In my experience, many people view change as loss. This is true, even if it is a very positive change. Think about your own experience in leading or being a part of change efforts. Have you ever heard people express concerns, like:

  • “We’re already doing our best, how can we do more?”
  • “What are those people thinking? They’re not on the front-line!”
  • “If I just ignore this, it will go away.”
  • “They don’t know what they’re doing.”
  • “What will happen to my job?”‘

According to John Kotter, author and world-renowned expert on leadership at the Harvard Business School, the goal of communicating a vision and mission for change efforts  is to “get as many people as possible acting to make the vision a reality.”

To do that, he argues that effective change communication is more than just data transfer. Communicating for buy-in requires addressing people’s anxieties, accepting their anger, and appealing to their emotions on a gut level. Ignore this important advice and leaders can set themselves up for failure by minimizing concerns or avoiding tough conversations with people or groups who are viewed as “resistant” to change.

Here’s what Kotter suggests works to communicate change visions and strategies effectively:

  • Keep communication simple and heartfelt, not complex or technocratic
  • Do your homework before communicating, especially to understand what people are feeling
  • Speak to anxieties, confusion, anger, and distrust
  • Rid communication channels of junk so that important messages can go through
  • Use technologies to help people see the vision (intranet, video, ITV, etc.) and to enhance in-person communication

In addition to Kotter’s strategies, I recommend having real dialogue with those affected. Not just an information session, with a brief Q&A, but a real… live… discussion, where people can get their concerns, anxieties, and fears out on the table and work toward common goals. Then listen, really listen. It may seem scary at first to engage in a dialogue like this, but it is the fastest route for building buy-in in any change effort.

What Kotter says doesn’t work is:

  • Undercommunicating (which happens all the time)
  • Speaking as though you are only transferring information
  • Accidentally fostering cynicism by not walking the talk

In your experience, what has worked best to communicate for buy-in and engage people in making your vision for change a reality?

Looking for consultation to create greater buy-in for your change effort? Contact me at or visit my website at:

Anita Rios

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