It takes more than understanding change to achieve it

I was invited to help a large global service company transform its bureaucratic, siloed and slow culture into an agile, cohesive and innovative one. In order to learn about this company, I interviewed around thirty managers and employees at all levels.

They all pretty much told me the same things and highlighted the same issues, challenges, and obstacles that were getting in the way of greater performance and change.

They all acknowledged that the organization was too siloed, that managers were too focused on their own area and not enough on the greater success. They all pointed at trust, alignment and communication issues between functions and businesses that were causing tensions, conflicts and hurting effectiveness and costing opportunities and results.

These issues, challenges, and obstacles had been around for many years and everyone knew it. In fact, people frequently expressed frustration about them in around-the-cooler conversations. Everyone sincerely wanted to change them. However, all this didn’t translate to new behavior and change.


Because understanding and knowing doesn’t produce doing and changing.

I didn’t make this up. Look at our normal day-to-day life. For example, we know we should exercise, eat healthily, balance our personal and work life, not stress out about unimportant things. By golly, we even want to do better in all these areas and more, yet we still continue to do what isn’t working for us.

If you want to change your culture and team dynamics you have to go through a transformative process that is emotional, not merely intellectual. You have to follow three steps: Clear, Create, Commit.

Clear the old dynamics. This means engaging in a brave and honest conversation about what is working and more importantly what isn’t working between teams and levels. It has to be a collective conversation. You have to enable a safe environment for it, and people have to be allowed to communicate and be heard without judgment, arguments, push back and consequence. Just speaking, listening and being heard. You can think about this as emptying the glass.  

Often, people have to communicate their frustrations and concerns and feel heard in order to get beyond them and move on to a new space.

Create and build new dynamics. When the glass is empty you can start filling it with new substance. In fact, you can only really create a new culture or team dynamic and sustain it, when you truly start from a clean slate. If you do the first step well it will enable that. In this step you have to engage in a collective team conversation focused on imagining and creating ideas and possibilities about how you could and want to operate as a team. Things like: (1) open, honest, authentic, courageous and effective conversations, (2) appearing everyone as one team with one voice, and (3) addressing all challenges in a win-win way. The possibilities you create should strike a healthy balance between being aspirational and realistic.

Commit to new behaviors, actions, and results. Committing stakes you to the new and better future state that you desire. When your team members promise each other to start behaving and interacting in a more transparent, candid and brave way it raises the collective bar and changes the expectations, interactions, and conversations within the team. It’s public, people can hold each other to account and no one can hide. If you stay the course and follow through on your commitments the new behavior and actions will start becoming the norm.

So, for a successful transformation of culture and team dynamics remember to clear, create & most importantly commit!

Don’t underestimate the power of intention

I know too many people who don’t have the reality they want personally and/or professionally and they constantly complain about it, blame others or the circumstances for it and overall give excuses for it.

In fact, when I asked one of them the question “How are you doing?” their response was: “Same shit different day!” I have heard different variations on that theme from others…

Contrast that with a real-life story (no names) with two chapters:

Chapter One:

A sales team that was struggling with making their sales targeted numbers for a long time wanted a break. They had enough of wallowing in their sorrows. They wanted a breakthrough; they wanted to start winning and move from a survival mode to a thriving and abundant mode. So, to make a long story short, they had a “come to Jesus” meeting in which they all committed to a future (with specific details) that included making or exceeding their goals every quarter with more and bigger deals. They acknowledged that they had fallen into a “victim mentality” and they committed to stop complaining, blaming and justifying. This commitment was a big deal for them! The first quarter they came close, the second they made it and by the third quarter, they exceeded their results.

Needless to say, everyone was elated. However, with their new success came a lot more work and the new work was much more intense and demanding then they had been used to.

Chapter Two:

After two very successful quarters of record sales results, people were feeling the strains of the long hours and hard work. They had to hire many more people to accommodate their growth, but that was taking longer than everyone had hoped so the brunt of the hard work fell on fewer people.

Everyone felt the stress of over the lack of work/life balance. Even the people who were around before the success had forgotten where they came from.

When you walked the halls of this team you started to hear disgruntled team members engaging in negative conversations again – complaining, blaming and justifying their frustrations. Unfortunately, with time the negativity only increased and with it ownership, dedication and quality deteriorated.

When the team lost its first customer everyone brushed it off and attributed it to the circumstances. However, when their downward trend repeated itself and they had multiple issues with other deals and customers, which lead to them missing their sales results again, it was too late to turn things around.

Commitment and Intention are so powerful. You can understand this phrase, but if you don’t “get it”, trust it, apply it and live it this won’t make a difference.

The punch line is:

If you are dealing with a bad situation or reality and you complain about it you will most likely continue to have that bad reality. I am sure you would agree…

If you are dealing with a bad situation or reality and you commit to changing it, and then you start speaking and acting consistent with your new commitment, it will only be a matter of time – “when”, not “if” – you will turn your predicament around.

