Buy-In: The First Step to Positive Change

As an HR professional, you have lots of ideas on how to make your organization better. From a shift in performance assessments to improving culture and engagement, you know that HR can make real, positive changes. But how do you get the buy-in to translate these ideas into real progress?

I sat down with Jonny Rejholec, BambooHR’s Head of Product Development, to discuss the issues HR faces in bringing its ideas forward. He went through the process when he pitched the idea of a performance management module for our software, so he was happy to share his insights on the biggest hurdle that HR professionals face when making changes.

“Many organizations only expect traditional results from HR: pay our people, keep us out of court, keep people coming to work,” Rejholec says. “If expanding the goals of HR means spending more resources on compliance and risking bad reviews from employees and ex-employees, most organizations are going to pick the demon they know over the unknown. It’s the easy path.”

If that’s the case, implementing any change has a prerequisite: convincing an often risk-averse group of stakeholders that your idea will help without needlessly complicating matters. “Before you can persuade others, you, yourself must be converted. That takes work; it takes prioritization. You can’t just regurgitate what you hear in a webinar or at a conference, because when the good, important, hard questions come, you won’t have the foundation to stand up, find the answer, and persevere.”

Rejholec has a six-step process he follows when getting buy-in for a new idea:

Stakeholder Interviews

Before researching and forming conclusions, get a good idea of the current situation at your organization. Prepare questions for stakeholders at all levels of your organization: leadership, management, and employees. “Something to keep in mind is that people tend to state the ideal, not the real,” says Rejholec. “It’s not that people are being dishonest; we’re all deceived by what we think we do versus what we actually do.”

With these questions, you aren’t trying to lead your stakeholders. “So instead of asking a question like ‘What don’t you like about performance reviews?’” proposes Rejholec, “consider asking ‘How do you feel about performance reviews? What bothers you about them?’”

Market Research

Once you have a good picture of the situation at your organization, do additional research on your topic. When he was researching Bamboo’s performance module, Rejholec supplemented his Internet research with calls or visits to more than 50 different organizations. “Hit up your network,” he says. “What has worked for others? Why did it work? What were the benefits? What would they do differently this time?”

Don’t be afraid to ask questions, whether you’re speaking with a client, dealing with a trusted vendor, or attending a summit. The people around you are willing to share their knowledge.

Synthesis & Ideation

According to Rejholec, once you have extensive research, the next step to getting buy-in is to bring it all together. “Try to come up with the three main issues your company is facing with performance management. The three things that if you solve them, you will have Zen. And then come up with three things to solve [these problems].”

Now that you’ve solidified the right questions to ask with your research, it’s a great time to brainstorm with people you trust.

The WHY Deck & Validation

Organize your information in a presentation, and then lay out your conclusions and the research you performed to reach them. Rejholec recommends three essential areas of the slide deck: WHY, HOW, and WHAT.

“WHY is the goal, the vision, the purpose. HOW are the guiding principles. WHAT is the plan. Since you are getting validation right now, don’t spend a ton of time on exact details
. . . you’re looking for buy-in on the idea, not the specifics. You gain trust here, and then you’re free to design the specifics later.”

You’re looking for buy-in on the idea, not the specifics. Gain trust here and design the specifics later.

Rejholec also recommends meeting one-on-one with individual stakeholders before making a big presentation if you know that these stakeholders will have concerns on the subject. This will help refine your presentation.

Plan Out Implementation

After getting validation from your stakeholders, lay out the steps that need to happen in each department this month, in three months, in six months, and further out. “Thinking ahead will help you have an answer ready when stakeholders say, ‘Yeah, but…’”

Return and Report

When your plan is accepted, that doesn’t mean that you’re finished presenting your case. “[BambooHR Co-founder] Ryan Sanders has a metaphor for this;” Rejholec explains. “He says that he gives out innovation tokens, but only one at a time. If the idea shows signs of success, then he’s comfortable giving out another innovation token for the same project.”

To earn another innovation token, you should share metrics about the program’s results, including how employees and managers feel about the change. As time goes on, you can get the hard numbers: how a new performance management program impacts turnover and the organization’s operational costs, for example.

Following these six steps takes time, but it’s worth it. “It requires effort,” Rejholec concludes, “but you’ll discover great points and present them in a way that resonates with the shareholders in your organization.”