Getting Buy-in of Your Suggestions

Preparation is the Name of the Game

Published in INSIGHT - Fall 2017
By Dr. Charles Waldo

As a church business administrator or other type of ministry support leader, most of your day is probably filled with “routine” tasks and duties – making sure the building is clean and ready to go; seeing that offerings are counted, recorded, and safely deposited; assuring that bills are legitimate and, if so, are paid promptly and correctly; matching income and expenditures against budgets; chairing or sitting in on meetings of one kind or another; and so on.  While perhaps not exciting, “routine” is necessary for smooth functioning of operations, especially in a large church.

As an administrative leader, you should be constantly on the look-out for ideas that add efficiencies and even more “routineness” to your church’s various administrative processes.  Of course, sometimes the need will find you in terms of previously unseen, unexpected, or unsolved problems that rear their ugly heads.  These spell “opportunities”… if suggestions for solutions can be found, accepted, and adopted.

But her is the rub – a “solution” usually translates into a change in the way something is done, who does it, when it is done, and so on.  Study after study show that the vast majority of change attempts seldom meet their initial goals, with a fair percentage getting “shot down” at the idea stage before they even get off the ground and have a chance to prove themselves.  Now the truth is not all suggestions are good ones and, under scrutiny, need to be buried.  But humans seem wired so that once we get used to doing something a certain way, we almost invariably at least initially resist suggestions to change to another way, even if to the person making the suggestion the benefits seem clearly obvious.  I suspect you made suggestions and did not expect or understand the opposition – either obvious or devious – to what you thought was a great idea.  And, be honest, you probably have been on the opposing side, too. 

Even if you are in a leadership or administrative position which gives you the authority to command that a change be made or enacted, “commanding/demanding” is generally a bad idea in most situations.  For one thing, it can cause resentment, often long-lasting. This is not good for morale.   Second, people can be quite creative in resisting or sabotaging, often subversively, a 

change which they do not like, understand, or did not have a hand in its origination.  Normally, it is better to take time to “sell” (in the best sense of the term) and get “buy in” from those involved and/or affected before proceeding. Except in genuine emergencies, “persistent patience” is definitely a virtue.
Dr. John Kotter, Professor of Leadership (ret.) from the Harvard Business School, and Professor Lorne Whitehead, of the University of British Columbia, have co-authored a terrific book (Buy-In: Saving Your Good Idea from Getting Shot Down which anyone desiring to get their ideas (or more of them) accepted would do well to read and absorb from beginning to end.  Dr. Kotter, in particular, has been researching, consulting, writing (eighteen books and scores of articles), and teaching Leadership and Change at the HBS for over thirty years. Even though Buy-IN is “just” 190 pages long, InSIGHTt space limitations allow only for an overview of fundamentals to observe in virtually all change discussions and an introduction to 24 specific “idea assassination” situations and how you might get around them. Get the book.

Confusion – Attacks that attempt to confuse or try to sink an idea by so muddling the discussion of your proposal that people wonder if your proposal really makes sense.
Death by delay – Raising what seem like logical concerns that will require so long to sort out that the proposal is no longer relevant or feasible.
Fear mongering – Pushing emotional hot-buttons that raise anxieties.
Ridicule and character assassination – Goes after the person making the suggestion rather than the idea.

• Do not be afraid of distractors.  Handled correctly, they might actually help you. Who knows? They may have legitimate points that, if openly addressed, might strengthen your suggestion -- or kill it before it can do any harm.
• Always respond in ways that are simple, straightforward, and honest.
• Show respect to and for everyone, including objectors.  Note that “respect” is not the same as “agreement.”  Especially, listen carefully so as to understand fully the other person’s arguments and logic.  “Understanding,” however,  does not equate to “agreeing with.”
• Watch the audience, not just the person(s) shooting at you. What does his “body language” tell you?  Who is buying in and seems with you? Or not?
• Try to know who will be in the discussion – your relationship with them; their general reactions to change proposals; how they might be affected by the change; how much influence they have on others; and so on.  Do your homework.

The book describes 24 Attacks and offers possible responses but there is space here for just a couple of samples.  Get the book and be prepared.
1. Attack: “We have been successful doing things our present way for a long time. Why change now?”
Possible response: “What you say is true. But surely we have (not “you”) all seen that those who fail to constantly adapt eventually become extinct. Life and competition evolves, and to continue to succeed, so, too, must we. This idea can help us do that.”
2. Attack: “You are exaggerating. This is a small issue for us….if it is an issue at all.”
Possible response: “You are right, but to the good people who suffer because of this problem, it certainly is not small.  We must help address important issues beyond the four walls of our church. Will not this idea (not “my idea”) help do that? Am I missing something?”


Vince Lombardi, the legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers, said that 90% of most games are won before the team ever takes the field on game day: physical conditioning: mental attitude conditioning; high attention to the fundamentals; a solid game plan; and practice, practice, and more practice.  So, too, it is with getting your ideas accepted -- BE PREPARED for the enviable confusion, doubt, fear, or outright opposition from both those affected as well as those just looking on. The Boy Scout motto of “Always be prepared” is appropriate for successful change.  Good luck.
The Late Charles Waldo, Ph.D. was Professor of Marketing (ret.) in Anderson (Ind.) University’s Falls School of Business