It’s easy to create a sense of urgency among your team when business is tough. It’s harder when you come into a role after your predecessor had tripled business in seven years.

That was the situation facing Hakan Ericsson when he became President of North America and Latin America operations for Carlson Wagonlit Travel (CWT), a travel management company. Ericsson’s answer? Build upon past successes and change with the market.


A New Team Mantra

Ericsson’s predecessor and his team did a great job managing the business, but it was time to do different things.

The world was changing and the company needed to change with it. Two driving changes in the travel industry are globalization in general and the increasing view that North and Latin America should be treated as one market. These changes gave Ericsson the ammunition he needed to rally his team around the new mantra “One team. One Goal. One Direction,” with a focus on travelers, technology, and cross-border synergies to support the unique needs of clients in each country.

Get Clear on Priorities

He started by leaving everyone in place and pulling both the North American and Latin American leadership teams together to look at the combined Americas’ priorities. There were over 100 priorities on the table when they were started.

Then he worked with the group to whittle the list down to the 10 or so priorities that were “really going to drive us,” and also supported the company’s global strategy. The group created the list. The group owned the list.

With priorities in hand, Ericsson took the old teams and meshed them together into a new organization that could manage across countries and have the strength on the ground to give each country-based CWT team its own local identity to handle local business. “Reorganization” is one of those emotionally charged words that terrify people. In this case, the exercise was truly about harmonizing and focusing effort. People didn’t lose their jobs. In some cases, they just got different ones.

Then Ericsson and his team set about aligning all 7,000 of its employees around the new direction. Of course they travel, doing road shows at all their major sites (they are a travel company). CWT also leverages technology to strengthen communication with its 2,000+ employees who work from home. Internet-based town halls and steady email communication keep people aligned and engaged.

Three Steps to Motivate a Team in Good Times

Lessons for others taking over a team doing well:

  1. Get clear on what’s going right and the organizational strengths that have fueled success.
  2. Look outside for a change you can take advantage of.
  3. Align your team around how to leverage the organization’s strengths against that outside change and then follow through to make it happen, adjusting along the way.

This is a good example of step 9 of The New Leader’s PlaybookSecure ADEPT People in the Right Roles and Deal with Inevitable Resistance

Make your organization ever more ADEPT by Acquiring, Developing, Encouraging, Planning, and Transitioning talent:

  • Acquire: Recruit, attract, and onboard the right people
  • Develop: Assess and build skills and knowledge
  • Encourage: Direct, support, recognize, and reward
  • Plan: Monitor, assess, plan career moves over time
  • Transition: Migrate to different roles as appropriate