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Building Capability

How an Inability to Get Buy-in From Business Unit Managers Affects Organisational Capability Building

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Buy-in from business unit managers is essential to affecting change within your organisation. The support of managers leads to the building of organisational capabilities and increased business performance, but buy-in can be hard to gain and maintain.

How to get buy-in from functional line managers for capability building programs 

Gaining buy-in from your functional line managers comes down to how well you communicate your vision for the organisation in terms of capabilities.

It’s not enough to know your desired outcomes and direction. You need to make your vision clear by demonstrating the connection between building organisational capability and winning on business priorities. Part of this is communicating how capability building will solve pain points at not just the business level, but within leaders’ individual teams.  

On top of this, you need to break your vision into manageable segments. Focusing on an end goal is helpful to set direction and destination, but may cause managers to feel the change caused by a new program is insurmountable. Set goals and milestones for managers—and, by extension, their teams—to stick to. This distils the process into those smaller, manageable segments and allows managers to better track their team’s progress at each milestone.  

Why do organisations find gaining business unit manager buy-in challenging and how do they overcome it? 

Unfortunately, buy-in isn’t just a case of selling your idea and having everyone immediately accept (if only, right?). There are many perspectives, experiences and priorities within your workforce that won’t always align

Different teams can have different perceptions of how they—and therefore the wider organisation—are tracking. The range of KPIs between teams will skew the outlook for what is considered a priority for line managers, and therefore undermine their willingness to buy into initiatives that may appear to impact other business units more than theirs. It’s even harder to sidestep if some teams perceive themselves to be performing better than others.  

Varying views of operational performance and priorities means that any emphasis you put on capabilities could be called into question. The high-performing sales team leader might not see how a behavioural capability program is necessary if their team is already doing so well. The problem of buy-in here lies in insular thinking and a lack of shared organisational vision, which may also be a sign of a dysfunctional relationship between your managers and functions.

The other side of this coin is managers not being willing to accept there is an opportunity or problem to begin with. The real problem here is that even if managers agree to comply with a capability building program, it might be seen as a box to tick for them. So, not only do you lose their personal motivation and engagement, you lose out on their being role models who motivate their teams to engage with training too.  

The impact on building organisational capability without buy-in from business unit managers 

To put it bluntly: If you don’t get buy-in from business unit managers, organisational capability building will simply be ineffective.  

You need front-line managers (who are in the trenches every day, so to speak) who believe in the vision and outcomes you wish to meet. Without that faith, you don’t have key influencers to ensure change occurs smoothly, assuage concerns and oversee the new ways of work a capability building program is meant to achieve. That means your workforce will lack the skills, knowledge and behaviours needed at the execution level to meet your strategic priorities. Which means that on all fronts, capability building has failed before it’s even really got off the ground. 

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