Got Changes to Make? Don’t Stop Short!

We all have changes to make. New systems to adapt to, new targets to hit, and new partners with which to collaborate. Most of us quickly reach for a PowerPoint deck. For others to see a visible change, however, don’t stop there.

Leaders draw energy from inspiring presentations and when shown new information we’ll attempt to incorporate it into our activities. Our personal values compel us to try and influence our actions more than our work environment.

The difficulty is, we assume our employees will react in the same way to our presentations, but most often, they won’t. This assumption makes it easy for us to over-rely on communication, resulting in less-than-expected behavior change. Most current change programs share this assumption.

Why do employees respond differently?

They see our presentations, hear what we say, and may briefly experiment with concepts, but the vast majority return to what they were previously doing because the work environment exerts pressure to maintain current activities. For employees, what they are accountable for is a more influential communicator than you or I.

An analogy may help us visualize employee behavior.

Imagine a spider sitting on a web in a doorway, with parts of its web connected to the top and sides of the doorframe. Now re-imagine the door frame is your organization and the strands of web connected to it are various accountabilities for process, reporting or other activities, and finally replace the spider in the middle with the current set of employee actions.

Employees’ actions are then a product, a balance, a trade-off among all the things for which they are accountable. This is exactly my conclusion after studying organizational change efforts in 72 organizations for three years.

Giving a presentation and expecting employees to adjust is like trying to move the ‘spider’ without first adjusting the web. To move the ‘spider’ (employee activities) to a new position we must adjust accountabilities to allow people to move to a revised, more optimal, equilibrium.

Have leaders always assumed employees will respond as we try to? Apparently. King Solomon, a reportedly wise individual, refuted this way of thinking 3,000 years ago saying, “Servants cannot be corrected with just words, though they understand, they won’t respond.”

Solomon observed that words give understanding but don’t change accountabilities – the reason activities stay where they are.

So, continue to give presentations as they build understanding and are a sign of our respect for employees’ intellects, ideas, and contributions. Just don’t stop there if you want behavior to change.
Modify leaders’ and employees’ accountabilities to motivate people to reset their daily actions in line with your goals.

Solomon summarized:

  • Words alone = understanding but little impact.
  • Words + accountability adjustments = understanding + rapid, substantial, long-lasting impact.

I think most employees know words don’t have the ‘change’ power we often think they have.

One multi-billion-dollar client organization needed to improve leadership, trust, work-culture, and operational issues across an essential service, 400-person division. Division leaders were so busy they routinely missed their own departmental meetings.

Our team distilled 35 different agendas down to common behavioral elements and suggested accountability changes to align leaders’ and later employees’ actions to this simplified agenda.

In a two-hour, Tuesday morning session, we presented to division leaders the consolidated agenda and specific changes to their accountabilities. Included were such radical suggestions as: leaders should listen to employees, ask for their opinions, and actually attend their own departments’ regular meetings.

Three days later, as our meeting coordinator walked through the division’s office area, two employees propelled her into the lunch room, asking, “Our manager went to a meeting on Tuesday morning led by two outside individuals. What did they do to our manager?”

The coordinator didn’t know how to respond. The employees continued saying, “Our manager went to that meeting Tuesday morning. He attended our departmental meeting that same afternoon and for the first time he listened to us, asked our opinion on things, and scared us half to death. What did they do to our manager?”

She explained the meeting outlined the simplified agenda which included operational and leadership actions like attending departmental meetings and asking for opinions prior to leaders sharing their own.

Here’s the important part. The two employees responded with, “Is this just a speech? Because around here speeches only last a week or two.”

There it is. In many previous instances these employees had seen ‘new’ ideas and initiatives come and quickly disappear. Think Solomon’s ‘just words’ and the web of accountabilities which hold activities.

The coordinator told them no, it wasn’t a speech. These leadership behaviors were now included in leaders’ annual performance assessments and that no one would get a raise unless they demonstrated these behaviors over the year.

“Oh,” the employees responded, “this will work then.” One division leader told us the behavioral impact of that Tuesday meeting (and its accountability changes) remained visible four years later.
I’d be happy to hear about your similar experiences with ‘words’ and actions.

Adapted from The Improvement Toolbox, by Keith N. Miles.

5 Things Millennials Want in a Work Environment #3 of 3

This third video is a 4-min. learning summary of what Millennials are looking for and the implications for organizations – what are some essential things we need to put into place to attract and retain this informed generation with outstanding potential.

