Let's Stop Using the Phrase "Buy-In"

I’m going to encourage you to never, ever, ever use the phrase “buy-in” again. Outlaw it. Ban it from your workplace. Ban it from your thinking. Put it away and don’t let it come out again.

Somewhere it became part of normal lexicon in decision-making and planning. Usually leaders and their teams use the phrase, and generally it’s meant positively. Often it comes in the form of a question: “How are we going to ensure there’s buy-in for this plan?”

It’s obviously meant to suggest that we want our people to agree with what we’ve planned and decided and feel invested in what we’ve cooked up. And that’s a good thing.

But looked at more broadly, it’s also pretty lightly coded language. It’s laced with the suggestion that leadership has come up with something (maybe even something awesome) and now needs to go sell it internally. It also suggests that perhaps “our people” haven’t had significant opportunities to weigh in, share ideas and concerns, and guide the thinking on the front end. And that’s where we get stuck.

If people who are affected by decisions have been sincerely and thoroughly engaged in forming our plans and decisions, then “buy-in” should be a moot point. If leaders have already taken substantial efforts to get sincere input from others, then efforts to sell ideas should be mitigated already.

As soon as someone at your leadership table references “buy-in,” pause. Stop the conversation. Ask, “Why are we concerned about buy-in? Have we not done enough to gather the right people? Are we confident that this is a path that will excite and energize people?” If you don’t know the answers to those questions, it’s little wonder you’re concerned about convincing people to dig your plans.

Agree to outlaw the phrase itself and see how quickly you transition how we communicate with people within the organization. Try it. You’ll like.

- Nathan Eklund