How To Increase The Success Of Change

Why is it that some organizations believe that employee engagement is either “a thing to do to employees” or it is “a destination” that is over once it is reached?

Employee engagement is neither of these things.

To help you understand this, take a look at the root word. Engagement is a concept or way of thinking that stems from the verb “engage.”  The idea behind engagement (employee or customer) is to get the full commitment, passion, and energy from that group toward your company, product, service or brand.

But over time, it seems that within organizations, something has gone terribly awry with this concept of engagement with the many of the people who work there.

So what happened to engaging people?

Understanding Futility

Engagement has turned into the age-old “creating a budget” exercise.  If you make a budget, you probably feel good about setting a responsible course for fiscal prudence. But unless you actually USE the budget, this is just a wasteful exercise in futility. The same thing holds true with employee engagement. Otherwise, futility reigns.

This concept started to dawn on me at the tail end of a recent conversation with a client.  The client executives were in the midst of talking about changes in the credit card business, huge losses in receivables, etc.

What should we do?” they asked.  In addition to some sound advice about process changes, the other piece of advice transpired like this:

“Ask your employees.  They are passionate and engaged.  Let them help you.”

“Our employees?  We don’t want to scare them.  And, they probably won’t understand what is going on anyway” was the Senior executive’s response.

“Really?” I asked becoming incredulous. “It seems to me that every employee can understand a simple message like we are losing money or don’t have enough new customers.”

“Now you are making it much too simple” stated the senior executive.  “We have decided to bring in a consulting company to help us figure out how to get back on track.”

If anyone has seen Office Space, you can imagine this experience.  As the many “Bob’s” walked around gathering “information,” the rumor mill was running rampant. As is the problem with many “change efforts,” the vast majority of information is misinformation.  In the absence of any communication from the organization, employees make assumptions. We, as human beings, do a great job making things up.

In the end, the client organization decided that layoffs were the best way to get back on track.  Although it has been proven that layoffs are not the best method to improve performance, they can be useful depending on the goal or desired outcome. The layoffs were not the worst part though.

The worst part was how they handled it.

Effective Engagement Examined

On the first Monday of August that year, certain employees were met by security guards around their desks.  One of them was holding a box.  The employee wasescorted to a trailer in the parking lot, asked to sign some papers, given a severance check and asked to leave the premise.

The following year, we were back with the same senior leader group talking about Employee Engagement.  Their employee engagement assessment scores (surprise!) had gone down.

“Employee Engagement has to be a focus of the organization moving forward.” the CEO   stated.  “We have to be a more focused organization.”

“Could it be that the employees are feeling like no one engaged them on recent issues, initiatives and organizational changes.” I asked.

“That’s not what engagement is about!” The CEO stated.  “It is about making this a great workplace, not asking people their opinion about how the business should be run. That is why we are here.”

You can imagine how the rest of the conversation went.

Needless to say that the company was never the same.  Not because it laid off employees, but because it did not honor the culture of the organization nor the intelligence of the folks that worked there.

The Success of Change
Here are four things that every organization needs to do to vastly increase the success of change due to performance, market erosion, etc.:

1.  Find out the state of the state
Dips in organizational performance can come at any time for many reasons.  It is vitally important that leaders, managers and employees are aware of the condition of the organization.  This is from an “are we engaged” perspective AND from a “how do the financial numbers say we are doing” perspective.

2.  Be thoughtful and thorough in communication
All the experts are adamant about communication as the key for successful organizational change.  But, companies STILL don’t do a good job in communicating in a cohesive, comprehensive, and transparent manner.  Employees don’t trust what they hear from companies because it is sanitized and word-smithed.  It is absolutely vital that PRIOR to any change being implemented that communication is planned and developed.  Be ready to tell groups what is happening and why.

3.  Engage your employees in solving the problem
Employees know that there are problems and how to solve them.  They often know before leaders because THEY ARE DOING THE WORK. When there is an issue identified or on the horizon, get employees that are involved with the issue to help figure out how to solve it.  This is engagement.  Employees engaged in solving a problem that will help the business and they have expertise in is the essence of creating an “engaged workforce.”  Let employees help solve the issues.  Outside consultants can help lead conversations, guide direction and give best practice solutions.
If you can’t trust employees to solve problems why are they working for you?

4.  Arm your managers to be successful
The front line of change initiatives is the manager.  This is where change can either be monumentally successful or a dismal failure.  Employees will go to their managers first to find out what they know.  Make sure your managers know something.  It would be preferable if they know the facts, how to present them, what not to say and are as transparent about it as possible.  If managers are not well equipped, then they will join the crowd of disengaged and drag their team down with them.

Don’t go out and do another Engagement Initiative.  Engage your employees and customers into making your organizations better by engaging them.  Ask their help to solve problems, offer ideas and drive innovation.  Doing so will honor their intelligence, support the culture and assuredly drive success.

