When you introduce a new initiative, whether it’s related to outcomes, technology, or infrastructure, faculty members may balk. If you’re struggling to get faculty buy-in, you might think it would be better to just push past their objections and implement your plan now. After all, you know it’s going to work. If you just get started they’ll come around. Stop, you’re making a costly mistake.
Without faculty support, your initiative may fail. It will almost certainly be less effective. Faculty buy-in is a shorthand way of saying that the faculty members at your institution support or at least accept the changes you are implementing.
The term comes from the business world, where investors would literally buy-in to an idea they liked by writing a check to help fund it. You’re probably not expecting your faculty to fund new initiatives for your institution, but their buy-in is still vital. Faculty who have bought-in will support your new initiative with their time, talent and – most important – testimony. That is, they’ll learn about it, use it to its highest potential, and tell students, parents and fellow faculty why this is a great idea.
Why you’re struggling with buy-in
Faculty members have a vested interest in the success of your organization. Many of them have built decades long careers with your institution, or intend to. Because the success of the institution is closely intertwined with their own success, they are understandably cautious about making changes unless they’re confident in the result.
It’s easy to assume that faculty members are just being difficult or letting their egos get in the way of progress. However, that’s not a constructive attitude. If you want to get the best return on investment for your initiatives, you need to get faculty to buy-in to your idea.
Remember that you and the administrative team may have spent weeks, months or even years, planning for a new initiative. Meanwhile, faculty had no idea change was on the horizon. You’ve had plenty of time to get comfortable with a new way of doing things and answer your own questions about the idea. Faculty members have not.
Good communication addresses most, if not all, faculty concerns. Assuming that faculty are “just being difficult” impedes open communication. Instead of jumping to conclusions, communicate your vision so that faculty have a chance to buy-in.
Common impediments to faculty buy-in
Here’s a framework for addressing the most common reasons that faculty might reject your idea:
Issue: They disagree with the goal
Solution: Explain why you set this goal.
Do you have market research that shows students are concerned about this topic? Statistics that prove your institution needs improvement in this area? Some other factors that helped you decided that now was the right time to address this goal? Share these with faculty so they can understand why a particular initiative is being introduced now.
Issue: They don’t see the value
Solution: Share proof of concept.
Even if faculty recognize that your goal is important, they may not believe that your initiative brings enough value. For example, faculty may all agree that student outcomes are vital, yet they may disagree on how to improve them. Make sure you have data, case studies, and other research to explain how this particular solution will bring value and improve results. The harder an initiative is to implement, the more valuable it must be to gain faculty buy-in. This is often accomplished by identifying early adapters to run proof-of-concept courses before full implementation.
Issue: They can’t visualize how it will be implemented.
Solution: Lay out a procedure and timeline.
A new initiative may have many moving parts. Some of these will be the responsibility of the faculty member. Others will be handled by administration or other staff. Help faculty members understand the true impact of the initiative on their day to day lives by sharing a timeline for introduction and a procedure for how your initiative will be rolled out. For example: if you’re introducing a new software, let faculty know that they will have scheduled training and access to one-on-one technical support before and during the implementation of the software.
Issue: They feel coerced or dictated to.
Solution: Get their feedback and show that you are listening to it.
Nobody likes to be told how to do their job, especially if they’re experienced professionals. If faculty feel like you’re dictating changes without asking for their input and expertise you may struggle to get buy-in. Take the time to ask for feedback and listen to questions and objections. Try to answer as many of these as possible. If you have time, set up brainstorming sessions or open forums where faculty can voice their concerns and come up with solutions on their own. You’ll likely end up with a better initiative and rollout plan than the one you started with.
Remember that 100% buy-in may be impossible. Strive to make sure everyone hears the communication and gets to weigh in, but don’t expect full commitment from every faculty member. Some need to see an idea in practice before they accept it, others may never be comfortable with it no matter how well you explain the benefits.
Best practices for building faculty buy-in
Whether you’re introducing a new program, opening a new location, or adopting a new technology, the best practices for building faculty buy-in are the same.
- Don’t assume you know how faculty members will react to a change. Most importantly, don’t assume that the value or the reasoning behind an initiative is obvious. Faculty have a different perspective on the institution and may not share your clear vision of why an initiative is a no-brainer.
- Listen to their concerns and recommendations. Although it might seem faster and easier to just announce your initiative and expect all faculty to adopt it as part of their job, the results of this dictatorial approach are generally negative. Instead, create opportunities for faculty to share their thoughts and concerns with you. This can be accomplished through meetings, brainstorming sessions or surveys. Encourage faculty to email or call in their concerns so you can address them in a systematic way. Then, use their feedback to improve your initiative.
- Have Data that supports your goal and project plan. Faculty members want the best outcome possible for their students. If you have data that proves this initiative will effect a positive student outcome, faculty are more likely to get on board. You may also look for data on ease of adoption, improved efficiency, or other factors that may concern faculty members. Try to find both empirical data and anecdotal information about how similar initiatives work.
- Acknowledge objections and accept that they may be legitimate. Some administrators fear that acknowledging objections to their plans will make those objections more powerful. In fact, an ignored objection is much more powerful than one that is acknowledged. Show faculty that you’ve heard their concerns and that you have a solution for addressing them. If no solution exists, simply acknowledging the concerns can go a long way toward easing everyone’s mind.
If you’ve provided all of your plans and data but are still struggling to get faculty buy-in, it might be time to take a second look at your initiative. Is this really the best solution? Have you taken all of the faculty concerns and objectives into account? Might there be something else you can do that would be easier, more effective, or less costly? Faculty are experienced professionals. When presented with the facts, they should be able to tell you what works and what doesn’t in their classes, labs and lecture halls.
Market research is one powerful way to gather data that can help you get faculty buy-in. Education Dynamics and our partners at Aslanian Market Research have the expertise you need to gauge market demand and assess program feasibility.