April 2010. I was in the middle of a big acquisition. A senior partner of a large consultancy firm presented a “sales coverage model” to us. Our senior management was excited, the acquisition was about to close. 1+1=3. Three years later 1+1=1.3. Not 3. The “sales coverage model” was never fully deployed, and the revenue ramp did not happen.

The business case was good. So were the people in charge of the implementation. So, what happened?

The plan boiled down to X number of new hires, and $YM of growth quarter by quarter. That is what was handed over for implementation. X and Y.

Behind that number there is a long list of underlying assumptions, beliefs, values, expectations, biases and entire mental models and concepts. This was not shared, examined, and understood at any point in time. The business team, seeing the number X and Y, apply their own underlying assumptions, beliefs, values, expectations, mental models, and concepts. Different. By far. As human beings, we sense these gaps. But we rarely verbalize them. We reject the perspective, and the person on the other side of that gap, and we resist in silence.

Unpacking this case shows what is often behind failed strategy and change management.

I remember in my early days our CEO launched a ‘strategic framework’. It was a triangle, with abstract concepts and buzzwords at each point. The triangle quickly became subject for mockery and not long after the CEO was ousted (not only because of the triangle, but let it serve as a lesson)…

More recently, another CEO I know keeps repeating that he wants his staff to become more “Entrepreneurial”. He has been saying this for 4 years now. His staff is however not changing…

It does not matter how good a strategy or plan you have. When you just tell people to change, to embrace your conceptual view and change behavior accordingly, it tends to fail. Despite all the drawings and statements that are published on websites, in newsletters, and in PowerPoint slides.

So, what does work then, to bring people to change?

I have had the pleasure to work and interact with Michel (not real name) for the past 15 years. Over the past 4 decades he has enabled teams to implement strategy, to adopt and embrace change, and get some of the most hard-headed sceptics engaged and motivated.

Close to 100% success rate, it is a quite stark contrast to the large number of failures in strategy and change we see in the corporate world in general. So what is Michel’s secret?

One example from a consulting engagement a few years ago brings a clue. Thanks to Michel, the manager in charge of pricing redefined his purpose from “setting the right prices” to “ensure there is a competitive portfolio in the market”. This reignited the entire marketing department of a $Bs business.


The HR director of another client, where I worked with Michel to facilitate change, told him: “I dot not know what you did, but Peter (not real name) is a new person, he really stepped up to the challenge and demonstrated leadership in a way I have not seen before”


A more recent example where I was involved: Michel was brought onboard with a mission of to help a large cross-functional team transform a complex business model. 3 Month later, 50 middle managers were moving in the same direction, towards the new way of doing business. 1000’s of conversations about principles, learning, experiments, customers, process, capabilities and much more, leading to a shift in mindset of what to do, how to do it, why, what for, when and with whom.


What drives this success? What does Michel do concretely that is different? He is of course smart, experienced, well trained, and knowledgeable in the fields of leadership, management, change and organisational development, based on his career as an international executive and as a “consultant” But many other leaders and consultants are too, and they still fail to achieve change, to implement that strategy, or to get the employees truly engaged into the work.

Michel sees the world through the eyes of the other person.

Change implies to go from “A” to “B”, on a reasonably efficient trajectory. “A” being the point where the individual, team or organisation is today, “B” a directional stake in the ground of where to go that is to be explored and discovered. The trajectory is never a straight line.

Seeing the world through the eyes of others, allows to have a common view of what point “A” is, and this common view is accurate by definition. It also allows to discover point B from the other persons perspective as well. And last but not least, with a common view on what “A” and “B” is, it allows Michel to help the other find and stay on an efficient trajectory where he is connected to the other persons continuously evolving view of the world. Throughout this process, the other start thinking strategically, engages and takes ownership, and grows as a leader and manager.

Now, if we look back at how most leaders, consultants, and coaches work, seeing the world through their own eyes, it is quite different. Point “B” is not understood by “the other”. There is no common view on what point “A” is. So, the dialogue about what trajectory to take to achieve change, is at best a constant source of ambiguity and conflict, and at worst a silent agreement to adopt superficial actions that do not lead to change but appeases the leaders.

Seeing the world through the eyes of others is perhaps the holy grail to make change happen. But how do you do it? Anyone who has worked close enough to Michel, and paid attention to what he does, knows it is not easy.

It is done by asking a lot of questions. By listening carefully. By helping people to express things that are not clear in their own head. By drawing up concepts, pictures, discussion, testing ideas. Questions and answers are mapped in real time against the complexity of the system, hypotheses are formed, tested and proven right or wrong, at an amazingly fast pace. And when he has done it once, he does it again, and again, until point “A” and “B” emerges.

It is a little bit like building a 3D puzzle, where you have no image of what the final result should look like, you do not know what pieces are available or not, how many there are and how they will fit together. But when you show the puzzle to the other, he or she says: “Yes, that is me”

In the 3 client cases above, I highlighted that sometimes it looks EASY, sometimes like MAGIC and sometimes it looks COMPLEX. It all depends on how close you look. From afar is looks easy. Just one slide. A new purpose. Should not take that long to write up, right? Then you look a bit closer, people that have been cemented in the way they go about things for decades start to speak in a new way, behave differently, new energy around. Must be witchcraft, right? When you are fully part of it and look closely, you start to see that it is not witchcraft. The conversation of what one single word, like entrepreneurial, means is in fact a systematic and systemic exploration and discovery of the entire business ecosystem, where everyone has his or her unique view of everything.

This is COMPLEX indeed, but also rich. It is where the MAGIC happens that makes the final outcome and achievements look EASY.

I wrote this piece because I think our organisations, and our world becomes a bit better if we all try to see the world through the eyes of others.

The reward, beyond a better world, is that over time you get small incremental results in your business. A bit more engagement, a bit smother operation, a bit more impact. And the time you spend will give you the value back in increased performance.

This is how Michel does it, and how you can do it:

1. Ask WHY! Michel did this way before Simon Sinek got popular.

2. Ask questions! Open, non-directive questions.

3. Listen! Rather than trying to convince others to align to your worldview.

4. Observe! Yourself and others.

5. Discuss! Meaning and implication of concepts and buzzwords.

6. Write! It helps everyone understand better.

7. Draw! Images reveals a lot.

8. Reflect. Seek patterns and meaning.

9. Be Humble!

10. Know that sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know!

Love to hear your thoughts