Word Nerd Wednesday – Participation

Participation - taking an active role in a project or endeavor.

When I hear someone say “buy-in,” one image pops into my head – a bobblehead doll. Why?

I’ve seen so many CX leaders THINK they have “buy-in” but learn the hard way that all that really means is head nodding. Stakeholders agree improving CX is a good idea, just not one they’re personally willing to help execute.

I suggest making “participation” your goal instead of “buy-in.” Participation = conceptual agreement backed by personal action. 

To highlight the difference, let me tell you the story of recent events at one firm I work with. 

This CX team needed more people using customer insights to make business decisions, but sharing insights as data and verbatims hadn’t been working.

After years of frustration, we tried a different approach – hosting a series of video sessions where real customers share their personal stories of dealing with this company and its products.

The theory was that hearing how CX issues impact the lives of actual humans would be more engaging, impactful, and memorable than yet another slide deck. We were right.

Attendance started out low, but after a few sessions word spread. We started seeing 1,000+ employees at each session. 

Were any of them senior executives? Unfortunately, no.

Leaders all said these sessions were a great idea and encouraged their teams to attend. They just didn’t see the need to go themselves. (That’s buy-in without participation.)

This changed when a customer emailed the CEO after taking part in one of these sessions. His message was (paraphrasing): “It’s fantastic that you’re doing these, and if you and the rest of C-Suite aren’t watching – you should be.”

That piqued the CEO’s curiosity, so he asked for a recap of the session. After reading it, he asked to have a summary of all future panel discussions sent directly to him and his entire operating committee on a regular basis. 

That’s the difference between buy-in and participation.

A bought-in executive says: “Yeah, that’s a great idea. I’m too busy, but employees should go.” A participating executive says: “I need to know what’s said in every one of those sessions so I can review it with my management team.”

I expect lower level managers to show up more in the future since the CEO might ask a question about what was said or how it’s being addressed.

FYI…It took 18 months to get this win. The CX program itself had been around for 5+ years before that.

Key takeaways from this story:
1. Buy-in doesn’t matter. Participation does.
2. It’s better to draw people in organically than try to force action.
3. Persistance pays off.