How to get buy-in at your agency

At my organization, one challenge is redirecting current funding for different purposes. How can we get the necessary buy-in from our stakeholders? - GS-14, Department of Defense

I strongly advise that you take a page, or perhaps several pages, from the literature on leading change by focusing on the facts, recognizing and addressing the emotions your stakeholders may experience, and building early support among the most influential folks in your agency.

Before you send an email or hold a meeting with stakeholders to say you're shifting funds, first outline clear criteria for your funding decisions. What are your agency's or your team's high-priority goals? How much funding do you have available? How much spending do you need to cut? What's mandated and what's actually discretionary? The logic dictating your decisions must be clear if you have any hope of getting folks on board.

Keep in mind that facts often take a back seat to emotions when dollars and cents are at stake in this current environment.

When you tell someone that you're shifting funds from their activities to others, it’s likely they will feel as though you're passing judgment on their value to the agency. As you pull facts together, you'll want to consider how to manage your stakeholders' emotions. Will they want to know your decision-making approach? Will they simply want the bottom-line decision and a deadline for implementation? Will they be worried that these funding changes may affect their jobs?

Go ahead and predict who will have strong reactions, either positive or negative, and tailor your initial message appropriately as a means of minimizing the drama that may drag down productivity.

Finally, test your message with a few influential folks at your agency before going out with a broader message. Talking to a limited number of trusted, respected colleagues will provide at least two benefits. First, you'll get honest feedback that may cause you to reconsider your decision or sharpen your message. Second, and perhaps most importantly, you can convert these people into advocates. Don’t be afraid to ask for their support and help reinforcing your message. You might urge them to be an ambassador by speaking to others or to speak up when others question your approach. And you might simply ask them to continue providing you with candid feedback.

Of course, all of this is much easier said than done. So much easier, in fact, that there are several books on the topic. If you want more specific, more detailed suggestions, I recommend checking out books such as, Switch, Influencer or The Heart of Change for additional ideas. I don't envy your position, but I appreciate your making the tough calls leaders all across government are facing.

If you have suggestions from your own experiences, please share your ideas below or email me  at fedcoach@ourpublicservice.org

More from On Leadership:

Summer reading suggestions for fed workers

How to become a great federal leader

Rocking the boat in federal agencies

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Tom Fox, of the Partnership for Public Service, explores workplace issues and provides advice for federal managers through analysis, interviews and reader Q&As in his Federal Coach blog for On Leadership.

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