Leading Change: Get it. Feel it. Want it.
February 28, 2018
Change is inevitable. In fact, what we have in common is that we are all grappling with change in our lives. Change is the one constant. It’s the one reality.
Jack Welch says, “Anytime there is change, there is an opportunity. So it is paramount that an organization get energized rather than paralyzed.”
According to Don Van Meer, the greatest single point of failure in driving through change is when leadership doesn’t capture the hearts and minds of the entire organization. In other words, change is just not about leaders taking people through something. Change is about engaging people in the process of change. Having them be part of the decision making. Having them understand where you are going as an organization. Having them buy into the process, even when they don’t understand all of it.
When people are engaged, people “Get it, feel it, and want it.”
How does a leader keep a team engaged in the face of major changes? What equipped Don to lead change?
Don Van Meer
Don Van Meer is a Chartered Accountant by background and worked in public accounting for five years before moving to industry and into senior leadership positions in finance and administration. He joined Thomson Reuters in 1987 and served as President and CEO of Carswell, a Thomson Reuters business for nineteen years, before retiring in 2015.
Carswell is the Canadian market leader in providing integrated information solutions to legal, tax and business professionals. Don led his company through a time of significant transition and unprecedented growth in technology that completely changed the way business was done.
Change is inevitable in life and in business. How can a leader keep a team engaged in the face of change? Don was not only successful in casting a new vision and expanding the scope of the business, he was able to harness the hearts and minds of his employees to earn recognition as one of “The Best Workplaces in Canada”.
It’s a privilege to be here […] Whenever I get a chance to come and talk a little bit about change (which has been a big part of my life), it’s always interesting the conversations afterwards, because we all have the scars of change in some ways, and some of the trophies of change in our lives. It’s probably where we have learned the most and it’s probably one of those areas, if we look back, where we’ve been stretched. […]
My story today is a little bit about change and really the journey we took together as an organization through change and some of the lessons I learned through it. […]
…One thing I know for all of us, is what we have in common is we are all grappling with change in our lives. Change in fact is the one constant. It’s the one reality.
One of the things I know, I’ve met a few of you before, but the one thing I know for all of us, is what we have in common is we are all grappling with change in our lives. Change in fact is the one constant. It’s the one reality.
We have different markers that we look at to recognize how change has impacted our lives. One of the first is family. […] Any of you that have been parents, that window when you had kids at home and when you’re in the middle of it seems like it will go on forever and ever, but you survived every day. Then you look back now and you can’t believe how quickly the time has passed.
Joanne has talked about the fact that we are now grandparents. What an amazing difference between raising kids and being a cheerleader for somebody else as a grandparent. One of the things you learn as a grandparent, is to love the moment for what it is, because you know how fast things change. I remember with my kids the anxiety of having them go onto the next thing. You wanted them to grow up and to do this and to do that. But as a grandparent, you have a perspective to say […] whatever is happening today is just an amazing thing in my life and I’m going to enjoy that for what it is. I’m not in a hurry to see my grandkids grow up, because I just know how quickly it is going to be. So change is one of the markers we have in our lives as family.
Another marker we have in our life, […] is i have a 1949 F47 truck. I don’t know if any of you have driven an old truck like that before, but it’s got a steering wheel the size of a tire, it’s got a key on one side, and it’s got a starter button on the other side, and a six volt battery. I don’t know if you know what those sound like when they turn over. Its “rr…rrrr…rrrr.” And when you start the vehicle (and we love to drive it on the back roads of Ontario) […] you listen very carefully to that “rrrr.” You are waiting to hear the spark come once the gas gets up into the carburetor. And then just at the right moment, you pull out the throttle and she goes to life and away you go. But when that moment comes that you are starting the vehicle, you take everything else out of your mind, because you’ve got to listen to what is going on with that.
So then I park that vehicle, and I go and head out in my car, my keys in my pocket, the doors locked, but I just touch the door, the door opens. I go in, I don’t think about anything, I just press a button and I know that everything that is required for that engine to fire up happens, and it runs perfectly smoothly.
