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Category Archives: Transformational Leadership

2020 MSS Business Transformation Leader of the Year Award

DEADLINE EXTENDED: Nominate a Transformational Leader or Organization by August 7, 2020.

Submit your nomination for the MSS Business Transformation Leader of the Year Award, presented at the Governor’s Celebration of Innovation on Wednesday, November 4, 2020. This is your opportunity to recognize an executive or an organization (profit or not-for-profit) that has achieved transformational business goals by driving positive business outcomes in their organization.

Additional award requirements:

  • Organization must be in operation for three years or more
  • Generating $25 million or more in annual revenues
  • Headquarters and/or significant operations in Arizona
  • Transformation achieved measurable outcomes in 2019
  • Leader achieved success by demonstrating the traits and character of a transformational leader

To nominate your leader or organization for this prestigious award, download the nomination form here.

Deadline for nominations is Friday, August 7, 2020.

Inaugural Winners

Meet Andrew Bess, President and COO, and Paul Green, Director of Business Development, of Angel MedFlight Worldwide Air Ambulance, winners of the 2019 MSS Business Transformation Leader of the Year award! The inaugural award winners were announced at the Governor’s Celebration of Innovation on October 24, 2019.

“Paul Green and I were honored to win the Transformational Leadership of the Year Award at the Governor’s celebration last year. Innovation has never been more important. The pandemic continues to expose the need for transformation and progress as a society. Innovators are at their best when faced with a challenge or fight. The impact of these awards give hope to the potential that we all have for making anything possible,” said Andrew Bess, Chief Executive Officer of Angel MedFlight Worldwide Air Ambulance.

“Companies like MSS create a platform to champion innovation and help the business sector transform not just the world of today but also decide where we all collectively go tomorrow.”


Celebrate with Us

2020 marks the 17th year of this prestigious, black-tie event Click here for more information about the GCOI event



New Humanism



By David William Lee, Contributing Writer

Purpose Driven Strategy has become a prime topic of management in the last decade due in no small part to the popular books like Start with Why by Simon Sinek; Firms of Endearment by Raj Sisodia; Leading with Purpose by Mark Koehler; Purpose: The Starting Point of Great Companies, by Nikos Mourkogiannis; and the Progress Principle by Teresa M. Amabile & Steven J. Kramer. Executive seminars are held about it, business models are built on it, and consulting companies have established whole practice lines dedicated to it.

This concept of Purpose Driven Strategy is a fundamental change to the approach expressed by Milton Friedman when he said:

“There is one and only one social responsibility of business-to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game.”

In a sense, it is a new type of Humanism where organizations don’t just work for their shareholders but for the betterment of all the stakeholders and the community at large.

Purpose driven strategies are more adaptive and more successful. Purpose acts as an attractor and aligns across the organization by permeating the value system, creating the rules and enabling good judgement. Survey after survey shows that today’s top talent wants to know that they are contributing to the world at large. A UNC survey found that a whopping 75% of subject participants scored high on levels of happiness, but low on levels of meaning.¹ A survey on workplace fulfillment, which reached more than 12,000 employees across a broad range of companies and industries, found that 50% lack meaning and significance at work.² Yet, 40% of U.S. workers say they routinely put in more than 50 hours on the job each week, often without overtime pay.³

A New Humanism

The challenge for leaders is how to actually instill purpose into the organization and make it meaningful. Many companies have sought to establish their purpose (or pay consultants to do it) only to spend weeks wordsmithing a watered down statement to hang in their office only to see it easily forgotten. Few see it really start to align and motivate their people. This is because purpose cannot be captured in statements that are easily memorized. If purpose is true and impactful, it shows up in the actions of the leadership and the staff in real and very practical ways.

Recently, I have been meeting with a number of leaders in companies around the southwest United States to understand their purpose driven strategies and how they drive it into organizations. Each of these organizations has an incredible record of growth and low turnover. They include:

  • Pinnacle Technologies – A medical tissue bank that gives people longer, more productive lives
  • Infusionsoft – A technology firm that empowers entrepreneurs and enables small businesses
  • Able Engineering – An engineering firm that is out to create a healthy, self-esteem building home for their employees and their families
  • A for-profit educational institution that has job creation and improving the standard of living in their community at the center of its strategy

Based on these visits and some personal experience I have gathered working for organizations with successful (and failed) purpose driven strategies, here are some simple guidelines:

Make Your Purpose Clear & Simple: Only 38% of employees said “the company’s mission” is a top reason they love their company.4  Yet, each of the organizations that I met with has a very clear purpose. Some organizations take a bit of a shotgun approach, but multiple causes create confusion and fail to align people’s motivations. It is better to have a single clear idea to rally around and discuss it ad nauseam. Once that Purpose is established and understood, all subsequent plans should start with how they support it.

