Buy In

In my search for inspiration I many times turn to the quotes of legendary sports figures and coaches. My observation is that in order to rise to preeminent positions of respect in their chosen field, these leaders had to learn the best ways to leverage their talents and abilities.  They not only understood their own skills, but more importantly HOW those skills could best be used within the context of their team, their environment and their culture to consistently produce winning performances.

My favorite quotes come from football coaches like Lou Holtz and Vince Lombardi. Both of these men had a knack for pithy one liners that cut through the noise of excuses, and defined simply and succinctly the formulas for creating winning strategies.

What I also observed is how they understood and utilized team dynamics in ways that others couldn’t.  Vince Lombardi was a master at it.  In 1958, the Green Bay Packers posted a season record of 1-10-1, the worst in franchise history.  Lombardi took over as head coach in 1959 and by 1960 the team won the Western Conference title.  Over the next decade Lombardi would lead the Packers to 3 National Championships and two Super Bowl victories.

How did he do that?  He didn’t have the advantage of money, or superior facilities, or marquis players that seemingly created other winning teams.   He was operating in the smallest market in country, with a limited budget, a harsh climate, and a group of men that had just endured the worst football seasons of their lives.

What Lombardi understood however was that winning teams are built from the inside-out.  His primary concern was NOT about football, it was about COMMITMENT.  All of his energy was pointed at a single goal.  That goal was simply to identify and develop players who were completely and INDIVIDUALLY committed to the work that was required to win.  Lombardi was asked what made his teams great.  His answer was profound:

“Individual commitment to a group effort — that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.”

Mr. Lombardi is defining what the leadership community calls “buy-in”.  You can always get your people to do what you need them to do.  Simply require the task to be completed, and enforce unpleasant consequences if the work is not carried out.  This is the way many organizations work.  In this model however, people simply trade their hours for the company’s dollars.  The only appeal made to the employee is the lure of the wages and benefits.  The natural tenancy of those completing the work, is to do as little as possible to continue to get the benefits promised.  These employees are not concerned about the goals of the company, because they are not CONNECTED to the goals of the company.  It’s not personal…’s just business.

Developing “buy-in” however makes an appeal to a much broader spectrum.  In a dollar- for- hours trade the company gets the benefit of the employees TIME, but they almost never get the benefit of their individual commitment (buy-in).  That only happens when people feel that what they do for the company has a greater benefit to them personally than just receiving a wage.  When someone buys in, they CARE.  What they do after they buy in now says something about who they are.   When they buy in, they connect the dots between their efforts and their value.  I’m not saying that effort and value are the same thing, but at least they understand that these two things are connected.

This emotional disconnect is becoming even more prevalent from a generational perspective.  As I get older, and (by comparison) the majority of my employees get younger, I have observed that the employees that entered the full time workforce in the 90’s and the 00’s have substantially different motivations regarding employment than people who came of age in the 70s and 80’s. People of my generation were raised with the understanding that work was a “calling”.  We identified more personally with the work we did for 40 or 50 hours a week.   Many younger employees do not seem have the same perspective.  Work is viewed more as a “contract” than it is a “calling”.  They don’t see their work as a part of their “life”.  In fact they see work as simply a necessity in order to afford their “life”.  Life and work are mutually exclusive.

I’m not suggesting that this is “wrong”.  It simply is a cultural shift that must be accounted for when leading a team.  Getting buy-in will be more difficult with younger employees.  They will be motivated differently, and will be harder to connect with on a personal level.

This only underscores the importance of obtaining this level of personal commitment. When you have buy-in working to your advantage, you get the same work accomplished, but there is a difference.  Now the work can be done without you monitoring it 24/7. As buy-in increases, fewer mistakes are made, jobs are completed under quote, the gratis budget shrinks, and there are fewer parts returns.  Buy-in is the lubrication that keeps the service business machine running because the employees finally feel a sense of personal value and accomplishment when thing go “right”.

So, how do we turn on the “buy-in” switch?

Public recognition?  Training? Personal attention? Tangible rewards?

Here are some ideas you might try.  Any one of them may increase your chances of getting buy-in from your crew:

  • When a someone turns in a sales lead, make it a priority to get back with the person who submitted the lead. Let him know it was followed up and tell him what happened.  Thank him for making an effort.  Peer to peer appreciation feeds the culture of buy-in in ways you can’t even imagine.
  • Let your key employees know that you NOTICE when they invest a little extra time ensuring that things got done correctly. Simply saying that their effort “doesn’t go un-noticed” makes a huge difference.
  • Personally THANK a staff member for participating in a safety program or company initiative, especially when you find them actually wearing their PPE, or following established protocols.
  • Ask an employee for their opinion. Follow up with ways you will use that opinion to make meaningful change (large or small).  Then do it, and give them credit for it.
  • Find a way to reach out on a personal level to your crew. When they see you care about them and their family on a personal level, there is a higher probability that they will reciprocate by taking their work personally.
  • Find a way to make corporate initiatives into mini competitions. You don’t have to have a big budget tied to it.  Sometimes simply posting the results drives performance.  No matter how old they are, people generally ALWAYS like to be recognized and appreciated. Incidentally, they also really like to win!
  • Do it more than once. Make it a habit.  Repetition is the key to success in this regard.

I believe also in making it clear from the outset (date of hire) that personal commitment is both EXPECTED and REWARDED.  This will go a long way toward building the culture you desire.  Be very clear that the company puts a high value on the employees that “personally care how it turns out”.  Remind them that you TRUST them with your reputation.  Their actions will either support or diminish the image you have worked so hard to build over the years.  Pair this with appropriate recognition and rewards, and the process of developing buy-in will get much easier.

Bear in mind that this is not a DEPARTMENTAL issue.  You cannot build a culture of individual commitment in the one department, when these goals are not resident in all of the other departments as well.  From the receptionist all the way to mahogany row, employees watch each other, and they tend to scale their efforts based on what they see and hear around them.  If people in all departments are pulling their weight, and getting recognized for it, it will naturally “call them up” to a higher level of personal buy-in.

The one thing Vince Lombardi did not have to contend with was the millennial work ethic.  I do however believe that even if he did, he would have worked the problem until he found a solution.  And so must we.

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