It just really speaks to another mark in our life, which is technology. There are so many things that we now take for granted today that technology has done that even twenty years ago we would not have thought was possible. So technology has permeated our lives and changed our lives in so many ways. And the speed and the rate of that change in technology is something that continues to increase. So technology is another marker in our lives in terms of looking at change.
I worked for an organization that also went through a lot of change […] In fact if you read the newspaper in the last month, it is going through more change. So you see in the corporate world how businesses redefine themselves and change themselves. Well I worked for a company that was part of Thomson Reuters.
But if you look at Thomson Reuters history, it’s a great Canadian success story. 1934 Roy Thomson bought his first newspaper in Northern Ontario. From that organization, it has been parlayed into a global business; over 45 000 employees in 100 countries, in 300 cities across the world. It started with a single purchase of a radio station in Northern Ontario, built a newspaper business, took it globally and that’s the organization as it exists today.
I ran one of the business’ in Thomson Reuters called Carswell. It has been around since 1864, since before confederation. Acquired by Thomson, and our focus was providing access to the law for lawyers, accountants and HR practitioners.
[…] For the first 130 years of our business, the way people consumed information was exactly the same: the printed page. And then all of a sudden we started to see this major change going on, where people wanted to see content and technology integrated together. And to see it not just produced electronically, but actually to help it through decision trees, provide you with answers and information.
We could see this coming down the track and I had just come on board as CEO of the organization. I had been the Vice President of Finance, I took over as CEO and we started to see this transition taking place. We started to realize that there was going to be a day when the traditional publisher could disappear. And the question was, who was going to do it? Were we going to do it to ourselves? Or are we going to let someone else do it to us? So we faced this sort of position as an organization to say, “This is coming down the track; we’ve got to make a choice here.”
This impact of this decision was going to be fundamental to our business. We were going to have to change every process in our business. We were going to have to change the roles of half our staff overnight. We had 1000 people in our business and overnight we were going to have to change the roles of 500 people.
We were going to have to building a technology competency that didn’t even exist. We were going to have to actually challenge a highly profitable business with high margins and start producing high cost products. Customers were going to cancel these high profit margin products that we were delivering and were going to buy these low margin, high cost products that we were producing. If we were lucky, our revenue was going to stay exactly the same. If we weren’t lucky it was going to go backwards. But it definitely wasn’t going to grow for a good period of years…two, three, maybe four years through this transition and this process.
Jack Welsh made this quote and could not better describe what I felt at the moment when I looked and said, “We’ve got to make this decision as a business. We are going to attack our own market share. We are going to attack our own profitability model. We’re going to change our business. We’re going to ask half our employees to come in and do something different. And we are going to do it so quickly and so fast, that the risks in our business are incredible. But our options are to wait to see someone else do this to us.”
“Anytime there is change, there is an opportunity. So it is paramount that an organization get energized rather than paralyzed.”
Jack Welch says, “Anytime there is change, there is an opportunity. So it is paramount that an organization get energized rather than paralyzed.”
The first reaction is paralysis: “Do I really want to do this?”
And that fear of thinking that “If we screw this up, this isn’t going to be just about a business that’s not good for three or four years, we are going to take this business right down the tube.”
So as we looked at the model, one of the questions we asked is, “How do you drive an organization through this kind of change?”
Well, one of the things that I started to do was to look at some business cases. Why are some companies successful leading through change? And why are some companies not successful? What is the difference?
As I started to read business cases, here’s the thing that every one of the businesses had in common: they recognized the problem, they defined where they wanted to go, but then as I read deeper, there were some organizations that did one more thing. And those organizations that did this additional thing were the organizations that were actually successful in transitioning their business.
The greatest single point of failure in driving through change is when […] leadership doesn’t capture the hearts and minds of the entire organization.
The greatest single point of failure in driving through change is when […] leadership doesn’t capture the hearts and minds of the entire organization. In other words, change is just not about leaders taking people through something. Change is about engaging people in the process of change. Having them be part of the decision making. Having them understand where you are going as an organization. Having them buy into the process, even when they don’t understand all of it. And so the question that I realized we needed to ask was, “Were our employees engaged?”
