How to Create Buy-In Around Employee Education

Intuitively, one would assume a culture of collaboration within an organization lends itself to overall performance. One of these performance goals is closing the skills gap through internal learning initiatives. Key to this initiative is collaboration (or buy-in) from the relevant parties.

From a scientific standpoint, there is evidence to support collaboration and performance are related.

In March 2016, The Economist conducted a report surveying 249 business leaders to determine why and how companies collaborate internally. About 50% of respondents were C-suite executives and the rest held a variety of high-level management positions. The survey spanned over North America, Europe and Asia-Pacific. Over 50% of the respondent’s organizations have annual revenues exceeding $500m.

There were 6 main findings from the report:

  1. Effective collaboration correlates with better business results
  2. In top-performing companies, collaboration is more effective at every level
  3. Top-performing companies use collaboration to fix organizational issues
  4. In top-performing companies, employees have a strong belief in, and commitment to, collaboration and results
  5. There can be disadvantages to collaboration
  6. Large companies find collaboration more challenging

A finding from the report relevant to this article was the highest-performing companies are best at getting buy-in from employees. While lower-performing companies tend to have less buy-in.

This information highlights the importance of a common goal, one which the organization believes in and can work toward as a team. When these goals are clear and have obvious value, they are easy to communicate and implement.

Goals such as bridging skills gaps are less definable, and resources can often give little time to their professional learning. This is a result of a lack of buy-in toward learning and development.

This article examines the Dial-In strategy as a method of creating buy-in within an organization. This article applies the strategy to the goal of bridging skills gaps.

Intuitively, one would assume a culture of collaboration within an organization lends itself to overall performance. One of these performance goals is closing the skills gap through internal learning initiatives. Key to this initiative is collaboration (or buy-in) from the relevant parties.

The ‘Dial-In’ Strategy

Kristi Hedges is a leadership coach, speaker and author of The Power of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage Others. Kristi dubs her 4-step strategy the Dial-In.

Its steps are as follows:

  1. Formulate a coherent vision or idea
  2. Expose the idea to outside criticism
  3. Leverage feedback
  4. Communicate progress

She’s taken inspiration from several industry leaders, notably John Kotter, a pioneer of change management whose writings have received worldwide recognition.

Step 1: Formulate a Coherent Vision or Idea

The first step is to create a vision/idea. A word of warning, she advises this be kept in draft form initially and be developed over time. Multiple iterations may be required.

In this step, lay out the problem as clearly as possible. This way, when communicating it to the relevant parties, they’ll be easier influenced. Back it up with relevant examples (providing evidence makes the point compelling).

In 1992, Burt Nanus defined the term ‘vision’ in his book Visionary Leadership. In it, he highlighted 8 elements to an effective vision statement.

A vision statement:

  1. Is future-oriented
  2. Is likely to lead to a better future for the organization
  3. Reflects the organization’s values
  4. Sets standards of excellence
  5. Clarifies the organization’s purpose and direction
  6. Inspires enthusiasm and commitment
  7. Reflects the uniqueness of the organization
  8. Is ambitious

In a learning context, the first draft of a vision or idea could be guided by these 8 elements initially and refined by subsequent feedback.

Below is some evidence to support organizational learning/bridging the skills gap:

  1. Implementation of informational technology has a significant impact on learning
  2. The coupling of continuous learning and information technology has a positive impact on organizational performance
  3. The process of learning in business lends itself toward innovation
  4. Organizational learning culture has a positive impact on business performance
  5. Organizations with the highest levels in knowledge stock and learning flows obtain superior performance

Hedges suggests concerns be expressed related to the vision along with evidence to promote the idea. Rather than just focus on the positives of learning and development, identify the challenges and manage expectations of those about to engage in the learning and development initiative.

2 Expose the idea to outside criticism

Conflict is an engaging form of communication. If those who are involved in the initiative are not engaged, success will be difficult to achieve.

Hedges quotes Kotter in her piece when he says:

“If people have no opinions, no objections and no emotions, it usually means they don’t care. And you’ll be hard-pressed getting their help when you have to actually implement your idea. But conflict shakes people up and gets them to pay attention in a novel way. This gives you the opportunity to say why your idea really is valuable and explain it in a way that wins over hearts and minds – securing their commitment to implementing the solution.”

Productive advocacy is employed at this stage to progress the initiative. This involves taking a general interest in other’s opinions and not allowing confirmation bias to seep in. This can be done by encouraging honest communication. Hedges suggests asking questions such as “what am I missing?” and “how can this idea be stronger?”

In a learning context, this step involves gathering opinions around the knowledge implementation plan created in order to bridge the organization’s skills gap. Communicate the plan to those who will be involved and gather honest feedback which will guide iterations of the initiative. Expose employees to the Learning Management System which will hopefully be implemented. Ask for feedback on proposed learning topics and determine which mode of delivery employees find most engaging (artificial intelligence/mobile/gamification).

Productive inquiry is an offshoot of productive advocacy. It involves skilful engagement which allows the problem to be examined fully. If the opinions portrayed are not fully understood, effective iterations will be difficult to create.

Hedges explains this as acknowledging other’s criticisms. If these opinions are difficult to understand, Hedges suggests using engaging language and asking questions such as “would you walk me through your thinking?” and using clarifying statements such as “let’s make sure I’m understanding you correctly.”

Engagement is key in this step.

3 Leverage Feedback

A natural follow on from step 2 is to use the feedback gathered. Create an action plan based on the information acquired and use it to improve the initial idea.

Feedback has proven a useful tool when implemented correctly in the workplace. A systematic review of multiple studies found a positive effect on business performance after appropriate workplace-based feedback.

A 4-step process can be applied to ensure effective utilization of feedback.

  • Step 1: Develop a plan to improve
  • Step 2: Seek external advice
  • Step 3: Explore the new changes
  • Step 4: Reflect on the outcomes

Applying this process will allow you to maximize the ROI in this step.

4 Communicate Progress

Continuous updates to those involved along with regular feedback are important in step 4. Keep relevant parties informed on the initiative and its current status. Continuous feedback can still be gathered and acted upon during this step, improving the project further.

Hedges describes how an idea can sometimes be met with resistance. She suggests combatting any difficulties with open-ended communications to promote strong understanding on both sides.

Asking questions such as “what can I do to help overcome your concerns?” and “is there anything I can do to make you more comfortable with the solution?” can be useful in this step.

Applying these 4 steps toward the goal of bridging the skills gap in an organization can prove useful. Buy-in around learning and development is challenging. Using these tactics can convey the benefits and help optimize the system prior to implementation and ensure a smooth transition to the agreed solution.

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