How to enroll middle managers in your transformation

At one point in my corporate career, I was a middle manager responsible for large teams. I was heads down executing the day-to-day work of the organization. There were substantial changes looming around me, and I had an idea that at some point, these would impact me, but I didn’t have the time to think about all this and keep the day-to-day operations moving forward.

I’ve noticed this condition in my consulting career. We sometimes do not pay enough attention to the needs of middle managers when organizations go through a major transformation. There is both a challenge and opportunity here.

The challenge is that, like me in my corporate career, middle managers tend to be so focused on running the day-to-day business that they don’t have time to think about the implications of transformation on their area. The opportunity is that when properly enrolled in driving the transformation, they are instrumental to long-term sustainability.

How do we enroll middle managers, and do we do it in a way that makes sense? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Assign them to lead business readiness teams. One effective way of enrolling front line employees is to assign them to teams which lead the implementation of the transformation in a given area of the business. These teams need leaders. Who better than middle managers associated with a function within the organization.
  2. Ask them to develop new metrics. Every transformation in which I have been involved has required new business measures to monitor performance. Once middle managers understand the nature of the transformation, they are among those most likely to be able to define relevant new measures.
  3. Have them rationalize process improvements. Because they are on the front-line, middle managers are well equipped to validate, adjust, or even discard proposed process improvements.
  4. Culture monitors. Gather their input on how they see the transformation will impact the culture; they have probably the best handle on how the transformation will impact the folks on the front line, how they interact with one another, and implications for the broader organization.

These are a few ways you can enroll middle managers in your transformation. The bottom line – this is not optional for long term, sustainable success.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,



Resistance is not only good, it’s necessary

In one engagement early in my consulting career I was asked to help a large community college through a large-scale transformation. It would impact 30,000 students, 2000 faculty, and nearly all the college’s administrative staff.

When I came on board it was immediately obvious that the faculty’s involvement would be required to make this transformation successful. Further, the faculty was unionized and resistant to this project. I learned there had been long – standing challenges between the college and the union. College leaders and I discussed how to win them over. We decided to attend one of their meetings, present the benefits of the transformation, and begin to enroll them in the transformation.

We met the resistance first hand. They expressed several concerns. One issue they highlighted was lack of day-to-day support for them to go through the transformation. It was necessary, and something the project team missed on the project plan.

The faculty union leaders became legitimizers – a term I prefer over resisters. Because they made the transformation legitimate for their peers. Many of the issues they surfaced were valid and we needed to work through them. This had not been effectively done in previous projects.

Over time we partnered. Together we addressed their issues. Eventually we established faculty teams to guide the implementation. Faculty members gladly joined these teams at the encouragement of the union leadership. Interestingly, the faculty implementation was one of the most successful elements of the transformation.

The turning point, simply, was that they wanted to be heard, and wanted to be sure they had a voice.

Call to action:

  • Ask yourself, who are the resisters to the transformation?
  • Seek them out with an open mind. Learn what they have to say.
  • You’ll be able to quickly separate complainers from legitimizers.
  • Incorporate legitimizer’s feedback into your transformation.
  • Enroll the legitimizers to help drive the implementation and sustainability.
  • Celebrate successes with them. Unsparingly give credit.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,



How to make your project successful

10 tips to ensure a successful project:

  1. Communicate a clear purpose for the project, stated in terms of outcomes.
  2. Identify a project sponsor who manages risk and communicates.
  3. Know who is impacted, the degree of the impact, and the benefits and risks to each group or person.
  4. Have a risk mitigation plan.
  5. Generate excitement and enthusiasm.
  6. Engage those impacted.
  7. Start these first six steps immediately.
  8. Define and communicate job changes.
  9. Receive feedback and incorporate it into your plans.
  10. Plan training to transfer new skills to employees.

What would you add to the list? Reply to this email or add it to my blog.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


How a Grape Stomp Illustrated Transformational Leadership

It was May 1975. I accepted a job as the Assistant Winemaker and Cellar Master for Banholzer Winecellars in Rolling Prairie, Indiana. The owner (and my boss) was Carl Banholzer. He had just opened his winery to the public for tours and tastings.

Soon after I joined Carl, he told me about his plan to have an enormous harvest celebration that fall. There would be wine tastings, arts, crafts, music, dancing AND a grape stomp. The grape stomp was for women only. Being the master marketer, Carl advertised this event as “Forty Fabulous Footwomen.”

The Indiana State Health Department (ISHD) heard of his plan and issued an order to stop. They were worried that some of the juice from the stomp would be used in the wine. Never mind that Carl planned to use mediocre quality grapes for the stomp and dump them afterwards. Never mind that even if he did use the juice, the fermentation process would purge any foreign matter. Believe me, I’ve seen a lot worse going into the fermentation tanks than a little toe-jam. Nevertheless, the bureaucrats would have none of it.

