Why you need stakeholder buy-in (and how to get it)

Why you need stakeholder buy-in (and how to get it)

You’ve got a job to do, and if you have any sense of pride in your work, you want to do it right.

But even if you’re an expert in what you do, there’s almost always going to be pushback from stakeholders. And, since they can affect whether your project moves forward smoothly, you need to keep them happy. Unfortunately, with many cooks in the kitchen and differing opinions, keeping all stakeholders happy and on the same page is easier said than done.

So, what’s the best way to keep your stakeholders happy and engaged? A little thing we call “buy-in.”

Read on to discover all the tips and tricks we’ve used (and seen success with) to get stakeholder buy-in on your goals and projects.

Meme of Fry from Futurama holding money, text reads "Shut up and take my money"

Who can be a stakeholder?

Before we get started, let’s clear some things up. Who exactly are stakeholders anyway? 

Usually, stakeholders involve a group of seemingly random people from different teams you’ve never interacted with—anyone from the CEO or founder to a middle manager and even a junior member of the team. Basically, if they’re impacted by—and have a say in—the project, they’re a stakeholder.

Don’t just assume that because someone doesn’t have a high-ranking title, they’re not a stakeholder that you have to keep happy. 

We’ll get into your specific stakeholders momentarily. 

A purple number 8

8 steps for creating and strengthening stakeholder buy-in:

For now, we’ll explore eight ways to get that all-important stakeholder buy-in we’ve been talking about. 

Not only have we tested and tweaked each one, we’ve also focused on making this process efficient, actionable, and simple. These steps are in chronological order, but as you’ll see, they’re all connected and work together

(And if you ever feel lost or overwhelmed along the way, we’ve also got some examples of small steps you can take to get this process started.) 

1. Know your stakeholders

So we’ve covered what stakeholders are in general. But who are your stakeholders? Do some homework to identify the people, teams, resources, etc. that will be affected or involved in some way by your project. You can try “stakeholder mapping” to get a sense of each stakeholder and the impact (and input) they might have on your project.

In all, it’s important to set clear expectations for communication between stakeholders and yourself or your team. That means having a designated point of contact that can communicate goals, iterations, final feedback, and dates between teams.

2. Find out what your stakeholders want 

If you skip this step, it’s pretty much guaranteed that you’ll waste time barking up the wrong tree at some point in your career. This is the real key to getting, building, and keeping buy-in. You might have to do a little leg work to figure this part out. 

Stakeholders are individuals, and each one’s motivations can vary—even if they’re in the same company, and even within the same team! Here are some common motivators:

  • Profit
  • Maintaining or working toward a healthy work/life balance
  • Sustainable, environmentally friendly practices and products
  • Career growth
A cartoon hand holding a mixed-emotion emoji and a question mark

3. Find out how much your stakeholders care

If you’re starting this process with a group of stakeholders who are already motivated, excited, and engaged, congratulations! You’ll have an easier time getting and keeping buy-in. You don’t have to do all the homework of identifying and engaging with your stakeholders since they’re already on board. But don’t slack off or let your stakeholders fall off your radar. You can still lose that buy-in and blow the chance you had.

On the other hand, you might find yourself in situations where you’re starting from ground zero: you have no idea who the stakeholders are, what they actually want, and they don’t either.

If this is the case, don’t despair! You’ll have to do more work to get things started, but you’ll still be able to build a solid base and sell them on your project using the other steps.

4. Track and measure your progress

It’s like any kind of project: if you don’t see progress, you’ll get discouraged. 

New exercise routine not getting you the underwear-model body you were promised? You’re more likely to let that expensive gym pass wither away if your expectations aren’t being met. But what if you focus on the small improvements? Like, you can run farther, lift heavier weights, and use the stairs without getting winded? That progress, even if it’s not as obvious as the abs and rippling muscles, is what will keep you going. And, progress is addicting. It’s momentum.

It’s like that with these kinds of projects. It’s great to have your BHAGs (big, hairy, audacious goals), but if you don’t have measurable benchmarks that let you know you’re on the right track, it’s easy to feel disconnected from the process. And that’s stuff that can hurt buy-in. 

So, how do you keep everyone involved and motivated? 

Set goals that are measurable and attainable, with a clear timeline. For example: “By this date, we'll have accomplished this benchmark.” Communicate those goals and when they’re achieved—over-communicate if you have to. Schedule meetings to keep everyone on track and accountable.

5. Don’t be afraid to tell the truth

Yes, you want to keep your stakeholders happy. But no one wants false assurances.

You want to make sure you’re working within a culture of trust, especially if you expect stakeholders to have buy-in and believe in what you’re doing.

Be transparent about any issues you’re running into. Remember that note earlier about setting goals that are measurable, achievable, with a clear timeline? This is where those come in handy. You need your stakeholders to trust you, and honesty really is the best policy to get that trust.

A stack of rectangles, the top three of which are yet to be aligned with the rest

6. Consistency is your best friend

You’ve done all this work to get your stakeholders involved and happy. They know what you’re doing, you know what they’re doing, and you’re all working together to get the results you want. 

Dandy. 

Now, here’s the hard work: be consistent. 

Consistency doesn’t mean you have to be perfect all the time. Checking in regularly, doing what you say you’re going to do, following up—these tasks are relatively easy to do and keep your stakeholders informed. Whether something is going super-smoothly or an unforeseen obstacle pops up, don’t let all your hard work go to waste by not living up to what you promised. 

And expect consistency from your stakeholders too! This is a two-way street—don’t be afraid to hold them accountable. 

7. Reaffirm your goals

Remember how important it is to figure out your stakeholders’ motivations? You need to set goals that speak to their motivations. Once you’ve started the project, you have to reaffirm those goals so that they know: 

  • a) you’re doing what you set out to do and have a clear vision of how to get there, and 
  • b) you’re still doing what they want you to do

This is also part of staying consistent! See how all of these steps are coming together?

A 3D panda completes a puzzle

8. Appreciate your stakeholders 

You’ve committed to the journey of stakeholder buy-in. Your project is done. Now, make sure you celebrate your successes. Send out an email and thank everyone for their contributions. Be specific if you want to make your stakeholders feel appreciated.

NOT: “Hey, great job everyone…”

Ideally, hold a post-mortem meeting and go over the positive outcomes (and learnings for the future) resulting from this project.

This will help your stakeholders feel good about the project once it’s done—and keep them interested in other future projects you might want them to invest in. 

Next time around, working with them may go even more smoothly!

Wrapping it up

Okay, we’re almost at the end. Let’s do a quick recap of what we covered:

  • Stakeholders include anyone involved or affected by your project.
  • You want their buy-in so that your project will run smoothly and generate the results everyone wants.
  • To create and maintain buy-in, you have to know your stakeholders and what motivates them, have structures in place to support you in reaching your goals, be honest and consistent, stay true to your mission and vision, and celebrate your successes.

Are there other steps we may have missed that are essential for stakeholder buy-in? How do you wrangle your stakeholders into your projects?

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