• Dealing with Uncertainty in an Era of Disruption

    by Kalani Iwi'ula | Sep 19, 2018

    A person’s ability to deal with uncertainty is influenced by many factors. Those who are older may be able to deal with uncertainty better because they have experienced more uncertainty and made it through, and often things turned out OK—perhaps the way they’re supposed to. Those who practice faith or religion may be comfortable in uncertainty because they have a higher power to look to.

    Thoughts create our moods and behavior

    If you put age and religion aside, a person’s ability to deal with uncertainty depends not so much on the external circumstances, but on what they make of the circumstances in their thinking. Our thoughts create our experience of life. Worried thoughts create worried feelings, while hopeful thoughts create hopeful feelings. Of course, there are circumstances out of our control that can cause worry and distress: natural disasters, unexpected death, financial insecurity, and other similar crises. Yet, even though these events may be out of our control, we do have control over our reaction. Our reality is based on our thoughts.

    Say, for example, that you and a coworker hear that your company is planning a round of layoffs. The two of you both have mortgages, children, and other financial responsibilities, but you immediately descend into a panicked spiral. “My life is ruined, we won’t be able to keep the house, my kids won’t be able to go to college…” are some of the thoughts you go through. You look over and see you coworker, who looks unfazed by the whole issue.

    Maintaining a positive outlook is essential

    Your coworker could be making a conscious effort to look at the positive aspects in her life. She might turn to gratitude about her kids and that everyone is healthy. Instead of worrying about her job, she may turn to optimism when she realizes that she’s not a huge fan of her job anyway and gets excited about the potential new prospects. Both people are dealing with the exact same situation of uncertainty, but they’re having very different experiences.

    “The happiness of your life depends on the quality of your thoughts.” -Marcus Aurelius

    The benefits of staying positive through uncertainty are not just about feeling better—they impact the outcome. You’ll be better able to seek support from others when you remain positive, as people tend to gravitate towards positive people. If you can stay positive and keep your mental traction through crises, you’ll be much more able to come up with solutions to problems and solve key issues. This is true in life and in business.

    Advice for uncertain times

    If you find yourself in an uncertain situation or crisis, consider these pointers that have worked for my team and me, and many of our clients:

    • Mood ElevatorTake a moment to reflect on a few things you’re grateful for. No matter what is going on, we all have things to be grateful for—this is a powerful mood tonic. A gratitude perspective comes through a practice of looking at what we do appreciate about our lives and other people versus looking at what we lack. A grateful state of mind is a quieter, more centered mind. This mindset contributes to many aspects of a healthy workplace culture, including:
      • Better collaboration and decisions for the greater good
      • A better customer experience
      • Higher employee engagement
      • More creativity and innovation
      • Added resilience in the face of challenges
      • A positive organizational spirit
    • Surround yourself with positive people. Studies have shown that moods are contagious, so by being around those who make you feel good, your mood will go up. The central finding of my doctoral dissertation on organizational culture published over 30 years ago was that an organization’s culture and climate is most greatly influenced by the shadow of its leaders. The biggest shadow we bring to work each day is our state of mind or mood. It is also the biggest one we carry home at night. That should be food for thought for all of us.
    • Take care of yourself physically. You’re more likely to feel worried and anxious when you’re low on sleep, eating poorly, and not exercising. Our physical state plays a role in our thinking. When we’re tired and worn down, we’re more vulnerable to lower-quality thinking and lower moods. I am of the belief that in order to be your best mentally, you have to be your best physically.

    You choose how to respond

    Recognize that in life and business, a fair amount of surprises will cross your path, and some may come with immense challenges. When that happens, remember: Stop. Think. Decide. Only you can make a conscious decision to take a more effective course of action.

    If you experienced a sudden crisis in business or in life, how did you overcome your circumstance?


    Editor’s Note: Since its founding in 1978, Senn Delaney has had a singular focus: To create healthy, high-performance cultures. Led and chaired by Dr. Larry Senn, the premier culture-shaping consultancy celebrates 40 years of helping corporate leaders in this endeavor. Larry has shared his knowledge through our blogs (ConstructiveCulture and CultureUniversity) and at our annual culture conference. We are honored again to share his wisdom with our readers and colleagues through this blog post.

  • Fake Culture

    by Kalani Iwi'ula | Sep 04, 2018

    “Fake culture” refers to all the surface level objects that people point to as culture. These are artifacts of culture which give clues into the deeper layers of culture. You may have heard the saying, “There is more than meets the eye.” That is a very good way to think about real culture. It goes beyond what you see around you.

    Culture is NOT:

    • Foosball tables, flip flops and free beer Fridays
    • A fabulous set of values written on the walls
    • Colorful office walls, open concept workspaces and standing desks
    • A style of dress. Suits, uniforms, or hoodies and distressed jeans (how much did you pay for jeans with holes?!) may be the prevailing dress code, but are not culture
    • Fun food and free drinks (no – a whiskey bar is lots of fun and totally on trend, but it’s not culture!)
    • Nap pods and meditation rooms
    • Quirky CEO’s with cool concepts and hot-off-the-press books
    • Slogans, T-shirts or campaigns

    Most people can agree on the fact that culture exists and that it influences behavior in organizations. What is not so widely agreed upon is the precise definition of organizational culture. Getting culture defined correctly matters, because a lot of time and resources are poured into things that are falsely labeled culture – and when the real issues aren’t being addressed, there won’t be real results.

    At the foundational level, culture is the collection of deeply held beliefs and assumptions that drives behavior within organizations or groups of people. It’s why we do what we do in different situations—culture is how you are expected to behave and comes from shared beliefs through common learning. Ideally these “unwritten rules” correspond to the stated values and beliefs of the organization.

    How culture is formed?

    Many leaders say they want an innovative workplace culture where people are free to take risks, try things and make mistakes. But if a team member is publicly chastised by the leader, what kind of culture is being created? The team member learns that he will be humiliated if he makes a mistake. So next time there is an opportunity to take a risk, he will apply what he learned and avoid it. This is why culture is a leadership responsibility (not owned by HR, or a culture team). While everyone plays a part in creating culture, leaders set the tone—and it’s fascinating how often a leader’s words and actions are unintentionally out of sync. 

    “Culture is caught not taught, reinforced not announced.”

    For example, an executive we were coaching was in a meeting with over a dozen attendees. The person leading the meeting was not well prepared and hadn’t set clear objectives. This leader got frustrated with the time that was being wasted and the lack of productivity. So, she took over the meeting and made sure that the needed outcomes were achieved. Unfortunately, those actions had unintended consequences. The team member leading the meeting didn’t learn how to improve, he learned that if he didn’t do it the right way someone else would do his job. Instead of stepping up, next time he’ll step back.

    Culture is caught not taught, reinforced not announced. Imagine that you are in a meeting, and you believe that it’s polite to say, “bless you” when someone sneezes. Someone sneezes and you are the only one to say, “bless you.” You’ve just learned that with this group of people, that is not the correct behavior. No one had to teach this to you, it’s learned through observation and experience. Leaders can talk about their ideal culture, but it’s only through shared learning and consistent action that culture gets created.

    Can you change culture?

    Culture change is possible but not easy. If you think about culture as organizational habits, it helps you see that these consistent patterns of behavior that are learned over time don’t change just because a new set of values gets rolled out! Think about how hard it is for you to change a habit. Now imagine that multiplied by all the employees in an organization.

    Change starts with understanding. Are you sure that you clearly understand the culture that is driving the behaviors in your organization? A rapid way to ensure that you get a complete assessment of your organization is by conducting a quantitative survey combined with qualitative focus groups and interviews. The survey you choose should ask questions that expose the underlying behavioral expectations for the organization, not just give you everyone’s opinion on wearing shorts to work on summer Fridays!

    We are currently working with the new CEO of a long-standing organization that is facing external challenges that are forcing the need for significant change within the organization to remain relevant in the marketplace. Our client just started within the past 60 days and wants to know what the real culture of his organization is, so he can focus his change efforts on the behaviors he needs for the new strategy to be the most successful. Within 4 weeks of starting the cultural assessment, we will be able to have conversations about real cultural change that can have a rapid and meaningful impact on the execution of strategic initiatives and result in a successful future for the organization.

    Don’t be fooled – Take time to understand

    I have worked with many CEOs as they have come on board and/or attempted to make shifts in business strategy. In my experience, the more successful leaders are the ones like our current client that take the time and make the effort to clearly understand the culture driving the business they lead, then purposefully shape the culture to meet the needs of the business strategy they are moving towards. If you mistake the fake factors for real culture, then you will not address the underlying beliefs and assumptions that truly drive culture.

    Don’t be fooled by fake culture. Be aware and be intentional. Accurately assess your organization’s culture and get clear on where you stand today. Then, decide if that culture will serve you well in executing your strategy or if it will hinder your rapid and successful progress. This knowledge will provide the foundation for success as you determine your next steps.

    How does your organization help its members feel safe to take risks—to step up, not step back? What’s standing in the way of making changes that matter? Please share your comments on the social channels below.

  • How an Icebreaker Can Demonstrate Group Synergy

    by Kalani Iwi'ula | Aug 28, 2018

    When our company engaged to plan and host a four-day workshop with a large oil and gas client who, among many things, desired an icebreaker, we opted for a meaty exercise that not only helps people interact with new faces but also demonstrates how to quantify group synergy.

    Simulations for group dynamics

    Setting up the exercise, groups were established and participants given a simulated emergency designed to show teams how to improve problem-solving by learning the interpersonal (people) and rational (task) skills and processes that lead to successful teamwork.

