The following is a conversation between Lior Arussy, the Author of Next Is Now: 5 Steps for Embracing Change — Building a Business that Thrives into the Future, and Denver Frederick, the Host of The Business of Giving.
Denver: Think about the last change initiative you had at your company or organization. How did that work out? In most cases, the answer would be: Not too well! Why is this so difficult? To find out why and how we can do it better at a time when change is absolutely essential for survival, it’s a pleasure to have with us Lior Arussy, the author of Next Is Now: 5 Steps for Embracing Change.
Welcome to The Business of Giving, Lior!
Lior: Thank you very much for having me on the show.
Denver: So when employees hear “change” when leadership says change is coming, what do employees hear? What emotions are triggered?
Lior: So, it’s an interesting subject because the topic of change has been discussed quite a lot in the business world, and the association was always that change is being associated with either a new vision, new, exciting things. But in reality, for many of the employees, when they hear the word change, they hear a negative judgment on their past performance.
What they hear is: “Why do we need to change? We need to change probably because we made a mistake. We need to change because probably what we have done is wrong.” And for many of them, to process the notion that what they have done for the last 10 years was a mistake, they can’t find a way to file it in their mind. And that would start getting all the change resistance out of their system; and they’ll do it in a variety of ways. But nevertheless, we need to recognize that, first and foremost, when leaders are saying “change,” they’re igniting that negative judgment on my past performance, and that is too big of a judgment to endure and to accept.
Denver: Even just listening to you, I can feel my own identity crisis when I hear that. How often do organizational change initiatives succeed?
Lior: I had my qualitative experience throughout the years, but I decided to actually work in a more quantitative way. I conducted about two-and-a-half years ago, a study with Harvard Business Review when we actually benchmarked 422 companies, large and small, and we asked them the simple question that you just asked me, which is: What is the rate of success of your change programs? And if it didn’t work, what might be the reasons why it didn’t work? And to our surprise, 91% of the organizations reported that their change programs had failed.
If you actually substitute the word “change” with “future” and “strategy,” you understand that this alarming number is actually demonstrating that those companies are not on track to be successful moving forward, that their organization is pulling back the organization for moving forward to the future. That’s a very risky position to be.
Denver: Well, what were some of the reasons for failure?
Lior: So that’s another interesting kind of insight in the hard moments because when you talk to organizations right on the surface as to why it didn’t work, they’ll tell you: It’s a lack of budget; we didn’t have the right time; it wasn’t the right objectives; we need to change the objectives. But when we did the benchmark across so many organizations and started to look at the data, the message was very, very clear.
The number one reason was not budget, was not time, was not lack of technology; it was the human factor of the organization. People who didn’t understand why. People who didn’t understand what is their role in the new vision. People who are afraid to lose their jobs. Or people just didn’t feel like changing — that’s also something — and felt that it’s up to them to go and change everything.
I’ll give you an interesting example. I was working with an international bank who did a digital transformation in the organization. Hundreds of millions of dollars were spent on new technologies and so on and so forth. They discovered that behind the scenes, the bankers are telling the customers: “Don’t use the new app; don’t use the new technology. Just come to us. We’ll take care of you.”
When we started to look at this, I remember having a focus group where one branch manager turned to me, and she said, “If you are going to guarantee me that you’re going to keep my job even though my customers are using the app, I’m going to tell them to use the app.” I turned to her and I said, “I would love to guarantee you that if your customers are not going to use the app, you are not going to have a job. That guarantee I’m willing to give you.”
It was a harsh reality that I needed to put in front of her. And I have to tell you, in that context, when we talk about the human factor, the hardest conversation I have with CEOs is when I have to say to them, “Look, I know you sat down at the board, and you discussed the change, and you approved the new strategy. But I have to tell you, nobody cares about your decision because you know where change programs die? They don’t die at the boardroom. They die when Susan from Accounting decides to continue to do whatever she does and not use the new technology. It dies when thousands of your employees are just simply ignoring the new change and continue to do what they do…” Because I’ll tell you one thing, they’re the last one to know about the change; they’re the least aware of what it means to them, and they are the ones who are killing it, not the leaders.
