Gain Buy-in


  1. Leading the Change
  2. Recipe for Persuasion

Leading the Change

Drawing of a hand giving away coinsYou are reading this site because you are interested in making a positive change in your organization. You would not be wasting valuable minutes of your life on it otherwise. There are significant problems in your company or non-profit… government agency or religious community… start-up or school, that you think FuSca™ might ease. And yes, they are problems. Despite the double-speak of business jargon (“Opportunities!” “Challenges!”), these behaviors are causing emotional pain. I don’t care whether the issue is lack of revenues, customer complaints, falling profits, internal conflicts, or a cluster of these. The behaviors need to change, and you realize you might have to be the agent of that change.

Unfortunately, there is good evidence that two out of three organizational change efforts fail, detailed on the Process for Agile Transformation page. People resist change for a host of reasons, some good, many irrational. The larger the organization you are in, and the less enthusiastic people are to the idea of agility, the more I urge you to follow that process. Even in a small organization with a lot of discontent about the current system, though, you absolutely will have resistors who can harm and perhaps derail the change if you don’t take the time to ease their minds.

For your sake, I hope you are the top executive of the organization. That will make your mission much easier. According to a Harvard Business School report, “Agile succeeds best as an executive-led initiative that includes well-thought out strategies to effect foundational change across an organization.”[1] You still need to gain buy-in from the people who report to you, for reasons detailed in “Define the Why.” But the most difficult person to sell is already sold—the top executive. More importantly, if you adopt the practices of FuSca, it eliminates both the interface issues between the lower and upper levels of the company and a lot of the resistance below. Rightly or wrongly, the psychology of human hierarchies is that many people go along with what you decide if they believe it is going to stick. Being agile yourself proves this isn’t just the latest management fad.[2]

If you are not the “Big Boss,” you need to persuade upward as well. For example, as P&L (“profit and loss”) leader of one relatively independent unit within a larger corporation, you would need your boss to agree not to interfere. The HR Director in that scenario probably leads a separate entity and must be prepared to deal with complaints brought directly to it and changes in appraisal and compensation systems. The Chief Information Officer may resist your choice of tracker even though you are willing to fund it from your own budget.

Failure to take the time for this effort is the root cause of the interface conflicts I call, “Scrum pox.” I steal the term from rugby: Some males involved in close contact with opposing players will grow enough facial hair to cause irritation within a scrum, potentially leading to a rash that goes by that name. In the business context, people who do not understand, and/or feel threatened by agility, will fight it. Some of the conflict will be public and can get harsh. They will also crawl into the ears of executives, peers, and direct reports and tell them “Agile isn’t working” at every opportunity. Difficult to quell after it has started, Scrum pox is easier to prevent. Smooth out the bristles before the game starts.

Usually, though, the driver of the change is someone far down the ladder from the Big Boss. You are going to have to evangelize up, perhaps down, and sideways, over multiple verticals and horizontals in larger enterprises. Fortunately for you, there is an entire section of this site on Agile Transformation!

If you are suggesting adoption of the FuSca sprint system, just add the “Desired Agreements” and the FuSca details to come at User Story 8.6 (“Approve the System”). You can download my draft proposal slides and customize them to save time.

For that or any change on this site, some lessons from the scientific research on persuasion will help.

⇒ Steps: Gain Buy-In.

Recipe for Persuasion

Improving Your Odds

For my master’s degree thesis, I went through a different set of hundreds of sources, this time on persuasion. I define persuasion as the attempt to change someone’s attitude or behavior through facts and logic. There is no “silver bullet” for persuading everyone. Otherwise, everyone would buy everything in every commercial! So this can’t guarantee you will persuade people to try any of the changes presented on this website. However, following it will greatly increase your chances.

The bottom line to effective persuasion is proving your proposal will benefit your audience. They don’t care that you believe in it; they want to know how it will benefit them personally. My “Recipe for Persuasion” walks you through the steps. I have left it fairly generic so it will help with any of the changes you propose from this site (or, with some additional word changes, any aspect of your life!).

