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Category Archives: Management Consulting

Demystifying Complex Change Management Using the Pizza Principle

Complex Change | By David William Lee, Change Management Expert and Contributing Writer

A person I admire recently explained his view of managing complex change as,

“Taking people who are in a room eating pizza, dragging them by the hair
to another room, and forcing them to eat a slightly better pizza.”

This image of violent change for incremental improvement is extreme, but it is representative of many change efforts I have observed and explains simply why so many of them fail. The typical approach to organizational change is top down with a specific intent driven by people who are relatively unaffected by the change. The change is often high risk where failure can have a major impact and success is often determined by achieving the change within a specific time period. As a result, resistance is combated or suppressed. A standard assumption I often hear from change practitioners is that a certain percentage of people will self-select out of the organization because they cannot adjust to the change.

So, if people don’t like the pizza or simply object to the way they are forced fed, they are SOL?
What if someone is allergic to an ingredient?
What if their previous pizza was healthier?

For some organizations, the level of energy and resources required to change in this manner generates a lot of waste, undermines trust, and achieves little for all the pains taken. Moreover, what is considered “success” leaves in its wake unforeseen and unintended circumstances. I have seen statistics stating that between 60-80% of all organizational change initiatives fail to achieve their objectives, but if we look at how many actually achieve sustainable results, the numbers are likely to be much worse. By professional application of change management methods, these odds can be improved. That is as long as the organization is not complex.

Change in a Complex Environment

In a complex change environment, challenges are magnified because of diversity, rendering typical organizational change management methods inadequate at best. These methods assume that change occurs linearly through successive efforts and that by building consensus, people will ultimately support the change.

In fact, many changes are happening simultaneously, sometimes hidden from sight, and the consensus solutions only lead to dissatisfaction and frustration. The change will either have no application or undermine the interests of the agents. It may have unforeseen impacts or be one of many forces impacting them that cannot be reconciled. As a result, many people will openly reject the change or create shadow systems to maintain the status quo.

By looking at organizational change through a Complexity Lens we have an opportunity to see that our assumptions about change… need to change. Here are some of the ways to consider a complex change:

Change is normal and multi-linear: Change is not an event with a beginning, middle and end to be endured. Instead, it is inevitable, perpetual, and happens simultaneously all over the organization.

Change comes from many sources: Change is not driven from the top but comes as a result of many factors and influences. Bottom-up change efforts are recognized and valued.

Complex change is affected by internal & external conditions: Change is impacted, not only by what is going on inside the organization but also what is changing in the external landscape. The adaptive organization remains ready to adjust to the outside environment.

Successful change comes from observing & adapting: The outcome of complex organizational change may have a destination in mind, but the adaptive organization does not try to predict what may occur along the way. Instead, continuous observation and adaptation is used to make small adjustments like a ship correcting its course.

Change is efficient and results from many smaller/low-risk interventions: Changes occur at the lowest levels of the organization. This is enabled through the creation of connectivity and establishment of simple rules. As a result, the interventions are smaller while the risk is isolated. Once success is achieved at one level, the change is escalated for consideration at the next level further mitigating the risk.

Differences drive complex change: Resistance simply means that people have competing attractors. Identifying these differences allows for greater adaptation and drives better solutions. Finding a common attractor can help immensely.

Balanced dissent and cooperation is optimal: Dissent amplifies the differences and is to be explored. Where opportunities to cooperate are identified without sacrificing on essential local requirements, synergies exist. Where cooperation would be damaging to one or more players or bring down the satisfaction of whole, other solutions are sought out. Consensus is failure.

Under these assumptions, organizational transformation happens differently. Structuring for complex change requires a framework that allows for emergent behavior so that each agent or group make changes that at once align with the organization and meet local needs.

Let’s stretch our metaphor to the limit and see how it can work.

In this case, we may still make pizza, but people are encouraged to make their own small pizzas while experimenting with different ingredients. The dough, spices, utensils and oven are all provided (as part of the change framework), but each cook designs their pizza according to their own preferences, desires, and tastes. Some may decide that calzone is better while others may decide to use lavash bread to keep it healthy. A number of cooks may share recipes and partner on a pizza, or they may choose to make a single pizza with some ingredients on one side and different ingredients on the other. Once the pizzas are made, everybody gets to sample the results. If one or two pizzas prove to be popular, then more of these pizzas are made to share. If no optimum is achieved, everyone continues to experiment within the pizza framework.

Now isn’t that a nicer picture than being dragged by the hair for incremental results? What is interesting is how it works. Whether looking at the way organisms adapt or how companies like Lego or Pixar create, this balance of top down and bottom up adaptation is highly efficient and it can be applied differently depending on the environment. Of course, change starts with an idea. Innovation is what adaptation is really about and Change Management is in inexorably linked to it. A truly adaptive organization never ceases to innovate and remains in a continuous state of complex change. Integrating these two systems is the path toward efficient adaptation. But, what is innovation and how can it best be encouraged? This is something we will address in the future discussions.

Avoid the Perils of Change Saturation in Your Organization

By MSSBTA Staff | Change Saturation

Transformation is an investment, and one that is not without risk. One of the key risks that companies run into is that change saturation impacts productivity through dissatisfaction, resistance and even turnover of employees. This is one of the reasons to incorporate effective change management into your transformation programs.

In its flight risk model, Prosci® identifies the potential impacts of organizational change.  Simply put, “The longer the organization remains in the “high-stress” risk and flight region (the red-zone), the more extreme will be the consequences for employees, customers and the business.”

With any change, you can expect a decline in productivity and an increase in resistance. The size of the risk is commonly determined by the time that employees have to remain in a period of discomfort due to change and the intensity of that discomfort. The less effective the change management strategy, the greater the risk.

The Risk of Change Saturation

Another key factor often not considered is how much change employees are meant to endure.

In its 2016 benchmark report of over 4,500 participants, Prosci reported the number of companies planning to increase their change was over 70% and rising each year.

We all know that change is a constant in this day and age. It comes from all directions-from changes in the market and new competition to applications of new processes and technologies. As a result, mid-sized to large organizations can have a lot of change occurring at any given time in any group within the company implementing something new on a seemingly continuous, non-stop schedule.

