The Business Case for Transformational Leadership

Check out the feature article in

In today’s competitive business environment, executives are not interested in investing money in company culture unless they are able to see results in terms of tangible business value. Working in the field of transformational leadership and large-scale change, I see plenty of consultants who do magnificent work but struggle with connecting the dots between the work they do and the ultimate value they will add.

Read article here

How sponsors must have access to adequate resources to drive successful change

Last week I introduced the sponsor trifecta. One element of the trifecta is the sponsor has ability to make financial and resource decisions about the project. When they don’t, project delays occur, often losing real money from the bottom line because the project implementation date affects the profitability.  of the project.

One project in which I was involved suffered from this very issue. The sponsor of the project was not able to make financial or resource decisions that affected the project team. I was brought in to help them drive the project toward greater success. One of the first things I did was help them install a new sponsor at the right level who could make resource decisions quickly to keep the project on track.

What are the symptoms of inadequate access to resources?

·         Project delays and postponements. Even the simplest decisions can cause weeks of delay. Things come to a grinding halt while project teams wait for decisions.

·         Employee burn out. When projects languish, employees burn out. There are only so many 90-hour weeks a person can put in, particularly if they are not able to see progress.

·         Inadequate solutions that don’t meet specifications. When it is difficult to obtain appropriate resources, those left to make decisions end up taking shortcuts that short-circuit the value of the project.

How do you know if your sponsor is at the right level in the organization? The litmus test is that the sponsor can make immediate decisions regarding the application of resources whether that be money or people. If they cannot make these decisions rapidly, they are not the right sponsor.

Dedicated to your profitable transition,


Exceptional sponsorship is the key to phenomenal success

The results are in and they haven’t changed. 50% of all projects fail due to people related issues. Most of these failures are a result a lack of visible an active sponsorship.

In my experience, there are three factors that affect a sponsor’s ability to effectively lead a project:
1. Access to resources.
2. Positioned at the right level in the organization.
3. Adequate influence within the organization.

Here’s what happens:

Access to resources. I have experienced more projects with delays and slowdowns because the leader of the project had to seek approval for spending money, hiring resources, or reallocating team resources. These delays led to postponed due dates and loss of morale. Most seriously, these delays led to loss of value because the business case was dependent upon an implementation that didn’t happen when it was supposed to.

Positioned at the right level in the organization. When a leader of a project does not report at the right level, employees are not going to look to him for guidance and direction. I see this as a major issue for many cross-functional projects. These “sponsors” don’t have the authority to make decisions about scope, resources or other factors that impact the ability for the project to proceed. Everyone impacted by the project needs to have some sort of reporting relationship up to the sponsor.

Influence. In addition to not being able to influence resource decisions or other project decisions, a sponsor develops a relationship with the stakeholders impacted by a project. They build trust and confidence in the organization by being visible and candid, speaking openly about the value of the change to both the organization and individual employees. I once knew a leader who managed by fear and then didn’t understand why people wouldn’t change when he wanted them to.

The minimum requirements for an effective sponsor are: they can quickly make resource decisions for the project; they are at the right level to make decisions about scope, resources, and other risks that affect the project; and they have the leadership ability – read “influence” – to build relationships based on trust and integrity.

Over the next three weeks we will discuss each of these elements in more detail. In the meantime, if you are considering appointing a sponsor for a change project in your organization, select them based on these three basic criteria above.

Dedicated to your profitable transition,


How to Apply Lencioni’s Book “The Ideal Team Player” toward more successful change

I recently read “The Ideal Team Player: How to Recognize and Cultivate the Three Essential Virtues,” Patrick Lencioni’s recent book. (Jossey-Bass, April 2016). If you are interested in improving teamwork in your organization, then this is a must read. Like most of his books, Lencioni uses a fable to help convey his points. If you are not into fables, fully one-third of this book provides descriptions of each behavior, how they relate with one another, and tips for practical application.

Lencioni’s focus is on the characteristics of ideal team players. Since I am personally interested in how effective leadership teams drive successful transformational change, I see his formula as a basic ingredient for successful teams and therefore successful results/change. If you don’t have every one of your leadership on board with the change, you won’t be successful.

Spoiler alert: The three characteristics of an ideal team player according to Lencioni are:
1. Humility.
2. Hungry – a willingness to work hard.
3. Smart – about working with people, or as some call it, emotional intelligence.

I believe that many root causes of team dysfunction, and therefore unsuccessful change, are due to team members who struggle with at least one of these.

No model is perfect. The application of this model requires understanding how these characteristics work together, and the dynamic when one or two are lacking. Lencioni further warns us not to underestimate an individual because they are particularly strong in one area; they may be strong enough in all three characteristics.

Call to Action
1. Read the book. It will take you 3.5 hours.
2. Facilitate a meeting with your direct reports to evaluate your managers at level 3 (you are level 1).
3. Build a development plan to strengthen the areas that required improvement. Note, these characteristics can be learned.

