Kill the word “buy-in.”

March 13, 2014

One of my missions is to kill the word “buy-in.” I cringe whenever I hear it.

Culture lives in language (think about it, that’s how we all do business – email, phone calls, meetings, reports, pitches. It’s all just language). So when we use a word like “buy-in” we create a sales culture, and how much do you like sales people?

To “buy” means to part with your money, to lose your resources. And I’m going to sell you, in order to get it. If we’re trying to get buy-in we resent it because we feel that we should not have to sell anything. And on the other end we feel like someone is trying to manipulate us. It’s a lose-lose.

Even if you “get buy-in’ there’s the baggage that comes with it, including buyer’s remorse – That feeling of first getting caught up in excitement, then realizing it’s not what you really wanted. Getting buy-in is a short-term plan at best.

So what can replace it? To answer that we need to look deeper and ask – where are we in agreement about what’s valuable and important? If we can align on that, the conversation is not about selling, it’s about discussing – how do we best achieve it?

Let’s use an example.

Let’s say you’re trying to get “buy-in” from the CEO to let employees make their own decisions when it comes to giving customers their money back. First realize that your desire to do this is based on your own beliefs and values. You may value empowerment and believe that individual responsibility will lead to better decisions that will help both the customer and the company. This is simply your belief. Though it would be more accurate to say this is your hypothesis and you want to test it out.

The key is to connect it to an experiment (meaning a change with a limited scope and time window, seeking to validate or disprove your hypothesis), that is grounded in a shared value.  So let’s say you and the CEO are both committed to employee happiness and a strong customer NPS score.  This is what it would look like…

“Bob, you and I are both agreed that we want to increase employee happiness and raise our NPS score. I think we can do this without spending any money by letting people make their own decisions when it comes to refunds. To keep the risk low, let’s only use the product X division over 90 days. We’ll baseline the happiness metrics and our NPS score and see how it goes. If nothing changes, we can go back to the policy manual.”

This approach takes the loaded emotions out of the equation by presenting a rational argument based on shared values. The upside potential is there, with limited risk.  No more selling. Just logic and experimentation. Try it out and let me know how it goes.