Of course, each group believes their initiative is the most important and should take priority. Rarely do they stop to think about how they may be impacting any specific group within the organization. While one group may have only limited impact, another group may be getting hit on all sides.

The net result is that people can feel overwhelmed, and in some cases paralyzed, impacting individuals throughout the company. This is known as change saturation, and it can happen at the organizational level, the group level, and the individual level. According to the same Prosci report, 78% of participants reported they were at or near the point of change saturation. And, this number was also increasing.

Identifying the symptoms of change saturation is not easy. Some indicators include a substantial increase in sick leave, passive and aggressive negative behavior toward fellow employees or management, rumor mongering, an uptick in negative social media comments, and failure to attend optional meetings about the changes. Ultimately it can result in a massive loss of productivity or high rates of turnover.

Identify the Change Portfolio

The next step is to look at the changes going on and identify them. Develop a comprehensive review of changes, the sources for the change, and the groups/departments potentially affected.

These are all important questions that should be addressed to properly scope out the necessary resources, tools, and techniques that should be employed to effectively implement and manage the initiatives. While some organizations may be quite complex, which makes identifying every change effort difficult, with some nominal effort, the primary changes can usually be identified quite quickly.

Develop a Change Saturation Matrix

While identifying the change portfolio, focus your attention on some key questions:

  • Who is impacted? Identify which groups are impacted by the change. Taking this down to the individual level will be to the benefit of the entire organization. Think across geographic and functional positions.
  • How deep is the impact? Are the changes highly disruptive, do they have an ancillary impact or does it vary? It helps to have a system of rating the impact of the change and enabling the groups to self-assess will generally provide a more accurate reading.
  • How adept are they at dealing with change? Some groups and individuals are used to working in disruptive environments, while some experience a higher level of anxiety. Knowing the readiness and acceptance of change will help you understand the saturation point.

With this quick analysis, you can begin to identify a saturation point for each group and from there create an assessment of the organization as whole.

Mitigate Your Risk

Now you have the makings of a roadmap for mitigating risk at multiple levels. The first thing to look for are the hotspots. Who is getting hit hard by multiple disruptive changes and what groups or individuals are not particularly adept at dealing with it? These are the folks who could be an immediate flight risk. It is more than possible they are already out searching for a new position or creating internal strife, so it is important to engage with them and their managers immediately. Then, you can advance to those who are experiencing a high level of change and either that change is disruptive or they are not change ready, and so on down the line.

The strategy for mitigating risk is situational, but at least now you can now take proactive steps to fill the gaps. Establishing trust is always the first step in these situations which may involve working with the manager or direct supervisor of the group on appropriate measures including prioritizing the changes, adding resources or tools to help get through the tough periods, coaching in change management, and providing assurances backed by rewards and incentives.

And, chances are, if people are in the red zone they may already be aggressively negative or even hostile to the organization, so actions needed might be substantial. Involving your human resources department may be appropriate.

Manage for the Future

If the organization is expected to continue with a high volume of change, which is likely, it may make sense to set up a change management function to monitor the portfolio of programs.

In the least, new change programs should continue to be evaluated as they are introduced into the mix to determine what impact they will have on the existing portfolio. Current programs can be evaluated to see if they can be restructured to lessen the impact or removed all together for the time being. Continually monitor if the proactive steps taken are effective and to what degree, if any, they need to be adjusted or augmented.

This just scratches the surface of the actual work necessary to effectively combat change saturation and change portfolio management. Additional steps can include centralizing information and reporting, formalizing portfolio management, setting up collaboration channels for change, and more. The steps really depend on how big a transformation the organization is going through, what investment you are making and when you want to achieve your returns. By taking a more holistic view of the organizational change you can ensure that people stay engaged, frustration is minimized, resources are properly identified and allocated, programs are successful, and people not only see the benefits, but become agents of change.

Build a Robust Business Case that Measures Project Success


The Perils of Change Saturation and Steps to Mitigate Your Risk

Business Case, Vamshi Barla, MSS Senior Engagement Manager, August 2020

When building a business case it is time we rethink how we measure project success.

Let us start with some introspection. As a leader, how many times have you heard a transformation project successfully fulfilled the operational and financial benefits as laid out in its business case? Now, think of the number of times you heard that a project was successfully delivered under budget and on schedule.

If you had difficulty thinking of a single project that measured success as “Meeting business case objectives” and not “Delivered on schedule and under budget”, you are NOT alone.  Almost 50% of transformation projects do not even quantify benefits or draw up a robust business case!  These are literally once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to generate value for organizations. As a result,  two-thirds of those without a business case do not track value delivered once the project is labeled complete.

Both of those scenarios are squandered opportunities to create true differentiation in the marketplace. Is it really a surprise to hear that ROI on transformation programs is usually disappointing? Almost 70% of transformation programs deliver less than 50% of their targeted value.  That is not what anyone would consider success!


Download your copy of the Business Case PIJ Checklist


Build a Business Case

A well-thought-out business case is a promise of a better future, based on educated, consensus-driven assumptions and projections. At MSS Business Transformation Advisory (MSSBTA), we strongly believe large transformation efforts need to be clearly articulated and thought-out, detailing the operational and financial drivers of value (both qualitative and quantitative). MSSBTA uses a proven, holistic methodology that combines a top-down approach (based on goals, market analysis, and industry benchmarks) with a bottom-up approach (historical performance, leadership inputs, and proforma projections), to formulate a realistic and strong business case.

Measure Results of Your Business Case to Capture Value

Creation of the business case is only one half of the story. We have documented the targeted value by which success will be measured. In return, leaders owe it to their organizations to ensure that delivered value meets or exceeds targeted value.

At MSSBTA, we have developed a Value Tracking and Maximizing methodology that can drive effective capture of value. Along with strong, ongoing oversight, our approach enables you to identify and pull the right value levers. Pulling them in the correct sequence can influence desired outcomes and help capture benefits faster.

For example, in a new inventory system transformation, one possible driver of financial value is working capital reduction.  One of the levers we can pull with the transformation is improved forecasting capabilities.  Ensuring the identified lever is truly engaged across the organization, we can assure the targeted benefits are realized.

It is high time we stopped measuring project success solely based on schedule and budget. The true test of project success is “Did we accomplish what we set out to achieve?”.



