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Are You Focused on Assessing Your Past or Clarifying Your Future?

Are You Focused on Assessing Your Past or Clarifying Your Future?

by Mark Samuel

In a recent meeting of global company executives, I was asked about the difference between traditional change management and a B STATE approach for getting breakthrough results. They wanted to know how we achieve such consistent business results and culture change success in only 6 months.

“How many days per month are you in the organization?” a senior VP asked.

“A B STATE approach doesn’t work that way,” I responded. “Our implementation system only takes 2 days to install and about a half-day per month at most to support the transformation.”

Stunned, he asked a follow-up question. “How many months does it take to assess the situation so that you know exactly where to focus the change effort?”

Now I was stunned. “The most time we’ve spent assessing an organization’s history is about three days. And many times, it’s less.”

The key to speed and sustainability is in where we focus our time.


Part 1: Creating a Compelling Picture of Success

Start by Changing the Game

The way to change fast and with less struggle is to create a New Future Reality and place your focus on that instead of the current situation that you want to improve. So how do you create a new future reality? Think about it for a minute. It’s never in moments of worry, stress, or being overly focused on the problems themselves that we receive new and creative solutions to those problems. 

You’ve probably noticed that those answers come in quiet moments: getting distracted by a friendly phone call, taking a break, or even going to sleep. How often have you awoken, been inspired to, or even just quietly heard in an unsuspecting moment, an idea that solves the problem you were belaboring with your mind just a week, a day or even an hour earlier. The one thing I’ve noticed more times than not is that my best ideas don’t come from worry, stress, or struggle to find a solution. As Albert Einstein said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” 

To make a significant change like so many businesses and individuals need or desire from time to time requires a different mindset, a new way to think about your situation and how you fit into that situation. This could refer to any aspect of your life, whether it’s business, relationships, health, or even your self-image. A true transformation involves a change of habits, attitude, and behaviors that put form to the new mindset. You have to create a new reality. 

Once you create that new reality, your B STATE – breakthrough state, it completely changes the game and many of your previous challenges to moving forward are no longer issues!


Creating Your New Reality

There are four simple steps for creating your new B STATE reality. You can do each step by yourself or with others on your team. 

STEP #1: Identify Your External Business Drivers

Sometimes we change because we want to! Most of the time we change because we are “called” to. The world is constantly evolving – technology, societal trends, global conditions and many other factors. As human beings and as companies, we have to change with it. Can you imagine still using a fax machine as your primary mode of communicating documents from one location to another? When was the last time you went into a phone booth and took out your coins to make a call? 

Understanding your external drivers is a key influence for making a change. This includes new customer expectations, competitive trends, new technology, updated regulatory standards, economy shifts, and societal changes to name a few. While you cannot control external drivers, if you don’t respond to them, your market could easily decline and you could risk losing your business. Just ask Blackberry, Blockbuster, or Toys R Us to name a few.   

What are the primary External Drivers impacting your business in the next 1 to 5 years? 

STEP #2: How Are Others Responding?

Your entire industry is probably dealing with the same or similar External Drivers. How are your direct competitors and even indirect companies in your industry responding to those external drivers? You may even want to look for new companies entering your industry with new business models or approaches to their market that you can learn from. 

You can even look at other industries impacted by the same External Drivers to learn how they are changing their businesses to become more responsive, more personalized for their customer, and even how they’re changing their organizational structure and approach. For instance, how many companies have been “forced” to change their mindset about “shipping” based on Amazon’s same-day to 2-day shipping models?  

What can you learn from others inside and outside of your industry to upgrade your business model or change your approach to the market, internal processes, and functioning?  

STEP #3: What Are Your Core Competencies and Passions and How Do You Need to Respond?

In step #1, I referred to “The Call” for making a change. This involves an “inner direction” based on your unique qualities. If you are an individual, you can consider these your “innate” qualities. Many companies have made changes by focusing on their core strengths and outsourcing all other functions to external suppliers. Another use of a core competency was demonstrated by Amazon. They took their effectiveness in shipping and pricing and entered the pharmaceutical industry. Who would ever have thought of Amazon becoming your local pharmacy? Yet, how many people love going to the pharmacy, standing in line, and waiting forever to get their prescriptions filled? None that I’ve ever met.   

