Why you Need to Galvanize your Transformation

Recently my son purchased a new All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV) for my grandson. Austin, who is 10, had outgrown a smaller version, and besides the old ATV was suffering from a host of mechanical problems. I happened to be visiting the day after Austin received his new “toy.” He was excited to show me how he could handle it and demonstrated this with great skill as he weaved through the forest trails behind their home. Notably, the new ATV handled differently than the old one. It would frequently stall, and then was difficult to restart. Each time he struggled to start the ATV, his dad reminded him that the new ATV required a different startup procedure than did the old one. 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,


Lessons from Lincoln, the ultimate transformationalist

Recently my wife and I traveled downstate to visit Springfield, Illinois. I hadn’t been there in 30 years, and she had never been. Both of us wanted to learn more about one of our national treasures, he who has been called one of the world’s great statesmen, Abraham Lincoln.

There is much we can learn about leading transformational change from this man. During his famed presidency, he accomplished two monumental transformations, seemingly at odds with each other, by directing the Civil War to reunite the union, and passing the emancipation proclamation.

“Public sentiment is everything. With it, nothing can fail; against it, nothing can succeed (1).” As remarkable as it may seem, in 1861 Lincoln spent more time out of the White House than he did in it. And the chances are good that if a Union soldier had enlisted early in the Civil War, he saw the president in person. Lincoln made it a point to personally inspect every state regiment of volunteers that passed through Washington D.C., on their way to the front; and early in the war they all passed through Washington, D.C. (2).

As a result, it is believed that Lincoln met every Union soldier who enlisted early in the Civil War. He knew that people were the best source of information, and he knew that connecting with people built relationships of trust. He spent 75% of his day meeting with people.

This is just one example of how Lincoln was a transformational leader. He worked to enroll the troops to win the war. He worked to enroll congress to pass the 13th amendment (although the vote didn’t happen until after his death).

“Enrolling the Troops.” This is one requirement for successful transformation. As a leader, are you out talking with your employees about the change? Are you assessing how it is affecting them? Are you listening for opportunities to fine tune your purpose and agenda?

One executive I worked with led an organization of several hundred employees. As we were working together through one massive transformation, he took time every week to meet with his people to gather the answers to the questions above. Then he interpreted these back to the project team to ensure on-going success.

Are you a Lincoln transformationalist?

Dedicated to your profitable transformation


  • Lincoln-Douglas debate at Ottawa, Illinois, August 21, 1858
  • Lincoln On Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times, Donald T. Phillips, Warner Books, Inc.; Reprint edition (February 1, 1993)

Successful Digital Transformation – 4 Things Leaders Know

Today’s guest blogger is Laszlo Gonc. Read his bio at the end of today’s post.

We’ve all heard about the inevitability of digital transformation. Many of us are undergoing some type of digital transformation initiative ourselves. For others, it’s become part of the prolonged media din.

With less than 75 of the Fortune 500 since 1955 in existence today, change or die seems to be a good direction to be going. What is digital transformation? There is much talk about the process whereby an organization overhauls its business activities, processes, competencies and models to fully leverage the opportunities afforded by new technologies. Still no one has a clear definition.

Richard Foster, in his 2001 book Creative Destruction, applied Joseph Schumpeter’s theory of economic progress to the modern practices of management and innovation. The core lesson from all this is “how” companies go about change is critical to their survival.

When Corporate Culture Kills

There are many well-known examples of companies that resisted change despite the opportunities presented:

Blockbuster Video. Reed Hastings founded Netflix because he had paid a $40 late fee to Blockbuster Video. While Blockbuster collected $800 million in late fees in 2000, it declined to purchase Netflix for $20 million (it’s anti-late fee competitor).

Kodak. Founded in 1888 and its share price falling from a high of $80 in 1999 to 78 cents by 2010, Kodak demonstrates a company culture that failed to adapt for nearly 50 years. Steve Sasson went to work for Kodak in 1973 and invented the digital camera in 1975. His bosses were unimpressed, and the marketing department resisted. His camera never saw the light of day.

Borders. In 1971 Borders began as a single bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan. With its stock price at an all-time high of $44.88 in 1997, Borders closed its doors in 2011. Growing its well diversified stock of books, movies, music and e-reader sales, it was considered the envy of the industry with its innovative inventory management system. When it had an opportunity to significantly expand its online sales, Borders decided to outsource their website to Amazon.

