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Are Your Employees Committed or Just Nodding Politely?

Employees who Have Buy-In are More Productive and Happier.

By Steve Schumacher

A company I worked with several years ago believed that the executive team should change every four years. Of course, with each new executive team, there came new initiatives that the employees were told to implement.

When I talked to a number of the veteran employees, they told me that the company would get all gung-ho over these new initiatives, sink a lot of money into them and build a lot of fanfare around them. There would be new training programs for everyone espousing the new mission of the executive team. The veteran employees bemoaned the fact that just when they were getting on board with the latest and greatest initiatives, the executive team would change and even newer initiatives were brought on-line and the old ones dropped.

Over time, the bulk of the employees learned to just go along to get along. Creativity was stifled, as was risk-taking. Employees would comply with what they were told to do, but there was no real ownership or buy-in along the way. The common theme among employees was “If they would just ask me what I think is important, I would get motivated again.” One of the hallmarks of a compliant workforce is they use the term “they” when referring to management. Committed employees, on the other hand, say “we.”

Unfortunately, it is too often the case that senior executives think they know what employees should be doing and how they should be doing it. I’ve seen so many company-wide initiatives fail, stall or never get traction because of one simple error on the part of management: They don’t take the time to build ownership for initiatives with the employees.
Before you can expect employees to buy-in to your initiatives, you have to understand a couple fundamentals:

  • Employees, generally, will tell you what they think you want to hear because you’re the boss.
  • Employees know the right thing to do and will do it if you ask them to help.

If you want to build ownership on the part of your employees, and not just compliance, do these things:
1.    Tell all employees the big picture of what you are trying to accomplish in terms of productivity, quality, customer service, safety, timeliness, environmental concerns, relationships with neighbors, etc.

2.    Meet with employees individually and in small groups to have open discussions and answer any and all questions. This is an opportunity for you to build relationships with your employees. In the long run, it is those trusting relationships that will make the difference of initiatives succeeding or failing.

3.    Get front-line employees involved on teams with the responsibility for implementing initiatives. Give them the training they need to understand the initiatives so they can become your internal advocates.

4.    Understand that involvement and buy-in of employees is an on-going process and it doesn’t happen overnight. A lot of employees have seen managers and initiatives come and go and will be skeptical. To overcome that skepticism, you must walk the talk and continually check-in on progress and hold open forums to address issues as they arise.

5.    Hold regular progress review meetings on the new initiatives. Get hourly employees to present the results to-date, challenges, successes and next steps. This serves the purpose of keeping everyone updated, but it will also give you an opportunity to see some of your employees in a role you may have not seen them in before.

6.    Celebrate the successes and the employees who contributed to those successes. Your company is going to benefit from the new initiatives so make sure you recognize those whos stepped out to make those initiatives happen. Keep in mind that some employees will be ridiculed by their coworkers for helping management, so try to get as many employees involved as possible.

For major initiatives to really take hold and make a difference in your company, for the long run, you must lay the foundation for them by involving your employees from day one. It’s an upfront investment that will pay huge dividends down the road.

Steve Schumacher is a management consultant, trainer and public speaker with more than 25 years of experience in numerous industries throughout North America, including aggregates operations. He can be reached at  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..