What Is Mobilization?

Excerpt from pp. 1-7 of “Translate, Motivate, Activate: A Leader’s Guide to Mobilizing Change” by Larry Solomon (Brown Books Publishing Group).

Throughout my career, I have been amazed by the positive organizational changes that individuals and teams achieved when they performed in environments that lived and breathed encouragement, challenge, recognition, and support. Conversely, I have seen the collapse of outstanding opportunities when leaders failed to unite teams behind their ideas.

While many leaders hold professional degrees, business programs arguably focus on what one would call the “hard skills”—the execution of strategy through finance, marketing, logistics, etc. The “soft skills”—those that execute strategy through people—are given far too little attention.

The reality is that these are the difficult skills we so often struggle with. After all, we’re dealing with the complexity of human creativity, opinions, perspectives, biases, and aspirations, to name only a few attributes that complicate our ability to mobilize a team behind one agenda.

Think for a moment about the inherent conflict that exists in the very DNA of business design—conflict that, if not effectively channeled, leads to counterproductive behaviors that stifle creativity and embed inertia. Consider the conflicting views within sales and marketing regarding short-term trade development spend and long-term brand building spend, or the desire of production to maximize asset utilization by minimizing product diversification, while research and development argue for more innovation and variety to attract customers, and on it goes. These siloed approaches are not in themselves wrong, as functions must continually pursue avenues to maximize their business impact. What’s so often missing, however, is the ability of leadership to effectively translate business priorities in a manner that mobilizes and unites a team behind a holistic strategy. If channeled through effective mobilization, this inherent conflict can

instead become a core strength, and the potentially destructive conflict will transform into what I call constructive contention.

Turning contention into a constructive force requires an environment in which all ideas, particularly those that are contrary to the norm, are welcomed and explored. This environment is further enabled when everyone’s initial reaction to an alternative is governed by the assumption that the challenge is in pursuit of the best possible business solution. If everyone involved in a potentially contentious discussion begins by assuming positive intent, the outcome can be a healthier dialogue and a more thorough diagnosis of alternatives.

Surprisingly, leaders often allow, and even fuel, unhealthy conflict by:

  • Believing that people understand the interdependencies between functions.
  • Fostering destructive survival-of-the-fittest behaviors, taking for granted that the best solutions will surface. This falsely presupposes a correlation between forcefulness of character and quality of contribution.
  • Hoping that by ignoring them, conflicts will resolve themselves over time.

These assumptions, unfortunately, often result in highly politicized work environments in which the most forceful individuals drive their own viewpoints and agendas, generating mediocre performance at best. This is a far cry from a mobilized team.

It is from these experiences that I have built a simple, pragmatic framework that captures the core elements of mobilization.

The Mobilization Framework

For context, the following is a brief description of each challenge in The Mobilization Framework:

Challenge 1—Engage [The Heart of the Matter]

To create a belief in the vision and direction of the organization that inspires extra effort, enthusiasm, and commitment.

Leaders must focus strongly on employee engagement, recognizing it as a critical ingredient to the effective launch of their initiative. True mobilization depends on it. However, creating a belief in the vision and direction of the organization, department, or function can be fleeting. If we do no more than engage employees, this enthusiasm often can be misdirected, so engagement must be complemented with alignment.

Challenge 2—Align [All Heads in the Game]

To help employees understand business priorities and how they can contribute both personally and collectively to them.

A failure to effectively align the efforts of a team results in enthusiastic incompetence. We must build crystal-clear alignment in order to channel the energies of all employees for maximum business impact and to avoid the dissipation of energies against less value-adding ventures. If properly executed, this process filters, demystifies, and translates the handful of critical priorities that offer the business the highest value. It is the effective execution of these priorities at every layer of the organization that offers the best opportunity for success.

Challenge 3—Enable [All Hands on Deck]

To efficiently and effectively equip employees at all levels with the specific knowledge, skills, and processes necessary to deliver against business priorities.

We must enable our employees to perform by providing them with pragmatic, easily accessible tools, processes, and techniques, as well as make certain that the organizational structure enables rather than restricts decision-making at the appropriate levels. We also must create appropriate and meaningful consequences associated with expected behaviors and outcomes.