However, if you succeed in turning your bad predicament around and you go back to complaining about what you got, or what is not working, it will only be a matter of time – “when”, not “if” – you will lose what you created and return back to your old state…

Even if you don’t understand how intention works or if you don’t believe that intention works – it still does!

You can either embrace the concept and figure out how to use it to your advantage, or you can reject and dismiss it and then you will lose the competitive advantage and power that this powerful principle could give you.

Stop wasting time in worthless meetings

I was working with two different organizations that were going through significant growth and change. One company had completed its second acquisition of a large competitor and was in the midst of integrating teams, products and strategies to optimize this significant change and growth.

The other company had done such a great job in their core business of selling machines and hardware that they were expanding their market reach into adjacent areas of software development and consulting. This change required new capabilities, skills, processes and mindset.

Needless to say, in both cases, there were many complex details for the leadership teams to debate, make decisions about and iron out both in their growth and change strategy, as well as in its execution. In both cases, decisions were not being made fast enough.

The leadership teams of both of these companies had a similar routine of holding a weekly call for about 90 minutes each, where leaders, in turn, shared updates on the activities they were working on. These weekly calls were mostly oriented around updates and sharing with little-to-no interaction or debate. In fact, most leaders didn’t find these weekly calls very productive and critical, so throughout the calls, they were busy doing their emails while the call was going on, so they weren’t even paying that much attention to their colleague’s updates to begin with.

Needless to say, these weekly update calls were not the forum where the leaders could debate and dig into the big topics of challenges and opportunities that were affecting everyone’s day-to-day life given all the massive growth and change they were going through.

Every one of the leaders in both companies felt a burning need for their leadership team to spend quality time together in order to debate the urgent topics that were on their minds, but they had no other meeting scheduled beyond the weekly calls to do that in.

The leaders actually did have plenty of opportunities to meet each other in-person in their quarterly business reviews (QBR) and other company functions, but these always included many other participants beyond the leaders so there was no opportunity for alone time for the leaders. They occasional dinners together as a leadership team also didn’t provide the opportunity for meaningful debates.

Everyone was frustrated about the lack of quality leadership team time, but no one did anything much about it. When I asked why the leaders don’t schedule additional leadership team meetings people responded with: “We are too busy with the day-to-day” and “We can’t find the time….”. When I challenged them they added and explained: “We have too many other meetings that are filling our schedule, that are a waste of time; things we could cover via email”

I see this exact same dynamic with so many companies!!!

The “We don’t have time” excuse is exactly that – a lame excuse and a cop out!

It’s actually worse, the need for the leadership team to spend quality time in order to debate and address the big challenges and opportunity of their growth and change is real and critical. It is not a “luxury” or “nice to have”. It is a “must” and a “leadership responsibility”. Not doing it is unacceptable.

The solution is actually quite simple and straightforward:

  1. Have the courage to stop/cancel all the meetings that are unproductive and not a good use of time.
  2. Share information that could be shared/updated via email – via email.
  3. Schedule meetings with enough time, on topics that are important. For a company that is going through significant change, the leadership team should meet no less than once a quarter for one or two full days. In some periods/phases of change, even that is insufficient and the leadership team should meet every month or every other month.
  4. Make sure the important meetings are productive, with clear objectives, agenda and someone to manage/facilitate them. Don’t let them decline or get out of control.

If you stop the ineffective and worthless meetings and you make sure the important meetings are productive and worthwhile people won’t feel like there are too many meetings. They will simply see these as “what we do to be successful”


Do not be afraid of the roller coaster of taking a stand

Taking a stand is like putting on a fresh pair of glasses. You start seeing things more clearly.

I was working with the middle managers of a global technology-based company. This group was suffering from a lack of internal cohesion and trust, plus communication issues between its members. These negative dynamics had been going on for so long that it was hard for the managers to tell if their trust issues were coming from personal relationship issues or from the fact that businesses and functions were simply not working together cohesively and effectively. However, one thing was clear to the managers – that their issues were hurting productivity, business results and morale in their wider organization.

In our meeting, the managers decided to tackle their problem head-on. They had an honest conversation in which they took stock of their issues and frustrations. They talked about the type of peer and functional dynamic they wanted to have in the future, and at the end of the day, they took a bold stand to make a significant improvement in their trust, cohesion and communication dynamics. Everyone left the meeting feeling good and committed to drive the change they wanted.

When we met again 60 days later to follow up and continue the process people were somewhat deflated and resigned. When I asked why they stated that since our last meeting things actually got worse, rather than better.

When we probed deeper we discovered – and they all acknowledged this – that things didn’t, in fact, get worse, in fact, they got a little better, However, because their level of tolerance and patience for the issues became much lower, their issues felt more painful.

This is a typical dynamic when you take a stand!

When you have tolerated a state of dysfunctionality in an area that you care about for a long time you tend to become cynical and resigned about change. If you experience an “Aha moment!”, or an epiphany, or a paradigm shift you will start seeing things differently. As a result, you will become excited and hopeful about the change you want. It’s like having an awakening from a state of numbness. However, with the awakening comes a renewed sense of responsibility and ownership, which will inevitably make you less tolerant to dysfunctionality.

