Anyone who knows me knows I am a big fan of Southwest Airlines. One of the reasons I chose to live in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood was to be near Midway Airport, Southwest’s largest airport in terms of number of flights per day.
On January 3, 2019, Herb Kelleher, Southwest’s founder and first CEO passed away. When I say Herb was great, the results of his leadership speak for themselves:
• 2018 was the 24th year Southwest appeared on FORTUNE Magazine’s Most Admired Companies list and was the only commercial airline among the Top 10.
• Southwest is the only domestic airline with a decades-long history of returning capital to Shareholders.
• Southwest is the only domestic airline with 46 consecutive years of profitability.
• Southwest has been #1 in the DOT Consumer Satisfaction Ranking for 23 of the last 27 years.
You don’t maintain these kinds of metrics in the airline industry unless you are transformational.
This week, I had the opportunity to be on a Southwest flight. In their in-flight magazine, there was a long article giving tribute to Herb Kelleher. No summary that I could provide would do this article justice. I’ve included a link to the article and recommend you read it. You’ll understand why I consider him great, and why Southwest Airlines has been so successful almost from the beginning.
Two weeks ago, I described how your culture can predict your transformation success, and broke culture into two components – behavioral and structural. Last week we looked closely at behavior. Today we’ll take a closer look at structure.
The Structure Trifecta shown above separates the Leader’s focus from the leadership team’s network requirements and employees formal and informal structures. When all three parties implement structure according to their role, the probability of your transformation’s success goes way up. Here is a summary of the structures I look for in each of the groups:
Senior Leader’s Team
– Creates leadership team structure to address key components of the transformation.
– Installs governance structures to drive the transformation.
– Develops and drives an executive agenda.
– Staffs weaknesses.
– Illuminates and addresses up and downstream process interdependencies.
– Drives clarity of process for their respective areas.
– Ensures cross functional behaviors are in place to support the transformation.
– Organize to prepare for the transformation cross functionally. Change Action Networks are a great way to do this at the operational level.
– Support leader’s efforts to drive clarity across functions- process and behaviors.
– Actively participate to prepare their function for the transformation.
Each of the three components of the organization are strictly accountable for their portion of the structure. For your transformation to be successful, each of these must be defined and work together to achieve the ultimate outcomes.
Here are the signs to look out for if you only have two of the three:
Poor Engagement: If you have not sponsored or facilitated formal or informal cross functional employee teams, such as a change action network, employees will engage at different levels of commitment and their focus will be internal to their function – an undesirable trait for transformation.
Cross-Functional Dysfunction: Up and down stream impacts are at best unclear, and at worst ignored. Leaders lack clarity on how they must support one another, which leads to further confusion at lower levels of the organization.
Unaccountable: Without the proper leadership team structure and transformation governance, employees in the organization will have mixed to little accountability for results.
Implementing and sustaining proper structures during your transformation is critical to your success. When the leadership team is clear on their roles, how they support each other, and employees can engage across the organization, you can drive greater focus to your transformation and yield much greater bottom line value.
Last week I described how your culture can predict your transformation success, and broke culture into two components – behavioral and structural. Today we’ll take a closer look at behavior.
The Behavior Trifecta shown above separates leader behavior from that of their leadership team, and that of employees generally. When all three parties exhibit productive behavior for their role, the probability of your transformation’s success goes way up. Here is a summary of the behaviors I look for in each of the groups:
Senior Leader’s Team
– Communicates clear vision or purpose in measurable terms.
– Listens actively (more than talks).
– Coaches individual members of their team.
– Holds their team accountable for results.
– Cultivates an environment of trust and healthy conflict.
– Seeks to understand challenges and opportunities of their team mates.
– Understands that their leader’s team must be successful before their team can be.
– Willing to accept coaching and learn new ways to approach work.
– Frequently (but not always) comes to work early and stays late demonstrating an eagerness to succeed.
– Understand how to work with other people; is emotionally intelligent.
You can argue that all three groups should share all three sets of behaviors. Those listed are critical behaviors for the role.