Denver: That’s right. What leaders don’t realize is the employee culture is going to make any program go or not go. They have the final say on all of that.
Well, let’s go back to those people. How are some of the ways that they fight change?
Lior: Fighting change, I have to tell you, becomes an absolute art. For a lot of these people, it’s an art because you can’t go and tell the CEO, “Look, your new plan sucks. Oh, I don’t agree with it…” or anything else like that.
So in the book, I’m actually describing a wide variety of characters. One of them is my favorite. It’s called the “silent delayer.” I’m going to talk about it in a second. You have people who are just playing busy so they don’t have time. You have sales people who are playing “If you want me to change, you have to change my quota,” which nobody wants. You have the veterans who are playing the legacy saying, “For 30 years, we have done it, and shame on you for changing it!” and so on and so forth. But let’s talk about the silent delayer because I think it’s the most astute in the place.
So let’s assume the following scenario. You sit at a boardroom, and you’re presenting all the statistics that backs up the change that you want to implement. It is clear as it gets. It’s in writing. You did the research. It’s all proven. And the guy raised his hand and said, “Look. I’m all with you. I’m a hundred percent with you, but just do me a favor. If you can just take a look at the data and compare a female over the age of 50 who lives in Northern Seattle with single mothers in Southern Arkansas just to see how the data is doing this and that.”
And in the spirit of status quo and everybody kumbaya, you go and do it. It takes you three months. You compare the data, you come back, you present it, and he says, “Oh, thank you. This was really good. But do me a favor. Just one thing to verify. If you can just take a look at immigrants in Salvin, Fort Lauderdale and compare them to adults in the retirement homes in the greater part of Jacksonville. I just want to see how that data is going to look.”
When I work with these guys, I’m like, “Stop. What are you trying to do? What in the data is not clear to you? Because let me ask you a question. Finding the data you’re asking for is going to cost us six months. You know what’s going to happen in six months? Your competition is going to step in, and our differentiating strategy is going to become common sense. Is it worth it?”
And here’s the story, the silent delayer is either there on his behalf or on behalf of the leader that he served, and the leader told him, “Look, no matter what, I don’t want that change to happen because they’re either going to dismantle my department, but we can’t say that because that’s not corporate. We can’t do that. So your job is to find creative ways to delay them from actually implementing.” And that’s what the silent delayer does. He’s the most astute, the most creative in finding the corporate tools to delay and ultimately, to kill the program.
As I said, there are different characters — the veterans, the busy bees, the not-invented-here guys who say, “No, it has to be here, or it’s not going to work,” the sales people who are going to threaten on their quota, a variety of them. It comes in different ways. Nobody will dare and say, “Don’t like it. It’s stupid…” because they won’t confront the CEO that way. So they’ll just confront it in a more creative way.
Denver: When I hear you talk about the silent delayer, it reminds me of the old Columbo show. Did you ever watch that, Lior? When Columbo would come back and say, “Just one more thing…” and it keeps on going.
Lior: Yes, but it takes Columbo about 30 seconds for the one more thing.
Denver: That’s right.
Lior: One more thing in corporate can take three months, and that can be the difference between success and failure.
Denver: A central feature of your book is this concept of change resilience. What is that?
Lior: So change resilience I defined as first, the new core competence of organizations. It doesn’t matter what your products are. It doesn’t matter what your services are because they’re going to change. What really matters is how quickly do you respond to change. I define change resilience as the speed and the scope in which you respond to change.
If you go slow, you may come to the finish line, but it’s too late. If you implement only a little, that’s also a way of diluting it, and you’re not getting there. I think COVID-19 is a great example because in many ways COVID-19 demonstrated the change resilience of organizations. It was the grand-scale litmus test: Are you ready or not? Some have demonstrated capabilities in that way, and others have failed miserably.
