How to determine if your organization is prepared to lead a transformation

One of my early consulting engagements was for a large consumer products division of a Fortune 50. They were implementing a significantly large technology upgrade that changed the way people worked and changed the way they interacted with each other across functions. This became one of the most successful projects I had the privilege of working; it implemented on time, under budget, with no disruption to the business, and exceeded benefit targets.

There were several factors that led this project to success, not the least of which was a solid team structure, with the right people. Organizations will often take people out of the business to work on projects. We didn’t do that here. We left people in the business and had them accountable for project deliverables through their functional leaders, and the functional leaders became the first level project team. It meant extra hours for them because they were still accountable for delivering business operations every day.

We topped this off with a strong project leader who had significant business experience across the enterprise. He had the insight to ensure that project goals supported the organization’s purpose, and he led project meetings ruthlessly toward these goals – sometimes creating healthy conflict in which the team engaged to resolve. These factors were a major component of what led us to success.

Here are a few characteristics of a well-designed, highly performing change implementation team, like the one described above:

  1. The team leader has adequately demonstrated leadership skills.
  2. The team leader has enough functional and cross functional knowledge.
  3. The team’s goals support the organization’s purpose.
  4. Team meetings are focused on topics relevant to its goals.
  5. The team is completing work in alignment with its goals.

How does your organization stack up?

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


How sponsorship helps drive successful transformation

Did you know that poor sponsorship is the most frequently cited reason for project failure? Here are a few things you can do as a sponsor of transformational change to ensure incredible success.

Establish the transformation as a priority. Your employees need to know that it is expected they allocate time to the effort. This priority must be communicated throughout the organization and reinforced regularly. The sponsor is responsible to ensure this happens.

Allocate resources to the effort. Provide resources or make tough decisions regarding tradeoffs. Where possible allocate part time resources to help with the increased workload.  Another option is to delay not-critical day-to-day work. A third alternative is to look for other ways to accomplish the work such as through out-sourcing. Regardless of the approach, you must be involved to ensure the optimal trade-off is made, and the project will meet expectations while day-to-day operations continue.

Entertain resistance. Seek out those who resist the transformation. Learn about their concerns. Identify fact vs. fiction. Follow up on the facts and communicate back to the resistor(s) your findings. Converting resistors to advocates can be one of the most effective means to drive success.

Celebrate success. No matter how large or small, this is key to the driving momentum. When a project expects people to go above and beyond their normal day-to-day workload, there is cause for recognition. Recognizing progress and celebrating success helps drive momentum in part because this is a subtle way of reinforcing mind-share – the time employees think about the transformation vs. the day-to-day work of the organization. Rarely are these things viewed as frivolous. Instead they are key events to let people feel appreciated for their work, give them a relaxed atmosphere to interact with team members, and builds employee engagement in the transformation.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


How your personal purpose can transform your organization

It’s that time of year when many of us think about 2018 and consider what we might do differently in 2019. Might I suggest you consider honing your personal purpose?

In this blog I have often spoken of the need for clear organizational purpose, particularly when transforming your organization. Yet maintaining clear focus on your own personal or leadership purpose is just as important. This goes to integrity – a value I believe is foundational to a leader’s long-term success. If your personal purpose and your organizational purpose are misaligned, you will struggle to sustain your ability to lead your organization – particularly through long term transformational change.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What is my long-term purpose as a leader?
  • How does this support my organization’s long-term purpose?
  • What is the language I use to convey the long-term purpose of the organization, and how is it flavored by my leadership?
  • How does my immediate leadership team react to this? What changes might I make in my messaging?

Take an hour sometime during the next few days to think through these questions. You’ll be amazed at how this simple exercise will upgrade your leadership and improve the success and sustainability of your organizational transformation.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


How to reap huge value from listening to your employees

Over the last three years, one of my clients has established a new function to better serve its customers. This function includes about 350 employees brought together from other parts of the company. Half of this team is in remote offices. These “field” employees gave one of the company’s lowest engagement scores and had one of the highest attrition rates – twice that of accepted industry norms.

We instituted a regular mealtime meeting between senior leaders and small groups of employees. The program, called “Food for Thought,” provided employees a structured way to share feedback, issues, and concerns. Topics included understanding the impact of the new organization and cross-functional operating issues.

Corporate employees were scheduled for lunch meetings. Field employees participated when they met for other purposes; someone from the leadership team would have dinner with them.

