Moving a Mountain (of people)

Imagine this: you are the head of workplace services for a large high-tech firm that has just been acquired by Google (that’s the good news).

Here’s the tough part: you are responsible for a major suburban campus facility that houses about 2,000 employees and you’ve just been told that your immediate task is to build out several floors of the Merchandise Mart in Chicago to replace that suburban campus – and to persuade that entire workforce to begin spending about 90 minutes every morning and evening commuting between their homes and downtown.

As Stephen Monaco, Head of Global Real Estate and Workplace Experience for Motorola Mobility, described his experience carrying out that assignment, he began by observing:

A few years ago I thought ‘change management’ was a fancy word for ‘project management’ – a word for those workplace strategist people. But I was wrong about that; I’m here today to share my personal story of how I was thrown into that responsibility.

Monaco shared his story and the lessons he learned during that journey with the more than 120 of us who attended WorkTech14 in San Francisco last week. The WorkTech conferences, led by Philip Ross and his team at, have become must-attend experiences for most of us in the workplace strategy community [Future of Work…unlimited has been a recognized supporter/affiliate of WorkTech for several years].

For me the highlight of the day was Monaco’s story about how he and his team orchestrated that difficult and controversial office relocation from Libertyville, Illinois, in Chicago’s northern suburbs, to the Merchandise Mart in downtown Chicago.

Think for a moment what a dramatic change in lifestyle that move meant. Over 2,000 employees were used to driving from their suburban homes to Motorola’s suburban campus. After the relocation to the Merchandise Mart most of them are now commuting by train to a completely different, downtown location.

And the new office, with its informal, open design, looks more like a Silicon Valley startup than a Midwestern business office (don’t forget that Motorola Mobility was acquired by Google in 2011; that has a lot to do with the company’s workplace redesign and relocation initiative). Click this link for a two-minute video overview of the construction project.

Steve’s story impressed all of us at WorkTech because he developed a very thoughtful, very thorough approach to leading the organizational changes that the relocation required. More importantly, he created a very human, very engaging approach that made the transition a constructive experience for the affected Motorola staff and the company as a whole.

The change model Steve’s team developed was named “CRE:ative.” Note that each letter stands for a core principle that Steve and his team not only talked about but lived every day throughout the transition period:

Motorola CRE:ativeYes, acronyms like this sometimes seem hokey and made-up, but in this case each of those key letters and words had deep and personal meaning for the transition team, and for all the Motorola staff who lived through the change (this image is adapted from one presented by Steve Monaco at Worktech).

CRE: Corporate Real Estate – the team leading the entire project.

Advocate: the transition team met one-on-one with every affected Motorola employee; they went beyond caring about the relocation’s impact to expressing empathy and understanding its impact from the employees’ point of view [Note the personal frame of reference model I described last week in “Make Your Meetings More Meaningful” is a powerful way to understand someone else’s emotions].

Transparent: for Monaco and his team transparency was about total exposure; being completely candid and open about what was going on and why. And it meant engaging in two-way conversations and admitting it when they didn’t have all the answers.

Inspire: filling the employees with the urge or the ability to be successful, and to feel good about their work and the company’s future.

Vision: Being able to imagine the future work environment. The transition team built an entire mockup of the Merchandise Mart design so the Libertyville employees could fully immerse themselves in it, actually spend time working in the new environment, and get excited about where they were going.

Engage. As we know from the Gallup research on employee engagement, people who have no stake in an outcome usually don’t care much about it either – or they actively fight it.

The outcome? A very happy, productive, and engaged workforce that is extremely positive about the new work environment, with a renewed enthusiasm for the company and its future.

Monaco’s closing words of wisdom for anyone embarking on large-scale organizational change included these imperatives:

  • find a compelling story worth caring about;
  • remove hierarchy in the conversation;
  • co-create value with the end-user; and
  • search for personal significance.

It strikes me that change is ultimately a highly personal experience; no one can know exactly what it feels like for anyone else. The best we can do is to follow Steve Monaco’s example and be CRE:ative.

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