Why resistance is not only good, it is necessary

In many of my speeches I ask audience members to tell me what they think when they hear or see the word RESISTANCE. I receive answers such as: negative, unwanted, bad, slows things down, troublemaker, opposition, defiant or struggle. One time, a woman answered, “Necessary.”

She was right. Resistance is not only good, it’s necessary. Oftentimes executives begin executing their strategy and they might not know all the answers about what’s going on in their organization. They may overlook something or may not have considered an important prerequisite. Somewhere in the organization, there is someone who has overlooked something and not considered an important prerequisite. On the surface, this person might be thought of as a resister, yet they hold one of the keys to the leader’s success.

In one transformation in which I was involved, the leaders overlooked an important infrastructural requirement. They did not realize it until they took the time to speak with a group of employees previously considered “problematic.” Together, they identified the problem and implemented a solution.

Seek out resistance in your transformation. Here’s a simple outline to follow:

  1. Actively seek out those in your organization who are resistant to your transformation. Start with your immediate leadership team. Ask them about pockets of resistance. Go deeper from there.
  2. Ask don’t tell. When you find your resisters, now is not the time to advocate your cause as it will only turn people off. Start by asking questions to dig into their resistance. Be careful with asking WHY questions as these sometimes convey judgement. One of my favorite questions is “What are we missing?”
  3. Identify and document. List concerns, issues and risks that surface. Do this in front of the resisters, showing them that you are actively listening and genuinely concerned.
  4. Follow through. Nothing kills credibility like telling your employees that you’re going to do something, and then you don’t. Close off each of the items that surface, and report back about the disposition and progress. For items requiring a longer resolution time, add them to the project plan and ensure resolution.
  5. Enroll the resisters. I have found that those who are resistant often become your most passionate supporters. Give them a meaningful role during the transformation. One client gave them a role as spokesperson. There are few opening lines more powerful than, “I used to think this wasn’t a good idea, but I changed my mind when….”

By following this simple five-step approach, you will fuel your transformation to move along faster, and enroll employees whose enthusiasm and passion for the change will help enroll others throughout your organization.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,



How you know you will have a successful transformation

Study after study shows that strong sponsorship is the number one characteristic of successful transformation.

From a PMI Study: “Effective project sponsors use their influence within an organization to actively overcome challenges by communicating the project’s alignment to strategy, removing roadblocks, and driving organizational change. With this consistent engagement and support, project momentum will stay steady and success is more likely.” *

Let’s talk about how this translates into value for the organization. The bottom line is that greater success is achieved when MORE employees adapt to the transformation FASTER, and at greater levels of ABILITY, or what I like to call DEEPER. Simply put – MORE-FASTER-DEEPER.

More employees. In any transformation there are early adopters and laggards. As a sponsor, you want to find out who the laggards are and work to enroll them in the transformation sooner. You can do this through formal business readiness assessments to determine where there are pockets of slow adoption, identify the benefits to those groups, and determine ways to engage them with the transformation.

Faster adoption. When it comes to transformational change, there is no reason to wait to enroll employees in the change. Step out early with communications about the benefits to increase awareness. Address resistance head-on to clarify messaging and provide mechanisms for employees to engage early with the transformation, such as focus groups, town halls, and listening sessions.

Greater ability. Early adoption is key. Address resistance early on. Involve employee groups by helping with messaging, education and training development. Train employees to be advocates for the change. All of this will enable them to understand the transformation and help drive the implementation.

Call to action: when considering your leadership as a sponsor, ask yourself these questions and devise action plans accordingly:

  1. Am I reaching every employee that needs to hear about this transformation?
  2. Are we moving as fast as we can? What groups are not moving as fast as they could? Are there resisters?
  3. Are employees as enrolled as they could be? Are they developing necessary skills quickly?

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


(*) Pulse of the Profession – 2018, Project Management Institute. Page 6.



How to ensure your culture will support large scale transformational change

Various studies indicate that organizational transformation fail anywhere from 10% to an alarming 90% of the time. One of the factors given for failure is the lack of attention given to cultural changes that may be required to support transforming to the new state.

This means that in your approach to executing your transformation you must consider including a culture track. Here are the steps that I use when I help executives lead transformational change:

  1. Assess the current culture of your organization. Evaluate items such as risk-taking, decision-making, and respect for hierarchy.
  2. Identify current behaviors within the organization that demonstrate those elements.
  3. Specify new behaviors that are required to support the transformation objectives.
  4. Link these new behaviors to the results that you expect.
  5. Develop an accountability plan and set the example. Further, enroll your leadership team to set that example and execute accordingly.
  6. Develop and implement a plan for your employees to promote the new behaviors. Use something like a change action network.
  7. Call out examples of employees demonstrating these new behaviors. Reward them for it.
  8. After you implement the transformation, assess your progress toward improvement and establish a plan to promote and reinforce those cultural changes.

