June 1, 2023
June 1, 2023
Most change initiatives stall because middle managers and frontline employees don’t understand where leadership is going, what is expected of them and why it is in their best interest to get out of the stands and into the game! Below I share the winning formula to get your team onboard.
Last week, I wrote about the most effective leadership communications methodology of which I am aware. It is an approach for which I would have paid big money during my tenure, leading organizations of 10,000+ employees spread across 500+ stores and three time zones. This powerful approach was developed by my late best friend and business colleague Bob Knowlton. Bob died of pancreatic cancer in 2009 and bequeathed his intellectual property, workshops, and coaching model to us. As a former broadcaster and crisis management consultant, he conducted tireless qualitative and quantitative research to determine the most effective formula for engaging constituents and driving lasting change.
Bob was an interesting character. For the first 20 years of his career, he characterized himself as a talking head. He began his career in radio and television broadcasting and, at one point, was the voice of Continental Airlines. He was tall and handsome and had a voice that was made for public speaking. I met Bob in November of 2006 in an AA meeting. I quickly recognized him as a man of integrity, straight talk, compassion, and rare intellect, and I soon asked him to sponsor me. Bob had been sober for 24 years at that point, and I was just restarting my sobriety journey.
During the 893 days that Bob was my sponsor, I got to know him well. We ate lunch together three or four days a week, went to meetings together, took AA meetings into Texas prisons, and argued about politics, religion, and other topics that are typically considered taboo. We spent hours philosophizing about how to enhance corporate performance, a subject for which we both had great passion. Bob said that after 20 years as a broadcast professional, he felt like a fraud. He said that as a “talking head,” he routinely promoted brands and people in which he did not believe, and he felt complicit in perpetrating dysfunctional cultures.
After transitioning to a boutique management consulting and culture shaping firm in 1992, Bob observed countless corporate settings in which management was attempting transformation. Time after time, he witnessed boards, CEOs and senior leaders fail at their transformative initiatives and concluded that ineffective communication was at the heart of these repeated failures. Bob loved people and had a relentless drive to do the right thing. Certainly, he had an intense desire to see his clients succeed, but he had a real appreciation for front line employees, which is what led him to ask so many questions of hourly employees, shop floor supervisors, and middle managers.
Bob shared with me a conversation he had with a frontline supervisor in an elevator while on a consulting team at Owens Corning, which was in the middle of a big transformation effort at the time. He asked the supervisor what he thought of the transformation underway at the company. He replied: “I think it’s all a load of crap. All we hear around here is Celebrate Change, Cut Costs, Get Excited, Communicate, Communicate, Communicate! Communicate what? We still don’t know what we’re trying to do. Meanwhile, the execs still put fresh flowers on the G5 every day while we’re expected to do more with less and accomplish something we still don’t understand.”
Unlike many consultants, Bob sought to understand what middle managers and frontline employees experience and what makes a positive difference in corporate cultures and major change initiatives. Bob concluded that virtually everyone wants to do a good job for their employer and that leaders at all levels have the capacity to move, touch, and inspire others. What most leaders are missing is a genuine, personal commitment to a bold vision, a willingness to take a risk and declare that commitment publicly, and a real interest in and connection with those they lead. Leaders who have successfully executed large-scale organizational change tend to show remarkable consistency in three areas:
Along the way, these leaders show other characteristics that make them stand out:
They are disciplined in their approach and careful to include:
Next week, we’ll explore Gallup research that augments Bob’s work. Be on the lookout for an upcoming webinar we are constructing for the express purpose of teaching the basics of this powerful methodology. I sincerely hope this material has been helpful.
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