Anil Saxena is the President of Cube 2.14, an organizational development consulting firm that works with clients to increase both customer and employee engagement while decreasing turnover, improving customer retention, and increasing profitability within organizations.

Saxena is a certified High Impact coach and trainer and a Joint Application Design facilitator. He is also certified by both Rush Systems and IBM as a focus group facilitator. He is an inaugural member of Northwestern University’s Learning and Organizational Change program, and he earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Marching To The Same Beat

“No, no, no!” my daughter’s marching band leader screamed.  “We cannot get to the end of the field unless ALL of us are going in the same direction.  Each section has to be playing the same song.”

As my daughter and I walked to the car, she proclaimed,

“I don’t understand why everyone doesn’t just try to march to the same beat.  We would look so much better.”

True I thought… too true.

Predictable Failure
That night I thought about all the organizations I had the privilege of working with.  Many of them launched new strategies all the time trying to capitalize on trends or new technology.  But the reality is, well-thought-out, interesting, and rational strategies failat an alarming rate.  Even after John Kotter’s seminal book, Leading Change, organizational change fails at least 70% of the time.  The same goes for introducing a new strategy.

Why is this? What are we still doing wrong?

It couldn’t be that companies don’t know HOW to implement change.  How could that be?  There are 100’s if not 1000’s of books on the subject of change management, and just as many consultants.  So if it is not about knowing how, then it must be something else.

Could the Answer Be So Simple?

Could it be as easy as marching to the same beat?

Research tells us that successful organizations have great focus in at least two key areas: They develop their managers, and align their culture (teams, departments, operations) to their strategy.

Basically, organizational culture is the personality of the organization. The goal is to get everyone to march to the beat of the same drummer.  That can be accomplished through force, but is difficult, costly, and ultimately counter-productive.

The alternative is to uncover the current culture and provide managers the tools they need to drive incremental change.

It’s as Simple – and Difficult – as 1, 2, 3

1. It starts with listening to understand how engaged people are within the organization.  Before people can get behind any change, they need to be excited about what they are doing, and where they are going.

2. Then, uncover the current level of alignment between strategy and culture. Is the day-to-day environment of the organization consistent with the stated and ultimate goals of the organization?

3. Lastly, identify effective means to instigate or facilitate service alignment between critical departments.

For even greater effectiveness, an online Alignment System can give front line managers, leaders, and OD/HR regular support, guidance, and learning.  The system would help to get everyone on the same page, helping them start to march to the same beat.

The Result – Leading for Alignment

My daughter’s band finished the season winning all kinds of awards.  Why do you think they had such great success? It is because her director was focused on making sure each section of the band was “playing the same song” and “paying attention to [and supporting] the rest of the band.”

What unsuccessful experiences have you had in attempting change or a new strategy? Do you think a misalignment was behind this failure? What was the misalignment? What was the impact of this “failure?” What opportunities  do you see now to foster greater alignment in your organization or working group to create a greater chance of success? I’d love to hear you thoughts.

Anil Saxena is the President of Cube 2.14, an organizational development consulting firm that works with clients to increase both customer and employee engagement while decreasing turnover, improving customer retention, and increasing profitability within organizations.

Saxena is a certified High Impact coach and trainer and a Joint Application Design facilitator. He is also certified by both Rush Systems and IBM as a focus group facilitator. He is an inaugural member of Northwestern University’s Learning and Organizational Change program, and he earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Keeping Up With The Joneses

As with most things in my adult life, my greatest learnings have come from my wife. A couple of days ago, she was approached by a neighbor asking for her help in landscaping their yard. Now, my wife is not a professional landscaper, but extremely talented in making things look great. Our yard is a combination of her ideas, brains, planning, and my labor.

My wife threw herself into the project. She was totally engaged. Taking pictures, measuring, drawing. She did this without the promise of anything in return, except gratitude.

“Why are you working so hard on this?” I asked.

“Because she is my friend and I want to leave something great behind,” was her simple reply.


Her passion made me wonder what it would be like if work occurred to us like the yard project to my wife. What is the legacy we are leaving? Do we as employees, managers, or leaders think about leaving something great behind us when we are done? How do you make that a reality?

Like I said in the beginning, I just watched my wife. She started with an idea in mind of what a great yard would look like.

What would fit with the house and the style of the neighbor? She developed a great strategy.

Any great project starts with a great strategy, whether that is a for a company, department, or yard.

But how is that turned into reality? What are the steps to get people engaged? How does one achieve repeatable results?

Understanding how enrolled they are already…

Then, she worked with our neighbor to figure out how engaged she was in her yard with questions like:

  • What did they like?
  • What did they want out of their yard?
  • What would be their ideal for the space?

