EPISODE 634: How Sales Professionals Can Better Deal with Personal Change with Royal Caribbean Leader Dr. Grant Van Ulbrich

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Today’s show featured an interview with Dr. Grant Van Ulbrich, Global Director for Sales Transformation at Royal Caribbean and founder of Scared, So What. He’s the author of “Transforming Sales Management: lead sales teams through change.”

Find Grant on LinkedIn.

GRANT’S ADVICE:  “Personal change is any change that happens to you, for you, with you, or about you. It’s not about the organization, it’s about you, and how do you feel about that? What we need to do is we need to invite some methodology or some model that helps us to critically reflect on change so that we can diagnose it for ourselves versus making those assumptions. That’s where I’ve created the new personal change model called Scared So What, and it’s been a revolution for us and for our customers.”


Fred Diamond: On today’s show, we have Dr. Grant Van Ulbrich with Royal Caribbean, and we’re going to be talking about how Royal Caribbean is pioneering inclusive change management for its sales teams and B2B customers in international. Grant, every industry, of course, was hit by the pandemic, but if there was any industry that was more documented, of course, it would be your industry, the cruise industry. I’m very excited for a couple reasons, technically, I had you on the show before, so I guess technically this is the second time I’ve had someone, even though it’s you, who’s a sales leader in the cruise industry. I’m excited.

Also, you’re an expert on change, and of course, the cruise industry has had to change. We’re going to be talking today about personal change and organizational change, and the difference between the two, and what people should be doing who are listening to today’s show. One thing, Grant, that everybody who’s listening to today’s show or who’s reading the transcript has in common is that they’ve had to go through change. They’ve had to go through change, and like I said, you’ve been in the forefront.

Get us started here. First of all, it’s great to see you again. I’m really excited because there’s so many interesting things we’re going to be talking about, but you’re an expert on change. What’s the difference or distinction between personal change and how it differs from organizational change management?

Grant Van Ulbrich: The topic that we’re talking about today hits every single individual around the world. It’s so interesting when you think about that, organizational change versus personal change. But let me ask you a question, Fred. Have you ever been taught how to manage personal change for yourself?

Fred Diamond: Nope.

Grant Van Ulbrich: Nope. You know what? When I ask that question, it doesn’t matter where I’m at, from webinars, live keynote conferences, speeches, et cetera, or even my TED Talk, it comes out the same. Everybody says no. There you go. In my research through my master’s and my doctoral program, I had to learn exclusively about the global organizational change models that are out there. I was actually told that I had to use them on my salespeople. But before I could do that, I raised my hand to my professors and I said, “But what about the change model for me?” It was almost like it was the elephant in the room. It was so quiet, but it was there. “What are we going to do about that?”

They said, “Well, you can’t use these models because they’re prescriptive and they say that you’ll just magically accept change.” I said to my professors, “Do you accept every change?” “No.” “Do you reject some change?” “Yes, I do.” “These models don’t reflect that.” Therein came the conundrum, “What do we do?” The conversation was perhaps during your research, you should build that model for individuals, and that’s what I did. In looking at organizational change, that is any change that happens within inside the business entity or the organization. There are an array of beautiful models that help people to facilitate that within the organization. But what’s been missing is the individual. There’s a reason why McKinsey, Harvard Business Review, and so many others say, upwards of 70% of change in organizations fails.

Well, I actually interviewed many of those leaders who created those models in my research, and they said that the missing element is the individual that’s expected to carry out the change. Far too often what happens is leadership gets in their mind, they need to go from one point to another point, and they prescribe the actions. That’s organizational change. The reason it falls apart is because you didn’t ask the individual, in this case, my sales team, what do they think about it? We just push the change on them. That’s where I really uncovered the way the human mind works and the human body works towards change. We stress because we haven’t been taught how to manage it. Here’s where unnecessary stress comes, unnecessary anxiety, confusion, and we often just make assumptions, which is never good for you or for me, or even for our customers.

Personal change is any change that happens to you, for you, with you, or about you. It’s not about the organization, it’s about you, and how do you feel about that? What we need to do is we need to invite some methodology or some model that helps us to critically reflect on change so that we can diagnose it for ourselves versus making those assumptions. That’s where I’ve created the new personal change model called Scared So What, and it’s been a revolution for us and for our customers.

