Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Five Levels of Buy-In

I hate the term buy-in, but decided to use it for this post because it is a term most people know. While googling to see if I should use a hyphen in buy-in or not, I happened to stumble upon this rant contrasting buy-in with ownership. It's worth a read and I think it is spot on. (I especially enjoy how he also tears apart the idea of best practices.)

When you do use the term buy-in, you are essentially talking about convincing people to adopt your idea as if it were their own. That should raise red flags. It is disingenuous and more than a little patronizing. But, by definition, a new normal isn't something that people are going to arrive at on their own or through any kind of incremental analysis. You have to start by convincing them to try a new practice that they don't believe in. As you are tacking up wind, you need to start with buy-in, but you eventually want to transition to ownership. If teachers don't take ownership of these new practices, then you aren't shifting core beliefs and those new practices are going to disappear once you stop pushing them. That's not a new normal.

The level of buy-in is one of the compasses I rely on to do this work. If buy-in is increasing, then I am making progress. If buy-in is decreasing or stagnant, then I'm in trouble. Here are the five levels of buy-in (in reverse order) that I look for:


This level is fairly self-explanatory. I am flat out refusing to do what you ask.


On the surface, I am doing what you ask. In fact, on the surface, I am cheerleading for the change. But behind the scenes, I am undermining everything you are doing. I have two goals here. One is to co-opt the change process so that I can mitigate it. The second is to insulate myself from any blame when the change process fails. This way, I can say, "I did everything that you asked me to do and it didn't work. Now what?" This makes you look bad and makes it less likely that you'll try to change something else. Failing to detect sabotage and call it out also makes you look weak and desperate for any kind of win.


I'm not trying to make the change fail, but I don't actively support it either. At this point, I'm just doing the minimum I can to keep you off my back. If you accept compliance, then it indicates that you are also going through the motions and don't really believe the change will have a lasting or significant impact either.


I have a lot of personal integrity and want to do the best job that I can. This means that I will do whatever you ask me to do. It also means that I will continue doing anything on my own that I think a professional should do. However, I don't necessarily believe that the change is going to have a lasting or significant impact.

It is hard to be critical of this level of buy-in, but it is insufficient when trying to change core beliefs and establish a new normal. Lots of teachers feel an affinity for the Understanding by Design process. As a professional educator, I should be designing backwards from enduring understandings. But when the process does not yield better outcomes, they don't question it. They don't say, "This should have worked, but it didn't. What did I do wrong? I need to dig in and figure this out, and keep at it until it does work." Instead, they feel like they did their jobs and did it well, but things just didn't pan out.

A teacher that goes beyond professionalism and expects a change to yield better outcomes will engage in inquiry and take risks, similar to what I did when my gratitude journal wasn't quite working.


This change is one that I want, I have some say in what this change ultimately looks like, and I am part of the group trying to bring it about. I tend to be driven by some goal rather than the change itself. I am trying to implement a change to bring about some outcome. And I am committed to making this happen, so I am prepared to make sacrifices and put myself at risk.

This is the level you need to see if you are going to bring others onboard. If it is just you driving things, then it feels like you are doing this for yourself and not for the organization or some greater good. You can't reach a tipping point if others don't take ownership.

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