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 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 to prepare your transformation to achieve phenomenal success

Last week I described how transformational leadership and organizational change management (OCM) work together to drive phenomenal success. Let’s take another look this week. The matrix above demonstrates what happens when you have one or the other, both or neither.

Phenomenal Success: When you have both strong leadership and a solid OCM plan, you are likely to have phenomenal success, and will probably exceed your targets. Who doesn’t like this?

Looks Good on Paper: When you have solid leadership but don’t have a good approach for OCM, you and your leadership team are likely aligned on your measurable outcomes, but you will struggle to achieve them because the rest of your organization is to some degree left behind.

Aimless Wander: When you have a solid OCM plan but weak overall leadership. It’s hard to imagine, but I’ve seen this happen. It usually results in some areas implementing better than others. Overall, though, the organization is unclear about the long-term impact, and the transformation struggles.

Failure. This one is obvious. If your transformation lacks leadership and enough OCM, you will go nowhere.

Call to action: Use this as a self-assessment. Determine how your last transformational initiative performed. Use your self-assessment combined with last week’s post to determine the steps you need to take to ensure success with your next transformation.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


How to Ensure Your Success with Change

Here are eight tips to make sure your next transformation will succeed. Would you add anything to this list?

  1. Clarify purpose. Be sure you are clear on the purpose, and the impact on the employees. Will jobs change? When?
  2. Execute an employee risk management plan to identify and mitigate the risks related to adopting the change.
  3. 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.
  4. Generate excitement and enthusiasm for the transformation. This is crucial to motivate those who will ultimately work in the transformed organization.
  5. Engage significantly impacted employees to play important roles in the transformation and help them eagerly drive it among their peers and constituents.
  6. As you approach implementation, make sure employees understand how their jobs will change.
  7. 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.
  8. 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,

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 enrolling your employees ensures transformational success

In the last two months, I’ve had the opportunity to fly on two very different airlines. Southwest Airlines is one of them. I fly Southwest often and appreciate the lighthearted behavior of the flight attendants. They are happy, helpful and clearly engaged in making the travel experience more enjoyable for their passengers. The other airline (I’ll call it Airline B) provided a 180-degree different experience. The attendants slammed down drinks and snacks on our tray tables. They were clearly unhappy and the last thing on their mind was providing an enjoyable travel experience. It made for a long, uncomfortable trip.

I did a little research. Southwest has a history of successful transformational change. It’s in their DNA. Airline B does not. Failed mergers. Failed cultural change. It’s no wonder.

Organizations that encourage a healthy culture are more apt to have successful transformational change because their employees are enrolled in the process. This means that leaders must:

  1. Take time to communicate with employees to understand their level of excitement and concern for the transformation.
  2. Use the results of these conversations to shape the implementation of the transformation. This could mean adjustments to speed, timing, sequencing, or even scope.
  3. Determine effective, meaningful ways to enroll employees to help drive the transformation.
  4. Enlist middle managers to identify new measures to monitor progress and hold the organization accountable for enforcing the transformation.

One enrollment strategy I’ve implemented for many of my clients is a Change Action Network (CAN). The basic features of a CAN are that it is made up of front-line employees representing the cross functional areas of the company – or at least those functions impacted by the transformation. A CAN might take on many different roles and features, depending on the nature of the transformation.

There are many ways you can enroll your employees in the transformation. Regardless, take one minute right now to assess your performance against the four criteria listed above. How are you doing with your transformation?

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


How your strong sense of purpose drives successful transformation

Another of my all-time favorite movies is “Secretariat,” a film about an American Thoroughbred racehorse who, in 1973, became the first Triple Crown winner in 25 years. His record-breaking victory in the Belmont Stakes, which he won by 31 lengths, is widely regarded as one of the greatest races of all time.

Secretariat’s owner, Penney Chenery Tweedy, overcame significant barriers to lead him to multiple victories over his short career.

  • She changed her life as a 19-year-old housewife and fundraiser in Colorado.
  • During Secretariat’s run, she commuted between her career as a housewife in Colorado to the stables in Virginia and other various locations where races were held. Remember, we’re talking about the early 1970’s when air travel was much different than today.
  • In the early 1970’s, women were not considered able to viably participate in horse racing.
  • She had to deal with a huge financial issue upon the passing of her father.

Despite these barriers she:

  • Knew she had a winner.
  • Engaged people who would support her cause.
  • Had faith in her purpose – to enable Secretariat’s success.
  • Persevered in the face of adversity.

As a result, Secretariat not only won the Triple Crown, he set speed records in all three races. His time in the Kentucky Derby still stands as the Churchill Downs track record for ​1 1⁄4 miles, and his time in the Belmont Stakes stands as the American record for ​1 1⁄2 miles on the dirt.

One of the most successful transformations in which I was involved was the Whirlpool acquisition and subsequent integration of Maytag. Our leaders set a strong purpose – to create the largest home appliance manufacturer in the world. The intent was to create a combined company to more effectively compete globally by providing the greatest innovation for consumers at competitive prices. We were successful for many reasons, including:

  • We had clear purpose.
  • We focused on this and set aside other distractions.
  • We had a strong leadership structure in place to drive the transformation.
  • We motivated and enrolled employees in the change and acknowledged and their contributions.

These two stories – Secretariat and Whirlpool/Maytag share these attributes. How does your transformation measure up?

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,