Tie Facts to Needs

1) Choose Your Argument:

  1. Read the relevant section(s) of this site so you have a complete view of the part you are proposing.
    Tip: Do so even if you are only trying to convert one team, because issues discussed there may pose problems for your team or be raised as objections during your presentation.
  2. Write a list of the issues your organization is facing that you think the change would address.
  3. To guide your work, write a single sentence (your “proposal”) that states:
    1. The key issue(s).
    2. Why you believe the specific change will address those issues.

2) Aim at Your Target:

  1. You cannot change everybody’s mind, so target those who are interested in the relevant problems and seem open to discussing what to do, even if they have their own suggestions.
  2. If you are only trying to influence one person, target the subpersonality or interests that may be open to your argument.
  3. Identify their needs, because these will cause negative and/or positive emotional responses that block or support rational thinking:
    1. Figure out what motivates the people or person in your target audience to do what they do.
    2. Write down the motives or needs likely to be most important to the target audience and prioritize them.

Example Needs:

  • Company or Team Needs:
    • Higher sales.
    • Higher productivity.
    • Lower costs.
    • Higher quality.
    • Attraction or retention of good employees.
    • Better morale.
  • Personal Needs:
    • Stature in the company.
    • Being liked.
    • Being respected.
    • Job security.
    • Reduced work stress.
    • More money.

Warning: Be careful with fear appeals—people try to resolve fear-based cognitive dissonance by rejecting the message.

3) Gather facts about the relevant problems:

For persuasion, these can include:

  • Physical evidence.
  • Statistics from respectable sources.
  • Opinions from respectable sources.
  • Examples or illustrations, such as case studies.
  • Presumptions, meaning statements not provable but accepted as fact.
    Example: “The sun will rise tomorrow.”
  • Possible emotional responses.

Warning: Do not ignore facts that argue against the change.

4) Create a benefits list:

  1. Combine the Step 2 motives list with features of the change to come up with a list of benefits the change would provide to your target audience (for example, the “Benefits of Agile and Scrum”).
    Note: Benefits are not the features of the change, but how those features address the needs you identified. For a vacuum cleaner, a strong motor is a feature; the fact it sucks up more dirt faster is the benefit to the user.
  2. Select two or three benefits relating to the most fundamental needs.
  3. Decide on the most persuasive benefit, or a theme encompassing all (in advertising terms, the “Unique Selling Proposition” or USP).

5) Create an opening slide or paragraph that:

  1. States the problems in a few words.
  2. States your proposal of the specific change to adopt (such as creating a self-directed work team or using FuSca Light).
  3. States your USP.

6) Create slides/paragraphs that:

  • Establish why people should listen to you (your credibility on the topic).
    Warning: Don’t rely on your role or job title to do that.
  • Logically string together the evidence for the change.
  • Relate the proposal to the target’s needs.
    Tip: One goal is to reduce negative emotional responses and support positive ones.
  • Acknowledge and refute alternate positions or facts as soon as knowledgeable people are likely to think of them.
  • Subtly repeat the proposal, strongest evidence, and deepest target motives.
  • Use personal language including “I” and “you,” not third-person (use “I believe…” rather than, “It is believed…”).
  • Use humor carefully.
  • Cover the agreements stakeholder groups must support (such as, for FuSca Scrum, the “Desired Agreements”).

7) Create a closing slide/paragraph that:

  1. Restates your proposal, the most motivating need, how the change fills that need, and, possibly, the best evidence.
  2. States clearly what you want the audience to do.
  3. Provides the information needed to take that action.

Important points to remember:

  • Keep your presentation short to maintain attention.
  • Use at least 18-point text.
  • Use words you are certain your audience will understand, based on education levels and experience in your industry and company.
  • If you have to mention potential threats, take away the resulting fears quickly.
  • If possible, do a practice run with someone and update accordingly.
  • Check spelling and grammar, since mistakes reduce your credibility.

Decide to Change | ← Define the Choice | → The Sprint Process

Full references are in the Agility Bibliography.

[1] Harvard Business School Publishing Services 2015.

[2] See: “Isn’t Agile a fad—or dead?”

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