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Guest Post: Motivating meaningful change in a team

December 29, 2014 -  By

Kennedy-postI’m writing this article from 37,000 feet up in the air on my way home from Dallas. As we boarded our Southwest Airlines flight, our flight attendant, Todd, asked for a show of hands: “How many of you know that Southwest Airlines allows bags to fly for free?”

Most, if not all, raised our hands in compliance. Todd then asked, “So then why did you bring them on?” We chuckled and smiled, knowing that this is Southwest’s culture and this employee knows how they roll.

Southwest is a partially employee-owned company where employees perform their job functions with a shared idea in their minds: “I am an owner. My actions, behaviors and efforts reflect ownership. I treat this company, this flight and these customers as if they are my own.”

It’s this kind of buy-in and engagement that can make your company not just good, but great. As at Southwest, it starts with leadership that creates profound changes in company culture and practices. I call this LeaderSHIFT.

True LeaderSHIFT comes from the ability to not just change the behaviors of your employees (which is a short-term fix), but from the ability to change their minds for the long-term success of your company and its customers. It’s the difference between “transactional management” that prompts behavioral changes and “transformational leadership” that creates deep, meaningful change.

In Dallas, I spent two days with Roundtree Landscaping, a good landscaping company that is on its way to becoming a great landscape company. Like Southwest, Roundtree took the first steps in changing the minds of employees by embracing the concept of employee ownership.

By employee ownership, I don’t mean simply owning stock in a company. I’m talking about a mindset of ownership supported by the entire culture.

Roundtree’s president Johnette Taylor has invested in the future of her business and committed to employee growth balanced with sales growth. By moving toward employee ownership, she has started a shift in the way employees approach decision-making, problem solving and customer experiences.

The team members committed to a full-on level of accountability, communication and professionalism that would be worthy of any business owner. Their actions, behaviors, efforts and outcomes will bring Roundtree to the next level of success, one customer experience at a time.

Four phases of change

Roundtree will follow a road map consisting of four phases of change:

1). The first phase is forming, which means assessing the talents of your team and making sure the right people are in the right roles. With the best team in place, you’re already on your way from good to great.

The capabilities of your team are critical. You can be willing to change but if you are not able to, it becomes a big challenge. You may be able to change but if you are not willing, it becomes a big dead end. Willing plus able employees are the sweet spot for your team’s success.

2). The second phase is storming—figuring out what changes you need to make to get to your goals. Bring your team together for constructive, honest discussion about the changes that will get you where you want to go.

3). In the third stage, norming, you need to make sure the entire team is aligned with your goals and the necessary changes to achieve them. How does it look for each person’s job? What are the specific goals for sales, customer satisfaction and other company metrics and processes? What about corporate culture? In the norming phase, you are doing some deeper thinking and analysis. Then, and this is critical, the outcome is the “new normal” that all employees will buy into every day at work.

Remember Todd at Southwest? He was living the company’s norm of taking a fun and positive attitude toward customer service. He knew what was expected of him every day.

4). The last phase is performing. Make sure to put into place incentive programs that reward employees for meeting and exceeding their goals.

The culture of willingness creates a shift in the mindset of the team to become owners of your company. Be sure to include measurement and incentives in the culture if you want to LeaderSHIFT to meaningful change.

But the change needs to begin with you first and your effort to make a LeaderSHIFT. That’s what separates good companies from great companies.

Kennedy will be a featured speaker at New England Grows, Feb. 4-6, in Boston, where attendees can choose from more than 30 sessions. For more information or to register for the conference, visit

Photo: Craighton Miller/

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About the Author:

Kennedy is an author, speaker and strategist specializing in cultural shift and change that drives profits, people and processes to new levels. He's based in Sykesville, Md., and can be reached via

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