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,

Steve

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,

Steve

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,

Steve

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,

Steve

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,

Steve

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,

Steve

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

Steve

  • 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,

Steve

 

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,

Steve

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,
Steve