Stakeholder Business 

3 Keys to Team Buy-In

Jan 18, 2023
Employees huddled around a laptop, collaborating and looking enthusiastic about their work.

 By Nathan Havey 

Fostering team buy-in may very well be the most important leadership skill in the modern age. Rebecca Henderson  author of the wonderful book Reimagining Capitalism in a World on Fire and Harvard Business School professor whose class by the same name is among the most popular ever  reports a striking theme she finds in her conversations with most CEOs. They say that they would love to be more ambitious in making their companies socially and environmentally sustainable, but — and here is the critical part — they don’t feel like their teams will go for it.

The opportunities for companies that successfully transition to stakeholder business have never been greater, which means it's time to focus on the following three keys to team buy-in. When CEOs get these right, the results speak for themselves. 

1. Give them a seat at the table.

Rather than creating your purpose, ESG, or sustainability goals yourself or with a small team, design a process that actively engages as many team members (and other key stakeholders) as possible. The more open and inclusive that process is, the more people will feel bought into the plan because they helped create it. These processes may at first appear to be lengthy and cumbersome, but they end up saving a great deal of time and expense on the back end.  

Because the plans that come out of these processes have been refined by many perspectives, they have already solved for many of the pitfalls that tend to stall change efforts that were created without the perspective of those who will be tasked with implementing them. The result is more work up-front but then relatively smooth sailing in the implementation phase. That is, assuming the CEO ensures the other two keys to team buy-in are present.

2. Connect the dots. 

Team members need to clearly understand what a change will mean for them in their job. Rather than attempting to rewrite and then roll out new line-items in everyone’s job descriptions, it’s important to engage employees and other stakeholders in a dialogue to explore what they see they can contribute to the larger mission from their seat in the organization. Ideally, this is a step that is built into the overall development and articulation of the plan to transition to stakeholder business.  

Taking the time to consider how an initiative will manifest in the day-to-day of the accounting office, for the facilities manager, and for the assistant sales trainer, for example, is an important step in the process. If the people in those roles don’t understand what the change initiative means for them, team buy-in will be elusive. Take the time to connect the dots between job functions and the big-picture vision. Ideally, do this in an open forum with a few people and ask everyone else to consider how they might contribute in their own role.

3. Reward engagement. 

The incentive structures for your company are probably not set up to create engagement in your purpose or your sustainability initiatives. Left unchecked, this will create dissonance in the company — the very opposite of team buy-in. You will be asking them to engage in one set of priorities, but their performance evaluation is measuring a different set altogether. You must face this head-on and resolve this dissonance. 

We caution you against relying only on mandates. The best-known practices in this area are more about inspiration than compliance. Many companies do this through recognition. Create an award with major status in the culture and give it to team members who are really engaging in the purpose or sustainability work. This award need not be expensive (though a cash prize can also work), but it does need to be a significant honor of some kind — an honor that you might consider presenting personally.

If you want to accelerate your transition to stakeholder business, ensure you’re taking these three key steps to increase your team buy-in. Do that well and you may just have something different to tell Rebecca Henderson when she calls you to study your company.


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