What are your core competencies or innate skills and how can you leverage them differently or more to gain an advantage for your business?  

STEP #4: Engaging Your People to Build a New Reality

There are two parts to building a new reality. The first part involves the business ideas that will change or modify your existing model to keep up with the external drivers. Building this part of the new reality is a creative process, but not one without parameters. Because no one is so intelligent, so creative, or so successful that they contain the BEST ideas for change, it takes a “village” of others to build on each other’s creative input. Yet, it’s critical to provide a direction for this input to be most useful. This direction includes responding to external drivers and using core competencies instead of developing brand new skills that would be hard to develop or acquire.

The second part of the new reality involves the new mindset, new attitudes, and new way of functioning operationally to support the new business reality we are building. I call this new Habits of Collective Execution. How do we need to show up differently? What new competencies, new ways of collaborating across functional lines, and new approaches to leadership do we need to develop if we are to create that new reality and sustain it afterwards? So often, I witness organizations create an idea for a new business reality and then try to achieve it with their old habits of collective execution, their old culture – a method that almost always fails. 

What are the potential areas for your new business reality and how will your organization need to function differently to achieve that new reality? 

A Final Note

Creating a new reality isn’t necessarily difficult to formulate, but it does require space and quiet time to allow your creativity, inspiration, and intuition to come forward. You can’t rush it and you can’t easily innovate in the midst of handling day-to-day crises. It is best done on retreat where you can change settings, move around, and have ample time to brainstorm using lots of butcher paper on the walls or flip charts around the room. 

Make it fun! Keep it light! Give yourself permission to explore the possibilities that you never thought of before to adapt your business to a new reality. You may even invite other creatives outside of your business to participate in order to get out-of-the-box thinking that’s new and different from those inside your organization. 

Once you create a vision for your new B STATE reality, let that new reality pull you into manifesting your future rather than pushing yourself to achieve it. 

Communicate your vision clearly as a leader

So you’ve created your Picture of Success – a new vision that’ll take your company to new heights. You’re excited and you can’t wait to get started sharing this Picture with your team, your managers, and your employees. But hold on a second. The biggest mistake leaders make in communicating their Vision is jumping too quickly to link the Vision to the priorities, goals, and objectives of their strategic business plan. And just like that, back to A State they go! With no transformation and only a mild improvement…if they’re lucky!

Part 2: Communicating Your Picture of Success – Your New Reality

Ruth, the CEO of a medium-sized company, shared her frustration: “I gathered everyone for an all-hands meeting and passionately shared my vision for the organization. I was clear about what we needed to do differently in order to compete in our marketplace. I even answered people’s questions. But three months later, NO CHANGE!”

Maybe you have had a similar experience or heard a similar story, and maybe you just accepted this as the way the things are. “It takes YEARS to change a culture!” seems to be the common excuse and paradigm used by “experts” in the organizational culture field.


But what is true is that communicating your message, rolling out a training program, and even doing process improvement will not turn your Picture of Success into a New Reality.

The Seven Steps

Communicating your Picture of Success in a way that quickly changes your culture requires seven simple steps:

Step 1: Share the Context for Transformation

You’ve been immersed in responding to the external drivers—market trends, economic changes, new technologies, competitive threats, customer demands, and regulatory restrictions—that have forced you to rethink your business and resulted in a new Picture of Success. But others in your organization have been so focused on meeting daily demands, that they haven’t been able to lift their head up long enough to think about external drivers, let alone the possibility of creating a B STATE.

Announcing your Picture of Success without understanding the external drivers that provide context devalues your message. To your employees, it just sounds like the next “flavor of the month” change based on the personality of the CEO. Ultimately, the context for change provides the compelling purpose or “burning platform” for transformation.

Step 2: Communicate with One Voice

No matter how inspiring the Leader is when delivering a message, it’ll ultimately mean nothing to employees if it’s not backed up by words and actions carried out by the leadership team when they return to their functional areas. It’s critical for leadership to speak with one voice in full alignment—not only in words, but also in actions that demonstrate consistency with the CEO’s message. Communicating with one voice begins with the CEO’s announcement. The entire Executive Team should participate in the delivery of the message in order to demonstrate their participation in creating it and their aligned agreement to make the Picture of Success a reality.

