How to encourage transformational resistance, and reap greater rewards

When I was a senior in high school, I took all the classes required to best prepare for college. One was an advanced physics class. Our mid-term exam was brutal. There were only seven questions, so missing one meant receiving a B grade. I studied hard, took the exam, and was confident I aced it. When my instructor, Mr. Williams, graded and returned my exam, imagine my shock and horror when I saw a big fat B at the top of the page.

I was certain I aced this exam. I reviewed the one problem I allegedly missed and went over my work. I could not determine where I went wrong. I enlisted the help of my math teacher, Mr. Nash, and filled up three walls of chalkboards going through my formulas. He helped me see that I was right! With Mr. Nash’s consent, I asked Mr. Williams to come to the math classroom, and I walked him through my problem solving – all three chalkboards worth. At the end, he admitted, I was right.

Mr. Williams agreed I was right but was not willing to change my grade as a result. This was going to affect my final GPA, so I wasn’t about to take this answer without some negotiation. He didn’t budge. It was then that I enlisted the help of my principal, and ultimately through some three-way negotiation, my final grade was changed to the A that it should have been.

I remember to this day the words of my principal. “Excellent work, Steve, don’t ever let the system get you down.” He reinforced the notion that resistance, when properly staged, is beneficial, and can have a dramatic impact on results. Mr. Williams went on to help me obtain one of my first jobs out of high school.

This is a simple example involving four people. What about large scale transformational resistance? One of my clients went through a large scale cultural change, and at the outset, I counseled him to make sure he had mechanisms in place to hear dissenting opinions, and then process this feedback to modify the messages regarding the change. He didn’t modify his goal to change the culture, only HOW he was communicating it.

Points to keep in mind.
– Vision vs. Execution. As a leader, one of your roles is to provide a vision that engages your organization to drive toward a more profitable business. While it’s important to engage your leadership team to figure out how to implement the vision, be sure you have plenty of opportunities to receive and process feedback from impacted employees.
– Don’t punish the resistors. During my corporate career, I once led a large team through restructuring a poorly performing operating unit. One of my leaders called an employee on my team a trouble maker. I called my leader out on this, telling him that it was important for me to hear how the change was affecting my team. Labeling a dissenter as a trouble maker only serves to isolate the leader into thinking that he has all the answers, and demotivates the employee – resulting is less value.
– There are limits. In another case, one of my employees became so emotionally upset about changes we were trying to make that he became physically threatening to others on the team. This is an extreme example; the point is to be sure there are guidelines in place to identify acceptable resistant behavior and language.

When you are planning a large-scale change in your organization, be sure to give voice to employees who may have a legitimate issue with the changes underway. Use this feedback to help drive a more successful transformation, and improve the probability of achieving or exceeding your goals.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,

Why it’s wise not to take short cuts when executing change

A few days ago, I was on my way to the barber shop when I saw an accident. A man was jay walking across one of Chicago’s busiest streets, no doubt in a hurry to reach his destination, when he was clipped by a passing truck. Fortunately, he escaped with minor injuries. Sometimes, short cuts just don’t pay off.

I have talked with many executives who want to implement change. Often, they are in “let’s just get it done” mode. They are willing to take shortcuts to speed up the process. Who can blame them? There are market pressures to move faster and faster. On the surface, taking the time to engage employees to drive change appears to be a luxury. Yet this is one of the single most strategic approaches to driving change to an expedient and thorough completion. It may take a little extra time on the front end to engage employees, but the implementation will ultimately be faster, and the solution will be far more sustainable.

The next time you find yourself in a hurry to implement a change, ask yourself these questions:
1. Ultimately, what do I want my employees to do differently or how do I want them to behave differently because of this change?
2. What will encourage them to adopt these changes?
3. What nuances of the change can they design – such as specifics about implementation in their respective areas, helping others on their team enroll in the change, or helping the leaders think through new measures?
4. How will I recognize their work, particularly if they exceed my expectations?

Don’t be like the jay-walker. Short cuts generally don’t pay off. Take the time to think through how you’ll speed up your change through engaging your employees. You will implement the change faster and have a much better chance of sustaining it, resulting in bottom-line financial benefits that you might not otherwise achieve.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,

How strength and resoluteness help to drive successful change

I recently met my daughter in north central Wisconsin for a weekend of family history research. We spent a full day scouting cemeteries looking for headstones of long deceased relatives. We had remarkable success! We found two previously unknown great-great grandmother’s graves.