Obstacles to Change

Jane McConell, renowned author, speaker and founder of NetStrategy JMC, has conducted global annual surveys on the internal digital work environments of organizations since 2006. She grouped the toughest obstacles to change into five categories (1):

  • Slow or stalled decision-making caused by competing priorities, internal politics, or attempting to reach consensus
  • Inability to prove business value of digital through traditional ROI calculations, resulting in lack of senior management sponsorship
  • Too much focus on technology rather than willingness to address deep change and modify how employees work
  • Lack of understanding operational issues at the decision-making level and difficulties in practical applications
  • Fear of losing control by management or central functions

According to Jane, “The toughest challenge in digital transformation is not to define a strategy, but rather to make it tangible and actionable.”

Creating the Right Cultural Mindset

For organizations that rate high on digital maturity, Doug Palmer and Anh Nguyen Phillips found remarkable similarities when it came to corporate culture. The results of their work are highlighted in a 2016 report in collaboration with MIT Sloan School of Management, “Aligning the Organization for its Digital Future.”

Taken together, these four cultural characteristics provide the foundational ingredients for a super-charged recipe to go from “doing digital” to “going digital” (2):

  1. Value experimentation and speed. It’s not just about the agility of the organizational structure, but empowering employees, incentivizing them, and giving them the authority to enact and drive change.
  2. Embrace risk. Risk-taking is built into the fabric of how these organizations manage. They emphasize innovation and don’t get upset when something doesn’t work out. 87% invest in innovation at the early stages.
  3. Organize for collaboration. These organizations moved from vertical departments to a project-based approach. Think distributed, not hierarchical.
  4. Make data-driven decisions. These companies set very clear goals and measurable objectives, and then communicated them clearly. They get very specific and tactical on what they want to achieve and how to measure success.

Changing an organization’s culture is not easy. However, the ingredients to the recipe are not a secret either. Use the four proven characteristics above to foster a culture of change as your organization continues its journey.

Laszlo S. Gonc

Laszlo is responsible for helping organizations, corporate and non-profit alike, navigate the digital frontier advising on cyber security, IT risk mitigation, compliance and building digital technology strategies that drive performance and business value. He has experience across several industries advising boards, developing security strategies, evaluating IT risk and spearheading critical projects for senior leadership.

How senior leaders hold the keys to successful transformation

Numerous studies report that a sizable percentage of projects fail to meet their business objectives. According to McKinsey, transformations fail to deliver results at an incredible 70% rate (1). The Project Management Institute (PMI) has been reporting on this for years and the failure rate hovers near 35%(2). Regardless of the study you read, the number is too high, and costs organizations hundreds of millions of dollars of lost value or wasted effort. Why is this? Why don’t the statistics improve year-to-year? Because the root cause of this issue is not owned by project managers or change managers assigned to the transformation effort.

Annual studies performed by PROSCI regularly state that the number one challenge for projects is active and visible sponsorship (3). The root cause of the issue is that senior leaders don’t always know what they need to do to drive success, or worse yet, don’t want to be involved. For both groups I offer the answer to this question, “If this transformation is important enough to spend your money, how do you make it important enough to spend your time?”

The answer is this; the transformational leadership trifecta spells out the three areas where leaders must be actively engaged to drive successful change. Those three areas include clear purpose, aligned leaders, and enrolled employees.

Take a moment and answer these questions for yourself:

  1. Clear purpose: For a 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. Aligned leaders: If you asked the third or fourth level of leadership to explain the desired outcomes of the transformation, what would you hear? Would you hear enough similarity to know you are on the right track, or would the answers be so different that you have cause for alarm?
  3. Enrolled employees: 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 good shape, and you are in the minority. You are a trendsetter where it is quite likely that your transformation will succeed. Congratulations!

I recently had the opportunity to present a webinar (membership required) on this topic for the Project Management Institute’s (PMI) global organization. Regardless of how you answered the questions above you will find value in reviewing this.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


  1. https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/rts/our-insights/keeping-transformations-on-target
  2. https://www.pmi.org/-/media/pmi/documents/public/pdf/learning/thought-leadership/pulse/pulse-of-the-profession-2018.pdf
  3. https://www.prosci.com/change-management/thought-leadership-library/importance-and-role-of-executive-sponsor


How trust enables high speed transformation

Recently a Wall Street Editorial column (1) discussed the need to improve our trust. While the editorial was focused primarily on government and politics, there are key messages for leaders of every institution. Keep these in mind as you lead your organization, and particularly when you are leading transformational change.

Be skeptical not cynical. Successfully leading transformational change requires that you have enough information to ensure that your leadership team and your organization is moving forward in the right direction at the right speed. Once you have aligned on outcomes and measures or milestones, ask penetrating questions to understand your progress and its success – or the lack of progress and the reasons why. Leaders are too often counseled to not be mired in the detail. Sometimes you need to dig in to understand root causes.