Be Sincere: For successful organizations, their purpose is not just words on a wall. Real passion for the cause builds, supports, and motivates. Opportunism debilitates. I can tell you I have sat in many meetings with companies who were looking for something good to do so they could tick it off and send out a press release, but the cynicism showed through and the employees rarely felt that organization was doing more than posturing.

Align Purpose & Mission: Often leaders will confuse purpose with mission. While a mission is what the company does, purpose is why it exists. The distinction can be subtle, but it is an important one that should not be taken lightly. At the same time, aligning purpose and mission is essential. The purpose should be found in the daily activities of the business and the employees. They should be able to track their tasks to the ultimate result. A 10% improvement in employees’ connection with the mission or purpose of their organization would result in a 12.7% reduction in safety incidents, an 8.1% decrease in turnover, and a 4.4% increase in profitability.5 Organizations in which employees are primarily motivated by shared values and a commitment to a mission and purpose are 9x more likely to have high customer satisfaction.6



Measure Performance: Creating corporate-wide metrics infuses the purpose throughout the organization. A study by Tiny Pulse found that the number one factor contributing to employee engagement was transparency, but only 25% of workers believe management is very transparent — despite that nearly twice as many managers consider themselves transparent.7 Compare that to a recent Gallup finding that only 29% of American workers described themselves as engaged employees, which cost companies about $550 billion a year in production costs.8 Rewarding behaviors that drive the purpose shows the organization’s dedication. Many companies make this maybe 5% or 10% of their overall metrics, but if it is aligned properly with the Mission, it should show up in 80-100% of what they do. However an organization measures performance, it should be made very clear how the company, division, and individual performance are aligned with the purpose.

Invest Organizational Time & Resources: While incorporating your daily activities toward your purpose is essential, so is setting aside specific time and resources. This, again, shows an organization’s dedication. This should be on company time and should enable everyone to participate at some level. Time outside of work is OK on a volunteer basis, but scheduling all efforts after hours, on breaks or on weekends sends the signal that the purpose is ancillary to the organization.

Hire Believers: Bringing in new people who support the purpose is essential. Employees who derive meaning and significance from their work are more than three times as likely to stay with their organizations, reported 1.7 times higher job satisfaction and are 1.4 times more engaged.9 Assessing the true nature of the employee’s motivation should be part of the hiring process. Have they dedicated time and energy to this purpose in the past? Do they list this purpose as a reason they want to join the organization? Each of the companies I talked to stated that they focus on this and that their biggest mistakes were when they made an exception or were uncertain of the person’s motivation.

Take Care of Your Own: Each of the companies I visited were highly focused on the success of their employees. They realize that there is no sense to the organization’s Purpose if their people aren’t valued at least as much. Infusionsoft went so far as to have employees list their dreams and hire a person dedicated to helping them realize them (even when it meant the result would take them away from the company). When people were sick or injured or had family issues, the companies I visited made a point of stepping forward even when it seemed impractical. Both Able and Pinnacle described situations where employees had been injured outside the workplace and the company supported their recovery, contributed to their families, and guaranteed the employee a position when they returned. They understand that if the basic needs of the employees are not met, they cannot focus on the higher Purpose of the organization.

Caveat – Purpose is a good thing when used correctly. At the same time, it can be scary if used wrongly. I have seen it used as an excuse to delve into the personal lives of employees, draw moral judgments, and to pursue oppressive policies. when the brain is stressed, it feels like it is under attack, and it shuts down.10, 11 When employees are micromanaged, their effectiveness decreases, and the employee puts the company at risk for making snap-judgement decisions that results in mistakes and poor performance. Clearly this creates a negative impact on the organization. At the center of the new humanism is its people first ethic. It cannot not justify a tyrannical approach. As with most things, the key is balance.


Purpose is a powerful tool. Like Howard Schultz said, “When you’re surrounded by people who share a passionate commitment around a common purpose, anything is possible.” It can align all agents and help drive emergence creating an organizational value much greater than the sum of its parts. It values all stakeholders and the external environment it serves. This is a new, humanistic approach that not only appeals to the top talent, but also supports the profit motive of businesses. Purpose is not simply reflected in statement on the wall but in sincere belief and practical action. Like all powerful tools, it should be wielded with caution and with an eye on maintaining balance.

