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The Need for Speed and Other Tips on Building Teams for Transformation

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There’s no doubt about it — business transformations are tough, but they’re often the only way to future-proof an organization or extract value from one that’s floundering. I’ve learned about transformations first-hand by leading Ticketmaster’s transition from an offline to online company in the mid-2000s, and over the past 18 months as I’ve led Leaf Group from a long tail publishing business into a diversified internet company. While the two organizations and their transformative scenarios are different in many ways, they’re alike in the fact that they both attribute successes in large part to their teams — teams comprised of people who are talented, passionate and committed to a shared vision. I’ve come to recognize that those types of people are the lifeblood of a company going through major change. Here’s my advice on how to build the type of team that can help you transform a company.

“Business transformation is about making fundamental changes in how business is conducted in order to help cope with a shift in market environment.” – Wikipedia

Don’t underestimate the power of culture

Employees at organizations that are in transformation are often nervous and pessimistic, and that attitude can be remarkably powerful and surprisingly persistent. Corporate transformation begins with changing the culture, and that means hiring new people and letting others go.
When deciding who to retain and hire, you need to be convinced that the individuals you select are fully on board with your vision for the company’s future – they are your ambassadors. Culture can’t be programmed from the corner office but can be instilled through leaders that reflect the values, actions, and behaviors that are central to your business principles. Seek out employees that can be positive change agents and celebrate them – especially those that may have been marginalized in a prior version of the company. Your actions will send a clear signal about the type of behaviors you reward.

Maybe can be toxic

Beware of ambivalence in team members. Far too often, employees standing at the crossroads of change will stay at an organization because they believe in the paycheck but not the strategy. It may seem like a good idea to give someone a chance to cross the chasm, but transformations don’t allow for wait-and-see scenarios. If you don’t believe someone is fully committed, they probably aren’t, and your time is better spent enlisting a believer than converting a non-believer. After all, you can’t transform a culture with employees that are biased toward inaction and resistant to change.

Recruit rebels to help you lead

The leaders that you need by your side for a transformation are rebels with a cause – the contrarians that can see what others don’t and are willing to fight for what’s possible. When a company is in trouble, it won’t attract a long line of potential new employees or investors, and those that do choose to join its ranks will need plenty of conviction and grit to defend their decision and recruit others. Defending their choice to join your company will be just one of the many instances requiring real grit from your team. Transformation is hard work that’s full of uncertainty and upheaval and requires leaders and employees that are comfortable with ambiguity and risk. Ideally, hire some people that have been through transformations before – they’re proof that it can be done and will help instill confidence in those who haven’t been through the process.

Believe in the need for speed

I’ve always believed that when something is inevitable it’s best to address it immediately, and that’s especially true in transformations. Unfortunately, many leaders underestimate the need for speed when implementing change. Frequently, they err on the side of caution, concerned that rapid and far-reaching moves will sorely test the team’s strength and the business’ fundamentals. In my experience, however, when your team is comprised of resilient, committed people they’re not only glad you’ve made a change, they wish you had made it sooner. Most teams not only tolerate change better than leaders think they will, more often than not they adapt quickly and benefit greatly. Making decisions quickly and decisively paves the way for stability and sets the stage to accelerate growth and innovation.

Without question, a strong team is necessary to drive corporate transformation. A group of passionate partners that are committed to change, share your vision and are willing to stick their necks out for what they believe in is essential – without their support you’re on your own.

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This is a guest post by Sean Moriarty, CEO of Leaf Group.


Also published on Medium.

© Mattermark 2017. Sources: Mattermark Research, Crunchbase, AngelList.
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