Final thought. Long ago, I had an employee on my team who was technically brilliant and worked long hours. He did not, however, exhibit humility or have much in the way of people smarts. His arrogant, condescending and combative nature was enormously disruptive and detrimental to the team and our purpose. After unsuccessful attempts to rehabilitate him, I had to let him go.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,

How to Convert Project Failures into Amazing Success

We all want to be positive, embrace an optimistic future, and focus on possibilities. This is especially true in managing projects and introducing change into an organization. We see the possibilities at the other end of the change, it can be exciting . . . however, the shift can’t simply be declared and expected to happen. The journey needs to be lead and managed.

In leading and managing any project or change, it is instructive to take some time to look back. It’s what I call “taking time to leverage failure” so we learn and improve continuously. And, in our years helping lead and manage change we have had a lot of failure to leverage. We want you to be the beneficiary of our learnings.

We have found that there are key behaviors at the Organization, Team and Personal levels that are critical for any change journey.

Organizational Behavior
“Here it comes, another ill-conceived program.” Many communications coming from the leadership team leave employees wondering about priorities, impacts, and expected outcomes. When an organization effectively manages change, the leadership team agrees on the intent of strategy execution, successfully engages employees to adapt to the change and implement decisions, and willingly reaches throughout the organization to help employees handle the implementation.

Team Behavior
Without healthy team behaviors, team members end up pointing fingers at one another, and devolve into counterproductive, time wasting rituals. Effective teams work together quickly to achieve goals. This requires healthy conflict to engage and discuss difficult topics, commitment to the team’s purpose, and a willingness to hold one another accountable for outcomes.

Personal Behavior
We’ve all seen cartoons depicting the disheveled executive. When you look beneath the appearance, you see an ineffective, guarded individual who doesn’t deliver. Conversely, effective executives are open, vulnerable, accept risk, and speak with honest candor with others.

Here are five characteristics of an organization that effectively manages change. How does your organization stack up?
1. The leadership team agrees on the outcomes of decisions.
2. Priorities are clear to the organization.
3. The organizational impacts of decisions are understood by those impacted.
4. Front line employees are involved in implementing the decision.
5. Leaders coach employees through the implementation of the decision.

Looking at every project through this five-pronged lens is key to your success. Thinking about both project structures and behaviors at each of the three levels, organizational, team and individual ensures that you are comprehensively considering every element of your project teams’ make-up to ensure success.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,

Deep dive: How to drive significant value with major technology change

One of the first major change projects I implemented was an office automation system for Whirlpool. It was the company’s foray into automating the workplace. We recognized that using technology for administrative tasks required people to think differently about mundane elements of their work. I engaged the CEO’s assistant. Once Mindy put the word out that she would only use this new system to communicate with others in the organization, our participation grew rapidly. We signed up more than 2,000 employees in a few months. We calculated that the system delivered about $90 million in cost avoidance as people began to interact more productively.

Even though this wasn’t a complex system – it provided basic messaging and calendaring functions – this change was more about culture than technology. We can talk until we are blue in the face about the benefits of the technology change, but until we recognize and act upon it as a cultural shift, we receive lackluster results.

Herein lies the premise for my Culture Change Trifecta. We’ve seen plenty of diagrams that display the need for focus in all three areas of people, process, and technology. My perspective, though, is to focus the people aspects on the culture changes required to affect successful innovative technology.

When you focus only on the technology, or even on the process and technology, you miss out on thinking through how the new system requires employees to work and interact differently. This is the essence of cultural change, and without considering its impacts, you end up with:
• Disengaged employees who don’t understand what is required of them.
• Middle managers caught in the middle – trying to keep the business running while helping employees through change they don’t understand.
• Leaders who are disenchanted with the results of their new system.

Instead, when leaders recognize that technology change induces cultural transformation, and put adequate attention to lead through this change, the results are quite different.
• Employees have input to how the change will impact them, and how they will now need to work together across departments.
• Middle managers will lead more effectively, supporting employees who are now actively driving the change.
• Leaders will achieve, and likely exceed the profitability targets they established for the new system.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,

How to use both advocacy and inquiry to drive value from change

This past summer, we completed a project to restore the foundation of our 100-year-old barn. Over the century, the basement walls slowly shifted nearly six inches causing a bow in the wall that threatened the building’s stability. I hired Ben to solve the problem.

Ben’s vision was to move the wall back to its original position. He did this by first removing the soil that was causing the shift. Second, he installed massive jacks to push the wall. Third, he attached chains to the wood deck that made up the first floor, and pulled it little by little as the basement walls moved. Over a period of about four months, he succeeded in moving the basement walls and the first-floor deck to nearly its original position. His last step was to install large pilasters in the basement, and reinforce the floor system to hold the basement walls in place.

