CG #20 – Why “Buy-In” isn’t Good Enough

Word Count: 684

Reading Time: Under 2 minutes

If you’re settling for buy-in, it’s no wonder everything is taking so long.

“’Just out of curiosity, what happy memory were you thinking of?’

‘The first time I rode a broom.’

‘That’s not good enough, not nearly good enough.’”

from Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkeban

The first time Harry Potter, a young wizard in training, tries to summon the powerful protective presence called a patronus, he fails. In order to conjure a partonus, he must be fully committed to his happy memory.

This is how I think of “buy-in:” When Harry “buys-in,” he fails.  When he commits, he succeeds.

Buy-in defined

I’m aware of three drfinitions:  the practice of underbidding a job with the intent of raising the price after you win the contract; the intervention of a third party (and added expense) to complete a flubbed stock sale, and what a poker player does when she joins a game in progress.

So buy-in is either intent to deceive and gouge, a penalty for failing to execute a sale, or a temporary commitment to a game.  Yuck!  No wonder our meetings wander and our projects stall.

Buy-in or Commitment?

When it comes to getting things done, I know in my bones what a commitment is.  I have no idea what a buy-in is.  Commitment leads to results and accountability, and, near as I can tell, buy-in leads to doing what we agreed to until I get a better offer.  Consider the bacon and egg breakfast:  The chicken buys in, but the pig is committed.

Commitment is what gives a project or venture its momentum.

Buy-in isn’t good enough, not nearly good enough for that. Commit and you succeed or fail in full view of others. The vague, hazy nature of buy-in makes it a wonderful place to hide.  Is that why we settle for it in our organizations?

If you want better results, you’re going to have to stop doing what you’ve always done.   Here are some ways to stop settling for buy-in and get to commitment that moves you forward.

1.  Stop saying “buy-in.”  Instead, say exactly what you mean.  If you mean “I need your agreement,” say so.  If you mean “commitment” say that.  If you mean “this is your responsibility now,” speak up.  Instead of telling your boss “I need your buy-in,” tell them how much money and staff you’re looking for.

2.  Tell it true.  I suspect we use the word buy-in because pressing for agreement might get you an answer you don’t like.  It might even cause your group to split into factions, and then what?  What if the decision that’s been made demotivates your group?  These are valid concerns.  Say them out loud, then ask for the commitment you need.

3.  Stop using Faux-census.  Real consensus is a highly structured process that takes a group from scattered to committed.  Real consensus means authority for the decision belongs to the people in the room.  Faux-census is when you pretend this is the case, but in reality the decision has already been made.  You’re going through the motions to fool your group, and calling that “buy-in.”.  If you’re doing this to your group or organization, you’ve earned every ounce of “buy-in” you’re getting.  See number 1 above.

I know, I know:  I’m a little feisty this week.  I’ve been in some frighteningly bad VIRTUAL meetings lately and I’m saddened by how hard it was to stay present enough to contribute.  In response I’ve decided to launch a 52-week program in April/May:  VIRTUAL Meetings: HOW TO GO from Deadly to Divine.  It will have tons of useful content, homework, monthly calls and unlimited email access to me for a year.  I’m aiming to turn all takers into collaboration warrior-princes and princesses.  You don’t have to lead meetings to make a difference, in fact, you can rock any meeting no matter what your role.

If you think you might be interested, let me hear from you in the comments.  I’ll make sure and keep you in the loop.


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