Is Your Enterprise Level Change Building a Building or Planning a City?

Enterprise Level Change,  David Lee, Change Management Expert and Contributing Writer

Change Management Maturity

In a previous article, we discussed enterprise level change management required for a company to achieve true transformation. Just as a reminder, the mutually inclusive elements include:

  • Employing an Enterprise Level Change Strategy
  • Developing Your Change Management Framework
  • Enhancing Your Change Leadership Capabilities
  • Growing Organizational Competency for Change

Thinking in terms of these key elements, we can see how organizations mature their change management competency from immature or nonexistent through institutionalizing change management, to making it a strategic advantage of the company.

This progression is not necessarily linear. In fact, many companies start off quite capable of responsive change, able to adapt and adjust to their environments; then as they begin to pivot and add process and procedures, they become siloed and less agile. Ironically, as the companies mature, their change management competency becomes less mature. Then at some point, hopefully without the aid of a disruptive crisis, they may realize their position and begin the long road back to responsiveness.

When it comes to enterprise level change, most companies we encounter in our digital transformation practice are somewhere between “Isolated Application” and instituting “Project Level.” Few have the self-awareness to understand the need for change management at all much less a greater level of maturity. The reasons for this lack of foresight has been discussed in other places, so let’s chalk it up to inexperience and/or ignorance of the rate of failure and consequences.

The difference between project level and enterprise level change

The difference between Project Level and Enterprise level change management is the difference between building a building and developing an entire city complete with transportation systems, electrical grids, emergency response systems, etc. It is the scale and interconnectedness of the functions that require greater planning and sophisticated execution.

So, if we say Enterprise level change is required for successful digital transformation and most companies are well below that, the question becomes, how can an organization get there and how fast? Well, before we can answer that question, there are a few other questions to answer first:

  1. What is the scale of the organization? Before making any decisions, we must set out to understand the scale of company that is changing. Are we talking about hundreds, thousands or tens of thousands of employees that are going to be impacted? How many divisions, process, functions are involved? The greater the complexities, the more difficult it is to advance. At the same time, the more necessary it becomes.
  2. What is the level of expected disruption? Connected to #1, what is the level of the disruption that digital transformation will bring? As we have established, the disruptive impact is not very predictable, but some will be greater than others. If it starts out as a major change, then it is likely to have more unintended consequences. The greater the complexity, the harder it is to be successful.
  3. What is the leadership’s attitude toward change management? It’s common knowledge that leadership involvement is key to successful change, but does leadership really see the importance of it on an organizational level? Enterprise Level change management requires C-Level attention on a daily basis. Companies at Project Level are often stuck because leaders only believe change management is needed on large, key initiatives. At the same time, companies that have not gone through the Project Level phase often cannot see the need in a broader context. Without full backing of top leadership, companies can rarely achieve higher-level phases of change management.
  4. What investment are they prepared to make? We have seen large enterprise companies driving 20 to 40 changes in their organization feel that they are making an investment by hiring a single change manager who reports to a mid-level executive. Let’s be clear, at this level, there can be no impact from that change manager. Likely this person is simply administering a process without actually impacting the outcome. To achieve Enterprise Level change successfully, the investment needs to scale to the impact. Often this means executive level attention with some serious investment in infrastructure.
  5. How independent are your advisors? On the other hand, we have also seen companies throw money, resource, and time into training dozens and even hundreds to be change management “practitioners” often at the advice of the certification providers. If your advisors (internal or external) facilitate this expenditure, it is time to consider their competency. This kind of investment can be a massive waste that we have rarely seen actually improve the organizational change performance. Yes, training people in a base method is important to success but handing out certificates like hamburgers at McDonald’s is not the answer. Rather, start with a strategy for scaling to your need beginning first with leadership and then selecting a few key resources to develop expertise, become coaches, build centers of excellence. You will save a lot of money and have a bigger impact.
  6. What tools and measures are in place? Managing a change portfolio can be an intensive effort. As with any major function in a company there are tools and measures that help monitor the effectiveness of the program. Any company that is still at Project Level or below is unlikely to have developed these tools or measures. Still, if the company has had a PMO or other similar programs, they may have the underlying capabilities.

Is your organization ready for enterprise level change?

Reaching the Enterprise Level of maturity depends on a number of variables. Organizations that embrace it and strive for it realize that they are building a business model for a much more successful future, one that enables them to learn and adapt faster to changing environments, and one that can even enable more engaged employees. By achieving Enterprise Level companies will see benefits such as:

  • A consistent and unified change management approach across the entire company
  • Faster time to execute on projects
  • Common tools, templates, and resources for driving organizational change
  • Building organizational fitness by reducing change saturation and fatigue
  • A serious step toward creating a real, sustainable competitive advantage

Taking change management maturity seriously is the first step. Having a focus will pay dividends in protecting your investment in the technology. Not focusing on it, statistically, almost guarantees you will pay the price in the long run.


Improve your organization’s performance and change management practices. 

Change Management Strategy for Today’s New Normal



Change Management, John Wieser, MSS Senior Consulting Manager, April 2020


COVID-19 has disrupted nearly every aspect of business-as-usual, with one notable exception: your people continue to be the most vital factor in the success of your business. As you continue to transition and support your organization to a more remote work environment, you need to keep in mind that this is a significant change for them and their work dynamic, even if their roles on paper don’t change. As a leader in your organization, you should address this change appropriately with a structured change management strategy and approach.

Have a Change Management Strategy

This does not have to be anything formal (though kudos if it is!), but you and your leadership team should at least have a conceptual understanding and go through the exercise of developing a light version of a Change Management Strategy for your workforce. This strategy should try to address the following questions:

  • Who is being impacted? – Be sure to address both your internal team AND your external stakeholders (contractors, suppliers, customers, etc.)
  • How are they being impacted? – Recognize that different stakeholder groups may be impacted in different ways and in varying degrees
  • What specific changes are your teams and stakeholders being asked to do due to the changes?
  • (And here’s the important one…) Why are these changes going into place? – This should include what benefits will come out of this. As an example, if you’re holding daily Skype video chats with the team, the “why” would include to ensure that camaraderie and momentum isn’t potentially lost through less personal modes of communication like emails and phone calls, exclusively

A lot of this may seem like common sense, but going through the exercise of establishing this Change Management Strategy is as critical now as it would be for any massive project or implementation. First, it helps to ensure that every stakeholder group is accounted for – no one is left without clear instructions on what they’re expected to do. Secondly, it forces you, as a leader, to take a moment to develop greater empathy for what is being asked of your team and partners. This is a critical moment for establishing your team dynamic and setting the tone for your organization – not only during a pandemic, but also for setting the stage for a successful return to “normalcy” (whatever that may look like).

