Archive for August 20th, 2009

Changing the Culture to Achieve a Competitive Advantage

Many companies claim they are changing their culture but few actually succeed. Altera Corporation is among the few who have implemented a strategic culture change resulting in increased business success. The process that is used to transform the culture, Collaborative Transformational Leadership® is what differentiates a company like Altera, whose employees are passionate about and committed to change, from companies where change is only given lip service. Change does not occur just because someone is sent to a course or given a new process to implement. Change occurs because the entire organization, beginning with the leaders, is guided through a process that helps people at all levels reach outside their comfort zone and become engaged in making the company better.

Altera’s Situation

Historically, Altera’s business success was built on a strategy and culture of operational excellence. When the economy, their customers and the competitive landscape changed, this strategy no longer delivered the needed business results and they fell to second place in their market. To win market share, they needed to evolve their sales organization into one that could develop a closer more intimate relationship with their customers. Managers and front line sales people needed to be empowered to make decisions that fostered solid relationships with customers.

“Customer intimacy” was Altera’s vision for success and effectively implementing the vision would be a strategic advantage. The challenge, however, was how to create the environment inside the company that would enable customer intimacy and a winning mindset.

Collaborative Transformational Leadership®

Real culture change begins with the transformation of those who are leading the change. Success at Altera was achieved through Collaborative Transformational Leadership, an iterative process whereby those who lead the change are further transformed by their followers. As one level in the organization experiences change and expands their capabilities, they challenge the next level down to do the same, which in turn, challenges the leaders once again. In this way, the bar is continuously raised for leaders and followers alike. Collaborative Transformational Leadership ensures that the company is responsive to and in front of the demands of a fast-paced, ever changing environment.

Gaining Trust

Dan Sheehy, vice president of Eastern Area Sales, reviews the history of the culture change.

“As a company that has always driven towards operational excellence, we had a command and control culture. We paid people to execute, not to think about the business or the customers. To shift to customer intimacy required a culture of empowerment. We needed to develop a sales force that actively listened to and understood their customers. This required adding business acumen and relationship based competencies to a technically based culture.

“We began by communicating a vision of where we wanted to go. We provided training in a new sales process, but nothing substantive changed and the resistance was strong. I didn’t understand why. As I saw it, we were offering employees a better climate where they would be more empowered and more successful. At this point, I felt we needed an outside perspective to help affect change, so I brought in Germane Consulting to help me understand why things weren’t working, and what I needed to do.

“With Germane Consulting’s help, I began to appreciate the magnitude of what we were asking of our employees. Anne Perschel, president of Germane Consulting, helped me see that to achieve the change, people had to try new things and stop doing business the old way. Sounds easy, but the old way is what they knew, what they were comfortable with, and what made them and the company successful in the past. We were also taking down silos between units and power was shifting. Before key leaders, managers and employees would do this, we had to gain trust on two levels. First, they had to trust our competence as leaders. They had to believe that our vision was sound and if they followed us, we could reach it. Second, they had to trust that we cared enough to help them on the journey and that the company and everyone who worked here would have an opportunity to be successful.”

Becoming Emotionally Competent Leaders

The leaders at Altera had to become emotionally competent. They had to inspire, not just command. They had to read people better and respond to what motivates them. They needed to influence, not just direct. They needed to coach, collaborate and build teams. The first step in one’s transformation as a leader is to become self-aware and be open to seeing oneself as others do.

Germane Consulting worked with the leaders to help them become more self aware and develop the attitude and skills to effect change. A model of leadership and the required competencies to achieve the vision was developed. These competencies included:

  • Being self-aware;
  • Soliciting feedback;
  • Inspiring others;
  • Conveying a vision through story telling;
  • Reading the emotional landscape;
  • Influencing others;
  • Leading through empowerment;
  • Eliciting candor to identify and resolve obstacles.

Once the model was in place, Germane Consulting identified and administered a 360 degree assessment for each leader and then provided the appropriate coaching to develop the needed competencies. A 360 degree assessment enables leaders to develop self-awareness in order to be better able to see and address obstacles to success, understanding the impact they have on those around them and why. Germane Consulting worked with key leaders and managers in individual and small group settings. John Singleton, a sales manager remarked, “This has become a tight knit organization. There is no dodging the issues. It helps to have a resource like Germane Consulting to help you get things out in the open, to stop the dodging and to demystify what it takes to work on real issues.”

