Getting Employee Buy-In for Self-Management

Self-management in the workplace cannot be successful without employee buy-in. Addressing doubts, promoting the expected benefits, and empathy are key.

Paul Walker
June 9, 2021

Getting Employee Buy-In for Self-Management

Paul Walker
June 8, 2021

You are officially getting started on the journey to self-management. You know what a next-generation enterprise should look like, and you are eager for change throughout your organization.

All that's left to do now is to onboard your employees into this new way of working.

Unfortunately, that is rarely as easy as suggesting it and getting an enthusiastic "YES!" from every single one of your employees - especially if there are hundreds or thousands of them.

It requires genuine buy-in from individuals to willingly partake in the new change, but how do you convince them to do something new that they may not yet fully understand?

While we can't give you a guaranteed way to get approval for such a significant change in your organization, we can hopefully help you out quite a bit. In this article, we will discuss:

  • Why there's a need for any convincing in the first place
  • How to get buy-in for self-organization
  • What you can do if you continue to face pushback

The Quick Version

If you don't have time for the following in-depth how-to, or you're just returning to this article to remind yourself of steps you can take, here's a simple checklist to quickly sum up how to get employees onboard with self-management adoption.

1- Explain why you are making the change. Be honest and straightforward about the reasoning. Explain the positive and even the negative impacts you anticipate.

2- Highlight the benefits of the change. Give clear, tangible answers to how it will improve the lives of employees.

3- Help everyone feel safe. Create an environment where everyone feels safe to make mistakes during the adjustment process of learning something new.

4- Make it convenient. Simplify everything you can. Make it easy to learn and understand. Help bridge gaps between the old way and the new way with the least disruption.

5- Empathize with those who are slow to accept it. Change is scary and difficult. Don't ostracize those people. Instead, put yourself in their shoes.

6- Focus on moving forward. Continue to make the entire process simpler and more efficient. The more you do, the easier it will be to get people on board going forward.

Now we'll dive into each of these points in more detail.

Why there's a need for any convincing in the first place

That is one of the most common questions asked in the organizational development space, especially when it comes to self-management. Yet, on the surface, these changes are nothing but beneficial:

  • More autonomy and trust, less command and control.
  • Replacing hierarchy and bureaucracy with a formal structure and clear lines of authority.
  • Allowing room for innovation instead of a need to ask permission constantly.

Still, you need more. Every person knows that change is hard. Most of us want to make changes, but we don't because it's difficult or inconvenient. If you want to get into shape, but the only gym is far away, expensive, and you don't know what exercises to do anyway, you probably aren't going to be very successful.

On that note, no matter how many times you tell me a change is beneficial, it won't matter. I need to see the benefits for myself and know how it will affect me personally for the better. 

It's important to remember that the need to convince people isn't because it's "you versus them" or that they are actively fighting against you. 

Your employees need certainty, security, and motivation. These are basic human needs. 

So, look at this process as a necessary step that will enable you to show everyone why and how this change is as good as you know it to be.

How to get buy-in for self-organization

We now know you will need buy-in, but how do you go about getting it? Again, no method is guaranteed to work for every individual in every situation, but some key concepts prove successful more often than not.

Ideally, by this point, you have already begun the starting process of going Teal. If not, we recommend starting there, then coming back to this. Step 6 of that process - Communicate Clearly And Often - is where we begin the task of gaining buy-in from employees and what will remain most important throughout the entire implementation. Once we are clear on that, we can dive in.

1 - Explain the "Why"

There is something substantially more important than any new technology, framework, methodology, or practice. That something is the "Why." 

For the same reasons that a company's purpose is so impactful, the intentions behind why decisions are made directly affect people's views and attitudes toward said decisions.

Suppose you announce that you are implementing self-management because "It's new, popular, and lots of famous companies are doing it." In that case, you probably won't get very much support. 

Employees won't feel like you are making a change for a good reason, especially not one tailored to the needs of your unique organization. As a result, they won't feel motivated and may even resist what feels like change for the sake of change. 

On the other hand, if you share what you learned yourself from Steps 1 and 2 of where to start when going Teal, you will likely have more success.

Your co-workers will be far more inclined to jump on board if they hear the leaders in their organization explicitly say:

  • "We are squashing too many ideas internally." 
  • "We aren't hearing everyone's voice."
  • "We aren't innovating as effectively as we could be." 
  • "This change will take some power away from us leaders and give it back to those of you on the front lines so you can do what is best for your jobs and your customers."

Now that is a very different story.

Regardless of what the reason is for the change, it needs to be shared openly and honestly. 

Not only does the vulnerability build trust and respect, but having stated your intentions aloud helps you hold yourself accountable for sticking to your word and making the right choices over the easy decisions. 

