"Partial buy in" hurts

I want to talk to you about a problem that has the potential to be so big, that it can destroy a corporation.  Don’t panic, it’s not something that will destroy a world, or a country, or even a family.  It will simply destroy a corporation.  It’s a silent killer, and for the sake of this blog, we’ll just call it, “partial buy in.”

I have worked for, or consulted with corporations for over 30 years now.  For the first 13 years I worked for these corporations, and in doing so witnessed the frustration of “partial buy in” from the inside.  For the past 17 years I’ve been a consultant for these corporations and have witnessed the dysfunction created by “partial buy in” from the outside.

Let me define what I mean by “partial buy in” for a moment.  To me “partial buy in” is the act of wanting to create change… but only partially.  It’s caring, but not going on the record as caring.  In a way, it’s going on the record as “hoping.”

This week I saw the ugly sins of “partial buy in” up close and personal.  I saw a corporation who I care deeply about, perhaps deeper than I have felt about a corporation in over a decade get swallowed up by “partial buy in.”  Like many corporations they are going through a great deal of change… and like most corporations they are struggling mightily with it.

It has a sales force that has learned a new way to sell that is neither revolutionary, nor mentally taxing.  And yet it fights this approach to selling because it involves the discomfort of change.  That’s not only not a new problem, but it natural, and expected.  What isn’t expected is providing those who must change the option to change.  “Partial buy in.”

One of the things I most respected about working for Xerox was the way they got people to buy into change.  From learning how to utilize quality improvement, to problem solving, to selling, to managing those around you, every time we were asked to change the way we did something, we did; and the corporation benefited from it.  They told us that is was important to change, it would help us if we changed, it would help our client if we changed, and I believe once they even told us it would help the world if I changed.  Very compelling.  Then they uttered six magic words just in case we needed an extra nudge.  “It is a condition of employment.”  That my friend isn’t what we call “partial buy in.”

Let’s put our cards on the table here; change is hard, really hard.  However, it becomes impossible when it is presented as an option.  As a matter of fact, “partial buy in” produces the reverse effect.  Those who embrace change because they truly believe in what you are asking them to do can often find themselves ridiculed by those who will not embrace change and are see those who do as a kind of turncoat.

I feel for the this company I am watching go through its crisis of “partial buy in.”  I feel for the manager who is trying to implement the strategies he was hired to enact, but getting “partial buy in.”  I feel for the sales force who is resisting change, and confused into believing there is an option for change.  I feel for the senior management who is observing and trying to figure out how to help… but caught up in their own uncertainty of who to support and “partial buy in.”  I feel for the board of directors who is demanding that change take place, and seeing their demands being thwarted by “partial buy in.”

Ironically, I see more challenges then I have seen before any change was brought on to begin with… and believe me when I say that change is necessary.  The solution?  It really isn’t that difficult, but it involves taking a stand.

  • If you believe that change isn’t necessary, take a stand, get rid of every process you have brought to the table, and let your company operate without change.
  • If you believe that change is necessary, support the personnel you hired to create that change, and remove the “option” to change.

“Partial buy in” is a cancer that unchecked can destroy a corporation.  My suggestion is to pick a side, and take a stand.

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