Another Sales Manager was not seeing the needed performance from his sales force. Past success led him to believe that people would follow him if convinced that his ideas would yield the desired business results. His people complained that he was driving his agenda so hard that he did not attend to their issues. Through a customized 360 process Germane Consulting helped him hear in-depth feedback about his impact. His guiding beliefs about people changed as he realized that people were only doing what was needed to comply with his demands. This was having a direct negative impact on results. Consultations focused on coaching and collaboration, while listening empathically to others. He began to hear and address people’s concerns. They responded in kind. He and his direct reports formed a leadership council. They shared ideas for implementing change and achieving results.  Within six months the district began to exceed expectations and have continued to do so over several quarters.  The tempo is upbeat. They have a winning mindset and everyone contributes. At their quarterly meetings it is difficult to tell who the formal” leaders are. It is a true team.

The Collaborative Transformation

In conjunction with the coaching, leaders and employees continued to receive intensive training in a new sales process. They learned how to work in teams, to listen to each other and to the customer, and to think like business people. They became empowered. But this change was hard work and management experienced substantial resistance. Employees complained that “it was easier when you just told us what to do.” But leaders held true to the vision and people began to achieve small successes.

With guidance from Germane Consulting, they implemented plans to support the change. They held celebrations to mark the victories of change from the old culture to the new and learning conferences where employee teams told successes stories and how they achieved them. People began to inspire and learn from each other.

Sales people and managers were also trained in the use of tools such as the Myers Briggs Type Inventory to help them understand their own and others’ personality types. Tools such as these, in conjunction with the coaching, help people increase their abilities to work with peers, direct reports, managers, and customers.

According to Dan, the tools and sales processes were necessary but not sufficient to change the culture. “Any company can bring in a sales process or train people to use tools like Myers Briggs to understand more about people. The key to making these changes work and have a lasting and substantive impact lies with the leadership, and that started with me. We had to show that we could be trusted, that we were vulnerable to the changes as well. We had to listen to what employees were saying. Germane Consulting was critical to helping us see the need to do this and to do it well. Without this, we would have ‘trained people’ but we would not have changed the culture.”

Altera’s empowered culture was now demanding more from their leaders: more collaboration, more teamwork, more room to make strategic decisions for their markets and territories. Leaders responded by listening to the demands. They also engaged Germane Consulting to help design a newly customized leadership assessment. Anne went to our constituents. Employees and peers helped identify the issues the leaders needed to understand in greater depth. They recommended people to be interviewed. They reviewed the feedback with their leaders and provided detailed stories to help managers and leaders learn. The transformation process was now mutual, internal and institutionalized.


One success story is illustrated by a manager who prior to coaching, micro managed and stood in people’s way. He never heard the real truth about what was going on because people knew they would be micromanaged on the solutions. Now he is seen as one of the highest potential managers in the company. His people are empowered and creative. They are identifying opportunities and responding to them without being asked. He is engaged in very strategic thinking, predicting market trends and aligning sales strategies and organizations to take advantage of emerging factors. When asked how he developed his strategic thinking capabilities, he stated that prior to coaching, obstacles prevented him from knowing he had the capability to think about the big picture and see emerging patterns. Coaching helped him remove barriers from his own thought process and learn how to see emerging patterns of the future. His thinking is much clearer and more strategic. He has found new markets for Altera products and has redesigned his sales organization to align better with these emerging markets.

“Collaborative transformational leadership is now underway and continues to strengthen our organization,” says Dan. “We asked for change and we changed ourselves first. The employees then changed and demanded even more sophisticated and enlightened leadership. Best of all, our business results prove this is the way to win. We have gained significant market share and our pipeline of new business is strong; the industry’s most talented people are knocking on our doors looking for opportunities to work at Altera. Our employees are excited and they care about what they have created here. The ideas and the energy keep flowing.”


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