Thursday, April 19, 2018

How to Lead On Purpose

Guest post from John Izzo Ph.D. and Jeff Vanderwielen Ph.D.:

Why are some leaders effective at truly engaging with their teams? And why do many, despite their best efforts, manage to motivate top performers but can’t get the whole team rowing in the same direction? We found that to create a common goal, it’s vital to ramp up your purpose as an organization. Here, we will share from our forthcoming book The Purpose Revolution: How Leaders Create Engagement and Competitive Advantage in an Age of Social Good  reasons why some leaders fail at purpose, and offer proven practices to get your people connected and engaged for success.
Make Time for Purpose

Great leaders know that purpose should be a large part of everything they plan, say and do as leaders, but sadly, many fail to actualize their purpose. A recent Ernst and Young/Harvard study shows that most senior leaders and business owners see the value of being purpose driven and most likely have a set of personal values leaning toward the decent-human-being side of the equation. Yet in our experience, most businesses, small and large, have leaders who are losing at purpose—or at the very least are failing to achieve the high levels of engagement with their staff that they intend to build.

Our experience over the past 25 years shows that most leaders spend an inordinate amount of time focused on the numbers side and beating their competition, without truly embracing the balancing force of purpose. It’s not that leaders don’t care about their people, but they’re often too busy with noses to the grindstone, working in the business instead of on the business. But why spend countless hours working, if you haven’t truly figured out why you’re doing it? Your employees are asking themselves that same question every day.

Don’t Fake It
Many leaders have a hard time getting on board with purpose. They may not have had training or mentoring on how to lead purpose, lack the necessary resources or not have the right mind-set to activate purpose in themselves and others. Some try to fake it until they make it because they aren’t sure how to define authentic purpose. But no matter how hard you try, you can’t fake purpose. In working and speaking with hundreds of company leaders, HR representatives, and employees at all levels, we’ve found that for your company to be successful in the long run, it needs to stand for something, and that something needs to be authentic! Winning companies start with their true purpose, a higher reason for being as the foundation of their organization. Why? Because you won’t know when you’ve arrived if you don’t know your destination.

Take Dell Technologies, as a great example of a company that hit pause and found its purpose. Founded by Michael Dell in 1984, the company grew massively in its first 20 years. When he left the company in 2004, however, it fell on hard times. Fast-forward three years, and in 2007 Dell returned to refocus the company on its core purpose, going so far as to take the company private in an effort to make it the “largest start-up in history.” Since that time the company’s performance has improved, with increased customer satisfaction and its highest employee satisfaction scores ever. The company has continued to grow because it got really clear on its purpose and knew as an organization what it stood for.

Money is Not a Purpose
A company focused on purpose can make money, but profit can’t be the primary focus. Employees need to work for something greater, to feel like their job roles fill a larger need in society. If your company is engaged in construction, your worker’s real purpose is creating a safe home for people to live in, not fastening pieces of wood together. And a happier, more engaged worker is better for the bottom line. Research shows that companies which activate purpose are even more profitable than those that don’t. So ask yourself if profit or purpose is the main driver in your organization? 

Leaders need to know that most people who work for them probably don’t care how much money the company makes, how fast it grows or its increase in sales. Instead, employees care about being on a winning team, they want the company to make enough money to keep jobs secure, and want opportunities to contribute to making better products and services.

A strong driver of employee engagement is feeling pride in a job well done, of producing something that meets a real need. Employees also feel a deeper satisfaction when their work contributes in some way to their personal values and goals, and great leaders can help them achieve this.

Purpose is NOT About Marketing
Another reason leaders fail to engage their teams through purpose is because they treat purpose as a marketing program, just any other plan to win talent and customers. They ask, “Isn’t it OK to simply focus on the fact that employees and customers want us to have purpose and therefore we ought to pursue it like we would every other business strategy?” At face value this seems like a reasonable question.