Fred Diamond: Let’s talk about that. I want to give people a little more background. You hold a doctorate of professional studies in sales transformation through Middlesex University. Like I mentioned, you’re the sales transformational leader at Royal Caribbean International. Again, you created something called Scared So What that helps individuals. Actually, you bring up some great points, especially in sales. When a lot of what we talk about in professional B2B and corporate sales is the concept of creativity, and the concept of helping your customers, and the concept of it’s not just a task where you’re, no disrespect to anybody in accounting or finance and operations, those are all pretty much task-driven.

Maybe there’s some new processes that’ve been put in play, but in sales, and one thing that’s really come up over the last couple of years is one of the big challenges that’s happened for sales professionals is it’s not just about you to your customer. It’s your customer to their customer and your customers to their customer’s customer. Everybody has been impacted by what’s happened over the last couple years. Again, your industry dramatically from billions of revenue to zero, and people questioning, “Should I go back on the boat?” Et cetera. You created Scared So What. I downloaded the app by the way. Give us a little bit of a background and then let’s get deep into it.

Grant Van Ulbrich: Again, going back to the master’s research, my master’s program that I took, and it’s funny, sales until now has never had a professional master in science. Now there is one, and it’s through Consalia in Middlesex University. It’s just amazing because if you think of every other profession, you can go get your master’s, your PhD, et cetera, and until just recently, sales has joined that career pathway/curriculum. Scared So What scientifically follows on your feelings and the fear of change, which is a true clinical diagnosis of metathesiophobia. That is the extreme fear of change.

But when I tried to look at salespeople in general practice with their B2B customers, key account management globally, et cetera, I focused on the individual who is caught in the middle of so much change, and you think of a sales entity, they’re the frontline, right? They’re sitting there between the organization, the KPIs, the strategies, the structures that the organization wants to drive, and then the customer, the B2B customer that they work with. There is ghosting, there is failure of deals, failures of negotiations, successive negotiations that brings forth positive change as well too, and that salesperson is caught in the middle. That’s the broker in between. They experience an enormous amount of change every single day.

What I didn’t realize is the wide use that scared So What would have. As we gave it to our salespeople within the pandemic, they then learned how to make more informed decisions for themselves and get on with what is their so what, so what are they going to do? Then we started to share it with our B2B customers who were right there with us experiencing global personal change in the pandemic, and they needed help. How do I process? Where do we go? How do we survive? What are we going to sell? How do we support the existing bookings around the world? Quickly, we had a very wide base across Europe, Middle East, and Africa, participating in this research. As bad as the global pandemic was, it was a beautiful place for us to test a new change model and the world’s first for personal change. It’s been proven very effective.

Fred Diamond: A couple quick questions about the concept of change. It’s interesting, we’ve never really done a Sales Game Changers Podcast in the over 650 episodes with over three million interactions on change specifically. I’m going to ask you a very, very broad question. Why do people struggle with change? I hope that’s not a 101 question, but just to give us a little bit of context, and you’re the expert on this, just in general, does everybody struggle with change? Have you noticed that some people, just personal change, they just grasp it? Give us the scientific answer on why people, particularly sales professionals, struggle with the kind of change we’re talking about.

Grant Van Ulbrich: It is just down to that, down to the change that happens to each and every single person around the world. Regardless if you’re in sales, IT, technology, whatever program and process you’re in, you’re a human being. The one thing that ties us together is you will experience change every day of your life. But just as I opened up this show today with today’s session, have you ever been taught how to manage change for yourself? The answer is no, we haven’t. We have been focused on how do we lead organizational change? In my book, Transforming Sales Management, I highlight the top world eight global organizational change models.

When you get down to the question, what so many people say is, “Well, Grant, people just resist change.” No, they don’t. They haven’t been taught how to manage it. That’s where we can transform a whole generation of people. If you actually teach them, there is a way. There’s a methodological process for you to reflect on your feelings so that you can break down the change and make an informed decision rather than an assumption. That’s what gets us. Everybody thinks, well, people resist change. No, they haven’t been taught how to think it through yet, and we react to our body. When a change happens to you, your mind goes in a state of flux to say something’s wrong. It doesn’t matter if it’s a positive change or a negative change, or even neutral, sometimes change hits us and we’re just like, “I’m not really worried about it.” But also, positive change happens.