    Simulating an unfamiliar scenario, such as being stranded on an atoll in the South Pacific, teams were asked to rank various objects potentially necessary for their survival. For our client’s icebreaker, we selected the Tsunami Survival Situation™ (PDF) from Human Synergistics, which presented the following scenario:

    Your group is enjoying a beach party on the coast in central Chile when a text message alerts that a tsunami is approaching. Your group must rank 8 items in the order of their importance to your survival. You have 1 to 2 hours to complete the exercise.

    To start, we instructed participants to first decide on and record their own individual ranking of the items. Then, together with their groups, they determined what actions they would take to survive and developed a team ranking.

    A refresher on terms

    • Synergy occurs when a team’s collaborative efforts produce a greater or better outcome than the sum or average of their individual efforts.
    • The Interpersonal Process involves various skills we use when working with others, including: listening to others; supporting their efforts to do well; differing with others constructively, when necessary; and participating equally in discussions.
    • The Rational Process involves the skills we use in thinking a problem through to a solution, including: analyzing the situation; identifying objectives (i.e., aims or goals); considering alternative strategies; discussing adverse consequences; and reaching a consensus decision.
    • Effective Solutions (Decision Quality). The result of synergistic problem solving is an effective solution—one that is both accepted by members and of higher quality than their individual solutions (based on Norman R. F. Maier’s classic work).

    For further details, refer to these resources: Survival Simulation Series and Synergistic Problem-Solving Model (PDF).

    Did the teams survive?

    Yes and no. Mostly no.

    Of eleven teams, one team did excellent and out-performed all others. A second team fared well, a third performed satisfactorily, and the remaining teams fared poorly.

    Each team’s solution was scored against experts’ rankings and a percent change was calculated from the average individual score to the team score. The greater the improvement in decision quality, the greater the synergy achieved by the group.

    group synergy survival simulation tsunami

    The best scoring group saw a 64% increase in decision quality (and group synergy) versus the average individual score! The worst scoring group had a 22% decrease in decision quality.

    The team with the wisest individual in the room (whose silent solution beat out the solutions of 70 others) was the team that ranked second-to-last in decision quality after discussing the problem and creating a group solution. Why? Because the team faltered in rational discourse as participants stated opinions as facts and confused actions with goals.

    Conversely, the winning and lone ‘surviving’ team not only increased decision quality by 64 percent by effectively discussing the problem and solution but also outperformed their best member. How did they do it?


    The differences between the average individual solution and the team's solution served as a revealing measure of the group's ability to perform as a team, or not.

    While the groups debated their team rankings, independent observers took note of interpersonal and rational behaviors during discussions using the Human Synergistics’ Survival Simulation Series Observer’s Guide™.1 Behaviors of both Best and Worst groups are compared in the abbreviated list below.

    Note that although the group with the worst synergy score displayed both negative (-) and positive (+) behaviors, the best-scoring and high synergy team exhibited only positive behaviors and no destructive interpersonal or irrational behaviors were noted.

    Interpersonal and Rational Behavior Grid

    …and Learnings

    Our objective was to help raise awareness of how constructive interpersonal styles support effective group problem solving and synergy. For the client, the net result was a deeper understanding by all participants of how constructive and inclusive group behavior can exist, even with dissent, without becoming overly negative and counterproductive.

    A key advantage of using group problem-solving simulations is that they make the abstract concept of synergy more concrete by enabling participants to quantify and compare individual versus group performance. It can also help participants understand that synergy is not easily achieved.2

    Today’s organizations are shifting toward agile approaches to new product development and harnessing the power of their data to achieve an edge. We’ve seen leading companies identify decision quality as a metric to bolster in response to the breakneck pace of innovation. Being able to deliver an aligned solution in an icebreaker format allows our company to delight clients in a relevant and meaningful way.

    In closing and connecting on a personal note

    I recently helped my mother move from her home of 50 years in Beaumont, Texas, to a downtown Houston high-rise. It was a days-long effort to help her sort through everything, and after half-a-century, she had acquired a prolific display of folksy collectibles and ceramics.

    Among her collection for sale, I was particularly intrigued by two handsome figurines of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, thoughtfully posed in their Enlightenment Era-inspired attire that had stood for at least a decade high up on my grandmother’s mantle. The statuettes had been sadly passed over by estate sale shoppers that day, survived a near-shove off to the thrift store, and have since rejoined my mother and family in Houston where our heirlooms belong.

    Later, I made the connection between the historical figurines and my company’s client assignment on group synergy, mentioned herein. I reflected on the seemingly insurmountable task the Founding Fathers confronted from the Second Continental Congress in 1775 through the Constitutional Convention of 1787: constructing a viable democratic government for the fragile assemblage of 13 states. To succeed, Washington, Jefferson, and other leaders elicited group synergy through two powerful forces – Rational Discourse and Interpersonal Skills – in a manner not unlike what modern organizations do to deliver value and innovation to the marketplace quarter after quarter.

    As an internal or external change leader, do you use simulations in your work? If so, how do you find them most useful? Please share your comments via the social channels below.


    Photo by Patrick “NeuPaddy” Neufelder on Pixabay.


    1 Cooke, R.A. (2010). Survival Simulation Series Observer’s Guide™, Plymouth, MI: Human Synergistics.

    2 Gourley, M. (2004). Tsunami Survival Situation Leader’s Guide, New Zealand. Human Synergistics.

  • Human Synergistics partners with Root Inc. to create The Culture Journey Learning Map® Experience

    by Meghan Oliver | Aug 23, 2018

    Unique program combines peer learning with targeted education based on facts and fundamentals about culture, climate, and change management that are not widely understood

    CHICAGO, IL - Human Synergistics and Root Inc. have collaborated to offer The Culture Journey Learning Map® Experience. This new learning approach prepares leaders and change agents to understand and manage the complexities of culture, leadership, and their connection to performance in an accelerated environment.

    “The Culture Journey Learning Map Experience clarifies the complexities of culture, leadership, and their connection to performance to inspire and empower effective change.” -Tim Kuppler, Director of Culture and Organization Development, Human Synergistics

    Human Synergistics specializes in developing and providing tools, information, and change strategies that enable individuals to reach their potential, groups to realize synergy, and organizations to achieve sustainability. Root Inc. activates, motivates, and inspires people to accelerate the speed of organizational change through a combination of disruptive methods, storytelling, and interactive experiences. The Culture Journey Learning Map Experience activates Human Synergistics’ organizational culture expertise using the Root Learning Map® methodology. This combination delivers on our shared belief that when an organization achieves positive culture change, it is best positioned to achieve and sustain its desired business results. More details on the Culture Journey Learning Map Experience are available on the Human Synergistics website at https://www.humansynergistics.com/change-solutions/culture-journey/.

    “We are pleased to have the opportunity to work with the exceptional team at Root,” says Dr. Robert A. Cooke, CEO of Human Synergistics International (HSI). “Their unique approach and Learning Map® visual have allowed us to collaboratively build an engaging, interactive experience that helps participants understand and apply our model of ‘how culture works’.”

    Facilitated in tables of six to 10 participants, the Culture Journey Learning Map Experience offers attendees a hands-on approach to learn about how culture is created, build a common language for understanding its layers, discover how it evolves, and identify paths to increase the likelihood of shared learning and positive results with their change efforts.

    Rich Berens, CEO and Chief Client Fanatic of Root, comments: “Organizational culture is one of the biggest determinants in new strategies succeeding or large-scale change taking hold. We appreciate the opportunity to partner with Human Synergistics to help organizations understand the importance of engaging their people in their culture journey and enabling them to better bring it to life and ultimately see positive results.”

    The Culture Journey Learning Map Experience is part of the program at Human Synergistics’ upcoming 1st Regional Ultimate Culture Conference, presented in partnership with the University of Wisconsin-Madison (September 17, 2018), and at other conferences, company meetings, and educational events.

    “We’re excited to make the important and often over-simplified subject of culture more approachable and easier to understand,” says Tim Kuppler, Human Synergistics’ Director of Culture and Organization Development. “The Culture Journey Learning Map Experience clarifies the complexities of culture, leadership, and their connection to performance to inspire and empower effective change.”

    For more information about the Culture Journey Learning Map Experience, visit https://www.humansynergistics.com/change-solutions/culture-journey/. To take part in the next Learning Experience, register for the 1st Regional Ultimate Culture Conference at https://www.humansynergistics.com/resources/regional-culture-conference.


    About Human Synergistics International

    Human Synergistics' mission is Changing the World—One Organization at a Time®. We are the global resource for culture solutions, leadership development and coaching, and team building. Directed by Dr. Robert A. Cooke, and building on his work with Dr. J. Clayton Lafferty and colleagues, Human Synergistics’ assessments and simulations include: the world's most thoroughly researched and widely used culture survey, the Organizational Culture Inventory®; the ubiquitous Desert Survival Situation; and Leadership/Impact® 360. Since 1971, we have supported the development of thousands of organizations and millions of individuals. With 19 offices on four continents, and products and services available in 35+ languages, HSI is having a positive, global impact. Visit us at https://www.humansynergistics.com.

    About Root Inc.

    The world’s most respected organizations partner with Root Inc. to realize positive change. We activate, motivate and inspire people to accelerate the speed of change through a combination of disruptive methods, storytelling and interactive experiences. Root’s process of defining the future, building an organizational movement and creating lasting change is backed by proven research and evolved over 25 years. A bold culture and international reputation for results have attracted two out of every three of the Fortune 50 to work with Root. Change starts at https://www.rootinc.com/.

    Root and Learning Map are registered trademarks of Root Inc. in the United States and/or other countries.

    This press release was originally published by PRWeb. Click here to view the release on the PRWeb website.

  • Culturally Intelligent Change

    by Kalani Iwi'ula | Aug 21, 2018

    What is failed change? Whether it’s a change that doesn’t quite get finished or a change that fades away over time, change that does not achieve the expected outcomes and benefits is failed change.