I’ll give you two examples. In the last couple of years, there were several trends that were promoted quite heavily. One is being a human-centric business, and the second one is digital transformation. Now, those companies who accelerated digital transformation were much more ready for COVID-19 and were able to transform from physical to digital. Those that were human-centric and taught their employees what does it mean and incorporated it into their value system were able to demonstrate humanity during their interactions with their customers better than the other ones.
So, this is a great example. Those who practice change resilience and incorporate it into their world have demonstrated a greater chance of succeeding during an unprecedented event like COVID-19 versus those companies who are behind and now are playing catch up. But you and I know, even when they play catch up, it’s just followers to the leaders.
Change resilience is something that we practice on a regular basis. It’s our openness to new things and our willingness to let go of old ways and try new ways.
Denver: That’s exactly right. How can I tell whether I’m change-resilient or not? Is there a way of doing it?
Lior: So, the first thing you can tell about change resilience is you can’t wait for change to tell you if you’re change-resilient or not. Let’s start with that. Change resilience is something that we practice on a regular basis. It’s our openness to new things and our willingness to let go of old ways and try new ways.
So I often, when people tell me, “How can I start practicing?” I say, “OK. Start with your music list. Are you listening to the same music you’ve listened to before or not?” I remember a couple of years ago when people came to us, like, “We don’t know how to manage the new generation — Gen Z and the millennials.” I say, “Do you like their music?” “No. I hate their music. They’re crap.”
Denver: Did you ever listen to it, right?
Lior: I’m like, “That’s not going to help because if you’re not even willing to open for three minutes of the song, how are you going to be open for a mindset that might take a little bit longer?” So one example is: go and decide to explore new things that are not in your comfort zone. Go to TED and go for the things that TED does not recommend you to listen to, things that you might find extending your patience, extending your thinking. Go to your PowerPoint. Start learning new capabilities there instead of doing it the same old ways.
Change resilience is about you willing to practice new things and let go of other ways because you understand that ultimately, they’re old tools. They’re old tools. And that leads us into the critical piece in the whole process of change resilience.
When I presented in the book the 5 Steps to Embracing Change, I talk about the need to connect to the core cause, as opposed to the tools that we are using. So remember that banker that I mentioned to you. After I told her the harsh reality, I said to her, “Look, let me tell you something. You started in the bank 30 years ago. I don’t know. You probably used the abacus when you helped your customers. And then they put those special calculators with the paper strip. Remember those? They were cool.–”
Denver: I sure do.
Lior: “–We can actually print the numbers. And then they put a desktop, and now they’re giving you an iPad. In the same way that the abacus didn’t define you, the iPad doesn’t define you.” And what I help her do is: I said, “Look, when you were working with the abacus, what were you doing?” “Well, I helped them get a mortgage.” I said, “No, you helped them get to the American Dream. You helped them get into a home. This is a big deal. You were privileged to be part of their lives. They entrusted their dreams in your hands. You lived your core cause which was ‘I want to help people.’ You’re doing the same thing today. It’s just the tools that are different.”
So what I need you to do — I call this the big split — split the core cause from the tools. The moment you see that the core cause doesn’t change, it gives you stability, and then it frees your mind to try new tools. You see what I’m saying?
Don’t define yourself by the process. Define yourself by your purpose, and then that will free up your mind and your capabilities to try something new.
Denver: Purpose-driven. You’re purpose-driven then.
Lior: Exactly. And oftentimes, we forget the purpose, and we stick to the tools or the processes or all of those things, and that’s what creates the resistance because we’re feeling like, “If they’re going to take away these tools, if they’re going to take away this process, then who am I?” Don’t define yourself by the process. Define yourself by your purpose, and then that will free up your mind and your capabilities to try something new.
