Building Better Buy-in and Execution

In our experience, most organizations love putting together a great strategy. But when it comes to buy-in and execution, they don’t put in the same amount of effort, especially when it comes to getting important stakeholders on board. This explains why the change management community estimates that at least 70%-85% of major projects do not meet their stated goals. 

To understand this better we did a search of keywords in business books on Amazon. The results are eye-opening. The number of results returned for books on strategy outnumbered those for selling and execution by a margin of 15 to 1. 

It's no surprise then that we get super-excited about coming up with the best possible solution (i.e. our friend “the strategy”) and put a lot of effort into brainstorming great ideas. But when it comes to selling the ideas we forget to get the right people involved early to co-own and therefore support the plan so we start and stop. Meanwhile, time ticks on and by then we are so tired and frustrated it’s hard to keep momentum going. 

We have developed a model to simulate this – it is called the Results Equation.

R = I x D x E

On the left side is “R” – our goal = sustained improved results.

To estimate the kind of results from a project you can:

  1. multiply – where I equals the quality of the strategic idea
  2. By D which is the level of desire or buy-in of stakeholders
  3. By E which is the ability of the organization to execute.
  4. Let’s see how it works using an example. 

Let’s say in this case “we’ve got a superb improvement idea that will revolutionize our work” – we’ll give that a “I” or Idea score of 100%.

Desire or Buy-In. Well, we don’t really have everyone on board so at best let’s give that measure 50%.

As for Execution, in the past, sometimes we get this right, sometimes we don’t so 50% sounds about right. 

100% X 50% X 50% = 25%

Do the math and you’re left with a 25% Results score… if we’re looking for 100% (a perfect score) we are falling well short. If we can find ways to bump up the low scores, in this example Desire and Execution – we may be able to increase our chances of success and get a better result.

The important point here is that while the quality of the Idea is important, a lower score for Desire, or for Execution, have just as heavy an impact on Results as the quality of the Idea. 

There is so much literature on how to do a proper analysis and generate great ideas so let's focus first on how to increase your Desire score. 

Increasing Your DESIRE Score:

Some common reasons why Desire/Buy-In is low, and what you can do about them:

Reason #1: Arrived at solution first, and then consulted the stakeholders whose support you need, and they weren’t interested.
Countermeasure: Engage these stakeholders more at the beginning, and involve them in the analysis and ideation to arrive at the solution.

Reason #2: Explained or “pitched” the problem to be solved using jargon, lengthy documents.
Countermeasure: Create an “elevator pitch” for the problem to be solved – test it to ensure that it resonates, and adjust further.  Briefing notes don’t go viral.

Reason #3: As a change agent, you have influence, but not authority over the people who need to be involved, so you cannot force them to comply with your idea.
Countermeasure: Use the model of Influence Without Authority to develop your currency and build trust and reciprocity with your stakeholders.

Reason #4: You find yourself trying to “sell” your ideas after they have been formulated, with little success.
Countermeasure: Seed your team with First Followers / influencers who will create a movement by influencing their peers to follow.

Reason #5: People who are the targets of the change are fearful of what their work lives will look like and the rumour mill creates a wave of negativity about your change initiative.
Countermeasure: Use the concept of Natural Attractors to create a vivid, compelling and attractive plan for what you’ll do with any freed-up capacity from your initiative.

Increasing Your EXECUTION Score:

Some common reasons why Execution is low, and what you can do about them:

Reason #1: Your change initiative is too big and complex, so difficult to implement, slow and challenging to get people to stick with.
Countermeasure: Ensure that your initiative has a clear set of problems to solve.  If not, the initiative might be larger than it needs to be.  Focus cures many ills.

Reason #2: Your change initiative loses momentum because “this is more work than we expected”
Countermeasure: Break your change initiative down into individual tasks, then estimate with the team the effort to implement each task, and the total effort required.  This will force you and your team to be honest about the amount of effort required, and also force you to think about easier, faster ways to get to the same destination.

Reason #3: The finished product doesn’t do what we originally planned for it to do
Countermeasure: Use the concept of “user stories” for each output of your change initiative.  e.g. “As a client, I need to have a clear plan that shows me all of the steps that I need to follow, how much time I need to invest at each step, and the date by which I will receive my product SO THAT I can be more independent and not have to call the help desk multiple times”.  This clarity isolates the purpose of the feature, and it the user story travels along with the work as it gets developed, it is more likely that the original intent will be attained.

Reason #4: We lose momentum because the project plan is out of sight, hidden digitally somewhere on the network.
Countermeasure: Create a Scrum Board or Kanban Board with each part of your project broken into individual steps.  Post this in a conspicuous physical or virtual space.  At any time, anyone can see the status of the project on the “To Do”, “In Progress”, “Waiting” and “Done” workflow board.  Out of sight, is out of mind.

Reason #5: We don’t adapt to changes and our project becomes obsolete
Countermeasure: Go faster. 
  1. Overcome the "Cost of Hesitation" by building your project to secure quick wins and momentum, so it is implemented before things change.  Faster projects don’t encounter as many changes as slow projects.
  2. Include in your project team meetings the questions:  “Since our last meeting: What Went Well (WWW); What Didn’t go Well (WDW); and What should we Do Differently (WDD)?”.  Making these questions part of your project routine will allow you to change with changes in environment and not get too far out of line.

Reason #6: You never consulted the people who are supposed to execute the strategy.
Countermeasure: Consult with frontline employees—what are the problems they face every day in delivering value to clients (internal or external)?  What are their ideas for strategic change?  How can we frame our strategic problem so that the solution is makes it easy for them to execute it?

In this content area, we cover:

  • Increasing buy-in to your initiative by:
    • Creating a compelling elevator pitch, using visuals and surprising facts
    • Using the power of Natural Attractors
    • Harnessing the energy of first followers/influencers
    • Working with executives and leaders
    • Building trust
    • Influence without authority
    • Dealing with objections
    • Changing mindsets
  • Improving execution/implementation of your initiative by:
    • Creating focus and reducing multi-tasking
    • Project sequencing
    • Estimating and budgeting effort required
    • Definition of “Done”
    • Using visual management to create momentum
    • Retrospectives
    • Making it easy to use the new way, making it hard to use the old way, and making it rewarding to use the new way.
  • Creating a buy-in and execution plan for your own initiative
Cohen, A., & Bradford, D.L. (2003). Influence Without Authority: The use of alliances, reciprocity, and exchange to accomplish work. Organizational Dynamics, 17(3).

Sivers, D. [Derek Sivers]. (2010, February 11). First Follower: Leadership Lessons from Dancing Guy [Video]. YouTube.

Scher, J [John Scherer]. (2014). Throwing a Rock vs Tossing a Bird [Video]. Vimeo.


  • One-hour talk
  • Group/team training workshops (1 or 2 days)
  • Consulting engagements to work side-by-side with you to improve your ability to build better buy-in and execution for your initiatives


Buy-in and Execution can be created at the beginning, even though their symptoms are typically seen much later on.  During your planning, ensure that you:

  • Be explicit on what problems you are setting out to solve.  Take your time to get consensus on the problem and how it is stated.
  • Create a compelling “elevator pitch” so that your project will go viral
  • Choose team members who are influencers, and can create momentum
  • Create a clear, compelling plan of what the future state will look like – the What’s In It For Me (WIIFM)
  • Use Influence Without Authority to create alliances and reciprocity with your stakeholders so that they participate fully