A Better Way to Get Buy-In

Posted on November 26, 2012.

I know most people don’t really care that much about college athletics.  But when Maryland decided to leave the ACC for the Big 10, I wasn’t the only one in shock. It seemed like it was in the paper one day, and a done deal the next. What happened to getting stakeholders to buy-in to major decisions?

Tom McMillan, a former Maryland basketball player and the only Board Trustee to vote against the move made some sound arguments about the process Maryland went through.  If they had done things differently, the end result may have been the same, but would the anger level of alumni, students, and athletes been less? What could they have done better?

·      Involved the decision makers earlier. It was clear the President and other leaders had been entertaining the move for some time.  So why did the voting Trustees find out about it on the Thursday night before a Sunday vote? Years ago, my former employer rolled out a new organizational model.  They conducted town halls, spent months educating everyone and asked for feedback. Now I’m sure the decision to move forward had already been made, but by giving us time to get use to the idea, everyone bought in to the plan.  I question why the University leaders couldn’t have formed a stakeholder group early on to look at the pros and cons of a move before they were required to sign a non-disclosure agreement. 

·       Discussed both the Pros and the Cons.  Somehow people who only tell me the benefits of a decision always sound like used car salesmen.  There’s just something inherently untrustworthy about them. So when the University leadership tells me all these great things we’ll get from the move, I don’t believe them. Why couldn’t they have listed all the cons and what their plan was to mitigate them? At least I would have appreciated that they went through that process. Maybe they did, but by not fully communicating the pros and the cons, it’s harder for me to buy in to the decision.

·      Communicated the full impact to the effected parties. I felt most sorry for the athletes that came to Maryland to play for the ACC and now after 2014, will not.  Does the University have a plan for them? Was it communicated to them?  When major decisions are made that affect my team, my customers, or me I want to know exactly what the expected outcome will be.  Was every manager and leader impacted given talking points to address the concerns of their teams or employees? I don’t know the answer to this but judging from the social media outrage, my guess is no.

Time will tell if the move to the Big 10 was the right decision for Maryland.  But it’s almost beside the point.  Without getting buy-in from the affected stakeholders, the move will always have a taint to it. It’s disappointing as an alumnus that a school that prides itself on educating future leaders would fail so miserably in it’s own leadership.