She started getting them involved in the plan. They had to put together plans, learn, and get into action. Measuring the level of engagement is the first critical step in realizing a strategy. Once it is known, then there has to be action taken to increase that level of engagement because people have to be engaged before they will work on implementing a strategy, no matter how brilliant.

Make the managers great…

Once she started to get them engaged, she trained the neighbors to be outstanding yard managers.  It was important that they learned how to be the very best at taking care of the yard as it was designed.  They had to not only be good with plants, but make sure that whatever they did was in line with the strategy.
The key factor in a “fully realized” strategy is great managers learning and taking tactical action that is aligned to the overall strategy.

Make the results repeatable….

The yard was transformed, and our neighbor was so very pleased.  The results were really magical.  They have the second nicest yard around (…next to ours of course) and are excited about it.  Now their yard is beautiful, always looks great and they are excited about working in it.
They have a consistently awesome-looking yard thanks to my wife leading through the process of:

  • Engaged Neighbors
  • Great Yard Managers
  • Aligned to Yard Strategy
  • A Superior Yard

The same is true at work:

  • Engaged Employees
  • Great Managers
  • Aligned to Organizational  Strategy
  • Superior Results Business Results

Wasn’t it someone wise who once said you reap what you sow?

So what are you doing to insure reliable, repeatable results with your managers or your team? Are you reaching into their passions and desires to help them produce more with less (friction, resistance, and foot-dragging)? Are you making plans clear for everyone involved so that they can be left alone to succeed on their own? Or do you micro-mis-manage them? I’d love to hear your story!

Anil Saxena is the President of Cube 2.14, an organizational development consulting firm that works with clients to increase both customer and employee engagement while decreasing turnover, improving customer retention, and increasing profitability within organizations.

Saxena is a certified High Impact coach and trainer and a Joint Application Design facilitator. He is also certified by both Rush Systems and IBM as a focus group facilitator. He is an inaugural member of Northwestern University’s Learning and Organizational Change program, and he earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Follow The Yellow Brick U-Turn


Sometimes it’s just a nip at the ankle.

Other times, reality bites your hand.

And other times it jumps up and bites us in the back side.

One way that reality bites is when plans should go one way, but somehow take a detour and go another way in a totally wrong direction that leads to a dead-end. When this happens, we scratch our heads and wonder if somehow we woke up in the middle of “Opposite Day.”


When organizations get into trouble with their businesses, the job of the leaders is to recognize what is happening and make the necessary changes to get things back on course. They need to be able to understand their current conditions and seewhat steps need to be taken by creating effective plans and strategies. Leaders should use all the resources at their disposal to execute their planning so that they have the best shot at correcting their course.

Using both internal talents and outside consultants, the leaders responsibility is to get the best plan at the most reasonable cost.

As a business consultant who works with organizations on developing plans for them, I am called upon to help create effective plans that implement positive changes. After working hard to develop a plan for a client, I recently “got bitten by reality.” The reality was that a client who clearly needed to change course “decided not to decide” on my new plan.

They loved the plan that I created and agreed that it would work, but they took a detour into no-man’s land. Even after an exhaustive search for potential vendors to create a plan to help them change course, the decision was made to…make no decision.

They were headed down the yellow brick road to a better place, but somehow got off track and took a detour.


The client loved the plan, but didn’t want to use it. What is that all about, I wondered?

To get my answers as to why the client “decided not to decide” to change, I did what all good consultants do; I did a Google search and asked my peers for the answer.  Here is what I found:

  • Companies take, on average 15% longer to come to decisions about vendors, strategy and organizational changes (2009 Right Management Survey)
  • 20% of companies, on average, decide that the best course of action is no action when deciding on strategy, vendors and organizational changes
  • Internal decision-making processes add, on average, 10 to 20% more time tocomplete contracts, negotiations, etc.

Discovering this information made me even more curious.  Why would that be?  What could be the cause of this institutional analysis paralysis?  After some more conversation, research, and interviews I found some more fascinating facts:

Fear Factor

It seems natural that companies are hesitant to make decisions because there is a lack of trust in (and for) the organization. In addition, the very people tasked to make decisions are too scared of making the wrong one.

Here are 6 ways to help your organization become more effective in making decisions.

1.  86 the process
It is often said that nothing kills creativity like a good process.  Approval processes can be vital to success for large organizations.  They can help to manage cost and ensure accountability.  But, once a process is in place it tendsto take on a life of its own.

At times the process becomes so burdensome, that it is easier to just keep the status quo rather than bucking the system. It is important that questions like “Why are we doing this?” be asked on a regular basis.  There should be no process that isn’t scrutinized.