Download our FREE 5-Step Checklist for Change Management During COVID-19

Don’t Forget About External Partners!

Yes, this was already mentioned, but make sure that you do not forget about your partners that are external to the organization. You would be forgiven if your attention has been spent on keeping your internal team operational during this turbulence, but your external partners can be just as critical to the long-term success of your organization. Maintaining proactive communications and expectations with your contractors, suppliers, customers, and other external partners must be a big consideration for your continuity plan – remember, they are in the midst of drastic changes in their organizations, as well, so if you want to maintain your supply chain, sales pipeline, and other critical components of your operations, this is your opportunity to provide leadership to your partners.

Reinforce Change Management At All Levels

Communicating expectations, critical updates, and words of encouragement are all critical pieces of transitioning your workforce to the “new normal” for the foreseeable future. This, however, is just the beginning – as a leader in your organization, it is important to reinforce these communications with actions. Publicly recognize those that quickly and effectively jump into the remote workplace. Be sure that if your policy is to use video chat as much as possible that you’re not relying on phone calls and emails (and please do everyone a favor by remembering whether your video and microphone are on).

When the social distancing measures have subsided and the world returns closer to “normal”, your teams and external partners may not remember each of the emails that you wrote or the meetings that you held. They will, however, remember how you engaged with them during this time of uncertainty and disruption. Appropriately recognizing and addressing the impact this is having on your stakeholders by developing your Change Management strategy will go a long way in establishing yourself as a leader that stepped up to the plate when you were needed most.

Contact a Change Management expert today at or 602-387-2100 to discuss a change or transformation initiative.


The Art of Team Ensembling in High Performance Groups

By David William Lee, Change Management Expert and Contributing Writer


Something disruptive is happening in sports and particularly in basketball.  It’s called team ensembling and the Golden Gate Warriors are a prime example.

In 2013, the Golden State Warriors had a mediocre record. In 2014, they hired Steve Kerr as their head coach and their winning percentage jumped to 85% (as of this writing) over two and a half seasons, they won one championship and lost another in the final game all while setting a number of winning records along the way.

The Golden State Warriors have tapped into something that allows them to perform at a much higher level than other professional teams. Most sports have a recipe for success. In basketball, the formula for winning has been a tall center, a power forward, a small forward, a shooting guard and a point guard combined with predetermined plays that get the ball to star players through a series of set positions and picks. The Warriors disrupted this approach by emulating the way basketball is played in pick up games in gyms and on playgrounds around the country.

The Warriors utilize a center and four, highly skilled players who are competent at multiple positions and can adjust their role depending on the conditions of the game. While players still have specific assignments, they can all take the lead or drop into support as necessary. They understand the big picture and know how all of the players fit into it. They know each other’s capabilities, are able to read and react instinctively to one another, and recognize when one of them is hot or cold. Each member is responsible not just for their own success but for the success of others, they celebrate when other team members are successful, and they pick up the slack when someone else is having a difficult time. There are no set plays and no real “stars” on this team.

For the other teams, this approach is a huge problem.  We can imagine how challenging it is to prepare for a game against the Warriors. Analyzing strengths and weaknesses or identifying patterns of play is a grueling affair as each situation means a different response and the potential variations are nearly infinite. The only way to play them and win is to become like them.

Now, you may say, “That is fine for basketball, but how does this relate to my organization?” The answer is increasing, “In every way! “

In business, like basketball, traditional team structures can be debilitating. The team structures that most businesses operate under were built for the world that existed over hundred years ago (about the time basketball was invented). This was the time of management science where thinkers and doers were separated and mass production was the focus. Today, the business environment is more demanding, more volatile, and operating at a much faster pace. Maintaining the hierarchical structures of the past is like running the traditional plays and expecting a win against the Warriors. The competitors are different now. They are fast and adaptive so traditional businesses must take a new approach. If we look through the Complexity Lens we can see that the Golden State approach is absolutely required for driving high performance in the new reality.

Team Ensembling

At the risk of mixing a metaphor, lets call this new high-performance group approach team ensembling because it reminds one of a jazz ensemble. In good jazz, each person has a role (the trumpet, bass, drum, etc.) and the music provides a framework, but improvisation is the mark of a great group. The members of a great jazz ensemble play off each other and can take the lead of drop into support to make the experience better for the audience and much more fun for them. In different conditions, even the size of the ensemble can change depending who is on hand.

Creating High-Performance Team Ensembles
Building this team ensembling capability in an organization can be difficult but can be managed through some simple steps. Here are nine ways to get started with creating high performance teams:

