Dear CEO, We Have a Problem…(continued)

By Raphael Louis Vitón | Sep 24, 2018

In cased you missed it, here are the first five questions.
Dear CEO,

6) We are not going to refer to this as “the soft stuff” anymore. Devaluing the human dimension compared to the technical dimension of business is not helping us adapt more quickly. We will learn to measure and understand the direct business benefits of our transformation efforts across all three dimensions of success: i) the task, ii) the team, iii) the self. We will overdeliver on all three dimensions.

Regardless of the outside help we get, we can’t “outsource” this work. We have to do this ourselves. We have to become transformation exemplars, and that will require us to integrate the human and technical dimensions of business. We will work on designing and capturing tangible ROI from the beginning. The experts I am bringing in will teach us how to do that in a practical way that matters to us. At the same time, we can also illustrate tangible value by comparing the culture/leadership investment to the cost of NOT shifting (e.g., employee turnover, inability to attract star employees, stalled customer focus improvements, stalled innovation, slower implementation times, lack of agility).

7) Expect a significant transition during year 2 and year 3. Companies like ours that are successful shifting culture do not usually say, “we got it” during year 1. This is not an HR project; this is a business prototype, which will give us a chance to “really learn by doing.”

The experts I’m bringing in will take us through a series of 90-day sprints that will help us “learn by doing.” These prototypes will help us learn what helps us deliver better results in the context of working on the business, not in theory. They have seen and lived through all kinds of scenarios facing other peer executives in situations like ours. They heard me admit and ask the same textbook questions while giving me the objective, outside, cold-water-wake-up-call answers that we need to hear…

  • We’re stuck. How do we break free from the inertia of learned helplessness and tyranny of low expectations to get to the next level? Clarify the culture standards (and learning gaps) that we have between our current level and our desired level, then clarify how committed we are to get to the next level (and why). What’s at stake for you? me? our team? the organization?
  • How do we avoid the early-on potential for unskilled false starts (e.g., too big or too fluffy) or snapping back to homeostasis/current level? We won’t get tricked into shortcuts and we won’t “bolt this on.” Connect the development work directly to high priority business imperatives — that’s the best reason to train. We won’t treat this like a communication project; it’s a business prototype.
  • How do we accelerate the process? We will stop delaying it, and we will go deeper faster. We will let the leaders and teams also “learn by doing” with high-impact, real-world, 90-day sprints where we can experiment to see what works here (what we’re ready for).
  • How do we extend and keep the flame going? Let’s stop asking that “cascading” question right now. We’re not sure that we’re willing to do what’s necessary to even “pack the snowball tight” with the senior executives and focused experiments. Let’s focus on that first. If that sticks, then we’ll start building peer learning communities as well as formal/informal communities of practice where we all will learn while doing — we train together while delivering business imperatives.


8) Expect to pay attention to things you haven’t paid attention to before.

  • We are going to be doing something that most leaders have not been invited to do before…to courageously observe our own leadership style/techniques, the impact it’s having on delaying the organizational performance/shifts, and then optimize them according to what we say matters most to us.
  • We are going to start with the initiation phase of a vertical learning adult development program, where we will become more objectively aware of our current level and next level gaps…and we will see more clearly than ever before.We will be even more committed than ever to the possibilities that come with our next level goals. We all deserve to get to the next level!
  • It will take deliberate, focused practice to shift these specific organizational capabilities from unconsciously incompetent to consciously competent, and to deliver consistently on the high-performance attributes we have chosen. Some individuals will go faster than others, and some microcultures will influence others faster. Meanwhile, our brain’s biases, our history and our system inertia are working against us more than working with us to support the change. However, once we build our transformation muscles, we will have more wind at our back…exponential business benefits and odds of success for 202X and beyond.

9) I need you to ask for more help.

Not because you are weak but because you are strong — because you have all the power. When it comes to preparing yourself to be an exemplar transformation mentor/leader, you need to ask for more help so everyone will see that being a learner, “asking for help,” and being transformed ourselves is something we value at the highest levels of the organization. Saying “I don’t know how to do this” and asking for help is not a sign of weakness around here anymore. From now on, we win by learning.

You (we) should be asking for more feedback and more guidance on how other companies make this shift — on how to best mentor the executive team through this beyond stepping up as a public player in workshops. The majority of adult development/learning doesn’t happen in the workshop; it will happen in the learning experiences we share with each other during the course of running the business. And it will come from the social influence that we contribute in every meeting, every agenda and every interaction that we have within the leadership team.

10) We are going to lead the way.


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