2. Encourage or Force Choice
This is tricky.  This requires managers and leaders to allow employees to make decisions or select new ways to doing things and rewarding them for doing so. This is not the norm for many organizations, departments, or teams.  Reward employees for making decisions.  Support them. Use the decision-making process as a learning opportunity. It will become a practiced skill that they will gain expertise the more they do it.

3. Take Actions To Increase Trust
Every effort should be made to increase trust on a regular basis.  Patrick Lencioni, the author of 5 Dysfunctions of a Team, has shown that the foundation of every successful team is trust.  But, it is often the first area where many teams fail.  There is not an emphasis on trust at organizations where it vanishes so quickly. In order to create high performance organizations building trust is paramount.

4.  Keep Changing
A great lesson can be learned from Ingar Skaug.  He was the CEO of Wilh. Wilhelmsen Lines, ASA a major ship building company.  Through tragedy he helped his company transform itself.  Although very successful ASA had become stagnant and resistant to change.  Skaug knew that this would be its downfall.  He encouraged decision-making that lead to change.

5. Align Culture to Strategy
Lack of decision and indecisiveness comes from being unclear on the path.  The decision of whether to go right or left can be paralyzing, if you do not know what the best path to take.  Leaders have to make sure that they are uncovering the dimensions of their culture and working towards aligning that to the organizational strategy.  Of course, it is necessary to have a strategy first.  It does not have to be a “we will change the world” strategy, but something that tells people where you intend to go.  This should inform every action and be the arbiter of decisions.

6. Have Fun
“Hardly a day goes by without reading an interview with a prominent executive or hearing a knowledgeable observer suggest that having fun at work is important for employee morale and productivity” ~ Robert C. Ford

People are relaxed when they are having fun.  They are confident and more willing to make decisions.  Not to say that it should be party, but fun.  Iron-clad, rule oriented organizations stay stagnant.

Taking these small actions at every level of the organization will increase the speed and ability to make decisions.  It is not a guarantee of perfect decisions.  That is notand should not be the goal.  People in organizations need to be good at deciding and acting.  The old child’s tale about the tortoise and the hare misses the point. The hare was fast but unfocused. If the hare had been intent on winning, the tortoise would have been left in the dust.

Don’t you wish your organization was the nimble hare? Do you want to help your leaders and teams be more decisive. Are you building a culture of trust, reward, and risk-tolerance that allows for healthy decision-making? What are some others ways that you can help keep your teams on the yellow-brick road to a better place?

Anil Saxena is the President of Cube 2.14, an organizational development consulting firm that works with clients to increase both customer and employee engagement while decreasing turnover, improving customer retention, and increasing profitability within organizations.

Saxena is a certified High Impact coach and trainer and a Joint Application Design facilitator. He is also certified by both Rush Systems and IBM as a focus group facilitator. He is an inaugural member of Northwestern University’s Learning and Organizational Change program, and he earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Leadership Follies: Blamestorming


The act of an organization, or portion thereof, blaming other parts of the organization when there is a failure with a customer. Instead of finding or creation a solution for the customer they try to focus on why things happened.  Coming up with reason after reason for the failure but no resolution.

Business Case

“We spend all of our time trying to figure out who or what is to blame and none of it trying to fix the problem”, said the senior leader.  She was trying to figure out why the new “Focus on the Customer” strategy was not taking hold.  I had seen it too often – a great idea or strategy to improve business performance that actually decreases it.

Or organizations spend all their time looking for heads to roll –

“The board of directors was exhausted after a four hour blamestorming session which finally resulted in two names for the chopping block.” —Gab Halasz, Merriam Webster

Why does this happen?

It is as if organizations are built on the principles of self preservation….wait, they are.  Like any other organism, organizations actively work to survive.  Unfortunately in business, sometimes survival is the enemy of exceptional or superior performance.

The major thrust of Jim Collin’s exceptional book “Good to Great” was the chasm between the good and the great.  It is even evidenced recently.

The rash of companies that have failed in the past decade due to the “circling the wagon” mentality – Toyota, Goldman Sachs, BP and many more – or have lost market share because they can’t implement new strategies vital to their business’s success (think record labels dealing with the internet or US Steel Mills unable to deal with globalization). Clearly, there were efforts in all those companies to pull the organization towards a solution, but somehow it fell short.

It is almost understandable that a company would try to block or repel accusations of failure, but why would that happen internally? All the company’s departments are working towards the same goal, right?

Anyone that has worked in a company with more than one person knows that eventually people lose sight of the common goal. – Henry Ford

The storm clouds gather.

At some point in every employee’s career, they go from caring about the company to caring about themselves. Just like an individual organizations start out focused, driven and building solutions for their customer’s success.  But, companies too fall into the trap of caring more about their survival than the people or process that brought them success.

