An Interview with Richard Allred, President and CEO ATS, LLC

I recently had the opportunity to interview Richard Allred, who is the President and CEO ATS, LLC ( ATS has a four-fold mission focused on clean drinking water, providing sustainable waste-water treatment, developing green, organic chemicals that protect crops from disease and providing safety showers to cleanse employees from potentially harmful contact with chemicals. ATS performs this mission in for profit, not for profit and philanthropic sectors.

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

Richard: I have learned that people want to give their best to the job. They generally want guidelines to help them focus their efforts and it’s my role to provide those guidelines.

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

Richard: I purchased this company in 2012. At the time, the firm’s leadership was not very focused. I determined that we needed to bring in stronger talent and transform the way work was completed. My vision was to serve those who are underprivileged, and provide opportunities for smart and great people who haven’t been as lucky as I have been. I also wanted to scale the organization from regional to become global.

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

Richard: I make the message as clear as possible and put it out in front of your people in many ways. We have an annual meeting to discuss our work and how it impacts employees, then we engage them in feedback sessions to help us to prepare for more focused, purposeful communication. I also ask employees many questions to clarify their understanding and help me improve my messaging.

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

Richard: I have two examples. The first is that we offices in Brazil as well as the United States. The differences in management styles, language and cultural create a communication gap. I have found that by clarifying the messaging between my office in the States and in Brazil I am able to close the gap most of the time. It takes focused effort though, and discipline to ensure this happens every week.

The other example is that sometimes employees may not understand why sales team members who travel have bigger expense accounts. Often, they may treat themselves to expensive steak dinners when they are on the road. This can feel unfair to some employees. I have found that when I take the time to explain the trade-off, that those sales folks enjoying a steak dinner are not always home to watch their child’s football game or school play, I can narrow that gap of understanding.

A couple of other things I look for when hiring someone in an executive position is I try to find people who have experience managing the weighty responsibility of covering payroll. The stress related to making payroll provides a perspective that I want on my leadership team and it’s one we can easily rally around. I also look for individuals who choose to continually educate themselves, whether by reading or taking classes.

Steve: Here in the United States, were there cultural attributes that made the transformation easier or more difficult?

Richard: When I first purchased the company, employees were a tight-knit family and extremely loyal to the mission of the firm. Growth requires you to make changes which we did by increasing the geography from where I recruit. I try to hire people who are smarter than me in whatever their specific strength. We’ve been successful in maintaining that loyalty while expanding our diversity and knowledge base. It requires more focus more on coaching employees to effectively work together, but the payoff is big.

Steve: How did you enroll others in the transformation?

Richard: Plain and simple – we engaged front- line employees in the planning process. Afterall, these are the folks that live with and operate in the new environment and no one understands their work better than they do.

Steve: How did you become more of a coach?

Richard: First, I must be comfortable with a great deal of ambiguity. I find it most effective to sit with my leaders and their teams and have a conversation about how I can help, focusing on their requirements to be successful. I have also hired and work with a mentor that helps me improve my coaching effectiveness.

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

Richard: To create a transformation, you must connect with the team and their hearts. You must understand individually who they are. For example, to help connect with one of my employees, I sponsor a sports team and ask the coach to waive their fees. This is an easy thing for any leader to do.

Steve: Richard, thank you for sharing your insight on successful transformational leadership. Good luck to you and your firm.

Note: Richard recently published his book, Purify. This is a business book about the metaphor of how water treatment teaches us to make better business decisions. Find it here.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article. Please go out to LinkedIn to add your comments.

Choke Point

How to Recognize and Fix the Choke Point

An Advanced Shipment Notice (ASN) is a document, usually electronic, that is sent from a supplier to a customer to advise the customer of an in-process product shipment. The ASN gives the customer the capability to plan their manufacturing or distribution even though they do not yet have the product in their inventory. It’s quite a useful tool, allowing customers to optimize their inventory and reduce working capital, while improving on-time delivery to their customers – the customer’s customer as it were.

While the ASN sounds like a gift from heaven above, it does not come without significant effort. It is, perhaps, one of the most likely victims of cross-functional dysfunction. Multiple supplier departments must contribute to the information required of an ASN including but not limited to order management, warehousing, inventory control, accounts receivable, and transportation. In fact, the transportation department must also rely on the supplier’s carrier to provide information such as truck details, route information and estimated times of arrival (ETA).

