Leading Change: Passionate people move NetApp further, faster

How does a company unlock the power and passion of talented employees around the globe to accelerate a transformational vision? That’s what I wondered three years ago when I volunteered to be a member of the Guiding Coalition at NetApp. I discovered that there is a fantastic way to bring more people together to act as change leaders, and it is one of the most incredible activities I’ve been involved in during my career.


Back in 2009, Rob Salmon and the Field Operations leadership team decided to pair NetApp’s winning culture with an innovative framework for successful transformation that leverages the urgency and passion of employees across the business. Collaborating with Harvard’s respected professor Dr. John Kotter and the team at Kotter International, Rob sponsored a Guiding Coalition team to function as a foundation for accelerating change leadership.


The Guiding Coalition (GC) brings people together from across the company who operate as a team outside the organizational hierarchy. It is a unique way of breaking employees out of their day jobs to creatively solve problems and drive change. Including a balance of individual contributors and managers, directors and vice presidents, all members agree to leave their titles behind when participating on the Guiding Coalition.


Every member has volunteered to participate knowing that they will need to do this work in addition to their day jobs. The first year, Rob wasn’t sure how many people would want to do more work for no extra pay….and was delighted to see over 350 passionate and urgent change leaders apply.  Though expectations are high, every member selected has a sense of urgency and ‘wants to’ drive change at NetApp.


Acting together, the members of each Guiding Coalition are a powerful force. The team is composed of passionate people from around the world who have a broad set of experiences and backgrounds, which helps them to collectively identify and guide key business initiatives to accelerate NetApp’s growth. On a daily basis, members evangelize their change vision and drive a sense of urgency into the organization. In addition to the members of the Guiding Coalition, hundreds of volunteers, subject matter experts, and change leaders across Field Operations collaborate with the members to drive changes into the culture. The Guiding Coalition helps to harness the winning spirit of the thousands of people across the company into a powerful catalyst for change.


Each Guiding Coalition team serves for a period of one year, and I was thrilled to be a member on both the first and second year teams. After two years, I was invited to stay on as Guiding Coalition program manager. GC 3.0, pictured here, kicked off in May, 2012. Like each team before them, the 3.0 team has a compelling vision for change and is working tirelessly to accelerate our success.


Rob Salmon and our Executive team have witnessed the power of the 8 step process for leading change. NetApp is a rapidly growing company with a powerful culture which has thrived through major changes over our 20 year history. This combination of NetApp’s culture with the Kotter model has created incredible momentum.  Not only does the model accelerate our initiatives, but it is a fabulous way to engage employees and develop leadership skills. With each team over the last 3 years, I’ve seen employees stand up to the challenge in a way that makes me proud to be part of the Guiding Coalition and excited about NetApp’s future.


In the future, you’ll hear more about the Guiding Coalition from our Executive Vice Chairman, Tom Mendoza via his video blog, Tom Talks.


Mercedes Adams is the Guiding Coalition Strategic Program Manager at NetApp. She’s been on the Field Operations team for over seven years and advocating change leadership for the last three. Mercedes shares her ideas on a number of topics via Twitter and LinkedIn.

on ‎2012-09-07 11:27 AM

Shout out to my peeps in GC 1.0!!!

Reflecting back on my experience as a member of the GC, the thing that remains foremost in my memory is the experience of coming together with NetAppians from around the globe who had one thing in common: The desire to make NetApp even better combined with the courage and determination to drive the change that would allow that to happen. Since GC 1.0 I have come to realize that NetApp has a disproportionate (compared with my expereicne working for or with other companies) number of people who feel passionate about upping our game. The GC raised my awareness of this phenomenon, and now it seems that I run into passionate game-changing people wherever I go at NetApp. Kind of like when you buy a new car and then suddenly it seems like that same care is all over the place. The cars where always there, you just didn't see them.

A tip of the hat to Rob Salmom and John Kotter for bringing this powerful methodlogy for change to our company, and to GC 1.0 for helping me see the change all around me. Wait, isn't that part of a song lyric? Anybody?

on ‎2012-09-07 01:02 PM

It is my pleasure to serve on GC 3. It has been a tremendously rewarding experience to date and I highly recommend you to apply for GC4. I just got Kotter's book out of the archives to re-read...."Our Iceberg is Melting". Pick it up if you haven't read it.

on ‎2012-09-07 07:56 PM

This is so cool. I consider myselbsonfortunate to have been part of GC2 - the amazing experience, the inspired group Smiley Happy

on ‎2012-09-07 07:57 PM

so fortunate...,(typo)

on ‎2012-09-09 08:40 AM

Great insight, Mercedes.   So many people at NetApp have a passion to win.   Kotter's 8-step process for change can be used everywhere in our business.     In addition to the Guiding Coalition, there have been a tremendous number of Volunteers who have helped to drive change at NetApp.   None of this could happen without the urgency and passion of Volunteers who are willing to take on work outside their "day jobs".   We are incredibly fortunate to have a culture that encourages each of us to lead change.  

NetApp Employee on ‎2012-09-11 05:39 AM

Nice comments Frank! dont you find that you bring all those communication techniques and open mindedness back to your day job?

on ‎2012-09-17 02:09 PM

It was a career and a personal highlight to be part of GC 2.0 My team members represented every global arena. We had a blast getting to know each other, share diverse viewpoints, build a wider extended team of volunteers to create something bigger and better as a team than we could ever have have done individually. I find I am using Kotter's 8 steps as I continue to drive transformational initiatives in my day to day role.