Change Is Bittersweet
I pride myself in being a change agent. Yet when someone sits in my chair at the table, I immediately react by asking him to move. The truth is, I’m no different from anyone else—I like things the way they are. However, there is no growth in staying the same; there is no personal or professional development; there is no transformation. “You’re either growing or you’re dying.” Nothing stays the same.
We can allow change to happen to us or we can take on transformation and grow into a new future. This is true whether the change is taking place in our business lives or our personal lives. If we don’t actively take on change, it can come when we least expect it in the form of unexpected and, often, unwanted events—and most of us resist it when it comes. We all like things just as they are.
When my future husband and I were dating, we both had apartments on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. He lived in a one-bedroom walk-up apartment on Seventieth Street, and I lived on Seventy-Second Street in an alcove studio. There was a doorman at the front door at all times.
Once we got engaged, we started making plans for where we would live together. Because he had the larger apartment, we agreed to give his place a try.
It was time for me to move into his apartment just as he was leaving on a business trip. He told me to make myself at home, so I did. When he left, I brought some of my things over to the apartment and started to “make myself at home.”
The first thing I noticed was the uncovered M&M candies in a bowl on his coffee table. After dumping them into a plastic baggie and cleaning the bowl, I replaced them with cellophane- and foil-wrapped Perugino soft-centered hard candies. After all, doesn’t everyone know you don’t put unwrapped candy into a bowl and expect your guests to dig in?
Feeling happy with my first change, I replaced a Lucite vase he had on his dining table with a beautiful crystal vase from my apartment. Moving right along, I noticed that the paper towels were on the holder the wrong way. My mother always taught me that you never put your paper products on the holder where you would pull from the top. It would cause you to pull too much at one time and be wasteful. I turned the roll so you could pull the paper towel off the rack from under the roll, as it should be.
Once I put a few pictures from my place around the apartment and some favorite books on his shelves, I was quite pleased with the way things looked. I had made myself at home.
I went back to my apartment and collapsed in front of the TV.
Ron returned from his business trip late on a Friday night, so we decided to get together the following afternoon. When I arrived at his apartment, I noticed the crystal vase had been replaced with his Lucite one. The paper towel roll was back on the holder the WRONG way, and my picture frames were moved. The straw that broke this camel’s back was the M&M candies that were back in the bowl and my beautifully wrapped candy in the baggie on his kitchen counter. After I confronted him with, “What happened to ‘make yourself at home’?” His response was, “I said you could make yourself at home but that didn’t mean you could change anything!”
Thankfully, I had kept my apartment during our trial run.
We realized that it wasn’t going to work for either one of us to move into the other’s apartment. On some deep level, we knew that changing the other’s space wasn’t going to work—what we needed to do was to transform our lives together by creating something new that would be ours as a couple.
The fact is, change creates opportunity. If you’re anything like me, when something changes, you probably feel disoriented and off-kilter. It takes a while to absorb the change and craft the transformation you want to see in order to create the new life, the new opportunity, the new business. I’ve told you of a personal transformation I created with my husband; here is one that a friend of mine created in her professional life:
My friend Kathy got laid off from her company as part of a sizable restructuring. She was devastated. After several tearful conversations, she confessed to me that she hadn’t loved the atmosphere at work for some time. There had been so many rounds of layoffs that she had been living in fear of that next shoe dropping. Her company had gone through six rounds, and she fell victim to the last round.
Not too long after, she got a position with a start-up. Her energy and enthusiasm for her new company and for what she was doing were infectious. Her family told her she was fun to be around again.
When we reflected on the course of events leading up to and following her layoff, she said something I will never forget, “I got exactly what I needed. It just came in an ugly package.” My friend reinvented herself and went on to achieve greater success.
Transformation and leadership require identifying the needed change, creating the vision, and executing the vision by gaining the commitment of all members of the team. If you don’t identify the change that’s needed, believe me, it will be thrust upon you. Leading through change is bittersweet because it’s unfamiliar territory for everyone. You’re the leader—it’s up to you to lead your people through it.
Once you accept that change is bittersweet, you must persevere when things get tough. Changing course when the road gets bumpy confuses people and slows down real transformation. Staying the course is the secret to most successful transformations.
There is a lot of misinterpretation of transformation and what it really means. Think of transformation as transitioning an existing form to take a new action. While the exact method of transformation may be different from one business to the next, all businesses must ask the following questions:
• What is the climate in which you’re operating?
