(I'm Al)

I’m not that different from a lot of executives. I’ve spent 30 years in corporate life, the last two decades on senior leadership teams at the tops of large divisions of well-known companies, and even at the tops of companies. So if you’re an executive, I’ve seen a lot of things from your vantage point.

The launch of Travelocity’s Roaming Gnome dovetailed with the launch of the Travelocity Customer Guarantee, which I championed. The Guarantee ushered in a whole new philosophy about customers as well as new technology and processes. Despite initial internal resistance, the change was successful, and the Guarantee remains Travelocity’s key differentiator in the marketplace 15 years later.

Except maybe when it comes to change. When I’m not driving it, change seems to follow me around.

I started studying change—the winners and losers and what makes them different—after an unsuccessful transformation effort more than 20 years ago. Actually, it was 20 years, four companies, eight jobs, eight CEOs, three CEO transitions and countless other executive transitions, numerous corporate-wide and divisional change efforts (including an IPO, a hostile takeover, a take-private/leveraged buyout, two startups inside large corporations, massive globalization, a complete overnight change in business models, and two 40 percent layoffs), too many other changes to count, discussions about change with numerous management consultants and other senior executives, and thousands upon thousands of pages of reading ago.

I’ve conquered change, been a change agent and failed miserably. I’ve learned a lot:

  • Most organizations lose at change, and it’s not because they lack good strategy, capable people or a good “why” for the change; they lose because they forget—even if for a minute—that there is no change if their people don’t change.
  • Winning leaders realize they have to be the first to change—by changing their mindsets—if the change is ever going to last.
  • Leaders who lose at change try to get their people to change. That’s actually counterproductive, and science backs this up. Winning leaders get their people to want to change. These are two very different things.
  • To get their people to want to change, winning leaders get fully engaged in the effort from the beginning, pulling their people to (and through) the change, listening and using their people’s ideas, and modeling the change.
  • In short, if we want to win at change, we have to prime our people for the change before we ever start executing.

It’s taken me 20 years to boil all of this (and a lot more) down, and now I’m sharing what I’ve learned, so our organizations can flourish, so we stop wasting $2 trillion a year on change, so leaders and employees don’t suffer through failed change in vain, and so my own children will have change-adept organizations to work for when they join the job market in a decade or so.

Are you ready to prime your people for the change at hand? Someone will. I hope it’s you!

Bringing three global GE businesses together to start-up GE's Distributed Power business required a cultural blend that re-dedicated all employees to the possibility of generating power at or near the point of use. The launch and a continued pipeline of communications brought significant excitement inside the organization. It also brought attention from other sources: President Obama visited to endorse what the organization was doing.
Driving change across American Airlines European Division was a tall task, given the entrenched corporate culture spread across nine countries, each of which had its own nuanced culture.
I’ve worked in more than 30 countries, including living in the UK, and I can say that change has idiosyncrasies in every single culture. What’s the same? We all have to want to change if the change will ever be successful; we can’t be told to change.
SabreTown, believed to be the first social network inside an organization (2007), brought together the people of Travelocity’s parent company, Sabre, which was rapidly changing through globalization.

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