For salespeople, think of winning that new deal. That’s great, but then all of a sudden you’re like, “Whoa, what’s going to happen now? What do I have to do? What’s the whole line of business I need to do to support this new negotiation, this new channel, this new contract that’s exciting?” How I can relate it to almost everybody, think about getting married. You ever see the bride up there? She’s bubbling with a positive change, but the groom is panicking. It’s supposed to be the happiest day of his life, but that man is going through change, personal change, and it’s positive. It doesn’t matter. It’s personal. How do you reflect on it? Is it positive change, neutral, or negative?

If we teach you a process, just like you do for riding a bike, just like you do for learning how to drive, just like you do for putting on your seatbelt before you actually take off, if we teach you a process of the way to think change, then you can become empowered. That’s where the book and the app come in to introduce it to you as the world’s first personal change model. But then once you use the app repetitively, it becomes a cognitive skill. Then when change starts to happen to you, instead of going, “I don’t know what to do,” you go, “Right, am I surprised? All right, how do I feel about this? What actions could I do? Am I more receptive to it? What decision can I make?” Now you’re starting to analyze the change that’s happening to you.

Fred Diamond: Once again, people can go to scaredsowhat.com and also they could find out more about the app on the various social media platforms, go to @scaredsowhat. Of course, they could find you on LinkedIn. I downloaded the app, so again, I use an iPhone, it’s on the iPhone app store. It’s available there. you open up with a 30-question test to get a little bit of grounding. That’s very good. As you’re asking these things, I have two questions. You mentioned that you began to implement this with your partners and other sales professionals in your supply chain. I want to talk about that for a second.

But before we do, when we think of change, a lot of times we think of big change. From a sales perspective, new job, new products, new territory, new pricing model. Every company, like you said before, has had to implement some type of organizational change, even if it’s things like, how do we work from home? Which of course is a big thing. From your perspective, there’s the big things, but there’s also little things. Like I just told you in the beginning of the show, I rearranged my office this morning, did a couple of things to just make it a little more fresh, if you will. That’s a change. It took me a little bit of time before you and I started today’s podcast for me to adjust my mic and my speakers and all those things. On the spectrum of change, can a little change like that be just as impactful as changing territories, or getting promoted, or getting demoted? Give us some insights into the range of change and how your solution on what you’ve done with Royal Caribbean sales has been impactful.

Grant Van Ulbrich: The simple answer is yes. Even minute changes can impact people. As you rightfully said at the beginning of today’s show, change happens to us every single moment. Now, for me, starting up, I have a beautiful, powerful microphone up here, and my cat chewed through the cord. That was a change situation for me. What did I do? Instantly I thought, “Okay, right. Am I surprised by this? Yes, I’m shocked, I’m conflicted.” I went into, what actions, what could I do? I was able to actually use this, because I’ve been doing this for five years now, to calm myself down and find a resource. Something so small as the cat chewed through the wire, what do I do? Can be paralyzing for people. Public speaking, getting onto virtual sessions. Salespeople do this every single day.

Then you get into a long drawn out, “Hang on, I don’t know how to connect my sound, my microphone,” et cetera. That’s a small change, but for some people, it can completely distract you. It doesn’t matter the size of change or the scope or spectrum of the change, it’s personal. Therefore, the organizational change models that we’ve been taught for so many years don’t apply. That is the missing gap. Organizational change processes are needed, but as I have rolled this out throughout the world, what we’re seeing is if you truly want organizational change to have as great as impact as it needs to be to be successful, you need to include the individual.

What you do is you apply Scared So What. Here’s the change, talk with people, get them to take the quiz or to reflect on it and think it through. You want them to make an informed decision about it and start to building their own So What they can do about it. Then once you have everybody on board and you know who is on board with the change, then you can bring in the organizational change and say, “Right, this is the methodology we’ll use to roll it out throughout the organization.” But for the very first time, you’ll be asking your individual employees and people, “What do you think about it? How do you feel about it? What do you think you can do to support this?” Then for those people who reject the change, they’re like, “I’m not on board with this altogether.” For the first time, you will know. You then, as a transformational leader, have the opportunity to say, “Where can I place you? How do I support you? How do I best get you to where you need to be?” Because now you’re being inclusive of the individual employee’s needs. That doesn’t happen. That’s where the beauty of Scared So What can come into play to support true change and true transformation.

