How Purpose Motivates more than Money


Free college! This is one of the messages of many of those in the running to become the next president of the United States.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal describes successes Kalamazoo, Michigan, has had with a privately funded paid tuition program. The program, Kalamazoo Promise, began in 2005. This provides enough time to evaluate both successes and failures. On the upside the city has helped 5,735 students achieve higher education than they might not otherwise have had. On the downside, there is also a high rate of dropouts from the program. The most often cited reasons are lack of family support and lack of purpose.

Some students who participated in the program experienced depression and ultimately dropped out. As researchers explored this, they found that these students took advantage of the program because it was available and because they were taught to “…’go to college, go to college,’ and not ‘go to college for this reason.’”

This is a relevant example of how leading with clear purpose overshadows any ability you might have to throw more money at your transformation.

If you are leading a transformation, and your employees cannot relate to the outcomes, or don’t understand the purpose, they’ll “drop out.”

There needs to be a compelling reason for your employees to gain the desire to follow you on your transformation journey. And this reason needs to resonate with them. Even if you pay your employees more money, the still won’t go on the ride.

Call to action: When starting your next transformation, be absolutely crystal clear on your purpose. Be sure employees understand the outcomes and understand the value of the transformation in terms that resonate with them. Be inspirational. Be excited about the outcomes you want to achieve. Show them the way.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,




How resilience and perseverance founded a great nation

Independence Day is one of my favorite holidays. The weather is usually perfect for a picnic with family or friends, and we enjoy time together sharing, playing ball, and watching the obligatory fireworks. Yet I wonder if some of our populace truly understand what our early leaders endured to achieve this independence, we celebrate each year.

Over the last few years, I’ve read biographies regarding three of our country’s early leaders: George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and John Adams. As a result, I discovered two common traits shared by these three men: resilience and perseverance. In all three cases, these men persevered through a variety of challenges and setbacks to remain true to their cause. In all three cases, they were resilient – bouncing back from failure to try a different approach to achieving their goals.

The same is true for any of us who lead transformational change. In order to achieve our goals, we call upon ourselves to never give up, and drive forward sometimes in the face of great adversity. But it’s worth it. You come out on the other end knowing that what you have achieved is greater than you might have expected, fulfilling your goals and those of many others.

May you enjoy this day with family or friends. Use this time to rejuvenate, refuel and share . all that you have with those you love and care for.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


How your personal behavior influences the success of your transformation

I received a call from an organization that was interested in my Activate workshop to handle a behavioral problem in the organization that was creating roadblocks to success. The caller was not a senior leader, but someone in the talent organization. I asked them to introduce the CEO and they declined saying, “Mr. X has asked us to deal with the challenges we are facing; he doesn’t like to deal with these personal, behavioral issues.”

I politely declined the opportunity to work with them.

In my experience, senior leaders are essential to leading transformative change – particularly when that change requires changing behavior in the organization. If the leader is unable to model the desired behavior, it will be many times more difficult to successfully change behaviors in the organization, if at all.

Here are three traits I look for in leaders of successful transformational change:

  1. They realize and are open about the fact that they do not have all the answers. They are willing to engage with others on a peer-to-peer basis to learn more about the impact they are having on the transformation. They are willing to personally confront their own insecurities and act to ensure these don’t negatively impact the transformation.
  2. Leaders have the courage to face other leaders and their employees. They are willing to have difficult conversations with those who might require it. They are willing to reveal more about major challenges. They are more genuine in their approach to the transformation when interacting with others.
  3. Selfless leaders do what it takes to lead through the transformation. They eliminate selfishness from their lives. They give freely of their time and energy to drive things forward. And they do all of this with little thought about the cost to them personally.

Call to action: Set aside one hour to reflect on these traits. Determine how you measure up. Define steps or changes in your own behavior to implement greater effectiveness in your transformational leadership.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


How hierarchical adherence can slow down your transformation

I’m in the middle of reading General Stanley Chrystal’s, Team of Teams. One concept he describes in the book is how our historically hierarchical organizational structures stand in the way of our ability to move quickly when called upon. Putting this in layman’s terms, employees in one function feel constrained to speak with employees in other functions unless they go through their chain of command. This exponentially adds time delay that can be devastating to customer metrics. Incidentally, this issue is one of the predominant reasons it took so long to deal with the Iraq war.

