Leading Transformation From the Executive Suite

What Does It Take For You As An Executive to Drive Change? Part 1 of 3

Transformation is a difficult thing. It involves change, something that quite frankly, runs against our human nature. But change is necessary, as Tom Peters stated, “Winners must learn to relish change with the same enthusiasm and energy that we have resisted it in the past.” It’s something I’ve studied during the course of my academic work, I’ve experienced in companies I’ve worked for, and I’ve been blessed to personally follow some great executives as they led their organizations in transformation. And I’ve lead my own organization in a very significant transformation. My hope for this series of articles on transformation from a leader’s perspective is to share some experience, insight, and hopefully provide some helpful insight to you in your efforts to lead your organizations transformation efforts.

Transformation Begins With a Leaders Aspiration Early in my career, I had the pleasure to at Texas Instruments when Jerry Junkins was CEO and Chairman. He started as a factory worker and rose to become CEO and Chairman at Texas Instruments. Mr. Junkins is credited with turning the company from a struggling tech conglomerate making everything from toaster ovens to memory chips into a focused global competitor in application specific semiconductors. In the process he transformed a cautious, engineering driven culture into an aggressive, customer driven culture focused on global growth.  In the midst of this transformation, he took the time to personally be interviewed by a young TI Employee for an MBA project (yes, that was me). During the interview, I asked Jerry what he planned to do with the division I worked in (Peripheral Products Group), and he said, “Ed, this isn’t a core part of our business and part of our transformation is that we have to make tough choices, and one of those choices will probably be to sell PPG.” I was really impressed, and frankly encouraged by this level of frankness and honesty in the CEO. Mr. Junkins delivered this in a very frank, non-intimidating, soft spoken way that was consistent with his personal leadership style. And while it certainly was unnerving to hear as a young manager and new father – it also made me want to do even more to make the division successful and maybe even keep a spot in the company (unfortunately, we were eventually sold to Mannesman Tally). The point of sharing this experience is that Jerry had aspirations to change TI and he wasn’t afraid of sharing this aspiration, even if it wasn’t beneficial to the person he was sharing it with.

Anne Mulcahy is another example of an incredible leader who led transformational l change. When Ann took the reins, the company was struggling in many respects including an accounting scandal in South America. Ann showed real vision and leadership in turning around a company that was incredibly product focused and had a bit of a stodgy culture into a services focused company with a very strong, nimble, innovation driven culture. One example of her approach took place at a time when the company was getting beat up by the media (and at the time, the Wall Street Journal in particular). She had her team pull together a ‘fake’ Wall Street Journal article set five years in the future describing the company’s remarkable turn-around. She then distributed this around the company where, I am told, it had an amazing effect on morale. She was a very forceful spokesperson in defense of Xerox both internally and externally, and had a very different style than Jerry Junkins.  Which is a key learning in itself– there isn’t one style of leadership for turnarounds.  It’s more about using your own style in an effective way to lead change.

Most importantly, a common theme in all transformation situations is the aspiration to change the organization. Both Anne and Jerry had a vision for their organizations that was very different from the organizations they took over. They realized that the organization needed to change to be competitive and thrive, they had a vision for what the organization could be, and they were willing to actively drive the organization to become what they envisioned it could be. This aspirational component is the first step in our “Transformation Model” which is shown below.

The Photizo Group Transformation Model












As you think about the aspirations for your organization, here are three key questions to ask yourself:

  • Is your organization ready for change? Do they understand the dynamics and threats that require the organization to change? Have they personalized it in terms of what the failure to change means to them? How can you communicate this in a very succinct way to your ‘troops’?
  • What is your vision for what the company looks like five years from now? Spend some time writing down, in a narrative format what the organization would be like to work in, to lead? What about for your customers. How would their experience be different five years from now?
  • Do your key stake holders understand and support the need to change? Are they committed to it and willing to stand behind you as you lead the change? This is critically important area and many executives take this support for granted. It’s worth the time to have conversations with your board members, key customers, executive sponsors, peers, and other individuals who are a key decision makers and stake holders in your organization to make sure they “have your back” as you lead this change.

The next article in this series will dive into the commitment aspect of leading transformational change. A tough, but critical topic in the transformation narrative. If you would like to discuss this article further, please feel free to contact Ed Crowley at eacrowley@photizogroup.com. I personally wish you the best as you lead your organization in this exciting and challenge journey of transformation!

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