  1. Identify the Real Structure: Even if you follow a traditional structure officially understand that there is an underlying shadow structure that is actually enabling your organization to operate efficiently. Identify it and utilize it.
  2. Invest the Time & Energy: While some leaders may not see the value of it at first, the return will become quickly apparent. The time can be reduced by utilizing some of the tools out there for this purpose. My organization has a technique called ASAP High-Performance Team Development (powered through a tool called Sociomapping) that helps make fantastic progress in a few short sessions.
  3. Value Relationships More Than Structure: Knowing the relationships and organizing in a way to promote this among team members is key to successful team ensembling. The better people know and interact, the more intuitive they can be about how the others will perform. They can adapt to each other and raise their performance as a team.
  4. Train for It: In the book Team of Teams, New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World, the authors describe how Navy Seals teams are deposited in the rough seas with nothing but a raft. The team members are all highly skilled and in great physical shape but to complete the exercise they are utterly dependent on each other. No one person can get into the raft without the help of the others nor can they control the raft. Without working together, the whole team ends up back in the ocean. Organizations do not have to be so drastic in their team building efforts, but there are ways of achieving a similar effect with some simple exercises.
  5. Make the Big Picture Accessible:  If the team members know and understand the strategy and what it takes to win, they can adapt what they do to make it happen. Information is gold. Don’t believe that the “need to know” approach somehow protects your business. This only means you are putting blinders on your players and forcing them to see only what is in front of them.
  6. Make Individual Professional Development a Team Effort: Making individual development goals transparent will increase performance. This is similar to posting player statistics for a sports team. If your team members know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and what each member is working to develop, they can help and support each other. If they are not aware, they make poor assumptions which can create misunderstandings and resentment.
  7. Pick People with the Right Attitude: Like the best sports teams, don’t assume the star players are the ones that work best in your system. The ability to gel with others and suspend ego is much more important. If members of the team can’t respect others, they should be dropped for those who can no matter if they are the “stars.” Eventually, ego driven players destroy the rhythm of the ensemble.
  8. Avoid Complicated Structures: This is not to say that structure is not important. It is! But, complicated structures tie the hands of the players and give them excuses to fail. Focus on simple rules and enable them the ability to make tactical changes as they engage.
  9. Lead and Believe: Recognizing the need for high performance teams is one thing. Believing and having the gumption to carry forward in the face of adversity is true leadership. Your teams will resist at first. Management (the most threatened) will tell you are crazy. Mistakes will occur. But, if you believe and carry forward, it will pay off dividends, and you will win your version of the championship game not once but again and again.

Inspired by new corporate structures, savvy business leaders are shedding their corporate powers for new paradigms. More than one-third (37%) of leaders say they are transforming their business by reorganizing reporting lines and replacing old hierarchies with more flexible arrangements that encourage collaboration and empower employees. – Forbes Challenge or Be Challenged in Association with GAP International

The Counter Argument – the New Zealand All Blacks
The most successful professional sports team in the world is the All Blacks rugby team out of New Zealand. The All Blacks played their first rugby test in 1903. As of November 2015, they have achieved a success rate of 79% since inception. In 2016, their winning percentage is 100% (to date of this writing).

Rugby is a game where size and position matter a lot. The prop forwards need to be big and strong, the hookers need to be smaller and lighter, and the backs need to be fast and elusive. This would seem to be the best argument against the application of team ensembling in every situation. Sometimes, specialization is essential. One would be hard pressed to see a player move from prop to hooker to back.

Still, the success of the All Blacks can be attributed to their ability to apply these techniques even in a highly structured organization. This excerpt from an article by a former captain of the All Blacks provides evidence.

World-class teams take this trend [generalization of player capabilities] as far as it can sensibly go. Their members are experts in their specialist tasks but able to turn their hand to other members’ tasks as well. This brings the team enormous benefits in flexibility and responsiveness, but more importantly, it allows for the coherence and wholeness that only teams whose members really understand the nature of other members’ contributions can achieve.

These physical benefits are reinforced by psychological benefits. High-performing team members generalize their attitude to team performance. They see the big picture and how they fit into it. They feel responsible for their performance, for others’ performance, and for team performance. They become leaders. – David Kirk, Former Captain, New Zealand All Blacks via McKinsey Quarterly 1992

Mind you, this was published in 1992 before many of the concepts we are discussing made their way into organizational thinking. Still, the universality of team ensembling techniques is clear for those who using the complexity lens. The All Blacks have implemented team ensembling for decades, and this has contributed to making them the best team in all professional sports.

10 Red Flags That Your Change Management Program is at Risk


10 Red Flags That Your Change Management Program is Poor


By David William Lee, Change Management Expert, Contributing Writer


One of the greatest challenges of helping organizations with Change Management is that they often believe they are already doing it. After all, if you have a good leadership team that communicates with employees, they must be capable of leading change.

But when you dig down and ask the leaders what they are doing to ensure their organization is prepared for and executing change strategies, we often find clear indications either they do not truly grasp change management, they do not understand the risks, or that their program is not robust enough for to handle the change.

Here are some of the top red flags that indicate an at risk application of change management:

Red Flag #1 – We are doing change management, we have a communications plan: One of the most common red flags, this answer is indicative of two potential issues.

  1. The organization may be mistaking communications for Change Management. True, communications is a primary output (and input) to the process but it does not stand alone. A lot has to happen to ensure it is effective.
  2. Perhaps more importantly, a Change Management communications plan is vastly different than what most communication departments are used to creating. Communications departments, often part of marketing or public relations, are most often used to communicate broad corporate messaging. Change Management is about driving communications to the individual level. This means coordinating across possibly large numbers of divisions, groups, and functions and rallying the management to aid in the process while ensuring that feedback is being collected and reported back to the Change Management team. This is a plan that communications departments are not typically prepared to develop or staffed to carry out.

Red Flag #2 – We are doing change management, we have a training plan: Another common red flag that will often turn up and indicates the potential for two more issues:

  1. Here again, we have an indication that leadership is mistaking training for Change Management. Training is a part of the process to ensure that people have the knowledge they need to make a change. That does not mean they have agreed to the change or have adopted the change. Change management ensures that people not only are capable of making a change but willing.
  2. Another issue is that the organization is relying on the Change Management team to deliver training. This is a common error that can be catastrophic. In most cases, an SME on the change should deliver the content and ensure it is understood. The role of the change manager is to make sure the training is delivered well, that logistics are managed, and that the training has been effective. Relying on Change Management to be experts in the specific change is too much to ask (unless the change is implementing Change Management).

Red Flag #3 – We have hired a change manager: This is typically a good sign that shows some enlightenment from leadership, but it also rings a major alarm bell that requires a number of follow up questions:

  1. Is the change manager experienced? Often, we will find that the change manager is a person who has been reassigned from a department without training or previous experience. This means a huge ramp up time and a lot of mistakes that could be avoided by hiring an experienced person or consultant.
  2. Is the change manager also the project manager? These are different disciplines requiring different skill sets and with potentially competing aims. Each is also a large amount of work. Only a rare person can manage both simultaneously.
  3. Is the change manager solely responsible for executing change management or do they have the authority and resources to implement throughout the organization? If by having a change manager, we think the process is covered, we have a major problem.
  4. How many changes is this change manager in charge of? Often this becomes a role that is quickly overwhelmed and ends up managing reporting rather than actually implementing change management. The result is reporting failure to make changes.
  5. All of the above are at issue: This is so often the case and indicates a looming catastrophe.

