How to make your project successful

10 tips to ensure a successful change project:
1.             Know who is impacted, the degree of the impact, and the benefits and risks.
2.             Have a risk mitigation plan.
3.             Identify a project sponsor who manages risk and communicates.
4.             Generate excitement and enthusiasm.
5.             Engage those impacted.
6.             Communicate a clear vision.
7.             Start these first six steps immediately.
8.             Define and communicate job changes.
9.             Receive feedback and incorporate it into your plans.
10.          Plan training to transfer skills to employees.

What would you add to the list?

How to Win an Argument During the Holidays



Holiday time is uponus. We look forward to spending time with loved-ones. Usually. Some advice I once received applies to this time of year, and to leadership in general. Rather than engage in a debate with loved ones, or worse yet, an argument, take the time to listen. Really listen.

When you are sitting across the table from one another, it might be easy to engage in an argument about the 2016 presidential election, or a myriad of other topics. Every one of us has a point of view and sometimes we want to share. But what’s the point? Are yo trying to convince another person of your perspective, or are you truly intereste in learning a different perspective? Regardless of the topic, it’s often better to listen than it is to be heard.

Earlier in my career when I led large teams, I learned quickly that the best way to increase an employee’s involvement was to listen to their ideas and help them figure out the best way to implement them. We can’t implement every great idea, but we can listen authentically and empathetically. Even if the idea is not implemented, they will have been heard. This helps build relationships and your credibility as a leader.

This is especially critical when leading change. Be humble enough to recognize that you don’t have all the answers. Be inclusive enough to have your people help affect the change. Ask for ideas to make a smoother transition. Coach them to help you lead the organization through the change.

This holiday season, take the time to listen. Don’t try to change other people’s perspectives. Use it as an opportunity to learn. You might just be the better for it.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation



How do you give thanks this Thanksgiving?


When I was a small boy, my Chicago based parents bought a 30-acre farm about 2 hours away. Fifty years ago today, we spent our first Thanksgiving on the farm. We had a meal of reduced rations since we had no appliances or furniture. It was quite an adventure for me exploring our new farm.

This Thanksgiving, I’m grateful for growing up in different settings – urban, suburban and rural. Today I am sharing a traditional Thanksgiving meal with my extended family. How will you express your gratitude today?

How to See Cross-Functional Dysfunction in Action

You’ve likely seen something in the news lately about dysfunction in Washington DC. This reminds me of a global project I led a few years ago with team members who spoke different languages. I facilitated discussions in English to help them understand each other and eliminate confusion. Imagine taking this scenario into an organization of 100, 1000, or 10,000 employees. Without clear communications between teams, you have cross-functional dysfunction.

I worked with two clients that suffered project setbacks because they didn’t see cross-functional dysfunction in their organizations. Like the conversations I had with my global project colleagues, functions were unclear on each other’s expectations, leading to delays in their change projects.

One client attempted to redesign their business with poor results. After coming in to identify and help resolve the issues, I learned there was poor cross-function communication before the change, which led to unmet expectations. In addition, there was lack of clarity in leadership roles, and historically functions did not support one another during change. All of this adds up to create cross-functionally dysfunction.

In another case, a client built a new organization where teams were required to rely on each other for success. Their respective roles were not clear, which created confusion and conflict between the teams. My job was to help the leadership team resolve this. Through extensive conversations about expectations, we eliminated the cross-functional dysfunction.

If you don’t get cross-functional expectations right, your change project will fail. Change requires teams to work together in new ways. If your teams are not prepared for this, cross-functional dysfunction becomes obvious, and adds significant risk to your change project.

If you are implementing significant change in your organization, answer these few questions to determine if your organization is ready.

  1. Is each team’s function role supporting the overall organization clear?
  2. Does the structure of the leadership team align with its charter or purpose?
  3. Are leader’s roles clear, particularly to one another?
  4. Are there clear hand offs between teams?
  5. During times of change, does each team consider the needs and requirements of other teams?

If you answered any of these as maybe or no, implementing large-scale change is risky. Take time make sure your organization is ready to work together effectively, and eliminate cross-functional dysfunction.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,



My First Seven Jobs

#FirstSevenJobs is a topic trending on Twitter right now. People like Mira Sorvino, Stephen Colbert, and Buzz Aldrin, have been sharing their first seven jobs. You might reignite your passion for your life’s work, you can learn about others by understanding their history, and this makes for interesting conversation.

tractor.jpg  Preparing the soil for a new vineyard.