Chance of inclement weather and disaster

When companies reach the point that they do more “fixing the process” than solving customer problems, than blamestorming has taken over.  It is easy to see when this happens:

Once a company starts to go down the blamestorming path, these are the things that can happen:

  • Increase in internal bureaucracy
  • Lower employee morale
  • Decrease in new ideas coming from employees, lower organizational creativity
  • Lots of CYB (cover your butt) action like documenting every single interaction
  • Increase in Customer attrition
  • Overall lower organizational efficiency

When does the storm end?

Blamestorming is an organizational issue, but it can be addressed at many layers within the organization.

At the team level

Focus on the problem and solve it.

Sounds simple, right?  It is not as simple as it seems.  The idea is that the long term solution will come from solving the problem presented.  Once the problem is solvedcompletely take the solution and analyze it.

  • Why did the solution work?
  • How can it be used again?
  • Where can we leverage this solution?

Don’t focus on the process but the people
Process is important. It lends to organizational consistency, but once it is done for the sake of the process it is failing.  This is evidenced when leaders want employees to follow process over action or impact.  It is important that when solving a problem that individuals are taken into account.  Make sure that the people are taken care of while solving the problem.  All the people involved – customers, employees, vendors, etc. In the end people will make or break your process and the success of your company (just ask Jerry Reinsdorf how that went when Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, etc. left the Bulls)

At the macro (organizational) level

Mine for solutions
Organizations can foster a sense of pride and build creativity by promoting/highlighting solutions.  This is not collecting best practices.  Best practices have become “formulaic” and don’t allow for creativity.  It is showcasing solutions.  Promoting, as an organization, looking for and creating solutions.

Align to Strategy
This is going to sound a little bi-polar.  On one had organizations need to promote a solution focus.  That requires some freedom of thought and action where the primary objective is to solve organizational issues (customer problems, etc.) On the other hand there needs to be some focus on the focus.  That is there needs to be some direction or boundaries to the problems being solved.  Actions taken within the organization and to forward the organization should be taken towards a common end or strategy.  This will increase the overall organizational effectiveness. (quote and link here)

Why do something about it now?

A logical question might be, “Why should we worry about this now?”  Organizations that don’t will go the way to horse carriage makers, US Watch makers, etc.  These organizations did not see that they were not solving customer issues but holding on to a way to doing business or even product that wasn’t needed.

Does your organization focus on pointing the finger of blame rather than solving problems?  What does that cost you?  What has been done to interrupt that way of being?  I’d be curious to know!

Anil Saxena is the President of Cube 2.14, an organizational development consulting firm that works with clients to increase both customer and employee engagement while decreasing turnover, improving customer retention, and increasing profitability within organizations.

Saxena is a certified High Impact coach and trainer and a Joint Application Design facilitator. He is also certified by both Rush Systems and IBM as a focus group facilitator. He is an inaugural member of Northwestern University’s Learning and Organizational Change program, and he earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Leadership Follies: Are You Ready For The Winter?

Is your organization poised to make money on the coming recovery?  Are you preparing now or planning to change when it happens?

Do you prepare when you know a change is coming?

Towards the end of November at my house we begin to winterize.  That is, we start to prepare for what we are anticipating will be cold, windy and snowy weather.  Although we can’t predict exactly when, we know that it is inevitable.  So that we can not only survive, but thrive in the coming change of season there are precautions we must take and stop gaps we can employ.  Shouldn’t companies winterize too?  We know that winter, just like the economic recovery, is coming.  Are we prepared?

Can’t you just wait until it gets cold to prepare for the winter?

Sure we can.  However, like the tale of the ant and the grasshopper waiting for the cold, or the economic change, can be disastrous.  The problem that many organizations and teams faced in the recent downturn was that they did not react until it was too late.  The economy hit all hard, but some were ready, like the ant, and weathered it well.
Unfortunately, we have become accustomed to knee-jerk and just-in-time reactions.  Thereby, allowing the desire to profit in the next quarter cloud the judgment to advance the organization for the long haul.  The same can be said for the team or department.  We must begin to anticipate the change that is inevitably coming through leadership and preparation.  Until we do, we tempt being like the grasshopper more often than we’d like.

How do you “winterize” your organization?

1. Find out what is really going on in the organization.

During an economic downturn, organizations often take drastic cost cutting measures.  Employees understand the reality of this.  That being said, it is important to understand the “state of your state”.  This is not just from P&L standpoint.  You have to be aware of trends within employee and customer ranks.  Invest in an engagement system to understand how well aligned and prepared for an uptick in business.  It is vital that you know the level of engagement to ensure flexibility and ability to act.