What does it mean to be an engaged team? I want to tell you a little bit of the story of what it means to be an engaged team.
Towers Perrin is a well recognized organization that has done a lot of research around this concept of change. They say that when you look at change there are three dimensions to it. There is a Cognitive Understanding (what the organization’s strategic goals and values are). There is this idea of having an Emotional Attachment (that people actually care about the business they’re in and want to be apart of it). The third is that they have this Motivation (this drive to want to succeed and want to be part of the solution as opposed to part of the problem).
When you see those three things intersect, that is where engagement comes about. My VP of HR sat down and said, “This is the route we need to go in terms of driving engagement in our organization. Let’s take this Towers Perrin Model, let’s build it out and let’s take our organization through this change.
Simply put, when people are engaged, people “Get it, feel it, and want it.” Those are the three things you want to remember. Get it. Feel it. Want it. That is the whole process around engagement.
How do you measure engagement? You actually go out and survey your employees. If you want to understand the rational items, you ask them if they understand the goals and objectives of the organization. Do they believe in them? Do they understand what they need to do to be a part of that change?
Are they proud to be apart of the organization? Are they inspired to do the kind of work that will help make a difference in your organization?
Most importantly, are they willing to go above and beyond to make things happen? Because when you’re going through change, you are going through white water backwards. In other words, you’re trying to go upstream and the current is going the other way. So people have to really step up if you’re going to move through that change process and get to the other end of that spectrum.
[…] I’m a finance guy by background. So as my VP of HR described this strategy and talked about engagement, I said, “Tell me about the numbers.”
I know this sounds nice. It would be great to tell our employees they are engaged. But does this really work? Is this really going to make a difference in what we’re trying to do?
Here is what the data tells you: that where employees are engaged, that the performance is 20% better than in organizations where employees are not engaged. You keep the right people, your retention rate through change is higher when you have engaged employees.
Typically what happens when you go through change, is your best people leave at the front end because they are not sure they want to be a part of this. Unless they feel engaged in the process, connected in the process, you lose the wrong people and keep the wrong people and you will never get through the change as a result.
Highly engaged organizations grow faster: 2.6 times EPS growth rate relative to organizations where employees are not engaged.
Here is the most compelling number when you talk about trying to move an organization through dramatic change. In most organizations today, you have engaged employees in every business. But in every organization, for every three people who are engaged, you have two who are not. So if you want to move change forward, for every step forward those three people take you, you will have two people pulling you back. So, if you want to make a dramatic change, three pulling you one way and two pulling you the other, it’s a long slow process.
When you get an organization where people are fully engaged the ratio is 8:1. In an engaged organization, for every one employee that is not engaged, you have eight employees who are engaged.
Here is what is really interesting. Guess what happens to that one. They either get on board, or they choose to opt out. And all of a sudden your engagement level gets even stronger. They’ll decide this is not the organization for me, or they’ll decide they need to get on board like everyone else is here. So as you look through change, the key part is having people on board to that process of taking you through where you want to get to.
I realized that the question I needed to ask was not whether we should do this. Not whether we had the right strategy. It was whether […] we had a process that was going to engage [the people in our organization] in helping us drive through this dramatic change.
One of the things that became very clear, is that people need context when they go through change: “Why are you doing this to me? I loved my job yesterday. Today you’ve just come in and announced that you are making all these massive changes…I don’t even know what I’m supposed to do.”
We started to talk about the changes that were happen in the marketplace. We were talking about our customers who were telling us information just dumped to us in hard copies is not enough. “We need decision making material. We need technology that drives decision making for us. And the amount of information we are getting today, we can’t even stay on top of. We need technology to actually pick the things we need to look at and track those for us as an organization.”
We said, “Carswell is going to transform the way our customers and professionals do their business. When you feel the change that is going on in our business, it is because our customers are out there telling us they need this change in their organization as well.”
Change needs context. It is not that they will agree with you, but at least they understand why you are doing what you’re doing.
