How effectively managing change adds value

Most of us have been to a networking event at one time or another. A favorite ice breaker when meeting someone new is the question, “What do you do?” Here is how I answer that question, “I profitably transform vision to reality by building transformational leaders, developing their skills to connect with and engage employees to drive change, with a razor-sharp focus on execution.”

Let’s pick this apart and talk about how each element adds value.

Building transformational leaders. While managing large scale change, I have had more than one leader tell me that they learned a great deal about their leadership style, and how to improve their effectiveness. This starts with clear purpose stated in specific outcomes, built on a platform of true leadership principles, and the integrity to relentlessly drive the change to completion. This fuels her leadership capability, driving the change faster, better and deeper into the organization. The results are stronger leadership, greater value faster, and greater efficiency, customer satisfaction, revenue and growth over the long term.

Connect with and engage employees. This often starts with me asking the question, “Who will ultimately be responsible for sustaining the change?” The answer is usually some combination of middle managers and front-line employees. Middle managers engage by helping to define the new operational metrics, and developing mechanisms to hold their employees accountable to the new process and metrics. Front line employees engage to define specifics to implement the change. This adds value because the employees who will ultimately sustain the change are engaged early enough to ensure a smoother implementation of the change, thus increasing the value sooner.

Razor sharp focus on execution. The first two elements are critical and to be successful, these activities must be organized into a pragmatic and planned execution approach. The project structure helps hold both leaders and team-members accountable for their roles in the project. Mechanisms are in place for leaders to persistently drive execution while relying on their teams to complete the work. Of course, clearer execution means faster and more efficient value realization.

How will you deliver exceptional results and greater value during your next change project?

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 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 invest 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.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation

How to eliminate cross-functional dysfunction during large scale process change

Early in my career at Whirlpool, I was asked to revive an underperforming electronic commerce team. One issue was a lack of understanding of how various functions of the company had to work together to create successful solutions. For example, to provide invoices to customers, order processing, distribution and accounts receivable had to work together differently. Helping them see this was a challenge. I dubbed this challenge “cross-functional dysfunction.”

Every change or transformation project in which I have been involved has required different functional teams to change the way the work with each other. When they don’t adopt change effectively, they experience cross-functional dysfunction at an operational level. These organizations brought me in to help them overcome these issues.

1. I have found a simple approach to help organizations identify and resolve issues that might otherwise cause cross-functional dysfunction.
2. dentify each function that will be impacted by the change.
Identify a top operational leader within each of the functions identified in step 1.
3. Ask these leaders to prepare the following as pre-work to a larger meeting:
a. Changes required in their organization based on their understanding of the change. These might be work process, policy, or people changes.
b. Changes they will need from their functional counterparts for them to successfully implement the change in their own function.
c. Impacts they will cause to their functional counterparts because of implementing the change.
4. Hold a meeting with these operational leaders to discuss their pre-work with their counterparts. Have someone document issues and solutions coming out of the discussion. These meetings are extremely powerful and can prevent problems later in the program.
5. Conduct follow-up meetings as needed to resolve all priority issues.

Each time I have employed this approach, the organization experiences greater success in driving their change. It is a simple, yet powerful approach to drive success.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,

How to engage middle managers during change

Early in my career, I began to see a trend where project teams driving substantial change did an excellent job organizing the technical elements of the change, and provided training for front line employees. Further, once the change was implemented, employees used the new approaches for a while and then slowly reverted to old ways. When I explored why this happened, I consistently discovered that middle-managers were not adequately engaged to sustain the change. I learned that oftentimes in the rush to implement, project teams did not engage middle-managers because these managers were too busy dealing with day-to-day operational issues. It was the project team’s responsibility to execute.

I call this The Immovable Middle, not because middle managers are not willing to participate, but more likely because they are busy operating the current day-to-day environment. They don’t have the time or resources to think about the next substantial change that is coming their way. Yet their participation is essential for several reasons.
• They ultimately are accountable to see that their employees sustain the change.
• They identify the metrics need to change, and are instrumental in their implementation.
• They, along with some of their employees, are in the best position to identify up-stream and down-stream impacts of the change, and ensure that they are working cross-functionally to ensure a smooth transition.
• They are in the best position to help rationalize the change – meaning – help the project team and organizational leaders understand how the change will work well, and where it might fall short.
• Finally, over the long term, they are the people in the organization that are best able to assess which employees are adopting and executing the change most effectively, and can mete out recognition and rewards accordingly.

When middle managers are effectively engaged in defining and driving the change, you increase the probability that your change will be successful. It also increases the probability to sustain the change. This drives up the value, oftentimes making the difference between achieving success or not. Depending on the nature of your change, this means improved customer satisfaction, greater efficiency, more revenue, and faster growth.

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll explore a few of these points further.

How to drive greater alignment to execute change

Recently a client asked me, how do you gain alignment on your team when your leaders don’t play together nicely. I pursued what she meant by this. Turns out her team meetings are not as productive as they could be. Team members talk over one other. There’s not much interaction. At the end of the meeting, it’s not always clear what decisions were made or who was accountable for actions coming out of the meeting. People are in a hurry to leave the meeting.