2. Prepare your managers

Managers are the front line of information and support for the organization.  Too many times, managers are left without tools or training to answer questions and hold discussions about changes to the organization.  They have the proximity and power to dispel rumors and create some momentum for the pending change. They don’t have the power to make the change by themselves.  Bu, it is critical to ensure they are developed and there is alignment between the organizational strategy and culture and the managerial ones.

3. Determine key roles and functions within the organization.

It sounds a little unkind, but there are some roles that are critical to the function of your team or organization.  There are some people and positions that have knowledge that would take a great deal of time to teach others or might hinder operations with access to.  Once you identify these people and positions, put plans in place to capture the critical knowledge, learn best practices and how to encourage them to grow with your organization.

4. Cross Train

Make sure that you are cross train knowledge within teams, departments, etc.  Once the critical positions and people have been identified, you can accurately partner folks based on their knowledge and need for growth.  Doing this can also be a method of recognition for both the person training and doing the training.  Mentoring can be a power method to continue to the good aspects of organizational culture.

5. Develop your current staff

Use the data from your engagement study you can uncover the development needs of your staff.  When combined with employee interviews, a baseline can be uncovered that will increase their productivity and abilities.  Development is inexpensive compared to losing customers or opportunities.

Does this really work?

Although all companies have been affected by the recent economic downturn, there are some that have fared relatively well.  Those that have, generally speaking, have focused on these five keys.  Apple, Wal-mart, Toyota, and others have shown that by focusing on what they do well and preparing for change companies can survive almost anything the economy throws their way.

Do you know what your employees are really thinking?  What are you doing to prepare for the coming economic change? Or are you just hoping that things will work themselves out?  If you are preparing, I would love to hear what you are doing or how!

Is It The Change That Fails Or The Lack Of Focus On Transition?

change management project fails2/3 of all change initiatives fail! Shocking bold-faced headlines pushing us to believe that change fails because:

  • People suck at change
  • No one really knows how to do it
  • It has to be managed
  • The right process was not chosen

What if all of those reasons about change management projects failing were not true?


My father came to the United States as an immigrant. He used to tell me it was both exhilarating and terrifying.

“I knew how to be successful in India. There I was a skilled and successful engineer. But I had to learn how to be successful in a new way here in the States.”

His college advisor at Duke didn’t talk to about the steps he needed to take to assimilate. Instead he focused on helping this new place feel like home. But it was never “now this is your new home, deal with it.” That would have been insane. Why should it be any different at work? Why isn’t there more focus on the transitions?


“It’s not the changes that do you in, it’s the transitions.” – William Bridges

Bridges defines transitions as:

Transition is the psychological process people go through to come to terms with the new situation.

Said a different way

Successful change is less about the mechanics of the change project and more about how people migrate between their old comfortable world and the new scary world.

What if we focused 50% of change efforts on the mechanics and 50% on helping people through the “messy middle of change?

What might that look like?

  • Help people to agree to/accept the change – understanding what the new world will look like and how it will be implemented.
  • Promote the change – it’s vital that people are bought into the principles of the change (this with the “What’s In It for Me” portion)
  • Make sure people appreciate the impact – describe the consequences of the change both from an individual and a personal perspective.
  • Identify and use leverage tools– leverage tools are ways in which we can encourage folks to accept and even promote the transition. (Different changes, people and organizations will need different levers to make that change work.)


The whole practice of change management may be misnamed. There are certainly technical aspects to it that must be managed. But, that is only a portion of it. Truthfully, it’s not so much the new way of working that needs managing, but the transition from old to new; change management is really about helping people through the transition from the “old way of doing things to the new”.

How do you help people through the messy transition from old to new?

Picture thanks to –

What Shift Are You Looking To Create In Your Organization?

What Shift Are You Looking To Create In Your OrganizationWhen we work with clients to create and lead a Transformational Retreat, we begin with determining the goal. Leading a Transformational Retreat is a process that begins with clarifying a transformational goal with leadership. Sometimes, there are a number of ambitious goals, some of which can be accomplished or begun as a result of the retreat experience. We see the retreat as a focal point in a process that creates clarity and gathers and releases the energy and enthusiasm that will provide the momentum that supports the achievement of the other, larger goals, which may require new practices, processes and structures. Without this clarity and enthusiasm, adopting new ways of thinking and doing things can be so much more difficult.

Most industries and organizations are dealing with varying magnitudes of change. Yet, there continues to be evidence that most “change management” initiatives – as much as 70% – fail to achieve their objectives.

In nature, true change is transformative. It is lasting and there is no way to go back to the way it was. In organizations, many projects and programs are focused around tinkering at the edges. As a result, there are occasional alterations, but a dramatic shift in productivity, effectiveness or results is not common. Fundamental issues haven’t been addressed. In the end, people get frustrated because the change seems to be an interruption in getting their jobs done, is not meaningful to them, or doesn’t make sense. They don’t see a reason to let go of what is familiar.

