How to do anything meaningful: Creating internal buy-in

So, you want to try something?

Like most people, I have a lot on my plate. Currently, I am leading a highly skilled team responsible for regional economic development, running an inter-municipal corporation, connecting and up-skilling Young Professionals, and trying to improve my academic writing abilities. I am desperately hoping someone will someday explain “work/life balance” to me. Until that time, having my hands in so many ventures allows me to see new and critical patterns that are common to each. One of these emerging patterns that really stand out to me is: if you want to create impact, you first need to create internal buy-in.

Whether you are looking to strengthen your local economy, improve the brand of your business, develop the skills of young people, or improve your own skills – you need to get people invested by the change on the same page.

External change requires internal support

Let’s look at this from a large, regional development perspective. If you are trying to market your community to make it attractive to tourists, businesses investors, or potential residents, you need an attractive message about your region. In economic development, we call this a value proposition. You can spend all kinds of time, effort and money marketing this value proposition outside of your community, but this effort will be wasted if those people who live in the area are not on board with the value proposition. Imagine, after all kinds of time and money being spent, you finally get a bus load of tourists visiting your area. They are chatting up the locals, who say things like: “Why would you ever come here?” or “This place is dying, there is nothing here worth staying for.” Those comments will quickly undo your marketing message.

This idea also applies to business and office culture. Let’s say you are leading a company or organization and trying to brand it as a “leader in your field” or a “staple in the community.” If the employees are not on board with that messaging, then even though they might not say anything negative, they may weaken the brand, because they are not able to reinforce the sentiment.

Internal support creates “ambassadors”

Real value comes from creating internal buy-in. Your employees will spread the word if they work for a strong company that treats its employees well and is adding real value to the market. Aside from the business perspective, this also works in training and development. If you are trying to increase young people’s skills and opportunities, show them the relevance of the skill development or it will be ineffective. If it is useful and effective, they will share the good experience.

The person-to-person communication of positive affirmation is one of the greatest marketing tools there is and ever will be. Long before the printed word, television and internet, word of mouth was the medium for marketing. People who bought into the message would gladly share it with others and be “ambassadors” for that message. I see this all of the time with my family recommendations of shows on Netflix. They get on board with the show and are always telling me to start watching, too. Don’t they know I don’t have time for TV??!!

The keys to creating internal support

Just two simple elements are needed to spark internal support and buy-in: Enthusiasm and Focus.

Enthusiasm: People just need to be proud and excited about their involvement in the situation. If it is around promoting your economic region, they need to have pride in their community and see the value and opportunities it holds. If it is around your business, they need to feel valued and utilized in their role and that their efforts have meaning. If it is around training and development, they need to see the impact and relevance of the opportunity. If it is your own personal development, you need to be excited for the challenge and the pay off.

Focus: The value and the message that get people excited have to be simple and consistent. If it is around promoting your economic region, others need to understand and articulate the same pride points. If it is around your business, they need to concentrate on the same positive pieces. If it is around training and development, the outcomes and benefits need to be consistent and universal. If it is your own personal development, you need to specific and intentional in the goal you are trying to achieve.

The takeaway

I once heard a story that really clarified this point for me and allowed me to see the value of being focused on a clear direction and the enthusiasm that comes from being motived and aligned with a common goal.

President John F. Kennedy was visiting NASA headquarters for the first time, in 1961. While touring the facility, he introduced himself to a janitor who was mopping the floor and asked him what he did at NASA. The janitor replied, “I’m helping put a man on the moon!”

Creating internal buy-in and support is the only true way to maximize external effort and to move a group, large or small, towards a common goal. If you really want to make difference and do anything that is meaningful, impactful and important – you need to create enthusiasm and focus in all of those touched by your efforts.