Denver: Let me pick up on what you just mentioned a moment ago, and that is briefly take us through, Lior, the 5 Steps for Embracing Change that you reference in the title of your book.
Lior: Thank you. So, prior to writing the book, obviously, there was a plethora of books about change, and I would categorize them as one of two categories.
The first one I would call the psychologist approach. The psychologist is saying, “There are five steps of grievance until you’re going to get out of it. You’re going to go into very deep, deep, and then maybe you’ll climb up,” and so on and so forth. In the corporate world, we don’t have time for you to grieve for five months until you decide that you’re out of your funk.
The other side is the corporate approach, and that’s the executive mindset. “Here’s the new vision. Here’s what I need you to do tomorrow morning. One, two, three, four, five, and six. I don’t care about how you feel. I don’t care about what you want. Do it because I said so, and that’s what we’re paying you for.”
With the 91% failure, I think both approaches have proven that they’re not working. And I needed to find a way, and I have to tell you, my way is based on over 250 transformation projects that I was involved in. I was involved in mergers and acquisitions. I had clients who have been under regulatory scrutiny to the point that they almost went bankrupt. I have clients who had big visions to go into new segments. I lived with them through different things. This is what worked. We have to blend and to create a method that will be human on one side and execution-oriented on the other side.
Step one is: Face it. You’ve got to look at the reality without any coloring glasses. Get to understand the facts; read the facts with no emotions whatsoever. These are the facts. Either you take action on them or not.
Analyze it is about recognizing the emotions. Yes, it’s emotional. If we want people to be purpose-driven, if we want people to be passionate, that means we ask them to bring their emotions to the game. You cannot be passionate without emotion, so let’s face it. And the moment you expose the emotions, then you can get hurt, and change can be painful, and we need to recognize it. But as I said in the book, it’s the courage to include that in the process but not let it dominate you. So I do want to give some space to analyze it, to analyze the emotions, to understand that they are there, but then we need to move on.
The big thing happens in redefine it where you redefine yourself and your purpose. You are not the tools and the processes that you’re using. You are the purpose. You are the core cause. I call it the core cause. The core cause doesn’t change. It’s your constant bridge between the past and the future, and it gives you this beautiful consistency that gives you the stability to allow yourself to change the tools. That’s the redefine it. It’s the hardest thing, but I have to tell you, it’s the biggest “aha!” moment for people. “I am not this process operator. I’m an input creator.”
Denver: I’m not my tools.
Lior: Yes. I’m not my tools. Then comes the concept of grow it. So even though you have an “aha!” moment, where does it fail? So I get it. So I need to try the new things. Most companies are sending people to try new tools without the prep, without the practice, before they go live. And that’s why they’re afraid. They’re not confident. They’re afraid to be embarrassed. They’re afraid that they will make mistakes. And when we ask them to do it in front of customers without the prep, that’s when it’s hard.
I’ll give you an example. I worked with a leading airline in the US, and we took the one group of customers that they had the most problems with, that the flight attendant resented. You know that you have economy, economy plus, and then you have business class, right?
Lior: So apparently, economy plus has another nickname, and the nickname for economy class is I-can’t-believe-I wasn’t-upgraded class. These are the most upset customers because they are staring at business class and are jealous of these guys. This guy is drinking my martini. This guy is eating my food. And the flight attendants told me they’re the hardest people to please because they’re pissed. They’re saying, “We don’t know what to do with them. We don’t have upgrades! All they want is an upgrade. We don’t have an upgrade.”
We designed the concept of an emotional upgrade. How can we still be kind to them despite that? And it’s only when we did the role-playing with them before they went on the next flight that they freed up and started to be able to do it right. Most organizations who are trying to implement change forget to do that. They forget to give their employees a safe space to practice the new way. And as a result of it, people resort automatically to the old ways because they don’t want to be embarrassed.
Denver: That’s right.