Here are the signs to look out for if you only have two of the three:
Wrong Team: If you lack productivity from your employees, you likely need to upgrade the staff. Look for the three employee traits outlined above when hiring new team members.
Cross-Functional Dysfunction: Your leadership team doesn’t work well with each other. It may appear so in your team meetings, but how well are they otherwise working together? Look for withholding behavior, destructive conflict, over advocacy or low investment in their own teams as a sign that you might need to act.
Kumbaya: The team appears to lack direction or focus. The path forward is not clear, and employees are not held accountable for results.
Encouraging proper behaviors, particularly during large scale transformation, can be a daunting task. Properly equipped with the right tools, though, you can change your organization and drive greater productivity, yielding much greater bottom line value.
Nowhere does an organization’s culture become obvious than in a large-scale change or a transformation project. Cultural norms that are often unnoticed in a day-to-day operation eventually come to the surface. For example, if your leadership team is not fully aligned to operationalize your mission, this lack of alignment is magnified when you want to transform. This results in delays and confusion. Another example of cultural norms going unnoticed is if your transformation purpose is clear, employees will rally around it to help you drive success. This results in faster adoption by more employees.
There are two major elements of culture: structural and behavioral. Structural contributes to the culture by defining reporting relationships, accountabilities, and informal structures employees create in their work with each other. Behavioral contributes to culture in by defining how well people listen to each other, the amount of trust in the organization, and the ability to maintain healthy conflict, among other things.
In a healthy and aligned culture, employees are energized for success. There is clear purpose. Leaders are aligned. One measure is attrition – undesirable attrition is lower.
Many organizations conduct regular employee engagement surveys, but they are often at a loss on how to improve their situation, particularly when there are both structural and behavioral issues. The graphic above defines how structure and behavior work together and provides guidance on the types of challenges an organization might face. Whether you perform an engagement survey or not, you have a sense of where your organization might be in this matrix. Use this as a tool to think about where your opportunities might be, and the kinds of actions you might take to improve the culture.
Having consulted with many executives in leading their organizations through large transformations, I’ve learned that one of the greatest impediments to success is dealing with cross-functional dysfunction. Here’s a brief video describing how to overcome cross-functional dysfunction.
I’m not a big fan of mission statements because all too often they are filled with flowery language that communicates nothing. I prefer purpose statements that describe outcomes. Lower- level managers rarely develop purpose statements, leaving it to the senior leadership team. Yet clearly articulating the purpose of their organization unifies the team and helps them and their stakeholders hold each other accountable for results. This is true whether you are running a day-to-day operation or going through a major transformation.
One of my client’s accounts payable department did this, which included standards of behavior. I can report to you that this team is great to work with; employees are fully enrolled in the outcomes of the team and pull together to create remarkable results. Impressive.
Here is their purpose statement (adjusted to preserve anonymity), and a few of their behavioral standards. More departments would benefit from these kinds of efforts. As would your entire company.
ACCOUNTS PAYABLE CULTURE CREDO: Working together to process payments in an accurate and timely manner, while providing excellent customer service to the members and staff we support.
As members of the Accounts Payable team, we will:
Come to work each day prepared to use our time productively
Ask for help when needed
Be prompt in our responses to our customers and each other
Treat each other and our customers with dignity and respect (the way we want to be treated ourselves)
Accept that mistakes may occur as long as we learn from them and try not to repeat them
Be willing to listen to each other and try to seek common ground
Acknowledge and respect each other’s viewpoints and ideas and recognize that it is okay to respectfully disagree
A recent Wall Street Journal advertisement by MSNBC proclaims, “This is who we are.” Are you inspired? Does this engage you to turn on the TV and watch their programming? It does neither for me.
When you lead transformations, it’s easy to overlook the importance of summarizing objectives into a single, concise statement. One executive I worked with used the purpose statement, “Every Engagement Counts,” to express his goal that all employees understand the importance of each interaction both inside his transforming organization, and with the organization’s internal and external customers. It worked. Employees rose to the occasion.
