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Where Do They Stand?  A Simple Technique for Understanding Buy-in

[fa icon="calendar"] 4/16/18 12:13 PM / by Stephanie Sibille & Steve Ockerbloom


Business group with their hands in the air - isolated

Raise your hand if this scenario sounds familiar: you’re 55 minutes into your one-hour team meeting to introduce a new change, you wanted your team to weigh in, and now you’re heading down a rabbit hole that you don’t think you can get out of.  You know that one of two scenarios are inevitable: you risk running over and making people late for their next appointments, or someone is bound to leave feeling thoroughly unsatisfied. As managers, how do we get in front of this phenomenon while still giving people a voice?

One of our favorite ways to gauge buy-in is with an incredibly simple but effective tool: Fist to Five. If you’ve never heard of this, it’s based on a 0-5 scale, with the idea that you can take the temperature of the room simply by having people hold up one hand to display where they stand. Here is the scale that we recommend using: 

Champion of the idea = 5

Agree with the idea = 4

Agree, but could change small pieces = 3 

Disagree, but willing to proceed = 2

Serious questions or reservations = 1

I feel strongly about not proceeding at this time = 0  

If anyone in the room has a fist you cannot proceed!

It’s important to make sure that everyone is on the same page with the scale – for example, while a two could be perceived as negative, the concept of “disagree, but willing to proceed” indicates that someone with this rating is willing to proceed with the idea despite their concerns. Likewise, a five doesn’t just indicate buy-in, but shows that someone is willing to actively advocate on an idea’s behalf.

Here are a few scenarios where this tool can be particularly effective:

 The quiet group – Have you ever asked the question “Does anyone disagree?” and gotten no response – only to learn later that there was serious dissent – or worse – people were talking about the proposed idea behind your back? If the group is less vocal by nature, they are unlikely to express concerns or general dissent in a public forum. By introducing Fist to Five, you can quickly gauge buy-in without putting anyone on the spot.

 The vocal detractor – If you’ve ever had that one person in the group that disagrees with everything that you say, it may be helpful to poll the whole group and see where everyone stands. If everyone is a four and that individual is a two, then that’s an indication that you’re probably okay. Likewise, if everyone is a one or a two, this shows that this isn’t simply a “boy who cried wolf” scenario, but there are some serious concerns across the board that need to be addressed.

 The never-ending conference call – Time is precious, and oftentimes we don’t have the ability to hear from everyone on a conference call. If this group is comfortable with it, this is an easy, quick-hit way to get input from everyone without necessarily having to launch in a detailed conversation. Just make sure to have a plan for follow-up in place if peoples’ numbers are lower than you expect!

 The polite crowd – If anyone has ever tried to get a large group to agree on a restaurant, you will understand the need for this. One person suggests a restaurant, everyone nods politely and says “sure,” and it’s impossible to tell whether people are on board or not. One of two things happen – either you forge ahead with a lukewarm group, or you backpedal, and 20 minutes later everyone is still standing around discussing the benefits of Italian food versus farm to table. By simply using Fist to Five, you can quickly tell whether they are agreeing for the benefit of the group or are genuinely on board. Quite frankly, if we didn’t use this ourselves for our team dinners, we would probably all go hungry! 

 This tool will absolutely save your team time.  Before you introduce this at your next meeting, here are a couple of tips for success:

Make sure everyone is on the same page – Without a common mental model, one person’s five is another person’s three. When you’re introducing the concept, make sure to share the guidelines above, so that everyone has the same definition of what each of the numbers represents.

Allow for anonymity – We’re all influenced by the opinions of others to various degrees, so you may want to introduce an anonymous polling method to begin. Whether it’s a voting button in Outlook or a chat box in your conference call platform, there are plenty of ways to gauge buy-in without putting people on the spot.

Remember that this is not a voting tool – One common mistake that we see early on is that people will use Fist to Five, take a weighted average, and decide whether to move forward from there. If everyone is a three or above, that’s great. However, if you have ten “fours” and two “ones” in a group of twelve, that indicates that there are serious reservations from several people, and their concerns need to be addressed before moving forward.

Allow for the “Rule of Threes” – Any change takes time to implement, and people may not always buy in – or remember the concept – right away. Typically, something like this will “click” after it’s been used three times. So, remember to be patient, remind people what each of the numbers represents, and keep trying! Your team will thank you in the long run.

Topics: Insider, Organizational &Talent Development, All About Teams, Leadership Matters, HR Executives