These are symptoms of poor team health. Before undertaking a large enterprise wide change, this team needs to learn how to work together more effectively. When I dig into the reasons why they don’t, I find that team members don’t necessarily trust each other, they are not willing to challenge each other, and there is a lack of commitment and accountability.

Organizational trust – the ability to trust one another in a team setting – comes from a leader’s ability to “be real,” to explain why they make decisions the way they do, and from being vulnerable. We don’t often discuss vulnerability in a corporate setting – yet it is perhaps one of the most valuable traits as a leader. When you practice vulnerability, you open yourself up to criticism. You give permission to others to challenge your ideas and suggest different approaches. When your leadership team practices vulnerability, you have richer, more robust discussions in your team meetings. There is greater commitment and more accountability.

Vulnerability is not developed overnight. It takes practice. Being able to authentically say things like, “I’m sorry,” “You’re better at that than I am,” or “That’s a better idea than mine,” are examples of language that reflect vulnerable behavior. The leader must consistently model the behavior, and identify why her team is and is not doing the same. This requires courage on the leader’s part to change the status quo, and not to fall back into old ways.

My Accelerate workshop helps you develop the kind of leadership team described above. If you have a leadership team that you know can increase its performance, and you want to achieve greater results, this program is for you. Strong leadership is crucial to remain competitive, and you need to know your next team will exceed your goals. Through Accelerate you’ll learn how to build and sustain your leadership team to fuel the growth of your firm and to propel your personal leadership success.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,

How not to manage change

Wally was expected to arrive at 10 AM. I hired him to handle a few minor repairs around our condo. At approximately 10 AM, I received a phone call from Jo who manages our receiving room, and registers contractors as they enter and leave our condominium building. Jo informed me that Wally arrived, but he is not listed on the register of contractors who are permitted to enter the building this day, and therefore she would not be able to allow him in. I confronted the management office, and Wally could enter.

I asked a few questions: when did this process start? How does one go on the register? Why don’t I know about this change in process?

I learned that over the last several months, the management of our building has done a great deal of work to clamp down on rogue contractors coming in the building and doing unsatisfactory work or doing large projects that were not approved. While I appreciate greater integrity in the work approval process, it is also important that changes in policy are well communicated so residents understand expectations before contractors arrive on the day-of to perform work.

This is a simple matter of taking a few minutes to think about how change is going to impact your stakeholders, and then putting a little effort into helping them prepare for the change.

One client did this well. For example, when she hired a new Project Management Office leader, she sent out a communication announcing the new lead, and included a list of priorities she expected this leader to implement. She followed this up with a discussion about the new leaders’ role in a town hall meeting. It was clear to her organization what she was doing and why she was doing it.

The next time you are implementing a change, even a small policy change, I encourage you identify those who will be impacted by the change and help them prepare for it. It can be as simple as some communication.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,

How clear execution drives value

One of my clients long ago attempted a large-scale change in their organization. Early in the project it didn’t go well because while they had reasonable sponsorship, and they hired me to help them manage the change, they had insufficient project discipline. This resulted in the project missing early deadlines. As a consultant focused on helping organizations drive successful change, I alerted the leadership to this gap in their project. Ultimately, they filled a key project leadership role, and the project was successful.

The symptoms I saw in this project, and are common to most projects where there is a lack of project management include:
1. Mixed messages. Different elements of the project had received different messages about the intent of the project and the value it was to add to the organization.
2. Lack of an overall plan to execute the change, leading to a misunderstanding of requirements, dates, and expectations.
3. Inconsistent delivery. Lack of project standards cause various parts of the organization to implement the change differently, causing confusion among employees.
4. Lack structure. The lack of project standards also confounds accountability for the work that is required to affect the change. People don’t understand who is responsible for what.
5. Uncoordinated. Various parts of the project attempt to implement their changes but are met with resistance and confusion because those impacted are unclear on how it all fits together.

When change execution is complemented with a solid project management approach, you’ll observe the following:
1. A clear and well communicated plan that helps the organization understand what will be completed by when, and their role in these changes.
2. Project risks and issues are well documented, and more importantly, well mitigated to better ensure success.
3. A scope change process that judiciously evaluates requested changes to the project, communicating the impact and ultimately adjusting plans when changes are approved.
4. An excellent working relationship between the sponsor and the project manager, where communications are open, and accountability is clear.

For more information about how to run projects more effectively, I encourage you to review the Project Management Institute’s website.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


How to achieve the most value from your organization for your organization

I once worked with a senior executive who was amazing at building relationships with his organization. His leadership team revered him. People in his organization further down the organization chart admired him. When I asked people on his team why they liked him so much, I heard two basic themes. First, he communicated multi-directionally. He spoke with all his employees at various levels, and he listened to and applied their feedback. Second, he made sound, fact-based decisions which he openly shared (as appropriate). People respected his decisions – even the most painful, unpopular ones.

After working with him for a while, I saw a pattern emerge in his style. He was a relationship builder. He took time to learn about each of his people. He took time to understand his leadership team’s ideas and concerns about decisions he had to make. He took time every week during a massive change project to meet with all the employees in his unit – about 200 of them – to share progress and receive feedback. At the core of this was his ability to ask questions while advocating a position. He was masterful at building relationships of trust with people.