And owning it is the last step. So we talk about face it, analyze it, redefine it, grow it. Own it is when you say, “OK. Change is not just an event in my life. Change is what I’m going to incorporate into every day. Every day I’m going to learn something new. Every day I’m going to experience something new because I want to be a change-resilient person. I want to be ready for the unexpected and not be a deer in a headlight when it happens to me. I want to embrace it. I want to run faster than the others. I want to have change push me with my purpose to achieve my goals faster than anyone else.” Own it is that whole practice of change in order to be ready and open when other change is going to come.
…the most important skills of employees are skills that employees either choose to do or it’s not going to happen… The things that matter — being purpose driven, lead, creative, innovative, sincerity, authenticity — these are personal choices…you’ve got to create an environment that they will choose to do that.
Denver: You also say that the secret to change resilience is engagement. We know about 70% of the employees in this country are not engaged. So how can an organization or a company get their folks engaged?
Lior: I’m going to start by answering how not to get them engaged. If you look at corporate communication to the employees, by and large, it’s a top-down, management-decided; you implement. Management-decided; you implement. Management-decided; you implement. The communication is all about top-down communication. What it’s lacking is what I call the personal choice.
Let me put it this way, Denver, to you. You can pay your employees a lot of money for a lot of things, but for the most important skills of your employees, you actually cannot pay them. You cannot pay an employee to smile sincerely. You can pay them to smile, but not sincerely. You cannot pay an employee to be creative. That’s a personal choice. You cannot pay them to be innovative. It’s not a derivative of how many hours they stay in your lab and try to invent something. They’re going to be innovative if they want to. You can’t ask them to think outside of the box and say, “Your contract requires at least 53 evidences of thinking outside of the box during the year; you can’t do that.
In fact, the most important skills of employees are skills that employees either choose to do, or it’s not going to happen. And that is the big “aha!” moment that companies need to understand, and organizations need to understand. The things that matter — being purpose driven, lead, creative, innovative, sincerity, authenticity — these are personal choices. So the short answer now to your question is: you’ve got to create an environment that they will choose to do that. You need to ask yourself what will be the ecosystem that will invite employees to want to do those things as opposed to have to do those things. We have to stop with the top-down because as I said, Susan from Accounting is going to kill your plan.
The best definition that I have for customer experience and customer expectations today is the following: The answer is yes. What is the question?
Denver: In allowing them to choose to do those things, what would you say the appropriate role of process is in a company or an organization? How can it guide behavior without limiting those natural abilities that you just talked about in terms of creativity and those other things?
Lior: So I want to take an example from digital transformation. Digital transformation is about taking processes, automating them, and handing them to customers. In a sense, we’re turning our customers into our own salespeople, marketing people, and service people. What we are seeing on a grand scale is that when you take processes and automate them and hand them to your customers, then the question is: What is the role of the employee? And greater than that, what is your added value if your customer is using the process on an app? Because the same app can be done by another bank, by another insurance company, and we’re done.
The process needs to evolve from a must-use to a best practice, with the understanding that the role of employees is now shifting from process reinforcement to impact creation during an exception because if I use your app, if I use your website and it didn’t work for me, I don’t want somebody to tell me what the process is again. I already used the process.
The process is a tool. If I have a unique situation, I want somebody who can actually address my unique situation. Somebody who could demonstrate humanity, somebody who can listen, and somebody who can solve. The best definition that I have for customer experience and customer expectations today is the following: The answer is yes. What is the question?
When organizations will understand that this is the new mindset of donors, of customers, of stakeholders. When you understand that we need to shift to “The answer is yes. What is the question?” within ethical and legal guidelines, of course, then we need to equip people not with processes, but with the path to yes: What is the logic, and how do you make a decision to get to yes?
Denver: Right. I think I have a famous example of that–the old Ritz Carlton where people were able to do something for customers up to something like $15,000 or whatever, that they don’t have to go through channels to get approvals, but you empower them to make those decisions on the spot with the customer to give them the yes that you just talked about.