Like many Americans, every one of my ancestors was a pioneer. These people experienced change on a scale few of us think about these days. Leaving a familiar and mostly predictable world that was modern compared to their destination, they left loved ones to carve out a new life on the frontier. They had a vision and were strong and resolute in their new purpose.

When leading change, it is crucial to stay strong and resolute. There will be naysayers who might try to derail your vision. There may be other roadblocks. Operational issues may cause concern. Use these disrupters to help legitimize the change.

I love resistance because it helps me clarify my vision, but rarely does it cause a wholesale reevaluation of the change. Operational issues are great because they often prove out the need for the change, or cause course correction. In every case, these situations add material to your catalog of stories you can use to help others through the change.

Call to action:
1. Be sure your purpose is clear in terms of outcomes, and relatable to your employees.
2. Look and listen for resistance. Understand the reasons for it and use it to help build your case for change.
3. Engage front-line employees to identify operational opportunities and challenges with the change. Ask for their help to solve the challenges.
4. Decide now to be resolute and steadfast in driving the change. There is a reason you and your leadership team thought this change was important. Stick to it.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,

How to engage your employees to drive change

I recently read a McKinsey study that stated, among other things, “When we choose for ourselves, we are far more committed to the outcome – almost by a factor of five to one.” This is one of the best arguments I’ve heard for engaging employees to drive change.

Early on in my leadership career, I thought I was doing my team a favor when I documented in detail every step they were to use when engaging our client groups. After all, they were busy, and I was there to make their jobs easier. It was a complete failure. Nobody on my team used the new process, and we continued to underperform.

When you don’t effectively engage your employees to drive change, you will experience the following:
– Resistance: Whether intentional or not, and whether active or passive, employees reject the change. They simply don’t buy in and they don’t execute accordingly.
– Lack of progress: Deadlines are missed, customer expectations aren’t fulfilled and value is not achieved.
– Deflection and defection: Employees deflect responsibility for one reason or another, or they completely defect from the change.
– It doesn’t stick. The changes you are trying to make simply don’t stick. It becomes nearly impossible to institutionalize the change.

Continuing my story, my ah-ha moment came when one of my team suggested one or two changes that would help make the process more effective. This caused me to change my entire approach. I brought the team together for a half day offsite meeting and asked them to document the process. The results were 180 degrees different than my previous attempt. The team immediately began using the new process, and our client groups quickly saw the difference.

Here are a few techniques you can use to successfully engage your employees to drive change.
– Ask them to design the solution. As in my example, clearly define the end state, but let the team determine to best achieve the outcomes desired.
– Listening sessions. Communications is a two-way street. People need to know they are being heard, and you need to act on what you hear.
– Change agent networks. Establish a group of influential front-line employees to help define and communicate the change.

The underlying design principle of any of these approaches should be to give employees the latitude, within certain parameters, to choose for themselves what to implement, when and how. This will create the greatest degree of engagement, which in turn creates a change that is more likely to succeed, therefore giving you greater value.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


How to align leaders to drive successful change

Aside from a lack of clear purpose, which we discussed last week, one sure recipe for disaster is when your leaders are not aligned to the purpose of the change. This cross-functional dysfunction occurs when your leadership team walks out of the boardroom without a clear understanding of how the change will impact them personally, and their organization.

Symptoms of cross-functional dysfunction:
• Conflicting priorities. Lower level employees are not in synch about moving forward with the change. One group behaves differently than the next and when they talk about it, they end up with more questions than answers.
• Lack of cooperation: Because expectations are not clear across the organization, cooperation is missing. For the change to be successful, teams will need to work together differently, but are unable to achieve this new state.
• Political positioning: Humans tend to be political beings. When there is a lack of alignment, people tend to take advantage of the gaps, and jockey for position. They want their voice to be heard over that of their peers because it benefits them or their organization.

