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A 12-Step Recovery Program to Break from the Pack—Step 6: Rev Up Your Base

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Here are three courses of action to guarantee that your people—maniacs and otherwise—will get on board with your breakthrough goals. But be forewarned: You have to embrace all three paths; you can't pick and choose.

This article is excerpted from Break From the Pack: How to Compete in a Copycat Economy and is the sixth in a twelve-part series.

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For any break-from-the-pack initiative to succeed, everyone in an organization must be involved, enthusiastic, and committed. Recruiting and unleashing talented maniacs will help a lot, but most leaders inherit an installed base of employees, which they must also rev up. Here are three courses of action to guarantee that your people—maniacs and otherwise—will get on board with your breakthrough goals. But be forewarned: You have to embrace all three paths; you can't pick and choose.

Open the Windows

Too often, only a select few leaders in a group or organization have the opportunity to examine the reality outside their jobs. They are aware of the detailed metrics of the entire organization's performance and the shifting sands of market realities: the new competitors, technologies, customer expectations, demographics, and the outside analysts' and investors' appraisals of their company.

The select few who can look out the windows see the reasons for change. But for everyone else, whose windows are closed and the blinds drawn, it's business as usual. Because they're not exposed to the same data that generates anxiety or enthusiasm among leaders, they don't see any particular need to join in when their leaders call for a new way of doing things. Why fix it if it ain't broke?

To get people on board, help them open their windows and look at the world outside their jobs. Expose them to the same eye-opening information you have, and discuss it candidly. Share your interpretations and reactions to the data. If they don't have the skills to analyze and interpret the data, then provide them with coaching and education. You don't need to have a Ph.D. to appraise a balance sheet, a competitive analysis, or a market research study. People get on board when they see for themselves the reasons that are inspiring you to change.

Open the Doors

To rouse others to feel confident in forging forward, open as many doors as you can so that you can openly and effectively interact with everyone on your team. Keep your planning and decision-making processes as transparent and inclusive as possible—even when the subject matter is unpleasant. As a leader, you must take the lead not only in setting "The Way," but also in including others in business analyses, strategic conversations, and operational problem solving thereafter.

Closed doors create barriers and friction that are completely counterproductive. Leaders who work behind closed doors—literally or figuratively—pretty much ensure that they'll have problems in getting others on board on behalf of change. When people wonder what's being discussed and decided behind closed doors, you can bet there's a hefty dose of anxiety, uncertainty, insecurity, powerlessness, ignorance, and skepticism in the air. That's hardly an encouragement for the people you need to rally to your cause. Therefore, make it a point to challenge any vestiges of closed-door cultures such as hierarchical power trips, turfism, information hoarding, and the like. Nothing gets people on board faster than a belief that "we're all in this together."

Transparent cultures and open dialogues will also help you determine why some people resist your calls for change, or why they don't have the fire in the belly to go forth and make great things happen. Perhaps your plan and its rationale are unclear. Perhaps they are so bland and mundane as to not be worth getting excited over. Perhaps people feel that there's no payoff for them Perhaps they believe a plan is simply being imposed on them. Perhaps they're scared or bewildered. Perhaps you have the wrong people on your staff. Doggedly pursue the truth on this issue, even if you don't like what you find. It will be a lot easier to unearth that truth when people can interact with you authentically.

Start Driving

In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins says the strength of an organization's new strategic and cultural direction is highly dependent on how many people are "on the bus." I want to take this metaphor a little further. Once leaders have clearly articulated The Way and have opened windows and doors, it's time to challenge people to get on or off the bus because it's time to put the operation in gear and step on the gas.

At State Farm Insurance, senior vice president Harold Gray thought a bus was too clunky and slow an image for the turnaround plans he had for his Pacific Northwest territory. His metaphor for enacting his strategy was a faster, sleeker bullet train, a more appropriate vehicle for a one-year journey in 2005 in which he expected his region to reach some very ambitious goals. Gray's message to the troops in the first few months of 2005 was frequent and unequivocal. The bullet train has left the station, he said, and for anyone still debating whether to board, "Remember that the remaining stops will be fewer and farther between."

Getting people on the bullet train is the first step. When the journey begins, the leader must ensure that the people on the train are more satisfied than those who have chosen to stay behind. Those on board must get the most appealing career-development opportunities, job and project assignments, promotional opportunities, and pay increases. If the leader doesn't differentiate properly between those who have chosen to board and those who haven't, he or she will wind up ensuring that the ones on the train (often the best and the brightest) become the most dissatisfied and cynical—and they will be the ones most likely to disembark and leave the organization entirely.

By unapologetically rewarding the critical mass of people on the bullet train more than those who aren't on the train, leaders bolster team spirit and team focus. They also send an unmistakable message to those who chose to stay behind: One, this train is bound for glory, and two, you can still board if you want. But as the train continues to gain velocity, it will be harder to slow down to let you on, and if you can't be with us as we hurtle forward, then we might all want to consider whether you'll be happier in another organization.

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