• What are your core assets?
• What are your barriers to success?
• What are your key differentiators? What is your competitive positioning?
• What are your resources and relationships?
• What are your strategic imperatives?
• What are your strategic options?
• What are your strategic shifts? What new actions do you want to take?
All of these assessments require that you have deep, honest, raw conversations with yourself and with your people so that you can get to the heart of the profound changes you need to make to transform your business. The answers may force you to rethink your worldview and establish new standards. These are the most important conversations you will have.
Throughout this book, I’ve isolated key components of business transformations and looked at relevant case studies to create a context for the change that is critical in every business. Now it’s time to put it all together. I’d like to use an example of a business transformation that fassforward advised from initial vision through to implementation:
A colleague Gavin and I worked with at Gartner was hired by a global credit card company in 2002 to head its research group, which at the time was part of a newly formed Advisory Services Business unit. She introduced us to the president of the newly formed business unit. It was formed as a services business with an objective to advise banks and other financial institutions on their credit and debit card strategies. In order to create Global Advisory Services, the president brought in career consultants with financial services backgrounds to form a consulting group. From within the parent company, he added former bankers to head up geographic regions around the world. The third group he put into Global Advisory Services was the research group, which would take the company’s data and turn it into research for Global Advisory Services’ clients. Our former colleague was brought in to lead this last group.
When we met with the president, we understood quickly what he needed to accomplish and the challenges he was already facing. In his attempt to distinguish two of the three groups, the president used an internal naming convention that put the consultants and bankers at odds right off the bat: he named the consultants the Big Opportunity Business group —BOB and he named the regional presidents the Business as Usual group —BAU.
The career consultants viewed the career bankers, the regional presidents, as traditional in their thinking, and the bankers viewed the consultants as mavericks. The research group, which was neutral, had the intellectual property both groups needed to take to market. This research group often found itself mediating between the other two groups.
All of this conflict was further exacerbated by the parent company. Account executives in the parent company had previously given away data as the “pitch candy” to secure credit and debit card sales and promotions. The parent company executives and employees were not happy about losing this customer incentive.
Working with the president and his senior team across all groups, including the parent company, we successfully helped Global Advisory Services launch and, over a one-year period, transform its business.
We proposed a three-pronged approach, one that we use in a number of engagements with our clients:
1. Take care of the conflict first: resolve cultural clashes and tensions of any kind, and get the leaders leading.
2. With the executive team, create an inspiring vision, one the entire team can get behind, and then evangelize throughout the organization.
3. Define and develop the strategy, the business model, and the implementation plan to bring the vision to reality.
For illustration purposes, I will take you through the process of the Global Advisory Services transformation.
First, we got all the issues out on the table. Our resident anthropologist, Susan Anderson, held a series of one-on-one conversations to uncover all the concerns. She spoke confidentially with all of the president’s direct reports in Global Advisory Services, as well as with a cross section of the parent company. We prepared a themed synthesis of those conversations to bring to our first one-and-a-half-day interactive leadership workshop with the team.
We brought the three groups in and positioned them at round tables. Using tent cards, we assigned a cross section of leaders from each of the groups to each table.
The Chocolate Conversation exercise is always our first activity during workshops like this one. Opening with this exercise does two things: it breaks the ice in a lighthearted way and it shows that we interpret things differently. That sets up the context for the different points of view that each leader will uncover during the workshop.
The Chocolate Conversation exercise leads naturally into a discussion on worldviews, standards, and concerns as the three elements that create chocolate conversations in the first place.
Once we have that foundation laid, we open up table talk: We asked each table to discuss and capture on a flip chart how the way the three elements—worldviews, standards, and concerns—showed up in their interactions with one another.
We did the first report-out for everyone in the workshop. The issues that emerged were:
• The internal naming convention used to distinguish two of the three groups
• Conflicted worldviews about roles and responsibilities
• Different standards for engaging potential clients
• Concerns over the parent company’s perceived lack of support
We presented the four considerations of business: relevance, growth, productivity, and scale. After a brief discussion about these considerations, we paired people at the tables and passed out the synthesized feedback from the initial conversations along with yellow highlighters.
• Each pair selected one of the four considerations: relevance, growth, scale, or productivity. We asked them to review the synthesis and highlight what was helping and what was hurting the consideration they chose.