Don’t underestimate the power of a single, short sentence or phrase to help focus your employees on your transformational goals. It unifies, provides direction, and can be measurable. With “Every Engagement Counts,” the organization reduced undesirable attrition by more than 50% in a year. Of course, there were other factors that led to this success, but having a simple rallying cry made a big difference.
I spent my teen age years and much of my adult life in Berrien County, Michigan. Berrien County is in the southwest corner of the mitten state and holds a significant place in the agricultural history of the United States.
For decades, the Benton Harbor Fruit Market was the largest market of its kind in the world.
Due to its proximity to Chicago, the county remains a key supplier for the city’s restaurants and grocers.
Berrien County held the record for the greatest number of fruit and vegetable varieties.
Until the late 1960’s, the area had only one or two wineries, and the grapes grown were American varieties such as Concord and Niagara. In 1966, my father, interested in growing grapes to make wine, purchased a 30-acre farm near Baroda in Berrien County. He knew that American varieties were not known for the best wine, so he started educating himself on varieties that would make much better wine. In 1967 we planted our first vines.
One year later, two business men from Chicago purchased a neighboring farm and planted wine grapes in mass. Their venture, Tabor Hill Winery, was clearly a pioneer in Michigan’s infant fine wine industry. In time, Tabor Hill gained recognition for their wines. In 1975, President Gerald R. Ford started serving Tabor Hill wines in the White House. Over the next decade, Tabor Hill continued to drive transformative change in Berrien County’s wine industry.
Today there are nearly about 20 wineries in Berrien County. Ten of these are within four miles of Baroda. In the spring of 2018, Wine Spectator identified the first Berrien County wine in its magazine as a 90-point Cabernet Sauvignon. They have come a long way in 50 years.
Len Olson and Carl Banholzer started their winery in 1968. Len remained an active force in transforming Berrien County’s wine industry for nearly 20 years, and then returned in 2009 to open his last winery, Baroda Founders. Len is a great example of a transformative leader. He found his passion, was convinced there was a better way, and transformed this into his life’s purpose. Today, Berrien County has a thriving wine industry as a result, in part, of his efforts.
Here are eight tips to make sure your next transformation will succeed. Would you add anything to this list?
Clarify purpose. Be sure you are clear on the purpose, and the impact on the employees. Will jobs change? When?
Execute an employee risk management plan to identify and mitigate the risks related to adopting the change.
Plan to be an engaged sponsor of change. Don’t just participate in status meetings. Remember the old phrase MBWA? Do it! Schedule time to meet with impacted front-line employees. Plan communication events to share your purpose and receive feedback.
Generate excitement and enthusiasm for the transformation. This is crucial to motivate those who will ultimately work in the transformed organization.
Engage significantly impacted employees to play important roles in the transformation and help them eagerly drive it among their peers and constituents.
As you approach implementation, make sure employees understand how their jobs will change.
Transfer skills. Design and vet a training plan to transfer skills to the front-line employees. Follow up to ensure employees institutionalize these skills into their day-to-day work.
Change the metrics. What gets measured gets changed. New measures reflect the intent of the change. Put these in employees’ performance objectives. Hold them accountable.
Don’t wait until one week before the change is implemented to implement the first five tips. Start immediately once you know the scope.
Dedicated to your profitable transformation,
One of my consulting engagements was to help an organization go through a significant organizational transformation. This was no small transformation; it was going to impact almost everyone within their organization, and all their customers. Only a handful of office administrators were unaffected by this massive overhaul of their business processes and supporting systems. We had our share of challenges with this transformation given its scale. In the end, with few exceptions, we were successful.
After completing the project, one of the organization’s leaders said to me, “You not only helped prepare our organization for the tremendous transformation we were about to go through, you also helped us – the leadership team – understand how we were not yet ready to lead this change, and what we needed to do to prepare. This led to one of the most successful projects in our history and improved our leadership in the process.”
To help you determine how ready your organization might be for a large-scale transformation, there are two free assessments now available on my web site. One assessment helps you determine the size and scale of the transformation you are considering, the other helps you determine how ready you are to lead a significant transformation. You can find them here.
Once you have completed these, I will provide a free one-hour consultation to help you identify opportunities to leverage your strengths to drive a successful transformation. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.