Step 3: Demonstrate Shared Ownership

It’s easy to ask everyone else to change, but what demonstrates true commitment is when you describe the changes you yourself plan to make in service to your Picture of Success. Part of delivering your Picture of Success includes sharing the changes that the Executive Team plans to make in their team execution such as how they will function differently as a team and the business goals they plan to drive and achieve as a team. This message let’s people know that they have “skin in the game” of the transformation, instead of only relying on others to make it happen.

Step 4: Set New Expectations for the Entire Organization

Too often, leaders want others to be accountable for making changes without clearly articulating their expectations for the new mindset and behaviors that would reflect the change. When articulating the Picture of Success, it’s essential to clearly articulate the new mindset, attitudes, and behaviors of all people involved in the change in a general but clear manner. For upper middle managers, it might be a clear expectation of working more effectively across functions and demonstrating greater inclusion of others in solving system issues. For line managers, the message could be a call for less “heroics” and greater use of the team in solving challenges and breakdowns, demonstrating value for developing true engaged teamwork.

It’s helpful for everyone to gain greater clarity for how they fit in the new organization and how the changes committed to by executives and expected for middle management and first level managers are all aligned. It’s easier to make a change when you know that everyone is doing their part to make the transformation.

Step 5: Ensure Your Picture of Success Comes Alive

After the Picture of Success is shared, it can easily die from the lack of attention and energy given to it afterwards. Serving customers, operational goals, and daily challenges tend to draw people’s attention and efforts leaving the Picture of Success and the expectations of new behaviors all but forgotten within a month.

It’s up to leadership at all levels to keep the Picture of Success alive. How can that be done in a practical way? By starting every meeting with a verbal reminder of the key and relevant external drivers and a brief summary of the Picture of Success as it relates to the group attending the meeting. This takes about 1 to 2 minutes and is not a read or prepared speech, but an embodied message that kicks off the meeting as a set point for solving problems, making decisions, and ensuring that the discussion not only deals with immediate goals and concerns, but also reflects the direction of the Picture of Success.

A pipeline organization used this very tactic and made a huge transformation in only three months that demonstrated a change in culture and business results. It happened fast because every leader was sharing their perspective of the Picture of Success until everyone in the organization not only understood it intellectually, but was also using it as a reference point for taking action.

Step 6: Share Monthly Accomplishments Report

This is an easy step to add focus, gain momentum, and provide a vehicle that inspires shared ownership at all levels for moving on the Picture of Success. Each month, managers provide a short Accomplishments Report of the business results, new mindset, and habits demonstrated by their teams. This type of Accomplishments Report takes less than 10 minutes to produce and for most managers will only take about 5 minutes. It is usually compiled by someone in Human Resources or Continuous Improvement. The report provides information that can become part of a newsletter and any other fun measurable indicators in order to indicate how various functional areas are contributing to the Picture of Success. Have fun with it and get creative. It builds on the fun of shared ownership and contributing to a positive change.

Step 7: Turn New Expectation into Positive Accountability

How many times have you promised or been promised a major vision of change only to realize months later that it was never spoken about again except in newsletters, posters, or marketing information pieces? Leaders talk commitment, but without clear follow-up, other crises and competing priorities will leave the vision of change a distant memory. To make sure this doesn’t happen, establish a Quarterly Update Communication that will report on the progress made by the organization towards manifesting the Picture of Success. This progress report doesn’t just list the business results achieved, it is also a summary of mindset and behavior changes that match the expectations articulated at the initial presentation of the Picture of Success. Of course, this begins by reporting to everyone the changes that the Executive Team made based on what was committed to in their initial messaging.

It’s the stories told by various leaders at different levels articulating the changes in their mindset and behaviors that are the most exciting, educational, and inspiring for others to follow suit. Reporting mini success stories from all levels and functions creates an invitation for everyone to participate and demonstrates true accountability to the entire organization.


B STATE approach to accountability is unique in that it creates a proactive approach to change that pulls people in rather than the typical reactive accountability systems that push people to take action. Lasting change doesn’t come from being forced to comply with new ideas from leadership. It comes from really understanding those ideas and being inspiredto make changes in accordance with them.