When I counsel with executives about implementing their strategies to transform their organization, one of the cultural elements we discuss is “hierarchical adherence.” How much do employees follow their chains of command versus how freely they feel to simply pick up the phone or walk over to speak with a colleague in another function? You would think that in order to quickly implement transformational change, you would want everything neat and tidy, organizationally speaking. Clear roles with clear accountabilities, including clear hand-offs between functions. Not so.

Fine-tuning your cross-functional dysfunction does not mean making it go away. It means having enough alignment at the top to ensure employees are marching toward the same purpose, but not spelling out every detail of every transaction. The more you encourage employees to work out their needs, the stronger the connections they will have. When the time comes to implement a big transformation, they will have established better working relationships across the organization. This accelerates their ability to clarify unknowns and determine and support each other’s needs.

In the late 1800s, Fredrick Taylor revolutionized industry by driving greater efficiency through highly structured processes and organizations to support them. This served us well for a century or more. For us to remain competitive, however, we need to transform our organizations quickly to adapt to the environments in which we work. You can prepare for your next transformation by enrolling your employees early to work together, understand their respective impacts, and devise their own plan to accomplish your purpose.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,



Why resistance is not only good, it is necessary

In many of my speeches I ask audience members to tell me what they think when they hear or see the word RESISTANCE. I receive answers such as: negative, unwanted, bad, slows things down, troublemaker, opposition, defiant or struggle. One time, a woman answered, “Necessary.”

She was right. Resistance is not only good, it’s necessary. Oftentimes executives begin executing their strategy and they might not know all the answers about what’s going on in their organization. They may overlook something or may not have considered an important prerequisite. Somewhere in the organization, there is someone who has overlooked something and not considered an important prerequisite. On the surface, this person might be thought of as a resister, yet they hold one of the keys to the leader’s success.

In one transformation in which I was involved, the leaders overlooked an important infrastructural requirement. They did not realize it until they took the time to speak with a group of employees previously considered “problematic.” Together, they identified the problem and implemented a solution.

Seek out resistance in your transformation. Here’s a simple outline to follow:

  1. Actively seek out those in your organization who are resistant to your transformation. Start with your immediate leadership team. Ask them about pockets of resistance. Go deeper from there.
  2. Ask don’t tell. When you find your resisters, now is not the time to advocate your cause as it will only turn people off. Start by asking questions to dig into their resistance. Be careful with asking WHY questions as these sometimes convey judgement. One of my favorite questions is “What are we missing?”
  3. Identify and document. List concerns, issues and risks that surface. Do this in front of the resisters, showing them that you are actively listening and genuinely concerned.
  4. Follow through. Nothing kills credibility like telling your employees that you’re going to do something, and then you don’t. Close off each of the items that surface, and report back about the disposition and progress. For items requiring a longer resolution time, add them to the project plan and ensure resolution.
  5. Enroll the resisters. I have found that those who are resistant often become your most passionate supporters. Give them a meaningful role during the transformation. One client gave them a role as spokesperson. There are few opening lines more powerful than, “I used to think this wasn’t a good idea, but I changed my mind when….”

By following this simple five-step approach, you will fuel your transformation to move along faster, and enroll employees whose enthusiasm and passion for the change will help enroll others throughout your organization.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,



How you know you will have a successful transformation

Study after study shows that strong sponsorship is the number one characteristic of successful transformation.

From a PMI Study: “Effective project sponsors use their influence within an organization to actively overcome challenges by communicating the project’s alignment to strategy, removing roadblocks, and driving organizational change. With this consistent engagement and support, project momentum will stay steady and success is more likely.” *

Let’s talk about how this translates into value for the organization. The bottom line is that greater success is achieved when MORE employees adapt to the transformation FASTER, and at greater levels of ABILITY, or what I like to call DEEPER. Simply put – MORE-FASTER-DEEPER.

More employees. In any transformation there are early adopters and laggards. As a sponsor, you want to find out who the laggards are and work to enroll them in the transformation sooner. You can do this through formal business readiness assessments to determine where there are pockets of slow adoption, identify the benefits to those groups, and determine ways to engage them with the transformation.