Here are my first seven jobs and what I learned:

  1. Cherry Picker. When we moved to the country, the farmer next door had a cherry orchard. I picked cherries for 10 cents a lug, or about 0.3 cents a pound. Lesson learned: Manual labor, while good for the soul, was not a good career choice for me. I vowed then to work hard to obtain a good education.
  2. Family Farm. My dad still worked in Chicago so much of the heavy farm work fell on my shoulders as a 13-year-old. Lesson learned: Hard work is fun and rewarding.
  3. Family Winemaker’s Shop. My dad opened a store to sell home winemaker’s supplies. Lesson learned: Inventory management, pricing and margin management, sales and customer service.
  4. Beekeeper. At 14, I owned a 60 hive operation and sold all the honey on the family farm. Lesson learned: How to budget, improve a business, and sell products and services (honey and pollination services).
  5. Garden Seed Sales. As part of a fundraiser for a school project, I went door-to-door to sell garden seeds. Lesson learned: I enjoyed the prospect of selling something of value and earning a little money.
  6. Yard maintenance. I mowed the neighbor’s lawn and cared for his yard. Sadly, he was killed in an automobile accident less than two weeks after I started working for him. Lesson learned: Life is short. Stop and smell the roses.
  7. Cellar Rat. I worked cleaning barrels, tanks and bottling wine for the new winery in the neighborhood. Lesson learned: Diving in a giant stainless steel tank in swim trunks is refreshing on a hot summer day.

moving bees.jpg  Moving beehives from a pollination site.

And because this is fascinating to me, here are the next three:

  1. Winery Tour Guide. I was promoted to giving wine tastings, tours and selling product. Lesson learned: I truly enjoyed working with the public, and telling stories. They enjoyed them too.
  2. Assistant Winemaker. A second winery hired me to essentially run the winery. I was 19. (I met Ronald Regan while employed there.) Lesson learned: Organizational skills are immensely important to keeping a business profitable and moving forward.
  3. Property Manager. I operated an executive’s 30-acre estate on Lake Michigan, doing everything from mowing the lawn to feeding the llama and investigating why the burglar alarm went off at 3am in the morning. Lesson learned: Trust comes in part from being able to work independently and without day-to-day supervision.

What about you? What can you learn (or relearn) from this exercise? Take a moment and write down your first seven jobs and what you learned from each. It’s more than just a trip down memory lane – it might help you remember why you are passionate about your life’s work, and reignite that flame.

I would enjoy hearing about your first seven jobs; and please, feel free to comment on mine.

All the best,



The farm today – Chardonnay grapes used in the production of fine wines by a local winery.


Today’s Business World Demands Speed of Change

I am currently traveling in China with my wife – visiting some family here. We were able to sneak in a little side trip. Our destinations were Fenghuang and Zhangjiajie. These two places are located in the Hunan Province in south central China. Fenghuang translates literally to Phoenix, a Chinese mythical bird with great power.  I liken Fenghuang to Venice. It’s an ancient city built on the Tuojian River. Zhangjiajie is a national forest of about 28,000 acres. It’s more like a scene from another world with tall black and gray granite pillars covered with moss and vines, all of which seem to float in the mist. Most people have never heard of Zhangjiajie, so I compare it to Utah’s Bryce Canyon sans greenery and mist. Incidentally Zhanimg_0406gjiajie inspired James Cameron’s Hallelujah Mountains in the famed movie Avatar. 

On this particular journey, we secured a group tour with 150 other people. Preparing to leave on the morning of the tour, I was reminded of the importance of good organizational skills when trying to herd 150 people on a series of five busses. On a project in which I was involved many years ago, we engaged approximately 3200 people to make major changes in their work habits as part of a large acquisition and merger. We coordinated, scheduled and conducted more than 30,000 hours of training for them in six weeks covering multiple subjects. 

In today’s business word, speed of change is becoming more important. The ability of a company to quickly respond to market opportunities is critical to success. Highly developed organizational skills are required to meet these demands.

It took aboimg_0405ut 30 minutes for the tour company to load the buses and have us on our way. It seemed rather effortless. I was particularly impressed at how they handled lunch. All five busses pulled into the restaurant at nearly the same time. We had a great lunch and we’re all back on our busses and on our way within one hour. This pattern of highly organized action continued throughout our trip, and we were never the wiser. In fact when one of us became ill, or one of us became lost, the crew went to work. They readily accommodated the sick and found the lost, again with little disruption to the rest of us. 

Use this simple assessment to determine your organization’s readiness to take on major change. Note if you agree or disagree with each statement.
a. Each function’s role supporting the overall organizational change is clear.
b. The structure of the change team aligns with its charter or purpose.
c. Leadership team member roles are clear.
d. There are clear hand offs between functions.
e. Each function consider the needs and requirements of other functions.

Agree with:
5 – You are in well prepared to execute a successful change.
4 – You are in good shape, focus some energy on improving this one area.
3 – Success is probable with extra effort.
2 – You will likely requires additional resources to successfully implement this change.
1 – Don’t proceed with your change deployment until you address the risks associated with these shortcomings.

Projects Fail because of Ineffective Behaviors

In this post, we’ll talk about behaviors that better facilitate project success. As with structure, I look at behavior at three levels: Organizational, Team and Personal.

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 intent 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 six-pronged lens of change management 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.