¹ Fredrickson, B. L., Grewen, K. M., Coffey, K. A., Algoe, S. B., Firestine, A. M., Arevalo, J. M., … & Cole, S. W. (2013). A functional genomic perspective on human well-being. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 110(33), 13684-13689. Retrieved from

² Schwartz, T. and Porath, C. (2014). Why You Hate Work. New York Times. Retrieved August 17, 2017 from

³ Saad, L. (2014). The “40-Hour” Workweek Is Actually Longer — by Seven Hours. Gallup. Retrieved August 17, 2017 from

4 VirginPulse (2015). LABOR OF LOVE: What Employees Love About Work & Ways To Keep The Spark Alive. VirginPulse. Retrieved August 16, 2017 from

5 Dvorak, N. (2017). Three Ways Mission-Driven Workplaces Perform Better. Gallup.  Retrieved August 17, 2017 from

6 LRN (2016). The HOW Report. Retrieved August 16, 2017 from

7 Son, S. (2017). 20 Employee Engagement Survey Questions You Need To Ask. Retrieved August 17, 2017 from

8 Sorenson, S. and Garman, K. (2013). How to Tackle U.S. Employees’ Stagnating Engagement. Gallup. Retrieved August 17, 2017 from

9 Schwartz, T. and Porath, C. (2014). Why You Hate Work. New York Times. Retrieved August 17, 2017 from

10 Bates, C. (2012). Blanking out: How stress can shut down the command centre in the brain. The Daily Mail. Retrieved August 16, 2017 from

11 Alban, D. (2017). 12 Effects of Chronic Stress on Your Brain. Retrieved August 16, 2017 from


Embracing Uncertainty: The VUCA Principle


Embracing Uncertainty: The VUCA Principle


By David William Lee, Contributing Writer


The world has become VUCA.

After the Cold War, the US Military came to something of a revelation. Without a clear power counterbalance from the USSR, the world became a much more challenging place. Suddenly, they were in a situation without a single, clear, predictable enemy but many potential adversaries who were unknown, remote, loosely organized, and hard to detect with diverse, indeterminable motivations. The new challenges ranged from global terrorist organizations to warlords and pirates in Africa to sudden geopolitical shifts such as Arab Spring. The term created for this new reality was VUCA:

  • Volatile: The rate of change is accelerating and exponentially impactful
  • Uncertain: We cannot know everything and must be prepared for anything
  • Complex: Multiple forces influence decisions and make implications precarious
  • Ambiguous: The context, cause, and meaning of events are unclear.

While the VUCA principle was generally understood in the early 1990’s, the transformation to the new reality was, unfortunately, measured. It was more comfortable to find a new great adversary, such as China, so that the focus would again be clear. Then, 9/11 illuminated the situation and transformation accelerated.

Accepting the new reality was a significant event because it enabled the military leaders to think differently about how they work in every way.  It changed everything from the command structure to the leadership methods to the field training to the types of people they recruited. The intelligence process, the communications structure, the technology infrastructure, and the weapons they built were all based on this new reality.

The business world today is where the military was in 2001, on the verge of transformation but slow to realize it. Some leaders have fully accepted it while others are still struggling to understand it. But, this change in mindset is an absolutely necessary first step to creating a Complexity Lens.

Question: Can an executive in New York manage the quality of a marketing campaign halfway around the world in Malaysia?

Perhaps, but add to that 20 other markets, hundreds of clients utilizing multiple product lines, and customer service centers in South Africa, India, and Manila; then pile on macro-environmental issues like war and disease, regulatory requirements at the national and city level, cultural adaptations, language barriers, etc. and the situation quickly becomes… VUCA.

Many businesses started accepting the new reality during the financial shock of 2008-2013. But that was just one of the most serious shocks showing the interdependency and complexity of global economics. Think of the number of global disruptions (or Black Swan Events) that have occurred, for better or worse, in the last two decades: The Asian Financial Crisis (1998), the Internet Boom/Bust (1996-2000), September 11 (2001), Afghanistan and Iraq (2001-ongoing), Argentina Economic Crisis (2001-2004), SARS (2003), The Rise of Social Media & Big Data (2003-present), Bird Flu (2005), Price of Oil increase (2004-2008), Russian Financial Crisis (2008-2009), the Greek Debt Crisis (2009-present), Arab Spring (2010-2012?), Argentina Debt Crisis (2014), Ukraine/Crimea War (2013-present), Ebola (2013 to present), Oil Price Fall off (2014 -present), the Chinese Stock Market Crash, Brexit (2016 – present), the US Presidential Election and aftermath (2016 – present).

These are just a few of the events that affected global economics. Can we imagine the list of events at the regional, local, organizational or individual level that affected the outcomes for any single organization? Is it time to acknowledge that your organization exists in a VUCA world as well?

Yes, it is a very difficult change to make. One key reason is that the people in charge have not been trained to think this way. Whenever I mention the complexity challenge to CXO’s, VP’s and Directors, inevitably they acknowledge the problem and immediately start boasting about how they are reducing complexity and gaining greater control. Rarely does it go beyond this point.

At the core of this belief system is that everything tends toward entropy over time. It is a Newtonian law that has been hammered into our heads. It means that, in organizations, we must keep control to stave off and reverse this process. This is the basis of Fredick Taylors Scientific Management, a staple of management thinking for over a century. But our understanding of the law is often incomplete. What we now know is that the tendency toward entropy, toward disruption, is what allows complex organizations to adapt and grow, reorder, self-organize and thrive.

