By Michael Wilkinson, CMF
Managing Director, Leadership Strategies, Inc.

Success in strategy planning and execution requires input and buy-in from a wide range of internal and external stakeholders. For example, a non-profit organization needs the buy-in of funders and volunteers; an association needs the buy-in of members; a business unit needs the buy-in of its parent company; a federal government agency needs the buy-in of Congress and its partners. All four need the buy-in of its internal staff. Without buy-in from key stakeholders, even the best plan can sit idle.

The Key QuestionIn developing and implementing your strategic plan, would it be helpful if intentional focus was given to building buy-in every step of the way?

At Leadership Strategies, we use our Drivers Model to employ multiple methods for gaining buy-in from stakeholders as the strategy effort moves through the three phases.

Phase I Situation AssessmentPhase II Strategy DevelopmentPhase III Implementation

Building Buy-in During Phase I – Situation Assessment

There are a number of methods for gaining buy-in while gathering information to assess the current situation.

  • During the situation assessment phase, employees can be told about the strategy effort and given the opportunity to provide input through such vehicles as an employee survey or employee focus groups.
  • Likewise with your customers, you can use surveys and focus groups to provide a valuable tool for gaining their input and buy-in.
  • If a parent company is involved or major external stakeholders (e.g., Congress), these views can be brought in as well when gathering information for the current situation analysis.
  • The planning team should be brought together during this phase for a management briefing prior to the strategy workshop. During this briefing, the planning team identifies the core issues to be address by the plan and adjusts the planning process as necessary to ensure the core issues are tackled. This empowering step helps build significant buy-in from the planning team.

Building Buy-in During Phase II – Strategy Development

Yet, having buy-in from the beginning is not enough. Using the Drivers Model, we recommend a structured, facilitated approach during the strategy development workshops. This approach helps ensure that the resulting plan is visionary yet practical, with strong buy-in for implementation. How do we do it?

  • Frequently during the workshops, the full planning team works together to outline broad concepts.
  • Then small groups work in parallel to refine the strategies. In these small groups, people are encouraged to discuss and debate.
  • Resulting “decisions” are brought to the entire group for ratification. By design, when smaller groups present to the larger group, the larger group provides feedback in two areas: “What do you like about it?” “How would you make it better?” This facilitated approach keeps the discussion both positive and solution-focused, rather than a focus on debating problems.
  • As a result, of these facilitation approaches, people feel heard, adjustments are made, and increased buy-in is achieved.
  • Finally, if the strategy development process occurs over several months, a communication plan is created for keeping stakeholders who are not involved in the process informed on the status.

Building Buy-in During Phase III – Implementation

To confirm buy-in through implementation, the Drivers Model recommends several other activities.

  • Once a draft of the plan is complete, we recommend bringing together the entire staff (or by departments or divisions if necessary) to review the plan. Prior to the plan walk through, staff members are shown the results of the employee survey, including a list of key elements to be addressed by the plan. This list demonstrates to employees that they were heard
  • Following a walk-through of the plan, a similar facilitated process is used in which staff members are asked to indicate: “What do you like about it?” “How would you make it better?” The improvement suggestions are passed on to the planning team for consideration.
  • Once more, employees feel heard and see how the plan addresses concerns voiced in the survey. This typically increases their acceptance and buy-in to the plan.
  • In many cases, employees also have the opportunity to volunteer for action planning teams to focus on priority strategies. Their involvement on action planning team tends to further increase their buy-in and commitment to the plan.
  • Along with meetings with staff, the Drivers Model recommends visits or communication with key stakeholders about the plan.

Conclusion

The Drivers Model provides a thorough mechanism for increasing buy-in by including input and involvement steps during all three phases of the planning model.