Friday, June 12, 2009

The Falacy of Corporate Buy-In

Buy-in. Whoever thought up that term should be drawn and quartered. Those that continually toss it around their meeting rooms willy-nilly should be lashed by a pirate on steroids.

For years now the corporate world has been beset by the notions of "accountability" and "responsibility." Bosses demand that their underlings be accountable for their decisions and responsible for whatever fallout may occur. Any results that are positive the boss will take credit for but that's another rant entirely. So along comes some genius with the term "buy-in." All of a sudden, the two previous terms are rendered as impotent as a bull in a knife shop. But nobody realizes it. Those same bosses who demand accountability will defer to others in the name of getting their buy-in.

Why? Because they are afraid of making a mistake. They are looking for a chance to say, "Everyone signed-off on this so it's not my fault it sucks." And that sucks. And that is not fair. And that is not professional. AND that is not taking responsibilty.

I have a brother who is a track coach. He's a good track coach. He's been doing it a long time and knows all the tricks of the trade. He was a cross country runner himself, a duathlete, and has coached college level athletes for about 20 years. He has a Masters degree in something like Exercise Physiology or something equally cool sounding. So he knows how the body works and knows how to help people go fast by moving their legs. But now along comes "buy in."

So one day the Athletic Director says: "Hey, I noticed you were having your runners do some stretches. Why don't you ask the English Professors what they think about that?"

Or the President of the College says, "Hey, I noticed you were helping Johnny Jumphigh with his pole technique for his pole vault. Wouldn't it be great if you got the Archeology Department to weigh in on what kind of shoes he should wear? We wouldn't want them to feel left out."

Okay, just so my brother doesn't get fired let me say this is not a real example, but it makes the point. Buy should ALWAYS be general NOT specific. Conceptual NOT tangible.

People are hired in the corporate world to do a job. Conceivably, they have a knack or knowledge or experience that makes them an expert at something. Why then do coporate leaders not let them do their job? Why then do coporate leaders defer to others NOT qualified (or certainly less qualified) in that person's area of expertise to contribute to something they know nothing about?

I know many will think me blasphemous. Too bad. This is one concept that must stop. It stifles not only creativity but also productivity. Decision making by committee has its place -- occassionally. Not everything requires it, though.

-- If your Creative Department is making brochures, you don't need to confer with Accounting on the design.
-- If you are filming a commercial, you don't have ask HR if they like the choice of the music.
-- If your Marketing Department is writing copy for a print ad, you don't have to pass it around to your Corporate Meeting planner to get his thoughts on the grammer.

Corporate leaders take heed: Stop making every department run every decision by other departments because you are afraid or because you don't know what you are doing. Have some balls, do your job, let your staff do theirs. Make sure everyone knows this. Once people start getting the opportunity to offer their "buy-in" it is a VERY difficult process to stop.

Final thought: Leave your Marketing Departments alone. They are professionals and know more about marketing than your Finance Department ever will. Bust them if they over budget otherwise -- give them the credit they deserve. You hired them to do a job, let 'em do it.

Watkins, out!

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