    When change fails, it’s usually because the status quo culture was too large of a barrier. Status quo is a powerful force that always opposes change. Status quo is another way of understanding culture. The underlying beliefs and behaviors of an organization resist change without intentional focus on culture as part of the change approach.

    Why Culture is Essential to Change Success

    Culture is a result of human being’s craving for predictability and certainty. It develops over time when there is a consistent group of people and is formed from shared history and the learning that comes from many experiences together. This creates the patterns that define the acceptable ways to think and behave in response to various situations.

    Change by its very nature disrupts certainty and predictability. Culture responds by attempting to maintain status quo. A change process that uses the power of culture maximizes change success, is culturally intelligent change.

    Culturally Intelligent Change = Understanding and using the elements of culture (values, norms, beliefs, assumptions) as key inputs to guide the change approach to accelerate learning and improve results.

    The objectives of culturally intelligent change are to:

    1. Manage, minimize or avoid culture flashpoints that create change resistance
    2. Maximize the achievement of business objectives by using culture intelligence to drive sustainable change results

    How can leaders, managers and change agents apply culturally intelligent change and understand culture to improve their change success?

    Assess the culture & climate both qualitatively and quantitatively

    Both organizational culture and climate are essential to understand, but there is a significant difference between them. Climate pays attention to the shared attitudes and perceptions about things like mission, teamwork, and what managers are doing to engage employees. Culture looks a level deeper at the underlying expectations, norms or “unwritten rules” that drive behaviors. Both quantitative and qualitative culture measures are critical. Quantitative data provides objective measures against a standard and qualitative data provides context.

    Use the culture data

    The quantitative and qualitative data is useless if it’s not applied to the change. Make sure that there is clarity about the current state. What are the primary beliefs and mindsets that exist and how will they support or subvert the change? Once you are clear on what exists, then consider what beliefs, behaviors and cultural norms are needed to achieve the change. That’s the gap, and it is foundational information needed to build a change plan that succeeds. 

    We’ve identified fifteen key culture actions that connect with the five key process groups from the ACMP Standard for Change Management.

    15 Key Culture Actions


    These key culture actions are intended to be layered into an existing change approach. They can also be used as a checklist to ensure that these critical actions are part of the Change Management Strategy and Plans. For a complimentary copy of the checklist, download it here: 15 Culture Actions

    And for a deeper dive on this subject, consider our complimentary eBook.

    How will you use the 15 Key Culture Actions? Please share your thoughts on social media.

  • Change Agents and their Role in Transforming Culture—Part 2

    by Kalani Iwi'ula | Aug 15, 2018

    The Journey

    At its core, the role of a Change Agent in culture change is to help leaders solve problems. Big problems, small problems. It begins with steady efforts to facilitate change that accrue into a collective transformation—change that takes place over time. It is more like a journey than a race. And the more stakeholders who join this journey, the better.

    “Culture is built through shared learning and mutual experience,” says Edgar Schein, and journeys come ready-made for both new learning and experiences to share. When reading stories or case studies of change efforts, there is often one or two learning nuggets that resonate to help solve a challenge you’re working through. And as the journey unfolds, there is true value in learning how change teams overcome challenges, sometimes significant ones.

    In part one of this series, the role of the change agent was introduced as being part-translator, part-geek, and part-transformation specialist. Guiding change is what they do best. At times they are also instigators "speaking truth to power" or helping leaders find the courage to persevere.

    In part two, here, we’ll cover success summaries from change agents at SHAPE Australia, EI Leadership Institute, and Tomlin Sharkey and Associates to close this brief series.

    Let’s get started.

    SHAPE Australia

    Linking Organizational Culture to Traditional Business Measures of Success


    SHAPE AustraliaAs refurbishing specialists and builders of interior space for the Australian commercial market, the most significant project that SHAPE built was a great place to work. Having measured culture and employee engagement for more than a decade, SHAPE saw their customer satisfaction levels increase markedly and financial performance steadily improve as their culture progressively became more constructive.

    The next challenge was how to make SHAPE the customer brand of choice.


    Having experienced the positive results of a Constructive culture firsthand, SHAPE chose to drive performance through behavioral and cultural change.

    A founder of SHAPE, Gerard McMahon has more than 25 years of experience in the construction industry. His sole focus as internal change agent is supporting and enhancing the company’s organizational culture through individual coaching and group development programs. To ensure that constructive behaviors are modeled throughout the organization, all SHAPE employees are provided ongoing, personal development training utilizing an integrated array of measurement instruments.

    Senior leaders are enlisted as coaches in helping with:


    As an external consultant and senior executive with Human Synergistics Australia, David Byrum is a seasoned change agent with more than 25 years of industry experience. He fills the role of coach and trusted advisor to individuals and teams at an executive level to enhance their awareness and develop action plans that support Constructive behaviors. Under David’s collaborative lead, SHAPE’s improved business metrics include:

    • Net profit growth of 250%*
    • LTIFR (Lost Time Injury Frequency Rate) reduced by 65%
    • Perfect Delivery, as measured by client, increased to 88%
    • Achieved a customer NPS (Net Promoter Score) of +64 (-100 — +100 range)
    • Achieved an employee NPS of +74

    * Note: Percentages are from 2014 through 2017

    Summary PDF




    EI Leadership Institute

    Emotional Intelligent Habits that Build and Sustain a Constructive Culture

    EI Leadership InstituteOriginally founded as the Liautaud Institute in 2006, the EI Leadership Institute provides evidence-based solutions for creating a happier, more effective workforce. The Institute is led by CEO Joe Balistreri and CLO Cynthia Kivland, skilled change agents in SEMCO (Systemic Empowered Communities), Servant Leadership, Emotional Intelligence, and organizational culture debriefing.


    According to ComPsych, workers in the healthcare industry are among the most stressed of any profession.5 Across the US, hospitals face rapid change and disruption. These forces lead to daily demands and high-pressure work which, in turn, often result in professional stress and defensive organizational cultures.

    This was a familiar scenario at two hospitals in rural Kansas, prompting hospital leadership to seek Kivland’s guidance to address business challenges while shaping a more Constructive culture.

    Key business challenges:

    1. 80% of medical errors involve miscommunication
    2. Inability to address emotional needs of patients and caregivers
    3. Need to tear down silos and build relationship servant care
    4. Low HCAHPS (patient satisfaction) scores decrease reimbursement


    • Introduce SEMCO communication protocol for the development of small-group processes. Recognized as having greatest impact on patient satisfaction, Nurse-leaders are selected and empowered to drive the SEMCO initiative.
    • Engage the leadership team in increasing their Emotional Intelligence skills.
    • Stabilize the volatile healthcare delivery and reimbursement process, and proactively manage ever-changing healthcare policies.
    • Measure organizational culture and effectiveness and link the three biogenetic needs (Membership, Empowerment, and Meaning) to Constructive cultures.


    • Execution of eight improvement plans specific to the job, department, and/or well-being of staff and individual caregivers.
    • Improved emotional rapport between departments, patients, nursing staff and physicians resulting in increased HCAHPS reimbursements.

    Balistreri, an advocate of evidence-based solutions shares that people have the above-mentioned biogenetic needs to group, to be empowered, and to contribute in a meaningful way, and that the best work environments allow these needs to be met.

    Kivland considers the SEMCO approach well-suited for the healthcare industry in that it creates a common communication culture across physicians, nurses, and business providers, and fulfills the biogenetic needs that often go unmet in high-stress healthcare environments.

    Summary PDF




    Silicon Valley Startup

    How to Future-Proof Your Organization Today with a Constructive Culture to Thrive Tomorrow

    Linda SharkeyDr. Linda Sharkey is CEO of Tomlin Sharkey and Associates, a boutique consulting firm recognized as a leader in leadership and global talent development, culture transformation, and coaching for future growth. A seasoned leadership development and culture change expert, Sharkey has delivered countless culture and leadership assessment debriefs in her professional career. This summary focuses on Sharkey's consultation to a CEO on the culture of his rapidly growing startup.

    Case Study

    Given the negative press around high-growth, high-visibility companies with aggressive cultures, the leaders of this Silicon Valley startup were adamant about shaping a Constructive culture from the start. Prior to ramping up their next development phase, company leaders sought to determine if their Current culture would drive and foster innovation. Choosing to work with Tomlin Sharkey and Associates, the company’s culture was assessed using the OCI.3

    Modified to protect confidentiality, the firm’s Circumplex profiles shown here indicate that, even in early startups, culture must be addressed.

    Linda Sharkey culture startup

    Note: The Circumplex is Human Synergistics’ proprietary circular graph that provides a visual framework to quantify, describe, and understand organizational culture, personal styles, group processes, the impact of leaders, and how they’re integrated—or out of alignment—with the organization’s values and preferred culture. It breaks down the factors underlying effectiveness into 12 specific styles that are arranged in a circular manner based on their similarity and grouped into three general clusters: Constructive, Passive/Defensive, and Aggressive/Defensive.

    The Current culture profile above and to the left suggests that the culture of the company was both Passive/Defensive and Aggressive/Defensive [with green (Avoidance) and red (Oppositional and Competitive) extensions, respectively]. The moderate blue extensions indicate that Constructive norms were not sufficiently strong to sustain innovation. In contrast, the blue extensions in the Ideal culture profile (above right) reflect the innovative culture sought by this startup’s leadership.

    For related information on these cultural styles, visit the interactive Circumplex and How Culture Works models and click through the graphics.


