I’m a book junkie, but unfortunately my 2012 reading habits did not keep pace with my purchases. I keep a stack of purchased but unread books sitting on a shelf in my library. In years past this stack was never more than three or four deep. This year it grew to ten or twelve. I had to reprimand myself, solemnly promising that there will be no more purchases until the stack is at a manageable level. Right.
I don’t know if you’ve ever had this happen to you or not, but occasionally I’ll purchase a book and pass over it time and time again until I finally pick it up and read it. Then, having read it, I close the cover in frustration because the book would have been very helpful in a timely way had I read it when I purchased it. The name of the book I reference is Buy In by business consultant and Harvard Professor John Kotter.
Buy In is a leadership book that explains how to gain the buy in necessary to implement your great idea. According to the author, there are four basic attack strategies that any presenter of catalytic change needs to be aware of and prepared to counter. Those four basic attacks are:
1. To create confusion around the idea;
2. To kill the energy of the idea through delay tactics;
3. To ridicule the idea and/or the presenter; and,
4. To foster fear through fear mongering.
So what does the presenter need to know or understand to be able to effectively deal with challenges that can cripple his or her good idea?
First, Kotter strongly encourages that any challenges should be welcomed. By this he means there should be no secret or stacked meetings that eliminate dissenters. Rather, all should be welcomed and invited to ask hard questions and provide feedback. Responses to the questions raised by the challengers should be simple and full of common sense versus long, drawn out answers that are filled with statistics and hard data. Respect must be shown to all who show opposition regardless of how nasty they behave. Most importantly, all answers should be addressed to the silent majority of those in the room versus the one who raises objections. Why is that so important?
Here’s my big takeaway from the book. Most good ideas can secure a simple majority, say 51%, to get permission to proceed with the initiative. The problem is that while 51% may win the day, it may hamper the idea from actually getting off the drawing board into full implementation. Seldom is it reasonable to achieve 100% support because there will always be some who castigate the idea for one reason or another. But the 5-10% of those who speak against it aren’t the ones who will keep the idea from getting off the ground. The difference between permission giving decisions and supporting decisions swings in the balance between the 51% and the 85-90%. In other words, the presenter isn’t trying to sway a few naysayers. He or she is trying to sway the silent 40%.
So when you address challenges and opposition, the goal isn’t to win the consensus of the whole. The goal is to win the lion’s share of the room, which is usually the difference between gaining the permission to go it alone and getting the help you need to get the job done.