Buy-In: Saving Your Good Idea From Getting Shot Down
by John P. Kotter and Lorne A. Whitehead
Do you have a new idea? Do you have a proposal to try something different? Are you trying to sell a change initiative? If so, writes John Kotter in his latest book, be prepared for the attacks coming your way from the naysayers or the frightened or the sometimes just plain ornery people who don’t want you to succeed.
Using a format reminiscent of Patrick Lencioni’s bestselling fables, Kotter, a renowned authority on change and leadership, and co-author Lorne Whitehead reveal, in Buy-In: Saving Your Good Idea From Getting Shot Down, the common tactics – and the roadblocking strategies behind those tactics – that resisters to change routinely employ.
The strategies behind the arguments
Buy-In opens with a tale of a small town library seeking to convince the town’s citizenry to buy into a proposal involving computers for the library. At a town meeting called to discuss the proposal, a variety of voices raise objection after objection to the idea. But the hero of the story, with the guidance of a friend experienced in parrying the standard arguments of change, is able to convince enough people to support the idea.
In the second half of the book, the method section, the authors explain how the resisting townspeople were using some of the 24 basic objections and arguments typically raised by those trying to sink a new idea – including such favourites as “Your proposal goes too far (or not far enough)”; “It’s too simplistic to work”; “It puts us on a slippery slope”; or the especially nefarious “Good idea, but this is not the right time.”
These 24 objections (“We can think of a few more… but these 24 cover most of the territory,” the authors write) are built on four fundamental roadblocking strategies:
- Fear-mongering: An attack strategy in which an undeniable fact is spun, often through the complete lack of logic, into a frightening consequence.
- Delay: One can ask endless questions or request more meetings. A more creative approach is to focus attention on an urgent problem that, the attacker insists, can be resolved only if the new idea is put on hold.
- Confusion: Throw irrelevant numbers and facts into the discussion and suddenly support starts to waver.
- Ridicule: Sly attackers know how to imply the ridicule – an innocent question of competence, for example – while avoiding the backlash that can come from an overt attack.
Fighting back effectively
How does one combat these arguments and achieve buy-in? Kotter and Whitehead offer a method based on three core elements: capturing people’s attention; then, with people paying attention, winning over their minds; and with people paying attention, also winning over their hearts.
While these elements may seem straightforward, they lead to counterintuitive approaches. For example, the authors recommend encouraging people to voice their objections rather than attempt to avoid confrontations. The reason is that when you’re under attack, people are paying attention – thus allowing you to clarify the advantages and opportunities of your idea to a captive audience.
Likewise, the authors caution against the overwhelming use of supporting data and facts; instead of winning over their minds, you will only cause their minds to wander. Crushing attackers with ridicule or sharp counterattacks can also undermine your efforts. You stand a greater chance of winning over their hearts if you consistently show respect, especially under fire.
The authors follow their method discussion with a chapter that lists all 24 objections and the appropriate response (with an explanation) for each.
Although a book that begins with an objection from someone named Pompus Meani might seem a bit too cute for some readers, this is a serious and detailed text on overcoming resistance and achieving buy-in. The authors have packed more solid advice into their 192 small-format pages than many business writers offer in tomes twice the size.