Cross-functional dysfunction is relatively easy to fix – as long as you proactively take steps to recognize it and avoid it. Follow these steps:
1. Bring the leadership team together.
2. Ask each leader to describe how the change will affect their organization in terms of outcomes.
3. Ask them to describe how they will impact others on the team and their organizations.
4. Ask them to identify what they need from each of their peers to be successful.
5. As you go through this conversation, you will likely encounter gaps, issues, and risks that prevent success. Document these and work through them in subsequent meetings.

This approach works whether you are discussing structural change such as process or organizational structure, or you are discussing a behavioral or cultural change. Regardless, the key is to have the conversation in terms of outcomes – desired changes in results due to changes in process, structure or behavior.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,

How to have clear purpose for your change

Last week I introduced my change leadership trifecta. (By the way, these newsletters are archived on my website blog,, should you care to reference previous articles.)

Back in my corporate days, one executive attempted to change the culture of his organization. The culture, typical of the Midwest at the time, was generally easy going and risk adverse. The well-meaning executive used the phrase “fire in your belly,” to attempt to paint a picture of the results he was looking for. I suppose he meant that he wanted people to take more risk, to be advocates for change, but it wasn’t clear. Many thought he had indigestion, and wanted to prescribe Tums.

Politics aside, one feature of the slogan, “Make America Great Again,” is that the purpose is clear. You may not agree with the message, but you likely agree that the message is clear. When a leader paints a clear picture of what she wants to accomplish and does so in terms of outcomes, she has set the stage for a successful transformation.

There are two other features of clear purpose:
• People throughout the organization understand how they will need to behave differently. The “fire in your belly” executive may have been better served had he talked about what it means to be provocative, to take risks, and to challenge each other’s thinking.
• Employees want to understand the WIIFM, or “What’s in it for Me.” How do I, as an employee, benefit from the change?

When you don’t have a clear purpose, you have “aimless wander.” The transformation will lack priority, and the organization responds by demonstrating a lack of urgency, missing deadlines, deflecting and defecting. Employees will retreat to what is comfortable and known versus what is unclear or unknown.

There are three vital steps to ensure your purpose is clear:
1. State the purpose in terms of outcomes. Define how you want the organization to be different, and be as specific as possible.
2. Be sure the outcomes include changes in behavior. Be clear on your expectations on how people will work together differently. Structure is important, but don’t lose sight of the behavior change.
3. State these outcomes and behavior changes in terms of the WIIFM. Identify how the organization’s constituents will experience improvement because of the change.

When you do these things, you’ll be well on your way to driving a successful transformation.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,

How to completely fail at leading change

How fitting it is this week to discuss my change leadership trifecta. Our country would not have come together, had it not been for a few disruptive visionaries who had the passion and tenacity to bring together a handful of colonies to form a new nation. They had these three important ingredients:
1. They were passionate about their purpose, and their purpose was clear – to gain independence from what they viewed as an authoritarian monarch who ruled them without representation.
2. They had strong alignment among representative leaders across these 13 colonies – alignment to the purpose to gain freedom from Britain.
3. These leaders had strong engagement among the “folks,” the common man and woman who wanted to escape what they viewed as a tyrannical British government.

There you have it, the change leadership trifecta; clear purpose, aligned leaders, and an engaged constituency.

Through the month of July, we’ll examine each of the three elements of the trifecta in depth. For today, though, take a moment and answer these questions for yourself:
1. For a change or transformation you are driving in your organization, is the purpose clear? Do employees understand the end-state? Do they understand what you are trying to achieve?
2. Are your leaders aligned? If you asked the third or fourth level of leadership to explain the desired outcomes of the transformation, what would you hear? Will you hear enough similarity to know your change is on the right track, or will the answers be so different that you have cause for alarm?
3. Do front line employees know how work will be different, and what they need to do to achieve the desired outcomes?

If you experienced no hesitation answering any of these questions positively, then you are in decent shape, and you are in the minority. I just read another study, this one by McKinsey, where they continue to report that 70% of transformation projects fail to achieve their objectives. You are a trendsetter, in the minority, where it is quite likely that your transformation will be among the few that succeed. Congratulations.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,

The Peacebridge Change Manifesto

I’m honored this week to have a guest blogger. Jeff Skipper is a friend and colleague who speaks, coaches and consulting on strategy and change leadership.

Not your every day call to action.