The purpose of communicating your Picture of Success is not to share information. The real purpose of sharing your vision is to optimize the response you get from the information you share. If you follow the seven steps I just laid out for you, your message and vision won’t just fall to the wayside; it will inspire self-improvement, teamwork, and contribution to the organization’s burning platform for transformation.

Create a vision that everyone can support

I recently talked to a frustrated senior leader who said…

“I’ve communicated the new picture, why we need it, and how urgent it is to our success. In our meetings together, the facts are clear and everyone nods their head in agreement, but as soon as they leave the room, everyone goes back to their old behaviors… AS IF NOTHING NEEDS TO CHANGE!”

Have you ever seen this happen in your organization?

Just giving people the intellectual information supporting your vision never creates breakthrough results or the behaviors needed to support it. You have to change their mindset first or they stay stuck in their old habits – stuck in their “A State.”

Part 3: Creating a Mindset Change that People Can Act On Immediately

A person’s mindset involves their way of thinking, attitudes, and beliefs. Focusing on results and actions are the primary focuses of most change efforts. The problem is that if you take action on change with the existing, or old, mindset, you will likely recreate the old results. For instance, if you have a mindset or belief that the current procedure couldn’t be better, how do you think that might impact you when you “try” to implement a newer version of that procedure?

One organization wanted to improve their Safety record. They rolled out a new Safety program for leaders and line workers. They placed “Safety-First” and “Safety is our #1 Priority” posters in all of the buildings. However, the mindset of leaders didn’t change, so in meetings, after the 1 minute “safety moment” the entire focus was on increasing production. Safety didn’t improve.

Three Steps to Creating a New Mindset

A new mindset can begin with a new philosophy, a new set of principles, or a new set of core values. However, they seldom translate to a new mindset that people can act on. There are three primary steps to developing a B STATE Mindset.

Step 1: Clarify Your New Expanded Role

Ever since you were born, you have been on a constant journey and adventure of growth and expansion. This translates to learning new technology, new equipment, new processes, and other indicators of your evolution. As customers, we desire new and improved everything. Better service, faster equipment, and more “bells and whistles.”

The human pattern of growth, evolution, and expansion translates to the constant need for organizations to evolve and expand as well – constantly doing more, and most of the time, with less resources. This isn’t bad, just a reality that pulls us forward to being more creative, adaptive, and responsive.

Questions for Clarifying Your Expanded Role:

  1. How will your role and responsibilities need to expand as the organization evolves based on the External Drivers identified to create your Picture of Success?
  2. How will your role become more strategic, innovative, and collaborative in the future to contribute to your Picture of Success?

Step 2: Expand Your Relationships

As your role evolves and grows, it’s important to think differently about your relationship with others in the organization. While it could mean having a different role with your functional teammates, it usually means reaching out to people in other parts of the organization for expanded teamwork. Thinking differently about your relationships involves several areas for improvement:

  • Resolving breakdowns and poor coordination between functional areas
  • Improving communication and information flow
  • Learning more about the working of other functional areas
  • Developing trusting relationships for more responsive problem-solving and support

Questions for Expanding Your Relationships:

  1. Who might you need to work with in your organization aside from your current colleagues?
  2. What information will you need to share with others that wasn’t part of your previous role?
  3. What information will you need from others based on your expanded role in Step 1 above?
  4. Who would benefit from being proactively included when you are making plans that impact other areas?

Step 3: Raise the Bar on Performance Expectations

One of the greatest errors people make when they are hired is thinking that the role they are hired for in the organization will remain constant as long as their title and job description remains the same. But this doesn’t account for the constantly increasing demands of customers, changes in technology, and the threat of increased competition. The organization can’t keep up with those increasing demands for higher performance while everyone maintains their existing level of performance.

A medical center went through a major culture and performance transformation. One of the leaders of that transformation was a Director who was more skilled and had a more visionary mindset than his peers. He was relied on to support others in making the necessary changes. Unfortunately, because he was so advanced compared to others, he didn’t develop himself any further. Why would he? He was the top performer. However, within four years, the organization’s performance surpassed his maintained level, and he was struggling just to keep up with his peers.