The tendency of management is to do just that, manage. This typically means attempting to eliminate uncertainty, manage outcomes, and ultimately show that they are in control. This may be an adequate approach in a simple organization with singular objectives, but as complexity builds, systems become non-linear and decision making multi-dimensional. The process of trying to maintain full control proves insurmountable, expensive, and potentially fatal because it can prevent the necessary disruption of the current order.

Getting over the hump and embracing this new reality will allow leaders to begin to see the solutions differently. It provides a new perspective. One can see the solutions to the complexity issue, not only in removing complexity, but in embracing it, managing it, and building systems to accommodate it and adapt to it. Moreover, it allows the organization the opportunity to evolve, to become stronger, attack and improve on weaknesses. Viewing the organization with this perspective and making the necessary strategic transformation is what we refer to as the Complexity Lens.

“Abandon the urge to simplify everything, to look for formulas and easy answers, and to begin to think multi-dimensionality, to glory in the mystery and paradoxes of life, not to be dismayed by the multitude of causes and consequences that are inherent in each experience –to appreciate the fact that life is complex.”– M Scott Peck


The Energizing Myth: The Greatest Tool of Transformational Leaders

By David William Lee, Change Management Expert and Contributing Writer


Have you ever had a thought turning in your head but were unable to describe it? And then someone turns a single phrase and you jump, “That’s it!” This happened to me on a recent trip to Europe.

For a while now, I have been looking for something to describe an intangible capability that great, transformational leaders have that the rest of us seem to lack. Until now, it has been hiding behind concepts like vision, charisma, and purpose laying just out of reach. Then, while listening to an online course on the Italian Renaissance the lecturer referred to the concept of the “energizing myth,” and I was inspired.

The term, originally coined by Frederico Chabod, describes how the Italian Renaissance was a self-defining, self-fulfilling event. Chabod’s theory was that the Italians came to believe so completely in their special destiny that they essentially willed the Renaissance into existence. While the concept of the Renaissance represents a rebirth of ancient ideas, the application of those ideas and values was unique and their awareness of this gave the people the drive and confidence to experiment with new forms of government, art, science, and social structure. Of course, the Renaissance was not one effort. The Italy of the time consisted of multiple, separate states each of which pursued their own version of the myth, a fact that only strengthened the movement.

Listening to this, it occurred to me that this concept has been applied by great leaders throughout history. When John F. Kennedy set America’s sites on the moon, or when Winston Churchill bolstered the people of London after the Battle of Britain, or when Nelson Mandela painted a picture of a united South Africa, they were utilizing the concept of the “energizing myth” to achieve results that may not otherwise have seemed possible. Of course, history also has its share of leaders who utilized the same techniques to produce more nefarious results.

But how can leaders apply the energizing myth when it comes to business transformation? Is it simply creating a clear vision establishing a motivating purpose, or setting ambitious goals? Yes, I believe this is all of these things, but I also think it can be much more. By developing an energizing myth, a business leader is building a sense that their organization is out to do something so different, so important, and so special that it takes a special group of people to accomplish it and that their team is the only group with the capabilities, resources, and opportunity to do it. As a result, the leader is motivating her people to commit their heart and soul to the outcome, giving them the holistic responsibility for achieving the outcome, and setting them free to pursue it.

If you are of a certain age, you no doubt remember Apple’s 1984 Super Bowl commercial recalling Orwell’s 1984 where the hammer thrower, representing Apple, knocks out the screen of Big Brother representing IBM. It is an iconic advertisement, but what is more interesting is the speech that Steve Jobs gave when the ad was first introduced to Apple employees. In his speech, Jobs lays out what amounts to a mythical battlefront with IBM. His goal is to drive Apple employees to be David to IBM’s Goliath. He builds the case that if they give all of their disposable effort they can bring down the giant, and they will be winning a great battle for the everyday person. It is his version of the St. Crispen’s Day speech:

He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say “To-morrow is Saint Crispian.”
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say “These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.”
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words

—William Shakespeare, Henry V

One might think such ambitious storytelling is fine when one is leading an upstart company on the edge of history. Since then, this technique has proven successful over and over with companies ranging from Southwest Airlines, Facebook, Amazon, and Google, to more recent successes such as Uber or AirBNB. These leaders used their energizing myth to spark organizations that seemed ready to take over the world. But how can leaders in more common situations utilize an energizing myth to achieve exceptional results?

Thinking about this, I remembered a classic case from my business school days. I recalled the Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Soul of the New Machine (1981), in which author Tracy Kidder tells the story of Tom West and his young team of engineers at Data General who were responsible for launching “The Eagle” minicomputer. In this effort, West created a mythos around his team’s efforts. He set a context with his team that they were creating something that had never been done before; they would build a billion dollar product that would save the company, but they were in a race to complete it. They had challengers both externally from Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) and internally from divisions competing for resources. He convinced his team that their project was so special it was not to be discussed, not even with family. He did not define team members’ roles so much as to constrain them but instead encouraged them with the idea that they were owners of the product, they should see their part in it holistically, and they should apply themselves in whatever way necessary to get it to market on time.

