do. 

So getting buy-in is not about getting people to buy-in because they feel that they have to do something they don't want to do.

You get buy-in by getting people to do something they want to do.  The goal is to get them to do what they want to do in such a way that it dovetails with what you want them to do as well.

Part 2 of the answer is...
If people are only going to do what they want to do, and if you want to align what they want to do with what you want them to do, it is important that you understand the motivation of your team members.

You can generalize to some extent but each person is motivated by something a little different and you have to understand this. And this is not rocket science, but it does take some special attention to detail.  Here is and example of what I mean.

An example...
Several years ago I was working inside a printer company.  Most manufacturers have a number they watch.  The number is titled, "First Pass Yield".  When a product, in this case a printer, comes off the assembly line it's tested to see if it will work "right out of the box".  The ratio of those that work to those that don't is called the First Pass Yield.

Those printers that don't work must to be repaired by hand with labor and maybe parts added to the original cost.  If the first pass yield for a specific product falls to low, the product line will make no profit.  If it falls even lower, the product line will actually loose money.

The particular printer company in this example had a certain printer line that had problems.  The first pass yield was around 75%.  This was definitely a loosing proposition.  The cost of reworking 25% of the printers before they could be shipped guaranteed that this printer line was not profitable.

The CEO established a "Tiger Team" made up of a representative from each department.  These included manufacturing, manufacturing engineering, procurement, quality assurance, receiving, test, and sustaining engineering.

This Tiger Team met every week and it had been doing so for 16 months.  During that time, First Pass Yield remained stuck at 75%.

Finally the CEO asked me to join the Tiger Team and determine what if anything could be done.

I joined the team, and while I had authority because the CEO sent me into the meeting I didn't use it.

At the first meeting I introduced myself and then I just listened as the meeting went on.  I may have asked a question or two, but essentially I was a "fly on the wall" just observing and listening.

At the second meeting I told the team that I had some questions I'd like to ask, and I respectfully went around the table and asked each person what their responsibility was and what they thought the real issues were.

As I went around the room I listened for what answers were being given.  Did they think it was someone else's fault or responsibility?  Did they think it was a poor design?  Did they not have any idea?  Did they think that the answer was right around the corner?  Did they understand the fundamental problem(s), the fundamental forces involved with First Pass Yield?

By the time I went around the table, I had a relatively clear idea of who was "moving toward a higher first pass yield" and who as "moving away from a lower first pass yield".  I was also clear about who saw this as an opportunity and who saw this as a problem.  And I saw who was "passing the buck" to someone else and who was willing to jump in and figure out a solution.

After I went around the table I then gave the meeting back to the quality assurance manager who had been leading the meetings and I went back into "observation" mode.

First Pass Yield is all about statistics...
Those of you in manufacturing know that First Pass Yield is all about the statistical reliability of individual components that make up the product.  Since I used to teach statistics at the college level, I understood the implications of what was happening to the printer line.

By the third meeting is was clear to me that members of the team didn't understand the issues around statistics and First Pass Yield.  Therefore, in third meeting I took the lead and I told the team that the challenge was essentially one of statistical reliability of the printer components.  I then gave them a mini-statistics course in 15 minutes.

This printer had only 5 independent components.  Some coming from China.  Some manufactured in the U.S. and all five of them assembled at the company's manufacturing facility.  All we had to do was increase the statistical reliability of each of those five components and we were home free.

Here comes the buy-in...
Now the challenge was to get buy-in from each of the Tiger Team members so they would focus on the component reliability that they were responsible for and stop pointing fingers and chasing ideas that didn't matter.

Most of the team members were hungry for some sign of success after 16 months of 75% First Pass Yield.  So when I gave direction, suggestions of what to do in order to adjust our test and reliability procedures, many of the team agreed.

There were certain people however, who really understood the relationship between statistical reliability and First Pass Yield.  They got it intuitively.  To these people I gave more work and more responsibility.  I knew they could be trusted to understand the complexity of what we were doing and the inter-relationships between components.  And they wanted the freedom to use their judgment.  So I gave them more open-ended direction and suggestions.

To others, who didn't get the subtleties of what we were doing so well, I gave very clear direction.  They were not given such wide latitude to express their own judgment.

And with regard to the one person who was not going to give me buy-in, I removed him from the Tiger Team.  It became clear this person was not going to move forward for the benefit of the team and the printer line and it was clear that his power and authority were more important to him than working as a team for the benefit of the product line.  Therefore, within a matter of four weeks from the time I joined the team, I removed him from the team.

How did we do, you ask?
Within eight weeks First Pass Yield hit 95%.  The printer line was making money.

The COO of the company who was in charge of the printer line with the low First Pass Yield had expected the Tiger Team to solve it.  The fact that First Pass Yield hadn't moved in 16 months he attributed to faulty parts.

