What are the four secrets to successful business transformation?
There are times when your company decides it’s time to re-launch, renew, or otherwise switch things up. This generally leads to a lot of high-energy meetings, which are usually followed with an inevitable petering out of interest from top to bottom. But what if there was a way to re-strategize your company, be excited about, and accomplish follow-through?
Patty Azzarello has experience working in high-tech and business, having held leadership roles in general management, marketing, software product development, and sales. She's the best selling author of the book Rise and her latest book is Move: How Decisive Leaders Execute Strategy Despite Obstacles, Setbacks, and Stalls. I recently interviewed Patty for the LEADx Podcast where we discussed her secrets to maintaining energy throughout transformations, and how she creates dynamic teams. (The interview below has been lightly edited for space and clarity.)
Kevin Kruse: Move, the title of your book, is actually an acronym you've developed for your system for business transformation. Summarize the acronym for us.
Patty Azzarello: I wrote this book because we've all been in those meetings where the executive management kicks off this wonderful new strategy and everybody in the room is just thinking, “Well, I don't need to pay attention to this because we never do those things. This is the strategy announcement of the day and so many strategic initiatives just stall.”
And so the Move model is how to deal with that. ‘M’ stands for the ‘middle.’ What every project program strategy shares is that there's all this interest and investment and excitement in the beginning, in defining what this wonderful new strategy is, and then there's a lot of excitement and clarity about defining what the goals are supposed to be at the end. But then, there's the middle where literally everything needs to happen and so often it's almost totally undefined what needs to happen in the middle. That's why everybody's skeptical and that's why so many strategies stall. ‘M’ is about defining a course through the middle that everybody can follow and see the progress.
‘O’ is for ‘organization.’ There is no effective antidote for the wrong team. So often I see leaders thinking that their job is to make do with the team they have instead of building the team they need. It is our job as leaders to make sure that we build a team that is fit for purpose. I talk about how to find and recruit, retain, and motivate the right people, and how to get rid of the wrong people because we have to build the right team.
‘V is for ‘valor’ because none of this is easy. Building the right team is not easy. Making resource decisions, trade offs, sticking with strategies through the long middle, and keeping everybody confident and engaged is hard work. So, as leaders we need valor.
And then ‘E ‘is for ‘everyone’ because another mistake I see executives make is thinking that they can implement a transformation from the top. While you can lead a transformation from the top, you can't do a transformation. Transformation requires that everybody is engaged and motivated and doing the new things that the business needs. You have to engage everyone because if they don't go, you don't go.
Kruse: Do you have any tips or words of wisdom on assembling the right team?
Azzarello: Yes. Two ideas. There's a ton of stuff in Move on this in the organization section. But it's really important for a leader to step back and create what I call the ideal blank sheet org chart. Don't start with your current team in mind. Start with your business purpose in mind and how your business needs to evolve into the future. And then draw an org chart that has empty boxes in it and define the roles. Define the roles that you need and define what the requirements and responsibilities the people in those roles need to deliver.
Once you have that ideal blank sheet org chart, that is your guide. That's the right team. Then you start making decisions about whether or not you have people that fit in those boxes. If you do this well, you typically end up, if you do an honest assessment, with some empty boxes and some extra people. And so then you need to seek to fill those empty boxes with the right people and seek solutions for what to do with the extra people.
I'm a big fan of interviewing since those empty boxes are really based on strengths and making sure that when you are interviewing, you are getting people to tell you stories about how they have done similar things to what you need done. And not just interviewing for general skills, but what are those stories? Tell me how you thought about this. How did you make decisions? How did you make choices? And what did you actually do? If they can share that they have done the thing that your future organization needs, that's a really good clue that's a great fit for you.
Kruse: You tell a story in your book about talking to executives and creating this blank sheet of what they had to do to achieve their goals.