    The pace of business is changing with dizzying speed due to several factors including globalization, demographic shifts, and rapid technological change. Such factors can negatively impact organizational culture if preventive strategies are not anticipated and implemented. As change agent, Sharkey said the benefit of using a culture measurement solution like the OCI is that “You can anchor the discussion in reality and in the data.”3 The survey also “pushes leaders to think about where they need to be strategically for the future culture,” Sharkey added.


    The firm made a commitment to shaping and maintaining a Constructive culture over time. Having awareness of the gap between their Current culture and their Ideal, achieving acceptance of their Current culture, and then taking action to move towards the Ideal culture are essential phases in any change process. Awareness, Acceptance, Action—key benchmarks on the change continuum. Sharkey believes that leaders who demonstrate their support for Constructive cultural norms will thrive in the future world of work.

    Summary PDF


    Lessons Learned

    Culture-related change efforts come in many forms and provide insights across a broad spectrum of issues. The following are suggested by these three very different success stories:

    • Recognize how your current culture is helping and hindering progress toward key strategic priorities. Understand the gap between your Ideal and Current cultures.
    • Use a valid and reliable survey to gain a common language for and measure of culture, its outcomes, and potential levers for change and improvement.
    • Combine culture assessment and development efforts with leadership development, team development, and initiatives to improve internal systems and processes.
    • Partner with experienced culture change agents for perspective and expert guidance.
    • Engage leadership and all team members in additional phases of improvement as progress is measured and confirmed.

    In Closing

    Change Agent culture part 2The guidance and expertise of a change agent can be invaluable to your organization development efforts. It’s not uncommon for the change journey to experience detours, roadblocks, and the occasional fender-bender. It happens—and when it does, change agents help to identify it, resolve it, and get all parties back on track.

    Like all journeys, there will be stories to collect and share, and the change agent’s milestone finale will be to help leaders tell their change story.

    Partnering with us

    If you’re an experienced change agent working in culture transformation, leadership development, or team effectiveness, I invite you to learn more on how we partner for change and I welcome your comments on our Twitter and LinkedIn channels.

    Unique Opportunity

    UWCPED logoFor more insights on culture and how to communicate a change process for optimum acceptance, consider joining Human Synergistics and the University of Wisconsin-Madison at the 1stRegional Ultimate Culture Conference, September 17, 2018. You’ll participate in thought-provoking presentations, interactive sessions, and dynamic networking to learn more about culture. You'll hear from local leaders and consultants who are collaborating with leadership teams to evolve the cultures of their organizations, including Marti Wronski of the Milwaukee Brewers and Angie Zeigler of the Oshkosh Corporation. The conference also features the new Human Synergistics learning experience called “The Culture Journey” and a very motivating final session on overcoming significant culture challenges to impact your organization and society. I hope to see you there!

    Early-Bird Registration ends August 15 and space is limited—reserve your seat today! Click for Ultimate Culture Conference details.



    1 Cooke, R.A. & Lafferty, J. C. (1989). Group Styles Inventory®. Plymouth, MI: Human Synergistics.

    2 Lafferty, J. C. (1973). Life Styles Inventory™. Plymouth, MI: Human Synergistics.

    3 Cooke, R. A. & Lafferty, J. C. (1987). Organizational Culture Inventory®. Plymouth, MI: Human Synergistics.

    4 Cooke, R. A. (1995). Organizational Effectiveness Inventory®. Arlington Heights, IL: Human Synergistics/Center for Applied Research

    5 Stuart, Candace, “Breaking Point News? Health Care Workers Most Stressed,” Cardiovascular Business, June 5, 2013. Retrieved from http://www.cardiovascularbusiness.com/topics/practice-management/breaking-point-news-healthcare-workers-most-stressed

  • The 3 Levels of Change Required to Shift Culture

    by Kalani Iwi'ula | Aug 07, 2018

    Have you ever wondered why the changes you tried to bring to your organization were not successful? Maybe it was simply because you missed a level of change required. To be effective, change must happen simultaneously at the organizational, team, and individual levels. This applies to any kind of change but is particularly important in the case of shifting culture.

    1. Organizational level

    This is the level that most organizations are comfortable with and the one that, consequently, tends to be focused on. In fact, I have seen many businesses just try to work at that level. Working on change at the organizational level is about systems and processes. One of my clients wanted to become more customer-centric and decided to implement a Customer Relationship Management system. Another had identified a need for increased empowerment: they changed their operating model.

    This level of change is also about the symbols the organization chooses (consciously or not) to send a message about what is valued in the workplace. I recently helped an organization select the collective KPIs it had decided to introduce to foster collaboration, when until now employees had only had individual KPIs.

    Organizations love working at that level because they are familiar with it – this is the nature of most of their daily interactions. They believe that it is easier and faster than working on the other two levels. You only need to look at the cost and time of some of those system changes to know that nothing could be further from the truth.

    In shifting culture, this level of change is about ensuring your systems and symbols are aligned with the culture you are trying to create. It is also about the culture narrative you are using to explain to your people why the change is needed, what it feels and looks like, what is expected of them, and how they will benefit from the change. Working on this level of change is indispensable, but it is not the only one.

    2. Team level

    For many years I fell into the common trap of forgetting to work at this level of change or making it a lesser priority. I could not have been more wrong. Kurt Lewin said, “The immediate social group is the greatest determinant of behavior.” What this means is that you need every team in the business to change if you want the change to take hold. Because the team are the people you interact with the most, it is with them first that you can practice changing behaviors. Your team members can observe you in action and give you recognition and feedback. They can let you know whether you are heading in the right direction or not. They are the easiest pressure point for you to start behaving according to the new norm.

    “Teams that find the right kinds of practices and reinforce them, time and again, by insisting on following them, have greater influence and creativity.” ~Jon Katzenbach

    To embrace the change, the team needs to discuss the purpose of the change and what it looks like for them. It needs to look at its own style: Are they constructive enough or too reactive? Do they compete with each other or avoid the hard discussions? Do they show care for each other? Do they trust one another? With a measure of the gap (for example through a behavioral measurement tool), the team will be able to flex towards the right behavioral standards. Try to engineer “aha” moments in teams, because everyone experiencing the moments together will create a catalyst for change. What this means, practically, is that your change intervention needs a team focus during the journey. Of course, this starts at the top, with the executive team initiating the process. You can then cascade down the experience to other levels.

    3. Individual level

    I have kept the most important level of change for last. Without individual change, there is no change. Cultural transformation starts with personal transformation. In other words, culture change is the sum of all the individual changes that are happening in the organization. This is the level that many businesses shy away from because they feel it is too difficult, too slow, or too confronting.

    “Culture transformation starts with personal transformation.” ~Larry Senn

    Many changes that have happened to us as individuals are the result of a catalyst, something we’ve experienced: a health scare, a failure in a project, or exposure to different data. These events trigger a sustainable shift at the BE level (what lies under the surface of the water in the iceberg model), which in turn underpins a shift in behavior. This means two things in regard to culture change. First, it means that it is best to build a personal experience for employees that will allow them to change quickly. It also means that you need to create space for individuals to reflect on themselves, starting with management layers. A great tool for this is a behavioral measurement instrument that involves a 360-degree measure. This is often enough to create the trigger for change. What is their dominant personal style? What are the beliefs and assumptions they hold true and that drive them to display current behaviors? Which strengths can they use to shift their less productive styles?

    This level is the one that will make change sustainable in the long term. It is also often the one that people remember for life. In actioning it, you are not only changing the organization for the better, you are also changing lives.

    In summary

    What level of change should you start with? Truth be told, the three levels are required and often at the same time. If not, you run the risk of sending contradicting messages about what is important. People will be confused, and the change process weakened. Without individual change, nothing will happen. So, start with the top of the organization, then cascade down to other levels of management while you are implementing system changes, and bring in the team element as you progress.

    Have you experienced any of the three levels of change in a similar way? Do you have a different point of view? If you would like to share a comment on social media, feel free to use the LinkedIn or Twitter buttons below. In advance, many thanks.


    Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

  • In Conversation with Edgar Schein: Answering Three Common Questions about Culture

    by Kalani Iwi'ula | Jul 30, 2018

    We all know that culture has the capacity to drive and alter everything that happens in our teams and organizations.

    Business results, services and products, relationships with clients and suppliers, the way people think, the stories they share, the way they go about their work and interact with one another; all this and much more is influenced by culture.

    But culture can often be like a wet bar of soap—too slippery to grasp. To harness its force, we first need to understand its nature and dynamics.

    And there’s no better person to help us get a handle on organizational and team culture than Edgar Schein, one of the world’s most well-known culture pioneers.

    I had the pleasure to interview Ed shortly after his 90th birthday.

    Aga Bajer and Ed Schein on Culture

    It was clear from the very start that in spite of officially becoming a nonagenarian, Ed has no intention of slowing down. He was just about to finish his new book, “Humble Leadership,” and was audibly excited about the new venture he’d launched with his son, Peter Schein.1

    Our conversation was part of the CultureLab podcast series where I interview leadership thinkers, culture experts, entrepreneurs, and culture change agents to help listeners harness the force of culture.

    Ed and I discussed many common concerns surrounding culture, and you can listen to the full interview here.

    For this blog post, I’ve picked three common questions about culture that we addressed in the interview:

    • How is culture created?
    • Is it really possible to change culture?
    • Who is responsible for culture and for culture change?

    1. How Is Culture Created?

    The creation of a company is also the creation of its culture.

    Culture comes to life at the very same moment the founder establishes business operations, irrespective of whether she is conscious or intentional about creating a culture.

    It is the founder’s values, the norms by which she lives, the way she approaches her business, and the decisions she makes that shape the culture of her business.

    If the founder is friendly and empathetic, chances are that the company culture will have a strong people focus. If the founder is competitive and controlling, the company culture will value status and hierarchy and prioritize winning. If the founder is highly analytical, the company culture will emphasize data-driven decisions.