Remember the old saying, “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link?” This certainly applies in the case of an ASN. That weakest link is also known as the choke point – that point in the process that is most likely to cause the process to fail. Identifying and mitigating the impact of the choke point is crucial to the success of the ASN.

It all comes down to process. In the case of the ASN, there is one master process, and each of the functions contribute their portion to it. When all the functions contribute to the process accurately and timely, everything works well. When one function fails, this becomes the choke point.

When a supplier develops an ASN, it’s important to bring all of the representative functions together to collaborate on the master process, designing in detail how this will work, and contingencies when something goes haywire, such as an electrical outage at a warehouse, or weather- related transportation delays.

The ASN is a great metaphor for leaders optimizing their organizations, whether it be process related, technology, culture, and regardless of the drivers of that optimization – company strategy, mergers, acquisitions, divestures, or new leadership. Leaders at the appropriate level must come together and collaborate openly on expected outcomes. They also need to  design a path forward to address these requirements, ensuring that any choke points are identified ahead of time, and steps are taken beforehand to mitigate any issues that chokepoint might present.

The bottom line is this: the company must come together to openly collaborate. This means putting aside pre-conceived notions of good or bad within each function and challenging each other to think through the ramifications of their work. This requires open discussion of how changes in one area will impact the ability of other areas to work successfully.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article. Please go out to LinkedIn to add your comments.

Quelling detractors

How to Quell Detractors

Are you in the middle of a big change, or thinking about starting one? If so, watch this video to learn my five-step process to learn about and leverage those who might resist your change.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


I’d love to hear your thoughts on this video. Please go out to LinkedIn to add your comments.

Predictions 03

My Predictions – #3 – Greater Focus on Integrity

McDonald’s terminates their CEO. Under Armour is under review for its financial practices. Boeing is under scrutiny for how it handled the 737 Max. Their CEO resigned last week as a result. How do we even begin to talk about our American political system?

Every day we read about integrity failures in organizational leadership. Everyday. People lose faith in organizations when their leaders misbehave – or worst yet cover up their misbehavior. I’ve labeled this the Integrity Deficit Syndrome, and it plagues transformational change.

Yet society is demanding more and more transparency and authenticity. Employees engage in more activism to promote better behavior. Reputation for integrity is a top employee engagement driver.

John Maxwell said people buy into the leader before they buy into the vision. When leaders misbehave, their credibility crumbles, and their ability to be successful disintegrates.

My prediction: The Integrity Deficit Syndrome will continue to spread for the next 3-5 years before leaders as a whole take this more seriously and work to reduce it. Ultimately, smart leaders will see that their success hinges on their ability to face questions of integrity and do the right thing. One mitigating factor is the media which historically prefers the negative over reporting leaders who lead with integrity. I know hundreds of the latter. Don’t despair.

There is hope, and it comes at a price. The hope is that our organizations will continue to successfully drive positive transformational change and do so at higher rates of speed. The price is that we must learn to close the strategy execution gap, and to do so we must always take the higher road. Always.

I think it’s worth the price.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article. Please go out to LinkedIn to add your comments.

Robert Giddens

Matthew, Robert and George Giddens

How a Leader Drove Process Improvement in a Not-for-Profit

I recently had the opportunity to speak with a colleague, Robert Giddens. Rob is Director of Information Technology at The Benida Group of Buffalo Grove, Illinois. He also serves on the board of the not-for-profit Maot Chitim (pronounce, “my oat ha team”). Maot Chitim provides an honorable holiday meal twice a year to Jews that cannot afford this expense. It is headquartered in Northbrook, IL, and serves the broader metropolitan Chicago area.

The board of directors of Maot Chitim essentially ran the organization the same way for nearly 80 years. They had used and perfected a manual way of doing things. This traditional plan was successful and there was a history of “Why mess with success?”  However, times were changing. The charity no longer served a population that was concentrated in one city area. With the move of recipients across Chicagoland, needs changed quickly. They were fortunate to gain more volunteers – again from all over the metropolitan area. This meant that the plan HAD to change. In addition, since it was changing so quickly, they saw the automation of logistics as a necessity.