Azzarello: Yeah. That's a really good point because it's so important to have the goals clear in your mind and work backwards from that. In fact, that is my advice for how you create a meaningful, doable course through the middle. Because you define the end point and then you ask a bunch of questions about what it’s really going to take in the real world to get this done three months from now, six months from now, nine months from now, and really plot that course in a very clear way. If you ask enough of the right questions, the ideal organization requirements do fall out of that.
Kruse: You say, “Individuals can be more productive working at home but teams can't.” Explain that for me.
Azzarello: Sure. There is so much chatter on each side of this. To me it seems really, really obvious where if an individual has individual work to do, they are going to be far more productive without distractions of an office place and without wasting time in a commute. However, if you need a team to come together to solve problems, that's never going to work better if people aren't together. And so, my philosophy here—and my practice here—is just be aware of those two ideas and plan accordingly.
It sounds like that's kind of what you're doing. You need team time so you schedule it on Mondays. And then you get all the benefits of the face-to-face time and the team time. And then you give people a chance to go off and be super productive as individuals. This gets back to that ideal org chart again. What do you need your team to accomplish? What are the team things that your team needs to work on together? And make sure you schedule adequate in-person team time for those things to happen. And then if you have work that individuals need to do, give them the flexibility to do it wherever they want.
Kruse: What advice would you have for, let's say a young woman in tech, or perhaps in any industry?
Azzarello: I got a big a-ha recently about why young women struggle in tech, don't choose tech, or drop out of tech. It's because they feel socially uncomfortable there. Either because they are actively being excluded or put down or made to feel different, or they're just not attracted to the behaviors and the culture that they find is a very male-oriented-tech environment. For me, I never had an expectation that the work environment should be socially comfortable or fun. And so, I was as uncomfortable as anyone, but what I did instead was I got my social comfort outside of work and when I was at work I just focused on excellence. I focused on the things that I could control. I didn't, if people tried to make me feel unwelcome, I just did not accept that. And so, I think part of it is just realizing that if you focus on the things that you can control and create excellence, you are going to get opportunities to move ahead.
The second thing that I think is so important that I would advise not just young people in tech, male or female, but anyone anywhere, but if you learn this when you're young you'll be better off, is to just make sure that you're not invisible. I think we all have this natural idea that good work stands on its own. It doesn't. If you think that's unfair, you're probably right. But it's just the way it is. It's not that people are being malicious in some way or trying to put you down or ignore you. It's just that everyone around you is too busy to come and learn about and understand and admire your good work. And so, you need to find ways to show your good work. And so, people are often afraid of coming across as bragging or coming across as political. That's not what I'm recommending.
In fact, there's a chapter in my book Rise that's called, ‘Be Visible But Not Annoying.’ Because being invisible does not work, but being annoying also does not work. And so the simple idea here is the way to be visible without being annoying is to just share things that are actually valuable. Share knowledge. Share what you learned while you were doing the work. Share the outcome of the work that you did to the people who would benefit from knowing that. If you do that, you are going to find that you will be one of the people who is being recognized and who is seeing opportunities for advancement instead of just working hard and wondering why everyone's getting promoted around you.
Kruse: I always like to challenge our listeners to get just a little bit better every single day. So, what can we do today to become more effective?
Azzarello: I have a million pieces of advice. That's what I do. I help leaders be more effective. But if you only take one thing away from all of my advice, what I often say is, schedule time to think. So many leaders are so overwhelmed and they're in this very highly reactive, very stressed mode, and they don't have time to think. You can never get better at anything, you can't improve your organization, you can't improve your business, you can't improve your decisions, your investments, your choices of people if you don't have time to think. If you just let the day go by and the week goes by as it naturally does, often there is no time in there to think. What I advise people to do is make sure that every single week, you have time on your calendar where you schedule time to think. And then you also have to hide because if you don't hide, all the activity will find you and your time to think will disappear. But you're not stealing time from the company by doing that. You are making an important investment.
Kevin Kruse is a New York Times bestselling author, host of the popular LEADx Leadership Podcast, and the CEO/Founder of LEADx.org, which provides free world-class leadership training, professional development and career advice for anyone, anywhere.