In planning the Transformational Retreat, we work with leaders to create and engage their teams in an experiential process that is meaningful and important to them. Transformational change requires a clear, powerful vision and engaging people in solving the problem and creating the way forward. Engaging people to think and act in new ways can’t be accomplished by “broadcasting” what you want in a few memos, emails or meetings.

Anil worked recently with a client to implement a talent management program. The basis of it was to develop role profiles and competencies for each position in the organization. The notion of it was noble – develop a holistic approach to hiring, developing, promoting, succession planning, etc. On the face of it, no one could argue with it. Yet, no one really believed a shift would take place because it was seen as a bolt onto a system that was already broken. It was an addition onto a house that was already not laid out well. Larger cultural issues and practices were left unaddressed.

Incremental change to a system, process or organization that people see is not functioning well leads them to believe there will be no change. The answer is not to “tinker” around the edge but to blow it up and do something different.

That may not seem practical. Blow it up? How will work be done in the meantime? Transformational change doesn’t happen all at once. It is the culmination of a radically different vision that begins the transformation through generative conversations and relationships with everyone involved. The process and system are changed as a matter of course due to the shift in the way people think, talk and act.

As organizations continue to experience more disruptive change, we believe transformational leadership will replace “change management.”

The good news is, leaders don’t need all the answers. They can engage their people in creating the way forward.

Creating an intentional transformation requires an inquiry that leads to that powerful shift in context. It’s similar to the model we use to create a transformational retreat – a powerful tool you can use to launch a change in direction, focus, level of commitment, or other change. As we share in Leading the Transformational Retreat May 19 at 3 p.m. at Catalyst Ranch, we start by answering these questions:

Any great journey starts with the purpose. It is important to address the reason for transforming now:

  • Why is a shift needed?
  • Why now?
  • What happens if you do nothing?

There may be a change in the marketplace that impacts revenues or profitability, a shrinking customer base, new disruptive technology that forces a change, or a window of opportunity. Whatever the issue, the reason for a change needs to be big and compelling.

What is the ultimate goal of changing anyway? The reason can’t be just to get better or be “more nimble.” That is nibbling around the edges. It’s not clear enough; so will not result in transformation. Transformations are big shifts. Hone in on a goal that is the linchpin to all the upcoming big changes.

What external or internal information or evidence is needed to support this intentional transformation? It starts with interviewing those people that are going to be impacted by the transformation. Uncover the gap between where the organization is now and where it wants to be in the future. It also is imperative to do some benchmarking against organizations that have reached the goal. They may or may not be in your industry but it is vital to get an understanding of their journey.

How you speak about it, the conversations you have and don’t have will impact what people hear and the result you can achieve. People resist change when they feel like it’s being done to them. Transformation happens when the people impacted have a voice, and experience being heard and involved. It is absolutely critical to ensure that those impacted by change not only buy in but are involved in developing and implementing the transformation. Successful transformation occurs when the people impacted by it understand that it’s coming, why and embrace it.

This blog was originally posted on Catalyst Ranch blog “Creative Juice” –

Change That Fails Before It Even Starts

change that fails before it even startsHave you ever worked on (or led) a project, and had an inkling that it was going to fail before you even started? Why? What is it about some change initiatives that fail miserably before they get to the starting gate?

What are the signals that your project is doomed, and what can you do to fix it?

If you find yourself looking back, saying something like:

“I knew going into this project that it just wasn’t going to work, we didn’t get real support or buy in.”

…You probably had things working against your from the get-go, and had you been able to recognize them, maybe things would have unfolded differently.

Here are a few sure fire signs your project is starting off on a broken foot:


One of the worst things to hear for anyone leading a big change project is that there will be multiple “Project Sponsors.” As the primary leader that spearheads final decisions and helps to remove obstacles for the project, having more than one “sponsor” is a recipe for disaster. This adds layers of unnecessary complexity and bureaucracy to the project.

Much like the three headed dragon, there is not much good that can come from having more than one sponsor.

“Two people in charge means two opinions about what is most important.” – Ten Six Consulting


– Get commitment for ONE sponsor.

It may be easier said than done, but Project Sponsorship is a job for one. When a big change project is being chartered, it is critical to drive home that the sponsor should be the one leader that has the most at stake in the project’s success/failure. The project sponsor is the person that will help secure resources, make the final sign-off, and drive prioritizing. For large change initiatives, there is often one senior leader that fits that bill.

One company I worked with told me this story:

“In a recent project, three senior leaders within HR claimed to be sponsors of a talent management initiative. After two very unproductive meetings, we scheduled one more with the senior leaders and the Chief Human Resource Officer (CHRO). Each of the senior leaders discussed why they should be sponsors. We outlined why it was critical for one person to be the “single point of contact” regarding this project: they would need to be responsible for resources, budget, and prioritization. Within 15 minutes of the meeting’s kickoff, the CHRO decided she would be the best sponsor.”