The result of West’s energizing myth was that people gave of themselves way beyond what their salaries warranted. They volunteered to work 24/7 to meet their goals in a culture that didn’t require such effort, but self-organized and self-regulated through social pressure. The members they attracted wanted to achieve something special and were willingly indoctrinated in a process called “signing up” where they committed heart and soul to the project and were held to it by their colleagues who had also signed up. In the end, the project was a huge success and achieved goals that, in the beginning, had very little basis in fact.

Of course, the challenge of using classic examples is that they are often proven unsustainable. By the end of 1990’s, Digital General became an acquisition target and was purchased by EMC for just over a billion dollars. This story not only brings out the strengths of a powerful energizing myth, but also the flaw. It is hard to sustain. While it can create a dynamic environment that over produces and transforms organizations, but it can also be short-lived if not nurtured properly.

Taking from these and other cases, we can provide some principles that should be considered when using intrinsic motivation to drive change.

  1. Go Beyond Goals: What sets the concept of the energizing myth apart from, for example, “Big Hairy Audacious Goals” is the result is not only about achieving the KPI’s. The motivation comes from being part of something greater that may change the organization, industry, or more.
  2. Make Employees Responsible for the Holistic Result: Studies show that people are not as motivated by doing part of something as they are being part of the outcome. By giving employees responsibility for the whole result, leaders give them ownership of the outcome as well.
  3. Build the Platform, Then Burn It: Similar to John Kotter’s “Burning Platform” concept, leaders building an energizing myth create a situation where time and/or competition matters. Like Steve Jobs creating a Goliath out of IBM, leaders get employees to fight for essentially building the platform so they can light a fire to it.
  4. Allow for Self-Organization: Create a team with a comprehensive range of skills and capabilities and allow them to determine how to apply them. By providing employees broad goals and autonomy, they will be more likely to own the outcome and go above and beyond to accomplish it. At the same time, they will establish a system of social pressure that is stronger than any controls the organization will put on them.
  5. Develop a Sense of Humble Exclusivity: By developing the environment where people are doing something special, leaders give them the opportunity to be special and should promote this feeling. Leaders have to be ethically careful here not to build this feeling by demeaning others, but rather by lifting their team up. They are special because of they joined up, because they are in the right time and place, and because they have the will to go above and beyond, NOT because others are inferior.
  6. Apply a System of Constant and Clear Feedback: Setting milestones and achieving them enables the team to grow in confidence and become even more motivated. I think of the differences between the US Space Program that staged and tested their efforts to the moon and the Soviet program that shot straight for the end result. In the end, the US reached the moon successfully while the Soviets ultimately gave up (though some rumors exist that the Soviet result was even more tragic).
  7. Be Truthful: By definition, a myth is an exaggerated or idealized concept. That said, if is not based in fact, or at least the possibility of fact, it will ultimately fail to motivate. Steve Jobs truly believed that Apple was out to change the world and IBM and other massive bureaucratic organizations were holding back progress. By having faith in the outcome, leaders can create the energy necessary to get there.


“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”

-Michelangelo Buonarrotti


The Italian Renaissance was a special period in human history that launched the general European Renaissance and changed our view of art, engineering, society, and the workings of the universe. It started with a new belief in what people are capable of and gained momentum by achieving it. Similarly, organizational transformation can occur if the leaders create the energizing myth that drives it. Consider your company and your transformation. What is the story that people will tell? What will make them proud to have been a part of it? What will energize them to go to great lengths to make it happen? If you can determine that, you are already half way to achieving it.



Surviving the Transformation Death Zone

By David William Lee, Change Management Expert and Contributing Writer

I have always been fascinated by the sport of mountain climbing. Recently, I was watching a movie on climbing Mt. Everest in which they described the Death Zone – the region above 26,000 feet where a climber’s body starts to die. They had my attention.

At 8,000 meters (26k ft.) and above, the atmospheric pressure is about a third of what it is at sea level. As a result, the body gets significantly less oxygen and the cells in the body literally begin to die leading to extreme lethargy and poor decisions. The effect of this process is that it takes most climbers up to 12 hours to walk 1.7 kilometers (1.07mi) to the summit. Many of the climbers who meet their end in the Death Zone simply sit down to take a rest.

If you’re thinking that perhaps one can summit more quickly, understand that a person taken directly from sea level to the top of Mt. Everest would die within 2-3 minutes; hence the establishment and requirement of base camps. The mind and body require periodic respites to both recover and reassess the readiness to move on to the next stage of the climb.

Add to this the other dangers of climbing at this altitude such as high winds, sudden changes in weather, altitude sickness, extreme cold, avalanches and falling ice towers the size of skyscrapers, and we can see the danger of taking on this challenge.

Over 50% of climber deaths occur in the Death Zone.