The fact is that people see through the focus on purpose solely for the sake of business, instead of a greater goal. We have worked with more than 500 companies around the world, and it is obvious to us that employees can detect the difference between purpose that is genuine and purpose that is forced and purely about looking good as a business. The same is true for individual leaders. Our people can tell when we’re not into purpose and care mostly about the numbers, even if we don’t intend to communicate that.

We believe the Volkswagen emissions scandal came about because VW used purpose as a marketing strategy, not a core belief. The decision to deceive regulators on emissions from diesel cars was likely made because VW’s focus on clean vehicles was a strategy that worked for promoting and selling their vehicles as “clean alternatives.” If they actually had a purpose-focused desire to reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, they would have fixed the technology instead of lying about it!

If you want to truly activate purpose, it’s best for your marketing to amplify a purpose that already exists rather than promote a different one as a strategy.

Five Practices to Activate Purpose in Your Organization

  1. Shift the dialogue from profit to purpose. Dedicate time in meetings for purpose, create purpose metrics or add purpose targets to scorecards.
  2. Emphasize a long-term view to keep your purpose present in major decisions.
  3. Align your brand’s core competencies with your social platform by making a clear, authentic purpose statement.
  4. Every leader and team member should own purpose, sustainability, and social responsibility not just the marketing team.
  5. Systematically take purpose “off the wall” and into the work - read the mission statement at meetings, tell purpose stories in onboarding, and vet every big decision with purpose in mind.
John Izzo is co-author of The Purpose Revolution and president of Izzo Associates. He has spoken to over one million people and advised over 500 companies, including IBM, Qantas, the Mayo Clinic, Verizon, RBC, TELUS, Walmart, DuPont, Humana, Microsoft, and IBM. He is the author or coauthor of six books, including Awakening Corporate Soul.

Jeff Vanderwielen is co-author of The Purpose Revolution and vice president of consulting at Izzo Associates and a former senior change consultant at Ernst & Young with 20-plus years of experience helping organizations manage large-scale change and articulate a compelling purpose - their core good - as the organizing center for their vision, strategy, and culture. 

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Heading into the Unknown? Get REAL

Guest post by John Knights:

How many of those in leadership roles we encounter slot into this description of Rational, Ego based, As usual Leaders.  You’ve probably come across them.  All they use are sticks and carrots as motivational tools and wonder why people won’t go that extra mile.  They’re more concerned about how things will look to others when they make decisions which they do to make themselves look good, or for power, prestige, recognition or reward.  They aren’t thinking about others, they’re thinking about their bonus, or promotion, or trip on the company jet, or even faults they can point out in others to make themselves look better.  What they are not thinking about is their team members, or the customer or any other stakeholder for that matter.
I suspect, if you have been keeping up with the way the world seems to be going, what you are really looking for is a leader you can look up to, one who you trust and because of that, one you will follow.  Leaders like this can be Radical, they are Ethical and Authentic Leaders.  They do not fret about their own importance because to be able to operate this way they understand their own egos, and for the purposes of good leadership they operate beyond their ego.  There’s a word for this, it’s called Transpersonal – beyond the ego.
But you see, that’s the challenge – how do you get from that ego based leader to be transpersonal?  In my experience, this is a journey that many people are willing, indeed aspire to make.  However, many people find in challenging to know where to start, especially in practical terms.  To do that you need to consider what a leader actually does.  Stripped back to the bare bones, the role of the leader is threefold:

1.    Generate followers

2.    Bring them to a place they would not ordinarily go

3.    Inspire new leaders
Let’s make some sense of that; without followers, a person is leading no-one so they cannot be regarded as a leader.  Even people in authority whose underlings do their bidding are not necessarily leaders; fears of job security, some form of punishment or coercion do not generate followers, they do not follow of their free will. 