In looking at all the different kinds of organizations you’ve worked with, are there any nuances or differences between, let’s say, a legacy organization that’s been around a hundred years ago compared to a startup, or a nonprofit organization or social organization compared to a business? Or is it essentially the same principles apply across the board?
Lior: The essence of it — we have people on one side, we have customers on the other side, and their interactions. Those interactions need to be valuable for the customers and, to a degree, valuable to the employees and the organization who provides them. So, at the very basic skeleton, we have very similar processes.
Where are the changes going to start emerging? A start-up has nothing to lose so they will be probably more change-resilient.
Lior: A legacy organization has a hundred years of doing something. Somebody said to me, “You know, we’re an organization of 5,000 employees, and each and every one of us has 10 years of experience. So you’re technically trying to change 50,000 years of experience. Good luck with that.” And there was a lot of truth there.
The more of a legacy you are, the more embedded your old way of doing things are, and less likely you are to be change-resilient unless something extreme happens to you. I think legacy organizations could be even more blinded about that issue and how they need to address them.
Now, let’s talk about nonprofits. With nonprofits, we have a very different challenge. I’ve done a fair amount of nonprofit work, both for a fee, and some of it even pro bono– small ones, big ones, and so on and so forth. Nonprofit is blinded by the fact that they are a nonprofit, and they are working for a purpose and a cause, and therefore do not see the need to change because they don’t think that they operate by business rules, because they’re here for a greater good.
I’m going to share with you an example of a nonprofit on a large scale that took some time to, let’s say, adapt to change. That is The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The MET in New York City. For many years, The MET had a policy that says: “Pay as you wish.” We all know that, right? And about 13 or 14 years ago, 63% of the 7 million visitors of The MET paid full price, at that time $25. That number dropped to 12% about two years ago — 12%. So all of a sudden there is a budget hole because when only 12% are paying full price, it’s hundreds of millions of dollars. That’s when the organization woke up and said, “We’ve got to change.”
But it took them 12 years to recognize that, “Hey, we have a decrease here. We cannot continue with the policy because we have a hole in the budget.” When I was asked to come in to help, you could see a lot of the employees struggling. Some of them are volunteers. It’s like, “We’re here for the greater good of art and to make it accessible, and we don’t want to do money.
“Money’s no good. Go get donors to pay for it.” And we had to bring some reality check following very similar process to what we talked about. Recognize their emotions, explaining to them that the future of art accessibility is dependent on our ability to change the model because the model doesn’t work.
So that’s an example on a grand scale… that The MET is a wonderful institution. Amazing one. I love working with The MET. It’s a great organization, very passionate people, but they were very, very focused on their passion for the art that they kind of forgot that it also has to connect to some business reality. And as much as they don’t want to, the business rules apply to them too, because donors and visitors are also customers, and they compare and contrast experiences, and they evaluate them and then decide what’s worth it for them and what’s not.
We need to understand cynicism is like poison to the core, confidence and motivation of the organization. And we need to eradicate it.
Denver: It’s amazing how that all went down. You did a great job because we had Dan Weiss, the CEO, on the show a while ago, and there was a tremendous amount of resistance to this. In editorial, they hung tough and then it turned out that New Yorkers could come in for free, but almost all of them paid the amount. So it just is amazing how successful that has been. Look, 91% of these change initiatives fail. So I want to ask you about overcoming cynicism because you’re going to have these organizations right now that are going to begin to implement another change initiative, particularly at this time of COVID that you’ve talked about. And you know, and I know that the eyeballs are going to begin to roll. Here we go again. What would you advise?
Lior: I’m going to start with a small story for you. I had an organization who had gone through a traumatic, traumatic crisis, losing 40% of their business. I was doing a workshop, and there was a vice president sitting in the back, keeps on making cynical jokes. And I said to him, ‘Please take yourself and get out of the room.” He said, “Why?” I said, “Because of your cynical jokes.” He said, “Well, what do you mean?” And he looks at the CEO, and the CEO said, “He told you to leave. Please leave.”