    People always observe the founder—how she thinks, what she believes, how she acts—and they infer culture from that.

    The more successful a start-up is at the early stages of its existence, the stronger its culture tends to be.

    The reason for this is very simple. As Ed Schein said during our interview, “Culture is what a group has learned in its history that has enabled it to survive and thrive (…) whatever values and norms enabled that group to survive and manage its internal affairs, they are its culture."

    In summary:
    Companies are built in the image of their founders, and culture is always a reflection of how founders go about creating and managing their businesses. As a result, culture is the shadow of the founder.

    2. Is it Really Possible to Change Culture?

    I find that it often helps to think about culture as a living entity to answer this question. Just like other living entities, culture is hardwired for survival and self-preservation.

    That’s one of the reasons why it can be so incredibly difficult to change an existing culture. Every attempt at culture modification is usually met with vehement resistance…coming from culture itself. After all, from culture’s perspective, it seems like a matter of life or death, and the term “culture change agent” sounds a lot like “culture assassin!”

    In our interview, Ed talked about the fact that culture is a complex, multifaceted entity, consisting of many elements. It’s impossible and unnecessary to influence all of them at the same time.

    Consequently, our goal should never be to change or overhaul the culture in its entirety. Instead, we should try to identify which aspects of culture might help or hinder the organization’s ability to survive and thrive—and focus on those.

    And the more specific we can be about what issues, challenges, or problems we need to solve to help our business to thrive, the easier it will be to identify which aspects of culture will have to change.

    Personally, I prefer to talk about culture evolution—not culture change. There are two reasons for that.

    Firstly, “change” or “transformation” implies that there is an endgame we should be driving towards. However, as long as the internal and external environments keep changing, culture needs to keep changing, too. There’s no endgame in culture evolution

    Secondly, we should be playing to culture’s strengths. And what culture is really good at is continuously evolving. Evolution is an integral part of culture’s survival mechanism

    So here are a few steps towards a successful culture evolution:

    1. Be very clear about what it is that you are trying to achieve in your business.
    2. Identify key cultural enablers and key cultural obstacles towards the desired business outcome.
    3. Make a plan to preserve, strengthen, and celebrate those aspects of culture that already enable your business goals.
    4. Identify what needs to be in place to help evolve those aspects of culture that currently stand in the way of achieving your business goals.
    5. Rinse and repeat as your culture and business evolve.

    In summary:
    Culture will take care of itself whether we do something about it or not. It doesn’t want to change, but it will, and does evolve continuously to survive. Culture work can only be successful if it's linked to real business needs or a specific problem that needs to be fixed. This work can happen only when it focuses simultaneously on preserving the positive elements of culture and evolving those elements that need to change to help the business thrive. There’s no endgame, only continuous evolution.

    3. Who’s Responsible for Culture and for Culture Change?

    Evolving a culture in an intentional way might involve making changes in company structure, business model, and various supporting systems.

    However, Ed stressed in our interview that nothing is more elementary and more powerful than what the leader does—or doesn’t do—to embody the culture he or she wants to cultivate.

    One of the biggest problems in organizations today is that while leaders state the need for change—for example, “We need to embrace a more participative leadership style” —they don’t walk the talk themselves, or don’t hold their people accountable for the desired behaviors.

    “When it comes to culture, we get what we settle for.” -Edgar Schein

    They try to “delegate” responsibility for culture to HR or even an external consultant and get frustrated when things don’t go as planned.

    But, there is no getting away from it— “It’s the leader herself who should be doing the culture work, as she is the one who creates the culture through her own behaviors, what she rewards, and what she pays attention to,” said Ed.

    If you are a leader and what you want to see is more teamwork within your team or organization, you might have to ask your team members what they’ve done to improve collaboration on weekly basis. Perhaps consider introducing rewards for collaboration and setting team-based goals. If collaboration informs the way you organize your team, set targets, evaluate performance, and reward and promote your team members, you will inevitably see more collaboration.

    The same goes for what you are prepared to tolerate—this will shape culture, too. As Ed said, “When it comes to culture, we get what we settle for.”

    In summary:
    Leaders are ultimately the ones responsible for shaping culture in their organization; culture is shaped by what they do, what they don’t do, and what they choose to tolerate. For culture to evolve in the desired direction, leaders need to take action daily, talk about their expectations, walk the talk, and be willing to make difficult decisions when necessary.

    My hope is that this blog makes a small contribution to demystifying culture, making it more accessible and less overwhelming in its complexity. It’s only when we begin to understand culture that we stand a chance to harness its incredible power and start creating environments where people can do their best work.

    To listen to my full interview with Ed Schein, click here.


    Photo by Alex Iby on Unsplash


    1 Schein, E. (2018). Humble Leadership: The Power of Relationships, Openness, and Trust (The Humble Leadership Series). Oakland: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

  • Change Agents and their Role in Transforming Culture

    by Kalani Iwi'ula | Jul 18, 2018

    The Beacon

    Changing an organization’s culture is considered one of the most difficult challenges for leaders, and those with experience will confirm that it can be a massive undertaking.

    Whatever challenges the organization is facing—low morale among staff, bad behavior at the senior ranks, unhealthy team culture, employee burnout or poor performance, lack of innovation—the situation requires attention and implementation of corrective strategies to position the company for sustainable improvement and success. If left unexamined, these problems inevitably worsen and cut off the organization’s chances for recovery.

    Enter the Role of the Change Agent

    Change agents, whether internal or external, provide guidance and expertise and help leadership teams understand the challenge at hand, assess next steps, and collaborate on a clear path forward.

    In the casual setting of a recent Ultimate Culture Conference, skilled change agents shared the following success stories on culture transformation. Covering diverse industries such as architecture, construction, consumables (food), and healthcare, their experiences are worth examining for useful insights to apply in your own culture journey.

    Let’s get started.

    HKS Architects

    Culture Change at HKS: Resilient and Responsive


    US Bank Stadium_HKSDallas, Texas-based architectural firm HKS Architects creates places that enhance the human experience, like the US Bank Stadium, home of the 2018 Super Bowl. After collecting employee satisfaction data for 10 consecutive years, leadership sought to better understand the current culture and the roadblocks that were inhibiting employees from taking the most successful actions.


    A culture survey was initiated firm-wide using the Organizational Culture Inventory® (OCI®) from Human Synergistics.1 Well-coordinated company-wide discussions, covering 20 offices across the globe, were conducted to review cultural attributes and the climates and prevailing behaviors of the various offices. Office leadership engaged staff in goal setting and planning. A new performance development system, ELEVATE, was implemented; not linked to compensation, the system involves managers meeting with team members three times each year. Change agent Cheryl Kitchner led ongoing discussions to facilitate participation and learning; vocal support from senior leadership is visible.


    HKS reassessed its culture in 2016 using the OCI and added an assessment of the work climate with the complementary Organizational Effectiveness Inventory® (OEI).2 The retest, showing an impressive increase in survey participation, confirmed remarkable reductions in Passive/Defensive and Aggressive/Defensive styles and vital improvements along the Constructive styles. Key changes included stronger commitment to and focus on personal and professional development.

    A second phase of improvement is ongoing and includes:

    • Definition of a clear “FROM-TO” shift to consistently support the company-wide strategic priority, “Responsible Design.”
    • Implementation of a creative and engaging leadership development program, Root Compass. “Responsible Leadership Workshop” was customized based on culture assessment results and launched for use with all managers. Goal: 100 people trained by end of 2018.
    • Enhancement of the ELEVATE platform is further enhanced to include peer reviews for project teams and benchmarking by role.
    • Roll-out of personal assessments to identify individual styles and strengths. Goal: 600 people trained by end of 2018.

    Summary PDF




    Advocate Health Care*

    Culture Shift + Leadership Development = Sustainable Results


    AdvocateHealthCareAs the largest health system in Illinois, Advocate’s challenge was to increase and stabilize engagement, focus on culture change, and strengthen relations within a high-profile, semi-autonomous unit that struggled with negative team dynamics, unproductive work relations, and entrenched passive-aggressive behavior.

    *Advocate Health Care is now Advocate Aurora Health, April 2018


    Focusing more on culture than climate, emphasis was placed on helping leaders and teams make the connection between outcomes and their actions and behaviors. Simultaneous “teach & learns” were delivered at all organizational levels with a keen focus on achieving ideal behavioral styles and impact.

    The change initiative was guided by an OD professional specializing in culture transformation and leadership development. Change agent Diane Stuart’s 10 years of healthcare management experience qualified her to lead Advocate’s change effort through an intense and collaborative learning process using assessments like the OCI and Leadership/Impact® (L/I).1, 3


    As leaders gained awareness of their behaviors and their impact on others, Advocate achieved a dramatic shift in culture, attained high levels of engagement, and exceeded financial goals. The impressive turnaround results realized by the focal unit have subsequently been used to motivate, guide, and transform other Advocate teams and departments.

    Summary PDF




    Johnsonville Sausage & University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Professional & Executive Development (CPED)

    Ensuring a Culture for Growth


    UnivOfWisconsin_JohnsonvilleSausageMembers and leaders of Wisconsin-based Johnsonville Sausage have a bold vision to “be the best company on earth.” This requires that the leading national sausage brand be culturally prepared and poised for aggressive innovation on its way to growing and becoming a $1 billion company. An important step was determining whether the company’s Research and Development subculture would foster innovation and growth while supporting their desired culture famously cultivated in the “Johnsonville Way.”


    Susan Dumke, Johnsonville’s Research & Development Senior Project Manager, partnered with the University of Wisconsin-Madison CPED to coordinate a pilot culture study led by Lisa Yaffe, Program Director for Executive Leadership.