• The report-out was visually recorded by one of our graphic artists on a large roll of paper wrapped around the room. Each pair did a wall-walk and captured on a notepad the illustrations that stood out the most for them. They brought their findings back to the table and put them on their flip charts.
We asked them to put green coding labels next to the issues that they could do something about and red coding labels next to the ones that were not in their control.
Lastly, we asked each table to put a second green dot on the issue that, if solved, would have the greatest impact on their success.
There were very few red dots. Most of the red dots that did show up had to do with the parent company’s skepticism about the relevance of the new unit, its ability to generate a new revenue stream, or how they could scale their offering. We agreed to take the few red dots and address them in our Vision Strategy Workshop, planned for the following week.
We concluded day one with a summary of their output. The team was pleased with what they’d accomplished in one day.
One big plus that came out of the first day was a change to the naming convention of the two groups. The region presidents became Advisory Services Practice Leads and Subject Matter Experts. The consultants became Advisory Services Consulting. The name change dissolved the built-in conflict that arose from the naming convention. The new names clarified roles and helped distinguish the groups’ responsibilities in client engagement.
The president hosted a team dinner that evening. The tension that had been evident prior to the workshop was noticeably absent in the evening.
The team arrived fresh and ready to go in the morning. We immediately noticed a shift in energy—they were laughing and talking together and taking playful shots at one another. Gavin and I knew that this signified the beginnings of trust, an important step in moving the venture forward.
We did a quick check-in with the teams. We asked each table to spend a few minutes discussing together the issue they had double green–dotted from the earlier session. We wanted them to take a fresh look. All teams agreed that the issue they had initially selected was still the one they would choose.
Figure 9–1: Action Plan
It was time to present our action plan process: each table went through the process of establishing their three focused actions and the steps to support them using the preceding action plan.
Prior to the workshop, we had done one-on-one strategy reviews with each member of the leadership team. We used a tool, the strategy canvas to identify competitors and to assess where each leader ranked Advisory Services. In preparation for the workshop, we aggregated, by business group, each canvas: one for research, one for consulting, and one for the regions (the bankers). We brought these canvases to the workshop.
All three canvases pointed to the same three competitive advantages over the large consulting groups delivering a similar service:
• Rich data
• Subject matter expertise
• Relevant research
The areas they all agreed were weak were:
• Client engagement methodology
• Reference accounts
• Reputation in this new space
These findings were the foundation for establishing the vision for Global Advisory Services and developing the business strategy for the division:
• The vision: Grow Big Fast
• The strategy groupings:
All of the groupings above are illustrated in the Grow Big Fast Road Map at the end of this chapter.
Next, and last, we moved into how the team would take Global Advisory Services out into the marketplace. The group selected ten global accounts that would be excellent prospects for strategic engagement and would help Advisory Services establish a reputation. We referred to them as The Targeted Ten. We worked with the team to develop an engagement methodology that built off the strengths of all three groups.
To address the parent company concern, the team created a lead-generation incentive for “The Big House,” a term we coined for the parent company.
The work we did on the transformation of this new business unit took place over the course of one year. You will see the time line and key milestones at the bottom of the Grow Big Fast Road Map.
As a result of the collaboration between fassforward and this president and his team, everyone in the new business unit was empowered to lead a “bittersweet” change. It paid off. They changed the conversations with each other, their organizations, the parent company, and their customers.
They created a shared worldview and established standards they could all live by. When concerns surfaced, they dealt with them in the president’s weekly staff meetings. They won business and learned how to work in a different way.
Recognizing that “something’s gotta change” is always the first step—and that’s a step of awareness. That is the beginning of the conversation for change—remember, leadership lives in the conversation, both the conversations you have with yourself and the conversations you have with your team.
I’ve shown you examples from companies you know and shared with you stories from my experience, both personal stories and those that show how my team and I at fassforward have been able to empower our clients to grow and transform. Without fail, the impetus for change is born in that “aha” moment of knowing that we need to create something new.
In my experience, you can either actively seek out that moment or you can have it thrust upon you by circumstances. You can be downsized, like my friend Kathy, or perhaps you wake up one day to realize that another company has created a new business out of your weakness, like Netflix was created out of Blockbuster’s weakness—and it can be too late. Or you can look at your business, and your life, and know that change is the way to growth and expansion and actively look for ways to progress and achieve.
I encourage you to read this book as the catalyst for the change you want to see. Don’t wait for it to be thrust upon you—I say, take it on and be the leader you know you can be!