When you ask these questions, healthy skepticism is in order. It’s important to believe that your team is made up of good people who are going to do the right thing every time. Questions probing progress will reflect this. If you are cynical, then you inherently are not giving the benefit of the doubt. Either attitude – skepticism or cynicism – will bleed through your dialog. Step up. Be trusting.

Be tactful. I am reminded of the response by BP CEO Tony Hayward after the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. He told a reporter, “We’re sorry for the massive disruption it’s caused to their lives. There’s no one who wants this thing over more than I do, I’d like my life back. (2)” While seemingly innocent, he was widely condemned for this statement which was perceived as selfish.

Whether it is to a reporter, the public at large, an employee gathering or your leadership team, use tact. It’s crucial to be able to say anything within your inner circle, yet you can still be tactful. When you are tactful, you keep the audience focused on the topic, and not on your reaction to it. You won’t waste valuable time and energy dealing with your reaction to the situation, thus keeping your transformation on track.

These two points are connected. If you are skeptical and not cynical, it will be easier to be tactful. It comes down to your belief in what motivates others to act. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Hear them out. Ask good questions. Respond tactfully. If you believe in the best of others, that’s what you will receive. This builds trust, which in turn speeds your transformation.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


  1. https://www.wsj.com/articles/we-must-improve-our-trust-1527808866 (subscription required)
  2. USA Today, June 1, 2010

When top down doesn’t make sense – an inquisitive approach to transformation

Recently I made the case for a top-down approach to driving a transformation: Start with clear purpose, ensure tangible outcomes, align your leaders and enroll the organization. Makes sense. Except when it doesn’t.

This approach works well when the leader clearly sees the need for change and can enroll his organization to move forward. More and more, though, we don’t have time to go through this process. Business changes so rapidly that if we used this approach every time, we would miss important opportunities and not be successful in the long run.

Instead, today the discussion is about and leading cultures of dynamic, almost constant transformation. This emerging environment is made possible in part by the almost constant barrage of innovative technology that makes access to volumes of data, which is one of the foundations for continuous transformation. The other foundation is the people in your organization.

How do you seize this and guide your teams through all this? Inquiry. Constant Inquiry. Whether of your people or data or both. Inquiry.

The chart shows how this is evolving and demonstrates the changing role of leadership.

In the era of big bang, someone somewhere in the organization would spark an idea for transformation. If successful in selling the idea, leaders would approve a study that would take months to produce the business case. The leaders would then drive the change and employees would follow suit to implement. It would likely take months or years to implement, and would sometimes require a massive, bureaucratic project team.

In the new era, all employees look for and implement small incremental changes in their work. Where larger changes are required, data is reviewed, and employee input is sought. In either case leaders take on a different role. Now they facilitate the changes, and become part of the team, providing their integrating perspective to the changes required. The time frame is near immediate, and the bureaucracy is minimal.

How does this change your leadership?

  1. Recognize that you don’t need to be the smartest person in the room. Your organization is filled with people who are aware of how their work is affected by both internal and external factors.
  2. Inquiry becomes paramount. Advocacy still has a role, yet now you must rely more on understanding the current state and how your employees view it.
  3. Greater need for strong facilitation skills. Orchestrating your organization to become constantly adaptive requires strong facilitation skills to bring people together and integrate your vision and direction back into the discussion.
  4. Hiring the right people. Now more than ever bringing the right people into the organization is crucial. You want those who have an eye for constant improvement, can work across functions and are open minded yet firm in their convictions.
  5. Cultivating a culture of trust and healthy conflict. Now that transformation is dynamic, you want a culture where people can openly discuss, disagree, and drive toward the best solution.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,



Advocacy vs. Inquiry and the proper use of Advocacy

Steve in front of Chicago’s Historic Jackson Park, Site of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition

Who hasn’t heard one of Chicago’s nicknames, “The Windy City?” Most people assume this nickname applies to the city because of the unrelenting winds coming off Lake Michigan. Walking the streets of the Loop seems to prove this to be true. I have lost more umbrellas as a result. It turns out that like many historical “facts,” this one is also up for debate.

One popular potential source of the term relates to the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.

In the late 1880’s when America was preparing to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ discovery, three cities vied to be the site for the party. New York, Washington D.C., and Chicago engaged in a competition to prove why they were the best choice. It is believed that only after extensive bloviating by Chicago residents, notable business men, and politicians that the city won the opportunity to host the exposition.