In the second statement, the most important word is the word “bring”.  That means going to where your followers currently are, metaphorically putting your arm around them and shepherding them to where you want them to be.  This is the direction element and can be literally to take them to a different place, or in business it more frequently means to shift behaviour, attitude or activity.
Finally, and this is an element that is most frequently overlooked, a leader’s role is to inspire new leaders, passing the baton of good leadership onto a new generation. 

To generate followers you really need to understand them; to understand them and their fears, you first need to understand yourself.  So the journey begins with self-awareness, understanding your own fears, and emotions.  Whilst you cannot prevent an emotion, you can learn to manage how you handle it and in doing that you are managing yourself and how you respond to various triggers.  Now you can begin to empathise, to understand other people and what makes them tick.  You can think yourself into their shoes and see things from their perspective, becoming socially aware.  Having mastered the ability to see things from the viewpoint of others, then you can begin to manage your relationships and how you interact with people, building trust and understanding on a mutual basis. 
Thankfully, all of these things can be learned through practice.   You can generate new habits by building new neural pathways.  This will then give you access to all the different leadership styles and to understand how they work, what they achieve and when (and when not) to use them.

Knowing that you can bring people with you, you can move to the next level; bringing into full consciousness your own values and judgement, morals and ethics.  You understand how you make decisions and which stakeholder(s) they are in service of.  The question here is whether your decisions are in service of you and personal reward, or have you taken yourself, your ego, out of the process?  Have you moved to a place beyond the ego to become a Transpersonal leader?  With this new found freedom, you will see things in a new light, be able to make decisions for a common good that will be ethical and authentic, and, if necessary, radical. 

John Knights is co-author, with Danielle Grant and Greg Young, of LEADING BEYOND THE EGO:  How To Become A Transpersonal Leader. He is Co-founder and Chairman of LeaderShape Global.  Knights is an author, lecturer, and thought leader in leadership development. For more information, please visit

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Is Your Brand Hurting Your Recruiting?

Guest post from Mark Miller:

I was recently involved in research to answer the question, “What attracts Top Talent?” In conjunction with outside agencies, our research sought insight from more than 7,000 people, collected through various methods across the U.S.

The three core expectations that ALL Top Talent expect from a company are Culture, the Basics and the Brand.

Culture is the obvious one. The stronger and more vibrant your culture, the greater your chances of attracting Top Talent. Therefore, the best leaders understand and own their responsibility to Create Culture.

There is another category of conditions we’ve collectively labeled as the basics, and our role as leaders is to Deliver the Basics. These include fair compensation, a safe environment, an understanding by talent of what is expected of them, and other conditions.

After leaders embrace their role as the cultural architects for their organizations, and ensure the basics for every employee, they then must always Build the Brand.

When leaders Build the Brand, they position their organizations as places where not only customers want to do business but also where Top Talent want to work.

How do you build a brand? There are many ways. Let’s start with three:
First, challenge everyone to commit to excellence in the way they do their work and treat people. Your brand and your reputation are inextricably linked - what are you known for? What is your reputation in the world? It was Aristotle who said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Be sure excellence becomes a habit and a strong brand is sure to follow.

Next, make sure everyone lives out the organizational values. Values are the beliefs that drive our behaviors. Leaders not only set the values, they must enforce them. Although values in action are another key lever for building an enduring great brand, values in theory alone can destroy a brand.

Finally, encourage everyone to hold others accountable when standards are violated. Leaders do have to enforce the values and model the way where excellence is concerned. However, leaders alone cannot build a great brand. Everyone’s daily behaviors are the brand – not just the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of leadership. Therefore, a culture of accountability, a place where everyone is a champion for the brand, is essential.

There are few things as powerful as a good name. Remind your people often to represent well the ideals and values of your brand and your reputation will grow in the eyes of your customers and your community. In an organization striving to become a Talent Magnet, everyone is responsible to Build the Brand.