The more you understand this dynamic the more effective you will be at navigating through it without invalidating your stand, the change you want or your journey to get there.

So, how do you push on and materialize the changes that you took a stand for?

By speaking, behaving and acting consistently with your change.

What does this mean?

Speaking differently:

When you take a stand to create a better future state, the way you speak about it will have a big impact on your ability to realize it. In a different company, I was attending a meeting where team members were reviewing a bold project they took on to improve their operational processes and efficiency. Throughout the presentation, the project manager kept making undermining comments about the project, such as: “This project is so challenging and hard…” and “We are doing our best, but not sure we can make it…” He kept referring to his future as “If we make it…” versus “When we make it…” He may have thought that these comments were charming, but I wanted to scream: “Why do you keep second-guessing your commitment?!”, “Why are you conveying such an undermining perspective about your future?!”,”Stop speaking like that!”.

Let’s be real – there are no guarantees that you will succeed in realizing any commitment or stand. In addition, you should not be inauthentic or lie about challenges and difficulties. However, there is always an empowering authentic way to account for the challenges and still speak powerfully about the future you have taken a stand about.

Acting and behaving differently:

Once you take a stand for a better future, put yourself in that future state and use that future state as the reference for defining your actions and behaviors. Ask yourself, looking from the future backward toward today, “What actions and behaviors should I start, stop or do differently?”.

Don’t guess or speculate. Let the future guide you in determining what new behaviors you should adopt and practice.

Make a list of these actions and behaviors, especially the new things and then do what you know is needed. Actually, start doing things differently and stop things that don’t support your new future.

Starting, stopping and changing actions and behaviors is often not easy. Old habits tend to pull you right back toward them. However, the more you make your promised changes public the more you will close any possibility of hiding or retreating. Make sure you build the support structure of committed people around you who will remind you, hold you to account and not buy into your excuses if/when you renege on the behavior changes you have committed to.

By understanding what you should expect when taking a stand, you will increase your possibilities, choices and power to create a desired future that is greater than what is going to happen anyways.


If you want your people to live the values, live them yourself!

Every modern organization has cultural values that outline the type of culture and behaviors the CEO and his or her senior executives want to drive in their organization.

The CEO and senior team are typically the ones who stand on the stage and share the values. Most CEOs only mention the values a few times a year in the formal company-wide events. In many cases, this happens because their human resource leader or communications manager adds it in their presentation deck.

Some CEOs really care about the values. They see them as their personal endeavor; perhaps the legacy they want to leave behind them. These CEOs find any opportunity to mention, repeat and reference the values in day-to-day business conversations; when they criticize, coach or discipline their people, as well as when they recognize and praise them.

Everyone in the company knows where their CEO and his or her senior team stand regarding the values. They know if the values are merely another corporate slogan the senior team pays lip service to, or if the CEO and his/her team take them personally and they are sincerely passionate about them and committed to driving them. It’s easy to tell by watching actions, not words.

I was working with a CEO who was very passionate about the values of his company. Everywhere he went in the company, in all meetings and calls he would bring up the values in some relevant business context. When a product didn’t meet the deadline of being released to the market and he found out that the teams that were supposed to collaborate in order to get it done didn’t do a good job, he made a big stink about people not living the collaboration value. When his leaders would come to him to complain about other leaders he would coach them in the context of living the value of ownership. And, when the sales team overcame big challenges and achieved a great outcome at the end of the quarter he went out of his way to show everyone how it was because people were living the ‘we get it done‘ value.

Everyone knew that the values were the CEO personal pet peeve. People respected it, but more importantly, everyone felt compelled to get on board with the CEO and make the values the company’s norm. They were very successful at it.

Unfortunately, in so many companies the CEO and his or her team are the biggest offenders of living the values.

To state the obvious, if the values are Teamwork and Ownership and everyone can see that the senior leaders are highly political and siloed people will roll his or her eyes at the values. If the values are Candor and Transparency and people are afraid to give the senior leaders feedback and bad news because they won’t take it well, people will be cynical about the values.

Judging by their behavior, it seems that many executives think that they can drive the values by standing on a stage once or twice a year and saying all the fancy slogans with gusto and then going back to their day-to-day lives with minimal attention to the values until the next big fanfare. Nothing is further from the truth!

If the CEO wants to create a new culture based on values such as: Collaboration, Personal Responsibility, Excellence, Innovation and Care, he or she has to:

  1. Make these values a priority as high as achieving the revenues or profitability numbers of the company.
  2. Put in place the same robust programs, routines, incentives and practices to continuously promote, foster, reward, nurture and sustain the desired behaviors.
  3. Establish the same level of inspection touch-points to ensure clear changes and improvements are being made.

Making the values a part of the culture is an ongoing process and journey, not an event. It takes dedication and work. It definitely won’t be achieved by reciting slogans!

To the CEO and his or her senior leaders I would offer the following advice:

If you want your people to live the values, live them yourselves!