    Accredited in the OCI, change agent Yaffe guided the Johnsonville team through the assessment and reporting process.1


    A pilot study confirmed that the R&D employees maintained a strong Constructive subculture that helped the team stay aligned, focused, and to work together and grow. The process also confirmed that the OCI could be leveraged for assessing and developing the Johnsonville culture more broadly.

    Summary PDF




    Lessons Learned

    Culture-related change efforts come in many forms. These three very different success stories provide the following lessons:

    • Recognize how your current culture is helping and hindering progress toward key strategic priorities.
    • Use a valid and reliable survey to gain a common language for and measure of both culture and climate.
    • Understand culture and climate as a foundation for adjusting strategies or plans to improve results.
    • Combine culture assessment and development efforts with leadership assessment and development.
    • Partner with experienced culture change agents for perspective and expert guidance.
    • The journey never ends. Engage leadership and all team members in additional phases of improvement as progress is measured and confirmed.

    The guidance and expertise of a change agent can be invaluable to your change effort. Stay tuned for new success stories in part two of this series. Meanwhile, I invite your comments on our Twitter and LinkedIn channels.

    Unique Opportunity

    UoWCPEDFor more insights on culture and how to communicate a change process for optimum acceptance, consider joining Human Synergistics and the University of Wisconsin-Madison at the 1st Regional Ultimate Culture Conference. You’ll participate in thought-provoking presentations, interactive sessions, and dynamic networking to learn more about culture. You'll also hear from local leaders and consultants who are collaborating with leadership teams to change the cultures of their organizations, including Marti Wronski of the Milwaukee Brewers and Angie Zeigler of the Oshkosh Corporation. Early-Bird Registration ends August 1 and space is limited—reserve your seat today! Click for Ultimate Culture Conference details.



    1 Cooke, R. A. & Lafferty J. C. (1987). Organizational Culture Inventory®. Plymouth, MI: Human Synergistics International.

    2 Cooke, R. A. (1995). Organizational Effectiveness Inventory®. Arlington Heights, IL: Human Synergistics/Center for Applied Research.

    3 Cooke, R. A. (1996). Leadership/Impact®. Plymouth, MI: Human Synergistics.

  • Post #200 on CultureU – 7 Essential Insights Normally Missed in Culture Change Efforts

    by Ben Tiberi | Jun 27, 2018

    This milestone post is a salute to passionate and experienced culture and performance change agents. You understand the power of culture in organizations and the challenge, frustration, restlessness, and exhilaration inevitably linked to intentional culture-related action. We’re living in the absolute best time in history to be involved in meaningful culture change. Culture is finally a topic of discussion in most organizations, and we need to make the most of it.

    Washington MonumentI adjusted my plan for this post during a recent trip to Washington, DC. I was going to write a general “how-to” post, but that changed during an early-morning run by the Washington Monument. I saw the flags at half-staff due to the recent Santa Fe High School shooting in Texas and started thinking about the incredibly challenging culture-related issues in organizations and society as a whole. I thought: “It’s going to take every bit of experience and knowledge to tackle these issues, and a general ‘how-to guide’ barely touches the surface of what we need.” I shifted my focus to zero in on details often missed in culture-related change efforts, even by experienced change agents.

    Unless you are some sort of crazy unicorn, we all can benefit from learning from others, especially with something as challenging as shifting or evolving culture. We spend so much time trying to understand the stories and examples from great cultures or listening to the latest inspiring keynote, but we rarely dive into the messy culture realities and specific approaches to change. These seven insights will, hopefully, add to your experience in some new and impactful ways.

    1. Unite the organization to support the purpose and top priorities

    I recently had a conversation with a manager, and she said leaders at her organization think of culture as being “soft.” This absolutely broke my heart, but it’s the reality in many organizations.  It doesn’t matter if the current culture is crippling the organization and costing billions or keeping the organization from living up to its fullest potential.

    My culture reality is different. I didn’t gain a passion for the subject of culture from being an educator or consultant. I started learning about culture around the same time I was promoted to fill a senior leadership role with full P&L responsibility. I was excited about the opportunity, but also plagued by a feeling of panic inside as I listened to the critical, self-doubting voice in my head. I was fortunate that the very experienced VP of Operations I partnered with in multiple roles had the vision of “every team member feeling like they were part of a group running their own business.” It didn’t matter if it was a department, plant, warehouse, or cross-functional group. This resonated with me. The knowledge of the business, ownership, teamwork, and expectations for proactive action would be so strong it would propel our organization forward.

    We worked together with the rest of our leadership team to define an “involvement culture” that was all about uniting our organization in support of our vision and most critical performance priorities. There was an incredible sense of urgency each year as we connected our “involvement culture” habits and systems to one or more specific business priorities like quality, safety, growth, customer experience, and innovation.

    This concept of “uniting the organization” behind a critical improvement priority has resonated repeatedly as I engage with other leaders. The frustrations, inconsistencies, and challenges top leaders experience when managing their most critical performance improvement priorities often connect back to culture in some form.

    I love seeing the light go on when a top leader begins to understand the idea of culture-related understanding and change being the key to uniting his or her organization to support the top improvement or performance priorities. This builds naturally out of a discussion regarding the most critical priorities they are managing and the frustrations or challenges they have “bringing their team together” to deliver the results they are targeting. Remember to think about what mission priority you are attaching a culture engine to and avoid generic culture plans with no clear connection to outcomes or results. Culture is the fuel to maximize the potential of an organization, and it’s definitely not “soft.”

    2. Connect culture transformation to the personal drive of the top leader

    I have never encountered a culture that couldn’t be changed, but I have met plenty of leaders who are culturally blind to the problems they need to solve. I always love interviewing the senior management of an organization, especially the top leader. One discussion can provide tremendous insight into what drives them and whether that deep personal drive can be connected to culture-related change. I used to think you could build this relationship over the course of an improvement effort. I was wrong—that’s too late. The entire tone of the work changes after a gut-level connection and understanding is achieved. Resist the temptation to be an expert, especially in initial interactions. Everything you say and do can influence the change effort. There needs to be less judging, less talking, and more questions.

    I learned to use the following question at the end of interviews to build trust and make a stronger connection with the personal drive of the top leader: “We have discussed the reasons and targeted outcomes for this work, but that’s been focused more on the overall organization. Why is it important to you personally that we successfully evolve the culture in meaningful and impactful ways?” Some respond with more “business reasons,” but most open up and tell a story that connects the work to something far more personal in their background.

    Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and Rev’d Canon Michael Hunn Picture from the original interview of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and Rev’d Canon Michael Hunn, Canon to the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church

    The most interesting response I received came from Presiding Bishop Michael Curry of the Episcopal Church. You may know that name. He delivered the message at the recent royal wedding. We had a great discussion that ended with the “personal” question. He sat back and thought for a good 10 to 15 seconds. My mind was racing as he said, “I grew up in a family where there was an expectation that what you did with your work was going to change the world.” He also shared, “We’ll know it’s working and having the impact we need when random people know our work and hear the version that is not judgmental or hypocritical.”

    This was what we needed. We talked about how the “expectation” word is powerful when it comes to culture and the cultural norms, or “unwritten rules,” that people are bombarded within organizations. That expectation he felt growing up was a splendid example of a constructive and encouraging expectation reinforced in countless ways. I could have preached to him about culture for hours, but it would have been meaningless without a more personal understanding. I would have missed this deeper connection if I didn’t ask that final question.

    Larry Senn, founder and Chairman of Senn Delaney, defined a great analogy for the process to help leaders understand the impact of culture: “You need to manufacture an Aha.” I love this concept because no “aha” means no culture change.

    3. “Stop using the word ‘culture’ so much”

    Ed Schein and Tim KupplerI was discussing a couple of very challenging improvement efforts with Edgar Schein. I am freakishly driven when it comes to culture, but not free from fear, so I was a little intimidated sharing plans with a top culture pioneer. He was very encouraging, and then he stopped me: “Tim, you’re not going to like this, but you have to stop using the word ‘culture’ so much. People don’t know what you are talking about.” He emphasized the need to understand if I was talking about a value, behavior, norm, or something else. I think many of us get sucked into this trap of using the “generic culture word,” and it undermines our work.

    It’s far clearer for everyone involved to avoid referencing culture and culture change by using language like:

    • Solving problems or accomplishing goals
    • Overcoming significant frustrations with collaboration or teamwork
    • Understanding patterns of behavior, norms, or “unwritten rules” negatively impacting results and why they are so deeply entrenched
    • Resolving inconsistencies with behaviors that are undermining results
    • Reducing fear and hesitation that are holding the organization back
    • Involving, empowering, and encouraging proactive action
    • Driving shared learning and results as a team

    These areas can be probed without ever mentioning the word “culture.” Culture can then be introduced in the context of their stories, examples, and language instead of your language.

    4. Understand the current climate and underlying culture

    Robert Cooke, CEO of Human Synergistics and author of the Organizational Culture Inventory® (OCI®), said: “One of the problems we have with culture is that everything has become culture.”  Much of what people are referring to when they think they are talking about culture is actually organizational climate – the shared perceptions and attitudes of members of the organization.

    I was facilitating some focus groups recently with a major university partner and corporate client. Nearly every individual in the focus groups felt compelled to jump in and start talking about examples of screwed-up systems, structures, or leadership approaches that were all aspects of the work climate. It was messy work pulling them back to help them understand patterns of behavior and why they were so deeply entrenched. We’re not used to talking about the invisible realm of culture: values, beliefs, assumptions, and norms. This inability to go deeper is crippling organizations as we deal with surface changes to the work climate that may have little or no impact on the underlying culture. We layer on more systems changes, training, or some “new program” defined with little or no understanding of the “real” culture.

