Change Management Requires Ownership, not Buy-in.

If you want your people to get fired up about making change happen then you need them to take ownership of it

If you want your people to get fired up about making change happen then you need them to take ownership of it.  Not because they have to, but because they want to. When your people take ownership, you can’t stop them giving you extraordinary results.

According to McKinsey*, 70% of change programs fail to achieve their goal. That’s a massive cost to any organization. The challenge isn’t in designing change programs but in implementing them and getting your people on board.

In other words, you need to start focusing on ways to get your people taking ownership of change initiatives on a daily basis.

Ownership not buy-in

You’ll notice I say ownership, not buy-in. There’s a good reason for that: getting buy-in is much easier to do and doesn’t necessarily mean your people will go the extra mile. It may sound pedantic, but it’s an important distinction. Henri Lipmanowitz described the difference between the two clearly and succinctly. He put it like this:

Ownership is when you own or share the ownership of an idea, a decision, or an action plan; it means that you have participated in its development, that you chose of your own accord to endorse it. It means that you understand it and believe in it. It means that you are both willing and ready to implement it.

Buy-in is the opposite: someone else or some group of people has done the development, the thinking, the cooking, and now they have to convince you to come along and implement their ideas/plans.

So it’s ownership we’re after.

Stop trying to get people to change and start getting them to want to change.

Trying to get people to make change happen only occurs once they themselves actually want to change. You’ve got to find ways for them to take ownership of the change and act on it with passion, heart, and soul.

The art is in ownership: getting your people engaged and fired up so they change and willingly pursue it. When you do that, you’ll see possibilities you never imagined. It’s completely different from getting buy-in. You can’t force ownership on them. You need to find ways to help them take it.

Here are some suggestions

Take out the Angst

Most people don’t like change because it’s seen as too big, too scary and too hard. But what if the change actually occurred in small steps. That takes the angst away. So try to shift the mindset of your people to one of change being a ‘Game of Inches’ and not a massive paradigm shift.

Help them find what’s in it for them.

You need to help your people discover why change is important to them personally and how they will benefit from it. You need to help them find an emotional connection. Neurologically speaking, according to Richard Cytowic, decisions are made in our emotional core, not our logical core. So you need to help them discover ‘what’s in it for them,’.

Involve people early and often

If you can bring people into a change initiative as early as possible, include them in your vision, explain the reasons and meaning behind it, ask for their opinion and cherish their expertise, then you’re well on the way to getting their ownership.

Keep the communication channels open.

There is nothing worse than being left in the dark. It makes you feel left out and unappreciated and as a result, you might buy-in (might) but you won’t take ownership. Communication, genuine conversations encourage ownership.

Give people permission to act on change.

It’s really hard to get things done and thrive if you can’t make the decisions you need to make. There must be a degree of autonomy, where your people are empowered to make decisions and get on with their jobs. You need to give them permission to act on change.

You might also like ‘The Power of Incremental Change‘ and ‘How the McVikers cashed in on change’ also ‘The Tasmanian who changed an Industry‘.

Find out more about how Nigel can help your leaders and teams through his change management presentations, executive coaching, and other keynotes

*McKinsey 2015 Changing Change Management


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Nigel Collin Speaker