Carl, not being one to let an opportunity like this go, leveraged the daylights out of it. He remained true to his purpose – to have an amazing event to celebrate the harvest, give people an enjoyable time, and make a lot of money in the process. The conflict with the health department only fueled his energy. He refused to stop planning the event and negotiated an agreement with the ISHD.

The day came. An official representative of ISHD was present. A huge crowd gathered – I had never seen so many people in a rural setting. Carl asked me to wash down the legs of the Forty Fabulous Footwomen – to symbolize that he was honoring the health department’s concerns for sanitation. The official watched. As the stomp ensued, other workers took the stompings and dumped them into a large 500-gallon tank. At the end of the stomp, the winners were announced. The crowd cheered for the Forty Fabulous Footwomen.

Carl, again the master of seizing opportunities, announced to the huge crowd that the ISHD was there and as a result all the stompings would be poured down the drain. The crowd booed and hissed at the ISHD official. A handful of employees braced themselves against the tank and flipped it over into a large storm drain. The crowd went wild. The ISHC official left, luckily unscathed.

How does this translate to Transformational Leadership?

  • Carl’s purpose and outcomes were clear. He planned a major event to celebrate the harvest and give people an opportunity to enjoy everything his winery and the community had to offer.
  • He enrolled the folks to drive to success faster and with greater buy-in. His team, including me, was fully supportive and had leading roles in the execution of the event. Clearly, he enrolled the audience to have a fun time, even if partially at the expense of the ISHD.
  • He executed and remained true to his purpose despite significant bureaucratic resistance. He was resilient and found ways to profitably navigate through the state’s hierarchy. He was persistent – he would not back down on his intent to have a memorable event.

In the 43 years that have since passed, I have observed time and time again that these three-basic principles are the key ingredients to success. It doesn’t matter if you are leading an organization, or if you are leading a transformation. Your purpose must be clear, you must build relationships, and you must execute resiliently and persistently.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


How Customer Service Reflects Leadership

We recently had an amazing customer service experience. Due to circumstances beyond our control, we were required to have our wood floors repaired and refinished. The company we used was fantastic. Why?

  1. They did what they said they were going to do when they said they were going to do it.
  2. Since we were required to vacate our home during this project, they kept us informed every step of the way, and provided photographs at the end of every day.
  3. They responded immediately to every question we had.
  4. They did two or three little extra things that we asked for without hesitation, and without extra cost.

In short, they did a magnificent job managing the transformation of our floors.

How does this translate to our everyday work as transformational leaders? When you are leading a transformation:

  1. Be sure you are relying on a clear plan that outlines every step of the way. If steps are running off schedule, be sure the organization understands what is happing, the risk, and how you are mitigating it.
  2. Communicate, feedback, communicate, feedback. Have a robust communication plan in place that keeps your organization informed, let’s them know how to obtain more information, and give them a forum to have their questions answered and feedback considered.
  3. Don’t quibble over trivial things. Have a process in place to handle large scope changes, but if a small investment can make a positive difference, just do it.

When you follow these simple suggestions, you’ll be amazed at the difference. You galvanize your leadership team around profitable growth, launch significant buy-in and acceptance, and institutionalize enduring change.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


A Balancing Act: Transformational and Transactional Leaders

This week’s post is provided by my colleague Cedric Brisseau.

I recently re-read Warner Burke’s 1986 article “Leadership as Empowering Others.” In it, Burke discusses Burns distinguishing between two kinds of leadership, and emphasizes that successful organizations need both to excel:

  • Transformational (to provide clear vision and direction)
  • Transactional (to define and manage the steps needed to accomplish the vision)

Thirty plus years later and Burke’s words continue to ring true. The successful organizations that I have worked with have had both. The less successful organizations lacked transformational leadership and had transactional leaders and managers who were task oriented, provided little vision, and focused the bulk of their energy on operational tasks. This created conflict throughout the organizations. Followers were frustrated because of the lack of clarity regarding the organizations vision, direction, and strategic goals and managers felt that they were losing some of their autonomy because they felt like their leaders were taking over.

The successful programs that I have worked for have had strong transformational leaders who:

  1. Inspired their teams by providing them with clear vision, mission, and organizational goals
  2. Made sure that the vision, mission, and organizational goals are central to everything that they and their team members executed
  3. Delegated and empowered their managers and employees to define the steps needed to accomplish the organizational goals – becoming transactional managers

This enabled the transformational leaders to focus their energy towards stakeholder management, resource management, and conflict resolution. This further inspired their teams because they knew leadership could quickly mobilize the right people and resources to mitigate their issues.

