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Taking Ownership

Practice Building Strategies for New Partners

Thinking like an Owner.

 Table of Contents

July/August 2007 Issue | Volume 33 Number 5 | Page 56
Business

Managing

Getting Others to Support Your Ideas

Advice for getting others to buy in to your decisions.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could always persuade others to see the wisdom of your ideas? But frequently, even when our ideas have the greatest merit, it is hard to get others to see it. And it can be particularly difficult for new partners who may have the title but lack the seniority to get other partners and even senior staff to take the weight of their “new brand” of ideas seriously.

Why is it so difficult to get others to jump on board when you want them to buy into a decision? There are a number of reasons that prevent others from giving their full commitment, including the other parties’ feeling excluded or undervalued; unmet self-interests; fears and concerns; not enough information; and actions occurring too quickly.

Address these issues and your task of getting others in agreement with your ideas is almost guaranteed.

What Not to Do

A common approach is to just say this is the way it is, exclude others from the decision and just make it. However, think about the times that an individual has forced a decision on you, without your input. How did it make you feel? A little hard to buy into the decision even if it’s a good one, eh? I was recently reminded of this in my own household. My husband and I talked briefly of getting a new companion for our current dog, Daisy, due to the loss of her sister a couple of months ago. I then learned of a 4-year-old boxer, Jack, who desperately needed a new home. He sounded perfect, so after a quick conversation with my husband,

I was off the next morning to pick Jack up. When I arrived home, I was met with resistance, both from my husband, who I had not given enough time to fully buy into the idea of this new addition, and from my 16-year-old, Patrick, who felt completely left out of the decision. And frankly, they were right. Jack is now an accepted member of the household, but I caused unnecessary stress and tension by not including the others in a thorough discussion and analysis of our options that would lead to a mutual commitment.

What lessons did I learn? First, people won’t buy in if they do not feel they have had some say in the decision-making process. We humans need to feel valued and included. If we ignore that need, we’re asking for trouble! The other insights gained from this experience go into the category of what to do in the future, something that could be useful to any new partner looking to get other firm members to buy into his or her ideas.

What to Do

Let’s say you’ve discovered an excellent billing program that you think will work well for your firm. The firm currently uses a program that was installed three years ago (well before you became a partner and felt you could have input). It took at least the first six to nine months to work out all the kinks and get the program to run correctly. It has some limitations and really isn’t the right one for your growing firm, but everyone finally feels comfortable with it, and now you are suggesting a new one. Why would anyone want to support you in that idea?

The following steps will lead to greater likelihood of success in persuading others to consider your ideas:

Bring together all who are affected by the current program and will be using the new one. What are their opinions of the current situation? What problems have they encountered with the existing program? Involving each person in an assessment of the current program will allow individuals to begin to address needed changes. In this way, they will feel included and understand that their opinions are valued.

Ask about their concerns. What do they fear about a change? Are they afraid that they will have to go through another six-to-nine-month period of getting the kinks out? Acknowledge that change can be difficult and explain why they would want to support a change. Most of us are guided by our self-interests, such as: “What’s in it for me?” “How would this make my job easier?” “Will this help me?” Addressing factors that will contribute to their motivation to support the change is essential.

Brainstorm options. When there are only two choices—mine and yours—what should be collaboration becomes an adversarial situation. Putting a selection of ideas on the table allows there to be consensus. In the case of finding new software, research will need to take place. If the group agrees, the task should be assigned to someone who is qualified and respected and a date selected by which the research will be completed.

Once the research has been completed and presented to the group, a group decision can be made about the best option. It may turn out that your initial software idea is not selected by the group, but because this is a group decision, the new program will probably better meet everyone’s needs.

Getting Buy-In After the Fact

Perhaps you have implemented a new system or process for those under your supervision without getting their input first. You may be thinking, “This decision needed to be made quickly, and as a partner, I needed to make it.” However, because you are a partner, it is even more important to show true leadership by getting buy-in even after the decision has been made.

My adventures with Jack might be helpful in handling the situation in which you are asking for support of your decision after the decision has been made and carried out. Okay, it doesn’t hurt that Jack is a cuddly teddy bear of a dog. But I also took some steps that I believe helped with the transition and finally led to a point where everyone thought the idea of getting Jack was a good one.

First, I explained why the decision had to be made quickly and didn’t allow enough time to get everyone’s input. If this is the case for you, explain it. It doesn’t hurt to apologize for not getting their valued opinions, too.

My next step was to go into why I thought getting Jack was a good idea.

I explained my thought process and included an analysis of the current situation and why a change was important. I went on to discuss the options I considered and why this one in particular was chosen. I asked each family member what concerns he might have about Jack and we openly discussed how those concerns would be met. Everyone felt satisfied that he was heard, making support of the decision much easier.

Eliciting the Magic Words, “Yes, I’ll Support Your Idea”

Remember that buy-in only occurs when the individual’s need for inclusion, self-interests, fears, concerns and information are addressed. When you are able to address those issues, the other person feels connected to the decision and more able to support it. While intellectually most of us can agree that any new idea that makes us more effective, saves valuable time and permits us to spend more time on substantive work is a good one, individuals must be able to see that it will actually add to the quality of their life as well.

Following these steps will allow each person in your firm to reach that same conclusion.

About the Authors

Marcia Pennington Shannon is a principal in the Washington, DC, attorney management consulting firm Shannon & Manch, LLP. She is coauthor of Recruiting Lawyers: How to Hire the Best Talent (ABA, 2000).

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