Why Transformation Sometimes Isn’t

Photo Courtesy of Netflix

I recently read a McKinsey article summarizing two studies they conducted and entitled, “How To Beat The Transformation Odds”.

The summary spoke to the basics of transformation that we all know and apply to any project of any type.

Set Goals. Not setting goals before planning a change or a project is like going on a trip without knowing where you will go. Although that can be fun (I’ve known people that like to go on “coin toss” events, where you come to a corner and toss a coin as to whether you go left or right, not knowing where the event will end.

Assess Organizational Capability. Most rational people would not start a vacation without understanding the condition of the vehicle they were going to take. For a transformation to take place successfully, the organization needs to exhibit internal organizational intelligence (external organizational intelligence is another term for business intelligence), that is, be willing to learn what is not necessarily desired to know. Only in this way can you identify the gaps that need to be bridged for the organization to truly transform.

Design the Transformation. When the family going on vacation understands what needs to be done for the vehicle they will travel in to be in top operating condition, they put together a plan to see all the maintenance and possible repairs are done before they leave. There is a process of prioritization and trade off. If they want to go to Disney, but the transmission is bad, they may have to give up on some of the other activities planned during the vacation to cover the cost of repairing the transmission. Disney still realistic but only after prioritization (Disney is top) and trade offs (the wax museum, mystery spot and others are foregone.) Organizations beginning a transformation journey are no different and must plan, prioritize and make tradeoffs. What resources will be used? What can we afford to do at this point? Often, a quick win will be lest costly and build momentum, whereas, a more costly and timely action will require thought and consideration as to…

Transformation Execution. This is where the plan is put into place. All hands on deck, or to be consistent with the analogy provided, “Disney or bust!”

Sustain the Transformation. Here is where most organizations struggle. Ken Snyder, Executive Director of the Shingo Institute, home of the Shingo Prize for Operational Excellence, once told me, “After 30 years evaluating numerous companies’ performance, it is apparent there is a near equal split between those that sustain results and those that do not, no matter how robust their systems and processes. The difference is the accumulation of behaviors of the people within the organization, or “culture”.

According to McKinsey, there are three things an organization can do to increase the probability the transformation will “stick”, and decrease the probability the transformation isn’t.

  1. Focus on People, Not the Project. Transformations are about the people in the organization as much as about the initiatives. Long-term sustainability of a transformation requires companies to engage enthusiastic employees, equip them with skills, and hold them accountable for—as well as celebrate—their contributions to the effort. Companies should take steps toward developing people throughout the organization. To build broad ownership, leaders should encourage employees to experiment with new ideas: starting small, taking risks, and adapting quickly in their work. Doing so can create far-reaching and positive support for change, which is essential to a transformation’s success.
  2. Communicate Continually. When embarking on transformation, leadership should not underestimate the power of communication and role modeling. The results suggest that continually telling an engaging, tailored story about the changes that are under way—and being transparent about the transformation’s implications—has substantially more impact on an effort’s outcome than more programmatic elements, such as performance management or capability building. But the communication doesn’t end once the change story has been told. Leaders must continually highlight progress and success to make sure the transformation is top of mind across the organization—and to reduce the gap between what employees believe is happening and what they see.
  3. Take More Action. Transformation is hard work. The changes made during the transformation process must be sustained for the organization to keep improving. There is no silver bullet—and while some factors have more impact than others on a transformation’s outcome, the real magic happens when these actions are pursued together. The more actions an organization takes to support each of the five stages of transformation, the more successful it is at improving performance and sustaining long-term health of the organization.

In short, transformation isn’t where a disciplined, thoughtful approach to all the above do not take place.

I just finished (binge) watching a NETFLIX original series called Fastest Car. The premise was that for 7 episodes, three sleeper cars (something in your neighbor’s garage that makes lots of loud noise on the weekends, is often very shiny, but not always, and only comes out on the 4th of July) would race against a super car (such as Ferrari, McLaren, Lamborghini or Aston Martin). The winner of each episode would go on to the final episode and race the other 6 episode winners, all at once. What was intriguing to me were the sleeper cars. With a couple of exceptions, the really impressive sleeper cars (regardless whether they won or not) followed this same process, as was shown on the human-interest tableau for each participant. It seems it is a universal process. If sleeper car owners can do it, and Disney bound families also, I’m pretty confident organizations can as well!

An Example: find the BRILLIANCE in your WORK FORCE

Bristol, UK office of Ignition

A small boutique creative firm in the UK, specializing in exhibit design and management, with which I had the opportunity to engage for nearly three years.

Read this article! This high honor and others of its type, come to organizations which actively seek to find the BRILLIANCE in their WORK FORCE!