Whether the story is true or not, it makes a key point. Advocacy is required to make your case. Those involved in the Chicago story were persuasive in their arguments and cited several valid reasons.

Driving successful transformations requires you to have clear purpose with tangible outcomes. Aligning your leadership team to this purpose requires your crisp communication. Enrolling all your organization requires the same – clear crisp advocacy about the outcomes of the transformation and why it is important to the organization.

This is an important first step. Once you have properly advocated for your cause, then you are able to engage in robust dialog with your teams to gather their input on how to move forward.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


Proof that Inquiry is a more effective Influencer than is Advocacy

Statistics Confirm: Talk Less and Listen More for Success

“You have two ears and one mouth, use them accordingly,” “Talk less, listen more.” These are two quotes we often hear. Some of us might remember when we were children our mother’s drumming this into our young heads. I know mine did.

Last year, Gong.io did a study of 25,537 sales transactions between a seller and a buyer. A summary of their findings follows:

  1. Across all 25,537 conversations, sellers spoke 70% of the time and buyers about 30% of the time.
  2. Across only those that resulted in a sale, the seller spoke 43% of the time and the buyer spoke 57% of the time.

Now, you might say to me, “Steve, this data is great, but selling a product or service is much different than leading a transformation.” I disagree. The fundamental underlying similarity is that both require influence. In the sales transaction, the seller is influencing the buyer to buy. In transformations, the leader is influencing the employee to adopt the transformation.

Influence is the key to success in both scenarios. Inquiry goes much further than advocacy whether you are selling a product, service or a transformation.

The message? Talk less. Listen more. Apparently about twice as much as you are currently (57% vs. 30%).

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


How to enroll middle managers in your transformation

At one point in my corporate career, I was a middle manager responsible for large teams. I was heads down executing the day-to-day work of the organization. There were substantial changes looming around me, and I had an idea that at some point, these would impact me, but I didn’t have the time to think about all this and keep the day-to-day operations moving forward.

I’ve noticed this condition in my consulting career. We sometimes do not pay enough attention to the needs of middle managers when organizations go through a major transformation. There is both a challenge and opportunity here.

The challenge is that, like me in my corporate career, middle managers tend to be so focused on running the day-to-day business that they don’t have time to think about the implications of transformation on their area. The opportunity is that when properly enrolled in driving the transformation, they are instrumental to long-term sustainability.

How do we enroll middle managers, and do we do it in a way that makes sense? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Assign them to lead business readiness teams. One effective way of enrolling front line employees is to assign them to teams which lead the implementation of the transformation in a given area of the business. These teams need leaders. Who better than middle managers associated with a function within the organization.
  2. Ask them to develop new metrics. Every transformation in which I have been involved has required new business measures to monitor performance. Once middle managers understand the nature of the transformation, they are among those most likely to be able to define relevant new measures.
  3. Have them rationalize process improvements. Because they are on the front-line, middle managers are well equipped to validate, adjust, or even discard proposed process improvements.
  4. Culture monitors. Gather their input on how they see the transformation will impact the culture; they have probably the best handle on how the transformation will impact the folks on the front line, how they interact with one another, and implications for the broader organization.

These are a few ways you can enroll middle managers in your transformation. The bottom line – this is not optional for long term, sustainable success.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,



Resistance is not only good, it’s necessary

In one engagement early in my consulting career 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.

When I came on board it was immediately obvious that the faculty’s involvement would be required to make this transformation successful. Further, the faculty was unionized and resistant to this project. I learned there had been long – standing challenges between the college and the union. 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 enroll them in the transformation.

We met the resistance first hand. They expressed several concerns. One issue they highlighted was lack of day-to-day support for them to go through the transformation. It was necessary, and something the project team missed on the project plan.

The faculty union leaders became legitimizers – a term I prefer over resisters. Because they made the transformation legitimate for their peers. Many of the issues they surfaced were valid and we needed to work through them. This had not been effectively done in previous projects.

Over time we partnered. Together we addressed their issues. Eventually we established faculty teams to guide the implementation. Faculty members gladly joined these teams at the encouragement of the union leadership. Interestingly, the faculty implementation was one of the most successful elements of the transformation.

The turning point, simply, was that they wanted to be heard, and wanted to be sure they had a voice.

Call to action:

  • Ask yourself, who are the resisters to the transformation?
  • Seek them out with an open mind. Learn what they have to say.
  • You’ll be able to quickly separate complainers from legitimizers.
  • Incorporate legitimizer’s feedback into your transformation.
  • Enroll the legitimizers to help drive the implementation and sustainability.
  • Celebrate successes with them. Unsparingly give credit.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,