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,


Is More Effective Leadership of your Transformation a Waste of Time?

The Project Management Institute says firms that effectively manage their transformations 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 firms have a 50% better chance of projects being on-time, on-budget or on-spec and have an 80% better chance of meeting or exceeding ROI goals.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


Lessons from Lincoln, the ultimate transformationalist

Recently my wife and I traveled downstate to visit Springfield, Illinois. I hadn’t been there in 30 years, and she had never been. Both of us wanted to learn more about one of our national treasures, he who has been called one of the world’s great statesmen, Abraham Lincoln.

There is much we can learn about leading transformational change from this man. During his famed presidency, he accomplished two monumental transformations, seemingly at odds with each other, by directing the Civil War to reunite the union, and passing the emancipation proclamation.

“Public sentiment is everything. With it, nothing can fail; against it, nothing can succeed (1).” As remarkable as it may seem, in 1861 Lincoln spent more time out of the White House than he did in it. And the chances are good that if a Union soldier had enlisted early in the Civil War, he saw the president in person. Lincoln made it a point to personally inspect every state regiment of volunteers that passed through Washington D.C., on their way to the front; and early in the war they all passed through Washington, D.C. (2).

As a result, it is believed that Lincoln met every Union soldier who enlisted early in the Civil War. He knew that people were the best source of information, and he knew that connecting with people built relationships of trust. He spent 75% of his day meeting with people.

This is just one example of how Lincoln was a transformational leader. He worked to enroll the troops to win the war. He worked to enroll congress to pass the 13th amendment (although the vote didn’t happen until after his death).

“Enrolling the Troops.” This is one requirement for successful transformation. As a leader, are you out talking with your employees about the change? Are you assessing how it is affecting them? Are you listening for opportunities to fine tune your purpose and agenda?

One executive I worked with led an organization of several hundred employees. As we were working together through one massive transformation, he took time every week to meet with his people to gather the answers to the questions above. Then he interpreted these back to the project team to ensure on-going success.

Are you a Lincoln transformationalist?

Dedicated to your profitable transformation


  • Lincoln-Douglas debate at Ottawa, Illinois, August 21, 1858
  • Lincoln On Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times, Donald T. Phillips, Warner Books, Inc.; Reprint edition (February 1, 1993)

Resistance is not only good, it’s necessary

In one engagement early in my consulting career I was asked to help a large community college through a large-scale transformation. It would impact 30,000 students, 2000 faculty, and nearly all the college’s administrative staff.

When I came on board it was immediately obvious that the faculty’s involvement would be required to make this transformation successful. Further, the faculty was unionized and resistant to this project. I learned there had been long – standing challenges between the college and the union. College leaders and I discussed how to win them over. We decided to attend one of their meetings, present the benefits of the transformation, and begin to enroll them in the transformation.

We met the resistance first hand. They expressed several concerns. One issue they highlighted was lack of day-to-day support for them to go through the transformation. It was necessary, and something the project team missed on the project plan.

The faculty union leaders became legitimizers – a term I prefer over resisters. Because they made the transformation legitimate for their peers. Many of the issues they surfaced were valid and we needed to work through them. This had not been effectively done in previous projects.

Over time we partnered. Together we addressed their issues. Eventually we established faculty teams to guide the implementation. Faculty members gladly joined these teams at the encouragement of the union leadership. Interestingly, the faculty implementation was one of the most successful elements of the transformation.

The turning point, simply, was that they wanted to be heard, and wanted to be sure they had a voice.

Call to action:

  • Ask yourself, who are the resisters to the transformation?
  • Seek them out with an open mind. Learn what they have to say.
  • You’ll be able to quickly separate complainers from legitimizers.
  • Incorporate legitimizer’s feedback into your transformation.
  • Enroll the legitimizers to help drive the implementation and sustainability.
  • Celebrate successes with them. Unsparingly give credit.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,



How Customer Service Reflects Leadership

We recently had an amazing customer service experience. Due to circumstances beyond our control, we were required to have our wood floors repaired and refinished. The company we used was fantastic. Why?

  1. They did what they said they were going to do when they said they were going to do it.
  2. Since we were required to vacate our home during this project, they kept us informed every step of the way, and provided photographs at the end of every day.
  3. They responded immediately to every question we had.
  4. They did two or three little extra things that we asked for without hesitation, and without extra cost.

In short, they did a magnificent job managing the transformation of our floors.

How does this translate to our everyday work as transformational leaders? When you are leading a transformation:

  1. Be sure you are relying on a clear plan that outlines every step of the way. If steps are running off schedule, be sure the organization understands what is happing, the risk, and how you are mitigating it.
  2. Communicate, feedback, communicate, feedback. Have a robust communication plan in place that keeps your organization informed, let’s them know how to obtain more information, and give them a forum to have their questions answered and feedback considered.
  3. Don’t quibble over trivial things. Have a process in place to handle large scope changes, but if a small investment can make a positive difference, just do it.

When you follow these simple suggestions, you’ll be amazed at the difference. You galvanize your leadership team around profitable growth, launch significant buy-in and acceptance, and institutionalize enduring change.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


Deep dive: How to drive significant value with major technology change

One of the first major change projects I implemented was an office automation system for Whirlpool. It was the company’s foray into automating the workplace. We recognized that using technology for administrative tasks required people to think differently about mundane elements of their work. I engaged the CEO’s assistant. Once Mindy put the word out that she would only use this new system to communicate with others in the organization, our participation grew rapidly. We signed up more than 2,000 employees in a few months. We calculated that the system delivered about $90 million in cost avoidance as people began to interact more productively.

Even though this wasn’t a complex system – it provided basic messaging and calendaring functions – this change was more about culture than technology. We can talk until we are blue in the face about the benefits of the technology change, but until we recognize and act upon it as a cultural shift, we receive lackluster results.

Herein lies the premise for my Culture Change Trifecta. We’ve seen plenty of diagrams that display the need for focus in all three areas of people, process, and technology. My perspective, though, is to focus the people aspects on the culture changes required to affect successful innovative technology.

When you focus only on the technology, or even on the process and technology, you miss out on thinking through how the new system requires employees to work and interact differently. This is the essence of cultural change, and without considering its impacts, you end up with:
• Disengaged employees who don’t understand what is required of them.
• Middle managers caught in the middle – trying to keep the business running while helping employees through change they don’t understand.
• Leaders who are disenchanted with the results of their new system.

Instead, when leaders recognize that technology change induces cultural transformation, and put adequate attention to lead through this change, the results are quite different.
• Employees have input to how the change will impact them, and how they will now need to work together across departments.
• Middle managers will lead more effectively, supporting employees who are now actively driving the change.
• Leaders will achieve, and likely exceed the profitability targets they established for the new system.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,