During times of notable change, a leader must take time to build relationships. Part of being an active and visible sponsor is to understand employee sentiment regarding change, and acting on it productively to mold success. If the leader fails to build these relationships, employees won’t be engaged, and the following results occur:

Inferior quality. If employees don’t have a chance to air their opinions or concerns, chances are the project will miss important requirements for the change.
Delays. Last minute discoveries happen usually because an insufficient number of people had opportunity to comment on the change. This leads to costly delays and missed deadlines.
Unsustainable. The worst possible fate for a change is that it is unstainable. The primary cause is lack of engagement by employees. Proper relationship building leads to improved engagement.

How do you build relationships in your organization?
Be clear on your purpose. Building a relationship with employees to drive change includes clearly communicating your intent, and expressing this in terms of expected outcomes. Don’t lead off your communications with this, but know this before you begin your communication.
Be approachable. Drop the titles. Eliminate any air of superiority. Be genuine in your desire to learn people’s perspective.
Ask questions. Talk less, ask more. Use a combination of yes/no and open-ended questions. The former provide direction for the discussion; the latter provides deep insight.
Understand resistance. I love resistance. Without it you might never hear about things that could go wrong.
Call to action. At the end of a conversation, ask for a commitment. Ask people to engage with the change, or at least to be open minded to it. Do not underestimate the power of the ask.

When appropriate relationships are built, and employees are engaged in the change, the change becomes much more sustainable, and the probability increases to achieve or exceed value.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,

How your leadership creates value during change.

I once worked with a leader who struggled early in his career to build relationships and put appropriate structures in place to drive change. At his core, he was humble, a leader of integrity, and he was trustworthy. He might not like what some people had to say, but he took the feedback and drove change regardless. This project was quite successful due in part to his ability to recognize he needed to grow his leadership, and extend himself beyond that which he was accustomed to. He was trustworthy.

At the core of this is transformational leadership. I define transformational leadership as the underlying personal values that cause one to have principle centered leadership. There are lots of books written on this subject, among my favorites is “Principle Centered Leadership,” by Stephen R. Covey.

Without transformational leadership:
– You’ll send mixed messages to your employees driving confusion, resistance and abdication.
– Employees will be ambivalent about the change – “we’ve seen this before.”
– Employees won’t believe you. They won’t trust you.

This is the least desirable place for a leader to be in. If you see symptoms of this in your organization, it’s time to begin some serious reflection and think about these questions:
1. What is my true goal? What do I really want to achieve with this change and maybe even with my career?
2. Seek candid feedback. If this is new to you, it may take some effort to convince others you want to hear what they have to say.
3. Am I in the right position? It’s okay to admit you are in the wrong role. Your leaders will appreciate your integrity of this admission.
4. Start rebuilding relationships of trust with your inner circle. Appropriately admit errors in judgement, and start afresh. Your inner circle will help you build this with the balance of the organization. Just ask them.
5. Communicate openly and honestly with your constituents. It is not appropriate to provide a full confession. On the other hand, people appreciate open, honest candor, and will forgive imperfections if you acknowledge them and move on.
6. Hire a coach. Find someone trustworthy to help you through this process. The sign of a good coach is someone who will provide you with the unfiltered truth.

Changing your leadership to become more transformational may be one of the most difficult things you do in your career. However, if you want to continue your success with larger and more transformative change, this is an absolute must.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,

How to achieve the greatest value for your change project

Happy 2018! I want to start 2018 by giving you the three fundamental components of successful transformational change.

In my work advising leaders through major change and transformation projects in Fortune 150 organization, I have distilled successful change to three underlying components.
1. Transformational Leadership. Underlying values based, principled centered leadership that defines how a leader “shows up” to his people. This defines their degree of trustworthiness.
2. Relationship Building. The work a leader does to build relationships with their leadership team and beyond. This defines the degree the organization will be engaged with the change.
3. Execution. Putting the processes, structures and systems in place to execute the change. This defines expectations and accountabilities of individual team members.

Together, these three components are essential for successful transformational change, and are required to drive the most value. When executed well, I’ve observed value targets exceeded.

When any one of these components are missing, you sub optimize the value of the change you are attempting to drive in your organization.

-If you haven’t based your leadership on solid values, employees will find your message lacks credibility. I remember those old westerns where a medicine salesman from back east came to town to sell those amazing elixirs that would heal your every pain. Their lack of credibility was so evident it was painful. They suppressed their values to make a buck.
-A sizable portion of a leader’s role, particularly during times of change, is to build relationships with employees. His first responsibility is to his immediate leadership team. With their help he can extend this to the entire organization. Without solid connections to the organization – in whatever form it takes – employees will remain less engaged with the change.
-Active leadership and engaged employees are vital to successful change, but without clear expectations and accountability, the process to achieve change will be painful, wrought with confusion, and will likely sub optimize the value of the change.

Over the next few weeks we’ll examine each of these in more detail with the goal to provide you more insight on how to drive successful change.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,