How To Get Buy-In For New Design Tools

Lately, I've seen a lot of questions about how to implement a solution, whether that's a tool or a process or a methodology. It pretty much follows this formula:

How can I get buy-in for [doing X]?

This may apply to executives, stakeholders, or even teammates. Frankly, it doesn't matter if the person or people you are trying to get to use or do something new or approve a project doesn't understand why. And so, before anything else, you need to create a vision, listen and empathize, and do some education. You need to change the mindset first.

Create a vision

We are in a period of transition. From classic or traditional marketing and communications to digital. This is a huge disruption. With three generations in the workforce, only one of which is native to digital, it is a slow process. It requires no small effort to make digital transformation happen. It's not just the tools used to do work, it's a cultural shift – within organizations as well as for customers.

Because digital transformation is really change management (or "change leadership"), it is essential for someone to create a vision of the future. Resistance is often the result of a lack of clarity. When the vision is defined, much of the ambiguity is removed. Maybe you are the person with the vision. Share it. Get people excited about the outcome. If they are excited about what's on the other side of the work, they are more likely to accept it and push through the steepness of the initial learning curve.

If you are one of the people asking "how do I get X to do Z?" Ask yourself if X knows why they need to learn how to do Z. If the answer is "no," take a step back and lay the groundwork first.


Understand that change can be threatening. Have empathy for the people your work is disrupting. Take a moment to understand how this change is scary and threatening and disruptive. What could make it less so? Some things I've seen work:

  • Provide different levels of training based on need to know. An author doesn't need the same level of training as a content manager on the communication team. Don't burden someone with too much information if it doesn't apply to them.
  • Have coffee with those who are more reluctant. Developing relationships can be the key to success. Listen to others about what scares them. Yes, kind of like a therapist.
  • Document how things will work. There are different ways of learning, and we all have trouble remembering things. Putting new procedures or processes (aka governance) in writing (using plain language, of course!) in an accessible location will give people a crutch to fall back on when they need a reminder.

Education before training

Nearly every implementation plan includes "training in new system." Learning how to use a new system (training) is not the same as learning how to do things differently (education). Let me give an example.

I've been an evangelist for structured content for many years now. Never once have I started with "how to use the CMS" as a way to get adoption for this new way of thinking about content.

Beyond the vision, education starts at the beginning: Why we need to approach content differently. Show how thinking about resources instead of web pages creates more efficiency and effectiveness. From there, you have to develop a workflow that works across departments so there is no duplication of content or effort. Then you can give them training on the tools they'll use to create content in a way that matches the end structure. For me this is either Gather Content or a Word/Google Doc template. Now the CMS training is an hour session that makes sense to everyone and is focused on what they need to do to publish their content. (See above, "provide different levels of training.")

Slow down and take a step back

The bottom line is that when introducing something new, we need to slow down, not fail fast. This approach in itself can take education to get the time needed to implement your new way of doing things.

If you are having a hard time getting stakeholders to understand content modeling, push back on the new CMS with fancy structured content and semantic relationships, or reluctance to adopt a new technology, take a step back and figure out why that is happening. Did you warm them up to the new thing or did you spring it on them?

Get others involved as early as possible. This will oil the gears and allow the big things to happen with less resistance. And the machinery will last longer.