Engineer to Leader
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STCerri International E-zine/Newsletter

#22: February 2, 2009

Buy-In Is Critical!

Buy-in among your team members is so critical to success of any endeavor that I decided to give it one more Ezine/Newsletter issue.

In this issue I'm expanding the concept of buy-in to give you a perspective of just how important it is and how pervasive it is as well.

Enjoy and 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
"Buy-In, Once More With Feeling!"
Buy-in is everywhere... it's everywhere!
Most of us involved in business, technical organizations, and teams think of buy-in as a common requirement for our success.  Whether we are completing a technical task, completing a program, or sitting around a conference table deciding on a path to take, building and getting buy-in is a common requirement for success.

But how many of us really understand that buy-in and the processes that secure buy-in are being thrown our way on a daily basis?  We are the targets of a ubiquitous process attempting to secure our buy-in every moment of every day.

Those of us who are registered US voters just went through two years of fevered effort on the part of political candidates to get our buy-in to their causes, to their visions, to them.

Buy-in isn't just something that managers attempt to secure from their direct reports.  Buy-in is a requirement for all human endeavors that require more than one person.  Buy-in is the thread, the weave, that holds the fabric of human social structure together.

With so much at stake, is it any wonder that it is now being studied very seriously using brain scans to determine exactly what buy-in "looks like" in the brain.

Every time you see an advertisement that seems to appeal to something inherent in your values, the advertiser is seeking your buy-in.

Every time a politician appeals to your values, beliefs, or needs, the politician is seeking your buy-in.

Every time your child tells you that they want to go to a party because Joey's or Susie's parents are letting them go to the party, your child is seeking your buy-in.

Buy-in is what every advertiser seeks from you when they attempt to convince you to buy their product. 

Buy-in is what every child seeks from you when they attempt to convince you that you should let them do what they want to do.

What have you already bought into?
We've bought into hundreds of thousands of positions already. 

We've bought into not running a red light and only moving on a green light.

Many people have bought into shaking hands with their right hands when they meet other people.

Most have bought into the idea that education is a good thing.

Many people around the world have bought into vaccinating their children against certain diseases.

I could go on and on.  The point is that buy-in is everywhere.  It's common, it's necessary, and it's relatively easy when we know how to do it.

So how do we get buy-in?
When we begin to look at the fact that buy-in is so ubiquitous, it becomes easier to understand how to get buy-in from your team.

My definition of buy-in is:  Buy-in is the "overlap" of one person's or group's motivating beliefs and/or outcomes with those of another person or group.

That's it.  There must be an overlap between what the first person or group believes or wants to get with what another person or group believes or wants to get.

If there is sufficient overlap there is buy-in.  Insufficient overlap... no buy-in.

If you voted in the US elections in 2008, just think about who you voted for and who you didn't vote for, and why.  I'm certain that the person you voted for got your "buy-in" because either your motivating beliefs or outcomes overlapped with those of the candidate.  And I'll bet the opposite was true with respect to the candidate you didn't vote for.

And what about work?
The same applies at work.

Everyday you go to work.  What for? 

If you're an engineer, what's your reason and how does it compare to what the company and/or your manager expresses.

Do you go to work for a paycheck?  Now there's an overlap.

Do you go to work to express your engineering creativity?  There the company's need for engineering expertise overlaps with your motivation to BE an engineer.

Do you go to work to creatively solve problems.  The company needs people to creatively solve problems and you are there to perform that task.

Most of the time this process works smoothly.  People begin to question buy-in when there is an unforeseen challenge and people have to make significant sacrifices.

For example, imagine a software project that hits a big snag and people are asked to work 10 weekends straight, without a break.  How do you get buy-in in this situation?

Imagine you're the manager of a team of 20 programmers and you have to tell them and motivate them to give up the next 10 weekends.  How are you going to do it?

What do you do now?
Well you are certainly not at a lose of choices.

Choice #1:  You could appeal to their desire to keep their job.  Since each employee is motivated, to some extent, to have an income, you could use the motivational driver of keeping their job as a reason to work the next 10 weekends.  (If you read last week's Ezine/Newsletter you'll recognize this as a "Moving Away From" strategy).

Choice #2:  You could appeal to their desire to BE an engineer.  This is what engineers do.  They sometimes have to devote extra time and effort because important projects just don't happen.  They take extra effort to complete on time.

Choice #3:  You could appeal to their desire to creatively solve problems, and this is certainly an opportunity to do that.

Choice #4:  You could pay them extra for the extra effort needed to solve the issue and put the project back on schedule.

Choice #5:  You could instill a competitive spirit by noting that if your product is delayed the competition will get to the market first.

Where are these choices coming from?
You'll notice that some of the choices I've listed above are obvious and others are not so obvious.  That's because some motivating drivers are at a higher priority for each person than are others.

Being creative, having a job, being an engineer are often at the top of our list, until and unless something changes.  Then the priorities can shift.

Manager's mistakes
Most managers make two major mistakes when it comes to getting buy-in at a time of crisis (it's relatively easy to get buy-in when everything is going smoothly).

The first mistake is that they think that everyone is motivated by the same forces they are.  That is, the manager thinks that what motivates the manager will motivate everyone else.  WRONG!

The second mistake is to think that one motivating force will motivate everyone equally.  WRONG!

People are, generally speaking, individuals, and they aren't all the same nor are they like the manager.

So the successful manager must be able to step into the team's generalized map of the world.  He or she must also be able to step into the individuated map of the world of many of the people on the team.

Ultimately everyone must be treated as an individual, because buy-in is from each individual, not from the group.  While it may "look" like group buy-in, it is actually one-on-one. 

Regardless of how much we would like to think of people as behaving as a team or a group, and to be sure at times they do, the manager who is successful is well aware that he or she must identify with each person on the team, one-on-one.

How to get buy-in one-on-one.
One of the main questions you might have now is, "So how do I get the information I need to know how to motivate my team and get buy-in from each team member?"

The answer is in what I call, "Conversational Management and Leadership".  It's a process of seemingly casual conversation that elicits, from each individual, what their motivational drivers are.

In a very respectful and casual way, the manager and the direct report or the team engage in conversation that defines and illuminates what is most important to the individuals on the team regarding the task at hand.  In this way the manager can provide that connection between the employee and/or team and the task at hand.

The motivating force(s) may be one or more of the factors I've listed in this Ezine/Newsletter, or it may be something completely different, something the manager never thought about.

Regardless of the answer, the manager now won't be blind-sided and can find a mutually agreeable motivational driver so that the outcome is win-win or as close to win-win as possible.

The take-away!
The main message is that buy-in is not a mysterious process.  There is no reason to consider it something that "others can do" but you can't.

Buy-in is in our nature.  The challenge is not getting buy-in, the challenge is understanding where the overlap exists between management and the direct reports.  Once the overlap is found, buy-in is a natural outcome.

Interesting stuff, eh?

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:

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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

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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.
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