During times of uncertainty most businesses tend to focus on getting the company back on track, and they forget the most important part of the business: their employees and their foundation. Many years ago, after speaking at a CEO conference in Chicago, the CEO of a large organization asked how he could save the top 25% of his clients while merging two companies. I asked: “What are you doing for your employees?” Instead of answering the question, the CEO repeated the question: “I really want to save my TOP 25% most profitable clients.” I then asked how long his employees had been working for his company. When he mentioned the tenure, I asked the same question, this time in a different format: “What are you doing for the people who have been taking care of your top 25% most profitable clients? Those who get invited to your client’s homes for weddings, birthdays, and who get all the presents during the Holidays? His jaw dropped as he said: “Oh boy! I’ve got this all wrong!” Whether you have just purchased a new business, expanded your existing business, taken on a new assignment to lead an organization, or just want to create a fresh start with an organization you are currently leading, the following steps will allow you to begin a paradigm shift in your organization, that will take it, and you, to new heights:

GET CLEAR ON COMMON VALUES

The first step in creating the foundation for change is establishing common values across the organization. Sometimes we take for granted that our team knows what we as an organization value most. It is good to check directly with the team to make sure what we have communicated, is understood at every level of the organization. What is valued most ‒ by the leaders as well as the employees? One way to know for sure, is to simply ask. Go out and ask your people what they believe is most important to their management. If what they say is not aligned with what you know, there is a disconnect and you must begin the process of alignment right away. This can be done through every communication channel: voicemail, conference calls, memorandums, presentations, tag lines on emails, and agendas for every meeting. Values are like the credo that your company lives by. They must be posted and visible around the company, and people should internalize them. When tough decisions need to be made, they will be measured against those values.

ESTABLISH TRUST

Theodore Roosevelt once said: “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” Let’s face it, talk is cheap! Leaders show how much they care through their actions, not their words. When I first came to California Bank & Trust I had individual conversations with over 550 people; I asked several questions, including: What’s working? What’s not working? Who wins in the organization? If you had a magic wand, what would you change? And what do you do on weekends? What university are your children attending and what’s their major? What do they like most about their school? When will they be graduating? What’s most important to them? Once people experience genuine regard for themselves by someone else, they automatically reciprocate, and a natural bond of trust begins to take place. This will make you a better leader, as you will not only get to know your people, you will know what truly matters to them.

FACE THE BRUTAL FACTS

In his book “Good-to-Great,” Jim Collins reinforces the need to create an environment where the truth is heard, and confronting the brutal facts are key to the companies he wrote about, who created sustainable results. By being open and honest with the team and discussing the current condition of the organization, then and only then will the organization be ready to create a common vision. It’s much like mapping out a route from Los Angeles to San Francisco. We must know where we are, to map out where we are going.

DEVELOP A CLEAR VISION AND CLEAR GOALS

Where do you see your team in five years? If your people don’t know your vision for the business, they can lack a sense of purpose. In his book “Why Leaders Fail,” Peter Stark states: “A vision guides communication, decisions, and feed-back between managers and employees.” The best teams collaborating to develop a clear vision. Why collaborate with the team instead of creating a vision and sharing that vision with the team? When the group has input on the vision, there is a sense of accountability that sets in naturally within the team. They came up with it, so they can only look to each other (not the senor leader) to ensure that vision is realized.

SHARE THE VISION

Once this vision is clear, it must be shared with every employee in the organization. Everyone must be able to identify with the vision. “Great leaders transform vision into smart goals and celebrate achievements.” ~ Peter Stark When I first came to California Bank & Trust, our team came up with: “We Build Trust & Value in Relationships for Generations.” It took us a while to come up with a statement that we could all stand behind, that motivated us to serve our clients and do our job with excellence. We knew we had the right statement when it generated much excitement and enthusiasm. Everyone aligned with a common vision and today, 6.5 years later, the vision still stands as a guiding light for our day-to-day operation.

CREATE A GUIDING COALITION

Much like an “internal Board of Directors,” this guiding coalition must be made up of key stakeholders from every major department in the company. Choose a team of people who have shown commitment to working together. If your organization has undergone mergers or major changes in the past, the team will encounter efforts undermining their purpose, especially if the politics in the organization are strong. They must meet regularly and openly to discuss advancement in the transformation of the organization, identify and clear any roadblocks along the way.

EMPOWER ACTION

Action is empowered by generating short term wins To create sustainable action, it is imperative that the leader put together processes for change, and reinforce and/or celebrate the change along the way. During my last turnaround, once I had visited with over 550 employees, I had a pretty good idea of what was standing in the way of performance. I brought my senior management team and informed them of my observations. We immediately made a list of every obstacle we had control over, that we could tackle as a team. We came up with over 35 projects that could be tacked right away. We created working groups for each project, and in the first six months we resolved 35 major issues in the organization. We created a small budget for recognition, accountability and marketing; they felt empowered to begin the process. In addition, they needed a venue to communicate the small wins; we created weekly calls and emails as soon as someone noticed something being celebrated. “Early small wins fuel big wins later.” That was our motto.

DON’T LET UP

Once the organization begins to feel what it is like to win, the leader must sustain the acceleration of change by creating enthusiasm around the early wins. Local celebrations, emails, winners mentioned at departmental meetings, newsletters, and dedicated communication to weekly movements in the right direction. In our organization, early adaptors (those who enthusiastically moved in the right direction and adopted the change with a good attitude), were highlighted in emails and newsletters as well as weekly calls. This created enthusiasm that fueled future, bigger positive change.

ANCHOR THE CHANGE

This is one of the most critical parts of this change model, that will create sustainable performance. Many leaders begin to see positive results and stop focusing on the issues at hand. If the change is not “anchored,” the organization will go right back to their old ways, much like a rubber band when it’s stretched; it will go very far, and then once you let go, it goes right back to its original size. The same is for organizations and culture. Here are some ways the change can be anchored: Recognition (studies show that public recognition is the best source of performance); most people love hearing their name at a conference, and seeing it in a newsletter or email; recognition amongst peers goes a long way to sustainability. Compensation – this is a positive form of recognition but you must be careful that the employees don’t get so used to it that they won’t act unless they are compensated.

By following these simple steps, any leader can refresh their existing organization, or take a new one to new heights. This has certainly worked for us at CB&T.

Dr. Betty Uribe is Executive Vice President of Business & Personal Banking for California Bank & Trust.

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