The VP of the unit at the time said, “Hearing from front-line employees provided more insight to lead my team in 90 minutes than I received in other ways during any given month. These employee meetings clearly enabled me to be a better leader.

Other results? Over this time frame the field team increased engagement scores by 35% and reduced unfavorable attrition by more 8%, bringing it in well below industry standards.

There are a variety of methods you can use to connect with and obtain feedback from your employees. Food for Thought was a creative, low-cost method this leadership team used during a time of notable change.

Call to action:

  1. When driving a change program, identify the impact on your front-line employees. Focus on behavioral changes, such as how employees will work together differently.
  2. Determine the best approach for your team. Mealtime meetings, focus groups, department or workgroup meetings, and town halls are among those most often used.
  3. Select a cross- section of your organization’s employees to attend. Mixing groups is often an excellent way to facilitate the cross-pollination of ideas.
  4. Have an agenda. Facilitate to keep the meeting on-track and avoid it becoming a gripe session.
  5. As you hold these meetings, develop trust and speak with candor. Authenticity is critical. If employees sense any degree of patronization, you’ll lose credibility.
  6. Follow- up. If you accept action items from these meetings, you must follow through.

Whether you use a format like Food for Thought, or some other mechanism, gathering meaningful employee feedback during change is a simple and effective way to increase engagement which in turn drives greater institutionalization of the change, and adds significant value.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


How the sight of first snow is a model for engaging employees during transformation

At the sight of our first snow of the season, my wife exclaimed how happy it made her feel. I asked her why. She explained that children from her home town of Zhuzhou Hunan China were always thrilled when it snowed. Being from a southern province, snow was rare.

She went on to say the children looked forward to snowball fights, building snowmen and creating snow angels. Snow is an agent of transformation. It creates excitement. It transforms the world from a place where children exist within, to a place in which they can interact. Snow gives them an outlet to move from current state to a new exciting state.

The same is true with your transformation. When you provide opportunities for your employees to engage with the transformation, you provide opportunities to excite, interact and create. The greatest value from transformational change occurs when more employees adapt to the changes faster and more thoroughly.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,



How honey bees demonstrate transformational leadership

During my high school years, I was a self-employed beekeeper. During those four years, I learned a great deal about the social construct of honey bees. One was about teamwork and engagement. The self-sacrificing teamwork bees demonstrate remains an example to me today.

A beehive depends on its food source, honey, for survival. Bees divide and conquer responsibilities to gather nectar. One role of the worker bee is that of forager. Foragers are further divided into finders and gatherers. Finders will travel as far as one mile from a hive to look for nectar sources. They return to communicate with the gatherers about the location of the nectar. Through an intricate bee dance, they tell the gatherers the distance and direction to the nectar. The gatherers then go out, collect the nectar and bring it back to the hive.

Think about this. These worker bees are highly engaged with the goal of hive prosperity. No leader tells them what to do every day. They organize themselves, determine the necessary work, and do it.

Occasionally big changes happen in their environment. Weather may impact nectar sources. Swarming changes the population and temperament of the hive. Through these and other changes, worker bees adjust, persevere and continue to succeed.

It truly is amazing.

This is a nearly perfect model of teamwork and engagement a leader might strive for. To achieve this, ask yourself these questions.

  1. Is the end goal perfectly clear? Is my message clear and uncluttered?
  2. Is my organization structured to allow for innovation and independent thinking?
  3. Have I established an environment where employees can succeed?
  4. Are there mechanisms in place for departments to effectively communicate with one another?

As a transformational leader, you want to ensure your employees are self-sufficient, and can drive their work without day-to-day intervention by you. Just like the honey bees, the success of your outcomes is driven in part by their ability to work on their own to determine what needs to be done, where and by when.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


Steve’s top ten list – an executive’s favorite blogs

Recently I spoke with an executive client. He told me he had been reading my newsletter, now going into its third year. He shared with me that he had a list of top 10 favorites. Here they are:

  1. How senior leaders hold the keys to successful transformation
  2. When top down doesn’t make sense – an inquisitive approach to transformation
  3. How to drive greater value by listening
  4. How to ensure your success as a leader of change
  5. How to encourage transformational resistance, and reap greater rewards
  6. Why it’s wise not to take short cuts when executing change
  7. How to eliminate cross-functional dysfunction during large scale process change
  8. How trust enables high speed transformation
  9. Resistance is not only good, it’s necessary
  10. How not to manage change

I appreciate his feedback. In fact, this is one way to advance your transformation. Praise good work when you see it, and be sure others know about it.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


My most memorable Thanksgiving

The first 10 years of my life were spent in Chicago. In the fall of my 11th year my parents purchased a 30-acre run-down farm in southwest Michigan. Kind of like Green Acres, only not as bad.

