Goodwill of North Georgia's 10 Steps to Create Research Buy-In

Author: Goodwill of North Georgia

As we celebrate the 10-year anniversary of LEO, we are sharing a special "how to" series guest-authored by some of our awesome provider partners. First up is our friends at Goodwill of North Georgia. We know from experience how critical creating and maintaining organizational buy-in for conducting research is to the success or failure of a project. Who better to learn from than those with real world experience?

About Goodwill of North Georgia:

Goodwill of North Georgia (GNG) is a 97-year-old non-profit social enterprise covering 45 counties of the Metro Atlanta, suburban, and rural Appalachian foothills of the State. Our mission is to put people to work. Now the largest Goodwill in North America from a mission standpoint (as measured by the number of people entering employment), we have gone from 16% of the people we serve entering employment into living wage jobs to 79% (using MIT living wage calculator for Georgia as the benchmark) in the last five years. We are also the largest for the number of people of color employed. In the most recent fiscal year ending June 30, 2022, we placed 16,640 people including: people with disabilities, people experiencing homelessness, opportunity youth, justice-involved youth, returning citizens, veterans, people receiving public benefits, families who have experienced generational poverty, along with dislocated workers and people who are underemployed. In addition, our board of directors and CEO are majority people of color.

Our study with LEO is to understand the impact of GNG’s workforce development with emphasis on women and people of color in non-traditional occupations— those fields where either or both of those two groups represent less than 20% of the occupation. Read more about our study here.

Why creating buy-in matters:

It is critical to use proven change management techniques whenever you are introducing a change to the way things operate when people must learn new things, become accustomed to a new process or policy, and transition to a new way of doing their day-to-day job. Otherwise, not only can the research project fail, but the systems and structures around it and within our businesses can collapse or experience reduced efficiency, effectiveness, or impact. This is the direct opposite of what you want to happen when you are attempting to study that very thing. 

A global 2013 Strategy& / Katzenbach Center Study revealed that 65 percent of employees were overwhelmed by the number of changes undertaken at one time within their respective companies, and 44 percent did not understand the details of the changes they needed to make. Along with those statistics, 33 percent did not even agree with the changes they were prepared to undertake.

Below is a high-level outline of the steps we follow in the change management process, with a deeper dive into three of them: Culture, Coalition Building, and Accountability.

10 steps for creating and maintaining research buy-in:


  1. Lead with culture. Our culture is People First, Mission Always. Tying everything we do back to this helps people on the team who are aligned with the culture and gives them both reassurance they belong, matter, and know the North Star. To align research and third-party evaluation to our culture we talk about how important it is that we setup the people we serve for success—so many have experienced multiple failures in their lives and we want to be sure that we are not contributing to that. Our people, our team members are attracted to our organization because they want to help people and make a positive impact in their lives. When we can demonstrate that the work they do and the interventions they provide are proven to be successful, it validates their work.

  2. Articulate the Why. We articulate the problem, our solution, and why research is important.

  3. Executive support. #1 and #2 on this list are delivered directly by the department head.

  4. Involve every layer for coalition building. People don’t tear down things they have helped build. Don’t just go for buy-in, create build-in. Identify a group of influencers from all levels within the organization to work on the project design and process. Select a mixture of people, those that are high performers, well regarded among their peers and tenured. Also select the nay-sayers, the ones who may be prone to complaint, gossip, or negativity. If you get their support in the building process, they will be prone to defend rather than tear-down later during implementation. Finally, and most importantly, include representatives from the people you serve. We are fortunate in that we hire people who are graduates of our programs. They have the incredibly important perspective of having experienced what it is like to go from survival to stability to success through the interventions we provide. This demonstrates our commitment to the tenant of “Nothing About Us Without Us.”

  5. Clear instructions. Think about every type of team member impacted and help them know the exact answer to “What do I have to do?”

  6. Communicate. Provide transparent communication and training prior to and during the project.

  7. Listen. Create intentional space for questions and concerns.

  8. Accountability. Our organization operates within a system of management-by-objectives for our teams whereby their personal success (merit increases, incentive plans) is based upon the success of the people we serve. 80% of our annual performance evaluations are tied directly to activities and outcomes that are 80% within each team member’s span of control. Critical success factors are established at the beginning of the year, and at the start of each project. Monthly and quarterly progress is compared to the goals, so every person knows where they stand and where to make adjustments or switch tactics to meet their objectives. 

  9. Support and gratitude. A regular cadence of showing appreciation and providing intentional, ongoing support

  10. Evaluation & Assessment. Just like research itself, establish the criteria by which the project will be evaluated, conduct regular assessment during and after, learn from it and adjust.


To learn more about Goodwill of North Georgia, click here.

To learn more about LEO's partnership process, click here.