How to create more buy-in

Change which is ignited by motivated employees goes better and faster than change which is ‘imposed’. How can you tap into the intrinsic motivation of your employees so that it matches the ambition or priorities of the organization?

Support base
Lack of support is one of most the important causes of frictions that hinder change. Differences in understanding of priorities exist between management and teams (in 40% of the cases, see graph) and within teams (70%). They lead to resistance. How can you convert that into support?

Source: dissertation by Dr. J.M. van de Poll,
Ambition Patterns in Strategic Decision-Making.

The trench of one’s own right
We live in a highly opinionated society with an abundance of information. We only need a little information to form our opinion and we are strongly inclined to hold on to it.

We have all experienced it: you have a discussion about a problem and you are convinced of your opinion. But… the better you put forward your arguments and supporting facts, the harder your conversation partner seems to cling to his or her conviction. Instead of coming together, it seems that everyone is digging themselves in the trench of their own right.

Trying to convince others of your opinion often leads to more resistance and controversy

Persuasion leads to resistance
This is a well-known phenomenon in clinical psychology: people are well aware of their behavior – and the improvement it needs – but when you want to convince them that they have to change, resistance arises. What if we don’t try to convince others but instead let people find the motivation to change themselves?

Change by listening
That’s exactly what motivational interviewing is about: it’s a technique, developed by Bill Miller and Stephen Rollnick1, that originated in addiction treatment.

1 Motivational interviewing: helping people change, William R. Miller en Stephen Rollnick, third edition, 2013

In motivational interviewing, the interviewer – or: the manager, the colleague, the parent, the coach… – mainly asks questions and listens, with the aim of finding out what would motivate someone to change. Not by telling people what to do, but by letting them discover alternatives themselves2.

2 The results of this method of interviewing in mental health care are good: 75% of the studies on this method report positive results and psychologists and doctors who use it report a success rate of 80%. Source: Think again: the power of knowing what you don’t know, Adam Grant, 2021, page 149. 

Suppose a manager has an employee on his team who often delivers his work too late. That is annoying for colleagues because they depend on it. The manager would like the employee to plan his work better so that the team can rely more on him. When the manager tries to convince him to change his behavior, the start of the conversation could go like this:

Manager: I notice that you often deliver your work late. You need to plan your work better.
Oh, what’s wrong with it?
The people who depend on your numbers get in trouble if you deliver late. They must be able to rely on you to keep your promises.
Well, I keep my promises allright…
But your numbers are often too late.
If different things are asked of me all the time, it becomes difficult to keep everyone happy.

This does not seem to be going in a direction that leads to motivation and agreement. What if the manager is eager to find out what would motivate the employee to organize his work differently? That conversation could go like this:

Manager: Could you explain to me how you plan your work?
Employee: Of every request that comes in, I note when it has to be finished.
Manager: So you have a good overview of all deadlines?
Employee: Yes.
Manager: And that works well?
Employee: The problem is that people come up with additional questions very often. As a result, I lose the overview and some activities will be delayed.
Manager: I understand that’s difficult. What could you do to keep the overview and meet the expectations of your colleagues?
Employee: I could schedule activities for each deadline and stick to it more closely when new requests come in.

Now an open conversation arises in which the manager understands the nature of the problem better – ‘planning’ is not so much the problem, but what the employee does when shifts occur. The employee, in turn, feels safe to think along about changing his behaviour. Now the door opens to a structural solution.

Change from within
Motivational interviewing enables the other person to find his or her motivation for change. Such motivation is always stronger than when behavioral change is imposed. It also leads to greater mutual understanding and support. It enables you and your team to become more responsive because dilemmas and problems are solved faster and more effectively, with more creativity and in greater harmony.

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