Steve: Tell me about your role on the board and your goals for transformational change.

Rob: The board is made up of about 40 retired and active executives who are dedicated to the purpose of Maot Chitim. As I come from the information technology field, I quickly saw the opportunity to improve processes. Process improvements would clearly improve our efficiency in delivering meals. I saw the opportunity to improve both the cycle time in meal delivery, as well as backend processes to identify and use volunteer attributes to better optimize delivery routing.

Historically, they used spreadsheets and many dedicated people were doing manual work. We introduced database technology which allowed us to work faster, smarter and more accurately – reducing a great deal of the former labor-intensive approach.

Steve: In what ways were you a transformational leader?

Rob: Being transformational means that you can look at an opportunity through a different lens. You bring a level of excitement to the opportunity. You recognize that you are a catalyst for change.

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

Rob: This was an iterative process. As we implemented small process improvements, we began to show people that there was indeed a better way to perform our work. Over time, we demonstrated that we were better able to respect our volunteers’ time and show how we can fill our mission faster and more effectively. The Chicago community is quite generous with their time, and they are wonderful in volunteering for worthwhile causes. We found our 1,000+ volunteers very appreciative of the process improvements as it made their experience of volunteer registration and volunteer engagement a smooth process.

Steve: Tell me about any resistance you might have faced.

Rob: Volunteers are an interesting breed of people. Most want to volunteer on their own terms. We had to carefully introduce new ways of working so they saw it as a benefit, and not a way to put more control on their hours.

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

Rob: The board was accustomed to the old way. They did not see the change as a good thing – it was just different. Proving success beforehand is challenging and I needed them to make a leap of faith. We started seeing small wins – efficiency enhancements to demonstrate success and demonstrate we could do more value-added work.

We have one paid staff member – an executive director. The previous director did not appreciate the benefits of automation as she perceived it to it mean she would lose control. She did not see the benefit of giving her more time to perform community outreach and other more productive work

Steve: Were there cultural attributes that made the transformation easier or more difficult?

Rob: The challenge with this group, candidly, is that this board was made up of more senior folks who were comfortable with the why it had been done for the past 80+ years and they did not want to mess with success. The upside was that there were a few people who saw the opportunity for significant efficiency gains and improved volunteer retention.

I was able to build a coalition of a few board members who saw the potential. This allowed me to bring the rest of the board along. To this day their remains some resistance, but now this resistance is more positive. They challenge our work to bring more clarity.

Steve: Please share the results you experienced.

Rob: We replaced the former Executive Director with someone who was more progressive and willing to consider alternative approaches. This enabled the organization to aggressively transform and demonstrate stronger financials while providing additional services to the recipients. We are able to feed more people better meals, less expensive, improving cost per volunteer hour, and did all this faster.

At the volunteer level – it used to take us eight+ hours to organize volunteers to deliver food to over 15,000 recipients. Now it takes us about four hours. This is one way we demonstrate that we care about our volunteers.

Steve: In the process of all of this, how did you become more of a coach?

Rob: Since this is a volunteer organization, power and respect had to grow slowly and organically. Other than the Executive Director, there are no named leaders. On the board, authority is given, and respect is earned.  It takes a great deal of influence, and it takes many small wins.

Steve: What advice to you have for aspiring transformational leaders?

Rob: Two things. First, do not take feedback personally. Especially with a volunteer organization, understand that everyone has talents to share, and their feedback may simply suggest a different way to approach the opportunity. The other advice is to go for small wins early. Do not feel like you must have some huge process improvement. Call out the small wins and articulate the advantages gained.

Steve: Rob, thank you for sharing your perspectives today regarding transformational leadership. I wish you great success as you continue this journey and good luck with your extremely worthwhile mission.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


If you would like to learn more about Maot Chitim, or make a donation, please see their website:

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Gratitude 2019

Thank You

Every week for more than two years now, I have published my thoughts about leadership, transformation and change. During this time, my readership has increased exponentially, as more and more people seem interested in what I share.

This week, I want to take a moment to express my gratitude to you. Thank you for your interest in my work. I am especially grateful to those of you who have taken time to reflect and comment.

My goal is to keep this a valuable resource for you. It is my hope that you find these weekly posts interesting and useful.

