(615) 656-0465 mark@markkennyspeaks.com
Most organizations are experiencing change. This is nothing new. Most organizations must change – either to adapt to changing conditions, meet a challenge, or because the status quo is not working. This also is nothing new. The problem many leaders struggle with is how to gain commitment to that change? If a leader is continually trying to gain compliance to change, with their leadership team and the rest of the organization, it sure feels like rolling a big boulder up the hill. It’s hard, it’s tiring, and often times that boulder rolls back over the top of you. How can you create a situation where it feels like you are rolling that boulder down the hill?

Recently, I interviewed Gary Garfield, the former CEO of Bridgestone Americas, for my podcast series, Becoming Unassailable. Gary was able to create commitment to changes that Bridgestone Americas had to make in order to turn its business around. I am going to draw out three keys from my interview with Gary. (listen to the episode for the full story)

Key #1: “We Have a Problem”

One of Gary’s first messages was “we have a problem.” In their case, underpriced tires from the Asian market were threatening Bridgestone’s business at the same time that Bridgestone was no longer able to command the premier pricing position in the market. That was a problem.

None of these keys are complicated. None of these keys take a Ph.D. to figure out. These are simple and yet they need to be said. Creating commitment is not easy, but it’s simple. This first key is a great example of that. We must be honest about the problem. We must be honest that we have a problem; we must be honest about the specific nature of the problem; everyone must recognize the same problem.

Gary took time to articulate the problem with his leadership team and then with the top 150 leaders of the organization. Everyone knew that they had a problem and the nature of the problem. No one could bury their heads in the sand.

Key #2: Create a Cultural Lever

In my experience with organizations, I have seen leaders use many methods to invoke change. Here is what I have learned: 

  • Loudly proclaiming that we need to change the culture doesn’t change the culture.
  • Sending an email about our desperate need to change the business doesn’t change the business.
  • Large top-down re-organizations rarely create the change intended, or at least they take a long time to bear fruit. (more often than not these create fear and discomfort instead of focusing everyone on implementing change)
  • Implementing a large, formal “change initiative” usually doesn’t invoke the change needed. (yes, my change management friends are very good at what they do and it certain situations this is what is needed but hear me out).

Do you know what invokes change? A cultural change lever. A key component of my own work is to rally a team or organization around a single goal. It’s an amazing tool. Patrick Lencioni calls this a thematic goal or rallying cry. Jim Collins refers to it as a BHAG (big, hairy, audacious, goal). Gary Garfield calls it a cultural change lever. I love that terminology.

In Gary’s case, he and his top leaders agreed that Bridgestone had to become the most innovative company in their industry. That was a lever that he used to rally everyone around change. Everyone did NOT become focused on how to re-organize their division or how to improve a process or how to cut costs or even how to change the culture. They were focused on something bigger, something that required all of them to work together in order to achieve it: become the most innovative company in their industry.

Key #3: Equip

Bridgestone needed to become the most innovative company in their industry. Gary didn’t stop there. He equipped his top leaders with the knowledge and tools on how to achieve it. It wasn’t even Gary that did the equipping. Gary brought in a top expert on innovation to spend six hours talking about how innovation actually happens. 

When he was done, everyone had the knowledge and tools for Bridgestone Americas to become the most innovative company in their industry. 

Key #4: We Don’t Have the Culture

Gary asked his top leaders point-blank “do you think we have the culture to become the most innovative company in our industry?” The answer was no.

This was a simple but necessary act.

Key #5: Co-Create a Solution

If you want to create cultural and business change, you have to co-create that change with your leaders. You can’t dictate that change. At least, not if you want buy-in and commitment.

Gary asked his top leaders to spend several hours creating the blueprint for Bridgestone to create a culture that would make Bridgestone the most innovative industry in their industry. The result was four pillars that became the basis for the effort. The four pillars became the focus of every employee at Bridgestone.

[read about the four pillars and more in Gary’s book]

Key #6: Hold the Standard

None of the five keys above will make any difference if you, as the leader, don’t hold people accountable to the standard that was just co-created. If someone says they are committed but acts in a way that they are not committed, you must address that. As Drew Maddux has said, you get the culture you create and allow. If you allow it, that’s your culture. You must insist that everyone behaves in a way that demonstrates commitment. Including yourself. Gary told his top leaders that he would hold them accountable and that they needed to hold him accountable to the four pillars.

Guess what? They were watching to see if he meant what he said. Gary had to take action to prove that he meant it – that it wasn’t just words.

Six simple keys. Not easy, but simple. Now go create real commitment for change in your organization. 


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