the ceo magazine, team management,
Larry Solomon, CEO, Solomon People Solutions

During my tenure as executive vice president of human resources at Dr Pepper Snapple, I worked with CEO Larry Young who recognized the strategic importance of a strong partnership between executive leadership and human resources. The impact of this belief in the strategic importance of people is evident in our successful transformation from a subsidiary of Cadbury-Schweppes to the impressive publicly traded company it is today. Together, we were able to engage 20,000 employees in numerous countries and diverse cultures, align them behind the right priorities, and efficiently and effectively build skill-sets critical to company success.

The most strategic role that an HR leader can fulfill is that of “translator” — the right-hand person to the CEO who is able to successfully translate the leader’s vision, strategies and values into the day-to-day activities of every single employee in the business.

Together, over the course of a decade, Larry Young and I designed, strategized and executed his vision, fueling successful organizational change across the U.S. and Mexico. My book, Translate, Motivate, Activate: A Leader’s Guide to Mobilizing Change (Brown Books Publishing Group), highlights the application of our logical and practical approach. Based on years of executing change with both success and failure, it is “the ultimate case study” on value-creating organizational change.

This mobilization of an organization’s people potential is what strategic human resource management is all about. HR leaders can mobilize their organizations by applying a simple, pragmatic framework built upon four core elements.

Engage: The Heart of the Matter

The CEO must become the change they want to create in the organization. Too often, leaders adopt a “good for the troops” approach to change, as in, “They need to change.” The leader’s actions, far more than any written or oral communications, send the right clues and cues to employees.

Next, trigger an unstoppable chain reaction, known as a “critical mass.” In organizational change, when one gains the support of a critical mass of powerful influencers, the momentum accelerates to the point where resisters either get on board or leave.

In 2000, when we acquired the Snapple Beverage Group, some members of the team resisted essential changes in product formulation, packaging, pricing and distribution, pledging that they would not destroy the “DNA of Snapple.”

This overt (and often covert) resistance created significant misalignment across the organization, building inertia at a time when the market was gaining momentum. The CEO of the U.S. division intervened, and a series of clear directives and actions followed, dissolving the unhealthy internal conflict.

Align: All Heads in the Game

All too often, the energies of people dissipate as a result of misdirected enthusiasm. This becomes evident when enthusiastic individuals, not understanding the key value drivers for the success of the business, invest their energies on activities of lower value. To get people’s heads in the game, you must translate the key value drivers into clear expectations for the roles of all employees.

After the Snapple acquisition, we faced the critical task of ensuring that the team, starting with leadership, was committed to the journey of change which we were about to embark upon. Some of the leaders, while enthusiastic about our mission statement “to be the best beverage business in the Americas,” had very different views as to how this vision should be realized.

Their ideas diverged fun­damentally from the original strategy that had been percolating in the minds of Cadbury-Schweppes executives for 20 years. Different aspirations for the business began to emerge, creating alternative agendas, and individuals within teams found them­selves in the tenuous position of having to juggle the conflicting priorities of these opposing strategies.

Leaders must never assume that everyone is on the same page. It is better to ask seemingly obvious questions than to discover later on in the execution plan that there were numerous interpretations of areas of focus and expected outcomes.

Once top priorities are identified and agreed upon, they can never be over-communicated. Great leaders repeat their messages on what to focus on, from every possible angle and viewpoint.

Enable: All Hands on Deck

Demands for new skill-sets and ways of working will emerge as a consequence of the ripple effects of change, and you must be diligent about providing learning opportunities. The HR translator must find the most efficient and effective ways of imbedding the new skills and knowledge needed.

As Dr Pepper Snapple CEO Larry Young says, “If we don’t train them, we can’t blame them.” To determine how best to streamline changing business processes, smart business leaders tap into the wealth of knowledge and experience available in their valuable frontline operators.

Our Call to ACTION workshops engaged all 20,000 employees, tapping into their invaluable experience.

Remember, involvement magnifies commitment — involving the untapped potential of frontline employees that we did not even realize existed in the organization. Employees at all levels of the organization identified and executed opportunities to enhance business processes, drive out waste, and increase product and service quality.

Sustain: Pass the Baton

Sustainability is achieved when leaders build resonance and ensure continued relevance of their change agendas. Resonance is created when a culture of continuous improvement is passed on and continues to grow from one generation of leaders to the next. Relevance is ensured when the team drives continuous change that is responsive to, or ahead of, market dynamics. It is the responsibility of leadership to keep the change agenda both fresh and relevant.

The systematic layering of new concepts, processes, skills and behaviors embeds continuous improvement into the fiber of an organization. It becomes “the way we do things around here.”

In 2011, Dr Pepper Snapple introduced enhancements to our Call to ACTION program. When it was first developed in 2008, the objective of the Call to ACTION initiative was to increase the effective integration of disparate businesses to create the first fully integrated major beverage business in the U.S. This was driven with a crystal-clear focus on five strategic priorities and six expected behaviors, translated into the actions of our employees.

The 2011 enhancements did not alter the original program; rather, they strengthened it — building tremendous sustainability into the fabric of the organization. The goals and behaviors were strengthened to support higher levels of performance and continuous improvement, but the essence of the Call to ACTION program remained unchanged. This continuity was essential to demonstrate continuity in leadership’s focus and intent.

This mobilization framework can be successfully applied across diverse cultures and sizes of businesses, from multi-billion dollar organizations to small companies. Regardless of the size of the business, leaders can use this framework to tap into the potential of all employees, and in so doing, create a sustainable competitive advantage through their people.

After all the years I have spent translating the change agendas of organizations into the daily activities of their employees, I have realized that there is no silver bullet, no single solution, to managing change. Change is the only constant. The key to successful mobilization, then, lies in the ability to demystify strategies and translate them meaningfully into the daily activities of every employee.

About the Author

Larry Solomon, CEO of Solomon People Solutions, managed wave after wave of fundamental changes during his tenure at Dr Pepper Snapple (DPS) and Cadbury-Schweppes, and now he shares the innovative methods he developed and implemented to align 20,000 employees behind the right priorities, while also efficiently and effectively building skill-sets critical to company success. Larry’s service to DPS and Cadbury-Schweppes spanned more than 28 countries and three continents. He served as executive vice president of human resources for DPS from 2003 to 2013.

An educator at heart, Solomon currently serves as an assistant dean at the University of Texas at Dallas and teaches a post-graduate MBA course on “C-Suite Leadership.” He wrote Translate, Motivate, Activate: A Leader’s Guide to Mobilizing Success (Brown Books Publishing Group) as an educational tool to aid HR professionals, CEOs and MBA students in successfully achieving sustainable corporate culture change. More information on Solomon and his new book can be found at


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