It is human nature to resist change.
Employees may not trust or believe in a
new way of doing things. Or, they may
feel threatened or insecure if they lack
the necessary skills to perform what
is being asked of them. However, the
most common reason that employees
do not buy in to a new way of doing
things is that they simply are not
convinced that they need to change.
With some luck, employees will
be excited that change is coming.
Hopefully, they’ll view the turnaround
process as a sign of future job security
and increased competitive advantage.
But that does not mean that leadership
can launch a new plan and expect
employees to immediately jump
on board. Buy-in is a process.
When developing the top-down
execution of a plan, it is crucial
that five key steps are followed to
design a plan that will motivate
employees to embrace change.
1 Create the Need to Change
The need for change can be obvious
in turnaround situations—change
or face liquidation. However, it
is not always so black and white
for many individuals at distressed
companies. Typically, employees
outside the C-suite are oblivious to the
financial condition of the company
(assuming the company is private).
For example, the sales department
at a consumer packaged goods
company was caught off guard when
management introduced them to a
turnaround professional. The sudden
news was grim: the company was
losing money and needed to sell its
products at higher prices to survive.
From the sales team’s perspective, the
company was healthy—sales were up
and had a positive gross margin of 12
percent. However, what they did not
know was that in their attempt to gain
market share, they were discounting
their products to a level where the
company’s gross profit was insufficient
to cover overhead expenses and debt
service. By sharing this information,
the turnaround professional effectively
“created the need to change.”
Leadership can communicate this
message by either attempting to instill
fear or hope in employees. For example,
management could emphasize fear by
warning the sales team in the example
that taking action will prevent something
bad from happening (e.g., “If you don’t
start selling products at higher prices,
you are all going to lose your jobs.”) The
management team could also attempt
to impart hope by emphasizing that
taking action will cause something
good to happen (e.g., Selling at higher
prices will give the company a chance
to regain its footing and provide future
opportunities to its employees.)
Each of these methods is warranted
in different circumstances and for
different individuals. However, both
must be delivered honestly and candidly
because securing employees’ trust is
critical for securing their buy-in.
2 Involve the Workforce in the Planning Process
In his landmark book How to Win
Friends and Influence People, Dale
Carnegie asserted that the deepest urge
in human nature is “the desire to be
important.” An employee inherently
wants to feel valued and respected.
If he does, he is much more likely to
work harder to produce better results.
A seemingly obvious way to show
employees that they are valued partners
during the planning process is to simply
listen to them. Their opinions should
be sought when decisions are being
made that will impact their team or
department. To be clear, this does not
mean reviewing the plan with employees
after it has already been completed,
which would be asking for acceptance,
not earning their buy-in. Rather,
employees should be engaged before,
during, and after the planning process.
Examples of questions that demonstrate
that the leadership values employee buy-
in and respects their opinions include:
• We need to get costs down (or
revenue up). Do you have any
suggestions on how we may do that?
• I looked into what you said, and
the facts suggest something else.
Are we missing anything?
• I also saw that this particular
area could be an opportunity.
What are your thoughts?
• If we implemented this strategy, how
would we measure performance?
• What would be a good motivator
if we wanted this result?
Outside professionals, wanting to
prove their value and justify their
billing rates, may be hesitant to
involve employees too much. After
all, outside professionals typically see
their role as needing to come up with
the “answers.” Advisors and interim
executives are expected to produce
results — regardless of who generates
the ideas. As Ronald Reagan used to
remind his team, “There is no limit to
what a man can do or where he can go
if he doesn’t mind who gets the credit.”
There are several benefits of
increasing employee engagement
in the planning process that have
particularly helpful consequences
for turnaround professionals:
• Ownership. Employees feel like
owners in the process and take on
greater responsibility in making
positive changes at the company.
• Elimination of excuses. When
results are unfavorable, employees
do not disclaim ownership
of results because they were
involved each step of the way.
• Better decision making.
Employees understand the plan
more clearly and can make better
decisions in their daily work.
• More time. Management is
freed up to focus on other
• Increased employee morale.
With employees aligned with
the same goal, there is a sense of
togetherness and optimism.
After the need for change has been
communicated and employees
have been involved in the planning
process, leadership must reflect on