So when FPY hit 95% he was surprised.  He asked one of the people on the Tiger Team what I had done to get the yield up to 95%.  The Tiger Team member responded, (he shared this conversation with me after it occurred), "I'm not sure exactly what Steven did.  He just managed us."

What did I do?  Part 3 of the answer is...
The answer is that what I did was I carefully and respectfully noticed what was motivating each person to be on this team.  When I understood their personal motivation I then "explained" the solution, the statistical relationships between components and what we needed to do in order to ensure reliability, in terms that matched their motivations.  Those people who wanted freedom to explore and exercise their judgment; I gave it to them.  Those people who wanted control, direction, and narrow "marching orders"; got them.  Those people who wanted to be aggressive, were allowed to be.  Those people who wanted to be more intellectual about the approach to take; were supported on that path.  Each person was given an opportunity to find a way to align their personal motivational drivers with the task of influencing the quality of their responsible component or components.  And those people who didn't want to play ball, were replaced.

Buy-in can't be....
Buy-in can't be dictated... at least not for long and not without adverse consequences.

I wouldn't even say that buy-in can be earned as some would suggest.

Buy-in is the result of understanding the motivational drivers of your team and then aligning what you want accomplished with their drivers.  The closer the alignment the more powerful the efforts of the team will be.

On the ninth week I turned the Tiger Team back to the original meeting leader.  A month later the Tiger Team disbanded.  The organization had put in place operational and manufacturing processes that allowed FPY to be maintained at the high level of 95%+.

Remember buy-in can't be dictated.
Buy-in is a function of understanding the drivers of your team.
Some team members will be motivated by money.
Some by free time.
Some by doing a great job.
Some by keeping their job.
Some by advancing their job.
Some by competition with themselves (can they do what they are asked to do?)
Some by competition with others
Some by gaining understanding and knowledge
Some by being left alone to do their work
Some by being part of a team and not being left alone
Some by winning
Some by not loosing
Some by believing you are the boss
Some by believing you are their equal
Some by believing you are their friend
Some by drivers that you will have to get them to tell you

Your job is to...
Your job as a manager or leader is to be able to elicit from your team their drivers, notice them, and then align those drivers to the team's desired goal or outcome.

It's that easy, that challenging, and that difficult... but it's worth every effort you make because we can accomplish so much more together than we can separately... and it is the managers and the leaders that make that difference.

Be well,

"If you are an engineer or a technical manager, imagine what it would be like to be as adept, successful, and effective dealing with people as you are dealing with your technology?"

Steven trains, coaches, and facilitates engineers and technical managers to BE the answer to this question.  Steven is unique because he has made this transition himself.  Get Steven's latest thoughts at:

I'm sure you'll find the information in this newsletter/e-zine and other products useful to the advancement of your engineering and/or management career.  Send questions, comments, and suggestions to:

Copyrightę2008 STCerri International and Steven Cerri.  You are free to pass this information on to others and to reproduce it.  If you reproduce sections in whole or part please give attribution to Steven Cerri.  Thank you.

Be well,

Steven Cerri
STCerri International

Steven's Photo #1
Most of us believe that the behaviors that made us successful as engineers will make us successful at the next level of our careers.  Unfortunately, the skills that got you where you are today won't get you where you want to be tomorrow.
Quick Links
Join Our Mailing List
Private Coaching
Take that next step into your future with private tele-coaching or in-person coaching.

Call: 925-735-9500 and set up your 30 minute free interview or
Skype stevencerri.

To learn more go to:
Steven's Coaching
MP3 Files are now available of Steven's CDs

Influencing Without Authority
Influencing without authority is a must in our present engineering world.  A world in which we must collaborate with a wide variety of people from all over the world.  I'll be presenting a course on just this subject:  Influencing when you don't have authority.  Keep and eye out for this box to find more details soon.
Skype for Coaching
We can now use Skype for international tele- coaching.  If you'd like coaching across the oceans, Skype can do the trick. Email me for a time to set up a free consultation.
Get Your Free Ebook
Get your copy of my free Ebook titled:  "Steven Cerri's Ten Rules!"  Avoid the Pitfalls To Your Career Advancement While Making the Right Moves From Engineer To Leader.

Go to the link below, scroll down half a page and on the right side of the page you'll find the sign-up for the free Ebook.

Steven's Ebook
CDs For Sale
Articles you might find useful:

10 Pitfalls to Advancing Up the Technology Management Ladder


Being Right versus Being Effective

Motivating People By Reference

Case Studies

Articles can be found at this link

Steven's Articles Published
Steven's published articles can be found here:

"Engineering or Management", published in NSPE (National Society of Professional Engineers) Magazine, 2008.

"Going Soft", published in ASME (Mechanical Engineering) Magazine, 2004