Our first over night trip there was Thanksgiving. We drove over from Chicago with a suitcase, a hot plate and a cooler. There was an old porcelain surfaced table and a couple of chairs left in the kitchen, but that’s the only furniture we had. Thanksgiving dinner was canned turkey, canned vegetables and bread and butter. No stuffing. No cranberry sauce. No pumpkin pie. Dad found a crate in the basement to use as a third chair, and we sat around that old table and enjoyed our simple Thanksgiving in that dimly lit kitchen.

After that first Thanksgiving we went there every weekend, holidays and most of the summers. After nearly three years and the purchase of a second farm, we moved there permanently.. Those first years, though, are among my favorite memories growing up “on the farm.” We had farmland, woods and a creek. I built a small fort in a pine grove. I learned how to drive a tractor. I tromped up and down the creek. I helped my dad clear brush, plant grapes and restore the old peg and beam barn. One neighbor was an older couple – the quintessential farm couple with an old tractor, chickens and some cows. They took me under their wing and I learned how to milk a cow, make butter, and tend chickens. It was quite an adventure for a young suburban boy.

I am grateful for those first two-three years I had on the farm. I learned as much or more through those experiences as I did in school. That first Thanksgiving, though, is one of my best memories – in part because it was so simple and in part because it started a new way of life for me.

May you be blessed with a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday and enjoy it with important family and friends.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


The biggest mistakes leaders make when making decisions

Recently I read an article that talked about big mistakes leaders make when making decisions. One situation is when the leader tells people they have input into the decision when they really don’t. Employees provide input to the decision only to find out later this was a ploy to gain their buy-in. There was never any intent to use their input.

I agree. This is a ploy that only ends up hurting the leader in the long run. It is disingenuous, and drives lack of trust. When you are leading a large-scale transformational change in your organization, building trust is paramount to your success.

Instead, be clear and honest about who is making the decision. Limit input to the decision to your immediate leadership team. Then enroll employees to implement the change. It’s crucial that employees help you define the implementation, but not the decision itself.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


How your humility drives greater success when leading transformational change

I recently read an article in the Wall Street Journal that shared why the best bosses are humble bosses. This reminded me of a few things. First, it reminded me of Patrick Lencioni’s book, “The Ideal Team Player: How to Recognize and Cultivate the Three Essential Virtues” (Jossey-Bass, April 2016).

The article also reminded me of a few of my executive clients – particularly those with whom I enjoyed working with the most. They are truly humble leaders. Let’s dig into this further – what does it mean to be a humble leader?

  1. Ask for feedback. Here are few forms:
    1. Direct reports. Requesting feedback on the progress the organization is making as it navigates transformational change helps the leader and her team adjust the purpose to ensure they are driving to optimal outcomes.
    2. All other employees. In town hall meetings and other forums, don’t fill the hour with presentations. Allow at least 1/3 of the time for thoughtful questions and feedback. Ask meaningful questions of the audience to engaged thoughtful feedback.
    3. Coach. Hire a coach to help you improve your leadership. Look for areas of strength and build on those. Expect honest feedback from your coach – that’s why you are paying them.
  2. Build healthy conflict. In your team meetings if you see dissent growing in your leadership team, don’t avoid it, dive into it. This especially applies to items you bring to the agenda. Ask team members to clarify their position. Seek out points of difference. Help team members express their concerns productively. Watch for body language that suggests discomfort. Be careful not to embarrass but be sure that all voices are heard.
  3. Learn from failure. I do not encourage exacerbating wounds, but I do encourage thoughtful discussion about lessons learned. Even in your most successful transformational changes, there are things you might have done differently. Take time to explore those, along with the things you and your team did right.

Use this outline above to assess your own humble leadership. Are you doing these things? How well? If you experienced no hesitation answering any of these questions positively, then it is quite likely that your transformation will be among the few that succeed. Congratulations.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,