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March 20th, 2013

This month I was honored to be interviewed by Bill Fox, a true visionary in the field of Process Improvement.  Bill’s blog http://5minutespisuccess.com has been visited and referred to countless times since its inception and his profound interviews with thought leaders in the field are top notch.   Perhaps Bill will allow me to interview him at some point!  In the meanwhile here is the transcript of our interview:

Bill Fox: It’s my pleasure to be speaking with Margarita Rozenfeld, CEO of Incite International, whose company is well known for their leadership and organizational development capabilities. Incite helps clients align their vision, culture and people, which results in more productive, connected and innovative organizations. I’ve attended a number of Margarita’s workshops, so I know firsthand how effective she is in these areas and was very excited when she agreed be interviewed. I’m looking forward to what she has to say.

Margarita, “What is your best process improvement strategy or tactic that has worked well for you or your clients?”

Margarita: In my experience improvements that have proven to be most successful long-term are ones that managed to attain support at all levels of the organization – beginning on top and then all the way through. I find that when people are coming up with change initiatives, if they don’t successfully recruit champions throughout the leadership ranks, it becomes difficult to impossible to get the momentum and the energy necessary for the change to take root and become sustainable.

Bill: I think that’s a good insight and definitely something I have seen too, Margarita. How do you help influence a situation when that lack of support is missing all the way through?

Margarita: That’s a really good question. It really depends on what they’re trying to accomplish. Many organizations I’ve worked with are seeking to improve their culture or processes that affect people’s effectiveness or satisfaction in the workplace. What’s often compelling is helping them to really consider the impact – including to the bottom line – of making those changes as well as consequences or costs to remaining in status quo. Because I work with so many mission-inspired organization it’s often not just about the bottom line or the ROI, but also the potential impact on their capacity to fulfill their mission that makes a huge difference.

It sometimes happens that people who initiate change initiatives are slightly intimidated or may not have the correct tools or the right language to sell it to the upper leadership.  Sometimes they try to wing it on their own or think that if they can get a lot of champions among the other levels they will be okay. And unfortunately they often find that it’s not sufficient  because ultimately it’s the leaders of the organization who sign the checks, push through bureaucratic and other barriers and give everyone permission to jump onboard and move forward together (or not).

Bill: That’s a really good point, Margarita. Let’s say someone finds themselves in a lower level position and they need to sell the idea to higher levels in the organization, do you have any recommendations on the best way to do that?

Margarita: The first thing that I recommend clients do is really think about what drives their leaders and what shuts them down. Sometimes the change initiative threatens the status quo the leaders worked so hard to build and maintain. It basically says to the people in charge, “Your baby is ugly” or “We no longer want the things that you spent 30 years creating. This new thing is going to be so much better!”

I find that first honoring what has been created already helps to overcome potential resistance to the initiatives being offered. Even for consultants it’s dangerous to go in and say, “You know, here is a whole new system you can implement that will be so much better than what you already have.” The message that often people take is, “Wow, you’re really invalidating what I’ve created. I worked really, really hard to build this.” It’s better to take a collaborative approach and get them to be an active participant in the improvement process. It pays to have a bit of patience because it often takes people a while to get behind something that is brand new and potentially scary.

Bill: That’s a great perspective Margarita that I’m sure that’s often overlooked and minimized. My next question is about your tagline, “insights from off-sites.” Would you be willing to share why you chose those words and what they mean to you?

Margarita: When you were telling me about your new experience in Hawaii where they are bringing talent from around the world to this beautiful, serene place to co-create together, that is exactly the idea behind “insights from off-sites.”  I noticed that when retreats, training or consulting initiatives are held in somebody’s regular, same old environment, there’s only so much new energy (and thus new thinking and creativity) that gets generated. The environment really impacts people in a way that we don’t always give it credit to.

I found that whenever we take clients off-site, even if it’s just a building next door that is new to them and they aren’t tethered to their same old computer or Blackberry, all kinds of interesting, innovative, energetic shifts happen. And so when I was rebranding my company several years ago and reflecting on what I wanted my new brand to be I was really inspired by this idea. It takes people to get out of their present state of mind, to get out of their current environment so that they can create or co-create something that is new, fresh, and visionary moving forward.

Bill: That’s a fascinating coincidence with the story I started out with about Hawaii, Margarita!

Margarita: I know, it’s interesting. If you noticed, the banner image on top of InciteInternational.com is an executive table on the beach. It’s exactly what you’re talking about with your new project.

Bill: The other fascinating coincidence is that’s how I came at my work from the flying and experiencing the benefits of a higher perspective. The workshops I’m considering will begin with a flight – maybe by plane or perhaps it will just be a video.