While it is not clear how many bodies are on Mt. Everest, it is estimated to be over 200. They are there forever so those who set out always have in their peripheral vision the reminder of those who did not make it.

According to many professional climbers, I talked to, the primary reasons someone does not survive the Death Zone include:

  • Improper physical preparation;
  • Poor psychological preparation;
  • A lack of proper climbing skills or knowledge of the mountain; or
  • Improper acclimatization

In other words, many of the deaths that occur on the mountain are preventable with the right preparation. But, inevitability, there are those climbers who fail to assess their readiness and manage their climb.

As part of an organization that focuses on Business Transformation, I draw many lessons from this example.

Business Transformation is one of the hardest things that a leader can do in their career. Whether it is a strategic change, a major operational upgrade, a company reorganization, or all three simultaneously; many leaders will have to take on such a business transformation at least once in their careers. What they may not realize is that there is a Death Zone in this type of effort as well.

Surviving the Death Zone in Business Transformation occurs during a period after the transformation has begun. Issues start to arise, fatigue starts to set in and people are frustrated. It’s when even you, as a CEO or CIO or COO, believe it has become “too hard”, and you question why you set out on this journey in the first place. Your employees are complaining, there are too many people to retrain, or you fear the business transformation can affect client relationships and open the door for competitors. Perhaps, it will take too long and cause too much attrition, it requires a large investment that raises the risk. It’s just too complicated to get through.

Surviving the business transformational Death Zone means getting through this period, showing perseverance and ensuring that people remember that this effort will reap rewards in the longer term.

How can you successfully survive the Death Zone during your Business Transformation? Some key steps include:

  • Prepare for the Journey
    • Have you planned for every stage of the organizational transformation?
    • Is your organization aligned with the new operational model?
    • Have you identified the new business processes and the job-specific changes that your staff will need to embrace?
    • Have you identified the capabilities that your staff will need to perform in the future state?
    • Do you have the subject matter experts selected and prepared for the transition?
  • Build Your Knowledge to Survive Transformation
    • Are the business drivers and the need for change clearly understood by all those who will be impacted?
    • Are your people trained and ready?
    • Are you meeting your transformation stage goals?
  • Get Fit
    • Does the organization have the stamina for the transition?
    • Do you have active and engaged team members driving the change?
    • Are the capabilities of your staff at the level needed to perform in the future state?
    • Is fatigue setting in? If so, what can be done to re-energize the team?
  • Assess Your Progress
    • Is the pace of the business transformation doable?
    • Have you established and stopped at the necessary checkpoints?
    • Are corrective actions needed to bring you back on track?
  • Find the Right Guide (“Sherpa”) to Survive Transformation
    • Do you have the necessary support to help guide you through your organizational transformation?
    • Are there skills needed that you don’t have the time or resources to supply?
    • Does your guide know the way? Has he been there and back?
    • Are company cultural sensitivities being taken into consideration?

Business transformation failures are preventable. As an executive who is responsible for the success of your company and its transformation objectives, don’t ignore the Death Zone. It exists and the risks are high. No matter how clear the vision, how impressive the business case, the path to success will be long and full of challenges. Preparation, knowledge, fitness, progress assessment and guidance will each play an important part to reach your own transformational summit, survive transformation, and embrace a new normalcy thereafter.


2019 Business Transformation Leader of the Year Award Winners


Congratulations to Andrew Bess, President and COO, and Paul Green, Director of Business Development, of Angel MedFlight Worldwide Air Ambulance, winners of the 2019 MSS Business Transformation Leader of the Year award! The winners were announced at the Governor’s Celebration of Innovation gala held October 24, 2019.

Meet our 2019 winners and the other Transformation Leader Award finalists in their one-on-one videos below. Discover what they have learned about leading their Arizona organization through transformation as they share their experiences.

Prior to the award gala, our 2019 Transformation Leader Award finalists joined MSS for a panel discussion about what it takes to lead an organization through a major transformation.  Listen to the Transformation Day podcast where they share their experiences as transformational business leaders in Arizona.

Andrew Bess, President and CEO, and Paul Green, Chief Development Officer of Angel MedFlight Worldwide Air Ambulance

Andrew Bess brings his experience in operations, revenue cycle management, and finance to Angel MedFlight Worldwide Air Ambulance. As President and Chief Operating Officer, Andrew partners within departments to ensure Angel MedFlight’s strategy is aligned and operational execution is achieved. Andrew brings innovative thinking and a laser-like focus to process improvement and best-practice creation. Before joining Angel MedFlight, Andrew worked across the country in the hospital consulting space and physician practice plans, specializing in revenue cycle and healthcare operations management.

With more than 20 years of IT experience, Paul Green‘s technology-infused leadership adds exciting dimension to his role as Chief Development Officer. Paul joined Angel MedFlight Worldwide Air Ambulance as CIO in 2014 to strengthen the company’s IT capability in support of its continued growth. With a focus on the patient experience, Paul’s innovative influence is evident in everything from the company’s workflow to its online presence. In 2018, Paul was named the Chief Development Officer to lead the company’s technology and business development initiatives.

