iSixSigma

The Agreement Process: 3 Steps to Achieve Buy-in

Anyone who has implemented continuous improvement programs understands that employees are the people who make the changes happen. You can force their hands and use managerial authority to direct change, but if team members do not accept and embrace change management, you will not reap the full benefits of change, and sustaining the change will be more difficult. However, if you do manage to gain this elusive buy-in, change will happen much faster.

If the area supervisor only pays lip service to the change, you do not have true buy-in. The changes will be almost impossible to implement and sustain in such a case. And, of course, if top management does not buy-in to the approach or the changes, you can forget about making any meaningful change.

The recommendations for garnering buy-in usually focus on increasing communication and being transparent. These are good tips, but by communicating more, you can actually compound the problem and harden peoples resolve against the change. You make the business more transparent and the change is still difficult for everyone. Why? Why do certain people “get it,” while others just do not?

It all boils down to the language we use and how different people perceive the meanings behind different words.

The three-step approach explained here – the agreement process – improves the chances of getting buy-in. It is a structured approach to gaining buy-in, an important factor when making a change.

Figure 1: High-level Agreement Process

Figure 1: High-level Agreement Process

Example: Efficiency

Consider efficiency as an example.

If you are making a change that will hopefully make your process more efficient you need to examine the word efficiency. “What does efficiency mean?” is the wrong question to ask. Instead, you need to ask, “What do people think you mean by efficiency?”

  • An operations manager might think it is a measure of how much product we make in a day.
  • A quality engineer might think it will result in more product at the expense of product quality.
  • Associates might think it is a way of making them work harder.

And any one of them might be right. Or all of them may be way off the ball.

When you are looking to improve efficiency, explain to each person what your understanding is – define the term. Confirm their understanding and then ask them for their help in ensuring everyone else understands.

Example of the Agreement Process

There is a little more to it than this, but here’s an example of what the agreement process looks like.

Hey Johnny, how’s it going?

All right, the usual – busy, busy.

We are going to have a Kaizen event on this line next week. Has anyone talked to you about it?

No.

We’re going to be taking timings and moving some of the work around. The aim is to increase efficiency in the cell.

Well, we need an extra person, and some tables here. . . And the PBX500 is way too slow.

Maybe. . . Do you mind if I just run through what I mean by increase efficiency? Sometimes people have different ideas and it can mean different things in different companies.

Sure.

Thanks. Basically, I mean that everyone does his or her day’s work. In a day, we are all really busy and we work all day, right?

Right.

But a lot of that work is not spent actually making product. You’re spending time moving stuff around, performing rework, filling in paperwork, looking for people, waiting on decisions, getting material, etc. – all that stuff.

What we want to do is reduce the amount of time spent doing all that “other” stuff, and spend more of your day actually building the product. You’ll still be building product at the same rate, we’ll just be increasing the amount of time you have to build product in the day.

And if you have more time to build product, will we make more or less product?

More – obviously.

Exactly. It’s not going to be easy – we are all used to doing this stuff. But if we can reduce the movement, for example, and bring everything closer you’ll have more time to put into building product. It might only result in one more widget but that’s still better.

So that shifting of time from doing “stuff” to building product is what we mean by getting more efficient.

Does that make sense? I know “efficiency” means other things to some people, so I want everyone to be on the same page on this. I might need your help to explain this to Peter [line supervisor]. I want to make sure he understands what we mean by efficiency.

Sure, no problem.

Good man. Cheers!

In the above script, the team leader went through the steps of the agreement process:

  1. Define
  2. Confirm
  3. Ask
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Never Assume

There are a few other nuances that help with each of the three steps.

It is important not to assume or take it for granted that people interpret words the same way you do. Language is a tricky subject and words can mean different things when used in a different context or when there is a different pretext.

For example, take the line: We need to reduce waste.

For many people, this can mean reducing packaging or turning off the lights in the evening. Unless we align our perception, we could all be pulling in different directions.

Think about the message you are trying to deliver and look for components and concepts that you assume others know. Even if they understand your perception of the meaning, going through the process can still help you achieve buy-in.

Step 1: Define

During step 1, create a context and foundation for the key term.

