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It’s funny how hot topics ebb and flow in this work; buzz words, phrases, and questions will emerge and everyone is talking about them. And then they fade for a bit. They never really go away, they just move to the back burner.

For us, the topics of grit and accountability have stayed hot the past year. However, the newest inquiry has been “how do we get buy-in?”  Whether I am speaking to an AD, coach or athlete, they’re  generally referring to a cultural buy-in, though few, if any, will know or use that language.  All they know is that they have bought in or created a way of life, a way of doing things that they believe works best and benefits their teams or departments and they want everyone to know about it, feel it and get on the bus!  So the question really is:

Q: How do we, as leaders, get people to buy-in to our core values and culture?

A: Enlist them early and often to be stakeholders.

When we say stakeholders, we’re referring to those who are fully invested in your program’s success. These stakeholders could be coaches, athletes, alumni, the university or employees, just to name a few. Who in your program feels like a stakeholder? These people need to feel that their voices are important and that their values matter and are aligned with the program. Enlisting stakeholders is an intentional part of culture building.

In order to truly have people invested and achieve buy-in, you as a leader need to do a little self-check and ask yourself honestly, “Do I really value and want input? Does it matter to me that all members of my team or organization have a voice? Do I desire a collaborative process?” My hope is that at this point you have begun to buy-in to the benefits of creating stakeholders in your programs.  And, you might be also thinking, “I still don’t know how to do it.  What does it actually look like?”





During pre-season, if not before, bring your entire team/program together.  Be transparent. State your desire to create an intentional culture of stakeholders, those who truly have a voice, a sense of ownership, and a real seat at the table. Have a discussion and elicit feedback about what matters to you as a team/program, i.e. your core values. Wrestle with it together. Ask the hard questions. Come to a concensus on your top 3-5 core values.  If you already have established core values that didn’t emerge from a collaborative process, put them on the table and define, refine and add/delete as necessary.  At the end of this process you will have your mutually agreed upon core values. Folks now have skin in the game. It is their team.  You now have your stakeholders.


Once you have reached consensus on your core values, give voice and identity to them. Talk about them and decide what they look like in the context of your team.  There are many ways to do this.  One simple way to start is to come up with key phrases or common vocabulary that reflect these values. Maybe when referring to what matters, you say “this is how we roll.”  Common language is not only a binding technique, making the values stick, but it is also a bonding technique.  This is the way WE do things.


Establishing core values is at the center of intentional culture creation, but it isn’t enough just to state them and sit back and wait.  Meet with your program at regularly scheduled times, especially early on to revisit your core values, reshape them if necessary and remind each other about why they matter to you. Just like any other skill, it requires repetition to master, so does the skill of building culture.


In conclusion…collaboration and ownership are essential ingredients for creating stakeholders, and a culture of stakeholders is a worthwhile investment. I can almost guarantee it will yield positive returns for years to come.


Keep Strivin’ For An Intentional Culture,

-Pam Herath

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