How to Demonstrate a Clear Purpose

steve_farm_1In the mid-1960s, my dad had an interest in growing grapes that created good wine. He believed that Michigan had the potential to grow good wine. He had no big plans to grow thousands of vines or build a winery, rather he simply wanted a place to spend weekends away from Chicago and start his hobby.

In 1966 we purchased a run-down farm near the little village of Baroda, about 90 miles from Chicago. We continued to live in Chicago and spent every weekend on the farm. We spent most of our time improving the property. This meant tearing down dilapidated outbuildings, restoring the old peg-and-beamsteve_farm2 barn, and making the house more habitable. It did have a few acres of asparagus and black raspberries, but eventually, this gave way to vineyards. My dad was one of the first to plant French Hybrid grapes in the area.

In a few years, our vineyard acreage grew to 15. Most of these were French Hybrids, but he also began experimenting with vinifera vines (vines native to warmer European climates). Much of our crop was sold to home winemakers and dad used the balance to make his own wine.

Dad had a vision. He was clear on his purpose and invested his time and resources accordingly. He communicated this purpose to his family and friends. While later in life he slowed considerably, he never wavered fr
om that original vision to have a few acres of grapes, and enjoy this as a hobby.

One of the principle roles of a leader is to set and articulate a clear vision or purpose for the organization. This must be well communicated to garner success. What is your vision or purpose? Is it clear? Are you passionate about it? Are the priorities clear? Do others around you understand it and know how to act on it?

Today, there are nine full steve_farm_3production wineries within a few miles of Baroda. I cannot claim that my dad started all of this, but no doubt he had an influence on some of his neighbors. If you ever travel through southwest Michigan, stop at one of our wineries, and try some of our great wines.
Dedicated to your profitable transformation,

How to Be Sure you are a Strong Sponsor

A few months ago, my colleague Jeff Skipper and I recorded a video about sponsorship. Take a few minutes to tune in.

According to a recent Prosci study, active and visible sponsorship is the most important contributor to change management success. In fact, their bi-annual study consistently reports that lack of adequate sponsorship is the number one issue facing projects.

Are you providing the sponsorship your change project requires? Here are a few questions to help you determine if you are doing what is necessary to drive a successful project:
1. Is it clear to the organization that you are the senior sponsor identified to drive the change?
2. Are you communicating regularly with those impacted by the change?
3. When you communicate, are you talking about outcomes, and are you receiving feedback?
4. Do you hold the project team accountable by attending project meetings and asking probing questions about the status of the project?
5. Do you actively manage and mitigate risk?
Are you helping the project team implement activities to sustain the change?

If you answered yes to more than four of these questions above, then your project will likely succeed.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,

How to Improve your Leadership through Inquiry

I recently read Organizational Learning: A Theory of Action Perspective (C. Argyris and D. Schon, 1978). The authors introduce the concept of advocacy versus inquiry. Advocacy is a communication type that most of us are familiar with. It’s all about stating your case or making your point. Inquiry is less common and more important than advocacy. It happens when people ask questions to seek clarity about another person’s position on a topic.

Reading this reminded me of a client I had early in my consulting career. It’s a story worth telling to show the difference between advocacy and inquiry and demonstrates the value of the latter.

I was asked to help a large community college through a large-scale transformation. It would impact 30,000 students, 2000 faculty, and nearly all the college’s administrative staff.

There had been long standing challenges between the college and the union. The faculty was unionized and resisted this transformation. College leaders and I discussed how to win them over. We decided to attend one of their meetings, present the benefits of the transformation, and begin to engage them in the transformation. We failed miserably and left with our tails between our legs.

We strategized and brought the chancellor into the discussion. We determined that I would go back, but this time I would not present. Instead, I would listen. For the first few minutes, it was rough. I was concerned I might lose an arm or a leg – seriously! These people had little trust in college administration, no faith in the transformation, and little tolerance for any change offered by either. But I persevered and conveyed the point that I was there to listen to their concerns. They had many.

The result, simply, was that they wanted to be heard. They wanted a meeting with the chancellor to discuss issues, and gain commitment these issues would be addressed. We scheduled and held the meeting.

The transformation soon followed, and we included the faculty union in the process. They played important roles to help drive success. Interestingly, the faculty implementation was one of the most successful elements of the transformation.

The turning point in winning over the faculty was the 2nd meeting I had with them. Instead of advocating for the transformation, I inquired about their concerns, I took notes, and I followed up.

