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Selling Your Case for Change:Gaining Buy-In

By Dr. Vanessa AkhtarJune 7, 2023July 14th, 2023No Comments3 min read

Articles about the need for innovation abound in the business section of nearly every media outlet. It’s true that innovation is critical for success in today’s world. We also know there’s no shortage of great ideas – but many of these great ideas never come to fruition. A great idea, no matter how small or large, will only get implemented if you can get enough people bought in. In their book, Buy-In: Saving Your Good Idea From Getting Shot Down, Dr. John Kotter and Lorne Whitehead outline 24 common attacks you are likely to get when presenting a new idea or initiative, along with a (somewhat counterintuitive) strategy for saving your idea.

The first of these attacks is, “We’ve been successful, so why change?” This one is especially effective when there’s no crisis driving the need for change and the organization has a history of success. If you receive this challenge, it can be most effective to highlight well known examples of organizations that were complacent about their position in the market and failed to adapt to changing times. Think about Blockbuster passing up the opportunity to buy Netflix for $50M in 2000. At the time, the Blockbuster CEO saw Netflix as a niche business, not worth investing in. Today, Netflix has hundreds of millions of subscribers and is valued at over $170B. By 2014, Blockbuster had closed all of its corporate-owned stores.

Kodak is yet another cautionary tale – they invented digital technology in 1975. For decades, leaders at Kodak discounted the possibilities, and viability, of a product that would eventually disrupt the market. Even when trends began to shift toward digital photography, Kodak failed to adequately prepare their business for the transition away from traditional film. In 2012, Kodak filed for bankruptcy. Though they survived this, their market share is nowhere near as strong as it once was. While change is certainly hard, everyone can agree that no one wants their company to succumb to the same fate as Blockbuster or Kodak.

Understanding the common challenges you are likely to receive can help you prepare to present your idea or initiative much more effectively. As tempting as it may be, don’t avoid resistance. Rather, invite your resisters into the conversation. It’s important to take some time, in advance of sharing your idea, to consider which of the 24 attacks are most likely to arise. Think through how this attack is likely to be presented or phrased in your context and how you can respond to in a way that’s respectful (not defensive), and as simple and concise as possible. When you do present your idea, keep an eye on your audience, watching for both resisters and supporters. This simple strategy, grounded in intentional preparation, will set you up to gain the buy-in you need to move from idea to action.   

Take a deeper dive into this principle by registering for Kotter’s Change Certification Program: