Partnering Tip: Getting 'Buy In'


Have you ever been in a partnering process and become frustrated because others at the table seem to be sitting on the fence? Perhaps your partnering has been working really well and then someone leaves? Or has one of your partners just failed to deliver on their commitments?

All of these situations are symptoms of a lack of ‘buy-in’ by one or more of the partners and without this ‘buy-in’ your partnering process is likely to go nowhere.

What do we mean by buy-in? 

When partners first come to the table the personal relationships built act as the foundation for starting the partnering process. However, if the partnering relies only on these personal relationships to hold it together it runs the risk of falling over if someone leaves. And if a partner representative lacks sufficient influence internally within their organisation to deliver on the commitments they are making, then a lot of time and resources will be wasted with little result.

So ‘buy-in’ means gaining partnering support beyond just one individual or small group to ensure that the whole of the ‘partner’ organisations are committed and supportive of the initiative. And if we can achieve this ‘buy in’ we will have the best chance of partnering success and creating the impact we are seeking,

But ‘buy-in’ needs to be looked at in two contexts:

  • between the partner organisations – i.e. the overall support from all partners collectively for the initiative, and 

  • within each partner organisation - i.e. the relevant support from within each partner to enable them to deliver on their commitments.

So what strategies and actions can we put in place for each of these situations that ensures the required level of support for the partnering.

Buy-in between partners

One of the first steps is recognising that for partners to ‘buy in’ to a partnering initiative that may not have been their idea, there has to be a strong value proposition for them to do so. Will the partnering help the organisation with their strategic objectives? How aligned is the initiative with their strategic goals? How will the partnering help them achieve their personal KPI’s? Understanding the partners organisational and personal drivers is key.

For partners to ‘buy in’ they truly have to make it part of their core business. What is really challenging is when partners say all the right things but just don't deliver. This is where it is critical for all partners to keep each other accountable, to check if all partners are contributing to the partnering - are they continuing to turn up to meetings? Are they delivering what they said they would? Have there been any changes in their organisations directions that could impact on the level of ‘buy in’?

Buy-in within partners

We look at internal ‘buy-in’ as gaining the support of the relevant parts of a partner organisation to enable the partnering to proceed and perform. So this means going beyond the partner representative who sits at the table to build engagement, commitment and shared ownership back into each partner organisation. In this way we convert the partnering over time from ‘individuals partnering’ to ‘organisations partnering’ and in this way will ensure the best chance of sustainability of the partnering efforts.

While this is easy to say it is extremely hard to do. In fact in all of our work and trainings conducted over the last 20 years the number one challenge identified by partnering representatives at the table was getting ‘buy in’ back internally within their own organisations.

We often find that in the early creating stage of partnering there may only be a few people involved from within each partner organisation, but once a partnering agreement is finalised and commitments are made, delivering on the partnership needs a much larger number of people within the partner organisations to be engaged and support the process.

How can we build ‘buy-in’?

One of the challenges with ‘buy- in’ is knowing just when you have it between partners and within your own organisation. Here are some actions you can take that will help you assess this and build better ‘buy-in’ in both contexts:

1.   Ask the person you are dealing with if they have a mandate from their organisation to make offers and decisions? If not, now is the time to find out what processes need to be initiated for ideas and actions to be given the green light at a company or department level.

2.   Explore creating a Memorandum of Understanding or Partnering Agreement. Depending how far along you are in your partnering initiative it may be appropriate to start writing some things down

3.   Ask if you can share about the partnering initiative at a staff meeting or lunchtime forum. Getting your initiative ‘out there’ can generate kudos for the person at the table, interest from more senior staff and raise your projects priority status

4.   Create a succession plan. Speak and plan explicitly for what is in place to retain important understandings and knowledge, support and funding if personnel change.

5.   Keep checking to see how deeply your partnering initiative is valued at an organisational level. As we said earlier it should be considered as part of core business

6.   To build consistent levels of ‘buy-in’ between partners look to ‘zip up’ the partners. Connect people at different levels within each of the partners. So you may have CEO’s, Senior Managers and then operational staff from each partner organisation linked to each other and supporting the partnering at each level.

Of course you need to value the individual people who bring passion and personal commitment to the partnership – just make sure that the commitment goes all the way back .

Consistent ‘buy-in’ by all partners is crucial to having a sustainable partnering process – so how is your partnership fairing? What challenges are you finding with ‘getting buy-in’ from all your partners and back within your organisation.

If you need some help in assessing and building ‘buy in’ either between partners or within your organisation then contact us for a no obligation discussion.

*Thanks to my colleague Heather Marsh for assistance with this blog article

Ian DixonComment