Try ‘OWNERSHIP’! ‘BUY-IN’ Just Doesn’t Make The Grade…

© By Patrick Trottier

               “Anytime you, or someone around you, thinks or talks about ‘buy-in’;  Beware!

It is a danger signal telling you that your development and implementation process is missing the essential ingredient of involving all who should be involved in a way that it belongs to them.” (Lisa Kimball, President, Plexus Institute; Member, Board of Directors at Organization Development Network)

From a Forbes article:

‘The Most Annoying, Pretentious and Useless Business Jargon’
By Max Mallet, Brett Nelson and Chris Steiner | Forbes – Mon, Jan 30, 2012

“This means agreement on a course of action, of the most disingenuous kind, notes David Logan, professor of management and organization at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business. “Asking for someone’s ‘buy-in’ says, ‘I have an idea.  I didn’t involve you because I didn’t value you enough to discuss it with you.  I want you to embrace it as if you were in on it from the beginning, because that would make me feel really good.”


It took me a number of years to understand and to be able to effectively apply methods, tools and processes to create the necessary degree of ‘ownership’ in a client organization to support effective change and development.

To begin, let’s distinguish between ‘ownership’ and ‘buy-in’ and understand their different impact.

On Ownership

Ownership is when your client, stakeholder, or a relevant and significant party is involved in something to the degree that it becomes theirs, based on their choice – period.

This can be an idea, a process, a system, a change approach, a decision, an action plan, and the actual implementation and follow-up action.

Having ‘ownership’ means that they have participated in something to a degree that they have invested a part of themselves both cognitively and emotionally so that they now ‘own it’.

Having ‘ownership’ enhances the probability that they will improve it, evolve it, invest more of their time and themselves in it, and act on it.

This means they have assimilated, internalized and integrated the ’thing’ freely and their thoughts, beliefs, emotions, actions are now a part of it.

VOILA!!!. Ownership!

‘Presentations’ don’t do it.
‘Reports’ don’t do it.
‘Recommendation don’t do it.
‘Expert’ approaches don’t do it.
‘Coercive environments’ don’t do it.

So what does it?

‘Process’ and ‘Emergent’ approaches do it – when done well.

This also goes to my constant point that the client is the ‘change agent’, not the consultant, or the facilitator.

On ‘Buy-In’

Buy-in’ is the exact opposite of ‘ownership’. Someone else, or some group of people, has done the development, the writing, the report, the thinking, the deciding, and now they have to convince others to come along and ‘buy-into’ their ideas, concepts, designs, systems, processes, etc. in a few meetings.

After the ‘sales’ job, now others are expected to implement someone else’s ideas without their involvement in the initial conversations, constructs, or resulting decisions.

But THEY are responsible for the ‘outcomes’.

How many of us have sat in a meeting room and have listened to:

– the ‘reports’,
– the ‘power point presentations’,
– the  ‘many  reasons we need this’,
– the ‘research’,
– the ‘this makes sense’ display of logical thought,
– the ‘best thing since sliced bread’ (and it may even be…)
– the ‘what is the value to everyone in this?’,
– the ‘why this is a good thing’,
– the ’What’s in it for me?’ discussion…
– the ‘Oh yes, I do agree, certainly, you bet. Yes, sir., ‘Really good stuff. We’ll even sign that flipchart as a whole team …’

The internal ‘head chatter’:

“What is this guy talking about?”
“Just give me the bottom line”
“What has this got to do with me, or my work?”
“I better get to that report that is expected tomorrow.”
“I wonder what’s for lunch?”
“When is this guy going to be done?”
“That was a great game last night.’
“I better look like I am listening, my manager is at the front – if fact look at all those top managers up there  – I wonder who THEY are?”

Maybe something does happen in the short run, but eventually that ‘something’ dwindles off into time and space…

How many managers have how many booklets of ‘recommendations’ on their shelves gathering dust.

Developing ‘ownership’ also goes against the grain of the major traditional implementation models -the ‘expert’ and the ‘medical doctor-patient’ model (see my ‘post’ in this blog on the four basic consulting models…)… but more important to be aware of, it goes against the grain of the traditional expectations of most clients and their traditional mental models that also reflect their current culture, such as:

“If I have to create it with you, what am I paying you for?”
“Just give me the bottom-line…”
“Your the consultant.”
“We brought you in to ‘fix’ the problem.”
“Your the expert, ‘fix it’.

Appreciating the ‘value’ of the approach in creating the necessary degree of ‘ownership’ to achieve desired results may not be understood in traditional business cultures. All I know at this point is when I have been asked to integrate ‘OD processes and dynamics’ into traditional IT/CM processes, or continuous improvement processes, or cultural change initiatives – it makes a difference.