Congratulations Claire, Sam, Phil and the entire Ignition team!

Lunch at Four Day Ray’s in Fishers Indiana.

Had lunch today with Jack Frisby, President of Optimize Selling Solutions (www.optimizeselling.com) and evangelist of the “servant approach” to principle based sales. Had a great discussion with a great thought leader!

Strategy, Culture and The Wisdom of a King







An ancient king once said in an address to his people, “…see that these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength.” The premise here is to prioritize correctly and not try and do everything at once. True and sustainable success is a long game.

Organizational Change Management (OCM) is usually a shift in strategy that requires a change throughout the organization. The best and lasting change considers all the stakeholders of the change, and the potential risk to those stakeholders. A plan for the change is then developed and executed, much like any other project.

Organizations are tempted to jump in to wholesale change because the perceived results of the change are financially seductive. However, wholesale change often has unintended consequences that will frequently swallow expected benefits.

I recently read an article in APICS Magazine entitled “Award Winning Responsiveness”. The article was about Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals and the OCM process they went through to become more nimble and responsive to the customer.

There were two significant statements in the article. First was by the senior director of supply chain for Mallinckrodt, David Widder, CPIM, who stated: “As I look back on what we have accomplished, the biggest challenge was this change of culture” (italics added).

For any organizational change to take place, the culture must be changed. Ken Snyder, Executive Director of the Shingo Institute, defines culture as “the accumulation of behaviors of the people within the organization.” Because people are involved real change takes time. Where wholesale change takes place, people tend to resist, often thwarting the effort to change. This activity becomes non-value add (NVA).

The second statement was by the author of the article, stating, “The strategy [at Mallinckrodt] began with small changes and realistic, aligned goals.” Again, this speaks of thoughtful, deliberate and well-planned change within an organization and of setting the appropriate priorities for that change to make the strategy effective.

Who would have thought a king of more than two millennia ago would have understood culture and strategy in business today? Perhaps the idea is timeless. An interesting notion.

Einstein, Cotton Fields and Sweatshops

Not long ago, I was reading an article in Fortune Magazine, entitled, “The Desperate Search for the Next Great American Idea”, when I stumbled on a quote that resonated deeply with me and is as follows:


I am, somehow, less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain, than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweat shops.”

– Stephen Jay Gould, Evolutionary Biologist

 I got to thinking about this statement and the power of it in terms of operational excellence. If it is true, by Stephen Jay Gould’s estimation, that people of equal talent to that of Einstein have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops, what latent talent of that caliber exists on the shop floors and front lines of our manufacturing and service industries? How do we tap into that talent in the individual plants, call centers and kitchens? What value can tapping into that talent bring to the businesses where it exists?

At Leg Up Solutions, we are passionate about this very subject.

We believe the BRILLIANCE of today’s WORK FORCE is the key to unlocking UNREALIZED BUSINESS VALUE.

If you’d like to explore how this may work for your firm, feel free to contact us.

Relationships Are Important

Just had lunch with Abby Tedell-Berg of FreemanXP.

Abby and I had the opportunity to work together over the last couple of years. She is one of the most focused people I know at satisfying, nay, delighting the customer and process improvement. Frankly, she is passionate about it. She also has the backing of an excellent organization, FreemanXP, behind her.

Wishing Abby and FreemanXP well in their future endeavors and look forward to our crossing paths again sometime in the future!

Finding Sidney Yoshida


Not long ago, I became enamored with a Canadian television show entitled, “Canada’s Worst Drivers”. Although I thought it amusing, of greater interest to me were the behaviors of the drivers, especially considering the sound instruction they received by the experts on the course: predominantly, the idea that you must “look where you want to go.” In other words, if you look at a hazard, rather than where you want to go, your brain will fixate on the hazard, governing the behaviors of your body and taking you to an inevitable collision. This is referred to as target fixation.

I recently had a discussion with the Executive Director of the Shingo Institute, home of the prestigious Shingo Prize for Operational ExcellenceTM, named for Shigeo Shingo, an early pioneer in the lean / quality movement. However, before I elucidate on the content of our discussion, allow me to share how this discussion came to be.

I recently left a large pharmaceutical company based in Indiana and am now in the process of developing a consulting business focused on helping organizations increase value by tapping into latent talent on the production floor and from other areas. This is based on my own experience. My career spans nearly equal parts as a non-exempt working on the production floor, then graduating from college at the age of 37 and working in management / exempt roles the remainder of my career. I have long held that most organizations miss the opportunity to really build value by gleaning key insights from the folks where the rubber meets the road.

