April 6, 2022

Use this simple tactic to get employees at every level to buy-in to a testing program

“How do I get buy-in for an experimentation program within my organization?”, a woman asked our panel of experimentation leaders. She was the first to ask us this question that evening, but it certainly wasn’t the first time I’ve heard it.

In fact, this question has been asked repeatedly throughout the seven-plus years I’ve been a part of the experimentation community. This leads me to believe we haven’t really discovered the most helpful answer.

The most common answer

Fellow panelist Pete Koomen, CTO of Optimizely, replied that implementing an experimentation and personalization program often has to be a “top-down” directive. He said a good first step is to show executives how much more money they stand to make if they implement a program – or lose if they don’t.

I agree where the directive “comes from” and how it’s delivered is one piece of the puzzle. That said, it must not be the piece, or we wouldn’t continue hearing the question at various conferences and events.

Approaching the question from a new angle

The mic found its way to me. On the spot, I had a revelation that the answer to this question may actually be found in good ol’ fashioned people management.

You see, the person(s) whose buy-in you need will vary depending on your organization. Maybe you’re a mid-level manager working to convince your CEO about the merits of budgeting for an experimentation program. Perhaps you’re an executive who needs buy-in from your mid-level managers to oversee the day-to-day. Or maybe you’re a product manager who needs to get your designer or developer onboard to become allies instead of roadblocks. Regardless, I believe your method for getting their buy-in should be the same – having an honest, 1:1 conversation.

I’d be willing to bet you just thought to yourself, “you mean to tell me I read this far and that’s the big secret?”

Yep, and here’s why.

Changes of all types create uncertainty, fear and whiplash. They cause people to dig their heels in and resist – both in personal and professional settings.

If you’re nodding your head at the familiarity of the above scenario, I urge you to have a simple conversation with the person you seek buy-in from. Your goal is to listen more than you speak and gain a clear understanding of what is really at the heart of their resistance.

The TL;DR is this:

The people you’re trying to get buy-in from likely do not have a problem with an experimentation program. They have a problem with how that program will impact them and their day-to-day work. You need to solve that problem before you can get buy-in. [click to tweet]

Where to start and what to listen for

I won’t go all armchair psychologist on you, but fear is often a big driver of friction. I recommend you start the conversation by sharing your goals and vision for the experimentation program. Then, ask open-ended questions to uncover your counterpart’s concerns and fears.

Common reasons for resistance to experimentation and personalization include:

  • fear of irrelevance, inadequacy or being replaced
  • more work being added to their plates, but not more resources
  • fear they will be “exposed” and their “failures” will be put on display for everyone to see
  • the new initiative isn’t factored into their annual goals or compensation (“why give it my time and effort?”)
  • no clear understanding about how increased responsibilities will impact their day-to-day or help the company

The above list is intended to provide a starting point and some themes to listen for during your 1:1.

Once you identify a person’s fears and frustrations, you can begin to develop and implement solutions to address them. Sharing these solutions with your team and following up on a routine basis to address issues that arise will ensure your team feels heard and sustain the buy-in needed to achieve the goals of your experimentation program.

Parting words

Leaders are regularly faced with the challenge of determining which levers to pull to grow revenue and make their organizations more profitable. While you may be trailblazing a new path at your organization by investing in improving your employees’ management and communications skills, I strongly encourage you to pull that lever.

After working with companies of various shapes and sizes throughout my 13-year career, I can confidently say that those with the strongest growth and healthiest cultures – experimentation or otherwise – are those who recognize the importance of good management and communication and lean into them from all angles.

If you’d like more resources on this topic, want to knock around ideas for solutions or care to share outcomes from having this conversation in your organization, please get in touch.

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