Faster adoption. When it comes to transformational change, there is no reason to wait to enroll employees in the change. Step out early with communications about the benefits to increase awareness. Address resistance head-on to clarify messaging and provide mechanisms for employees to engage early with the transformation, such as focus groups, town halls, and listening sessions.

Greater ability. Early adoption is key. Address resistance early on. Involve employee groups by helping with messaging, education and training development. Train employees to be advocates for the change. All of this will enable them to understand the transformation and help drive the implementation.

Call to action: when considering your leadership as a sponsor, ask yourself these questions and devise action plans accordingly:

  1. Am I reaching every employee that needs to hear about this transformation?
  2. Are we moving as fast as we can? What groups are not moving as fast as they could? Are there resisters?
  3. Are employees as enrolled as they could be? Are they developing necessary skills quickly?

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


(*) Pulse of the Profession – 2018, Project Management Institute. Page 6.



How to ensure your culture will support large scale transformational change

Various studies indicate that organizational transformation fail anywhere from 10% to an alarming 90% of the time. One of the factors given for failure is the lack of attention given to cultural changes that may be required to support transforming to the new state.

This means that in your approach to executing your transformation you must consider including a culture track. Here are the steps that I use when I help executives lead transformational change:

  1. Assess the current culture of your organization. Evaluate items such as risk-taking, decision-making, and respect for hierarchy.
  2. Identify current behaviors within the organization that demonstrate those elements.
  3. Specify new behaviors that are required to support the transformation objectives.
  4. Link these new behaviors to the results that you expect.
  5. Develop an accountability plan and set the example. Further, enroll your leadership team to set that example and execute accordingly.
  6. Develop and implement a plan for your employees to promote the new behaviors. Use something like a change action network.
  7. Call out examples of employees demonstrating these new behaviors. Reward them for it.
  8. After you implement the transformation, assess your progress toward improvement and establish a plan to promote and reinforce those cultural changes.

In one of my client engagements, we followed this approach. At the end of the engagement, we were thrilled with the results. Employee’s exceeded our expectations, and now the organization is in a much better position for continued growth and transformation.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


How to lead transformational change when you have no formal leadership

Bill and Greta Hurst are the owners of Tabula Rasa Gallery in Baroda, Michigan. The community of Baroda is experiencing a moderately paced and purposeful transformation. In the last seven years, the village has enjoyed the addition of two wine tasting rooms (with a third on the way), a café, a restaurant, a brew pub, a B&B, and the Hurst’s art gallery. In the nearby countryside several wineries and other agri-tourism businesses have opened. Greta is a mosaicist and yoga teacher; Bill is an IT professional and photographer. While a member of the business community with their gallery, this couple were early contributors to the transformation of the area to an agri-tourism destination.

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

Bill: The leader has a vision and can translate it to align people, resources, and actions to move that vision forward. Sometimes it’s looking at an old problem with new eyes and being adaptable to changes in the macro economy. In our case, we love Baroda and the rich history of the town. We wanted to leverage the legacy and bring more attention to the growth the area has enjoyed and continues to experience.

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

Greta: We focused our initial efforts on wayfinding to leverage the area’s historical focus on agri-tourism. We wanted signage to promote the area. To move this forward, we resurrected the Baroda Business Association (BBA) which had been dormant for a decade. We linked this with the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) to figure out ways to promote the area. We wanted to produce a video. To gain buy-in and commitment, we wanted community business and government leaders to support the project. This was our foray into the community, and it took nearly four years to build trust and gain support. In the end we were successful.

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

Bill: Between the area’s agricultural history, and the village’s focus on tool and die shops, there were competing interests about where to take the community. Greta had many meetings with the DDA, helped initiate the Baroda Area Business Association (BABA), and attempted to hold a Harvest Feast Street Festival to celebrate Baroda area agri-tourism. While the Harvest Feast ran into roadblocks, BABA’s “Party on The Pavers” is now held annually on the vintage bricks of our downtown main street.

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

Bill Greta: We had some of this early on. For the Wayfinding and Harvest Feasts, there were competing factions. We had to figure out how to pay for these projects and keep it equitable among the various sized entities. We wanted to include three communities; others wanted only to focus on two. Finally, we had all three aligned and ready to go, but because of these competing factions, we lost one of the communities. This also ultimately cost us a very important sponsor hence the morphing of Harvest Feast into Party on the Pavers.

Steve: How did you enroll others in the transformation?

