I’m not a big fan of mission statements because all too often they are filled with flowery language that communicates nothing. I prefer purpose statements that describe outcomes. Lower- level managers rarely develop purpose statements, leaving it to the senior leadership team. Yet clearly articulating the purpose of their organization unifies the team and helps them and their stakeholders hold each other accountable for results. This is true whether you are running a day-to-day operation or going through a major transformation.
One of my client’s accounts payable department did this, which included standards of behavior. I can report to you that this team is great to work with; employees are fully enrolled in the outcomes of the team and pull together to create remarkable results. Impressive.
Here is their purpose statement (adjusted to preserve anonymity), and a few of their behavioral standards. More departments would benefit from these kinds of efforts. As would your entire company.
ACCOUNTS PAYABLE CULTURE CREDO: Working together to process payments in an accurate and timely manner, while providing excellent customer service to the members and staff we support.
As members of the Accounts Payable team, we will:
Come to work each day prepared to use our time productively
Ask for help when needed
Be prompt in our responses to our customers and each other
Treat each other and our customers with dignity and respect (the way we want to be treated ourselves)
Accept that mistakes may occur as long as we learn from them and try not to repeat them
Be willing to listen to each other and try to seek common ground
Acknowledge and respect each other’s viewpoints and ideas and recognize that it is okay to respectfully disagree
A recent Wall Street Journal advertisement by MSNBC proclaims, “This is who we are.” Are you inspired? Does this engage you to turn on the TV and watch their programming? It does neither for me.
When you lead transformations, it’s easy to overlook the importance of summarizing objectives into a single, concise statement. One executive I worked with used the purpose statement, “Every Engagement Counts,” to express his goal that all employees understand the importance of each interaction both inside his transforming organization, and with the organization’s internal and external customers. It worked. Employees rose to the occasion.
Don’t underestimate the power of a single, short sentence or phrase to help focus your employees on your transformational goals. It unifies, provides direction, and can be measurable. With “Every Engagement Counts,” the organization reduced undesirable attrition by more than 50% in a year. Of course, there were other factors that led to this success, but having a simple rallying cry made a big difference.
I spent my teen age years and much of my adult life in Berrien County, Michigan. Berrien County is in the southwest corner of the mitten state and holds a significant place in the agricultural history of the United States.
For decades, the Benton Harbor Fruit Market was the largest market of its kind in the world.
Due to its proximity to Chicago, the county remains a key supplier for the city’s restaurants and grocers.
Berrien County held the record for the greatest number of fruit and vegetable varieties.
Until the late 1960’s, the area had only one or two wineries, and the grapes grown were American varieties such as Concord and Niagara. In 1966, my father, interested in growing grapes to make wine, purchased a 30-acre farm near Baroda in Berrien County. He knew that American varieties were not known for the best wine, so he started educating himself on varieties that would make much better wine. In 1967 we planted our first vines.
One year later, two business men from Chicago purchased a neighboring farm and planted wine grapes in mass. Their venture, Tabor Hill Winery, was clearly a pioneer in Michigan’s infant fine wine industry. In time, Tabor Hill gained recognition for their wines. In 1975, President Gerald R. Ford started serving Tabor Hill wines in the White House. Over the next decade, Tabor Hill continued to drive transformative change in Berrien County’s wine industry.
Today there are nearly about 20 wineries in Berrien County. Ten of these are within four miles of Baroda. In the spring of 2018, Wine Spectator identified the first Berrien County wine in its magazine as a 90-point Cabernet Sauvignon. They have come a long way in 50 years.
Len Olson and Carl Banholzer started their winery in 1968. Len remained an active force in transforming Berrien County’s wine industry for nearly 20 years, and then returned in 2009 to open his last winery, Baroda Founders. Len is a great example of a transformative leader. He found his passion, was convinced there was a better way, and transformed this into his life’s purpose. Today, Berrien County has a thriving wine industry as a result, in part, of his efforts.
Here are eight tips to make sure your next transformation will succeed. Would you add anything to this list?
Clarify purpose. Be sure you are clear on the purpose, and the impact on the employees. Will jobs change? When?
Execute an employee risk management plan to identify and mitigate the risks related to adopting the change.
Plan to be an engaged sponsor of change. Don’t just participate in status meetings. Remember the old phrase MBWA? Do it! Schedule time to meet with impacted front-line employees. Plan communication events to share your purpose and receive feedback.
Generate excitement and enthusiasm for the transformation. This is crucial to motivate those who will ultimately work in the transformed organization.
Engage significantly impacted employees to play important roles in the transformation and help them eagerly drive it among their peers and constituents.
As you approach implementation, make sure employees understand how their jobs will change.
Transfer skills. Design and vet a training plan to transfer skills to the front-line employees. Follow up to ensure employees institutionalize these skills into their day-to-day work.
Change the metrics. What gets measured gets changed. New measures reflect the intent of the change. Put these in employees’ performance objectives. Hold them accountable.
Don’t wait until one week before the change is implemented to implement the first five tips. Start immediately once you know the scope.
Dedicated to your profitable transformation,
One of my consulting engagements was to help an organization go through a significant organizational transformation. This was no small transformation; it was going to impact almost everyone within their organization, and all their customers. Only a handful of office administrators were unaffected by this massive overhaul of their business processes and supporting systems. We had our share of challenges with this transformation given its scale. In the end, with few exceptions, we were successful.
After completing the project, one of the organization’s leaders said to me, “You not only helped prepare our organization for the tremendous transformation we were about to go through, you also helped us – the leadership team – understand how we were not yet ready to lead this change, and what we needed to do to prepare. This led to one of the most successful projects in our history and improved our leadership in the process.”
To help you determine how ready your organization might be for a large-scale transformation, there are two free assessments now available on my web site. One assessment helps you determine the size and scale of the transformation you are considering, the other helps you determine how ready you are to lead a significant transformation. You can find them here.
Once you have completed these, I will provide a free one-hour consultation to help you identify opportunities to leverage your strengths to drive a successful transformation. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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:
The team leader has adequately demonstrated leadership skills.
The team leader has enough functional and cross functional knowledge.
The team’s goals support the organization’s purpose.
Team meetings are focused on topics relevant to its goals.
The team is completing work in alignment with its goals.
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.
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.
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:
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.
Determine the best approach for your team. Mealtime meetings, focus groups, department or workgroup meetings, and town halls are among those most often used.
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.
Have an agenda. Facilitate to keep the meeting on-track and avoid it becoming a gripe session.
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.
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.
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.