Battling Resistance and Getting “Buy-In” with Kotter and Whitehead

What change or innovation did not begin with the planted seed of a great idea?  Is YOU believing in your good idea enough?  Is enthusiastically presenting it to a group knowing it will make a crucial difference going to keep it from getting shot down?  John Kotter and Lorne Whitehead have delivered in their book “buy*in: saving your good idea from getting shot down” (Harvard Business Review Press, 2010) a defensive-driving, counterintuitive approach to protect those good ideas from unfair attach strategies that naysayers, nitpickers, and handwringers deploy with great success time and time again.

What we really want and may not be so effective at is to gain support by respectfully engaging your adversaries, standing your ground, and saving the day! Sound intriguing?  I forewarn you they are not tactics for the fainthearted.  The authors encourage you to “invite in the Lions”.  You may even become traumatized by the plain talk that leads you to relive some of your greatest failures.  But as with any Kotter book, your thinking will be turned upside down in a fresh and amusing way, and you will be forced to learn before you know what hit you.  How does the world’s foremost authority on Leadership and Change get inside our head’s like that?  And this time it’s not with Penguins (see Our Iceberg Is Melting), but a fairly docile Citizens Advisory Committee at the Centerville Library, wanting to put in new computers, and one fantastic idea.
I digress for a moment to May of this year when I was privileged to hear Kotter speak as the opening keynote for the Association of Change Management Professionals inaugural conference in Orlando. It was an exercise and insight into the anti-straightforward world as the audience heavily anticipated a talk on “Leading Large Scale Transformation”.  Ah yes, a chance to hear your hero go through the famous “8 Steps”.  Or even perhaps we would be the first to peek at a new ground breaking list.  Maybe stories of how he started, how he does what he does, the clients he has famously moved to new heights.  Nope, none of that.

Instead, he facilitated 700+ experienced change practitioners in becoming the “experts” of our own thinking. He used two vintage video clips of corporate leaders speaking informally in Harvard MBA classes and led us to discover with each other why one leader was better at change then another. And at the end, Kotter related what was most important to him now.  Teary-eyed, he told the story through photos, email, and video of supporting a grass roots effort in India to create local, youth community leaders for change.  By answering the emails of a passionate change leader starting with one idea, and by modestly encouraging that person, that idea has grown to make a significant difference in the world.

“All things are created twice. There is a mental or first creation, and a physical or second creation of all things. You have to make sure that the blueprint, the first creation, is really what you want, that you have thought everything through…”

Stephen R. Covey The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

At the heart of the book “buy*in”, though, does lie one of those famous lists, drawing from the Centerville Library story – called “four ways to kill a good idea”.  Of which follows in the next chapter – “a counterintuitive strategy for saving your good ideas”, and then a handbook on negativity entitled – “twenty-four attacks and twenty-four responses”.  Finally at the end of the book, if you were paying attention and got past the Lions, it is explained how that simple buy-in of a good idea can lead to sensationally, successful large-scale change.

You may not believe it by now, but it actually is a very fun and easy read. The four attack strategies you need to understand and counter are unforgettable when fully explained.  Here is a brief synopsis:

  • Death by delay – endlessly putting off or diverting discussion of your idea until all momentum is lost.  (How many of us have experienced in Project Team meetings Change Management as the last agenda item that usually falls off or only gets a few minutes of air time?)
  • Confusion – presenting so much distracting information that confidence for your proposal dies.
  • Fear mongering – stirring up irrational ideas about your idea (it will cost too much, we don’t have time, etc.).
  • Character Assassination – undermining your reputation and credibility.  (Here is where those of us in the business of transformation can take a lesson on strategic flair).

What Kotter and Whitehead care about most is that your good ideas survive to make positive change – exactly what we care about here at Plus Delta with our Positive ChangeSM approach. My take-away from the book was a confirmation of that which I have always felt were the two most important ideas in Change Management, and what the authors convey are the two biggest mistakes. One, never under-communicate to any audience. And two, speak as much from the heart as you do from the head. That is a practical reality we can all strive to be better at.

Posted in Book Review, Change management, Leadership, Lorne Whitehead, Resistance, transformation
2 comments on “Battling Resistance and Getting “Buy-In” with Kotter and Whitehead
  1. David Evans says:

    Thanks for this review of John Kotter's book “Buy-in.”  I am familiar with him from “The Harvard Business Review,” but hadn't been nudged to get this particular book.  Now I have.  Thanks so much for letting me know about it!  I'm getting a copy today.
    David Evans,

  2. Pamela Hartman says:

    Your welcome David!  I think it fits nicely with your work.  I'm looking forward to reading your book “One Good Idea”.  I appreciate our connecting and this mutual support.

    All the best,

Sign Up For Our Newsletter

Want tips to improve performance right now?
Sign up for Plus Delta’s e-newsletter!