About Mark Miller
Mark Miller is the best-selling author of seven books, an in-demand speaker and the Vice President of High-Performance Leadership at Chick-fil-A. His latest book, Talent Magnet: How to Attract and Keep the Best People, Mark unveils the three critical aspects of a true talent magnet, and explores the deeper meaning of each in a clever and entertaining business fable.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

When Employees Quit, Take a Good Look in the Mirror

Guest post from Jeff Hyman:

It’s hard to say goodbye. But understanding why people leave your company is a crucial part of developing a best-in-class workforce. Regardless of whether the individual is an underperformer or a Rockstar, departures frequently point to broader organizational issues that need to be addressed.

Managers often react emotionally when an employee gives notice. If the person is an up-and-comer who has been given promotions and raises, the manager likely feels angry and betrayed. If the person failed to meet expectations, the manager may feel relieved. Either way, there are lessons to be learned. And in either case, the manager may worry about the optics of the departure – both internally & outside the organization.

It’s important to recognize that attracting and retaining Rockstar performers is vital for organizations to grow, innovate, and outperform the competition. That’s not just my view. A 2016 Conference Board survey revealed that attracting and retaining talent is the number one concern amongst CEOs, regardless of their company size or industry.

Noam Wasserman, professor of clinical entrepreneurship at the University of Southern California, estimates that 65% of growth companies fail because of people problems. They either hire the wrong people, put people in the wrong roles, or fail to create an environment that inspires people and enables them to work together harmoniously.

With unemployment at the lowest levels in years and a growing shortage of highly skilled workers in many job disciplines, getting the people equation right is particularly critical. From top to bottom, employees have more options than ever before. So, companies that excel at hiring & retaining top performers have a huge advantage.

Hiring the Wrong Person

If a poorly performing employee leaves, it’s an opportune moment to examine the decision-making process that led you to hire the person in the first place and to create a new process that will prevent you from repeating the same type of error.

Here are the common mistakes that organizations make in hiring:

-     Focusing too much on experiences and competencies, and overlooking the match between the company’s culture and the employee. For example, a person who prefers to work in teams may make a poor fit for a sales organization that fosters competition between sales people.

-     Overemphasis on the interview.  Some people, particularly in sales, give great interview performances. They can read your body language and tell you exactly what you want to hear. Once in the job, however, these same people may talk a much better game than they actually deliver.

-     Confirmation bias. We tend to prefer hiring people like ourselves and we often subconsciously make up our mind about somebody within the first few minutes of the interview. To counter that tendency, develop a standardized list of interview questions, gather information on each candidate without bias, and fairly weight all the candidates against objective criteria for the position.

-     Lack of clarity about the needs of the position. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, you won’t find it. You should develop a very precise description of the skills, experiences, and qualities that are necessary to succeed in the position. I (literally) keep a Scorecard that allows me to meticulously track how well a candidate meets the job requirements and then use the Scorecards to compare candidates against each other.

-     Overweighting titles and companies. It’s natural to be impressed by a senior executive from a Fortune 500 company, particularly if you’re running much smaller organization. While the person may bring a wealth of valuable experiences to your company, you should take care to determine exactly why the person left or wants to leave that Fortune 500 position, how their specific skills translate to the job you’re seeking to fill, and whether the person will thrive in your organizational culture – often one with less resources and formality.

-     References are given short shrift. Many organizations do not check references until after they’ve decided on a candidate. In those cases, negative or lukewarm comments from references are often ignored. It’s best to talk to references early in the evaluation process and give them due consideration.

When a Rockstar Leaves

As an organizational leader, one of your most important jobs is to keep your A-players engaged. Take the time to get to know your top performers. Uncover the challenges and opportunities that will make them thrive and ensure they are rewarded fairly.

When a Rockstar leaves, the loss can be demoralizing to the rest of the team. If people perceive that the departure was motivated by something negative within the organization, you need to work hard to correct the problem and to make sure other A players are inspired, challenged, and happy in their work.

I insist upon conducting exit interviews myself with A-level employees. I want to find out exactly why they left and to leave the door open for them to return to the organization. There’s no sense in burning bridges with departing employees, particularly those who have contributed so much.

It’s an axiom that people don’t quit their jobs; they quit their managers. For example, if you’ve recruited a Rockstar director of marketing and that person works under a B-level vice president of marketing, the new hire will likely become frustrated and disengaged.

Studies indicate that an employee’s relationship with their manager accounts for about half of their job satisfaction. Lousy managers are toxic to organizations. Get rid of them.

I know a CEO who makes it a point to meet 1:1 with every manager in the organization. Afterwards, he asks himself: “Would I want to work for this person?” If the answer is No, he finds a way to discharge the person or remove their managerial responsibilities.

Besides suffering under a bad boss, Rockstars leave for other reasons:

-     By definition, Rockstars are ambitious. If you don’t provide them with growth experiences, challenges, and a career path, they may be enticed by the Siren call of a recruiter offering a higher-level position and greater responsibility.

-     Rockstars do not want to work in a dysfunctional organization that lacks effective leadership and is filled with “C” level players. Winners want to work with other winners.

-     Poor Work/Life Balance. Rockstars will invest the extra hours to go above and beyond their duties to achieve the organization’s goals. In return, they expect some degree of flexibility in integrating their personal life with their work life. If you don’t offer that flexibility, another organization will.

The Grass Isn’t Always Greener

When a Rockstar decides to leave, I wish them every success and thank them for their contributions to the organization. I also tell them that if the opportunity doesn’t work out as planned, I would be happy to talk to them about coming back to our organization. I then reach out to them in a few weeks later to ask how things are going. If they say, “I’ve made a mistake,” I welcome them back with open arms.

From an employee recruiting & retention perspective, a Rockstar who returns is a great event. It signals to the team (and prospective hires) that the grass isn’t always greener and that you have a terrific organization.

Jeff Hyman is bestselling author of Recruit Rockstars, Professor at Kellogg School of Management, host of the 5-star-rated Strong Suit Podcast, and Chief Talent Scout at Strong Suit Executive Search. 

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Leading the way to Sustainable Negotiation

Guest post by Dr. Eliane Karsaklian

A sustainable negotiator is a leader. S/He is fueled with challenges and novelty because they are curious and restless. Real leaders believe that change should be disruptive rather than incremental. Sustainable negotiation disrupts from all old negotiating techniques that have been ruling negotiation teaching and practice since the 1980s.

What researchers call a paradigm is the way we view the world. There are some guidelines and everyone sticks to them. A paradigm shift is creating another view of the world, which will replace the old one. It is very difficult to engage people in a paradigm shift because of resistance to change. It requires switching to a new mentality and admitting that what we have been practicing and preaching so far is no longer appropriate. Sustainable negotiation invites to a paradigm shift.

To get to a paradigm shift, you need to ask yourself the right questions or great questions as some researchers like to say. People don’t do that often because they are scared at the potential answers to their questions. And what if they show that I’ve been wrong all this time? And what if they show me another path to follow and I don’t feel able to take that path, and so forth…

Social pressure and the status quo created around what is obvious and shallow rule out forward-thinking people who see far beyond than the average. Is it because they are more intelligent? Not necessarily, but it is certainly because they are curious and dare contesting the well-settled mediocre standards to look out for better options. These people are discriminated and excluded from the mainstream system. This happened to Galileo, to Copernicus and to many other people thanks to whom we are less ignorant today. But in their time, they were persecuted although what they discovered was accurate. Unlike Copernicus in 1543, Galileo, by using a scientific method, showed evidence through empirical observation and mathematical demonstration which was harder to contest. And yet, it was contested. Copernicus and Galileo were leaders.

Sustainable negotiation invites to disrupt from old paradigms because it opposes to the win/lose negotiation techniques. Winning and losing views of negotiation rest on transactional relationships while sustainable negotiation rests on transformational relationships. When you aim at winning a negotiation you don’t think about the future. You make your transaction, get your money and off you are once your transaction has been completed. But when you are in a sustainable negotiation mode, you don’t think about winning. You think about the future you are building. As you share a vision of future with the people you negotiate with, you progressively and constantly transform your relationship with them in order to suit the needs of all parties and aim at a future together.

We are not talking about long term relationships here. Long term has a term. We are talking about sustainability. In negotiating terms, this means that you don’t envisage an end to your relationship which will last until you and your partners decide that you no longer need to work together and not because your contract has reached its term.

As a leader, you don’t want your leadership to be ephemeral; you want it to last. You transform your relationship with your followers in order to keep them willingly following you. People will willingly follow you if they trust you and if they feel like you know where you are going to and where you are taking them to. They recognize specific skills in you which complete their own skills and this is why they follow you.

Same applies to negotiation. Sustainable negotiators are leaders because they have a vision of future that termed negotiators can’t have. They lead the way to better and more sustainable outcomes to all those involved in the negotiation. That is how they become persuasive and why other negotiating parties follow their lead.

Negotiators with a leader mindset also perform better in international settings because they are driven by the challenge of being out of their comfort zone.  These are the negotiators who path the way to contemporary negotiation.  

If you want to be a leader in sustainable negotiation:

- Make sure that you share a common vision of future with the people you are negotiating with. Ideas can change and they do change, but your deep and shared vision of future should remain the same.  This is the real bond with your partners.

- Understand that conflicting ideas and situations lead to tough decision making, and sustainable negotiation is effective because it goes far beyond ideas’ compatibility. It focuses on deep and shared goals for the future.

- Remember that the key concept of sustainable negotiation is that negotiation is a process and as such it is a constant and never ending process. Sustainable negotiation integrates all phases of the process including the enforcement of the deal which, in fact, is the most delicate phase of the whole process.

- Keep in mind that parties collaborate while negotiating the deal they want to sign, but they should cooperate once the deal will be enforced and when all partners will need to get down to work together.

- Forget about winning. This is not a competition.

- Be curious, open-minded, and creative. There is a lot you still don’t know.

- Think that sustainable negotiation makes companies more profitable by focusing on growth along with their partners. They face challenges and take opportunities together. This means sharing risks and resources and securing a sustainable position in their target markets. 

Eliane Karsaklian, Ph.D., is an unusual combination of big picture thinker, academic and practical businessperson. She has lived and worked in a number of countries during her career and mastered five languages, giving her extensive knowledge and experience in negotiation techniques and intercultural relationships. As an internationally known speaker and award-winning researcher, Dr. Karsaklian is the Director of the trilingual Master Program in International Negotiation at Sorbonne and is invited as speaker at a number of universities around the world. She is currently visiting professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her more recent book - Sustainable Negotiation. What Physics Can Teach Us About International Negotiation - introduces a completely new perspective on international negotiation, providing practical, field-tested examples, experiments and guidance to enable readers to implement sustainable negotiation in the real world. The book borrows from the field of physics to make the case that negotiators need to know what is not visible so they can explain what is visible. For more, visit and

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Why Being an Ethical Leader Can Help Your Organization

Guest post from Andrew Leigh:

First let’s get a little clearer about what being an ethical leader means. It’s someone who promotes and upholds workplace integrity and values.

You may not be able to “see” someone is an ethical leader. But what they do in the workplace tells you everything you need to know. For example they:
  • Talk about the importance of integrity and doing the right thing 
  • Set a good example 
  • Don’t blame others when things go wrong 
  • Support employees efforts to do the right thing 
  • Hold themselves and others accountable to the organisation’s code of conduct 
  • Give positive feedback for acting with integrity 
  • Keep their promises 
If these sound like a recipe for an effective manager you’re entirely right. The trouble is many organisations prove to be rather short of such people.

So why should an organisation bother about having an ethical leader? Do they, for example, do any better at the job than less ethical ones?

A few years ago we could not answer that question with much conviction. Today though, we know from an ever-expanding portfolio of research that ethical leaders really do produce better results than ones who take ethics less seriously.


Star Trek fans will recall the imperious wave of various captains of the Enterprise to “engage,” meaning among many things “let’s go.” But in today’s companies it has a rather different meaning.

Engage is the new imperative to anyone who wants to tap into the creative potential of employees and to win superior performance.

Research on engagement shows that high levels of employee engagement to be strongly associated with successful results. Whether in terms of profits, innovation or retention of staff.

Ethical leaders pay close attention to engagement. They do so in many practical ways, one of which is through showing empathy.

A 2016 study by the Harvard Business Review (HBR) used a Global Empathy Index to measure how much empathy was happening in a company. It found:

“The top 10 companies in terms of empathy increased in financial value more than twice as much as the bottom 100.”

Surprising eh? Also, what HBR calls “high empathy performers” generated 50% more earnings than their less empathic competitors.

Or putting it slightly differently, firms with higher empathy scores correlated strongly (80%) with high performers.

Successful ethical leaders do a great job at conveying empathy. This partly explains their success—whether defined in financial or non-financial ways. Let’s take a closer look at this empathy thing in action.

Empathy is notoriously hard to measure convincingly. And because it’s not obviously connected to a company’s bottom line even a responsible leader may not feel on safe ground talking about it. Yet empathy can be measured. See box below:

And like engagement, empathy is a proven critical factor behind ethical leadership success in business. Why? Because no leader enjoys being told they’re wrong. Which is why showing empathy is seldom as easy to convey as it appears. 

Major current influences on how one leads in business include teams, globalization and the need to retain talent. Yet all three require the leader to do far more than just talk the talk. They require leaders to take into account others’ feelings when making decisions.

That’s what ethical leaders do best.

Andrew Leigh is a co-founder of Maynard Leigh Associates ( and author of numerous books on management and leadership, including Ethical Leadership (Kogan Page 2013). Ethical Leadership suggests ways in which leaders and managers can improve and manage the ethical culture in their organizations.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Your People are the Hard, not the Soft Side, of Change

Guest post from CrisMarie Campbell and Susan Clarke:

If you want your organization to successfully embrace your strategic change, focus on the human aspect. That’s right. People will be the ones implementing the change. So, get them involved, listen to them, and work together. If you do, you’ll build tremendous loyalty, trust, and engagement, which is priceless.

As coaches, our work with leaders includes focusing on the human side, which helps leaders reap the ROI of their business or smart investment. In short, we teach leaders to be proactive with change.

When I, CrisMarie, was consulting with Blue Cross Blue Shield in the early 2000s, I was lucky enough to get certified in the Leading and Managing Organizational Transitions through William Bridges & Associates. Much of how I approach change initiatives is influenced by William Bridges, the grandfather of change management and author of Managing Transitions.

A critical proactive measure is to be sure you communicate about the change early, often, and in varied ways. Give your people what they need to get on board with the change. I’ve adapted Bridges’ work for this simple communication framework called Why, What, How, and Who:  

Why:  Start with why. People need to understand why this change is so important. You have a good reason. Let them know what it is.

What: Paint a clear picture of how the world will look and feel on the other side of the change so people understand what you are aiming for. Your team wants to know how the destination will look and feel. Understanding the target will help them gauge their progress along the way.

How: Lay out a step-by-step plan how the organization will get to the final destination.
Plans may change as you travel and close the gap between where the organization is now and where you want it to go. Offer frequent updates.

Who: Who needs to do what? Help your people understand exactly what they will be doing to make this change a reality. You can’t do it alone. Giving people a role helps them buy in to the change as they participate in the implementation.

For people to buy in to change, they need to understand the change from your point of view. You know why you want to change, what you are aiming for, how you are going to get there, and who needs to do what. Explain that to them so it becomes crystal clear, easy to understand, and nearly impossible to be misunderstood. 

In addition to the why, what, how, and who, people want to know that you care about more than just the business results. They want to know you care about them as human beings. When you communicate, let people feel like they are part of this process, because, in fact, they are. You literally could not do it without them.  

Show them they matter as people. They are not just cogs in the wheel. You hear and understand their points of view. Be considerate. Let them talk about where they are in the change process, especially if they are upset with it. Shutting down their frustrations only sends those feelings underground, causing bigger problems, like gossip and undermining – what we call corporate cancer. This will only sabotage your change efforts.

Let them know you haven’t discarded them. Show the team how they are still connected to the company, to you, and to each other in the midst of this change. Give them a specific role to play, hear their feedback, and encourage their participation in the solution.

Combine the why, what, how, and who when you address the organization. This detailed communication gives people clarity about where they are going, and helps them get and stay engaged.

So, what happens when things get bleak? Let’s look at the Valley of Despair.

Valley of Despair

Change requires people to work differently, be it on a system or in a specific business process.
Going from what was to what will be involves a period of transition. During this transition, productivity almost always drops. In change management circles, this is called the Valley of
Despair. It’s based on and adapted by various Change Management experts from Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s “Five Stages of Grief” described in her book, On Death & Dying.  
Productivity falloffs during times of transition is due in part to concrete changes such as new systems and processes. It’s also due to the internal process human beings navigate to embrace the change.

William Bridges says that when change occurs, people have to experience psychological reorientation to the new way of being. For people who have been doing the same things at the same place for a long time, this does not happen overnight. People process at different speeds.
As a leader, you can support individuals to move through this process.

What seems like resistance is often fear of the unknown.

Most people really do want to do a good job. They resist the new way because they’re afraid of losing competency, status, control, relationships, turf, meaning, and/or identity. This fear mires them in resistance. Getting specific about what they fear they are losing and acknowledging that fear will help them move through the resistance.

For example, let’s say you’re implementing a new software system. You have an older employee, Bob, who is a wiz on the old system. Everyone comes to him when they have issues. When the new system arrives, with much more modern technology, Bob may feel a bit threatened. His feelings are justified. All of a sudden, he doesn’t know what he’s doing. He’s a beginner. If there’s not space for him to acknowledge his loss of competency, he may feel so overwhelmed that he quits. When he does, all his organizational knowledge, which is priceless, walks out the door with him.

If instead, there’s permission for him to first acknowledge the loss, he can then feel it and accept that he’s a beginner. This makes it easier for him to engage in the training offered. Acknowledgement of what is being lost right-sizes the impact of change. The system is new, but Bob still knows all about the organization.

Once Bob, or any employee identifies their loss, they can move through it and figure out how to replace or redefine what they have lost. Sometimes they have to come to terms with the need to let go, or relinquish, something. For Bob, he may have to let go of “man to go-to” status when the new system arrives as the younger employees learn it more quickly.


Communication — early and often — is a key responsibility for leaders implementing big change. Communicate why the organization is changing, what the end goal looks and feels like, how the organization will get there, and who will do what to make it so.

And remember, success depends on bringing your people along. Treat them as humans so they know they matter to you, to each other, and to the company. Be prepared for the Valley of Despair, and provide a path for individuals to honestly talk about their struggles in the change process. Give them ways to identify what specifically they’re losing in this change and how they can replace, redefine, or relinquish what they have lost.

Finally, keep in mind that big change can take months or years to successfully implement. Stay connected to your people for the entire journey. Then you’ll reap the ROI you’ve been looking for.

CrisMarie Campbell and Susan Clarke are coaches, business consultants, speakers, and co-authors of The Beauty of Conflict: Harnessing Your Team’s Competitive Advantage. They and their organization, Thrive! Coaching and Consulting specialize in helping professional women, leaders, teams and entire companies learn how to transform conflict into creativity and innovation.