    Most people in organizations are not trying to frustrate each other and intentionally undermine success through behavior that is less than ideal. There are logical reasons why behavior interpreted as being frustrating, rude, or insensitive persists. We need to understand “patterns” of inconsistent or undesirable behavior and the shared beliefs or assumptions driving them. What is driving that “fear of speaking up” or the “just go along with things” mindset? Why aren’t leaders involving team members in major decisions that impact them?

    Most “culture experts” focus on “culture alignment” or behavior change but, as Edgar Schein warned, “don’t be seduced into thinking that behavior change is culture change.” If cultural attributes (e.g., norms, values, beliefs, etc.) aren’t evolving, the success of a change effort may be short-lived. The frame to understand culture must go beyond the work climate and observable behavior. It’s not sufficient, it distorts things and a deeper understanding is possible with additional effort.

    5. Follow a qualitative-quantitative-qualitative assessment sequence to understand the current state of the culture and climate

    I am an enthusiastic fan of “real” culture surveys (the rare ones that measure values and norms), but I think it’s short-sighted to jump to a survey as an initial step in a change effort. It’s incredibly important to start by understanding why there is an interest in culture. What problem are you trying to solve? What goal are you trying to achieve? It helps to understand the current perceptions about culture and climate and how they are both helping and hindering progress with specific improvement goals or priorities. It often helps if the initial qualitative effort is not biased by already having feedback from a survey. It’s easier to stay in an inquiry mode if you don’t already have some of the “answers” from a survey. The initial qualitative step may also help with identifying custom items to add to a standardized culture and climate assessment. The survey can then be used to develop a baseline language and measurement regarding some aspects of the current culture and climate.

    The survey, or quantitative, step will reveal characteristics of the work climate and culture that were not mentioned in the initial qualitative step. This should not be a surprise, because culture is like the water we swim in or the air we breathe. Most “experts” jump to action planning or defining improvement efforts right after combining qualitative and quantitative methods. This is a missed opportunity because it can be incredibly beneficial to return to a second round of qualitative assessment to understand 1) why characteristics from the quantitative assessment were not previously mentioned, and 2) how these characteristics are influencing the aspects of the culture and climate that were identified.

    I was facilitating some focus groups with a consulting partner at a manufacturing client who was interested in reliability improvement. One focus group was held with middle managers, and they probed “say-do gaps” between the behavior they encourage or target to support reliability improvement and the reality of the behavior they tend to see on the front lines (and from themselves). They identified numerous areas of the work climate that were “reinforcing” current undesirable behavior: communication gaps, training needs, lack of clear goals and measures, etc.

    The discussion was losing energy, so we shared some results from their culture and climate survey. We reviewed some challenges related to “listening” and “helping others grow and develop.” It was amazing how these facts re-energized the discussion. The group discussed a coaching initiative that wasn’t going well due to their continual time in meetings and extremely limited time available to coach the front lines. This initiative wasn’t even mentioned during the initial qualitative engagement of the group. They openly discussed how, even when there is time to listen, people are often just listening to support their own agendas. They were probing struggles and culture “elephants in the room” normally covered in sound bites and quick judgments during the normal rat race at work. This time, they were sticking with the discussion and gaining a shared understanding of the current state. It would have been easy to run ahead and fix communications systems, training, or other surface problems originally identified during the first qualitative step, but that wouldn’t have addressed the root cause they were surfacing through a deeper analysis.

    The root cause related to an emphasis on just getting production out the door that had persisted for decades, and work to support the reliability priority would not address that issue and the underlying beliefs. They decided to shift their focus to “predictability” improvement: satisfying production demands at the right time while meeting their quality and safety standards. This focus would require them to shift some misguided beliefs, associated aggressive norms, AND ineffective surface systems, structures and leadership approaches that were reinforcing the current state. The discussions and planning process were difficult but worth it based on the plant manager's feedback: “This work gave us surgical clarity regarding our problems and what needs to be done to resolve them. It will allow us to turbocharge our plans and results.”

    I can’t recall seeing this qualitative-quantitative-qualitative flow recommended in books, let alone the popular press or consulting firm culture whitepapers. I believe it’s the ideal flow for dealing with complex culture-related problems and improvement efforts, but it’s rarely applied. When it is applied, it’s often lacking a valid and reliable survey that covers both culture and climate. It’s not a simple flow to facilitate, but it always leads to more targeted and effective problem-solving. It’s messy, hard, and frustrating, but also incredibly rewarding as groups work through issues with a level of shared understanding and clarity rarely achieved in our action-oriented culture.

    6. Engage and re-engage team members with discipline to drive shared learning and results

    Edgar Schein and Robert CookeI set up a discussion between Edgar Schein and Robert Cooke. We were recording the discussion on video, but the cameras hadn’t started rolling yet. Ed said, “Culture is built through shared learning and mutual experience.” I thought: “That’s it! That’s what I have been working on for 15 years.” I never articulated it with such understandable language, but that’s what we were facilitating through numerous group techniques to “unite” our team in support of our most critical performance priorities.

    We used a specific design to engage the workforce in improvement efforts that naturally facilitated shared learning and mutual experience. I had been part of many large company meetings before I was promoted to my first VP role. It often seemed like Groundhog Day as some of the same issues came up repeatedly. We wanted to try a different approach and designed a structure for large group “involvement meetings.” I used the same general structure in more than 250 meetings across many organizations.

    Each involvement meeting follows a standard structure. Top leadership starts by sharing a general “state of the business/organization.” Groups complete brainstorming and prioritization activities on key areas of improvement for the next 6 to12 months. Some of these areas are identified or modified based on the results of the culture and climate assessment. Top ideas are captured in documented goals for implementation and tracking. Leadership commits to monitor progress, remove barriers, and recognize positive progress as a team during implementation. A second involvement meeting is held 4 to12 months later. A major part of the agenda is to review progress from the last meeting, identify what’s worked, and identify what didn’t live up to expectations as a foundation for further feedback and prioritization activities. This disciplined approach unified the team, facilitated shared learning, and helped us improve results. It also allowed us to collectively prioritize some improvements in clear phases from one involvement meeting to the next. Key learnings and best practices were always captured as a basis for application and further improvement in the subsequent phase.

    There are countless individuals that just need a vehicle to say what their heart and head want them to say, but they haven’t. They feel powerless to change things. Individuals often feel more comfortable sharing problems and improvement ideas within the safety of a group. A critical step in meaningful culture change is when an unshakable shared belief somehow becomes shakable. The “involvement meeting” structure and other approaches help shake crippling beliefs like, “they don’t listen to us” or “we can’t really impact major decisions.”

    The fear of speaking up is a cancer that plagues nearly all organizations. -Tim Kuppler

    7. Plan on the “resistance” and learning from it together

    We’ve all been there. The resistance can take many forms including criticisms, revisiting decisions, lack of engagement, venting frustrations, lack of follow-up, personal attacks, and perfectionism, where no idea or action is good enough. We live in a culture where encountering resistance is viewed as a problem instead of being a perfectly normal part of any major change. The good news is that we are living in a culture that is establishing new rules for what’s expected in the workplace.

    Understanding the resistance and what’s driving it is often the key to understanding culture and the unique struggles individuals and groups encounter. Is it isolated or is it a pattern? Under what circumstances does it surface? Is it a symptom of a deeper issue? What’s reinforcing or encouraging the resistance?

    Here are some thoughts on dealing with the resistance:

    • Maintain a constructive and positive tone: Ignore that loud and judgmental voice inside your head as you work to learn from the resistance. I listened to a recent culture podcast with Carly Fiorina where she said, “To do anything is to be criticized.” She continued: “We need courage to deal with criticism.” You are doing something that is truly brave when you constructively and positively deal with the inevitable challenges that will surface in any meaningful change effort. Model the constructive behavior you want to see in others and never go negative by getting wrapped up in the resistance yourself.
    • Re-group and re-evaluate plans through the lens of culture: Don’t try and deal with the resistance alone as an expert. Edgar Schein also said: “You only truly begin to understand a culture when you try to change it.” The easy thing would be to conclude “that didn’t work” and go back to a less inclusive approach. Re-group and re-engage individuals or groups to deal with what’s surfacing and tackle it as a team. Use it as another opportunity to drive shared learning and adjust plans where appropriate.
    • Get used to the culture grind and don’t stop or dramatically reduce change efforts: Thomas Edison said, “Many of life’s failures are experienced by people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” It’s easy to feel overworked and overwhelmed. We live in a culture where many stop when they experience strong resistance. Expect the resistance. There will be the inevitable anxious or difficult conversations. Plan for it and be disciplined and consistent with your response when it emerges. Empathize with struggles or challenges and clearly identify where plans are being adjusted based on feedback. Don’t dramatically reduce the scope of the work or you will undermine the credibility of the change effort and results.

    I’ll end this point with an excellent quote from soccer star Pele:

    Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and, most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do. -Pele

    Summary and top three reasons for failed culture transformation

    I believe all seven of the insights in this post are incredibly useful in every single significant culture-related change effort, but they do not guarantee success. What differentiates success from failure? I watch for three main qualities, and the absence of one can substantially delay success or lead to complete failure:

    1. Leadership understands how they are reinforcing the current culture and start by shifting their own behavior. Larry Senn once said: “Culture transformation starts with personal transformation.”
    2. Leadership is willing to apply an inclusive approach to drive shared learning and results as a team. Many leaders really struggle with the risk and uncertainty of not knowing everything and empowering others to make important decisions.
    3. Leadership follows a disciplined approach to shift the operating model (systems, structures, habits, etc.) in targeted areas with clarity and speed. It’s a major shift from an organization that struggles with inclusive and united change efforts to one that naturally expects and reinforces them in countless ways.