In one of my client engagements, we followed this approach. At the end of the engagement, we were thrilled with the results. Employee’s exceeded our expectations, and now the organization is in a much better position for continued growth and transformation.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


How to lead transformational change when you have no formal leadership

Bill and Greta Hurst are the owners of Tabula Rasa Gallery in Baroda, Michigan. The community of Baroda is experiencing a moderately paced and purposeful transformation. In the last seven years, the village has enjoyed the addition of two wine tasting rooms (with a third on the way), a café, a restaurant, a brew pub, a B&B, and the Hurst’s art gallery. In the nearby countryside several wineries and other agri-tourism businesses have opened. Greta is a mosaicist and yoga teacher; Bill is an IT professional and photographer. While a member of the business community with their gallery, this couple were early contributors to the transformation of the area to an agri-tourism destination.

Steve: What does it mean to be a transformational leader?

Bill: The leader has a vision and can translate it to align people, resources, and actions to move that vision forward. Sometimes it’s looking at an old problem with new eyes and being adaptable to changes in the macro economy. In our case, we love Baroda and the rich history of the town. We wanted to leverage the legacy and bring more attention to the growth the area has enjoyed and continues to experience.

Steve: Tell me about a time when this was particularly challenging or rewarding for you. What was the situation, what did you do, how did it work out?

Greta: We focused our initial efforts on wayfinding to leverage the area’s historical focus on agri-tourism. We wanted signage to promote the area. To move this forward, we resurrected the Baroda Business Association (BBA) which had been dormant for a decade. We linked this with the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) to figure out ways to promote the area. We wanted to produce a video. To gain buy-in and commitment, we wanted community business and government leaders to support the project. This was our foray into the community, and it took nearly four years to build trust and gain support. In the end we were successful.

Steve: How did you clarify the purpose of the transformation?

Bill: Between the area’s agricultural history, and the village’s focus on tool and die shops, there were competing interests about where to take the community. Greta had many meetings with the DDA, helped initiate the Baroda Area Business Association (BABA), and attempted to hold a Harvest Feast Street Festival to celebrate Baroda area agri-tourism. While the Harvest Feast ran into roadblocks, BABA’s “Party on The Pavers” is now held annually on the vintage bricks of our downtown main street.

Steve: In what ways did you experience cross-functional dysfunction, and how did you address this?

Bill Greta: We had some of this early on. For the Wayfinding and Harvest Feasts, there were competing factions. We had to figure out how to pay for these projects and keep it equitable among the various sized entities. We wanted to include three communities; others wanted only to focus on two. Finally, we had all three aligned and ready to go, but because of these competing factions, we lost one of the communities. This also ultimately cost us a very important sponsor hence the morphing of Harvest Feast into Party on the Pavers.

Steve: How did you enroll others in the transformation?

Greta: We found early on that we needed to create an environment to attract businesses that brings in tourists. The new streetscape project was intended to help do this. We went door to door to speak with both business owners and elected officials about supporting this. We had to show them the math to win over their minds and share the rationale to win their hearts. One key business owner was resistant, but after we showed him a neighboring village’s streetscape and the benefits it brought to their community, we won him over.

Steve: Please comment on organizational challenges you faced, both structural and behavioral.

Greta: Structurally, we had to pull together the BBA, DDA and BABA into a cohesive group with a clear transformational purpose – agri-tourism. We were able to do this early on. Behaviorally, because most of us were volunteers, some of those who were paid participants didn’t realize the legitimacy of our leadership. With time and persistence, we established credibility.

Steve: How did you become more of a coach?

Bill: In this case, it is all about networking and alliance building. We knew where our support came from, and we knew where we needed to apply more finesse. We were also an example by owning several downtown properties. It’s easier to sell the idea of transformation if you have skin in the game.

Steve: If you could give one piece of advice, what would it be?

Greta: First, make sure your purpose is clear, and that the execution supports the achievement of that purpose. Identify the stakeholders up-front and enroll them by addressing their needs and concerns. Finally, make sure there is room to organically and dynamically modify the purpose as you embark on your journey.

Steve: Thank you for taking the time to share your story. Having been a resident of the community off and on across multiple decades, I’m impressed with what you’ve done, and look forward to seeing more productive growth and change in the area. Thank you also for all you have done for the community.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


Note: In 2016, Bill published a photo book about Baroda’s dynamic businesses, “A Portrait of Baroda, Michigan Businesses”.  For more information about the book, go to www.tabularasaphotography.com

How risk tolerance impacts your transformational success

After doing this work for decades I’ve learned how various cultural factors impact an organizations ability to be successful with large scale transformational change.

One cultural factor is risk tolerance. I have learned that the more risk tolerance the organization, and its leaders, the greater the probability is of successful transformational change. Incidentally, success is defined as meeting the objectives of the transformation in the timeframe specified, and that it is sustainable for the long term.

The greater the risk tolerance, the more likely the organization will be to try new ideas and approaches. Executives are more willing to engage with employees to discuss opportunities related to the transformation. Further, executives are more willing to put the execution of the transformation in the hands of the employees.

This means that executives must be secure in their leadership to experiment and innovate, and they must be more willing to give up their leadership to others in their organization. The more frontline employees are enrolled in the execution of the transformation the greater the sustainability.

Call to action: if you are leading a transformational change, ask yourself this question. Are you hoarding the leadership, or are you taking greater risk to enroll your leadership team and your frontline employees to help drive the change?

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


How clear purpose can lead from one transformation to another

Every day we hear about large corporations who continue to expand their presence into different products and markets. They typically leverage one successful transformation to achieve the next. One historical example with which I am personally familiar is how in the 1950’s Whirlpool Corporation went from being a successful Midwestern company manufacturing washers and dryers to become a full line U.S. appliance manufacturer and marketer by the end of that decade. Today they are the world’s largest manufacturer of major home appliances.

Closer to home…I was 10 years old when we lived in the suburbs of Chicago. My father was growing tired of this life and wanted to expand his horizons. He had dreams of buying a little farm in Southwest Michigan, growing a few grapes, and making a little wine for himself.

In 1966 we bought our first farm. Within two years my father had started planting grapes and making his own wine. He achieved his goal and found his purpose.

In 1969 a neighboring farm became available for purchase. It had an established you -pick fruit business, and several more acres of mature vineyards and orchards. After about six weeks of debating the decision, we purchased the second farm on May 10, 1969. (Tomorrow marks our 50th anniversary!)

My father’s vision and purpose expanded. Now he wanted to grow grapes not just for himself, but for others who were interested in making their own wine. Coincidentally in the early 1970s home winemaking grew to become a significant American hobby. In 1974, dad successfully achieved his second goal and purpose. Not only was he raising high-quality vinifera for home winemakers, he had established what was likely Michigan’s largest home winemakers’ shop and was developing strong relationships with home winemakers across Chicagoland and the Midwest.

Regardless if you are a major, multi-national corporation, or an organization of one, this all boils down to an important message for all leaders. Do not become complacent by achieving your first goal. Think about and search for other opportunities to continually transform your business.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


Why you should define structure before you define culture


One of my executive clients asked me to help resolve a cultural issue that was hampering his ability to transform his organization. Upon examination, I discovered he had a significant problem with cross-functional dysfunction because people didn’t understand expectations across the organization.

I interviewed a few of his top leaders and facilitated a conversation about the work in their areas and the requirements they had of each other. In some cases, leaders had no idea what other leaders needed to be successful in their respective organizations.

We scheduled two more meetings where we included selected middle managers. Here we discussed in more detail the requirements from one another and how we would fulfill those. We also noted that this transformation would require employees to work together differently than was previously required. Employees would need to better cooperate and collaborate more frequently. We defined the required behavioral characteristics and the outcomes required from those behavioral changes.

We then devised a plan the middle-managers used to drive the implementation. Voila! Success.

Lesson learned? Sometimes we try to change behavior without being clear about the structural outcomes or structural implications. Structure and culture work together to make an organization more efficient and more successful.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


How one transformational leader started a new role in a new organization

Jill Bradley is the Chief Operating Officer of BUILD Chicago, Inc. BUILD Chicago’s mission is to engage at-risk youth in schools and on the streets to help them realize their potential and contribute to our communities. Recently I had the opportunity to interview Jill, who started her new role at Build about six months ago.

Steve: What does it mean to be a transformational leader?

Jill: It is about knowing the people and building a relationship with them and inspiring them to drive through change. It’s about focusing on the positive as we transform and supporting people when obstacles to change seem insurmountable. It’s also about learning from failure and not calling people out for taking a risk and failing.

Steve: You just started at BUILD a few months ago. Your role as COO is new to you and new to BUILD. How has this been going?

Jill: Bringing this role into BUILD was a big change for the organization. This role was not clearly defined when I started. It was a challenge to define it and set boundaries regarding the scope of the job. This required that I ask lots of questions of the CEO, my peers and my team.

Steve: How did you clarify the role?

Jill: I clarified the role of the team I’m on – the CEO’s team and then our individual roles. I set out that my role was to steer the organization, not slow it down with operational bureaucracy. I was clear that I may not have all the answers to technical questions that surfaced; I had the leadership say to determine how deep to question the progress of various activities.

Steve: In what ways did you experience cross-functional dysfunction, and how did you address this?

Jill: First let me say that cross functional dysfunction does not need to be fatal. At BUILD I discovered that we are more cross functional than we are dysfunctional. Also, being cross-functional is messy. You must tolerate why some individuals are in the room. Not every person makes sense in every meeting, but that’s ok. Part of my role is to allow people to be messy in their pursuit of cross functional health.

Steve: How did you enroll others in the transformation to having a COO at BUILD?

Jill: One, I asked many questions. I espoused the idea of inquiry not advocacy. Second, I made my office a safe place. People can come to me with concerns without fear of reprisal. Third, understanding the sources of resistance, and using resistance to clarify the purpose and outcomes.

Steve: Please comment on organizational challenges you faced.

Jill: People here are all amazing. We do great work for the community. My role is to support the team, help them do great things for the kids in the community. My role is not to protect employees from themselves. Helping employees enroll in the mission of the organization is my number one goal.

Steve: How did you become more of a coach?

Jill: I had an amazing example earlier in my career. A man I worked for was a brilliant leader who did not promote himself. He supported us to be our best. He walked the talk. From him, I learned how to coach my employees. I also learned about coaching up, but this is more of a challenge and takes more courage.

Steve: If you could give one piece of advice, what would it be?

Jill: Live in the moment with an eye toward the future. I may not in the organization when the vision is fully realized, and that’s okay. Keeping this in front of me and the team is crucial, and celebrating the incremental progress is important.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,




How to prepare your transformation to achieve phenomenal success

Last week I described how transformational leadership and organizational change management (OCM) work together to drive phenomenal success. Let’s take another look this week. The matrix above demonstrates what happens when you have one or the other, both or neither.

Phenomenal Success: When you have both strong leadership and a solid OCM plan, you are likely to have phenomenal success, and will probably exceed your targets. Who doesn’t like this?

Looks Good on Paper: When you have solid leadership but don’t have a good approach for OCM, you and your leadership team are likely aligned on your measurable outcomes, but you will struggle to achieve them because the rest of your organization is to some degree left behind.

Aimless Wander: When you have a solid OCM plan but weak overall leadership. It’s hard to imagine, but I’ve seen this happen. It usually results in some areas implementing better than others. Overall, though, the organization is unclear about the long-term impact, and the transformation struggles.

Failure. This one is obvious. If your transformation lacks leadership and enough OCM, you will go nowhere.

Call to action: Use this as a self-assessment. Determine how your last transformational initiative performed. Use your self-assessment combined with last week’s post to determine the steps you need to take to ensure success with your next transformation.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


How transformational leadership and organizational change management work together to drive phenomenal results

Working for years with senior executives driving transformational change, I’ve observed that sometimes leaders jump directly from strategy to execution without doing the necessary preparation to activate and accelerate implementation within their organization. This preparation requires transformational leadership skills to transition from strategy to execution. I have also observed that organizational change management (OCM) cannot take the place or make up for a lack of transformational leadership.

Leaders use OCM to provide a structured approach to leading the organization through a transformation or a large-scale change. There are, however, several prerequisites necessary for OCM to be successful. These are elements of transformational leadership.

  1. There must be a clear purpose to the transformation.
  2. Outcomes must be specific, attainable and measurable.
  3. The leadership team must be aligned on these two points above.
  4. The leadership team is willing and able to put aside their own functional needs to consider what is best for the whole organization during the transformation (to eliminate cross-functional dysfunction).
  5. Organizational risks, including cultural risks, must be identified with a mitigation plan in place.
  6. The right governance structure is in place to provide day-to-day leadership for the transformation.
  7. The leader agrees to play a role in strategic communications.
  8. The leadership team agrees to engage with front-line employees and middle managers to enroll them in the change.

With these elements in place, a strong OCM plan can be established and executed. OCM leverages these elements by providing and executing:

  1. A strong communication plan that emphasizes purpose and outcomes and includes your active participation.
  2. An education programs that describe how the environment will be different after the transformation, down to how specific roles might change.
  3. Organizational planning that revamps roles and structure.
  4. Enrollment plans that determine how front-line employees and middle managers will be involved in the implementation.
  5. Skill- training required for all impacted parties to learn how to operate in the new environment.
  6. Long term entrenchment plans to embed the transformation for the long-term.

All of this combines to create a winning formula to drive phenomenal success, often exceeding targets.

Call to action: As you consider your next transformation, think about these points.

  1. Have you done the work necessary to prepare your organization – starting with your leadership team – to drive success?
  2. Have you activated the team and set the stage to accelerate the work?

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,