Questions to Raise the Bar on Performance Expectations:

  1. In what ways can you be kinder, more helpful, and more understanding of your internal or external customers?
  2. How can you be more proactive and/or strategic in your role so that you are anticipating needs and challenges ahead of time?
  3. In what ways can you learn more about your business or other functional areas to better understand how your role impacts others?

Regardless of how you answered the questions above, a B STATE Mindset involves replacing any mindset of internal competition, threat of being replaced, and fear of change with increased cooperation, openness to new ideas, and desire for change.

Old habits hold your company back

In the middle of a recent coaching session, a CEO complained:

“I shared our new vision and mindset change in an All-Hands Meeting. People were inspired, asked questions about it, and committed to act! But it’s been 3 months and I haven’t seen any significant change!” 

It’s easy to blame people for not taking action on a new mindset. And it’s pointless. New mindsets don’t change behavior. I wish they did. I would be much thinner today.

While a new mindset can feel inspiring, motivating, and create a clear desire for change, we are held back by our habits that are locked into place by years of repetition. Habits are the behaviors we exhibit without having to think about it – they are automatic! When we create a new mindset (new way of thinking), it has no impact on our embedded habits of behavior, which bypass our thinking mechanism. That’s what leads us to failure, frustration, and self-judgment when our motivation doesn’t result in new behavior.

To get different results, we must translate our new mindset into new habits of collective behavior and execution, and the only way to change a habit is to replace an old habit with a new one.

Part 4: Developing New Habits of Collective Execution

At this point, companies often want to introduce skill building and training as the solution, but this doesn’t solve this issue, because we can learn new behaviors, but they aren’t generally strong enough to overcome our set habits that we have engrained for years.

While we have demonstrated this approach for over 30 years, the most recent book on Habits, The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg describes this process.

A Simple Process for Developing New Habits

Changing habits aren’t easy, because it involves stopping the old automatic behavior, replacing it with a new behavior, and practicing it over and over again until the new behavior becomes automatic.

1)  Forget About Your Old Habits

The biggest mistake people make when changing their habits is to assess their old habits, thinking they need to understand the old to come up with something different. The problem is that it reinforces what hasn’t worked. Let go of your old habits and place your focus on what you want to accomplish.

2)  Expand Your Relationships

Identify any behaviors described in your Picture of Success/New Mindset and ask yourself the question, “What would I be doing differently to think, behave, react, and act consistently with my Picture of Success and New Mindset?”

3)  Develop a Step-by-Step Description of Thinking & Behaviors

Thinking in sequential order, identify what thinking or behaviors you would do differently to be living in your B STATE Picture of Success. For instance, when a company’s Picture of Success included needing to make decisions more quickly and effectively, they wrote:

  1. Be clear about the purpose and impact of your decision (The Why)
  2. Include anyone impacted by the decision you are making
  3. Identify the criteria for making the decision based on your Picture of Success, including timeframe
  4. Develop recovery plans for anyone negatively impacted by the decision
  5. Communicate that decision with an aligned message
  6. Evaluate implementation and make modifications as necessary

4)  Establish a Tracking System for Use of the New Habit

Whatever you track, you will focus upon. This method is used by professional athletes, sales people, and CEOs when they are driving for results. Make it simple and check in on a daily basis to determine if you are using the new habit consistently. Remember, repetition is critical, but at first you have to slow your process down to be deliberate in remembering to use the new habit instead of going into automatic response.

5)  Identify Your Support System

It is much harder to change habits by yourself, especially when others demonstrate your old habit. For example, it’s really hard to stay on your diet of eating vegetables and protein when your family or co-workers are eating pizza – in front of you!

Identify those who are kind and respect your boundaries and goals as an accountability buddy or team. They can help you gently hold yourself accountable by providing encouragement to stay the course of  implementing your new habits.

6) Recognize Small Wins and Progress

Changing habits generally doesn’t happen overnight, so it’s important to celebrate any small wins, including just using the new habit, using it consistently, doing better than the day before, getting a good result from the habit, and acknowledging anyone who helps you in developing that new habit. These are all examples of wins.

Once you are clear on creating and implementing your new habits of execution, you are closer than you think to manifesting your Picture of Success! It’s very exciting to see your dreams come true.

Build proactive recovery plans for inevitable setbacks

It’s when we are sick and tired of being stuck that we are the most motivated to make a change. This could be getting more organized, losing weight, or improving our communication skills.

We create set of habits to support ourselves in making the change and we have a ton of willpower to stick to our new habits. And, it’s going great! We are seeing and measuring results, and getting feedback from others that they notice the difference. Life couldn’t be better, and we feel on top of the world for finally making the change we dreamed about for years.

Then, out of nowhere, we are hit with a crisis or overwhelming situation, creating stress and a level of urgent activity that requires our full attention.

What happens to that new habit in which you received so much recent success? That’s right – we revert back to the old habits that never worked for us, but are more comfortable than the new habits we are trying to make automatic.

Have you experienced this setback? Did you blame yourself for not being disciplined enough, not having enough will power, and not being accountable or keeping your agreements? Did you end up feeling discouraged, frustrated, and even maybe hopeless that this habit will never change?

So, what do we do?

Part 5: Proactive Recovery Plans – The Secret to Success

Remember, you are not alone! And, you only made two errors in this process. One is expecting that when things are going great you won’t have a setback – this is normal for any human being, even the ones you think never seem to have a setback. Two is blaming yourself as not being good enough to keep up with the new habit that is working for you. There is no value or good at blaming yourself.

Developing Proactive Recovery Plans

Proactive Recovery Plans are used by professional sports teams, musicians, dancers, and Entrepreneurs. They know the importance of not getting caught off-guard and being prepared for anything that can happen.

One of the best examples of this was with Walt Disney, who also founded Cal Arts College. My cousin, Adam, graduated from Cal Arts, and took us for a tour of the college after his graduation. We went into a two-story building that wasn’t very large but had a huge elevator. I asked him “Why do you have such a huge elevator?”

“When Walt Disney came up with the idea of a college, so he developed the architectural plans for the elevator to fit a gurney used in hospitals, since hospitals will always be in need in case the college doesn’t succeed.”

Step 1: Identify Potential Obstacles or Breakdowns to Successfully Changing Your Habits

Some people think this is unnecessary negative thinking, but in reality, it’s more focused on being prepared, so you don’t get surprised by the unknown. And, you are only interested in a maximum of 3 obstacles that are the most likely to occur and throw you off. Some obstacles are easy to handle and make the adjustment. But these are the ones that might cause an emotionally negative reaction or a difficult to correct situation.

Step 2: Develop the Easiest Ways to Recover for the 1-3 Obstacles Identified

It’s important to recognize that a Recovery Plan is not identified to prevent a breakdown from occurring. And, while it could be a Plan B or Contingency Plan, similar to Walt Disney’s Hospital Solution, that isn’t the only kind of Recovery Plan.

Many times, you can’t develop a Contingency Plan, because you don’t have enough information based on what led to the obstacle that surfaced. The Proactive Recovery Plan is simply the identification of everyone needed to convene to come up with a solution as quickly as possible for a decision.

In one organization, they implemented a major change, and made sure to involve all departments in developing the communication plan to let them know if a problem occurred (without blame), but to get them in a room to discuss alternative solutions. Recovery happened in days instead of months, which was their history.

Individually, when I am starting a new eating regimen, I have to consider my recovery plan when I travel to different clients in different parts of the country. This include foods I will take with me and places around where I am staying to purchase foods on my eating program. It may even include communicating with my clients ahead of time, so they are prepared for my meals at their office.

Step 3: Communication and Action Plan

Developing a clear communication and action plan with all impacted so no one is caught off guard, if the obstacle shows up. This is similar to a dress rehearsal, where you walk through the steps of recovery to ensure that everyone is prepared before the incident takes place. This is regularly practiced by fire departments, police departments and the
military given that their lives depend on effective recovery for unpredictable situations.

When proactive recovery plans are in place, the normal reaction of “finding someone to blame” when a breakdown occurs, is replaced by immediate action and movement forward to solve the problem. No surprises. No delays. Just taking the next steps for success.

One customer told our client who had implemented a recovery plan that included the customer in the plan shared, “We didn’t think it was a breakdown. She just though it was the next step in the process.” Customer satisfaction increased significantly and immediately.

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