Additionally, the reasoning behind a decision is what will get the most people to support the change. 

Even if the company is making a change that makes my job more difficult for a while, if I genuinely believe it's beneficial and the right thing to do in the long run, I will support it. I will learn the new tools and be a driver for the change. 

If I think the change is being done just because the CEO likes the idea, I will fight it tooth and nail.

2 - Highlight the benefits

This part is more tricky because the answer is different for everyone, but there are two approaches you can take. 

Focus on the Whole

First is to focus on the things that will generally benefit almost everyone and are thus easier to use to support the change. 

For example, a benefit such as, "It will save the company money which we will use to increase everyone's salary." While not universal, increased pay is a motivator for most people, even more so when divided equally and fairly across the organization. 

By having broad benefits that most employees can get behind, you'll have a supportive workforce.

Focus on the Individual

Second, you need to understand that every employee is a unique individual with their own needs, wants, and motivations. 

If the company is implementing a new organization-wide tool to make sales easier, all the salespeople will likely be on board right away. But what about the graphic designers? If this tool does nothing to benefit them and only adds unnecessary complexity to their daily routine, they will likely oppose the change or at least be unhappy about it.

In this case, your best bet is to figure out how the change will benefit the graphic designers. They may not care about a tool meant to boost sales, but is there something about it they can use to make their design work more efficient?

Even if not, is there a big-picture benefit that isn't immediately apparent? 

For example, by making sales more efficient, more clients will show up. More clients mean more necessary graphic design work, which might equate to greater job security or more opportunities for passion projects and innovation. 

Now, you have found a way to get your organization's artists and creators to understand how a sales platform will improve their lives personally. 

Quite often, the process of figuring out how different people can benefit from a change is an incredible opportunity to understand better your peers, their challenges, and their desires. 

Additionally, it gives you more insight into how seemingly unrelated parts of the company rely on and benefit from one another.

2.1 - The Benefits For Every Stakeholder

To further aid you in understanding potential benefits for your organization's varied stakeholders, here are some examples of benefits that self-management can provide (e.g., higher employee engagement and less bureaucracy).

For the business/shareholders:

For teams:

For individuals:

2.2 - The Benefits Of Holaspirit And Self-Management

Knowing who and how they will benefit from self-management, it would be helpful to explore how the Holaspirit platform can support your organization's implementation and scale of self-management. 

All of our customers have different answers to what benefits they get out of Holaspirit and self-management, so here are some of the most common ways you can benefit from these systems:

Clear expectations & autonomy: Here at Holaspirit, we often talk about the importance of clear expectations. Through explicit roles and accountabilities, every member of your organization can have clear expectations, know who is responsible for what and how much authority they have. This gives every member of the organization more autonomy because the expectations are explicit and transparent.

Organizational structuring: Designing a new organizational structure involves many moving parts. Whether you want to add some clarity to your standard hierarchy, you want a completely flat organization, or you use something in-between, Holaspirit enables you to structure your organization however you wish.

Co-creating the organization: A modern organization is a living organism that must constantly adapt to survive in a Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous environment (VUCA). In Holaspirit, co-workers can make evolution proposals to co-construct the organization and allow it to stay relevant and agile. The asynchronous decision-making process ensures that proposals are dealt with smoothly, and the organization can move forward efficiently.

Project management: Through built-in functions like actions, projects, Kanban boards, and even OKRs, tracking and managing the progress of your teams' projects has never been easier. Are you already using project management software? Holaspirit easily integrates with apps such as Trello, Asana, and Jira.

Efficient meetings: Holaspirit has different meeting functions built-in and enables you to customize your own meeting structures. This allows you to open, schedule, and facilitate any type of meeting quickly and easily. 

Problem-solving: Through capturing individual tensions, personal reminders, and the ability to propose changes in or out of meetings, members of the organization can reliably make rapid iterations to solve problems, innovate more quickly, and ensure every idea gets heard.

Effective self-management practice: Whatever method of self-management you opt for, Holaspirit helps organizations transition to new ways of working and managing. For example, if you use Holacracy specifically, you can easily activate the Holacracy app, which triggers a 12-week lesson to improve your Holacracy practice in your organization. 

Everything in one place: Nobody wants to use a different platform for every individual task they need to perform. Holaspirit eliminates the need for a plethora of various tools by having many features built-in by default. Additionally, for the tools you are already using and don't want to drop, many popular apps are available to integrate with the push of a button. Want tools integrated that aren't part of Holaspirit yet? The open API means you can easily integrate all your favorite apps.

Knowledge Base: Holaspirit includes a forum of numerous articles about the tool, the practices, and the methodologies. This information hub is a reliable go-to for many questions you might have, such as what benefits Holaspirit offers. This often prevents you from having to seek external guidance or do research just to figure out how to handle a niche situation.