People often ask me in some of our other masterclasses, et cetera, they say, “Well, what’s the difference between change and transformation?” Because we’re hearing transformation a lot. It’s a big buzzword that’s out there. You’ve got sales enablement, sales improvement, but then you have transformation. They have very different definitions of what they’re designed to do. But I can explain it like this. Think of a caterpillar. A caterpillar who changes into a butterfly. They’re not trying to change to become a better caterpillar. They’re transforming to something completely different. If you just change, you can go back to the way you were, which is why change management typically fails. But for true transformation to happen, you have to go from that caterpillar to the cocoon stage, completely have the chaos, and think about what the change means, and then you transform into something else. You’re not going back, you’re going only forward. That is how you express transformation. You don’t go back, you go forward.

Fred Diamond: We have a lot of young or junior sales managers and leaders who listen to the Sales Game Changers Podcast. They’ve all been promoted. As you said before, no one teaches you change. One of the hardest jobs is first line sales leader, sales manager, because you’re pretty much thrust into that role because you are probably good at sales, or maybe leadership said, “We’d be better suited having you as a leader as compared to individual.” One of the challenges that they face, especially in the junior part of their leadership career, is working with, let’s say, more senior, seasoned sales professionals.

The old notion, you can’t teach a dog a new trick, a guy or a lady who’s been successful for 20 years, maybe they’ve been selling to the same account for 20 years. Maybe it’s government, a hospital, state government, whatever it might be, or a corporate account. We see all these people in sales training classes in the back of the room with their arms folded against their chest, “I know what my job is. I know how to do it.” What’s your advice to sales leaders who are listening or reading today’s podcast? What is your advice to those sales leaders, first four to five years in their career, who are trying to lead people who are just resistant to change, “I’m going to keep doing it the way I’ve been doing it. My retirement’s going to come in a couple of years. Just leave me alone. Let me do my job and I’m doing it well”?

Grant Van Ulbrich: The leave me alone part is what is becoming more rare, because you can’t just leave you alone. With the advances of technology, AI, social selling, et cetera, you really don’t have a choice but to learn how to change. But when I say for leaders, and that’s typical, we often find that people from frontline sales who are superstars, who are brought into the management side of it, and say, “Right. Now get out of your comfort zone and start to lead others.” We don’t really do a good job of empowering them. We’re teaching them the leadership skills that are necessary. There’s two major leadership styles to focus on, and you have a choice. One is you can be a transactional leader, and that is, I am telling you what to do, and you’re thinking that you’re leading, and that works for only such a little bit of time.

You can only tell people what to do so many times until they start to resist you, and then they don’t follow you. That’s a dangerous place to be. Also, typical transactional leaders take the reward for themselves. Based on what the teams know, they report up, “Look what I did under my leadership and my watch. I’m leading.” No, you’re not. You’re just being a vocal point for what your team’s success have done. You need to be cognizant of that. If you want to be truly successful in leading teams, then you need to learn the transformational leadership style and approach. That involves taking your jacket off, taking your hat off, sitting down with people, and practicing coaching, true coaching, to where you’re facilitating the art of open questions, not mistaken and not hidden with advice, or not mentoring, but true coaching to get the transfer of ownership.

What you want to do as a new leader is to make sure that the ideas and the ownership is coming from your sales team. When you do that, then they’re empowered to actually action for themselves. What you then do as a transformational leader is you go and express the rewards of what the team did. It’s all about them and their success. You have to get them included, ownership, get their ideas and generations, and if they falter, that’s okay. You continue to use coaching and come back and say, “What would you do differently next time? How could you do that? Can you go do that?” If you remember that, if you can resist the urge to tell and to envelop in their own ownership of coaching, then you can bring them on board.

You also can learn the Scared So What methodology, because if you have seniors that are above you, that are resistant, “What’s this young person going to really teach me?” If you learn how they act to change, then you can utilize your coaching mechanism to actually help them bring along the personal side, and you can open them up to change and say, “Well, right, well, what decision could you make? Let’s express your feelings. What’s your So What? What is your strategy? What are your options? What’s your way forward? How will you take ownership?” If you understand how people react to change, then you understand how to lead them.

Fred Diamond: I have one little observation here. We spend a lot of time on the Sales Game Changers Podcast, and at the Institute for Excellence in sales, helping sales professionals get past blocks. Sales success is always about that. Some of them are big, some of them are tiny, some are big for one person, they’re tiny for the other. A lot of the stuff we talk about is how to get your mindset into the place where you get past the blocks, whatever they might be. Fear of rejection, all those kinds of things. The way you just described the methodology that you’ve deployed yourself, when you gave the example of your microphone, and I see that process also working for getting past obstacles. Not just big change, even things like, “I made 10 phone calls today. Nobody answered the phone.” What do we tell people to do? Keep calling, find better people to call, take a break, whatever it might be. Is the methodology behind this similar? I guess in theory, change is a big block in front of you.