5 Things Millennials Want in a Work Environment #2 of 3

This second of three videos – covers what millennials are looking for from the organizations they want to join and to stay with:

Linking to goals/objectives, feedback frequency, & people being compared to others or to what their role requires.

5 Things Millennials Want in a Work Environment #1 of 3

This first of three videos – covers what millennials are looking for from the organizations they want to join and to stay with:

from the entire work team and what type of guidance they expect.


How to Apply Belichick’s ‘Do Your Job’ – ‘Accountability’ 3 of 3

Bill Belichick and the Patriots’ success is due, in part, to his ‘Do Your Job’ philosophy. Third of three quick videos about how we can apply ‘Do Your Job’.
This video covers the ‘Accountability’ element.

How to Apply Belichick’s ‘Do Your Job’- ‘Actions’ 2 of 3

Bill Belichick and the Patriots’ success is due, in part, to his ‘Do Your Job’ philosophy. Second of three quick videos about how we can apply ‘Do Your Job’.

This video covers the ‘Actions & Behaviors’ element.

How to Apply Belichick’s ‘Do Your Job’ – ‘Time’ 1 of 3

Bill Belichick and the Patriots’ success is due, in part, to his ‘Do Your Job’ philosophy. First of three quick videos about how we can apply ‘Do Your Job’. This video covers the ‘Time’ element.

2016 World Series – A Display of Leadership

Besides breaking the ‘loveable’ Chicago Cubs’ 108 year-long drought and giving fans lasting memories from exciting, gut-wrenching games, the 2016 World Series was also a showcase of leadership.

Chicago’s Joe Maddon steered his team to baseball’s best record but found themselves down three games to one due to Terry Francona’s deft handling of a beaten up, but now, white-hot Cleveland team.

The post-game new conferences revealed both skippers’ unshakeable faith in their teams, their confidence in moving forward, but also their sincere respect for their opponents. This was an honor for each team, their managers said, and despite each teams’ flat-out commitment to ‘leave everything on the field’, this once-in-a-lifetime, competitive ‘battle’ never became personal.

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines sportsmanship as “conduct (as fairness, respect for one’s opponent, and graciousness in winning or losing) becoming to one participating in a sport.”
While electric pitching and defence were clearly evident, what was notably absent was individual grandstanding, vindictive retaliations, or over-aggressive contact. The 2016 World Series was a clarion demonstration of the absolute best possible play without the poor sportsmanship and trash talk for which we have all become too familiar.

Both Maddon and Francona modeled both excellent management and sportsmanship in front of their players and fans. During pauses in play, opponents chatted light-heartedly as they stood at their bases. Cleveland’s Francisco Lindor grinned and patted Chicago’s Kyle Schwarber’s injured and braced knee after Kyle surprised many with a steal of second base. Schwarber’s only response, a wry smile.[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]The 2016 World Series should be remembered, not only for its history, but also for its purity.[/pullquote]

The 2016 World Series should be remembered, not only for its history, but also for its purity. The two best work cultures in baseball showed us anew that it is still possible to compete ferociously, while still smiling, caring, and enjoying a game. When I coached, the highest compliment was when our opponents said that our team fought hard, but we were also good sports.

Thank you Joe Maddon, Terry Francona, and both your organizations, because we really need examples like you today.

Transform Your Next Strategy Update – 5 Attainable Difference-Makers

Most organizations neglect elements which, if included, could maximize a strategy update.

Five strategy-rollout optimizers to discuss in your next management team meeting:

Transform Your Strategy Update

One – Broaden the description to show respect

  • Describe to staff what needs to change but go beyond a minimal description of underlying reasons and summarize industry, competitive, and organizational issues.
  • The expanded description demonstrates respect for the intellectual resources at all levels and will encourage people to broaden their decision-making and embrace your strategy.

Two – Break down expectations so they’re relevant.

  • Describe what the organization as a whole must achieve but go beyond to give examples, for major departments, of things each must accomplish to activate the strategy.
  • It is often surprising how focused people can be on their own areas (also the reason for #1 above), so provide departmental examples to make your intent easier for everyone to grasp.

Three – Bring down timelines so it’s daily

  • Describe the timeline for overall goals but also go beyond to give examples, for major departments, of things each can do daily, weekly to activate your revised strategy.
  • Work-related timelines shrink, from months to days, as you move from administration to service delivery. Translate your strategy into a few daily examples to maximize engagement.

Four – Back them up so it’s team

  • Describe what you expect from your organization and its departments but go beyond to tell them one or two personal activities which you, yourself, will change to contribute in some way.
  • This worthwhile step may surprise a few. Elite leaders inspire by their actions and don’t miss an opportunity to demonstrate that they, too, are part of the team.