He said, “You’ve got to be kidding me. You can’t kick me out for cynical jokes.” I said, “I did.” And he said, “Why?” I said, “Because your cynical jokes are destroying everything good in this company.” And he said to me, “How can you say that? It’s my tools. That’s how I survive.” I said, “You see, that’s where you missed it. I’m not looking for survivors. I’m looking for builders, and I don’t need a survivor. And what you don’t understand is that your cynical jokes are a quick fix for you right now. They seem to be funny. But what they’re doing is they are spreading poison of: Why bother? And we cannot build the future with: “Why bother?”
I said to him, “I want you to show me one single, successful entrepreneurial book or interview that starts with: “My secret to success was I was cynical about every new idea that came in.” It doesn’t work. We need to understand cynicism is like poison to the core, confidence and motivation of the organization. And we need to eradicate it. I cannot speak more boldly about: This is not funny. This is a destruction.
Denver: It’s contagious, is what it is.
Lior: I remember that when I was called to help a company, and I was just walking the aisles and everything, and I saw a lot of Dilbert strips. Remember those Dilbert—
Denver: Yes. Sure. I still see them. Scott Adams.
Lior: Yes. So by the time I came to the CEO, I said, “By the way, I’m probably not going to work with you because your place is just full of cynicism.” And he said, “What do you mean?” I said, “Do you see all these Dilbert strips?” And he said, “Oh, that’s not a problem. I’ll send an email for everybody to remove them. We’ll be fine.” And I said, “You missed the whole point. It’s not what’s on the wall. It’s what’s in the soul!” Because a Dilbert stri… you know what a Dilbert strip says? “My boss is a moron, and my CEO is an idiot.” It’s just the politically correct way of saying that.
And the counter to cynicism is: You can’t eradicate cynicism by sending a memo and saying “stop being cynical.”Obviously, it’s a belief system. You need to replace one belief system with another belief system. The way to change it is by creating inspirational stories that will signify to the organization: we are changing. We are creating a new fabric to replace the old fabric.
I want to share with you a small example, Denver. I had the privilege of working with Mercedes-Benz. And we trained 25,000 people around all of their dealerships in the US, and we focused on creating non-cynical, inspirational stories. And I’ll tell you a small story. A customer showed up at two o’clock in the afternoon on the snowiest day in New Jersey, and she had a flat tire. All the loaners were gone; the shuttle was gone, and the technician looking could not find a tire anyway. He doesn’t have it in inventory. He called other dealerships. Nobody has the tire, snow outside, and everything else.
And he looks at the customer and she’s stressed. She’s visibly stressed. And he turned to her and he said, “Ma’am, why are you visibly stressed? What’s wrong?” And she said, “It’s 2:30 and I promised my son I’d be at his game at four o’clock, and I don’t want to disappoint my son.” And now, it became personal for him. He’s a father. He knows what it means to do that. And he’s thinking, “What can I do? What can I do? What?” There’s no process for this.
Okay. The process failed. The process is over. And he realizes he has the tire in one place, at the showroom on one of the vehicles that are on display. He goes to the showroom, doesn’t ask for permission, removed the tire, put the tire on a jack, installed it and sent her on her way, and he wanted to make sure that she made it to the game. She started to cry, and she said, “No one ever treated me like that.”
At Mercedes, the way we changed the culture was with stories like this. This story was amazing. I love this guy.
Denver: Great story.
Lior: What we are most proud of is that we created 5,000 stories like that in the first year. That’s how you change culture. Every company has one person’s story. Show me that everybody chooses to do that, not the one person. Show me that everyone chooses to do that. So the antidote to cynicism is creating those inspirational stories, demonstrating authentic care, and saying, “This is the new rule.” Because when you do that, you’re going to start closing in on all the cynics, and you’re going to say, “Look, guys, we have a new way of doing business. And if you’re not part of that, the door is out there.”