Call to action:
– Watch yourself in meetings. Do you advocate or inquire?
– Ask for feedback. How do your peers react to your communication style?
– Try inquiring more and advocating less and pay attention to the impact. Are you more effective?

Dedicated to your profitable transformation

How to Gain Greater Value from your Transformation

I recently had a conversation with a colleague working on a major transformation for a well-known Fortune 50. She told me that she was expressly told to only plan for work up through the launch of the change. This is a big mistake; let me explain.
After I built and moved into my new home years ago, the builder presented me with a certificate explaining that the construction carried with it a five-year guarantee. They would take care of anything that went wrong with the house. Period. For the first few weeks I found a few minor issues. One door wasn’t closing correctly, and the builder promptly came out to repair it. Another time while I was away for the weekend, my son decided to enjoy an afternoon on the back porch and grilled up a juicy T-bone steak. He forgot to move the grill away from the house and voila, we had about 20 square feet of melted siding. My builder replaced the siding at no charge.

When you make an investment in a transformation, it’s likely that you will spend much more than I did building this house. Yet many project managers consider their work done when the transformation is launched. Who is going to be around to make sure the change is institutionalized? How do you ensure that people permanently adopt the change and alter the way they need to work? How will you know that you are receiving the greatest value for your investment? Depending on the nature of the transformation, there are numerous ways you can ensure the systematic adoption of the change.

1. Change people’s measures to include metrics about the use of new behaviors, processes, or systems.
2. Put change agents in place at various levels in the organization to answer questions and help resolve issues.
3. Ensure your leaders are asking questions about issues and results long after launch. Be sure they are equipped with resources to address these challenges.
Putting these features in place will help you achieve the value you had planned, and in many cases, will drive even greater value. This greater value results from you paying more attention to the change far beyond that initial launch, and your employees finding ways to implement improvements beyond those originally planned.

How to Inspire Employees to Drive Change

steve1In a recent post, I told you about my vision for building a house. Next comes the construction. My builder told me that the typical house takes 160 days to complete – from groundbreaking to moving day.  He then warned me that because the house was 700 feet off the main road, construction would take longer. Just how much longer, he would not commit.

I determined to reduce construction time. My plan was to stay engaged with the general contractor and treat the subcontractors like royalty. During construction, I went out to the house nearly every day. Often it was after work to evaluate progress and report findings to the general contractor. Normally the reports were positive. Occasionally there were small issues for him to address. One time there were electrical outlets in the wrong place; he fixed it. Once I found a wall six feet from where it was planned. The general contractor made it right and thanked me for identifying the issue so quickly.

At times, I would go to the site early in the morning before work, or during my lunch break. During these times, I took coffee, water, donuts, cookies or pizza for the subcontractors. Later, I learned that these gestures created a sense of purpose and appreciation among the subcontractors. They wanted to help people build their dreams. They wanted to do good work and they wanted to feel like they were a part of something bigger than 8 – 10 hours of labor a day. I also discovered later that this worked to my advantage as many extras were added – at no cost.steve3

There are two major lessons here. First, the sponsor of the project must be actively engaged in monitoring and guiding progress. Can you imagine the costs and delays if I hadn’t found the misplaced wall as early as I did?  The second lesson is to engage and inspire your employees during change. I used donuts and coffee to share my passion for building the house in the woods, and in turn, the subcontractors felt like they were part of something bigger.
You might say, “Well, Steve, this is a nice story, but so what? You expended a lot of time and energy to supervise the construction, a job you delegated to the general contractor. But what were the real benefits?” We moved into the house in 140 days, the house met specifications, and the project came in under budget. How many of your projects achieve these kinds of results?
Call to Action: When you consider your next change initiative, as a sponsor, plan time in your calendar to stay engaged with the project. Think about more than just attending the regular status meetings to stay informed. Instead, make a difference. Talk to the employees doing the work. Ask the project manager informally about progress. Schedule lunches or other events during the project and not just to celebrate the end of the project.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation

How to Drive Greater Value by Engaging More Employees Faster

Last wespicerek I attended a panel discussion featuring Sean Spicer, the incoming press secretary for President-Elect Donald Trump. I anticipated some protesters and was not surprised when I saw 3-4 people in front of the auditorium passing out anti-Trump material. Neither was I surprised when two minutes into the program, a man in the audience started shouting about the evils of the new administration. He was asked to hold his “questions” until later in the program. He didn’t, and was swiftly removed. It seems that opportunities for improved communication abound on all sides.

