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Advice for Catalysts: Don’t ask permission, but don’t go rogue

With a groundswell of support for your vision—and proof that it works—you’ll be able to execute change across your company.

Advice for Catalysts: Don’t ask permission, but don’t go rogue
[elnariz / Adobe Stock]

Nearly every company says it wants innovation, but here’s what usually happens:

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A Catalyst—someone who takes in lots of information, can clearly envision a better future, and feels an inherent drive for action—has an idea.

They present the idea to top management.

Management says no, and innovation dies before it’s even begun.

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As Catalysts ourselves, we know how frustrating this can be. It feels like a catch-22. You cannot ask for permission (at least not immediately), or nothing will ever change. Yet you also cannot go rogue, because you cannot create change alone. You need others to execute the vision.

So what is a Catalyst to do? You need to create buy-in. Here’s how.

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

Catalysts spend much of their time thinking about the future, but to get where you want to go, you must first understand where you are. By understanding the context in which you’re operating, you’ll better understand where you can push and where there are restraints, which will help you secure buy-in.

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Begin by taking time to digest the company strategy. What is the company’s mission, core values, and goals? How does your vision align with the company’s strategy? The more aligned you are with the overall strategy, the less friction you’ll experience in the organization. For example, maybe everything in your company is centered around the customer experience. If you can show that your vision will improve the customer experience, you’re far more likely to get buy-in.

Now consider all your stakeholders—customers, employees, shareholders, and so on. These are the people you need buy-in from. If the vision doesn’t consider their needs, they will naturally resist it. So the better future you envision needs to be better not just for the company, but also for each stakeholder.

To create change, you need to balance innovation and practicality. By understanding the context and aligning with both the company’s strategy and the stakeholders’ needs, you’re more likely to secure buy-in and plot a practical path forward.

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LISTEN TO OTHERS

Buy-in requires trust. If people don’t trust you and your vision, they won’t follow you. And remember: You cannot achieve change alone. One great way to build trust is through active listening.

When dealing with significant changes, people may fear for their jobs or livelihood. If they do not trust you, those fears could make them unintentionally (or sometimes intentionally) throw up roadblocks as you try to execute. By listening deeply to their concerns and opinions and making them feel heard, you can reduce the fear and build trust, which makes it easier for them to get on board with the vision.

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Listening to others also strengthens the vision itself. Others may see things you don’t and can help you figure out how to best accomplish the vision. The more you listen, the better and better your ideas will be, because they will be built out of collective experience, wisdom, and value. Additionally, people will then feel like co-creators in the vision, and that sense of ownership will make buy-in skyrocket.

As you listen, remain curious. You may clearly see the vision and feel self-assured that it’s the right direction to head. But when people bring you opposing viewpoints or challenge some part of your vision, staying curious can help you understand if there are better ways to approach things.

Listening to others with curiosity will help you build trust, identify potential better pathways, and create buy-in, all of which will accelerate and improve your odds of success.

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BUILD A GROUNDSWELL OF SUPPORT

As you work to understand the context and listen to others, you’ll slowly build buy-in among important stakeholders. To secure the buy-in of top management and the rest of the company, you need to create a movement—a groundswell of support that makes your idea undeniable.

The key to building a groundswell of support is to share progressively, within concentric circles of safety. Start by engaging your close allies and see if there is buy-in. Next, talk to key influencers who might not immediately see value in your solution, because they can help you identify and overcome any possible resistance. Then move to the early adopters, then the early majority. Only then should you approach top management. By that point, you’ve iterated on the vision so much that it’s likely to be solid, and it will be easier for you to get management behind the idea as well.

Buy-in from top management is a huge milestone, but it’s not the end of the battle. You need to continue building support, convincing the entire organization to get on board with the vision. To do that, you need to demonstrate success. If you can prove the idea works on a small scale, it will be far easier to roll it out on a larger scale.

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With a groundswell of support for your vision—and proof that it works—you’ll be able to execute change across the company.

BE PATIENT

As a Catalyst, you have many superpowers. One of these is the ability to see possibilities others don’t. This is a double-edged sword. It’s the key to innovation, yet it is also the very thing that stands in the way of change, because where you clearly see a better future, others do not.

Seeing things differently is a privilege that also brings responsibilities. If we fail to help others understand our vision, we can cause disruption and chaos instead of creating the desired impact we intended. It can take a lot of effort and energy to bring people on the journey, but this is our responsibility.

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Doing the work of bringing others along can feel frustratingly slow, but leading change is all about creating buy-in with the people who will be affected by our implementing the vision. So be patient. Take the time to understand the context, listen to others, and build support, and you can get the buy-in you need to make your vision a reality.


Shannon Lucas, Co-CEO, Catalyst Constellations

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