As I look back at the process, I would say there were five key drivers to the change success we had as an organization. I wish I could tell you these were the five key drivers at the front end. We did a lot of things. And some didn’t work and some did. But as I reflect on it, these five stand out:
- leadership alignment and accountability
- clear organizational values that resonate
- employee feedback and involvement
- employee alignment and connection
- communication, recognition and celebration
Leadership alignment and accountability
One of the things I find very interesting with employees, is if leadership is not on the same page, they pick it up immediately. As soon as they know that leadership is not fully bought in, they will never buy in. They smell it…honestly, they do. They sense when the leadership is not fully believing what’s being put in front of them.
One of the things I had to do in our organization was to make sure our leadership was all on the same page and that they were going to be accountable. What became very clear to me early in the process, was that one of my key leaders was not. So I had to take that person out of the organization, because I knew were would never get to where were needed to get to, as long as that doubt and that question was there in that employee’s mind.
If you have permission not to stay in line with the goal that we have in place, you will never get to the change that needs to be done. Accountability was key. A leadership team that is not engaged will never drive engagement in an organization on a broad scale. People are looking to see leadership walk the talk first.
Clear organizational values that resonate
We all want to work in an organization that stands for some good things, don’t we? Why wouldn’t we? We want to be proud of what we do and why we do it and the difference you make.
We picked four values. They weren’t magic, but they were four values. And we said these four values are non-negotiable. This is who we are. But I started first with our management team and said we are going to live these values. I don’t want to see a poster. I don’t want you to talk to our employees about it. We as a leadership team are going to live these values for one year. Every time we see each other off line on these values, we are going to call each other on it. A year from now, we will talk to our employees about it.
Interesting thing, a year later, we announce these values thinking it was going to be a big fan fair. Here was the answer, “Yeah that is who we are”.
Why? Because they saw it lived out in the leadership first, and it’s not a hard sell. Values are not a hard sell to employees if they believe that leadership believes in them and these are a foundation that they can count on. People want to be working in an organization that stands for good things.
Employee feedback and involvement
Thirdly, you need to get employees’ involvement. My first statement is: “Employee Surveys: Be Prepared.” What I have learned is that if you don’t want to know, then don’t ask. Because if you do a survey, employees will tell you everything. They will tell you everything and they will be honest. Especially if you create a process that is anonymous for them. They will tell you everything you will need to know and hear.
I remember getting our first survey results back. We’re sitting as a management team and we’re about six months into this process and we’re thinking we are doing a pretty good job. It is not easy, but we are getting through it.
We start to read the survey results. We get absolutely hammered by our employees. There wasn’t one area that they said we were doing the right thing. So we’re sitting there, and I’m sitting there in the boardroom saying, “In a couple of weeks I am going to have to stand in front of this whole employee group, a thousand people, and I am going to have to present something. How do I package this to make it sound better, positive? How do we just kind of turn this a little bit to make it sound a bit better?”
Then it really hit the whole team at the same time, we said, “You know what, the only people surprised by these results are us.”
The employees know this, because they told us. The question they are going to be asking is, “Is this leadership team going to stand up and tell us honestly what we told them? We know the answers. They are learning the answers. Are they going to tell us the true answers?”
I remember getting up and I remember the body language [of crossed arms] in the audience. Let’s see, what is going to happen here? So I got up and started going through. “We asked you this, you told us this. We asked you this, you told us this.”
All of a sudden you could see the arms go down and people started to listen. That was probably one of the key turning points of seeing our people step over the line and say, “We’re all in.”
They were waiting to see if the leadership team was going to be open and honest and tell them what they had told us and affirm that we were listening. That really began what I would call a partnership through the change process. Our employees came to us aggressively saying, “This is not working, but this could work.”
Or, “We are not sure why you are doing this, can we try this?”
And it really helped us see that change process move forward.
Employee alignment and connection
One of the fundamental things for employees is that people actually want to do the right thing. But when you’re going through change, their biggest fear is that they are doing the wrong thing, because they don’t know. “This is what I did yesterday; my job was clear. Today you are asking me to do different things. I’m not sure what success looks like, unless you tell me.”
We began a process called “Cascading Goals” every year. I would stand at the beginning of the year and I would share with our organization. Here are our goals for this year. This is what success is going to look like. Here are the things we need to do to get to that success.
