Asking for Buy-In Makes You Powerless
Updated: Jul 15, 2021
“How do I get Executive support?”
“How do we get Executive buy-in for our transformation?”
If you are asking these questions, you have already given up your power.
Power is something rarely spoken about, but if you can’t navigate the power dynamics of an organization, you won’t be able to make changes happen. Navigating power is the differentiator of people who successfully lead organizational change. Those who do it well, have trouble articulating it or teaching it. We’re going to try and unpack it here, and see if we can make ‘navigating power’ accessible to everyone.
‘Power’ can be a trigger word. Let’s start with the elephant in the room. Sometimes people find themselves bristling at the word power. It seems Machiavellian as if you’re trying to take over the world. Ask yourself, ‘is it the word I don’t like, or is it the concept?’ If you find another word please let me know what word you chose because I can’t find a better one.
As a society, we are really uncomfortable with the idea of power. It seems evil. It seems manipulative, doesn’t it? It doesn’t have to be, you can manage with power and integrity. If you are leading change, you’ll need to reckon with your relationship to power. It’s not going away, and it’s going to be a key success factor.
Where is Power coming from? The very first thing you need to do is observe where power is coming from. It’s different in every organization, but here are some patterns to look for.
Follow the money.
Cash cows. If an organization owns the cash cow, they have power. Organizations don’t risk their cash cows.
Hot, strategic opportunities. When an organization invests in the future, there’s some temporary power granted to entities associated with that opportunity.
Personality. Sometimes a personality can have power, but not always. Be careful of attributing too much weight to a strong personality.
Formal Structures and Tradition. This is the obvious one, but power doesn’t always follow hierarchy.
Where is power hidden? Power can hide in organizations. I’ve seen some quiet, individual contributors make or break large companies because no one realized the pivotal power of their role. A bottleneck is a great example, I’ve seen a single specialist prevent large strategies from being executed, without any awareness from the leaders. Be on the lookout for hidden power.
How can you align with the Power Dynamic? How do we get buy-in, support, and influence from a place of power?
Tip #1: Never ask for support, always give support.
What does it look like to give support? When you walk into an executive meeting, you are not selling your executives on the benefits of your idea, you are not selling them on the implementation. You are showing them how you can help them and the organization, be successful.
Instead of this, “Agile will help us be more collaborative and responsive. Will you support this?”
Try this, “The organization has a goal of expanding in the millennial market this year. In order to do that we need to be nimble. Here are 3 things we can do to meet that goal.”
Tip #2: Get aligned with a profit center.
Let me say this bluntly. If your transformation effort lives in a cost center, you better get yourself tightly aligned with a profit center. Cost center transformations have no power. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news here, but you might as well know the truth. This doesn’t mean you need to physically move your transformation, it just means you better go get tied at the hip to someone who’s making the money.
Don’t forget to make it economic. Check out the past blog here where I explain how to speak in economic terms, not just platitudes. https://www.rosettatg.com/blogtoon/2019/7/28/the-executive-whisperer?rq=executive. If you can tie numbers to the decision options, you stand in a stronger power position.
Brain Twist. If you haven’t already, go wrestle down your relationship to the concept of power. Once that’s done, draw yourself a map of where the power lives in your organization. Where are you disconnected from power? Where is power hiding? Where is power underused?