Denver: And that door also has people coming through it. So how do you hire somebody who is non-cynical? How do you hire somebody who is change-resilient? If you were interviewing somebody today, Lior, what question would you ask them to see if they were change- resilient?
Lior: My killer question is not, unlike others, when they say, “Give me an example where you confronted change and how you responded to it?” My question is: “Give me an example when you initiated change, and how did you do it ahead of the time that you needed to do it?” That’s the killer question for me. And then you can add this one: “How often do you do that?” But that’s a separate story.
Denver: Let’s return to COVID for a minute. You talked about those who were prepared were the ones who were human-centered, the ones who have had digital transformation. But what about the ones who were not prepared? What would you advise them to do now to try to get up to speed? And have you seen any particular ways that people are doing it in this virtual, remote environment in which we’re in?
Lior: So, first and foremost, we need to follow the same logic. If you’re not change-resilient, that means you either didn’t face the facts, or you succumbed to your emotions, which means you got stuck on phase one or on phase two of my model. So that’s problem number one. You need to go back to the basics and see: Where are you stuck? What held you back from seeing the same numbers or the same realities that your company should have seen? You start somewhere. Something is telling you that you can actually slow down, unlike your competition. Something is wrong between what your competition is seeing and what you’re seeing. So that’s the first element.
Then the next element is reshape your vision and purpose. Check that what happened in reality during COVID-19 is consistent with what’s on your wall because most likely when you will measure your real actions during COVID-19… and COVID-19 is a phenomenal opportunity. I just published an article about it. It’s on my blog as well. But I’m saying: take the time of what happened with COVID-19; list all the actions that you have taken; list all the decisions that you made, and rank them in accordance with your value system. Which one, either was a positive or negative against your value system? Because we have just been handed a gift, which is the reality check, the grand test of our values and ambition.
I think you’ll get some reality there about: Are you really aligned to a purpose? Are you really aware of where you are? Are you sticking to the processes, as opposed to sticking to the vision? That will help you get a different story out there and start developing yourself saying: This is what we learned, and this is what we need to do differently.
Denver: Finally, Lior, what is the one thing, the most important thing that you hope people will do differently after reading your book.
Lior: The one thing I want them to do is to ask a simple question whenever change comes. Maybe it’s for good. Give change a chance because most likely when you get used to it, you’ll see that it will become part of your life faster than you can imagine.
So let’s skip this painful process of resistance. Let’s actually enjoy change. Let’s see how change is actually putting more fuel and more power into our purpose. So if there’s one thing I want is: I want you to love change and recognize that maybe, just maybe, there’s something positive there.
Denver: It is a mindset thing, I guess. Right?
Lior: Partially mindset, partially muscle.
Denver: If listeners want to learn more about this work, tell us about your website.
Lior: So, you can find a lot of information on liorarussy.com. You will find articles, interviews, all there. Free of charge for people to access. Obviously, my eight books are available, and Next Is Now is the latest one. And next to the website, you’ll find also the blog where you can find some additional, more updated information.
Denver: Are you working on a ninth book?
Lior: I’m actually working right now on a new chapter to add to Next Is Now that explores what happened with COVID-19 and how actually COVID-19–You know, Next Is Now, we talk about change resilience. It was a bit ahead of its time, not that I forecasted COVID-19, but I did talk about the need for change resilience, and now we are seeing it live. So I’m actually assessing a little bit of what happened there. And I’ll be publishing probably an additional chapter to be available to all, that’s kind of like Change Resilience 2.0 in light of COVID-19.
Denver: Fantastic. Well, thanks, Lior. It was a real delight to have you on the program.
Lior: Thank you. It’s a great pleasure. Thank you very much. Very, very insightful questions that challenged my thinking.
Denver: Thank you.
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