I’ve been involved in three business transformations where we made some drastic changes to both products and technology:  a startup, government and a mid-sized company.  And all three were nearly identical as it pertained to getting employees to jump on the bus.  You read that right.  Startups, government and mature companies are nearly identical when it comes to bringing along the team during a disruptive time.  There are two common factors:

  • You need people WILLING to change.
  • You need to be ABLE to get something done.

You must have both or you will not succeed.

Able people have the ability to accomplish your mission.  It’s fairly straightforward to assess the skills required and whether the people on your team have them.  There are a multitude of ways to figure it out quickly.  If they don’t have the ability, you will need to either upgrade their skills  (training, etc.) or upgrade the environment (e.g. bring in external consultants, change the talent landscape, etc.)

I once had to reduce a consulting team from 19 to 0 because the ability of the team was lacking.  To get them up to speed would have taken longer than replacing them.  And the company was failing quickly due to their ineptness.  I was able to assess this within two weeks by watching their process and their churn both by observation and through the use of data.  The replacement team literally saved the company.

The team’s ability to achieve your goals is essential!

But, you must also have the will.

Willing people believe in the cause.  This one is much more subtle.  It can be difficult to ferret out who is ready to march down the path and who is not.  It normally takes time, but that may be a luxury you can’t afford.  In fact, most managers will slow down the process to help their people “catch up” with change.  That’s the tail wagging the dog.  Sometimes, you must act quickly if something serious, such as a bankruptcy, is on the line.  To create a willing team, you must:

  • Establish trust through transparency.   Trust normally takes time, but you may not have that precious commodity.  So, establish a ‘quick’ trust by being completely authentic and transparent.  (You should do this anyway!)  I once had to ask a very new (less than six months old) team to perform a technical miracle.  The team was too small, the timelines too tight and the quality had to be 100%.  A team three times the size and with years of tenure would have struggled.  I told them:

Look, you didn’t sign up for this project.  And, it’s going to be a very tough road.  So, if you want to leave, I will use my network to help you find a job.  You can stay until you find one.  But, if you are in, then you are in all the way.  And we will win.  We will succeed. 

Every one of them stayed.  And we won.

  • Create the cause.  People want to believe in what they are doing.  We all spend so much time at work that without a cause, we wither.  I’m not implying making up a cause.  There IS a cause if it’s worth it.  For instance:
    • We will make a difference to our customers.
    • We will disrupt an industry.
    • This is something that has never been done.
    • Your resume will improve with this new technology.
    • And so on and so forth.
  • Communicate the wins.   Not everyone will come along.  Find the wins and the right people who are all in.  And then shout it out.  Over and over and over again.

Is your team willing and able?


Tweets by @SherriHammons




a mostly well-informed, technically savvy, sometimes extroverted introvert

One Comment on “Your Team Must Be Willing AND Able

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