Margarita: Absolutely! Even though I don’t personally lead high-ropes courses, this is why they do often work so well (even though sometimes people like to make fun of them). But ultimately, just about every group I’ve ever talked to or participated in involving these types of activities walks away far more connected and with a whole different perspective. People do all kinds of team-building activities with yachts, planes, taking volunteer trips to developing countries, you name it. And after that, it’s of course a matter of keeping that energy alive and facilitating sustainability of results achieved through the off-site experiences.

Bill: Your web site talks about how you support clients who seek to align their vision, culture, and people. Can you give an example of a company who succeeded by doing this?

Margarita: That’s a really good question. This goes back also to what we started our discussion with – vision.  I think Zappos is a great example of a vision-driven company that’s had incredible success.  It’s not like Zappos is out to change the world by alleviating hunger and homelessness. They’re selling shoes.  And yet, their vision of being a weird, whimsical, fun company that surprises and delights customers has just gone such a long way. They’ve been very deliberate about making sure that their culture supports that vision by fostering a fun, whimsical, autonomous environment in the organization! They consciously and consistently hire people who will reflect and vigilantly uphold this culture and vision. They take delighting their customers very seriously, all of them. It all connects. So I think Zappos is one of the best examples of how to do this successfully.

Bill: That’s a fascinating idea to highlight Margarita because who would think that you could go start a shoe store and sell shoes and be so successful and at this too!

Margarita: Online, of all things. Right? I mean, who buys shoes online? That was such a revolutionary idea. There are all kinds of urban legends about the company. One of the well-known ones involves a customer who called them to return shoes that her mother had purchased before she passed away. Not only did they take back all the shoes, they delivered flowers from the customer service representative sending condolences.  And as you know, it’s not an urban legend. This really happened!

So that’s a very specific kind of a culture. There are other cultures. Of course, a lot of my clients are quite different based on what their mission or objectives are, but this is a good example of complete authenticity throughout a culture.

When I work with clients, that’s what I strive for. To help them get very, very clear about their vision, what are they trying to create for themselves, for staff, for stakeholders, community and / or the world. What kind of a culture – including some of those intangibles – do they envision? What do they want people to say about them when they’re not around, and then what kind of people do they need to hire that will best represent that culture genuinely instead of – what’s that cliché expression – trying to fit square pegs into round holes?

Bill: I think that’s an awesome story. I had never heard that one before and it’s a nice segue into the next question I have about the notion of creating leadership at every level. I don’t know if you caught the news recently but David Marquet’s book, Turn the Ship Around, who spoke at the leadership event last fall was rated the number one business book of the year to read by Fortune Magazine.

Margarita: That’s amazing!  I mean that’s exactly what we’re talking about. It’s creating leadership at every level. A lot of my work centers on leadership development with all kinds of clients and often people talk about how being a middle manager or first line supervisor is really hard. And I couldn’t agree more. Of course, it’s challenging. You don’t always have the authority or power to make decisions. But we also talk about the sphere of influence. What DO you have the power to influence, at any given moment, including your own attitude and actions, which hugely impact how others respond to you? I see people really resonate with this concept because it makes them feel much more empowered to take action, ask questions, learn and seek support for their ideas. So this goes back to our earlier discussion about influencing top leaders to be champions of the change that we’re trying to create, right?

The inner dialogue then changes to “if I don’t muster the courage to tell my boss what’s really going on then we can only expect so much impact.” Or “if we don’t say it in a way that makes my boss feel safe and curious about what we’re trying to accomplish, well, that again goes back to how are we behaving and what are we putting in place to make that change?”  The really good news (that sometimes is viewed not as such good news) is that responsibility to create change exists at every level – the person undertaking the initiative just often needs to be really creative, resourceful and really lobbying for that support.

Bill: I couldn’t agree more, Margarita. Here’s a closing question for you, is there anything exciting and challenging you’re working on right now you want to let people know about?

Margarita: There are so many exciting projects I’m working on, most of them are with amazing nonprofits and think tanks that are truly changing the world.

Bill: Wow! Margarita, I sort of knew that but didn’t really know how you would answer this question, so I’m glad I asked!

Margarita: I am just so honored to be asked for support by organizations I really believe in.  If I can help them work through some of the challenges they’re facing in visioning, team and leadership alignment, who knows what they can accomplish!

I want to thank you for this opportunity, Bill. I think these questions are what I spend a lot of time thinking about and discussing with others. I’m excited that this conversation is happening and that you’re bringing it to the forefront of your readers’ minds. This is where we need to begin because it’s people who lead processes of all kinds that make the best ambassadors for meaningful change in organizations.

Bill: You are welcome, Margarita. Thank you for talking with me. This has been a great interview. You shared a lot of great insights and experiences that I know will be helpful to many people.

To read more of Bill’s fantastic interviews visit http://5minutespisuccess.com

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