Less successful programs had transactional but lacked transformation leadership. This is because organizations:

  1. Assess and promote Individuals based on their ability to execute job tasks
  2. Are full of top performers who have spent their careers perfecting the skillsets needed to become experts at their job tasks
  3. Underinvest in the development of transformational leadership skills

For one program I worked with it was the difference between employees having clarity around the tasks that they needed to complete (e.g., design and build a system), but not the task’s significance (e.g., design and build a system that enabled users to embrace the technology, strengthened the sales organization, and retained high customer service). It sounds like a small nuance, but without a balance between transformational and transactional leadership, the program had a tough time keeping their higher purpose in mind, which resulted in conflict between the program team and user groups; poor user acceptance testing; and ultimately multiple go-live delays.

To increase a program’s chances for success, organizational leaders must:

  1. Recognize that transformational and transactional leadership are interdependent – leaders provide the vision, managers use the vision to direct action – Ensure both are present on a program
  2. Invest in transformational leadership development – Top performers have spent their careers to excel at job tasks, provide them with the tools necessary to become great leaders

Helping your organization through difficult transitions,

Cedric Brisseau


Cedric Brisseau is a Performance Consultant with a background in systems training and talent development. When he is not supporting change management initiatives for a large system implementation, he is hanging out with his wife and daughter, and cooking up a storm in his kitchen. He is currently working on obtaining his master’s degree in Management and Organizational Behavior from Benedictine University. You can reach him at

How “Success Theater” Undermines your Leadership

Recently there was a series of articles in the Wall Street Journal about Jeffery Immelt’s “Success Theater” at General Electric (GE). The point was that GE is now in trouble due in part to their former leader’s whitewashing the facts. At a time when the company was dealing with serious risks, Immelt instead communicated that “All is Well.” Big mistake. As a result, the entire organization and its Board of Directors is being restructured.

How does this happen? When leaders are either too confident and think they can cover up errors in judgment, or lack confidence and try to avoid an inquisition.

What is the impact? Successful leadership requires, among other things, that you build relationships of trust with your employees, including your board of directors. Otherwise you come off as a manager who lacks integrity. Who wants to follow someone like this?

How does this impact transformations you have underway? If you are trying to move your organization through a large-scale transformation, you will face enormous issues aligning your leadership team. Furthermore, you will struggle enrolling your employees to help you galvanize the transformation.

What you can do starting today.

  1. Ask yourself, “Am I fully transparent with my team about the state of our organization and current risks and exposures?” If the answer is no, then take steps today to improve.
    1. Solicit feedback about current operational challenges, and ideas to address them.
    2. Encourage open debate in your team meetings. When someone says something that doesn’t resonate with the rest of the team, acknowledge it. Ask the speaker to provide more information.
    3. If a team member contributes less during meetings, draw them out. Seek their input. Integrate their comments into the dialog.
  2. Communicate the truth broadly.
    1. Don’t sugar coat, but also don’t cry wolf. Be pragmatic about the situation.
    2. Communicate appropriately. Not everyone in the organization needs to hear everything. There are levels of propriety that must be observed. Be sure you know what these are and agree to them as a leadership team, particularly if this is new to you.
    3. As for feedback across the entire organization. There’s no better way to drive a message, particularly a transformational one, than by enrolling your employees to help.
  3. Be clear with your purpose and state outcomes in tangible terms to which employees can relate.
    1. Ditch the vision and mission statements. Talk about purpose. Relate expected outcomes. This is what matters. Too many mission statements end up as wallpaper.
    2. Be sure your team is aligned accordingly. As them to articulate – in your team meetings – what the outcomes mean in each of their functions.
    3. Be resilient when challenges come your way and persist through roadblocks and obstacles. Few things promote your employee’s dedication as much as your own, visible dedication.

Can you avoid a meltdown like GE? Absolutely. Just don’t become to comfortable with your leadership and take the points above under thoughtful consideration.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


The ULTIMATE Transformation Leadership in Action on the Streets Everyday

I’ve been accused of not being a very emotional guy. Today is different. I’ve thought about this blog post for some time. Every time I do, tears well up in my eyes.

The overall crime rate in Chicago is 35% higher than the national average. While down in 2017, Chicago’s murder rate soared 72% in 2016; shootings were up more than 88% (Source: Chicago Police Department). Our gang violence and murder problem are regularly featured on the national and international news. And I live on the South Side – near the thick of the action.

Every year, I do one pro-bono project for a not-for-profit. This year, I am working with BUILD Chicago – see During my work with BUILD, I met Niky (fictitious name). Niky’s job? He’s out on the streets every day. He stops kids from injuring or worse killing each other. Right there. In the street. Stopping bullets.

