How to Create a Culture of Success

Change Logic co-founder, Charles O’Reilly, offers some insights on how to create a culture of success, produced by the Stanford Graduate School of Business.


Change Sprints Will Get You to the Finish Line

Change Sprints

Change projects often suffer from a surplus of good intentions and a deficit of disciplined effort. You get a senior leadership team together for a few days, assess what needs to change, build a plan, and get everyone aligned. If the workshop is good – our clients tell us that Change Logic runs outstanding senior leadership team sessions – then the organization can harness the excitement that the event generates. Leaders speak honestly about their challenges and commit to making change happen.

However, the following day, the ‘tyranny of the now’ can intrude and make it difficult to sustain the level of focus and intensity necessary to lead a successful business renewal. Day-to-day operations – customers, employees, product development meetings, business plan reviews –consume your time with legitimate and important demands. This sets up the familiar competition between what you’ve agreed is important and what is immediately urgent.

An extra twist on the important-urgent tension is that you are likely dealing with how to change deep-seated routines, behaviors, and mindsets. Even if you have time to complete the tangible actions that come out of a change workshop, it is still difficult to recreate that sense of commitment and motivation that made you believe ‘big’ change was possible.

Having lived through this a few times at Change Logic, we designed a method that would help our clients stay focused, engage a broader base of leaders in owning the change initiatives, and do so in a way that would energize the organization as a whole. So, the Sprint process was born. Borrowing some of the techniques and language of ‘Agile’ software development and embedding the insights from Mike Tushman and Charles O’Reilly, we have now led over twenty sprints across multiple industries. It’s enabled our clients to build new innovation businesses, embed new operating models, and rebuild go-to-market practices and processes, to name just a few of the change efforts using the Sprint model.

What are Sprints?

Simply, Sprints are how Change Logic clients create and maintain momentum to address their most critical strategic change priorities. Sprints allow clients to balance the practical mechanics with the social dimensions of change, the two elements that comprise the most intractable challenges organizations face today.

Sprints are the perfect antidote to the organizational inertia and resistance that so often haunt big transformational challenges; they recognize the complex, multi-dimensional nature of change and address the systemic barriers that other, more traditional approaches fail to address effectively.

Change: hard and soft

A key distinction is whether a change is purely about the organization hardware – process, structure, system – or whether it touches the software – people, capabilities, behaviors, and mindsets. If you only have to change “hardware”, then momentum, commitment, and engagement are not on the critical path; it’s a simple cause and effect relationship between action and result. Examples would be implementing a new IT system or managing an office move.  There is still an important human dimension involved in this kid of shift, but it can be addressed through standard methods such as strong project management, training, and communications.  We don’t need to change leadership behavior significantly or the social system of the organization. These are primarily “hardware” projects, in the realm of the knowable.1

However, most changes that we work on at Change Logic involve a response to uncertain market dynamics that may have implications for the core capabilities of an organization, and may confront power relationships between senior leaders. We are now in the realm of complexity, and that requires a different approach to managing change.

The critical part of this type of change is that we don’t know the answers at the outset.  It requires an exploratory approach – one where we test potential solutions through smart experiments which address both the formal systems (processes, organization, skills) AND the social systems of culture and leadership.  A typical client example would be moving from functionally focused ways of working to a collaborative model where multiple units need to align around shared priorities, often on a strict timeline. This will only work when we identify and shift the existing organizational dynamics and informal power structures. This is where we have found the Sprint Process to have significant impact.

How do Sprints work?

Sprints have several key elements/characteristics:

  • They address the most strategically critical and stubborn transformational challenges
  • They focus on identifying and addressing root causes for performance issues, not the surface symptoms – these are often cultural as much as they are procedural or organizational
  • They operate at speed – using 30/60/90 day cycles to drive rapid progress
  • They use experiments to test & refine solutions before rolling out big implementations – so people learn, not just to experiment, but to accept that failure is both a necessity and a learning opportunity in complex transformation
  • They leverage skills, knowledge, and enthusiasm from across the organization – Sprint teams typically consist of highly empowered middle managers with a senior sponsor who acts as team advisor and coach, not as a director
  • They focus as much on learning how to do complex transformation as they do on actual transformation-delivery
  • They focus as much on the cultural and behavioral shifts needed for success as they do on the mechanistic process and structural shifts.
  • They leverage standard change and project management methods to ensure effective governance, but they add a layer of leadership development; they help senior leaders to adapt their behaviors and help more junior leaders to take on broader responsibilities


As a result, Sprints enable organizations to define, test, refine and implement complex transformation while avoiding the endless debates and political resistance that go along with these types of adaptations.  At the same time, the organization learns how to shift on their own by developing the ability to continue managing transformation effectively and to continue adapting to the needs of today’s world. 