Grant Van Ulbrich: It’s synonymous. It’s exactly what you’re saying, what you’re describing is personal change. Even if you’re by yourself, I’m sitting here working, “Oh God, this happens, this meeting just ended, what do I do? How do I go?” Stop and pause and use the reflective model. If it’s scared, so what? Am I surprised? Do I champion this or am I conflicted? What actions could I do? Am I receptive, rejective, et cetera? Walk yourself through it. What you’re doing is, is you’re taking any type of a change that hits you and breaking it down so that it’s digestible and consumable, and you want to make an informed decision, not an assumption. When you assume, well, we all know what the acronym is, and it doesn’t look good for you or for me. Making informed decisions, and you can empower yourself to do that. It doesn’t matter the size of change.

Fred Diamond: Before I ask you for your final step, talk about the partnerships. Again, without going into a huge amount of detail about the supply chain, if you will, obviously you work with travel agents, you work with other types of entities to get people onto your ships, and there’s a whole process of people that you work with. You mentioned that you had deployed this approach, this technology to your partners. How has that been received? Talk a little bit about the interaction. Give us a little bit of a peek though into who the partners are. What does the supply chain look like for people who don’t understand what the cruise sales world looks like? Then how has your deployment of this technology been grasped?

Grant Van Ulbrich: When we did it initially in 2019, I created this in ‘18 and ‘19, and then we went into the pandemic. My first audience was our salespeople. In the cruise industry, we have field sales, high street sales, we have global account sales, call center sales. We have every aspect of sales that support, and our primary customers that we focus on are our B2B agents, which are travel agents. You can think big huge global travel agencies around the world, travel networks, global conglomerates, but also the home worker, the person who’s sitting at home, who’s tied to a network and facilitating their travel agency.

What we did was we rolled this out with our salespeople first so that they could understand what was happening to them throughout the pandemic, and what were we going to do? How are we going to continue to survive? We quickly realized that our travel agents are experiencing the change just as we are. What we did was we packaged this up into an online program, and we had quickly over 1,100 travel agents across Europe, Middle East, and Africa, go through the course. Now we had our sales teams and our B2B customers able to talk about the changes they’re experiencing in the sales arena. Quickly what we found is people were able to make an informed decision, get past the fear of the change, and quickly make up, “Well, what’s my So What? What do I need?” They were able to process change, get beyond it, and then actually make their action plan of what to do. It’s been very successful.

Fred Diamond: Fascinating point that you said you started working on this from 2018, 2019, that this wasn’t a response to the pandemic. Now of course, the visibility, the need obviously was perfect timing of course, but pretty impressive that you identified this before and started working on it. Grant, I want to thank you again. This is the second time we’ve had you on the show. The first time with Dr. Philip Squire from Consalia was just a fascinating conversation. We flew through that and we could’ve talked the four of us actually, our friend from SAP and Dr. Phil, we could’ve talked for hours. I’m glad we had a chance to have you back on the show here talking about this model. Again, people can go to scaredsowhat.com, #scaredsowhat. Again, we’ll provide a link to your LinkedIn profile and you also post frequently as well. I encourage people to reach out to you and to get to know you. Congratulations on the success.

By the way, besides Dr. Phil, I think we’ve only had two other people in the sales world who have a doctorate, you and Marianne Kuzneski who was on the show a while ago talking about whatever she talks about. Congratulations on your personal achievements and congratulations on the success of implementing something that has quickly gotten your organization’s sales processes out of a very, very difficult place into a place where I see cruise commercials all the time. It must be a great time. Give us your final action step, something specific sales professionals should do right now after listening to today’s show.

Grant Van Ulbrich: Two things. Number one, find my book, Transforming Sales Management. This book is the world’s first book that includes the total transformation, from organizational change, to what is the importance of the individual, to the new Scared So What individual change model. You can take that. It also introduces you to the app, as Fred has just rightfully said. I want you to download the app and put the power to manage personal change in each of your employees’ hands. Let’s stay connected. Let’s help people to enhance their lives.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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