Red Flag #4 – We have Change Management as part of our project team: This is not necessarily a problem. It depends on the structure. If the Change Management is subservient to a project leader, then the messages that need to be heard by leadership are often suppressed or watered down. Ideally, Change Management is at least at the same level of the project lead and has direct access to the leadership. The change manager’s role is to ensure that leadership knows the issues and helps coach them on how to mitigate them. They cannot be required to work through a funnel and expected to achieve results.

Red Flag #5 – Change management is part of Human Resources (or any functional area): Where the change management function lies is not necessarily the issue here. Since change management focuses on the people side of change, HR may seem like a logical fit. It may also be in operations, innovation, or other change related areas where people are the focus. What we would seek to understand is whether the function Change Management reports to is also integral to the part of the organization where the change is happening. Is the functional area engaged in the project planning and implementation, do they have change management training, and do they have access direct to leadership that is sponsoring the change? If the answer to any of these questions is “no” then the structure needs to be reassessed.

10 red flags OCM infographic

Download: 10 Red Flags Your Change Management Program is at Risk infographic


Red Flag #6 – Everyone supports the change: This one always makes me shake my head because it is never true. I remember a particular client who announced that they were doing a system upgrade at their global meeting and the announcement received a standing ovation. The reaction convinced them that everyone was on board. “We don’t need a lot of Change Management,” they said, “Everyone supports the change.” Two years later they were staring at major implementation issues due to resistance, low adoption, low utilization and short timelines. Even assuming that people are genuine in their initial support for a future state, resistance can grow over time as people learn more and are affected by the change. Anticipating and monitoring resistance is a key activity of Change Management to make sure that support is maintained.

Red Flag #7 – The change is a small one, we don’t need change management: This can be true if the change is entirely seamless and no people are affected. In any other case, it is worth the investment even on small changes to make an assessment of the change implications, how disruptive it is, and where resistance may occur to scale your change management efforts accordingly. The organization is making an investment and such an assessment is good due diligence.

Red Flag #8 – We have assigned a sponsor: This answer is one of the scariest I get. There is a lot of research that shows that without proper sponsorship changes will fail to meet objectives. Often, we will find that the leader who conceived of the change is not the sponsor but rather has assigned an underling. This is major red flag for several reasons:

  1. The leader may have decided to distance himself from the change and created an option not to be responsible for results. Even if this is not the case, the perception is can be devastating to the process.
  2. The person assigned may not have the traits (influence, knowledge, skills, commitment, etc.) to be a good sponsor. This means a major learning curve is in front of her.
  3. The person assigned must have the standing to lead the change particularly with other leadership, the authority to remove roadblocks to the change, and to adapt the strategy as necessary. If not, the resistance they encounter may be insurmountable.

Red Flag #9 – We have several sponsors: Oi… this is even worse than assigning a sponsor. Now we assume that a group is leading the change and is cohesive in their level of agreement and approach. While there are strong cases for a coalition of sponsors, driving a change without a primary sponsor, leads down long winding roads of dysfunction, finger pointing, miscommunication and passive resistance.

Red Flag #10 – We will focus on Sustainability at a later stage: Many practitioners of change will still look at the process as linear and consider how to sustain the change only after the initial phases or even toward the end of the project. Sustainability starts at the outset when creating the change strategy or early in the development of the future state itself. Determining expected outcomes, understanding how to measure against those outcomes, developing how to report progress to the organization, and identifying the meaning of outcomes at the individuals at all levels are all items that should occur at or near the beginning and should be carried out throughout the change process. If your team has not thought about sustainability early, this is a huge red flag that they do not have a proper understanding of change management.

Over the last decade or so, change management as a discipline has become an expectation of organizations that want to succeed with their investments. That does not mean, however, that everyone has an equal understanding of how it should be implemented. By understanding the red flags, leaders can identify if they need specialized or outside assistance from people who have experience driving the change process. Leaders can also look at what they expect of themselves. If you are leading an organizational change and one or more of these red flags rings true to you, it makes sense to take a step back and do a quick assessment of your efforts. The organization is making an investment in the project you are leading. It is your responsibility to see that every effort is made to see the return on investment is realized.

Note: This article focuses on Change Management for a single intervention. All trends indicate that change is now a constant and that a sustainable competitive advantage can be had for organizations that make leading change part of their DNA.


Improve your organization’s performance and change management practices.


Do You Know Your Business Solution Requirements?


We all have a love/hate relationship with buying big ticket items – the excitement of having something new that hopefully solves a problem we are experiencing, against the anxiety of going through the procurement process. Procurement people think this is the exciting part, not so much for the rest of us. There are several tools available to communicate your business solution requirements and desires to vendors, each one able to generate a specific outcome along the purchasing path.

The tools are:

Request for Information (RFI)
Request for Qualifications (RFQ)
Request for Proposal (RFP)

Each has its place in the process, depending on what you want to achieve and the amount of knowledge you have about the item or service you are looking for.

Let’s start with the most familiar – the Request for Proposal or RFP

Depending on the business you are in, you may have been involved in generating a RFP for a product or service or perhaps been on the other side of the table providing a response to a RFP. Typically, a Request for Proposal is specific in what it is asking for. It will have a specific set of service requirements. These tend to be more specific than high level business solution requirements but not as detailed as technical requirements – in other words, the level of detail required to ensure you get what you are asking for. It may also include specific contract requirements that the vendor will need to comply with. The vendor typically responds indicating how they will satisfy the requirements stated in the document, agree to the contract requirements, and provide specific pricing for the product or service you are looking for.

What if you don’t really know what your business solution requirements are?

Perhaps the Request for Information (RFI) or Request for Qualifications (RFQ) would better suit your needs. These two tools are generally thought of as predecessors to the RFP.

The Request for Information is a useful tool when you may not know exactly what you want – you’re looking for vendors with products or services that can solve a particular issue you have. While less burdensome than a RFP, there is still a level of effort required on your part. You need to be able to articulate what you are looking for either through a detailed statement of the issue or a high level set of business solution requirements for the vendor to review and respond to. If your organization has particular contract requirements, this is a good spot to introduce them. If you need budget cost numbers, this is a good time to ask for them.

