How To: Affecting Change Without Buy-In

You’ve got ideas! You want to change your office/unit/department for the better and know how to do it! You’ve worked it all out! But no one is listening. Or if they listened, things remain at the status-quo. Or if they want do implement change, it’s happening with the efficiency of the Pony Express. Has this ever happened to you? If so, let’s talk…

As part of a team leading an organization-wide Innovation initiative, I’ve had some experience with this. Part rogue, part bureaucrat, our team made repeated calls for change. Some were heeded, some not. Some people listened and we heard earfuls from many skeptics. Yet we also got great feedback, constructive and buoyant that shaped our project more effectively. Here’s a snapshot of what we learned:

The goal is to obtain buy-in. There’s very little change you can affect without buy-in. Keep your focus laser-like on this goal and figure out what it will take to get there.

You must make your case. Communicate well and in a way that the decision maker can understand what you’re trying to do. Keep your pitch simple, but be ready for detail on the questions.

It can pay to work incognito. Sometimes, just as when you apply for a promotion after already having done the work at that level for a period of time, you have to demonstrate that your proposal has already been done (ideally with strong results) before it can be officially implemented. We found that we had to do this on our own time at first to get enough background to make our case. Note: this will not apply to all agencies and projects and you must use discretion when using government resources for a test or pilot project without authorization.

Get feedback at all levels. The bosses may be the main decision makers, but it’s also important to get buy-in from myriad levels in order to truly implement change (especially in a bureaucracy). Time consuming, yes, but essential. This can also help iron out roadblocks that you might not have otherwise seen.

Ask for feedback. You must ensure that you are aligned with your management’s goals or your “ask” will be derailed at some point. Constructive feedback can also ensure that your proposed change is positioned for success.

Actually listen to the feedback. Isn’t it surprising how many people don’t truly listen?

Compromise as needed. Of course it’s great to get 100% of what you want, but that’s not always realistic or possible. Sometimes implementing a small change is a huge success.

There is inherent skepticism for change in the government. Don’t focus on the naysayers, but realize that they’re there and forge ahead.

Realize, even if the calls for change are accepted, it can take a long time to implement. Have a dose of patience with a dash of humility!

Some luck. Do whatever rituals suit your fancy to enhance this.

Know which battles to pick and when to step aside. We’re still working on this one…

Keep Calm and Affect Change. This is the golden rule upon which everything else stands.

Aileen Nandi is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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