Every functional department area had goals that aligned to that company goal. Every team had goals that aligned to their department goal. […] I wanted every single person, 1000 people in our business, to know that the decision they made when nobody else was around was aligned to that goal.
I always said, “We’ll never hit anything we don’t aim at. Let’s make sure we aim at it and let’s make sure we are clear what success looks like.”
People want to be successful. Sometimes we are so frustrated with employees when they are not. They are frustrated with us, because we haven’t defined success for them. So this idea of cascading goals became a way of life in our organization. It took a lot of angst out of the organization. People felt like they were doing the things that they were being asked to do.
What are some of the lessons learned along the way? One of the things I did learn was that employees honestly don’t expect perfection from leadership. We’re human. We are not going to be right all the time. But they do expect honesty.
Employees who are respected by leadership first, will respond in kind. One of the things that I find appalling, to be honest, in leadership, is where leadership believes they’re entitled to respect because of the title. I think that’s nonsense. I think employees should be respected by us first. If we do that, if we treat them with respect, we will get more respect than we will ever imagine. It is not about title. Leadership is about an earned respect by how we lead. One of the things I learned was, if we respect our employees, we will see that come back in spades from our employees back to us, as a result of how we lead.
Little story about a guy who looked like me. He was about my age, getting a little older and he wanted to see the transition of leadership to the next generation in his business. It was an owner-managed business, he had his team. His leadership team was about the same age he was. He said, “We need to move it down to the next level of leadership in the business.”
He called in the next level of leadership in the business and said, “I’m going to give you some instructions and in a year from now, you are going to come back and I am going to decide, based on the results, who the next leader is. I’m going to give you each a seed. I want you to plant the seed. I want you to grow the seed at home. Bring it in a year from now. Let’s see the results and we will decide who’s going to be CEO.”
One of the guys, John was really excited and he could hardly believe he had been one of the four or five picked to be able to go and do this. He took his seed, went home, he talked to his wife, got a pot, started watering. Nothing was coming up. And so it’s a long story of all the different things he tried to do to make this plant grow. Nothing was happening.
Three months in, he hears his peers at work talking about what their plant is starting to look like, how tall it is. John goes home and he’s just got dirt in a pot. Nothing else.
Well this goes on for the year. In fact, after six months he doesn’t even want to talk to the other leaders because he is just so discouraged by all they’re talking about and all that is not happening to him.
Twelve months goes by. His wife says, “John, tomorrow is the big day. You’re going to go in tomorrow and find out what your CEO says.”
He says, “I’m not going in. I’m going to call in sick. I’ve got this pot with dirt in it, I’m not going in.”
She said, “You need to go.”
So he kind of hung around at home a little bit, so he was late when he got there. He got into the room and all the employees are there. The CEO is at the front and his four peers are at the front. They’ve dragged these pots in with these huge plants.
Here is John, he slips in the back door, he had his pot. He’s got dirt but he’s got nothing else. He is kind of standing behind everyone else. The CEO is at the front of the room, and he looks around and he points at him. He asks John to come to the front. John is moving through the audience and he is carrying this pot and his peers are just almost killing themselves laughing. “Look at this guy coming up with his pot.” And they were so proud of their plant.
John, as he is walking up thinks, “He’s going to fire him in front of this whole room. This is the worst day of my life.”
He gets up to the front and puts his pot down. The CEO explains to the staff that he gave all these guys a seed a year ago, asked them to plant it, bring in the results. “Here are the results today. Take a look around, I’ve now looked at them all. I am going to tell you who the next CEO is. The next CEO is…”
Silence for a moment, everybody looks…“is John.”
No one is more stunned than John. His peers can’t believe it. “This is the guy with dirt. What happened here?”
The CEO said, “Let me explain. I asked a year ago all of these young leaders to go, take this seed, plant it and come back with the results. What I didn’t tell any of them, was that I boiled the seed before I gave it to them. The seeds were dead, so there was nothing to grow. The only one who did exactly what I asked them to do was John. The leadership change I am making is about a leader who has integrity.”
You know that’s the non-negotiable for leadership. Our employees want to look at us as leaders and say, “I believe in the integrity of this person.”
