I thought I was giving Houston Public Works a BIG gift by facilitating an Accelerated Growth Process to develop their strategic plan and reshape their future. But, the gift I received was far greater. I was “out gifted.”



Houston Public Works is the largest Public Works agency in the U.S.  Imagine managing 4000 employees in a 800+ square mile service area, producing 146 billion gallons of drinking water, maintaining 100,000 storm water inlets, and 16,000 lane miles of streets?  Imagine accomplishing all of this with a strict budget that doesn’t allow for merit increases or rewards? The sheer size of the operation is a match for Director, Carol Haddock’s grand vision to become a “world-class” organization.

As I prepared for the 2.5 day leadership and strategy event called “TRANSFORM,” I asked myself, “How can I help Public Works’ leaders be more resilient?” “What tools can I offer to help them respond effectively to inevitable crisis?” and “How do I transform a government organization so it stays relevant and thrives?” BIG questions! Crazy, BIG questions!



The outcomes from the Accelerated Growth Process were astounding. This was transformation at its finest. In collaboration with Melissa Master-Holder and David Winkelman, we established a new mindset; installed a new set of behaviors; redefined Public Works’ purpose; developed a “moonshot” goal; and mapped out 5 key initiatives to build a “world-class” city. WOW! Key ideas and outcomes were graphically recorded by David on huge white boards to provide clarity and insight. After all, a picture is worth a 1,000 words.



I was reminded (and awed) by what’s possible when you bring together a group of leaders who have the courage to be truly open and receptive –  the courage to give up excuses. After all, excuses keep us ordinary. Most importantly, I had one of those “once in a long while” experiences of using my best talents and skills, doing good work and feeling completely fulfilled (even though I was totally exhausted).


“It was one of the most profound transformations I’ve had the honor of observing.”
– Carol Haddock, Director, Houston Public Works


At the Kick-Off event participants were nervous, reserved and skeptical. Their arms were folded and they were reluctant to speak up. That’s not a good sign when you want to achieve outrageous collaborative creativity and massive transformation.  Fast forward 2.5 days – strong relationships had formed, trust was built, people felt empowered and there was a profound sense of optimism. I never imagined I could achieve this level of outcome with any organization, let alone a government agency with a legacy of fear-based leadership, silos and poor attitude.


“I greeted my wife and children, had dinner and sat on my couch with the whirlwind of the last several days swimming in my head. As I said goodnight to my youngest child, I felt his small hands on the back of my neck and for some obvious reason JFK’s words crossed my mind. “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things not because they are easy, but because they are hard”.  My few hours back at work today reminded me that this transformation is going to be hard, but that is why we are choosing to do it (or why WE have been chosen to do it).” – Brian S.


Here are some of the most valuable lessons I learned from TRANSFORM Houston Public Works.

  1. You can spark organizational transformation in 2.5 days (sounds crazy but it’s true).
    Typically it takes weeks or months (maybe years) to design a process, reshape a culture or develop a growth plan. But, when you instill the right consciousness, prime participants properly, create the right environment, get the right people in the room and design the right process, you can transform the mindset of mission-critical leaders and influencers, map out a compelling new future and get a critical mass of buy-in for organizational transformation in only 2.5 days. It’s crazy but its true!

    Lesson: Sparking growth and creating new possibilities can happen FAST!


2. People will rise up far beyond your expectations if you allow them to.
When I encouraged Carol Haddock, Director of Public Works, to expand the TRANSFORM team to include influencers and change-makers from all levels and service lines, she was skeptical. But she did it anyway. The group was VERY diverse ranging from people earning $30k per year all the way to $200k+. I had many sleepless nights wondering if I could achieve the desired outcome. But, the participants exceeded my wildest expectations.

Lesson: If you set the bar high, people will rise up.



3. Resilience is the key to success at work and in life.
If you know me, you know I’m fanatical about the need to build resilience in the workplace. In fact, I wrote a whole book about it! Resilience is the most underestimated and most needed leadership competency in today’s rapidly changing marketplace. It’s good to be able to bounce back from setbacks or recover from adversity, but how long can you keep “trampolining?” It’s exhausting! Leaders must develop the right mindset, skillset and toolset to stay focused, balanced and “whole.”  They must build the capacity to remain true to themselves regardless of the circumstances.

Lesson: If you want to stay relevant and thrive, you must cultivate resilience.



4. People are hungry for a sense of purpose.
At the core of every successful organization is a compelling purpose. When you and your employees are “velcroed”  to your organization’s purpose, you’re more focused, engaged and productive. You rise up above disruption, embrace change and produce breakthrough results. You’re able to overcome frustration and disappointments because you’re connected to a cause that’s more important than your personal importance.

Lesson: Money, title and prestige are nice, but purpose is priceless.



5. Every idea you need to accelerate the growth of your organization is right in front of you.
There’s a myth that in order to come up with big ideas and accelerate growth, you need to hire big consulting companies that charge big fees. When you remove “stripes,” set aside personal agendas and ask the right questions, people have a wealth of creative ideas they’re hungry to contribute. Houston Public Works executive leaders gave up their egos, showed up in jeans and sneakers and worked side-by-side with people on the front-lines to create a compelling new future. Now, that’s courageous!

Lesson: When you give up your personal importance you can transform your organization. 



The Accelerated Growth Process is a custom initiative to help organizations grow. At its foundation are the 5 core competencies of Resilience at WorkTM  featured in the best-selling book, ROAR: How to build a resilient organization the world-famous San Diego Zoo Way. The Process breaks down silos and overcomes obstacles in an immersive and highly creative innovation session to generate dramatic results and develop a roadmap for your organization’s future.

  • Imagine accomplishing 3-4 months of work in 2.5 days?
  • Sparking creative ideas beyond anything you ever imagined?
  • Building energy and commitment to bonds and unites stakeholders around a compelling purpose?
  • Transforming leadership and establishing a foundation for a culture of respect, engagement and peak performance?

e: sandy@Uexcel.com w: sandyasch.com w:Uexcel.com


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