There are dozens of local, state and federal programs that are trying to address this problem. None are anywhere near as effective as Niky. He is, in my opinion, the epitome of transformational change. He stops these kids from harming each other. He puts his life on the line. He shows them another way. He is the intervention. His purpose is clear, and his outcomes are real. He changes lives one soul at a time.

Most of us reading this blog are sitting in the temperature-controlled comfort of our homes or offices. We are shielded from the danger that exists on our streets. Most of us really have no idea what’s going on out there. I have not been on the front line either, but I have met and spoken at length with Niky and his peers. I am awestruck and humbled by the work these people do everyday to help improve lives.

Are you struggling with your transformational change? If you are, think about Niky. Think about how he puts himself at risk every day. Think about his resolute commitment to purpose. Think about how he must engage with these kids. Think about how he helps redeem them. Niky is a real leader. A REAL leader. This is real change. REAL change. The streets of one of the greatest cities in the world are better off for him, and his organization – BUILD Chicago.


Humbly dedicated to your profitable (and safe) transformation,


How strong organization drives greater value from your change program

Recently my daughter sent me this photo of my granddaughter, Freya, busily organizing Lego blocks. Not bad for 2 ½ years, eh? When she’s a little older, I want her to manage a transformational change project.

Executing your transformation swiftly means that you gain more value faster. This requires razor sharp execution founded on a solid organizational structure. I’ve seen plenty of change in my career, and those that move the fastest, have the greatest chance for success and drive the greatest value share a few common features.

Build a dream team of the best people to complete the job:

  1. You – the senior sponsor of the change – are chair of the transformation project steering committee. DO NOT delegate this to another executive. If it is important enough to spend your money, it’s even more important to spend your time.
  2. The steering committee includes functional leaders (functional VPs) whose teams are impacted by the change.
  3. A Transformation Management Office leader (TMO) who sits on your TMO and is your co-chair. This person ensures the day-to-day project plan is executed. They have a team of functional/operational business leads. These individuals typically report to the functional VPs mentioned above.
  4. A Change Management Office leader (CMO) who is responsible to ensure that all the behavioral elements of the change project are addressed. They do this by implementing stakeholder management interventions and organizational risks are mitigated.
  5. Representation by key constituent groups. I call this a Change Agent Network. These are front line employees charged with implementation.

Implement structures to accelerate elements of the transformation.

  1. Establish a process and a regular cadence to receive status, and update and mitigate risks and issues.
  2. Put simple tools in place for the team visually report stats and end the bureaucratic and useless weekly status reporting. Nobody reads those status reports anyway.
  3. In every project meeting, actively use risk and issues charts to update, mitigate risks and resolve issues before the cause too much trouble for the project.

Adopt a behavior manifesto, first for you, then for your team, then for the project.

  1. Encourage the discipline to persist. In the face of insurmountable odds, it might be easy to throw in the towel. Don’t give up. Persist. Of course, some projects may require your wise judgment to determine whether to continue.
  2. Develop resilience that you draw upon during times of trial. Look, nobody ever said change was easy, and sometimes navigating through issues is hard. Adapt. Be resilient.
  3. Rely on your best people. I have seen leaders put B players on important projects because “they don’t know what else to do with them.” Resist the temptation. Put A players on your critical change projects.

Seems simple enough, right? You’d be surprised to hear how many projects in which I’ve been involved still struggle with many of these. Yet most of this boils down to common sense.

What other features do you think are important? Please share them by commenting on my blog.

Call to action: Ask yourself, does your transformation project include these elements? If not, resolve today to significantly improve the probably of success and achieving – if not exceeding – the value you set out to achieve.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


Is Change Management a Waste of Time?

The Project Management Institute (PMI) reports that firms who effectively use change management perform the following things better than their minimally effective counterparts:
• They are 7 times more likely to detect change in the external environment.
• They are 3 times more likely to leverage significant changes.
• They are 5 times more likely to establish change management beyond major projects – mostly to help achieve changes in culture.
• They are 5 times more likely to work across functions.

These firms have a 50% better chance of projects being on-time, on-budget or on-spec and have an 80% better chance of meeting or exceeding ROI goals. In other words, they are successful in driving greater value from any change or transformation project.

My Activate workshop is a quick way for you and your leadership team to effectively prepare for your next large-scale change. At minimum, you will
• Realize and exceed profitability expectations,
• Ensure overwhelming success. ​
• Drive rapid decision-making.
• Galvanize your leadership team around profitable growth
• Launch significant buy-in and acceptance.
​• Institutionalize enduring change.

Contact me today to learn how you can realize greater benefits from your next change or transformation project.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,