In my research to develop my business model, I stumbled across an interesting piece of information. An alleged Sidney Yoshida presented a paper at the “1989 2nd International Quality Symposium” in Mexico, entitled, “Quality Improvement and TQC Management at Calsonic in Japan and Overseas”. The study purports that in organizations, there is an “Iceberg of Awareness” or “Iceberg of Ignorance” that exists. It is allegedly documents the level of knowledge about problems existing within an organization are known at the following tiers of management as follows:

• Only 4% is known by senior leadership
• 9% is known by middle managers (sometimes shown as 17% and 18%)
• 74% is known by supervisors, and
• 100% is known by the front line (think non-exempt and individual contributors) and customers

I was intrigued with this and vaguely remembered seeing it in a presentation somewhere earlier in my career. However, through the process of being trained and effective as an investigator for root cause analysis, I’ve developed a healthy skepticism and rarely take things at face value. I determined I would research this article and verify, for myself, its findings. In my search I found literally tens of dozens of references to the ubiquitous Sidney Yoshida. I even found a major magazine referencing Mr. Yoshida, but in only one case could I find an actual citation.

In this age of technology and information it is nearly impossible not to find a document of a scholarly nature. Having exhausted all internet resources, I turned to academia, which has access to volumes of scholarly works in databases not available to the general public. I reached out to my alma mater, Utah State University, at the Huntsman College of Business and more specifically, the Partners in Business program. After initial searches were exhausted, I was referred to the Shingo Institute, associated with the Partners in Business program. The executive director of the Shingo Institute executed a query deeper into the available data bases: No Sidney Yoshida. No 2nd International Quality Symposium during 1989 in Mexico. No paper entitled, “Quality Improvement and TQC Management at Calsonic in Japan and Overseas.” That is not to say he, or it, does not exist. There is just no record of it. It is also important to note that the date, if it exists, was within only one organization and different plants within that organization. Hardly representative of the population, and therefore more anecdotal than anything.
If there is no record, then where did this information come from. Although there may be truth rooted in the “Iceberg of Ignorance” there is nothing supporting it. This in turn suggests the “Iceberg of Ignorance” is likely a myth that has been perpetuated via the internet by well meaning individuals and organizations, interested in using it to advance their position or agenda in business.

This is the conclusion Ken Snyder, MBA (Harvard Graduate School of Business), the Executive Director of the Shingo Institute, and I came to. Further, Ken said that over 30 years of assessing organizations pre and post bestowal of the Shingo Prize for Operational ExcellenceTM, there was nearly a 50/50 split of companies that sustained results and companies that did not. Both subsets of data indicated that they all had quality systems and other lean processes in place. Although not the same, they were all well thought out and relatively robust.

Why then, a 50 percent disparity between sustainability and the lack thereof? My guess, and Ken’s answer was simple: Culture. Culture defined by the Shingo Institute as, “the accumulation of behaviors of the people within the organization.” Without a culture that supports engagement at all levels, including the shop floor, where the rubber meets the road, no matter how robust your systems and processes, it is nearly impossible to sustain results for any extended period of time.

It seems that there is a plethora of consulting firms, businesses and publishers fixated on the target of the “Iceberg of Ignorance.” The real issue is defined by the empirical data collected by the Shingo Institute, regarding the correlation between culture and sustainable business results. At Leg Up Solutions, one of the things we do is help build a culture that enables and engages people at all levels of the organization, but with a particular focus on the front line of your work force, the shop floor, where the rubber meets the road, to glean their insights and translate those insights into value for the business.

Don’t get fixated on the wrong target. Look where you want to go.

passion rooted in experience

I was late to the game. I spent my early 20’s chasing a fast buck. As I came into my thirties I realized that I was, for the most part, chasing a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Once reality set in, I realized next that I needed to get grounded quickly. I needed to develop a solid income and solid marketable and transferable skills.

My quest began by getting the first job I could find. I lived by the adage to…

Call no work low that is honest. Honest toil never degrades.

The job I took was in the brine room of a Swiss cheese plant. It was not enough to cover my expenses so I took assignments from a temporary agency, working in a process cheese plant when work was available and I could squeeze it in. Stability, although visible on the horizon, eluded me. Eventually, an opportunity on the production line of a fitness equipment manufacturer opened up and I was hired. The pay, supplemented by my temporary work assignments, was enough to provide the beginnings of stability. I was now prepared for my next step and enrolled in the university located in the community.

Among the best paying jobs in the community were permanent roles at the cheese processing plant to which I was being temporarily assigned from time to time. Eventually, after nearly a year, I was able to get on permanently at this plant. I quit working at the fitness equipment manufacturer and also no longer had the need to accept temporary work assignments to supplement my income. Stability had been achieved.

As it turned out, working for the company owning the cheese processing plant was one of the best things Continue reading “passion rooted in experience”