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The Rapid, High-engagement, All-employee Cascade (from the Accelerated Corporate Transformation Method)

Editor’s Note: This article provides a thorough introduction and overview to a 14-minute lecture by Robert H. Miles, former Harvard Business School professor and the world’s foremost expert on Corporate Transformation.  Watch the full lecture on YouTube here.  Dr. Miles also has released a comprehensive Flevy Executive Learning program on his Accelerated Corporate Transformation (ACT) method, a proven methodology has been successfully implemented in some of the most iconic Corporate Transformations, including Apple, General Electric, IBM, Symantec, National Semiconductor, Office Depot, PwC, and many others.

* * * *

How can you engage and energize thousands of employees within a matter of weeks?

Leaders don’t generally raise that question because they are not aware that such a feat can be accomplished in a rapid, reliable manner.

But it’s one of the major questions executive leaders – and especially transformation leaders — should be asking when challenged with taking charge and launching the next major phase in an organization. Instead, many transformations stall at this point, where the planning work of the senior executives has drawn to a close, but before the subordinate managers and employees have begun aligning with and executing the transformation-defining initiatives. The common result in many aborted transformation launches is the great ideas and strategies constructed at the top never make it far enough down in the company to have a palpable impact on employees and customers, which is where it matters most.

Past efforts, employees recall, had taken months if not years to roll out from top to bottom in their very large, dispersed enterprise. Not surprising, a study of American workers revealed that only one in ten employees had a clear line of sight between their job tasks and their company’s goals. Moreover, only half of the surveyed employees felt there was follow through with discipline from above on the key transformation initiatives. No wonder that McKinsey, a global management consulting firm, recently reported that over 70 percent of attempted corporate transformations FAIL!

The problem with these mostly well-intentioned, but plodding and uncoordinated approaches is that by the time the transformation game plan reaches the lowest level, the top has already moved to new challenges and launched new strategies, putting the rest of the system out of alignment. It is also commonly observed that a message delivered by anyone other than the direct manager usually is ignored or paid lip service at best.

The key to enabling employee engagement and rapid performance success is that such efforts must be orchestrated in concert within an overall corporate transformation game plan; one that is leader-led at all levels, and whose employees are aligned and engaged by their immediate manager.

In a moment you will be taken to the front line of a global retailer’s transformation launch to witness what it takes to rapidly achieve a high degree of engagement during a company’s Engage Phase; one of three Phases (Launch, Engage and Execute) in the Accelerated Corporate Transformation methodology or ACT Method, which the incoming CEO selected to launch and guide the transformation of his global company.

Note as you work your way through the video of the day-long cascade meeting for upper middle managers how the event used the design elements of simplicity of content x compression of process to create high engagement and enable rapid transformation speed. But before we take the plunge, let’s anchor our video case.

Of primary focus in the video — which will be narrated by Robert H. Miles, creator of the ACT Method — is the Engage Phase, where the top management team cascade their transformation game plan to all managers and employees.

But first, the situation leading up to the transformation launch, had become grim. Desperate to break companywide gridlock caused by the proliferation of initiatives from the divisional heads, the sitting CEO launched a last stand by challenging everyone in the company to come up with initiatives that made sense to them to pursue in their own workplaces. Informal teams popped up everywhere!  The company quickly became gridlocked. It began hemorrhaging its highly talented, hard to replace employees across all organizational subunits and levels. The ensuing melee had countless teams scrambling to find sponsors to approve their plans before they could execute. The Board finally initiated a search for a successor.

A new CEO was quickly put in place. Within a few months of structured deliberation, a companywide transformation challenge “to fundamentally restore the shareholder value of this global retailer” emerged from the top three levels of executives. As one of them declared, “our purpose became to implement an urgent shift from putting out 1,000 fires to a focused turnaround.”

The CEO chose Dr. Robert H. Miles and his Accelerated Corporate Transformation (ACT) methodology for the transformation job. Bob is a former Harvard Business School professor and now President of Corporate Transformation Resources. The ACT Method intensively involved the top three levels of management before being rapidly cascaded to align and engage all parts and levels of the enterprise with the new corporate transformation game plan.

Restoring Shareholder Value at a Global Retailer:

  • Twelve months after it failed to merge with a major competitor, the new, internally promoted CEO faced a huge challenge: to rapidly revitalize the company’s sagging retail operations. By relying on the ACT Method — including its unique approach to cascading — the company’s leaders resolved to once again make the company the industry’s most compelling place to invest, shop, and work. Indeed, these became the major Transformation Initiatives upon which the company’s revitalization was launched. The game plan also called for an alignment of the company’s values and employee behaviors with the new corporate transformation constructs.
  • They succeeded. In one year, the company’s share price jumped by 156%, customer complaints fell by 50%, and employee retention rates rose by 72%. The company also moved up from the bottom 10% of Standard & Poor’s 500 to Number Two in terms of percentage increase in shareholder value. Truly transformational outcomes.
  • “The biggest surprise,” the new CEO reflected, “was how quickly people in our company said, ‘Count me in. Let’s go.’ I knew it would happen; I just didn’t think we’d get there this fast.”

How come so fast? So deliberate?

Let’s turn to the role played by the ACT Method; in particular, to the Engage Phase in its approach to rapid, organization-wide transformation.

The cascading methodology is known as the Rapid, High-engagement, All-employee Cascade [T]. Lots of words, but you’ll understand why when you witness the way in which the company went about rolling out its transformation game plan. Indeed, while we’re at it, we should add a fourth differentiating feature: Leader-led at all levels.

Watch the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fdz8JXpgh9M

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