Greta: We found early on that we needed to create an environment to attract businesses that brings in tourists. The new streetscape project was intended to help do this. We went door to door to speak with both business owners and elected officials about supporting this. We had to show them the math to win over their minds and share the rationale to win their hearts. One key business owner was resistant, but after we showed him a neighboring village’s streetscape and the benefits it brought to their community, we won him over.

Steve: Please comment on organizational challenges you faced, both structural and behavioral.

Greta: Structurally, we had to pull together the BBA, DDA and BABA into a cohesive group with a clear transformational purpose – agri-tourism. We were able to do this early on. Behaviorally, because most of us were volunteers, some of those who were paid participants didn’t realize the legitimacy of our leadership. With time and persistence, we established credibility.

Steve: How did you become more of a coach?

Bill: In this case, it is all about networking and alliance building. We knew where our support came from, and we knew where we needed to apply more finesse. We were also an example by owning several downtown properties. It’s easier to sell the idea of transformation if you have skin in the game.

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

Greta: First, make sure your purpose is clear, and that the execution supports the achievement of that purpose. Identify the stakeholders up-front and enroll them by addressing their needs and concerns. Finally, make sure there is room to organically and dynamically modify the purpose as you embark on your journey.

Steve: Thank you for taking the time to share your story. Having been a resident of the community off and on across multiple decades, I’m impressed with what you’ve done, and look forward to seeing more productive growth and change in the area. Thank you also for all you have done for the community.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


Note: In 2016, Bill published a photo book about Baroda’s dynamic businesses, “A Portrait of Baroda, Michigan Businesses”.  For more information about the book, go to

How risk tolerance impacts your transformational success

After doing this work for decades I’ve learned how various cultural factors impact an organizations ability to be successful with large scale transformational change.

One cultural factor is risk tolerance. I have learned that the more risk tolerance the organization, and its leaders, the greater the probability is of successful transformational change. Incidentally, success is defined as meeting the objectives of the transformation in the timeframe specified, and that it is sustainable for the long term.

The greater the risk tolerance, the more likely the organization will be to try new ideas and approaches. Executives are more willing to engage with employees to discuss opportunities related to the transformation. Further, executives are more willing to put the execution of the transformation in the hands of the employees.

This means that executives must be secure in their leadership to experiment and innovate, and they must be more willing to give up their leadership to others in their organization. The more frontline employees are enrolled in the execution of the transformation the greater the sustainability.

Call to action: if you are leading a transformational change, ask yourself this question. Are you hoarding the leadership, or are you taking greater risk to enroll your leadership team and your frontline employees to help drive the change?

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


How clear purpose can lead from one transformation to another

Every day we hear about large corporations who continue to expand their presence into different products and markets. They typically leverage one successful transformation to achieve the next. One historical example with which I am personally familiar is how in the 1950’s Whirlpool Corporation went from being a successful Midwestern company manufacturing washers and dryers to become a full line U.S. appliance manufacturer and marketer by the end of that decade. Today they are the world’s largest manufacturer of major home appliances.

Closer to home…I was 10 years old when we lived in the suburbs of Chicago. My father was growing tired of this life and wanted to expand his horizons. He had dreams of buying a little farm in Southwest Michigan, growing a few grapes, and making a little wine for himself.

In 1966 we bought our first farm. Within two years my father had started planting grapes and making his own wine. He achieved his goal and found his purpose.

In 1969 a neighboring farm became available for purchase. It had an established you -pick fruit business, and several more acres of mature vineyards and orchards. After about six weeks of debating the decision, we purchased the second farm on May 10, 1969. (Tomorrow marks our 50th anniversary!)

My father’s vision and purpose expanded. Now he wanted to grow grapes not just for himself, but for others who were interested in making their own wine. Coincidentally in the early 1970s home winemaking grew to become a significant American hobby. In 1974, dad successfully achieved his second goal and purpose. Not only was he raising high-quality vinifera for home winemakers, he had established what was likely Michigan’s largest home winemakers’ shop and was developing strong relationships with home winemakers across Chicagoland and the Midwest.

Regardless if you are a major, multi-national corporation, or an organization of one, this all boils down to an important message for all leaders. Do not become complacent by achieving your first goal. Think about and search for other opportunities to continually transform your business.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,