Dr. Robert Trenschel, President and CEO of Yuma Regional Medical Center

The year before Dr. Robert Trenschel joined Yuma Regional Medical Center as the new President and CEO, the hospital only completed 12 process improvement projects. During YRMC’s fiscal year 2018, they completed 257, and anticipates completing approximately 500 in 2019. Because Dr. Trenschel has catalyzed a culture where front line employees own quality and process improvement it shows in YRMC’s outcomes and how the community feels about its hospital.

Kathryn Chandler, Executive Director of Northwest Valley Connect

As Executive Director/Mobility Manager for Northwest Valley Connect, (NVC) Kathryn Chandler is the encouragement and stamina that motivates and drives a volunteer transit organization to connect northwest valley communities with transportation solutions where there are none available. The focus is seniors  65 years and older, those with disabilities, and veterans. Kathryn has 15 years of management experience of para-transit and transportation functions, including strategy, operations and customer service. As the chief administrator over NVC, she is in charge of overall operations of the organization, including transportation coordination, collaboration with area transit providers, and quality assurance.

Tim Grein, CEO of Walbar Engine Components

Prior to divestiture from United Technologies in September 2016, Walbar Engine Components struggled to control costs, manage on-time delivery, and meet customer expectations. Under Tim Grein’s leadership as CEO, the company immediately focused on the basics: people first, quality, customer delivery, and controlled spending. Tim led the team by empowering each of them to do what they do best, and today Walbar has restored its position as a world-class, independent turbine component manufacturer.


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Mature Innovation is Possible in Complex Organizations

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


Understanding Mature Innovation

My family can tell you that I consider myself one of the great armchair innovators. Among the many things I believe I invented before they were actually invented is the Keurig coffee dispenser, Netflix (streaming AND original content), and the Amazing Race. The problem I always told myself was that I never had access to the resources required to put my ideas into the market. So when I secured a position managing innovation at a global mega-company, I was excited. Here, I would finally have the opportunity to launch my great ideas, become massively famous, and change the world. Boy, did I have a lot to learn.

What soon became clear was that managing innovation for a mega-organization is not about creating great ideas. Of course we had our chance to develop some ideas, but mostly our role was to capture the ideas of leadership, cut through the noise, politics, and disruptions, and push them forward.

From the get-go, I was surprised to find that this 150+ year old company did not have any systematic approach to innovation, mature or otherwise. As a result, the innovation team would shift priorities on a dime and often waste tons of time driving ideas that were clearly wrong for the company, had no foreseeable positive return, or had no internal political support. Meanwhile, many good concepts would go unnoticed, remain on hold, or be shelved. After several bouts with minimal results, I was concerned that my career was slowly wasting away with superfluous efforts; I was converted from a proud, creative, non-linear thinker to a champion of centralized, systematic innovation processes.

When the ground shifted, as it will in big companies, I ended up in a new leadership structure and had the chance to implement my systematic approach. I was given four very talented people, and we decided that we would create a methodology to collect, rate, prioritize, and track innovation efforts, thus the infancy of mature innovation. It was going to be beautiful! We spent the better part of a year creating a steering committee, outlining our plans, and developing a system for tracking and sharing information. We gained approvals up the ladder for the approach and agreements from senior management to follow the discipline.

Unfortunately, we did not launch any more great products or services as a result of this approach. What we did do was find a great way to identify and track all of our failures. We now knew that we had a pipeline of literally hundreds of ideas, we knew where the ideas ranked based on the predetermined parameters, and we had high-level business plans for a small percentage of the top ranking ideas. Unfortunately, our cycle time from ideation to product launch still approached 18 months to 2 years on the very few ideas that actually made it to market. We were not what one might consider an innovative powerhouse.

The problem was that we had four people spending most of their time ensuring the process was working but spending little time actually innovating. We became so bogged down that people who had great ideas avoided our process for fear of falling into a black hole, and we were specifically excluded from the strategic innovation going on at the top of the organization because we were, “Too busy.” On top of this, we experienced all of the major roadblocks that are common when innovating in a hierarchical environment. Some of these include:

Defining Innovation: Say the word “innovation” to a room of 100 people and you will get 100 different takes on what it means. Some see it as the big new idea. Others are looking for enhancements or improvements across the board. Sometimes innovation is used as an excuse for the strategic flavor of the moment.

Separating Thinkers from Doers: Often, the mindset in traditional companies is that there are thinkers who have the capacity and capability to innovate and doers who are either too busy or the wrong personalities. This is Taylorism stuck in our collective psyche and a killer for innovation.

Failing to Set Aside Resources: The deadliest phrase in innovation, “Prove the case for it and then we will give you the budget,” is, frankly, just a cop out. Seeding and cultivating innovation requires continuous investment and experimentation. Still, budgeting for the future when managers throughout the organization are competing for resources takes the kind of courage that is often lacking.

