Buy In is Not Enough for Successful Organizational Change

Buy-in Versus Commitment

Dr. Dawn-Marie Turner CMC,

“We are ready, everyone has bought in.” I hear leaders use this or a similar type of statement as a signal their employees are ready for change. They are confusing buy-in with commitment.[1] 

Buy-In ≠ Commitment to Change

You’ve probably seen – or lived – this scenario: You announce a change, and everyone agrees it is needed. Pleased that you have “buy-in” for your change, you proceed to implement. Suddenly, all those people who bought in are singing a different tune.  As a result, you become frustrated, disappointed and very often left with a feeling of being let down. The people affected by the change are left feeling misunderstood and angry. They feel that the change is being forced upon them.  Regardless of the feelings, the label is almost always the same – resistance.

When it comes to organizational change, “buy-in” and commitment are often used interchangeably, but they are very different.  Buy-in simply represents a person’s agreement about the value and need for the change proposed. It represents the awareness phase on the Continuum of Change.

Commitment is a decision, it signals a willingness to take action. Only when your employees are committed to the change will they engage in the needed activities and,  even more important, will they persevere through the discomfort of transition.For example buy-in is agreeing that cliff diving is exciting,  you may agree you would like to try it: Commitment is standing at the edge of the cliff, prepared to jump.

Commitment to Change = Action

Commitment to change comes after buy-in and works at a deeper level. Unlike buy-in that works only on an intellectual level, commitment requires the person to respond at an intellectual, emotional and social level.  The committed person has invested in the change. She recognizes that her success or failure is tied to the success or failure of the change. When you are committed to an outcome you are willing to take the time, energy and actions needed for success even when it is uncomfortable.

You need buy-in — without buy-in you can’t get commitment. But without commitment to the change you can’t get people to take the actions needed to achieve the intended results of the change event.

Helping you move change from a liability to an asset!

Dr. Dawn-Marie Turner

  1. Turner, D. M. (2015). Launch Lead Live: The executive’s guide to preventing resistance and succeeding with organizational change. Saskatchewan: YNWP.