The Change Logic Sprint approach can provide companies with real competitive advantage – we help them develop the ability to change and adapt faster and more effectively than their (often disruptive) competitors.  To understand more about what we do and how we do it, please contact us at


1Dr Dave Snowden has written about a powerful distinction between ‘Known’ and ‘Knowable’ problems where cause and effect applies: Complexity, where you only know what happened in retrospect, and Chaos, where there is not cause and effect.
by Peter Ainley-Walker

When Leadership Alignment Becomes a Commitment


Kristin von Donop, Associate Principal
Follow Kristin on twitter

There is a consistent theme in our work with the senior leadership teams from financial services, media, entertainment, philanthropy, and information technology companies: they need stronger alignment between business units.  The reasons vary, either for more speed, more innovation, or to collaborate to create market differentiation.  These leaders ask us:

  • How can we increase velocity in the alignment between divisions, regions, and functions?
  • How can we instill new ways of operating that are scalable?
  • How can we ensure we will adapt in the future?

My next few posts will address four topics that are key to addressing the questions above: focusing on the ideal state, getting the elephants on the table, sharing responsibility, and influencing across the matrix.  This post will focus on the defining the ideal state.

Many of the senior teams we work with want their managers to be nimble, work together, and move resources quickly to capture opportunities.  Unfortunately, many great ideas end up dying because of bottlenecks.  These blockages are prevalent, especially when leaders can’t figure out how to get horizontal and vertical engagement.

Earlier this year, we worked with a technology company that grew from multiple mergers.  I asked several people in this organization, “Whom do you work for?” Out of the x number of people I asked, y responded with the name of their legacy company, not the new combined organization.  These responses gave me a key insight: the company has an overarching strategy, but no real alignment.  There was no shared aspiration.

The senior team knew they needed to revitalize the organization and that people were their main source of competitive advantage, but  they struggled with how to get everyone on the same page and aligned to customer demand.  The path forward was unclear.  The only certainty was that the status quo was insufficient.

Getting it Right

A few years ago, the CEO of a successful global IT company convened the top 100 leaders in Florida for their annual strategic meeting.  This was shortly after our friend Mike was selected to run a segment that had high growth potential.  When it was his time to address the group, he started by sharing that he called his mom as soon after he was appointed to his new job. Her immediate response was “Are you nuts? Nobody in that role has been successful!”

He described telling her it would be different this time around because of the people who will be involved.  Then, turning to the audience, he called out Mark, who was in the audience, and said “with Mark’s commitment, we can win in this space” and then he pointed to Maureen, adding “Maureen has the horsepower in her team to get this right”, and on he went until he named ten different executives in the room.  These were the people whose alignment was essential.  They were the leaders of the key products, the regional leaders, and in corporate functions.

Mike then described the impact they could accomplish if they worked together.  He didn’t talk about the revenue, margin or other key metrics.  Instead he described success from the perspective of the customer’s customer.

First, Focus on “Why?”

Mike’s predecessors had small wins but were not able to instill a new set of repeatable practices.  If the quarterly results for any one unit were not up to par, they’d cut the investments for that segment. They’d debateendlessly..  In some cases, they’d escalateissues to the SVPs.

Mark took a different approach and unleashed the power of the ideal state.  His market segment was different than the company’s traditional customer base.  To capture this market, he needed to instill different approaches: more marketing investment, greater reliance on business partners, aand new product development processes to build a portfolio at a different price point.

That meeting in Florida was just the beginning.  Over the next year, Mike made sure conversations about the possibility were an integral part of the alignment work. He rallied his peers to sustain the investments in spite of their skepticism about achieving success in three or four quarters.

Second, Own the “Why?”

Mike’s next step was to create an extended leadership team that had the skills needed from across the organization.  Some of the people he invited were ones named at the meeting in Florida; others were the technical experts in their business units.

Being on the team didn’t create the alignment.  He led a series of focused conversations that addressed the question:

What is the unique value of this leadership team?

The discussions about this question galvanized these busy executives by focusing specifically on the team’s contribution.  It oriented them to what matters most for the customers and for long-term success. The purpose of this newly– formed senior team was compelling and consequential. They also explored the implications of the ideal state for each individual. 

Real change requires grounding people in a shared aspiration. It provides clarity and activates our achievement drive for success.  Relying on threats or danger when you need to catalyze sustained change across many groups isn’t going to cut it.

Leaders need to focus people’s attention on the most important issues without resorting to fear. Unleash the power of the ideal state to create alignment.  Describe what is important to you.  Then inquire what is important to others.  Find the intersections to develop a shared ideal.