You spend a lifetime building it and it takes a moment to lose it. But it’s the thing that employees count on you the most. I know in our most difficult days that we wondered if we were going to get through to the next stage. Employees hung on with us. I firmly believe it is because we tried to lead with integrity. They knew that no matter how bad it was, we would tell them, or how good it was, we would tell them. But they knew they could trust us. Trust comes when people can count on integrity.
Communication, recognition and celebration
Lessons learned on rewards and recognition. None of us every gets tired of people telling us that we have done a good job. We all love to hear that. One of the things I learned is sometimes the big things are the little things.
About a year and a half into our project, we had kind of hit a major milestone in the change process. We called these ice cream trucks that run around the neighborhood where you can buy an ice cream cone for a dollar. We had four of them come up to the front of our building and we sent out an impromptu email in the middle of the afternoon saying, “Hey, we hit this target, have an ice cream on us.”
We watched all these employees out on the front lawn of our building with a dollar ice cream cone. We did a million programs, but I can tell you that was the best one ever. I got more emails about those dollar ice cream cones, because it wasn’t about those ice cream cones. It was about that we stopped to say thanks.
Organizations spend an awful lot of time coaching people on what they are doing wrong and don’t spend nearly enough time reinforcing with people what they are doing right. We all have things to learn, but the balance between those two sometimes is not where it needs to be. People need to see that reinforcement about the things we appreciate. Sometimes we focus too much on what’s not there.
So what happened? We got through the process. Continuous improvements on our financial results. We went through an ugly valley, I can tell you. Revenue stayed the same, costs skyrocketed, margins dropped. I had a three year window to see that flatten and start to come out the other side. People where looking, for sure. I was starting to wonder if I should be polishing up a resume, but we hit the bottom and we started to come up the curve.
Through that process we continued to grow. We continued to maintain our leadership position. And we actually became an organization that was known for embracing change, which allowed us to successfully integrate a number of acquisitions. Because people embraced it in our organization, it became actually the core competency of our business.
Along the way we also focused on understanding what good organization do around their people processes. Because we still have a lot to learn here. So we started to get involved with surveys, best employee, best workplace and, probably the most difficult one to be recognized in, is Canada’s top 100 employers.
For the last six years that I lead the organization, we achieved that goal. That wasn’t about me and that wasn’t even about our leadership team. That was about employees in our business believing in what they did everyday and that they created the atmosphere for success. We got to watch it and cheer them on and see the difference that it made.
Employees who are engaged “Get it. Want it. Feel it.”
Employees who are engaged “Get it.” Employees who are engaged “Feel it.” Employees who are engaged “Want it.”
As much as I’ve seen the power of engagement applied in the business setting, it’s actually a more powerful element in our personal lives. With your permission, I want to tell you a little of my personal story as we wrap up.
As a little guy, I was someone who had this incredible sense of inadequacy. That I couldn’t succeed. I was afraid to try things because I was sure I was going to fail. And a lot of kids go through that. I had really loving, nurturing parents, but that was just something I dealt with as a little guy. Afraid of going to school. Afraid of what I was going to be asked to do in class. All that kind of stuff. Most people outgrow that. I didn’t. It actually got worse as I got older.
When I was in high school and university, everyone else would come out of an exam saying, “I wonder how I did?”
I came out asking the question, “I wonder if I was good enough to pass?”
That sense of just never measuring up, was something that was a big struggle in my life. And it got bigger and bigger and bigger.
After university I decided I wanted to be a chartered accountant. […] The process goes like this: […] for every 100 people that go to School of Accountancy, 66 pass […] who write final exams in the fall (3 days, 4 hours a day) and 33 pass at the end of it. […] For every 100 that start, 33 pass at the end.
For a guy who has a fear of failure, this is probably not a good route to take. But I took it. I went down that process. These exams were starting to come. As the process for these exams is coming and building every day…In fact the last month and a half, you are paid by your firm to stay home. You are studying eight, nine hours a day, seven days a week, building for these exams…
They had a personal relationship with God because of Jesus Christ in their lives. I saw how that was lived out…that this was something that was real.