3 - Give your people security

Despite the many benefits of self-management, misunderstandings about it can cause uncertainty. 

Indeed, it is not uncommon for one of the first messages a company shares to be, "We have no more need for managers!" Guess what? 

Now the dozens of people who have climbed the ladder to management after years in your organization may feel useless and unwanted. 

In addition, those who you used to rely on to lead your company are now scared of losing their jobs because the very name of the latest change suggests that they are no longer necessary.

Trying to support everyone by saying, "You can't use managers to fix your problems anymore. Everyone has to solve their own problems." 

Now, every employee who isn't outspoken, courageous, or experienced will feel helpless. Not everyone has it in them to solve their own problems without help, especially if their entire working life they have been told not to solve their own problems and instead let someone else deal with it.

As with everything else, what security means is different for everyone. Sometimes this requires an explicit policy change to the disciplinary and termination processes to remove the ability for people to lose their jobs as easily during the transition. Sometimes it's simply a matter of leadership saying what needs to be said for people to feel heard and empathized with. 

In either case, the goal is to allow more room for mistakes, coaching, and understanding. And like with every other step, no amount of telling someone they are safe will give them psychological safety and job security. Ask if they feel safe. If not, ask them why and address whatever is causing their uncertainty.

4 - Make it convenient

As we have discussed before, change needs to be convenient for it to be adopted with minimal resistance. That article addresses the five ways to make any change convenient, but here's the main takeaway regarding making your adoption successful:

Wanting to change and feeling capable of change are not the same thing.

Even if you stand up at a company-wide meeting and give an inspirational speech about the "why" behind a change and you explain a plethora of benefits for everyone, there still needs to be actionable steps for everyone to take to get there. 

No matter how badly I want to change, if the process of doing so seems complicated, confusing, stressful, or risky, I will not try or will struggle a lot if I do try.

There's a lot of different ways to make things convenient. If you aren't sure what would make a transition easier for your employees, ask them. 

Giving someone a company car is inconvenient if they don't have a parking space at home or need something bigger to take their kids to school every morning. Maybe a monthly stipend for ride-sharing apps would benefit them more while also saving the company money. Perhaps a minivan instead of a Tesla would be more convenient for that employee. Maybe they don't have a license yet, and getting a driving instructor would help them?

I'll leave this one here because it's open-ended enough that we could be on this point forever with examples and options. 

The point is this: ask your employees if the change you are asking of them feels convenient. If not, ask them what the barriers are and work to remove them.

What you can do if you continue to face pushback

The above steps will hopefully help you prevent the vast majority of resistance, which often comes with massive organizational changes. 

However, there is always a chance that things won't work out exactly as planned, and some of your workforce still won't be entirely on board. So what do you do then?

We have already hit on the point many times, but it bears repeating that the best thing you can do is talk to those people. Approach them not with the intent to change their minds but rather to understand their opposition. 

Why do they not see any value in the change? 

Why have the previous steps not worked to entice them? 

What is it about this new adventure that they are the most hesitant about? 

You might get a clear, direct answer, or you might not. Either way, listening intently with the purpose of seeing their situation through their eyes is the most efficient way to move forward.


What About People Who Seem to Resist Change No Matter What You Say or Do? 

One of the most common mistakes made during change implementations is focusing too much on the people who are resisting the change. 

Of course, you need everyone on board eventually and having some people internally opposing the new direction is harmful, so you absolutely don't want to ignore them. 

Instead, ask yourself if those people are actively causing harm by not adopting the change more eagerly. If their lack of willingness to participate negatively impacts the business or peer relationships, then address it immediately. 

But what if it causes no actual harm?

With many changes, a lack of adoption by some users is simply annoying or inconvenient, but it doesn't really mess anything up. 

When that's the case, you can move your focus to the rest of the change process and the employees going through it. 

If you are implementing self-management because it's genuinely beneficial and lets employees enjoy their work more, they will eventually convince their peers themselves. 

If I am opposed to a change, but everyone around me has done it and has great things to say about it, I will be far more willing to give it a shot.

Need more help getting started?

We're here to help. 

Here are some proposed next steps:

1- Signup to Holaspirit in seconds. No credit card required

2- Design your org chart in just a few minutes

3- Invite your team so they can start visualizing the organization, roles, projects, and OKRs

Together with our partners, we truly believe in the power of self-organization and self-management. That's why we built Holaspirit and why we are here to support you every step of the way. Don't hesitate to contact us if you have any questions.

self-management
self-organization
WRITTEN BY

Paul Walker

Self-Management Specialist

@ Octopy

Paul previously implemented Holacracy and Teal concepts at Zappos and now works at Octopy with the mission of creating a more human-focused future of work