In future blog posts, I will share examples of good and not-so-good projects considering these factors.


Change Agents Make the Difference

I have found that these eight actions drive successful change:

  1. Ask good questions (ask don’t tell).
  2. Know the business enough to ask good questions.
  3. Focus on the vision. Talk more about how things will be different.
  4. Know the people. Spend time with them. They are the ones who will make it stick.
  5. Put your best people on the change project.
  6. Be open and honest about the change, even the least desirable impacts.
  7. Critically think about risks and issues related to the change.
  8. Perform both quantitative (surveys, focus groups) as well as qualitative (“man-on-the-street”) analysis.


Projects Fail Because the Structure is Wrong

In a recent blog I introduced evidence provided by two well-known organizations that described why projects fail. In summary, the evidence shows that executives take several actions to improve project management, metrics, scheduling and more, but that these adjustments are not effective. Gallup suggests that the real difference happens when executives focus more effort on stakeholder management – or, as I like to call it – Change Management.

Change Management has two primary focuses, behavioral and structure. Today we’ll look at change programs that implement appropriate structures that help facilitate success. We’ll examine organizational, team and personal structures.

Organizational Structure: Large-scale change typically requires a form of matrix structure in the organization to drive the change project while maintaining business operations. This often creates ambiguity about who is ultimately accountable, and highlights when interactions and handoffs are not clear between teams. Leaders must define a solid organizational structure and define functions with the right hand offs between them. Even with no project underway, an organization won’t operate effectively if these basics are not covered.

Team Structure: When teams aren’t structured properly, members are confused about the overall purpose of the team, the responsibilities of their peers, and why and how meetings are held. Effective team structure includes strong leadership with sufficient functional experience, having the right people in the right roles, and driving the right meeting agenda to ensure that relevant topics are discussed.

Personal Structure: We all know that executive who shows up late and disrupts every meeting, and cannot be counted upon to follow through with their commitments. At a personal level, structure means individuals have the self-discipline to manage daily routines, their personal goals are aligned with the team and organizational goals, and they take time regularly to reflect to ensure on-going alignment and a willingness to adjust as required.

Here’s a quick check-list for you to assess your project’s structure:

  1. Organization:
    1. Each function’s role and how it supports the overall organization is clear.
    2. There are clear hand-offs between functions.
  2. Team:
    1. The team is structured properly to achieve its goals (adequate resources in the right areas).
    2. Team meetings are focused on topics relevant to its goals.
  3. Personal:
    1. Team member’s goals are aligned with the goals of the project.
    2. Team members can effectively deal with ambiguity while maintaining focus on execution.

In another blog we’ll examine behavioral characteristics required for successful change. Then in upcoming blogs, we’ll drill down even deeper in each of these components to share examples – both good and not so good – of projects where structural and behavioral characteristics were present (or not present). Stay tuned!


Honey, Syrup, Change and Delegation

A few weeks ago, my wife and I found a new place from which we can source our honey habit (I can extoll the virtues of honey another time). We met Jack, the beekeeper in his driveway, where he readily loaded our pre-arranged order into our car. He then went on to tell me that he has several thousand beehives and taps 6500 maple trees for syrup. He shared with me that he still works a “regular” job in which he put 350 hours last month. I asked him, “When do you sleep?” His response, “Between 8am and 10am, sometimes 10:30am if my wife lets me sleep in.”

People like Jack amaze me because of their capacity for work, ability to operate with little sleep, and still accomplish amazing feats. And yet they don’t delegate. At least Jack doesn’t. He’s quite proud of that fact, as well. No hired help.

Then I started asking myself, what is this guy all about? How would he fair as a change agent responsible for driving change in an organization?

There are executives like Jack in corporate America. While the C suite likes people like this for their boundless capacity for work, they are poor change agents. They typically don’t trust their employees, and don’t delegate well if at all. Here are three simple, evidence-based questions you can ask yourself to determine if you have a “Jack” on your team:

  1. Do they avoid talking about the accomplishments of their people?
  2. Do they work long hours – normally evidenced by late night emails?
  3. Is their vacation balance at or over the limit?

You may want to ask a few more questions to drive to the root of the issue, but positive responses to these three questions will indicate you have a potential issue – particularly if you are trying to drive change.

What can you do about this? Here are four ideas you can use:

  1. Hold him accountable to develop his people. Coach him to select one of his best people as a possible successor (but don’t scare him into thinking you are going to replace him).
  2. Have her report weekly on the accomplishments of her team – by each individual employee.
  3. Coach him to understand the drivers behind this behavior and then mutually agree on developmental actions to improve his leadership performance.
  4. Delegate the leadership of a change that will impact her unit, and hold her accountable for engaging her employees to implement the change.

And speaking of change… Bees change nectar into honey. The boiling process changes maple sap into maple syrup. Now I’m off to have a cup of herbal tea with some fresh-from-the-hive Michigan honey – which will help me change to relaxation mode for this fine Labor Day.