Challenge 4—Sustain [Pass the Baton]

To ensure the continuity of change beyond the oversight of the leader, transferring leadership and ownership of change to the team.

We must avoid the unfortunate fate that so many change initiatives encounter—having gained initial traction, without continual oversight, they lose both momentum and their perceived importance. The challenge is to keep change alive and relevant in the competitive landscape. To truly sustain the new practices and behaviors implemented, we must build the team’s capabilities to lead and continue to drive change without continual oversight.

Mobilization is, therefore, the multiplying effect of all of the above challenges. Through deliberate and sustained focus at every level within the organization, we build:

  • Exceptionally high degrees of engagement (true commitment to the journey—hearts)
  • Crystal-clear alignment (understanding of what to do—heads)
  • Pragmatic enablement (confidence in how to do it—hands)
  • Sustaining momentum (passing on the leadership of change)

True mobilization is never the product of evolution, which, by definition, is the outcome of the survival of the fittest. An evolutionary approach to mobilization is a drawn-out, destructive change process in which value is lost, inertia prevails, and myopic perspectives flourish. True mobilization is always a product of intelligent design.

To illustrate the power of true mobilization, let me share with you the story of an exceptional sales merchandiser working in a retail grocery store. I call this “The Phineas Effect.”

As a merchandiser, Phineas knew his job well—how to stock shelves, merchandise effectively, accurately price all items, etc.—but he also understood the importance of customer service.

One day, when he was stocking shelves, Phineas noticed a customer who seemed frustrated. He asked if he could help. The woman said she couldn’t find Rose’s Lime Cordial. Phineas looked but couldn’t find it either. He told the customer to continue shopping and he’d bring the item from the back of the store.

But the item was not in the storeroom. What Phineas did next was the result of an employee who was committed to the success of his company. He ran from the store’s rear exit to another retail store, located and paid for two bottles of Rose’s Lime Cordial, and returned in time to find the woman at the checkout counter.

Though she intended to pay for the items, Phineas gave her the receipt and said they were a gift from his company “because we should have had them on the shelves.”

The customer was so impressed that she contacted senior management. Senior management was impressed, as well: Phineas’ story was communicated to all employees within the organization. As a result, instances of the “Phineas Effect” multiplied, and the company became recognized for its commitment to excellent customer service.

Can you imagine the competitive advantage if all your employees thought and acted like Phineas?

Let’s refer back to “The Mobilization Framework.” Clearly, the success of this model is evident in Phineas’ actions:

  • Phineas went beyond his job description in pursuit of the company’s vision (engaged).
  • He understood that he could contribute to the vision in the course of his daily activities (0Phineas had the decision authority to act quickly and effectively to meet the customer’s needs (enabled).
  • With the company’s recognition, Phineas’ behavior was reinforced, and others followed his example of practical acts of superior customer service (sustained).

With effective execution, these four dimensions of mobilization will lead your team to superior performance.

Excerpt from pp. 1-7 of “Translate, Motivate, Activate: A Leader’s Guide to Mobilizing Change” by Larry Solomon (Brown Books Publishing Group). For more information, visit http://www.solomonps.com/#services-anchor; the book is also available on Barnes & Noble and Amazon. All of the profits from the sales of this book are donated to My Possibilities, a nonprofit, “for-cause” organization and facility that provides full-day, full-year continuing education for disabled Texans who have “aged out” of secondary education. More information can be found at www.mypossibilities.org.

Larry Solomon, CEO of Solomon People Solutions, managed wave after wave of fundamental change during his tenure at Cadbury-Schweppes and Dr Pepper Snapple (DPS). He served as executive vice president of human resources for DPS from 2003 to August 2013. An educator at heart, Solomon currently teaches a post-graduate MBA course on “C-Suite Leadership” at the University of Texas at Dallas. He wrote “Translate, Motivate, Activate: A Leader’s Guide to Mobilizing Change” as an educational tool to aid business leaders, HR professionals, and MBA students to successfully achieve sustainable corporate change. Solomon received his training and development diploma from the Institute of Personnel Management in Johannesburg, South Africa, and earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Dallas.