Winning Buy-In for a Better Year

With a focus on impact now, we’ll conclude this new school year with a real sense of accomplishment.

Sep 12, 2023  |  By Jeff Shields, FASAE, CAE

Jeffrey Shields, FASAE, CAE
NBOA President and CEO

The start of a new school year is often accompanied by new projects, goals or initiatives that will make our schools better for our students, families, faculty and staff. Considering a few initiatives that will have a significant impact is, for most, much more professionally gratifying than confronting a laundry list of to-do items. And if you’re looking for buy-in from a supervisor, colleagues or the administrative team, efforts with the greatest impact are the ones most likely to win it. When you have limited time, as we all do, focusing on high-impact opportunities can truly make a difference in our work lives and our school’s outcomes.

A recent article in Forbes caught my eye because it offered concrete ways to do just that. “ 5 Tips to Get Leadership Buy-In for HR Initiatives” by Steve Sonnenberg offers advice that is valuable to not only our HR colleagues but any administrative professional focused on a new, impactful goal this year.

Before I share Sonnenberg’s advice, I would encourage you to consider identifying an initiative that you are truly passionate about. If you are a tenured staff member, a change that you believe is necessary, which you have thought about for some time, will likely surface. Conversely, if you are relatively new to the school, you have a fresh eye and may see an area of improvement where others may not. Personally speaking, as an organizational leader, when a staff member comes to me with an idea that they truly believe in, it immediately gets my attention and likely my support to move it forward.

So, once you identify a project that ignites a fire in your belly, consider Sonnenberg’s advice:

Define the end result. Too often we jump into the process of an initiative (yes, we do!) rather than conveying the impact we seek to have or the urgency of the problem we are trying to resolve. Focus first on the “what” and then on the “how.”

Assemble a team of champions. Given the leanness of administration at independent schools, settle for one or two other champions that see what you see. Pitch them your initiative and see how they respond. Focus on the words and statements that will elicit their most favorable response and remember those as your talking points when you prepare to speak with decision-makers and other school leaders.

Create a project proposal. A project proposal need not be as extensive as Sonnenberg suggests in his article, but his concept is on target for an independent school. Compose a bulleted list that includes the initiative’s background (existing problem, desired solution), anticipated results and benefits, and timeline. You will need this later as you implement the plan, and developing it upfront demonstrates that you’ve thought the proposal through.

Emphasize the ROI. Sonnenberg describes ROI as the bedrock of any initiative. It clearly spells out for others why it’s worthy of the organization’s investment. Faster, better and/or cheaper are all ways others will understand why this effort is worth time and financial resources.

Keep an open mind. Remember, as you present your idea or goal, people will raise legitimate questions. Don’t let that derail you or deflate your willingness to get the job done. Questions indicate engagement by others — not doubt. Listen and consider without getting defensive or disheartened.

I was struck by how simple and concrete these concepts are for bringing others on board to accomplish important new work on behalf of our schools. In the early days of the new school year, it’s important to remember that high-impact efforts will be the most satisfying and contribute the most to our learning communities over the next nine months. I would encourage you to dream big and also work carefully to earn buy-in so you can get the job done. When that happens, you’ll be wrapping up the school year before we know it with a sense of professional pride, not to mention better outcomes for your school.

Jeff Shields signature


Jeff Shields

Jeffrey Shields, FASAE, CAE

President and CEO


Washington, DC

Jeff Shields, FASAE, CAE, has served as president and CEO of the NBOA since March 2010. NBOA is the premier national association serving the needs of business officers and business operations staff at independent schools. Shields, an active member of the American Society of Association Executives, has been recognized as an ASAE Fellow (FASAE) and earned the Certified Association Executive (CAE) professional designation. His current board service includes serving as a director for AMHIC, a healthcare consortium for educational associations in Washington, DC, as well as a trustee for the Enrollment Management Association. Previous board service includes serving as a director for the American Society of Association Executives, as a director for One Schoolhouse, an innovative online school offering supplemental education to independent schools, and as a trustee for Georgetown Day School in Washington, DC. Shields holds a BA from Shippensburg University and an MA from The Ohio State University.

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