Understand that you are not guaranteeing you will purchase the goods or services identified and at the same time the vendor is not providing actual pricing. The end goal of this document is not to get a vendor on board or a contract in place, rather, the objective is to find a pool of vendors offering a solution that can work for you. The RFI or RFQ process is typically followed up with an RFP sent to the vendors you have identified as qualified from the RFI / RFQ process. Having gathered information from a variety of vendors, you are now better prepared to write your RFP.

Level the playing field with Scoring

All of these processes, the RFI, RFQ, or RFP, will require some sort of scoring process for the responses. Typically, the scoring framework is developed in conjunction with the end user of the item or service. The scoring should be based, at least initially, on the vendor’s response to your solution requirements – do they say their product or service can do what you need it to do? Is their solution acceptable to the user of the product or service? This is the first phase in determining who you would like to have further discussions with.

In the case of the RFI or RFQ, you are looking to reduce the number of vendors you will have involved in the RFP process so you are only reviewing proposals from vendors that can provide you with the product or service you need. In the case of the RFP, you are determining who you want to work with further on purchasing a solution.

There are follow up activities for each of the processes that will help you better understand the vendor’s product or service. We will cover these in the second part on this topic.

If you are looking to begin a purchase that will require a RFP or RFI, check with your company’s Procurement organization. They may have templates and guidance that can help you in creating these documents. If your organization does not have a structured purchasing process and you feel a RFI or RFP is required, there are outside resources that can assist you. These resources bring a level of expertise in developing business solution requirements and documentation as well as working with vendors to assist you in the procurement. You can find organizations that are “vendor agnostic” – they have no association with a specific vendor and are focused on getting you the best product or service. Engaging these resources can help you streamline the process and get a better result – often is a shorter time frame.



10 Ways Leaders Can Sabotage Their Own Transformation Programs

By David William Lee, Change Management Expert and Contributing Writer


One of the hardest things to manage when working with clients on transformation efforts is that the people who hire you are often the root cause of why it is so difficult.

“If we don’t change, our business will continue to decline, but our people resist,” or “We are facing a disruption and we need to change, but our culture does not permit it,” or “Our people are not inclined to change, so you will have to teach them that it is necessary.”

These types of statements are fairly common in first interviews with potential clients when they are frustrated that they are trying to make change but have not succeeded. I am now very wary of these viewpoints. More often, the truth is just the opposite.

When I hear this from a leader, the question I pose is, “What are YOU prepared to do?” This will come as a shock because they think they are change makers. They feel they have been doing all they can to drive change and are up against insurmountable odds. Why will they need to do more? But, in fact, there are several ways that leaders encumber change and, dare I say it, cause it to fail.

In a not uncommon example, I was brought into a company where the leader stated from the get-go that she believed their model had about five years of lifespan remaining. The company’s position in the value chain was threatened by cost pressures and disruptive technology, and they needed to explore new territories, structures, and models to survive. The leader specifically wanted a new strategy and new direction. She warned me though, that the people had a static mentality and were unable or unwilling to operate outside their comfort zone. I was going to have to train them and drive them to change. This situation was very exciting to my naïve self. I would have a real chance to make a difference working directly with the CEO, but I now see so many red flags in this conversation. If I had the same conversation today, I would spend many more meetings quizzing the CEO on her strengths and weaknesses, her capabilities as a leader, and her inclinations to be an effective change leader.

Over the course of the next few years, I worked with the managers in the company on multiple proposals and approaches to the organization. I found that most of the people in the organization were not only willing to try new things, they had a pretty strong idea of what needed to be done. While there was much trepidation because they had been successful doing the same things for 30+ years, there was also passion for the business and willingness to explore new ideas.

The real problem came down to the CEO herself. Her capability to make decisions or embrace those of her leadership, the ability to trust others, and the fortitude to hold the course were all lacking. Given choices, she would consistently call for more analysis pushing choices out months if not years. Faced with the least amount of resistance or a road bump, she would revert to what she felt had been successful in the past. Put into a situation of investing in the business or harvesting through cost reduction and layoffs, she chose the latter.

Moreover, she was not willing to be the sponsor of transformation, often pushing that responsibility onto a junior member of the executive team, giving herself the opportunity to separate herself from the results. Challenged by staff, she would often not only fail to support the change, but undermine it. Finally, while there was a preponderance of communication, the focus was often wrong. She concentrated on why it was good for the organization without driving it to what was the benefit for the people. In this particular organization, this was a death knell because the trust between the central organization and the field was a major weakness.

Eventually, we were able to get to the point of driving some incremental changes, but we never achieved the level of transformation necessary to secure the organization for the future and, worse, the culture that was left behind was more inclined to resist future change due to this history. The energy it took exhausted everyone involved, spoiled the working environment, and resulted in a huge turnover rate of the team members who favored transformation.

Some might read this and question, “But as the transformation manager, wasn’t it your responsibility to coach the leader? Aren’t the leader’s failures yours as well?” To this I would agree wholeheartedly. I learned as much from these types of experiences about leading transformational change as from the experiences that were successful. I believe it has made me a much better advisor in that I have the scars. It is very clear that the difference between success and failure almost always starts with the leadership approach. As a result, I better understand the behaviors of those who are prepared and those who may actually sabotage their own efforts. I no longer mince words or guard them from the truth of their own behavior and I insist on direct access and transparency.

So, I thought I would share some of the caveats for leaders – the things I have learned to test for in interviews or in the early stages of a program. Of course, these are not MECE (mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive) examples. Many are interrelated and some may even be, seemingly, contradictory as they are drawn by multiple examples.

1. Unwillingness to Transformation Themselves
In a Harvard Business Review Article (Oct 2016), Ron Carucci says:

A leader’s ability to affect transformation across the organization depends on their ability to affect transformation within themselves. Accepting this will fundamentally shift how one leads. Such introspection is an active process.

This is absolutely the top criteria. What has worked in the past may not necessarily work in the future. This is especially true if the organization is experiencing high growth or disruption. The approach to leadership will require a transformation. If the leadership is not willing to look within themselves, if they fail to see that they need to change and be the champion of change, they are likely to create barriers to transformation.