I grew up in a home that people would call religious, but it actually wasn’t religious. It was a home where I had a mom and dad who believed in God. And they had a personal relationship with God because of Jesus Christ in their lives. I saw how that was lived out. I saw that this was something that was real. As a little guy growing up I saw it and I came to a point in my teenage years where I believed it for myself. Not because they believed it, but I believed it for myself. I understood who God was and I understood that God loved me so much that He would send His Son, the Lord Jesus, to die for me.
So coming back to the story…I’m getting ready for these exams…The morning of the first exam I’m in the shower getting ready to go and the fear was so overwhelming, I couldn’t move. Literally could not move. I remember…the fear was not just about failing these exams. It was that life would be over if I couldn’t do this and that I was not good enough and that I couldn’t make it. I remember just saying, “God I can’t live this way anymore.”
I would love to tell you there was a big booming voice that answered, there wasn’t. But in my heart there was a voice that said, “You don’t have to.”
All the things that I had learned from my mom and dad and that I had taken up [in my head] all of a sudden when from [my head] down to [my heart]. What I heard in my heart was this simple word, “God loves you just the way you are. These exams, whether you pass them or fail them, do not define who you are.”
There is a verse you sometimes see held up at football games. It just says, John 3:16. It’s real simple. It says, “God so loved the world, He gave His only son. That whoever believes in Him…” (not anything you can do, which was awesome because I was a guy that didn’t feel like I was ever at anything…) “…whoever believes in Me will not perish, but will have everlasting life.”
“You are loved by God” was the message I got that morning. I was able to get out of that shower that morning knowing. I had all that stuff going on, but this was different. This was not the end of life for me. This was a simple sense of “God’s loving me for who I am. These things will never define me.”
Well I got out and I wrote those exams over the next days. Wish I could tell you I won the gold medal, but I definitely didn’t do that. But I passed and got my designation by learning the most powerful lesson in life. It changed the direction of my life and allowed me to lead an organization through change like this, which had a ton of risks to it.
I had this fundamental sense that no matter what I did in business, it didn’t change who I was. God loved me for who I was…This is what I did, this was not who I was.
I spent 19 years as CEO, you’re as good as your last results, right? So no sense of security in the work I did. How did a guy who’s scared…not because I’m smart, it’s because I had this fundamental sense that no matter what I did in business, it didn’t change who I was. God loved me for who I was. So I meant when I failed (and I did fail a few times, to say the least), it didn’t change how God saw me. But equally important, when I had a success in business, it didn’t define me either. This is what I did, this was not who I was.
The question I leave you with is, “What are you engaged in?”
Because we can be engaged in things that don’t last. We can be engaged in things like success in business. But as soon as you get a goal and you hit that number, what happens? Next year comes up, right? How long do you get to enjoy that? I always felt like I had about, maybe half a day. [You] kill yourself all year, hit your number. You enjoy it for half a day, [but] in fact you’re already worrying about the next year before that year is done.
God, I believe in you. I accept that Jesus came to this earth and He died for me, and that You love me unconditionally. I don’t have anything to prove to You. I’ve seen how You love me.
There has got to be something more. There is something more. Being engaged in a personal relationship with God through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. And what does it take? Just saying, “God, I believe in you. I accept that Jesus came to this earth and He died for me, and that You love me unconditionally. I don’t have anything to prove to You. I’ve seen how You love me. All these things that happen in life, they come and they go.”
I have been retired two years, you know that when you have a senior role (and all of you have a senior role of some sort), you all have a business card, which opens a lot of doors. People have said to me, “How has it been in retirement? It must be really hard, because once the business card and the title is gone, you lost this big chunk of maybe of who you were.”
This is what I say to people. “Being the CEO of Carswell was my job. It wasn’t who I was and who I am. Who I am is a child of God, loved by God. That’s what I did. Now I get to be a granddad. I get to do some other things.”
What we do in our role, that’s our job and not who we are. The question is, “Who are you this morning? Who are you engaged in? Do you get it?”
I can tell you this, in my personal life I am engaged in a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. “I get it. I feel it. And I want it.”