How to Drive Greater Value by Engaging More Employees Faster

Last wespicerek I attended a panel discussion featuring Sean Spicer, the incoming press secretary for President-Elect Donald Trump. I anticipated some protesters and was not surprised when I saw 3-4 people in front of the auditorium passing out anti-Trump material. Neither was I surprised when two minutes into the program, a man in the audience started shouting about the evils of the new administration. He was asked to hold his “questions” until later in the program. He didn’t, and was swiftly removed. It seems that opportunities for improved communication abound on all sides.

I was reminded of corporate transformations I was involved with early in my career. There were well-meaning leaders who were challenged in communicating their change message. I recall one leader, particularly frustrated with the feedback he received, saying, “Gosh, I told them once, didn’t they get it?”

Employees need to hear a message seven to 10 times before they fully understand the change and its impact. The messaging must be received in a variety of ways, from a variety of sources. When employees don’t comprehend the message, what do you do? Do you dismiss them (and their concerns), or do you listen with intent and then ensure their concerns are addressed?

Here are a few communication tips to consider when driving your next transformation:
1. Be sure the purpose of the change is clear – and that it speaks to how behaviors will need to change.
2. Galvanize your leadership team to the purpose and the intent, and ensure they are ready to speak with their organizations.
3. Plan to present yourself at least three different ways to energize your entire organization about the change.
4. Feedback is essential – and using it is even more important. Be sure you have a mechanism in place to receive and process feedback.

When you do these things, you will have a better chance of engaging more employees faster, and thus will likely drive greater value. You will also minimize the probability that anyone in the “audience” will shout you down.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,

Leaders: Observe More, React Less

In his February, 2016, article titled, “Want to be a better leader? Observe more and react less,” Manish Chopra describes his use of meditation to manage the demands on his leadership role. Even though I don’t run a large corporation, my work with my C-level clients and their organizations can be all consuming. There needs to be a mechanism to step away, breathe, and think about the bigger picture. In Mr. Chopra’s case it’s meditation. I have tried it and it works. I recommend the same for you.

How your Clear Vision Helps Drive Change

All change projects require a clear vision of the change, and how it will impact employees.


Many years ago, I built a house. I found a vacant lot densely covered with pine trees. It was steep and north facing – not an ideal site in Michigan. Some thought I was crazy for selecting such a site, but I had a vision. I sketched plans and staked out the corners of the house which was about 700 feet from the road. I took my Dad back to see the site and showed him my sketches. He said, “You have quite a vision!”

This is where change starts. The leader must have a vision. She needs to be able to articulate it clearly and show people the way. The sketch was my vision for the finished house. The stakes represented how the vision would come to life, and the foot trail, which later became a 700-foot-long driveway, was how people would come to see the vision as it materialized and eventually became my home.

steve_houseCall to action: It’s relatively easy for a leader to develop her vision for change. It’s more difficult to share that vision in a way that moves the organization to successful implementation.  When you start your next major change project, share your vision so that the organization understands it, is prepared for the impact, and will help you achieve it.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


Is Change Management a Waste of Time?

The Project Management Institute says firms that effectively use change management do the following things better than their minimally effective counterparts:

  1. They are 7 times more likely to detect change in the external environment.
  2. They are 3 times more likely to leverage significant changes.
  3. They are 5 times more likely to establish change management beyond major projects – mostly to help achieve changes in culture.
  4. They are 5 times more likely to work across functions.

These organizations have a 50% better chance of projects coming in on-time, on-budget or on-spec while they have an 80% better chance of meeting or exceeding ROI goals.

Why you Need to Galvanize your Transformation

My wife and I spent last weekend at our little farm in Michigan.

We were enjoying the first snow of the season when all of a sudden the lights went out. My son, who lives nearby, suffered from the same outage. He reported with amusement that our grandson Austin wandered through their house flipping light switches. Each time, my son gently reminded him that flipping the light switches was pointless. 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

How to make your project successful

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

What would you add to the list?

How to Win an Argument During the Holidays



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

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

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

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

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

Dedicated to your profitable transformation



How do you give thanks this Thanksgiving?


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

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

How to See Cross-Functional Dysfunction in Action

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,



My First Seven Jobs

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

tractor.jpg  Preparing the soil for a new vineyard.

Here are my first seven jobs and what I learned:

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

moving bees.jpg  Moving beehives from a pollination site.

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

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

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

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

All the best,



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