We are going to have a Kaizen event on this line next week. Has anyone talked to you about it?

This created the foundation.

The following sentence created the context:

We’re going to be taking timings and moving some of the work around. The aim is to increase efficiency in the cell.

Then provide a reason for defining the key term using the following phrasing.

Do you mind if I just run through what I mean by increase efficiency? Sometimes people have different ideas and it can mean different things in different companies.

Provide the reason out of respect for the associates. You do not want to create a situation where they think you’re saying they are wrong or stupid. It is a real reason, and one that makes sense.

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Then define your understanding of the key concept.

Basically, I mean that everyone does his or her day’s work. In a day, we are all really busy and we work all day, right?

Right.

But a lot of that work is not spent actually making product. You’re spending time moving stuff around, performing rework, filling in paperwork, looking for people, waiting on decisions, getting material, etc.all that stuff.

What we want to do is reduce the amount of time spent doing all that “other” stuff, and spend more of your day actually building the product. You’ll still be building product at the same rate, we’ll just be increasing the amount of time you have to build product in the day.

Figure 2: Agreement Process (Define)

Figure 2: Agreement Process (Define)

Step 2: Confirm

Communication is a two-way street. Just saying something to someone is not communicating.

When delivering your message, be sure the person you are speaking to is “switched on” and paying attention. You can do this by asking a closed question; ask a binary question (requiring a yes/no response, for example). Do this to make the individual think about the message you are delivering. The reason to use a closed question is because you do not want to start a philosophical discussion or get off track discussing something else.

If he or she gets the right answer, agree with them.

And if you have more time to build product, will we make more or less product?

More – obviously.

Exactly.

By agreeing with their answer, it is almost like they have just explained the meaning of the key term to you. This is a powerful approach and should not be underestimated.

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Then follow up the question and answer with an example that supports their correct answer.

It’s not going to be easy – we are all used to doing this stuff. But if we can reduce the movement, for example, and bring everything closer you’ll have more time to put into building product. It might only result in one more widget but that’s still better.

So that shifting of time from doing “stuff” to building product is what we mean by getting more efficient.

You are confirming that you both have the same understanding of the concept.

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Reiterate the fact that the same word can mean different things to different people. Repeat the reason. And asks if he or she understands.

Does that make sense?

Figure 3: Agreement Process (Define/Confirm)

Figure 3: Agreement Process (Define/Confirm)

Step 3: Ask for Help

In the third phase, explain why you are having the discussion.

I want everyone to be on the same page on this.

Finally, you can ask for his or her buy-in.

I might need your help to explain this to Peter [line supervisor]. I want to make sure he understands what we mean by efficiency.

The verbal agreement here is that you both accept, and are aligned on, a shared understanding; you are both on the same page.

Figure 4: Agreement Process (Define/Confirm/Ask)

Figure 4: Agreement Process (Define/Confirm/Ask)

This is a simple approach, but it takes practice. People tend to like this approach. By discussing the topic of different perceptions, you are respecting their intelligence. You are not saying they are wrong or stupid for thinking a particular way.

Once you are on the same page it makes discussion and disagreements much easier to have and resolve.

Buy-in Challenges

Think back to a time you couldn’t get adequate buy-in. Did you assume the person had the same understanding as you?

Sometimes you assume that by telling a person something over and over that they will gain an understanding. But that’s not the case. Everyone needs to get it “right” in their own heads if they are to understand something. This can take time.

You have heard the phrase, “a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing.” In Lean, it is easier to get buy-in from someone who has never been exposed to any Lean concepts than someone who has read about them or had a surface experience of Lean in a previous company. The perception of someone with a little knowledge or a preconceived idea of what certain things mean will be somewhat hardened. You will first need to get them to be open to changing their perception of meaning before you can actually change it.

You cannot afford to skip any of the three steps. Otherwise you cannot be sure you are all coming from the same place. This will manifest itself in many ways, from misunderstood expectations to an inability to sustain changes being made. Even if you are not successful in achieving buy-in, you will at least have taken steps to mitigate “buy out”!

Comments 1

  1. Mohammad Nasim Pasha

    I found this site and related information very informative.

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