Wishing you the best for a restful, reflective holiday season, and a successful 2020.

“Gratitude, warm, sincere, intense, when it takes possession of the bosom, fills the soul to overflowing and scarce leaves room for any other sentiment or thought.” – John Quincy Adams

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article. Please go out to LinkedIn to add your comments.


Predictions 02

My Predictions – #2 – Improved Strategy to Execution Success

Improving the strategy to execution gap is a passion of mine. When I speak with colleagues about this, it resonates with them as a key issue faced by executives and their organizations. Research bears this out as  study after study indicates that a leading cause of strategy execution failure is lack of adequate preparation.

A recent meta-study (a study of studies) looked at the issues that prevent strategy execution success. It highlights three key reasons: lack of clarity of the message, lack of leadership, and lack of clear execution plans.

This gap seems to be gaining more attention. Recently I attended a conference where several colleagues presented solutions to this strategy to execution gap. A few focused on the three topics of clarity, leadership and execution planning. In fact, one of my workshops, Activate, helps executives close the strategy to execution gap by addressing these three issues directly.

As this issue is gaining more visibility, I predict that more executives will focus on this, as will the legions of strategy and change consultants. They will all adopt some form of Activate and ensure it is included in either the strategy formulation stage, or at the beginning of execution.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article. Please go out to LinkedIn to add your comments.


Predictions 01

My Predictions – #1 Continuous Transformation

When I entered the corporate world over 40 years ago, change wasn’t something you did much of, and you certainly didn’t talk about it. Organizations existed to execute work, and most pretty much did the same thing day after day. When there was change, employees normally accepted it without question.

Fast forward to today. The marketplace demands more and faster innovation and vastly improved customer experiences. Therefore, organizations must reinvent themselves regularly. Organizations must also enroll employees more fully to satisfy the talent pool’s insatiable desire to make a difference.

This leads to my prediction that more organizations will develop a culture of continuous transformation – a culture that continuously evaluates and rapidly implements change.

The implications of this on organizational design and leadership behavior are significant. In his book Team of Teams, Stanley McChrystal tells us that one key reason we had so much trouble in the Middle East in the mid-2000s was because our military had a historically hierarchical structure. Staff in one area were artificially constrained from fast, open communications with staff in other areas. This created a situation where it took too much time to regroup as ISIS popped up here and there. McChrystal’s team learned the enemy’s organizational structure was spatial. There were no specific reporting relationships. Everyone had complete open access to everyone else.

The other factor is that as the iGeneration matures and enters the workforce, they will identify, accept, embrace, and execute change faster and more proficiently. Senior leaders must prepare for this by hiring and encouraging bright young people who can help them transform – and accept that they may not do it the way they might prefer.

This all means that leaders must give up the old command and control management techniques. Yes, you still need some form of control since there are goals to obtain and finances to manage. As we move to continuous transformation, leaders become coaches, and guide rather than control the work going forward.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article. Please go out to LinkedIn to add your comments.


Thanksgiving 2019

How Will You Express Your Gratitude?

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Every year as I think about Thanksgiving, I always think about the first few years my parents and I spent Thanksgiving “on the farm” in southwest Michigan. Our first Thanksgiving there, in 1966, consisted of reduced rations since we had not yet acquired any appliances or furniture. It was a real adventure for me as a small boy exploring our new 30-acre farm complete with hills, orchards, vineyards and a fantastic creek that kept me busy for hours.

This Thanksgiving, I’m grateful for growing up in different settings – urban, suburban and rural. As a result, I was exposed to numerous cultures and gained appreciation and respect for others. Today I am sharing a traditional Thanksgiving meal with my daughter and her family. I’m grateful to be with them.

I am also grateful for the great work I’ve been able to do with many clients across several industries. To show this gratitude, each year I provide one pro-bono project for a Chicago based not-for-profit focused on underserved youth. Read more at

How will you express your gratitude today?

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article. Please go out to LinkedIn to add your comments.

Culture Impacts

How Culture Impacts Transformation

There are several cultural factors that impact your ability to affect large scale, transformational change. One factor is “Risk Adaptation,” or the ability of your organization to identify and adapt to risk.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


I’d love to hear your thoughts on this video. Please go out to LinkedIn to add your comments.