Actually they should not.
The concept of selling anything contains the notion that the prospective buyer has a choice. They can either buy something offered on sale or walk away. Organizational decisions, however, require COMPLIANCE not a choice. Gaining compliance is management’s job and the traditional notion of selling something offers little help.
I know the term “gaining buy-in” is frequently used in most organizations following a major decision. Its use, however, urges gaining a commitment to the requirements of a decision that is quite different from those feelings we experience when we purposely buy something we actually want. When we purposely buy something, we have consciously committed to that something in advance. A commitment to the requirements of an organizational decision often needs to be earned after the fact.
In one of my recent management workshops I asked participants if they saw any difference between “gaining buy-in” to a decision and obtaining a willingness to “invest” oneself in that decision’s success. They did.
Gaining buy-in struck them as a lesser form of commitment, a somewhat passive, emotionally neutral, “oh ok we’ll give it a try” approach. Investment, on the other hand, seemed to require a stronger emotional commitment, a proactive determination to making the decision work.
ACCEPTANCE is the final stage of the classic “grieving process” — a process which often accompanies unpopular management decisions where many employees only see and lament what is being lost. Without acceptance, gaining true commitment to almost any decision’s requirements is almost impossible. But there is a significant difference between “intellectual acceptance” which is a lot like a passive buy-in and “emotional acceptance” where we are fully willing to invest ourselves in making the decision work.
So how do the best managers eventually gain the maximum amount of emotional acceptance and commitment to organizational decisions from those entrusted to them?
First, they make it clear that compliance, as opposed to commitment, is non-negotiable. This is simply doing a manager’s and leader’s job. Most of us understand that part of our work contract in any organization involves compliance with legitimate decisions and managers who consistently refuse to expect and insist on compliance, undermine their own authority, quickly lose the respect of their subordinates and the confidence of their superiors
Second, they never attempt to sell. Sales people invariably emphasize the positive benefits of their wares. Most organizational decisions have plenty of perceived negatives for those effected. Subordinates often perceive dishonesty or ignorant stupidity in a manager who insists on emphasizing only the positive side of things.
Third, the best manager tend to possess an astute understanding of human nature. Consequently, they are rarely surprised by the mixed, frequently negative reactions a significant organizational decision generates. These reactions are profoundly human and to dismiss them in any way is disrespectful. The task of a good manager is to help individuals make their adaptations and adjustments. This is called leadership. Good managers acknowledge the bad and the good and assist each individual’s journey toward accepting and accommodating whatever changes the decision requires.
Finally, the best managers understand that not everyone will eventually feel like fully investing themselves in striving to make a decision succeed. Some will comply with requirements with only a minimum level of psychological commitment. Some will secretly hope the decision fails and a re-look will result in a return to the past. But with time, patience, human understanding and loads of open, honest two-way communication, the best managers and leaders invariably manage to gain a high level of emotional acceptance and investment in whatever accommodations an organizational decision requires.