2. Lack of Vision
So many times as an advisor, I have walked into situations where the transformation process is underway but the vision of the future state is unknown or merely a compilation of ideas. To a degree this is OK. We want to leave room for adaptation and experimentation along the way, particularly in complex environments. But, if the leader is unable to formulate and communicate a vision of the future state, how would they be able to make choices or expect anyone else to be on board and be supportive of the transformation? It is the difference between setting a course to the new world and adjusting to the currents to get you there and just randomly navigating without a destination in mind. Many leaders are not visionaries and often reacting to other influences (competition, new technologies, shareholder demands, etc.) but transformation requires a vision of a better future to build momentum and make decisions. I even advocate that the vision can be one that is intentionally hazy if the future is uncertain, but this needs to be a strategy, not a default position.

3. Treating Transformation as a Second Job
When I do transformation management workshops, I am often asked, “How can the leader be expected to do all of this AND get their job done?” My response is “What is their other job?” The leader’s role is to move the organization into the future state. If someone feels that doing this is secondary to their “real role,” they need to wake up or abdicate. As a shareholder, employee or partner, I would be concerned if the organization leader is so into the daily operations and firefighting that they don’t feel that driving transformation is their primary and, really, only role.

4. Not Understanding Individual Change
“They will do it because it is their job!” This is a common phrase from a leader with a command and control mentality. It is a lazy comment and shows a complete lack of understanding of why and how people and organizations change. Change happens at the individual level. The leader’s role is to get everyone pointed in the same direction. If they feel this will happen without understanding the “why?” of the situation or how they will benefit from the change, the leader has already created a wall of resistance that will be tough get over.

5. Failure to Support the Change
A death knell to any change is when the leader is faced with resistance and is unwilling to support the direction of the change. This is not to say that they should combat resistance on all levels. They need to get feedback and adapt. But ultimately the intention needs to be moving forward and if they cave or undermine the decisions once the course is determined, they might as well end the effort there. Incorporating feedback while keeping the course is an art that is central to leading transformation. Further, if the leader is seen not abiding by their own decisions, walking the walk, then they are undermining the change in a different way. Leaders cannot be above the change they are sponsoring.

Download 10 Ways to Sabotage Your Transformation and How to Avoid Doing Them

6. Delegating Responsibility
Prosci, the transformation management training and research organization, states that the #1 success factor for transformation is active and visible sponsorship, but that the majority of the time sponsors are either unaware or unwilling to perform as necessary. I have seen this close up. For whatever reason, leaders want to delegate their responsibility to others. Perhaps they don’t feel the need to be out in front, perhaps they are introverts and find it difficult to interact, or perhaps, more nefariously, they want to distance themselves in case of failure. Whatever the case, many ‘leaders’ are happy to just set the goals (often arbitrarily or unreasonably), and then expect it to happen. From this point, they push and push their teams, who fail to achieve results and then point to them. I have witnessed many a tirade at corporate meetings where the CEO is ranting about their team’s failure to execute without any real involvement on their side. This is different, by the way, than distributing decision making, which is a must.

7. Analysis, Analysis, Analysis
Planning for transformation is necessary. Good planning can accelerate the process if it is the right type – creating the vision, focusing communications and awareness, understanding the transformation and impact to stakeholders, creating ways of developing feedback, and incorporating adaptive and agile approaches, etc. More often though, planning is focused on finding the one answer, the silver bullet, or the right mountain to climb. This will happen behind closed doors with a few people looking at charts and data and holding long meetings talking about running more models and analyzing every aspect of the transformation. When this is going on it is an indication that they don’t have a proper vision and are actually looking for reason not to change.

8. Centralizing Authority
Driving transformation across an organization requires all individuals in the organization to be able to affect transformation. Leaders with a strong command and control complex have a difficult time understanding this. They will feel it is the responsibility of the people and stakeholders to bow to their authority. But real transformation requires authority to be distributed. Organizations are not machines where we are simply changing out parts. We are dealing with individuals and their emotions and this means that managers, supervisors, and colleagues need to have the information, connectedness, and authority to help coach each other. Moreover, they will need to deal with an untold number of issues, challenges, and opportunities that the central authority will never be able to anticipate in their plans. Insisting on a centralized approach shows mistrust of the people and an inability to provide the information necessary to make the transformation valid. Leadership creates the framework and provides the tools for change, then enables the people to change.

9. “Need to Know” Communications
The biggest red flag in my book is the leader who feels that information is so precious that their people cannot be trusted to learn of it. This is signified by a reluctance to communicate openly whether in group settings or face-to-face. They fear that if the people impacted by the transformation knew about the details, they would create barriers or resist, making life difficult. But what does this tell us? This says that either the leader does not trust their people, or they expect resistance because the transformation is not going to benefit the people impacted. Either way, there is a problem here. Leadership is unwilling to involve the people impacted in a transformation that clearly is important enough for them to react strongly, and they don’t want their people’s feedback. Either the environment of the organization is pretty toxic and/or the transformation is highly flawed (both are big issues).

10. Knee Jerk Reversion
Related to all the above, but hardest to test, is a leader’s willingness to revert to past models and behaviors when faced with challenges. This shows a lack of confidence in themselves and the transformation and points to other issues of character. One way to anticipate this are the issues of delegation of responsibility and failure to support the change discussed above. The leader may be setting up scapegoats, or at the very least, trying to leave the door open. One of my favorite lines from a movie was from Captain Ramius (Sean Connery) in Hunt for the Red October when he said, “When he reached the New World, Cortes burned his ships. As a result his men were well motivated.” While this is a bit harsh (and historically questionable), it shows great confidence in the endeavor. Too many leaders fold at the first sign of trouble, reverting to old behaviors when, in fact, the rest of the organization believed in the course. Fortitude and courage go right along with empathy and flexibility in my humble opinion.

This seems like a lot to think about when looking at taking on a transformation program. As a consultant/advisor or as the leader of transformation, you only need to ask one question though, “What are YOU prepared to do?” If the answer does not include:

  1. Start with changing myself
  2. Have a strong vision to communicate
  3. Treat the transformation as your primary/only role
  4. Understand how change is individual
  5. Support the change when faced with challenges
  6. Be visible and responsible for the transformation
  7. Take action without full information
  8. Distribute authority
  9. Be transparent and communicative, and
  10. Hold fast through challenges

…then you are likely already behind the eight ball and have some work to do.