What is the ‘value’ of creating ‘ownership’.

Real ‘ownership’ seems to instill passion, commitment, accountability and the support to follow-up to do something. ‘Ownership’ increases the curiosity to understand how things are going and the willingness to put time and energy in to make it happen – thus, it increases the probability of success to achieve the desired result.

Ownership breaks down the politics, the territorialism, the fear, the RESISTANCE that will certainly create the dynamics for things not to work – even if it is the best thing since sliced bread.

You know what I am talking about – we have all been there.

“Not much effort goes into ‘buy-in’, or the illusion of ‘buy-in’, for ‘buy-in’ creates lukewarm, pallid implementation and mediocre results.” (Lisa Kimball)

It is a sales pitch, hoping the potential client will understand it like you do, will like it like you do, will ‘value’ it like you do, or will use it like you would.

Even when you and a manager develop something and present it to a group to use it – that’s ‘buy in’. Many managers spend a lot of frustrating time trying to get their groups to come around to use something. One of the traditional methods to do this is to link such into their ‘performance reviews’ – the old carrot and the stick approach.

Many consultants loose value because no one else ‘owns’ what they have to sell, or what they are trying to ‘convince you’ to use – EVEN IF IT REALLY IS ‘the best thing in the world’.

This also happens when one organization searches for ‘best practices’ and tries to bring it into their organization. After spending much effort, time and money, they wonder why it worked’ over there’, but not here –and it sounded so good in that ‘conference gathering’, or in that book of ‘Best Practices’, or in their researcher’s report.

I say, there is only ‘one best practice’ – the one your client is crafting, owns and is actually using – and as they proceed, they learn and continuously improve it. This also relates to ‘change management’, organizational development methodologies, IT implementations or any other thing, process or adaption the organization needs.

My ‘bottom-line’ message:

Create ‘real ownership’ and avoid the pitfalls of ‘buy-in’; wasted effort, wasted time, ‘re-work’, wasted money and wasted results. Oh, you will get results, just not the results you desired or expected – or to the degree thereof.

This is why the appropriate and necessary degree of ‘readiness’ and ‘ownership’ are paramount in any type or level of ‘change and development’ initiatives / processes. In addition, the same is true regarding ‘training / learning’, performance improvement initiatives, business process improvements, leadership development, coaching, strategic planning, IT/IS change management, project management, etc., etc.


When it comes to designing and implementing organizational development ‘change and development processes’, or ‘continuous performance improvement processes’ regarding people, process and systems, the notion of ‘buy-in’ is just not useful – people in the system need to really be a key part in building and owning the new ways of thinking, behaving, tools, and processes.

In my experience, people want to do – not ‘to be done to’.

               “So… anytime you, or someone around you, thinks or talks about ‘buy-in’;


 “It is a danger signal telling you that your development and implementation process is missing the essential ingredient of involving all who should be involved in a way that it belongs to them.”
Lisa Kimball, President, Plexus Institute; Member, Board of Directors at Organization Development Network


It is all about creating ‘ownership’ all through the initiative or process and that is a core competency of any ‘change and development’ consultant – and a growing and desired experience by clients.

‘Make it theirs.’

© Patrick A. Trottier, M.S. (Industrial-Organizational Psychology)
The Institute Of Emergent Organizational Development And Emergent Change®

About Patrick A. Trottier

I am a 30 plus year applied Organizational Development practitioner having honed my craft in the U.S., Canada and internationally. Presently living in beautiful Vancouver, B.C., I am currently developing the next evolution of O.D. termed; 'Emergent Organizational Development and Emergent Change® (EODC)®, and focusing on Emergent OD®, Emergent Change® and the development of Emergent Organizations® within my professional practice.
This entry was posted in Action Research, Change, Consultation Models, Culture, Emergent Change, Emergent Learning, Emergent OD and Change, Emergent Organizations, Human Information Processing, Leadership, Organizational Development, Performance, Self-Agency, Teams, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Try ‘OWNERSHIP’! ‘BUY-IN’ Just Doesn’t Make The Grade…

  1. Bruce Nagy says:

    I’m not sure buy-in is bad, but I do think ownership needs to be the goal. You’ve made some very good points Patrick. Your article certainly has gotten my attention.

    • Thanks Bruce for your comments. I guess it depends on the quality and effort needed to achieve the results desired. How many times have I heard from managers the number of ‘recommendation reports’ he/she has on their shelves that are gatheriing dust.

      All the best…

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