Organizational change is hard enough without the added stress of multiple sponsors added to the mix. If all else fails, schedule time with the sponsors and the most senior person they all report to. Leverage the senior person to select the sponsor from the group. More often than not, that senior leader will end up being the sponsor to avoid showing favoritism, and to help increase the likelihood of project success.


How many times has a project charter been approved, only to fail because the resources selected to be part of the “core team” had neither the time to spend, nor the authority to make decisions?


– Lock in the project team OR get commitment that decisions made without them will be followed without protest

Yes, it sounds naive, but if a project is supposed to be high priority, then the proper resources should be assigned.

Recently, I was working with a client on a very large, time sensitive process/systems development initiative. My client worked hard to meet with each process owner. They all agreed that the project was a priority, but were not willing to dedicate resources to make it happen. The senior leader of the area demanded that the project be completed. In the end, we presented four alternatives to the group of business owners to determine how to go forward:

  • The project team would create the new processes and system flow with limited input from the business owners. The project team would use their internal organizational and industry knowledge to complete the design. They would present this to the business owners prior to going into development. There would be no need for resources from business owner teams, but they would have to live with the design that was implemented.
  • They could make resources available to work on the system and process design.
  • They could break the project up into two phases. Although the phases would require two rounds of testing and added development time, it would not tie up business owner resources
  • They could decide not to implement any process or systems changes.

In the end, the business owners selected #1 with some modifications. It was not optimal, but at least it kept the project moving in the right direction.


There are many projects that fall under the umbrella of a larger initiative, like “Compliance” or “Integrated Talent Management.” Far too often, these overarching initiatives don’t have a leader that can help to connect projects together, or show synergy between projects.

A recent client was working on implementing an integrated talent management process and system. There were many projects that were part of making the system a reality. However, there was no designated leader to spearhead it. Therefore, every project that was supposed to be part of the larger initiative failed to articulate the benefits the same way, and business leaders were asked for their people’s time constantly. In very short order, people began to tune out requests for projects that were necessary for integrated talent management. They did not see the long-term benefits, and no one was articulating how the work contributed to the larger effort.


– If you are in a position to do so, offer to take on spearheading the larger initiative. It has often been said that leaders emerge when the need arises. Don’t let the fact that no one asked you to lead it stop you from trying. If there is no leader, why can’t it be you?

– Convince your boss that the project is not possible without a leader. A project that is part of a larger initiative, without someone spearheading that initiative, is a recipe for disaster. It’s more likely to get the proverbial cold shoulder than the time and energy it needs without a champion. If the leader of the larger initiative can’t be you, maybe your boss can take it on.

– Go to the senior leader of the group to designate a leader of the larger initiative. Make a pitch to the senior leader to take on being that “initiative leader.” It is likely they already have some sway in the organization, so they can put their political weight behind a project and remove obstacles quickly.


It is a common misconception that people suffer from “change fatigue.” That is, they don’t want to work on another change initiative because they are so overwhelmed by all the constant change. This concept is not really accurate.

People aren’t overwhelmed by change, they are tired of change that fails, is not fully implemented, or does not produce benefits. Unfortunately, once people go through a change initiative that fails, they are much more resistant to taking on more change. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try to sell the business benefits, it is not enough to sway their minds.


– Slow the project down. Don’t try to go too quickly when implementing anything disruptive. Break the initiative into smaller phases to ease the change into existence.

– Start with more communication. Communicate much more about the business benefits and potential impacts of the project. Don’t try to sugar coat the downside of the project. People like to know that the change might cause temporary pain.

– Get intended users, or people impacted by the change, involved to gain their insight. This is known as the pull method of change. Make sure the people impacted by the change have a hand in the change’s design. This will increase the “buy in,” and create an end result that takes their issues into consideration.


It is true that the only constant in business today is change, but too much change at one time (impacting a single group) is not productive. Organizations often launch a series of initiatives that impact the same people at the same time, but because these come from various business units, they are not always coordinated. This leads to a great deal of confusion, and can negatively impact the business.

One client of mine said:

“I worked with a financial services company that launched a number of changes/initiatives that impacted customer service agents every year at the same time. It wasn’t always intentional, but after delays and missed milestones, projects ended up getting pushed to the year’s end to be implemented. This coincided with the largest amount of work for the customer service agents. The result was frazzled customer service agents, leading directly to angry customers – definitely not a recipe for success.”



Unless business cannot be conducted without the change, space out changes that impact one group too much. It’s just good change management!

Don’t let common “change killers” stop your change initiatives before they start.

What have you seen that stops change in your organization before it starts?


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