How does this relate to leading your major transformational change project? There are four things leaders must do to ensure success:
1. Remove obstacles to change. Do you have current processes or policies that conflict with the change you want to make? Just like the soil in front of the basement wall, you need to remove or change those things that conflict with your desired transformation. Don’t leave obstacles in the way that prevent your employees from help you drive greater value through change.
2. Increase awareness and desire for the change. With every successful change comes a communication program that talks about the change, its importance to the company, and the value to the employees. Just like Ben pushed the basement walls with his jacks, leaders must push out clear messages that help the organization understand the need for change, the value to the organization, and the benefits to the employees.
3. Encourage dialog from the team. Your successful change program will include opportunities for employees to engage to drive success. Ben pulled the barn’s floor system along to align with the shifting basement walls. When you engage employees, they will help drive the change, and the result will be aligned with your expectations as a leader as well as their expectations as employees.
4. Build sustainability. Successful change does not end with implementation. You must have policies, processes or measures in place to sustain “the new way.” Ben reinforced the realigned basement walls with additional bracing. You’ll reinforce your transformation by holding your team accountable for the new way of doing business, and then following up with appropriate measures.

Executives have hired me to help them craft and implement successful change programs. I have found that every successful change or transformation program has these four elements. The specifics might be different depending on the type of change or the nature of the organization. The results, though, are consistent. Organizations exceed their implementation targets because of this simple formula.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation

How to drive greater value by listening

During my years in corporate America, I sat in lots of meetings. I often marveled at how some of my peers could bloviate their opinions. They appeared confident, and seemed persuasive in advocating their position.

One of my peers was particularly skilled at this. Joe (fictitious name) seemed to have the attention of senior leaders as he moved up quickly through the ranks. Employees who worked for Joe liked him. I recall more than once sitting around the lunch table where his employees talked about how great it was to work for Joe. In the end, though, Joe did not make it through multiple reorganizations and restructurings conducted to streamline the operations. What happened?

I spoke with a few of Joe’s former employees sometime later. They told me that they liked Joe because he gave them attention their previous managers hadn’t. Much of their 1-on-1 meetings consisted of Joe telling them how the organization would have to change, describing excellent leadership of change. Joe did not, however, affect any real change himself. He was a great announcer of change, but not an enabler of change. He was ineffective in bringing his employees along on the change journey.

The big lesson? Don’t confuse influential advocacy for change with making it happen. The latter requires that you listen to employees to help gauge their progress through change, and offer strategies to help them along.

Here are a few things I counsel my executive clients:
1. Stop talking. Mark Twain said, “If we were supposed to talk more than we listen, we would have two tongues and one ear.”
2. Listen to listen, not to speak. Do you listen only to wait to have your turn speaking, or do you listen to understand what the speaker is saying to you?
3. Focus on the speaker. Don’t allow distractions. Don’t shuffle papers, look away or fiddle with your phone. Make sure that you have eye contact, and don’t be bored. If something else is preoccupying your thoughts, reschedule the meeting to a better time when you can truly listen.
4. Empathy and Perspective. Remember that others may not see things the way you do. Listen with an open mind. When you show empathy, you are more likely to hear perspective.
5. Tone and non-verbal Communication. Pay attention to the tone and body language of the speaker. Studies show that we communicate as much with body language as we do with words.
6. Disagreement is okay. In fact, when you disagree without being argumentative, it goes further to develop the speaker-listener relationship. Healthy conflict is good. But be careful to connect key points and not just restate your case. The purpose of healthy disagreement is to build bridges, not advocate for a position.
7. Connect the dots. When leading change, listen to employee’s messages and connect what you hear to the case for change. Show them how their comments or concerns are addressed and incorporated.

Leaders who follow this recipe for listening will be more successful with change, therefore increasing the value of the change project to the organization.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,

The single largest cause of project failure

Statistics show year after year that this single largest contribute to project failure is the lack of adequately managing the change. One Deloitte and Touché study that surveyed executives showed that about 2/3 of projects failed because the project did not adequately address the people impacts of the change.

When projects fail to adequately address the impact of change, these things happen:
1. Employees are disengaged. They don’t understand what the change is all about, or why it is important to the organization. Least of all, they don’t know the WIIFM, “What’s In It For Me.”
2. Implementation is delayed. Often preparing the people for the change is not considered until just before implementation, or worse yet, not at all. Those impacted by the change have no idea what is happening, how their jobs are changing, the new expectations, or how they’ll be measured.
3. The change doesn’t stick. Implementation might go well, but people quickly snap back to old behaviors and processes.
4. Organizational leaders may have an inconsistent understanding of the change. This is the root of cross-functional dysfunction.
5. Sponsor behavior is inconsistent.
6. Communications is incomplete, inconsistent or even non-existent.

I founded my company to help organizations – no matter how large or small – be successful with change. Attributes of a project with effective change management include:
1. Employees are fully engaged. They understand what is changing, why and how it impacts them.
2. Implementation details are clear and well known. People know when the change will happen, what they need to do during the implementation of the change, where they can turn for help, and what to do if something doesn’t go as planned.
3. Cross-functional dysfunction is mitigated. Every leader involved with the change fully understands the intended outcome of the change, and how employees in their charge are expected to perform differently. This understanding is mutually shared across the leadership team.
4. Sponsors are actively engaged in driving project success. For details, see the newsletter from two weeks ago.
5. The change is sustained. Employees don’t snap back to old ways of doing things. They adopt and integrate the change in their day-to-day work life. Leaders manage their performance with different measures.

Organizations who are successful often exceed the goals they’ve established for change, whether that be greater revenue, saved costs, increased market visibility, better engagement, or improved customer relations.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation.