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,


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 change can’t simply be declared and expected to happen.  The journey needs to be led and managed.

At a high level, I have found that there are key behaviors at the Organizational, 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 purpose 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,


You are a transformational leader regardless of the size of your organization

Adam McBride is the owner and general manager of Hickory Creek Winery in Buchanan, Michigan. Adam acquired Hickory Creek two years ago and is transforming it to become another great destination on the Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail. Just 90 minutes from downtown Chicago, the wine trail covers many wineries, breweries and several restaurants for you to spend a day, a weekend or longer.

Before Adam purchased Hickory Creek, he worked in corporate America, running a distribution facility with 120 employees. I recently interviewed Adam and discussed his experiences starting his new career as a winemaker and winery owner.

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

Adam: It’s about having a purpose for your change. To me, transformational means significantly changing the process, the organization or the culture. The first 90 days of your leadership are critical. You must listen to your team, quickly identify areas to improve, build momentum and enroll the team to drive forward. It’s important to have small victories early on. This helps establish your credibility.

Steve: Tell me about a change that was particularly rewarding or challenging.

Adam: I travel to many different wineries to learn different approaches and of course, to try their wines. Once I discovered a system to visually track open wine bottles used in the tasting room. We need to track this for inventory control and reporting to the Liquor Control Commission. I brought the idea back and announced the new solution to the team. We would implement it immediately. There was some resistance, and the team found a few things wrong with the idea. Based on this feedback, we agreed to run both our old system and the new system in parallel for three weeks. At the end of the three weeks, and with additional input from the team, we adopted the new system.

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

Adam: I simply kept the message in front of them – this will be easier, take up less room, and be much cleaner. Fruit flies are a problem in the tasting room during warm weather and the new system will eliminate most of this problem.

Steve: Please comment on any organizational challenges you’ve experienced, particularly taking over the business.

Adam: The three men who originally owned the winery were prescriptive. Employees were not able to make any decisions on their own. Changing this culture has been a challenge. I encourage my employees to make their own decisions regarding their work. If someone needs to come in and work a few extra hours to catch up, I let them make that decision. I also encourage is risk taking. Sometimes we try ideas and they don’t work. That’s okay, and I admit when I made a mistake. One example: The winery tried a version of food service previously and it didn’t work out. I wanted to try it again. It didn’t work the second time. For me, having the humility to try again, fail and admit it goes a long way to build your team and build trust.

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

Adam: Surround yourself with the right people. Set the vision. Trust your people. Ninety percent of the time, people want to do their best. Let them, and they might just surprise you and do more than you expected. My other piece of advice? Drink Hickory Creek wine and everything will be fine. It even rhymes.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


How to be the world’s greatest CEO


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.

Call to action: Think about the characteristics that made Herb a great leader. Consider adopting some of his practices.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,

How culture impacts your ability to drive successful transformation, Part 3

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 Senior Leader’s Team Employees
–  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.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


How culture impacts your ability to drive successful transformation, Part 2

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 Senior Leader’s Team Employees
– 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.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


How culture impacts your ability to drive successful transformation, Part 1

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.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


How clear purpose drives performance

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

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,