Manifesto For Effective Organizational Change I’m often asked about my thoughts on the discipline of change management – where it is and where it’s going. Here it is:

1. Don’t manage change; Provoke it.
Best practice says that we should gradually expose stakeholders to the future state. Go for broke. Dazzle them with the end game. Demonstrate the ultimate goal. Use a bit of shock and awe.

2. Encourage drama.
We learn by observing others. Assign roles and act out the change. A bit of drama allows people to see how the change can benefit them. Ask participants to act out negative scenarios as well and devise responses to them.

3. Lead from the bottom.
Your most important people are at the front line. Focus your leadership there.

4. Don’t settle for silence.
Silent stakeholder groups are bombs waiting to go off. Double up your provocation in those areas.

5. Get physical.
Visibility is good. Getting up close and personal is better. There’s a reason politicians get out and shake hands.

6. Model extreme adoption.
Any leader can point the way. Go further; put yourself into the future state and show how it’s done. Be the first to make the transition.

7. Ditch deliverables.
I’ve never seen a client go back and review a stakeholder analysis or even a change strategy. They change drastically in the course of the work. Look at the audience, understand the needs and get on with the tactics.

8. Deconstruct resistance.
Speaking louder doesn’t help when people don’t understand our language. Stakeholders refuse to get on board for good reasons. Figure out their motivations first, then change your tactics accordingly. Work from there perspective.

9. Recognize movement over arrival.
Everyone moves at different speeds. Honour every step in the right direction.

10. Adopt your adopters.
And for those who are progressing, regardless of their speed of movement, bring them onto your team. Highlight their progress. Post their testimonials. Promote their success. Peers have more influence than you.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,

How to eliminate cross-functional dysfunction on a timely-basis

Over the last few weeks, I have shared three approaches to eliminating cross-functional dysfunction, and helping you drive greater value from your transformation.
• Improve trust and increase healthy conflict among senior leaders
• Senior leaders align on purpose and outcomes
• Ensure alignment throughout the organization

The sequence and timing of these activities is important.

The sequence must be in the order shown. It will be much more difficult to align on purpose and outcomes if senior leaders cannot engage in healthy conflict. Gaining alignment throughout the organization will be impossible if the senior leadership team is not aligned on their expectations. When they are aligned, they will communicate a uniform message to their respective functions, making it easier for alignment throughout the organization.

Timing is also important. The first two steps must happen early in the transformation. The leadership team must be aligned, and must be able to uniformly communicate the expected outcomes of the transformation. The sooner they do this, the faster the transformation can occur.

The third step may take more time. Each function needs to understand independently the impact of the change, and may need to design their own operating features to support the change before they can think about how neighboring functions might be impacted. There is a risk, though. Don’t wait too long and don’t wait for the perfect design within each function. This is an iterative process, and will likely require a few meetings to work out the details. Each iteration improves not just the functional response to the change, but the cross functional response – thus significantly reducing cross-functional dysfunction at the operational level.

Timing is critical to drive success and improve value. When you enable your organization to move through these steps, and do so quickly, you will more than likely gain more results from your transformation.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,

How to ensure organizational alignment during large scale change

Every change or transformation project in which I have been involved has required different functional teams to change the way the work with each other. When they don’t adopt change effectively, they experience cross-functional dysfunction at an operational level. These organizations brought me in to help them overcome these issues.

I have found a simple approach to help organizations identify and resolve issues that might otherwise cause cross-functional dysfunction.

1. Identify each function that will be impacted by the change.
2. Identify a top operational leader within each of the functions identified in step 1.
3. Ask these leaders to identify the following as pre-work to a larger meeting:
a. Changes required in their organization based on their understanding of the change. These might be work process, policy, or people changes.
b. Changes they will need from their functional counterparts for them to successfully implement the change in their own function.
c. Impacts they will cause to their functional counterparts because of implementing the change.
4. Hold a meeting with these operational leaders to discuss their pre-work with their counterparts. Have someone document issues and solutions coming out of the discussion. These meetings are extremely powerful and can prevent problems later in the program.
5. Conduct follow-up meetings as needed to resolve all priority issues.
Each time I have employed this approach, the organization experiences greater success in driving their change. It is a simple, yet powerful approach to drive success.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,