I was reminded of corporate transformations I was involved with early in my career. There were well-meaning leaders who were challenged in communicating their change message. I recall one leader, particularly frustrated with the feedback he received, saying, “Gosh, I told them once, didn’t they get it?”

Employees need to hear a message seven to 10 times before they fully understand the change and its impact. The messaging must be received in a variety of ways, from a variety of sources. When employees don’t comprehend the message, what do you do? Do you dismiss them (and their concerns), or do you listen with intent and then ensure their concerns are addressed?

Here are a few communication tips to consider when driving your next transformation:
1. Be sure the purpose of the change is clear – and that it speaks to how behaviors will need to change.
2. Galvanize your leadership team to the purpose and the intent, and ensure they are ready to speak with their organizations.
3. Plan to present yourself at least three different ways to energize your entire organization about the change.
4. Feedback is essential – and using it is even more important. Be sure you have a mechanism in place to receive and process feedback.

When you do these things, you will have a better chance of engaging more employees faster, and thus will likely drive greater value. You will also minimize the probability that anyone in the “audience” will shout you down.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,

Leaders: Observe More, React Less

In his February, 2016, article titled, “Want to be a better leader? Observe more and react less,” Manish Chopra describes his use of meditation to manage the demands on his leadership role. Even though I don’t run a large corporation, my work with my C-level clients and their organizations can be all consuming. There needs to be a mechanism to step away, breathe, and think about the bigger picture. In Mr. Chopra’s case it’s meditation. I have tried it and it works. I recommend the same for you.

How your Clear Vision Helps Drive Change

All change projects require a clear vision of the change, and how it will impact employees.


Many years ago, I built a house. I found a vacant lot densely covered with pine trees. It was steep and north facing – not an ideal site in Michigan. Some thought I was crazy for selecting such a site, but I had a vision. I sketched plans and staked out the corners of the house which was about 700 feet from the road. I took my Dad back to see the site and showed him my sketches. He said, “You have quite a vision!”

This is where change starts. The leader must have a vision. She needs to be able to articulate it clearly and show people the way. The sketch was my vision for the finished house. The stakes represented how the vision would come to life, and the foot trail, which later became a 700-foot-long driveway, was how people would come to see the vision as it materialized and eventually became my home.

steve_houseCall to action: It’s relatively easy for a leader to develop her vision for change. It’s more difficult to share that vision in a way that moves the organization to successful implementation.  When you start your next major change project, share your vision so that the organization understands it, is prepared for the impact, and will help you achieve it.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


Is Change Management a Waste of Time?

The Project Management Institute says firms that effectively use change management do the following things better than their minimally effective counterparts:

  1. They are 7 times more likely to detect change in the external environment.
  2. They are 3 times more likely to leverage significant changes.
  3. They are 5 times more likely to establish change management beyond major projects – mostly to help achieve changes in culture.
  4. They are 5 times more likely to work across functions.

These organizations have a 50% better chance of projects coming in on-time, on-budget or on-spec while they have an 80% better chance of meeting or exceeding ROI goals.

Why you Need to Galvanize your Transformation

My wife and I spent last weekend at our little farm in Michigan.

We were enjoying the first snow of the season when all of a sudden the lights went out. My son, who lives nearby, suffered from the same outage. He reported with amusement that our grandson Austin wandered through their house flipping light switches. Each time, my son gently reminded him that flipping the light switches was pointless. Austin was handling change like so many of us. It’s difficult to start a new routine, and when we do, it’s good to have someone help us.

Just like Austin, your employees need help galvanizing your transformation. They need new skills, gentle reminders, and accountability. Here are a few tips to help galvanize your transformation.
1.    Prepare employees. Validate that you have the right education and training for employees to acquire the new skills required.
2.    Change the measures. Identify 2-3 critical metrics that assess transformation progress. Hold people accountable to achieve these metrics.
3.    Identify change agents. Equip a few employees throughout your organization to help reinforce actions required to sustain the change.

As I consult with executives regarding change, they often focus much of the effort on the work leading up to the change but don’t put adequate attention on activities required to sustain the change. When insufficient effort is applied to the former, these change projects risk success. Don’t let yours be one of them.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation