What Can You Do To Accelerate Major Transformation?
Listen to Episode 14:
Episode 14 Transcript:
Chris Curran: Growth Igniters Radio, episode 14. What Can You Do To Accelerate Major Transformation?
This episode is brought to you by Business Advancement Incorporated, enabling successful leaders and companies to accelerate to their next level of growth, on the Web at www.businessadvance.com.
Now here’s Pam and Scott.
Pam Harper: Thanks, Chris. I’m Pam Harper, founding partner and CEO of Business Advancement Incorporated. Looking right across at me is my business partner and husband, Scott Harper. Hi, Scott.
Scott Harper: Hey, Pam. As always, it’s great to be here with you today.
If this is your first time listening out there, the purpose of Growth Igniters Radio is to spark new insights, inspiration, and immediately useful ideas for leaders to take themselves and their companies to their next level of success.
Pam, we’ve had about a dozen guests talk to us so far about their experiences since we launched Growth Igniters radio. Listeners have also asked us to share some of our own insights and learnings that we’ve gained over the many years that you’ve had Business Advancement Incorporated and since I joined you five years ago, working with companies to accelerate their growth.
From time to time, we’ve decided that we’re going to devote an episode to our own experiences, what we’ve learned, and trends that we see that are changing the face of business. Let’s get going.
Pam Harper: Since we typically work with companies that are going through some type of major transformation − the gut-wrenching kind, such as M&A, re-orgs, entering new markets, changes of leaderships…
Scott Harper: Big stuff.
Pam Harper: Big stuff… We’re going to devote today’s episode to focusing on what makes the most difference to accelerating a successful outcome. The emphasis is on the word accelerating.
Scott Harper: Accelerating. Of course that leads to the natural question, “Okay, what does make the most difference?”
Pam Harper: I think the biggest thing I’ve learned over the years is that it’s engagement and commitment of the people involved at every single level, from board to executive team, all the way through to the front line.
I think it’s important to be clear that we’re talking about the engagement and commitment of everyone who can make or break that success. This also includes people outside the organization, such as customers, suppliers, outsource providers and alliance partners.
Scott Harper: All sorts of partners − right.
Pam Harper: All sorts, right.
Scott Harper: Makes sense. Now, we’ve heard, in our conversations, people use “commitment” and “engagement” almost interchangeably. Are they really the same thing, or are they different?
Pam Harper: No; they’re closely related, but they’re really not the same. I think about it like a love relationship. Let’s say a couple that has a successful engagement period where they’re paying attention to building the relationship and gaining enthusiasm for the idea of the big transition of marriage and a life-long relationship.
The more engaged they are, the more likely they are to be ready to really, truly commit to the ups and downs of marriage.
Scott Harper: That makes sense, yeah.
Pam Harper: Yeah, I think that there’s a parallel in the workplace. Think about it. The more engaged employees, or any of the people − stakeholders that I was talking about − are in what and the why of their roles, the more likely they are to commit to the ups and downs of the organization and to do the things that are necessary for a successful transformation. I’ve seen it.
Scott Harper: Yeah − well, you have. I’ve watched you even before I joined your organization, going through a lot of this sort of thing. Let’s have an example so people can really get a feeling for it.
Pam Harper: One that comes to mind is a client that was going through a major re-organization of three divisions because they were going through shifts and changes in the market. One of the biggest issues they had was that people were starting to get lost in terms of what they were doing and even why. They got to that point even before I was involved with the company.
One of the most eye-opening things for them and for me was, I sat down with them and I asked [a question of] each employee at every single level, all the way from the president through the front line. The question was, “What is it that is your role and why do you do it?”
Scott Harper: Like, “this is what I do,” right? “because this is my job…”
Pam Harper: We got away from that. No, no, that’s not what I mean. How does this actually make a difference in what the company is trying to achieve, or even your department? What are you trying to achieve?
When they stopped and they thought about it, they said, “Well, like just ah ….” I remember one administrative person who said, “Well, I just do the same thing over and over.” I said, “But, how do you make that important to the company, to your department?” She said, “You know, until I actually went through this exercise of thinking about it, I really didn’t realize it.” She came up with about a half dozen reasons in terms of what her role was there to do and what she personally did to make it happen.
Scott Harper: When the work that somebody’s doing, − [when] they can see it as relevant, and as meaningful, and as something that makes a difference, [that’s big]. … I’ve heard over, and over, and over, “What I want from my job is I want to make a difference, whether it’s a big one, or a little one and, it jives with what I like to do and what I do well.” That really gets people reeled in and engaged. How does that fit in with commitment, then?
Pam Harper: Again, in this case, one of the things we saw with this particular project was that the more engaged people were, the more that they were starting to make the commitment to doing what was necessary. Remember, this company was going through a major gut-wrenching transformation.
Scott Harper: Yeah, it was an M&A − right.
Pam Harper: I said it’s like, “Okay, well, if this is what I’m here to do, let’s not worry about the nitty-gritties of my job description. You know, who follows that? But, I’m here to make sure that messages get out on time. I’m here to make sure that the phone is answered in a timely manner. I’m here to make sure that people understand the role of my area and that they’re not confused about the different things that have to get done for us to meet deadlines in a timely manner.” Confusion runs rampant in those situations.”
Scott Harper: To get that engagement and connect the dots − leaders obviously have to play a role in that. I’m sure we’ll get into that in greater detail later on. It’s going to take real thinking and effective communication to help people all over the organization and even outside draw those lines.
Pam Harper: That’s right.
Scott Harper: Yeah, that makes sense.
Pam Harper: That’s right. The more that people understand what they’re there to do, and why they’re there, that engagement piece; so important; you cannot have commitment without engagement. Just because somebody’s engaged does not mean they’ll be committed either. You really have to have the two. Leaders do play that important role in making sure that the environment exists for everyone involved to be both engaged and committed.
Scott Harper: That makes sense. We’re probably going to have people pushing back and saying, “Well, no, strategy is much more important than engagement because if you don’t have strategy, you don’t have anything to do.” What can you say to that?
Pam Harper: I can say that engagement and commitment has to exist before you can ever get agreement out of strategy or agreement on how you’re going to accomplish anything. I don’t care if it’s in business. I don’t care if it’s in your personal life. Engagement and commitment matters most.
We’ll talk more about it in the next segment, so stay tuned. In the next segment we’ll be talking about how leaders can set the environment for engagement and also commitment. Stay with us…
Scott Harper: You’re listening to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper, brought to you by Business Advancement Incorporated, on the web at www.businessadvance.com. Subscribe to the Growth Igniters Community by going to www.GrowthIgnitersRadio.com and clicking the “Join Our Community” button in the upper right corner. This will let us send you weekly updates that will add value to each episode. You’ll get easy access to each episode’s play button, show notes, guest bio, and links to resources mentioned in the episode…
Pam Harper: Welcome back to Growth Igniters radio with Pam Harper − that’s me − and Scott Harper. Scott and I are talking today about the pivotal role that engagement and commitment of employees, partners, and other stakeholders plays in accelerating the success of company transformations − the big gut-wrenching ones like M&A, re-orgs, entering new markets, and the like.
Scott Harper: Let’s talk, Pam, about more of the lessons that we’ve learned about how companies can amp up their engagement and commitment and achieve a greater velocity and effectiveness as they’re going through these big transformative changes.
Pam Harper: As simple as it sounds, I think one of the most important, and one of the most difficult, challenging areas is to ensure clarity. Clarity is being very clear in yourself about not just what the strategy for the transformation is, but making sure that others are engaged and in sync with you.
Scott Harper: Tell me a little bit more about that. “I tell you what we’re doing, that should be clear,” right?
Pam Harper: Right.
Scott Harper: You’re telling me that it’s not?
Pam Harper: First of all, who says that you’re telling me?
I think one of the biggest things that I’ve seen over the years is how much we assume that we’ve [actually] told people what is most important to us and what we’re really doing. We’re operating at warp speed; it’s not always something that I think about saying, “Well, sure, you know, I want you to know that this is the direction we’re headed because an important customer has made a decision like this,” or something even minor that can have major impact.
Just to take this out of the theoretical and bring it into something that’s a story − a number of years ago I had an experience − it was very stunning. I was working with a company that was going through three major changes at once. There was a leadership succession. The new CEO actually had been in the role of CFO …
Scott Harper: I remember this one…
Pam Harper: … for a number of years. He ascended to the role of the CEO and chairman of the board. That was a big thing. The second thing was that the company had a major downturn with their traditional market. This was also a huge deal. They had to come up with something.
The third thing was that in the role of being a new leader and having a commitment to a very high level of growth − about 30% per year − this particular company, the CEO said, “I think we need to re-organize,” which not uncommon. That’s what happens a lot of the time.
Scott Harper: What was the big deal?
Pam Harper: The big deal was first of all, that …
Scott Harper: Obviously three big things, but what …?
Pam Harper: … three big things…
Scott Harper: Why did they call you in?
Pam Harper: There was, first of all − I think there was an assumption that, “Okay, it’s time to plan strategy.” You know, “it’s our annual strategic planning meeting.” But this particular company was really having trouble with coalescing around a strategy. It just would break down. It was frustrating to the CEO, frustrating to the board, frustrating to the people who were involved. This very forward-thinking CEO and chair decided that the best way to handle it was head-on.
We actually went on an off-site. They decided that I should come in and help them. One of the things that came out in this off-site was, number one: the engagement of people and the commitment of the people on the executive team was a challenge. There was not necessarily the engagement and the acceptance of the new leadership. That was the first thing that was going on. How can you have a new strategy that you agree upon if you can’t even agree on who the leader really is?
Second, the leader for his part, as much as he was an articulate person, was running at such a fast pace that there were things he wasn’t necessarily sharing everything. There were some gaps in understanding.
Scott Harper: He was making assumptions that if he said, “We’re doing this.” that people would understand…
Pam Harper: People would understand why.
Scott Harper: Why, not just what.
Pam Harper: Yeah, exactly.
Scott Harper: “If I don’t understand why how am I going to get onboard?”
Pam Harper: That’s right. What really needed to come out, and come out in its own way was number one, an acceptance [of the situation], which we worked on and actually had some wonderful experiences that enabled us to do that. The second was that once they understood the why behind the what − [clarity] − people came together, especially when they accepted this new CEO. They were able to accelerate dynamically on the decisions that they needed to make around the strategy, and then the subsequent actions that had to come from that.
Scott Harper: The clarity makes a lot of sense.
Pam Harper: The clarity became the real issue, yes.
Scott Harper: This example, this story, I remember it very well. It also really illustrates another really, really important issue in building and maintaining engagement and commitment. That is, appropriately enough, engaging with your organization, whether it’s the executive team in this case, or all through the organization − your partners. When people get a chance to participate, to engage in and participate with “what’s the plan? How are we going to bring it off?”
When leaders encourage that kind of involvement, whether it’s an off-site, it’s getting feedback from people − employees, partners, customers − that’s actually listened to. People will tend to support and engage things that they feel that they have some control over, that they have contributed to. “It’s my idea too, in part.” Maybe only a small part of the idea, but the more we can bring people together. We’ve seen this large-scale, small-scale; the more that people go, “Yeah, that makes sense to me. I can get behind that.”
Pam Harper: They feel respected.
Scott Harper: Respect is really, really critical. That’s a third very strong factor [in gaining engagement and commitment].
Pam Harper: It all folds into this particular case study, taking it back. One of the big things that came out is people didn’t feel respected, because they didn’t understand what was going on. You’re talking about people at the very top of the organization.
Scott Harper: … they felt cut out…
Pam Harper: They felt cut out, because there were certain things that some people had − information − that others didn’t. This all needed to come together. It comes down to me, to respect.
Scott Harper: The respect has to be mutual as well…
Pam Harper: That’s right. You share; people share back and forth. Not every idea can be used, but when people understand first of all the boundaries around which they have the ability to actually make things happen for themselves and why if they make a suggestion or a recommendation, or have a strong view, why that is not going to be able to be put into place, then they understand there’s a certain amount of respect.
Scott Harper: Respect, rather than just having say an open suggestion box …
Pam Harper: That’s not a way to go.
Scott Harper: … where I put my ideas in, and they’re completely ignored. If you have criteria around, “This is what we’re looking for. These are the boundaries, or the criteria of what success will look like.” Then people will feel like, “Yeah, I can contribute and I find out what happens to that idea, up, down, or sideways. I feel more respected.” Is that what you’re saying?
Pam Harper: True. I think it is. The more the people understand, are clear about what it is that they’re trying to do and why − and why not, if something can’t happen. There’s that feeling of mutuality. It really increases, exponentially, the amount of respect, and the engagement that everyone feels in the organization, in what they’re doing, and the amount of commitment that it takes to pull it off through the ups and the downs.
Scott Harper: Makes sense.
Pam Harper: We’re going to take a quick break. When we come back, we’ll continue our conversation about building peak levels of engagement and commitment during major transformation with three things you can do starting right now. Stay tuned.
Scott Harper: You’re listening to Growth Igniters radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper, brought to you by Business Advancement Incorporated. We enable successful companies to accelerate to their next level of innovation and growth.
If our conversation today strikes a chord with you, we invite you to follow up. Request a free 20-minute introductory consultation with us. Go to growthignitersradio.com and click the open a conversation with us logo at the bottom of the page and enter introductory consultation in the question field. We’ll follow up and explore how we might be able to help you and your company accelerate to your growth objectives.
Pam Harper: Welcome back to Growth Igniters radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. Over the last two segments, Scott and I’ve been talking about some lessons we’ve learned over the years working with clients that are going through major transformation and some of the things that you, as listeners, leaders, can do immediately to begin to increase and accelerate the velocity of transformation.
Scott Harper: Absolutely. Pam, let’s get down to some specifics. We’ve been talking about the ideas of [the importance of] engagement and commitment to getting things done and having peak performance during transformation. How can company leaders build those higher levels of these two important factors when companies are really going through this gut-wrenching change?
It seems like the first thing that leaders who are out there can do is determine how engaged their stakeholders are in the first place, and then keep monitoring. How can they monitor that throughout the process?
Pam Harper: Sometimes it’s a lot more easily said than done, especially since the lack of engagement and resistance of various forms is often hidden. In fact, it’s even disguised as, believe it or not, support.
Scott Harper: “I say yes with my lips and no with my actions…”
Pam Harper: That’s right. Here are a few things that you might look for.
One is if people are too busy. Have you ever experienced this? “I really want to help you out, Scott, but I’m just too busy.”
Scott Harper: Yeah, yeah. “I’ve got that on the top of my list. It’s coming…” But the top of the list never seems to come to the top.
Pam Harper: The thing of it is, it’s actually legitimate. They really are too busy − but the question is what’s behind it?
Scott Harper: It’s not a priority.
Pam Harper: It’s not a priority. I think being too busy once, or on occasion, that’s one thing. If somebody is chronically too busy, how does that come out? It comes out as missing deadlines, which is the second thing [that signals lower engagement and commitment]. Again, you miss a deadline once, okay, so it’s once; twice − a coincidence? Three times − you’ve got a pattern.
If there is a pattern of missing deadlines, and I’ve seen this in companies where they’ll say, “We think everybody’s on board, because they are all agreeing to do these things.” It comes down to, “Well, why is this happening?” There are a lot of reasons for these things.
It could be excessive conflict. It could be confusion about priorities. It could be confusion about the process for getting things done, or that there is no process for getting things done. Those are some of the reasons. There are even more reasons. That’s where it gets confusing. If you’re addressing just the symptom, you could be treating it with the wrong approach.
Scott Harper: Yeah, that’s the thing, whether it’s missing deadlines, “I’m too busy,” or just quality issues. I’ve seen quality issues pop up many times when you have people who really aren’t paying full attention.
So we see these things and we think, “Okay, you know what, engagement isn’t really where it should be.” Great, you can treat the symptom, or you can try to get to the root cause. And that’s not always easy. What could it be − “What are the root causes?” [Examples:] Uneasiness − “What’s this transformation going to mean to me?”
It could be, “It takes me out of my comfort zone. I don’t really like that. I feel resentful because, you know, I’m not being treated fairly. This isn’t right, or someone else is going to get something and I’m not going to get something.” So many issues. People aren’t going to come up and say, “Hey, this is why, you know, I’m too busy.”
Pam Harper: Some people are. Some people are, but a lot of people are not, or it’s going to be more indirect. Remember the case we had with the company where they were building in China?
Scott Harper: Yeah, that’s right. Yeah, this was something that you and I were called in on a little bit ago. The VP who called us in said, “You know, we had these really, really aggressive growth targets for our unit in China, and my folks − my executive team over there − they say, “yep, yep, I can do that. Yes, right. We’ll do that.”
Pam Harper: A lot of head-nodding.
Scott Harper: A lot of head-nodding. And, “I’ll do this,” but it didn’t happen.
Pam Harper: I remember that our contact was absolutely mystified.
Scott Harper: He was baffled.
Pam Harper: He couldn’t figure it out. They kept saying, “Of course, we’ll do it. We’ll do it.” But the deadlines came and it went.
Scott Harper: When we went and we spoke with the executive team, one-on-one, individually, we found that they would tell us things that they would never tell their management − their up line, the VP.
Pam Harper: Let’s talk about that for a moment, why would they have spoken with us and not with anyone else?
Scott Harper: First, we weren’t in their chain of command. We were not going to be able to say, “Oh, well, *phhtt,* you’re out. You know, you’re not doing your job. Get out of here.” Or, “Shame on you.” Pride and saving face is incredibly important, not just to the Chinese, of course, but to everybody.
Pam Harper: In the U.S., it’s just as important.
Scott Harper: It’s just as important.
Pam Harper: It looks different, but I think pride and saving face is a huge deal.
Scott Harper: It is a huge deal. We were neutral.
In this case, also, I think we sensed that going to the people and speaking with them and putting it in a context also let them feel respected. “We are here to listen to you and to bring it back.” When we did a de-brief for the group, people looked and said, “I’m not the only one who thinks like that.”
All of a sudden − Bam − conversations that had been stalled for months flowed like crazy. They accelerated really critical multi-million dollar decisions by at least half a year. It really paid off for this company. It was all by getting the folks engaged and committed to, “Okay, now we understand what this change means. I understand my role in it. I’m in.” It made a big, big difference. This is just one example.
Pam Harper: Yeah. Clarity comes in to play. I think what we’re seeing is that there’s a trend. When you have this clarity, the focus, the respect, it all comes together. People feel an increased engagement and a commitment. They’re going to greatly accelerate any transformation.
Scott Harper: Then you have to decide okay, you have the clarity; you’ve identified, “I need more engagement.” You’re getting to some of the root causes.
[Now the third step:] You have to understand then, “Well, what am I going to do to address it?” Sometimes it’s easier. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable.
Pam Harper: That’s where you have to get really good at coming up with options.
Scott Harper: Ah yes − options. You love your options.
Pam Harper: I love my options. I love to help people come up with options. I think I see options that don’t even ordinarily exist.
The fact is that the more options that you can create, the more choices you have about what’s going to make the best sense under the circumstances. Some of the things that clients have decided to do, under certain circumstances, have not always been the easiest path, but it’s been the best path for them.
In one case − it was in the company with the market downturn − it was, “We’re going to take this technology that we have and apply it to other markets, while we’re not abandoning our traditional market. But then we’ll come back. We’ll we stronger than ever.” That’s, in fact, what happened. That’s just one example.
Scott Harper: We could go on a long time on this.
Pam Harper: We could. From time to time we will come back. We’ll talk more about accelerating transformations, whether they’re small, whether they’re large because ultimately, every company has to be in constant transformation in order to, accelerate growth and profitability.
Scott Harper: Big or small; makes sense.
Pam Harper: … Until next time, this is Pam Harper.
Scott Harper: And Scott Harper …
Pam Harper: … wishing you continued success and leaving you with this thought to share with your teams:
Scott Harper: How do you know whether the people in your organization are engaged − or not? Go find out.