Trust: Lesson #1
Resistance to significant change is often an emotional response and that response is provoked by fear. What will the restructuring mean for me? Will there be a place for me in the new world and will I be able to survive in that world? If the company outsources portions of its production today, will it outsource the remaining production tomorrow, and if so, what does that mean for my manufacturing job?
A leader driving change reduces and counters fear with trust. The organization must have faith in the leader to, if you will, take them to the promise land. With that trust, many are almost certain to rally behind the leader. Without it, the fear takes on a life of its own.
Fear can be a great motivator. It also can be the poison arrow that kills change efforts. Resistance, of course, can be overt, but it is perhaps more likely to be subversive. Either way, resistance, at best, delays change efforts and, at worst, completely stalls them. If fear propels resistance to change, a leader must be able to earn trust to help drive change. For employees to follow a leader willingly and enthusiastically through change, therefore, a leader must create trust. Trust helps win the battle over fear, and it is essential for any leader driving change.
Trust can be both created and destroyed through a variety of ways. The entirety of a leader’s character, values, ethics, actions, or lack thereof, and management style must convey that the leader is worthy of trust. Integrity, communication, self‐leadership, humility, empathy, and walking the walk all impact trust. Just about everything a leader says and does, and does not do, either strengthens trust or weakens it
Vision: Lesson #2
ONE OF THE differences between a manager and a leader is Vision. A manager monitors activities that are current, making sure they are accomplished to standard and executed efficiently and effectively. A leader looks at what is and asks, “What can we become?” “Who do we want to be?” The answer to those questions is the vision for the future. And that vision is a critical requirement for any leader driving change.
Nelson Mandela had a vision for an integrated South Africa, and it did not include revenge against those who perpetuated apartheid. John F. Kennedy had a vision to send a man to the moon and return him safely to Earth. That culminated with Apollo 11 doing just that. Martin Luther King, Jr., had a vision of equality for African Americans. He immortalized his vision in his speech, “I Have a Dream,” and while we are not there yet, we have made progress.
As Alan Mullaly, CEO of the Ford Motor Company who saved the company during the Great Recession, stated, “It is the responsibility of a leader to articulate a clear and compelling vision for the organization.” Indeed, this is certainly among a leader’s greatest responsibilities.
A leader gives hope that the future will be brighter, greater, better than the present. As Napoleon put it, a leader is a dealer in hope. The vision, supported by a trustworthy leader who has the courage to act, provides that hope. Of course, if the leader is not trustworthy, then his vision will not be either.
Culture: Lesson #3
Culture certainly impacts what is and is not acceptable conduct as employees interact with one another. Culture largely dictates whether managers (taken as a whole) yell, micromanage, or belittle others or whether such behavior is unacceptable. A company whose culture is fast and loose ethically or legally is certainly more likely to find itself shrouded in legal problems than a company that follows the law and regulations seriously. Employees in the latter type of company know they put their career, reputation, and perhaps even their freedom on the line if they operate outside the bounds of the law. This is all reflected in the company’s values, not necessarily those that are written (although they should be), but those that the company embraces through its practices.
A definition of culture that centers solely on how employees interact is, therefore, too narrow. Culture not only dictates “the way” things are done, but it also determines, at least to a large extent, what is done and how employees interact with customers, suppliers, and the rest of the outside world.
Four Seasons Hotels are known for outstanding service. If you ask a Four Seasons employee a question, they stop what they are doing, smile, and earnestly ask, “How can I help you.” It is the company’s culture, and it not only dictates how employees behave, but the specific actions they then take to make their guests happy.
Walmart’s strategy is centered on low prices for just about everything one can buy. Its stores are staffed differently than a Neiman Marcus department store. Walmart’s culture engrains frugality in its operations and is one of the ways it can sell products at such low prices.
People: Lesson #4
Business is a team sport. Having the right people in the right positions is critical for success. Hiring, firing, and promotion decisions are among the most important any businessperson can make. This is true for start‐ups and mature companies, conglomerates, and small operations, non‐profits, and for‐profit ventures. People loom large. Indeed, no less than Bill Gates and the late Steve Jobs attribute much of their success to hiring the best people they could find.
As important as people are in an organization’s success during stable times, massive change accentuates their importance. Change is a team sport as well. In some ways, perhaps, even more so. As explained earlier, and without a doubt, meaningful change will not happen without a leader’s action, persistence, and determination.
But change also cannot happen without the support of every key member of the team. The leadership team and other key individuals either support the change efforts or they do not. There is no in‐between, no half‐way. When supporting the changes, they help reduce fear and resistance to change, and they can help make the tide of change overwhelming. When a change effort is not supported by key leaders, change is doomed. Negative behavior, whether overt or passive‐aggressive, is a cancer in the organization that metastasizes if allowed to remain in the corporate body.
Alignment: Lesson #5
If some are driving the change and others are resisting or even pushing change in a different direction, the change will not succeed. Change, in turn, is essential for long‐term viability. As leaders attempt to change a team’s direction, or a division or company’s strategy, focus, or culture, it is imperative that there be complete alignment throughout the team and the organization. Without alignment, there is little or no chance the change will work.
A wonderful example of alignment is Starbucks. The former head of marketing of Starbucks spoke at one of the company’s events, and he shared a big part of Starbucks’ success. When the coffee shop company was a fraction of its current size, a small team of people within the company concluded that its strategy was to be the “Third Place.” For most people there is “home,” and home often means chores to be done, kids to take care of, and much stress. Then (especially prior to the COVID pandemic) there is “work,” again a place of stress. Starbucks was to be the “Third Place,” a place where anyone could go to have a good cup of coffee, relax, and stay as long as they wanted to escape all the stresses of the other places in their life.
For this strategy to work, everything had to be aligned with the concept of being the “Third Place.” The chairs and couches and colors had to be inviting and relaxing, almost homey; the smells had to be dominated by the aroma of coffee, thus, even in China where smoking is not prohibited indoors, it is nonetheless prohibited in Starbucks; the music had to be at just the right volume and type, softer and mellower in the morning than in the afternoon. Every detail, from how baristas greeted customers to the lighting and Wi‐Fi service, had to support the “Third‐Place” environment. The company even consciously decided that the extra cost of having double ply toilet paper was one of the many requirements for the stores to truly be the “Third Place.” The strategy worked, in large part because the company completely aligned with the concept of the “Third Place.” Starbucks grew to its extraordinary worldwide presence today. That is alignment and it is essential for change and success.