Five – Base it on facts so it’s active

  • New strategies keep organizations viable and agile, but any rollout is futile unless lower level departments go beyond words and respond with concrete changes in what they do.
  • Too many middle managers falsely believe verbal suggestions are all that’s required to adjust direct reports’ activities. Leaders know this and find ways to verify actions have been revised.

Please add a comment if you and your team found this helpful.

Can You Engineer Work Culture? 3 of 3

Three Practical Ways

The previous article ended with an interview quote* from Southwest Airlines’ co-founder, Herb Kelleher. His comments lead into the three things we’ve found helpful in moving work cultures forward.

Kelleher commented, “We used to have a corporate day. Companies would come in from around the world and they were interested in how we hired, trained, that sort of thing. Then we’d say, ‘Treat your people well and they’ll treat you well,’ and then they’d go home disappointed. It was too simple … Or too hard — because it’s a vast mosaic with thousands of little pieces that you have to keep putting in place every day. It’s not a programmatic thing. It can’t be. It has to come from the heart, not the head. If it’s programmatic, everybody will know that and say, “Hell, they’re not sincere; they don’t really care, they’re just telling us that they care.”*

One – It’s About Behavior

Kelleher refers to organizations being composed of a ‘mosaic with thousands of little pieces you have to keep putting in place every day’. Those little pieces are behaviors – how people interact while working. While virtually none of them show up on a spreadsheet – they define a work culture. We find that introducing a small set of expected behaviors and adding them to the list of things for which people are accountable and assessed is very effective. [pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]The few, new accountable behaviors affect culture like ‘salt’ affects food – the taste is largely the same, but better![/pullquote]

The few, new accountable behaviors affect culture like ‘salt’ affects food – the taste is largely the same, but better (not that I’m not promoting excess salt usage).

Two – It’s About Leaders’ Behavior

Leadership behavior is the bedrock of culture. Senior leaders must move beyond voicing support to being supportive. For example, to promote collaboration between different functional areas they must demonstrate and reinforce collaborative behavior. Kelleher reminds us, however, that forcing a ‘script’ (e.g. say this phrase every time) onto sceptical folk is a recipe for cynicism, not change. Leaders need to believe it themselves. So are we stuck – limited by the leaders we have? Thankfully no.

Social science found only a few percentage of people can listen to a new idea and then immediate integrate it into their daily interactions. Most of us are more set in our ways, and must try behaviors, and once experienced, we realign our thinking to re-establish a sense of internal consistency. Research found many people believe after trying new behaviors. [e.g. Chapter 3-Commitment and Consistency in Robert B. Cialdini’s book Influence.]

Being accountable for a few, new behaviors is often enough to jar leaders out of repetitive behavior patterns and, once performed, they begin to believe, thus avoiding the cynicism which results from ‘scripting’ behavior.

Three – It’s About Behaviors NOT Scripts

Kelleher reminds us that effective behaviors involve not just spoken words but authentic words. It is almost impossible to force people to use someone else’s words and appear sincere. So how can we hold behaviors accountable so they remain sincere? We ask leaders to make each common-sense behavior their own.

For example, we make leaders accountable for asking for their direct reports’ thoughts on a matter before they share their own views and give directives. Socrates dreamed up this effective device over 2,000 years ago. The practice reveals the state of direct reports’ thinking, affirms their value when their suggestions are invited and heard, and increases engagement. We make leaders accountable to ‘ask before sharing’ but let each find their own way to integrate the behavior into their daily leadership.


We’ve employed these practical techniques in many organizations with surprising and sustained impact.

One leader came to us six months after we ‘salted’ their leadership work culture with a set of behaviors designed to improve business performance, client satisfaction, and inter-departmental collaboration. She said, “Our culture used to be so negative and discouraging, but now it’s positive and encouraging and it’s been like that for the last six months. But I’m worried it’s going to go back to the way it was before?”[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]I told her that our assistance and presence with them hadn’t changed their culture, but the sets of accountable behaviors we established had.[/pullquote]

I told her “It can’t.” I told her that our assistance and presence with them hadn’t changed their culture, but the sets of accountable behaviors we established had. What changed their work culture was leaders being accountable, so they tried new behaviors, and everyone noticed the encouraging change. So whether we stopped assisting them or not – the work culture would remain positive as long as their leaders remained accountable for similar behaviors.

Engineering a culture is really about continually improving and making leadership behaviors a priority to optimize an organizational performance and employee engagement and to ensure its continued success.


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