Ask a salesperson about objections. She’ll tell you it’s a natural part of the sales cycle. Ask a change leadership expert about resistance. He’ll tell you it’s a natural part of change. Ask anyone else and it’s labeled in a roundabout way as a failure. 

When it comes to leadership development initiatives, we can learn a lot from the fields of sales and change. Objections and resistance are normal when we’re asking people to change. It’s also normal when we’re “selling” ideas and new ways of being. In higher education, there’s resistance to spending money and investing time, skepticism about effectiveness, and fear of the unknown. Despite what many people may think, this is normal.

Getting buy-in is an ongoing activity, one that talent development professionals and higher education leaders must champion to ensure leadership development initiatives are successful. 

We’ve identified four opportunities to overcome resistance and gain buy-in from stakeholders: selling, delivering, implementing, and assessing.

Selling

Championing a leadership development initiative starts with building a case statement. Champions should paint a clear and concise picture about the need and expected outcomes. Questions to answer may include: 
  • What is the expected return on investment? 
  • How will this help us better achieve our vision and goals? 
  • Why is this a worthwhile investment of resources? 
  • What’s the cost of doing nothing? 

Pro Tip: There are a few well-researched and widely used leadership development models. These models include impact studies highlighting useful information for a case statement. Choose a model that’s time-tested. 

Delivering

Similarly to how soil can reject a seed, people can refuse leadership development initiatives too. And after laboring to get this far, it can feel like a throat punch for those championing the cause. Apart from the obvious elements required for optimal learning experiences, champions must take extra steps in preparing the metaphorical soil. Questions to answer include: 

  • What higher education norms do we need to address in the learning experience? 
  • What type of language is needed to avoid or break down the “this isn’t a business” barrier? 
  • How can we incorporate specific higher education examples and case studies into the learning experience?

Pro Tip: Consider partnering with a talent development professional who is well versed in leadership development outside of higher education. While someone with higher education experience can provide instant credibility, bringing in someone with broad experience across industries can help eliminate groupthink, identify blind spots, and open the door for innovation.

Implementing

We’ve all experienced the infamous training high, usually produced by a training event that leaves us feeling hopeful, energized, and overconfident. For most people, it lasts a day or two at best. Getting buy-in at this stage calls for accountability and understanding. This calls for several post-learning activities, including: 

  • setting clear expectations
  • providing ongoing feedback
  • monitoring performance 
  • reteaching as often as needed
  • giving ongoing support 
  • modeling behaviors
  • allotting time for reflection.

Pro Tip: Change is hard, requires work, and often feels uncomfortable. Acknowledging this up front and incorporating strategies for accountability after training is key. We are creatures of habit, and lasting change takes a plan, discipline, and rewards. 

Assessing

Being able to assess the impact of a leadership development initiative brings everything full circle. It’s all about answering the question, “Did we achieve what we set out to achieve?” And if so, what contributed to our success (so we can do it again!); if not, what got in the way? If you included specific outcomes in your case statement, make sure you have a way to measure the impact. Being able to show participants and other key stakeholders the impact of a training initiative goes a long way in sustaining buy-in. Questions to answer may include: 

  • What did participants actually learn? 
  • How has what’s been learned been implemented, from both the leader’s and employees’ perspective? 
  • What’s been the impact, from the leader’s, employees’, and other stakeholders’ perspective?
  • In what ways are we different, better, or more efficient?
  • What new initiatives or innovations have occurred? 

Pro Tip: Create executive reports or impact studies to communicate results to key stakeholders. This is especially important if you require additional resources to sustain the initiative. It’s also important to validate information where possible. If a leader says she’s been successful, interview her employees. If someone claims an increase in productivity, support the claim with data. 

Minimizing resistance and proactively overcoming objections is necessary for any leadership development initiative to succeed. It’s also important to maintain buy-in from start to finish, including selling, delivering, implementing, and assessing.