The Middle Management Filter: Frequently innovation is given to middle management as one of their tasks. It is often part of Marketing, IT, or (God forbid) Finance. Unless middle managers are exceptional, they are rarely in a good position to lead innovation. They live on eggshells, are unwilling or unable to take risks, and are often punished for failure. As a result, they become the bane of the innovation team’s existence defaulting to the safe choices, watering down ideas, and making knee-jerk decisions.

Short-term vs. Long-term Thinking: Connected to #4, management is more interested in short term impacts rather than long term evolution. They are measured by what they accomplish in a quarter or, at best, a year. The long term is not part of their mandate. As a result, if the innovations don’t come fast and furious, they can lose support and focus.

Searching for the Silver Bullet: More often than not, the innovation team is pressured to find the big idea that pays off quickly for the boss. The problem is that innovation, especially in mature organizations, rarely happens that way.

So, what to do? Our approach had failed to produce results, and we were stuck. This is when an understanding of complex systems kicked in (though I did not know what it was called then) and we began to apply adaptive thinking.

The root of our problem was that the company was simply too complex for a small, centralized team to drive innovation for the entire organization. This was a company with nearly 60,000 employees, a GDP bigger than the country of Colombia, global operations in almost every country, a massive partner network and more Vice Presidents than we could count.

Viewing Innovation through a Complexity Lens

By utilizing a Complexity Lens, we stopped thinking of innovation as a centralized activity for a few people and began thinking of innovation as everyone’s role. We started to consider the idea that everyone can innovate and opening innovation to the entire organization was an absolute must.

The concept was bit humbling. We wanted to be the creative geniuses who launched the organization into a new era but this was clearly impossible. In a way, we felt we were passing the buck. It was like saying that we were not smart enough, we were not working hard enough, or we simply could not produce. Pushing this concept up the chain of leadership was even more difficult because the bosses had similar feelings. In the end, though, it became clear that this was the way to go. So our role as the innovation team changed from controlling innovation to fostering mature innovation.

It could not happen all at once. We had begun to mature as an organization, but we still needed to take steps. Our first step was to create a system that allowed everyone to generate ideas while we provided the tools allowing them to pursue those ideas, facilitating the process of turning ideas into opportunities, and creating the means for them to share their ideas among each other. Over the next few years, we took the methodology and systems that we had built for ourselves and opened it up to everyone by turning it into a framework that people could adapt for their own use. We walked around, figuratively and literally, looking at what people were working on and wherever possible promoting ourselves as a service to train and educate groups on how to move their ideas forward. While we did not have the technology at hand at the time to create total transparency, we did our best to create forums for people to share what they were working on and draw on each other’s ideas and approaches.

This approach did not mean that systematic innovation methods were tossed out the window. Rather, we created a tool set of approaches for people to utilize and added to this tool set as we learned more. We recognized though that not every approach worked for every situation, so we allowed experimentation.

In this sense, each group made their own pizza (read Change & the Pizza Principle) and after several iterations, the ones that worked best in this culture emerged as the norm.

The impact was soon clear. In less than a year, the organization was launching more new innovations more rapidly, about one a quarter, than in all the previous five years combined. But while there were more launches, they were generally smaller ideas. Some were simply enhancements to existing products, while others were efficiency gains, and still others were products that were adapted from our internal operations that we repurposed for our clients. None were the big silver bullet ideas that management hoped for, but out of these small ideas two ended up producing $30 million between them in the first year and the risk was very limited. Failures were equally small and isolated and the wins more than offset any losses.

I did not hang out to see this system in full implementation as I had received a new assignment overseas. When I returned after three years abroad, I found that the innovation team had continued to launch more and more products and enhancements. What was even more interesting was that these smaller innovations eventually enabled a big evolutionary leap. During this period, the internal and external circumstances aligned for the development of a new business that incorporated many of the innovations into a packaged offering. This business quickly became a nearly $200 million a year operation. The silver bullet emerged as a result of the cumulative innovation.

There are a number of very innovative companies that have discovered variants of this approach. Legos extended innovation by inviting customers to create ideas and participate in the financial success while Pixar has documented its highly successful approach in “Innovate the Pixar Way, Business Lessons from the World’s Most Creative Corporate Playground.” Of course the approach is unique in each organization, but they have a principle of a centralized framework and quality assurance coupled with distributed innovation. I have since learned that this fits well with the theory surrounding complex adaptive systems. Generally speaking, evolution does not usually happen in a single great leap. Complex organisms produce and experiment with small adaptations. Some work, some fail. What eventually happens is that they accumulate over time and eventually a tipping point is reached and an evolutionary event changes the system forever. By letting go of the centralized systematic approach and enabling mature innovation to occur across the organization, evolutionary transformation is made possible.