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,

How to align on purpose and outcomes

One of my clients had a long history of failure in implementing change, particularly those related to technology. They had recently implemented a large HR and Finance system that failed when they decided to implement an organization-wide system that would impact almost every employee and every customer. As this system would run almost all the organization’s underlying operations, they had to be successful. Failure would put them out of business. They asked me to help them manage the change.

One of the first things I did was help the senior leadership team understand that this was not just a technology change. The technology implementation would cause almost all their business processes to change. This meant that people would now be required to connect with each other and work together in ways they had not previously. This change was more about culture than it was about technology. The senior team embraced this and began to align to the true purpose of the change.

As the change project proceeded, we met with the senior team every two weeks to help them engage with the project and intervene to resolve issues and risks where necessary. In a few meetings, we performed a “deep-dive” into the changes that were taking place within a function. These “deep-dives” focused on changes in work process and human interaction. We stopped talking as much about the technology. As a result, these senior leaders began going back to their own teams and talked about the change in different terms. They also became much more supportive of the change.

Ultimately, this project was successful, with the senior management team calling it one of the most successful projects in the history of the institution.

Every change is different, but I have found that there are a few common things leadership teams must do to align and drive successful change:
1. Identify the purpose of the change in business terms, or outcomes. How will the change improve market share, customer satisfaction, and the bottom line?
2. Relate the change to how it improves the employee experience, such as how it helps the working teams, or individual employees.
3. Get real about the implications of the change. The case above cites how a technology change was actually a cultural change. Think through the consequences of changes you are considering.
4. Together, identify how each leader and her function will support the change. Be clear on the role of each senior leader, and hold each other accountable to drive the change.
5. Hold regular status meetings to engage with the progress of the team, and visibly resolve issues preventing success.

Incorporating these three features into your change or transformation will significantly improve your chance of success.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,

How to improve trust and increase healthy conflict

One of the principle causes of cross-functional dysfunction is a lack of trust and healthy conflict among senior leaders. One client who suffered from the effects of this did not have the right forums in place to encourage interaction. Mistrust was high, and people “tip-toed” around each other. Conflict was considered inappropriate. Change initiatives failed regularly; one failed change initiative disabled a manufacturing division for several weeks. They called me in to help them drive greater success.

We implemented two councils to help them drive greater accountability for change. The first council was a regular meeting of senior leaders to monitor the progress of the change and interact to resolve conflicts the change team brought to them. Time didn’t allow for trust-building sessions; we dove in and facilitated their interaction to have dialog in ways they were not accustomed. The common goal was a looming deadline.

The second council was a group of lower level managers who would ultimately be responsible for implementing and institutionalizing the change. The first meeting or two were rocky – they also were not accustomed to working in this way. After a few meetings, they began to interact and experience the give-and-take necessary to be successful.

With another client, we had more time to build the leadership team. This was a newly formed senior leadership team who had not worked together previously. Trust was low primarily because they had not worked together, and healthy conflict didn’t exist. They asked me to help them develop a stronger leadership culture.

We held two workshops with focused, facilitated exercises to increase trust among team members. We used Myers-Briggs to help team members understand how each other approached their work. We conducted real-world exercises to help them engage more effectively in healthy conflict. Within 60 days, people outside the organization commented on how the team appeared more aligned.

Call to action:
-As in the first example, you may not have time to conduct team effectiveness sessions. Identify a common goal, such as a looming deadline, and call on your team to work together to solve problems standing in the way of success.
-As my mayor, Rahm Emmanuel, once said, “You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” Use it to drive a culture of healthy conflict. This will require you to call out harmful behavior, avoidance, and obfuscation.
-Build team development time into your agenda. Use this time to work on trust and conflict issues. Perform candid health checks, “how are we doing?”
-Reinforce trust and healthy conflict during your one-on-one meetings with your team. When one of them begins complaining about another, challenge them to take it directly to their peer.
-During team meetings, balance the agenda by providing time for healthy conflict. Allow members to disagree with each other, but watch for over-advocacy and grandstanding. You may not resolve the conflict in one meeting – this can be good to give members time to consider other positions.

When your top leadership team trusts one another enough to engage in healthy conflict, this enables greater alignment, which in turn helps employees see more clearly the future state, and eliminates cross-functional dysfunction

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,

How to identify and resolve cross-functional dysfunction.

Early in my career at Whirlpool, I was asked to revive an underperforming electronic commerce team. The team had several issues. Among the largest issues was a lack of understanding of how other parts of the company had to work together to create successful solutions. For example, to be successful in helping the company provide invoices to customers, order processing, distribution and accounts receivable had to work together in new and different ways. Helping them see this was a challenge. I dubbed this challenge “cross-functional dysfunction.”

Over time, and with the help of colleagues, we provided more effective solutions and eliminated most of the operational dysfunction that existed between various functions.

This is an operational example of cross-functional dysfunction and is relatively easy to identify. Elements that lead to this dysfunction can be harder to identify. If senior leaders are not aligned, or if their behaviors prevent them from becoming aligned, then it will be more difficult to identify and resolve cross-functional dysfunction.

It starts at the top. Senior leaders must be able to trust one another enough to enter healthy conflict, challenge each other, and hold one another accountable. Then they need to align on the purpose of change and on the intended outcomes. Next, they engaged lower levels of the organization to understand how the various functions impact each other. Finally, they must do this early in the change program so front-line managers and employees have a clear understanding of the change and how they need to implement it.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll explore these remedies in more detail. This will help you identify cross-functional dysfunction in your organization, and more importantly, help you resolve it.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,