As you activate people to do something differently, keep possibility and optimism in the front of your mind. Address what is important and describe why.  Be curious about why it is important to them. During the hard work of change, keep the aspiration alive by reminding yourself and others about the consequential nature of the work.

In the next blog, we will explore ways to strengthen and sustain alignment with a focus on putting the “elephants on the table” – surfacing the tough issues that get in the way of progress.

What Does Your Calendar Say about How Innovative You Are (or Aren’t)?

Donna Lesch

Donna Lesch, Sr. Associate
Follow @DonnaJLesch

“Innovate or die” seems to be the buzz in corporate America these days. And it’s true, the way to thrive in a quickly changing business environment is to be agile and innovative–but when do you do that if you’re on the run from meeting to meeting, task to task?  Where is the space to innovate and create? Our Calendars and To Do lists drive our lives and reflect what we value. What does your calendar say about you?

Take a look at these two different leaders’ calendars.  Which one will be more innovative and engaged?

Dimitri’s Day

  • Meditate
  • Walking meeting with Bob – strategy talk–what are we missing?
  • Co-creation session for Project Sidewinder with Tim – Marketing, Ellen – Sales, Aisha – Procurement, Avid – HR,  Allen – engineering – share fresh ideas we have collected from conversations
  • Lunch – Run
  • Hang out on the floor and break room – check in on projects and team vibe
  • Red group steering committee meeting – status information and project update sent last week – what does the team need?
  • Complete the Idea audit – what is in my old folders, notebooks that needs to be revisited?
  • Business development open forum – what are we hearing from the field?
  • Client call – check in, are we delivering?
  • Calligraphy class

Mariah’s Day

  • Breakfast meeting with QA team lead
  • Call with Legal on new contract
  • Policy review – look at changes on new amendments
  • Project Sidewinder presentation – deck is in the folder
  • Staff meeting – get updates, talk about engagement survey results
  • Lunch with consulting team
  • Strategy review session – conference room (bring deck)
  • Budget review – exception report review
  • One-on-one’s (30 mins each) with Amelia, Zander and Sam (project status, goals, development)
  • Marketing meeting – updated on projects
  • Sales plan review
  • Dinner with business development team – present new plan

The research says Dimitri.  Surprised?  Isn’t he just playing?  There is a compelling body of research that makes a case for the benefits of creating space for innovation through practices like meditation, exercise, sleep, relaxation, and engaging your brain in activities unrelated to the problem that your are trying to solve. Brainstorming with people outside your area of expertise also increases creativity.

So why do most of our schedules look like Mariah’s, caught in the endless cycle of meetings, getting tasks done, being perpetually busy?  It is hard to figure out how to add innovative strategic, “big picture” thinking to a day that is already full from morning to night.  Maybe we need to shift our thinking.  Innovation, creativity, and strategic thinking are not tasks that can be complete during the hour blocks on our calendars.  They are a frame of mind or way of being and working that require us to reflect deeply as leaders.  We need to slow down and take stock of what where we spend our time on and assess what value it brings.   We need to shift our measure of success from being how busy we are to how innovative, engaged and productive we are. This likely means that, for many of us, we must think of new ways to approach how we invest our time and energy.  Our calendars and to-do lists may need to shift.  Getting started doesn’t mean we must cancel all our meetings and sign up for yoga.  Instead think about taking one or two small steps to get the ball rolling.

  • Need fresh thinking?
    • Get out of the building not the box.  Walk.  Put some distance between you and the problem you are tackling.  Take in what you see and experience as you walk.  New ideas will show up when your brain is relaxed and can make new associations. Don’t forget to bring a notepad to capture them.
    • Look at adjacent businesses – look for inspiration by generalizing the problem and then think of others who have faced a similar challenge – how did they do it?
    • Bring in new points of view – talk with those who have no relationship to the opportunity/problem.  Their naïve perspective will help you challenge your assumptions and open your thinking.
    • Look at the situation with a beginner’s mind. How would you see it if you were just hired?  How would a 7 year old see it?  What if there was no right answer or risk–what would you do?
  • Create more time for innovation in your schedule
    • Take inventory – what percent of your meetings are about sharing status information (one way communication) versus exploring, learning and talking?  Try shifting the percentage to more time spent in dialogue, generating options, testing assumptions, and thinking boldly.  To increase the value of the meeting time and ensure it is spent in dialogue, require all status information be documented and sent in advance of the meeting. Send out the agenda for the meeting in advance so team members can begin to generate their ideas and points of view.
    • Call a halt to meetings.  What?  Once a month declare a meeting-free day in your office.  Dedicate the day to informally thinking, creating and exploring new ideas.

So, what is your next step?  How do you create space and time for innovation and creativity in your day; and subsequently, once you have your ideas, how do you apply them?