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Part 1: The Five Key Traits of a Transformer

From Stakeholders to Transformers: Engaging Executives to Drive Success

By Alain Paolini, Practice Director, Talent and Organization Performance

“From Stakeholders to Transformers: Engaging Executives to Drive Success” is a two-part article series that first explores and identifies what makes a transformer, and then provides actionable advice on how to create your own transformers.

Research has found that the top driver of project success is having actively engaged executive sponsors, people I like to call “transformers.” Surprisingly, research also shows that less than two-thirds of projects have these executive sponsors. So why the disconnect?

Because too many executives aren’t taking the leap from stakeholder to transformer.

Whether they have assigned power or not, anyone who has a defined stake in the outcome of an initiative is considered a stakeholder. This individual has the opportunity to influence, advocate, or resist change, and they ultimately may own whether change will stick. Think of Rosa Parks refusing to leave her seat on the bus, for example; she had no explicit power other than to stay seated. Parks simply had a stake and by advocating for change, she influenced civil rights in America in a dramatic way.

Being a great stakeholder doesn’t require intimate knowledge of the solution or a lot of time, but it does require curiosity, perspective, and a willingness to trust. Put action to those characteristics, expand your skill set, hone in on those around you, and you’re on your way to becoming a transformer.

Transformers often are the catalysts, accelerators, and drivers of business transformation. They step up beyond what’s expected of a good stakeholder and make transformation happen.

THE FIVE KEY TRAITS OF A TRANSFORMER 

1. Vision that inspires and engages others

Oftentimes in a complex initiative, the end-goal may seem out of reach or even impossible. Transformers make the connection between the vision and the reality of what needs to happen to make it possible, and they communicate that in engaging ways. Without an inspirational vision, it can be incredibly difficult to motivate and compel others to do their part for the change. However, unless you can ground your vision into actionable steps and roles, the final product will remain only a figment of your imagination. Finding someone who can articulate and support a compelling vision is essential to project success.

2. Energy to work through obstacles

Think of transformers as catalysts that provide the energy for the transformation to happen. Transformers do this in different ways: they can motivate the team, they can create urgency for a resolution, they can focus the light on a key aspect of the initiative, etc.

I work with a CFO on an 80-million-dollar program who is excellent at finding energy in different situations. He sometimes refers to himself as the “flight attendant during a turbulent flight,” because he can calm people down, he understands that people take cues from him, and he also helps to guide the moment with his enthusiasm.

3. Ability to walk in other people’s shoes

The best transformers step out of their own role and live the change through the eyes of a different stakeholder. This is often simply referred to as empathy, but I think of it more so as “empathy forward.” These transformers anticipate what the change will do from the point of view of the recipient, they force discussions early, they show by example, they know when to pull back and wait, and most importantly, they listen and appreciate other perspectives.

There is a CIO at an insurance company I’ve worked with who is particularly adept at this. She asks questions about personal impacts, asks about plans, and brings up the difficult questions early, not to force the resolution, but to create the conversation.

4. Power to reinvent where needed

The ability to know when to start over or find a workaround is essential when it comes to being a problem solver. Transformers understand that things might not always work out according to their plan, so they create the conditions for a meaningful discussion of the issues, and they give themselves and others permission to reinvent when it’s the best option.

5. Coalition builder

Throughout a project, transformers must set the stage for different stakeholders to align on a common set of facts and perceptions surrounding the change. This trait also involves knowing when to ask, to hold, or to push. Great coalition builders find the common threads between stakeholders to unite them and drive the transformation.

So how do you become a transformer? Keep in mind, transformers are made, not born. Everyone in an initiative has an opportunity to go from being a stakeholder to a transformer. In the second article of this series, I will walk through five rules to guide you through the journey of building your own transformers.