    The common theme with these three qualities is, of course, leadership. Every leader and every change agent is on a learning journey when it comes to culture. The more I understand culture, the more I realize what I still don’t understand. We need a community of culture believers—a support structure to encourage, share ideas, and collaborate to surface approaches and make a meaningful impact.

    Hopefully, you have enjoyed the support structure at Culture University. Thank you to all the authors (75+ and counting) and readers sharing content and personal insights to help others on their culture learning journey.

    Additional Resources

  • Feedforward with Marshall Goldsmith and Creating Change in Leadership Behavior

    by Kalani Iwi'ula | Jun 20, 2018

    Marshall Goldsmith facilitates a Feedforward discussion and exercise with a group of leadership and culture enthusiasts. Popularized by Goldsmith, Feedforward is an alternative approach to traditional feedback designed to deliver constructive feedback focusing on a person’s development in the future.

  • Culture as an Accelerator to Performance - Loblaw

    by Kalani Iwi'ula | Jun 20, 2018

    Mark Wilson, Loblaw Executive Vice President, Human Resources and Labor Relations, describes the five-year strategic framework to change culture and climate using an integrated approach based on Senn Delaney’s culture-shaping methodology and Human Synergistics’ culture and leadership assessments.

  • Culture as an Accelerator to Performance - Senn Delaney

    by Kalani Iwi'ula | Jun 20, 2018

    Mike Marino, President and CEO (ret. 2018) of culture-shaping firm Senn Delaney, a division of Heidrick Consulting, kicked off this workshop and shared four principles critical to forming an effective culture shaping plan.

  • Feedforward: How to Revitalize Your Feedback Process

    by Kalani Iwi'ula | Jun 07, 2018

    Based on Marshall Goldsmith’s 3rd Annual Ultimate Culture Conference Presentation and his Work on Feedforward

    CEO Lou Solomon had a chronic habit of being tardy to meetings—until she received feedback from a client in a cordial but no-nonsense manner about how the image she was projecting could impede her success. She’s been early to meetings ever since and shared her experience in a 2016 HBR.org article, “Two-Thirds of Managers Are Uncomfortable Communicating with Employees.” Solomon says, “When offered with respect, honest feedback—even when critical—can have a major impact on your career and your personal life.”1

    Honest, timely, non-judgmental, actionable, and outcome-positive—that uncomplicated, professional exchange was empowering. With so much to gain, you would expect leaders to encourage more feedback conversations, right? Not so. It turns out that leaders are uncomfortable giving feedback.

    As a communication consultant who helps leaders and teams with their personal and professional communication, Solomon sought to learn more about this feedback avoidance. In 2016, her company, Interact, conducted an online survey through the Harris Poll and although the sample size was modest, the results were nonetheless alarming.2 Of 616 managers surveyed, almost 70% said they found that “communicating in general” to be the hardest part about working with employees as a leader. That number closely reflects the 67% of US workers who say they’re not engaged at work, as reported by Gallup’s State of the American Workplace Study.3 A smaller but still concerning percentage of managers, roughly 37%, said they found it hard to give negative feedback to workers about their performance. Their major fear was that such feedback would cause adverse employee responses.

    Managing personnel inevitably brings an uncomfortable discussion, be it a weak performance review, a fragile personal situation, or unpleasant company news. But employees want feedback and welcome regular, meaningful communication with their managers to feel engaged and to grow professionally.4 Yet, managers responsible for that growth and development are tentative about, or altogether avoiding, constructive conversations.

    So how do we move forward? Perhaps your feedback process needs to be refreshed and revitalized. If the feedback you’re giving isn’t having the effect you intend, would you try a new approach?

    “When offered with respect, honest feedback — even when critical — can have a major impact on your career and your personal life.” -Lou Solomon, CEO, Interact

    Take the fear out of feedback with Feedforward

    Feed forward. It’s an alternative approach to traditional feedback designed to deliver constructive feedback focusing on a person’s development in the future. Feedback, by its very name, examines the past, which cannot be altered. Feedforward, by contrast, looks ahead at a future potential that is conceivably within our control. Feedback carries judgment and opinion; Feedforward is about people and their development. It’s a positive, future-focused, personal development process that, if used with conventional feedback, can minimize apprehensions or reactions to the latter’s delivery, such as hurt feelings, dissent, friction, and so on.

    Marshall Goldsmith The concept for Feedforward sprang from a discussion between Marshall Goldsmith and Jon Katzenbach in the early 1990s. They were discouraged with the drawbacks of conventional, corporate feedback mechanisms and popularized the new term after noticing that the feedback process became more robust when Feedforward was integrated.

    I had the good fortune to experience a Feedforward exercise at the Human Synergistics 3rd Annual Ultimate Culture Conference in Chicago, with over 200 leadership and culture enthusiasts facilitated by one of the world’s most admired executive coaches, Marshall Goldsmith himself. Feedforward was introduced to us as a way for people to very quickly share a problem they want to solve and to get advice from as many people as possible in a very short amount of time.

    Here’s the exercise setup

    Participants are asked to:

    1. Pick one behavior you'd like to change.

    2. Describe your goal in a one-on-one conversation with a colleague.

    3. Ask your colleague for two suggestions for the future that could help you achieve your goal.

    4. Listen without judgment. The only thing you can say in response is "thank you."

    5. Repeat the same process with another colleague; or exchange roles and reciprocate the process.

    Positive. Simple. Focused. Fast.

    Reminders are direct: No judgment is allowed, just present a challenge or problem, ask for suggestions, listen to what people say, and then say, ‘thank you,’ and move on.

    In this video clip, Marshall leads our Feedforward exercise:


    To the casual observer, Feedforward can appear simplistic, but its impact is profound when combined with any program that helps leaders or team members become mindful of their impact and develop behaviors to amplify their effectiveness.5

    Applying Feedforward for use with Assessments

    As an integral component of Marshall Goldsmith’s Behavioral Coaching Process, Feedforward has been used with great success by professional coaches around the world. When Feedforward is integrated with a valid and reliable assessment, senior executives, workplace cultures, and work teams can experience deep, positive change.

    Taking the StageA noteworthy example of Feedforward coaching combined with an assessment involves the CEO of a multinational service firm in Asia who took on the leadership challenge to improve organizational culture and business performance by applying a disciplined behavioral coaching process of caring for people and delivering business results, concurrently. When she reflected on her leadership style with colleagues and asked them for ideas tied to her improvement via Feedforward, it encouraged them to engage in similar discussions with their teams. In this way, constructive conversations were initiated throughout the organization around personal and leadership change that were future-oriented. People got excited about change because it didn’t rehash the past and instead envisioned a better future for themselves and the organization. This is a fascinating, real-life story highlighting stunning personal and professional breakthroughs.6

    The assessment used with this Feedforward coaching was Human Synergistics’ Life Styles Inventory™ (LSI), an individual development tool that uses both self-assessment and feedback from colleagues to identify individual thinking and behavioral styles.7

    The most direct influence a leader has on the culture of the organization may be found in the behaviors and attitudes that he or she encourages and/or drives in others. -Dr. Robert A. Cooke, CEO, Human Synergistics

    Moving Forward with Change

    Marshall does not imply that leaders should never give traditional feedback or that performance appraisals be abandoned altogether. He instead suggests that Feedforward can be preferable to feedback in certain situations. His position is “By using Feedforward—and by encouraging others to use it—leaders can dramatically improve the quality of communication in their organizations, ensuring that the right message is conveyed and that those who receive it are receptive to its content. The result is a much more dynamic, much more open organization—one whose employees focus on the promise of the future rather than dwelling on the mistakes of the past.”

    With any improvement or change protocol, the key to making it work depends on scheduled follow-up.8 In the video clip cited above, Marshall shares findings from a study, Leadership Is A Contact Sport, validating why follow-up matters regardless of the feedback approach or 360 assessment.9 The study contends that continual contact with colleagues is so effective it can succeed even without a formal program.

    As organizations weigh the effectiveness of their employee feedback programs, companies must consider Feedforward as a way to revitalize and complement their existing processes while re-engaging their employees not in who they were, but who they aspire to become.10

    It can be more productive to help people learn to be 'right' than prove they were 'wrong.' -Dr. Marshall Goldsmith, two-time Thinkers 50 World’s #1 Leadership Thinker

    What are your thoughts? Does Feedforward change your mind about traditional feedback? Are managers and leaders practicing Feedforward in your company? If so, please share your observations or comment about their experiences on our Twitter and LinkedIn channels.


    Banner photo by Steven Lelham on Unsplash



    1 Solomon, L. (2016, Mar. 9). Two-Thirds of Managers Are Uncomfortable Communicating with Employees. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2016/03/two-thirds-of-managers-are-uncomfortable-communicating-with-employees

    2 Harris Poll/Interact (2015, Feb.). New Interact Report: Many Leaders Shrink from Straight Talk with Employees. Charlotte, NC. Retrieved from http://interactauthentically.com/new-interact-report-many-leaders-shrink-from-straight-talk-with-employees/

    3 Lighthouse. Key Takeaways from the Gallup State of the American Workplace Study. Retrieved from https://getlighthouse.com/blog/gallup-state-of-the-american-workplace-study/

    4 Fermin, J. (2014, October 7). Statistics on The Importance of Employee Feedback. Officevibe. Retrieved from https://www.officevibe.com/blog/infographic-employee-feedback

    5 Kuppler, T. (2017, Dec. 20). Don’t Sell, Create the Gap—with Leadership and Culture. Retrieved from https://www.humansynergistics.com/resources/content/2017/12/20/don-t-sell-create-the-gap-with-leadership-and-culture

    6 Alexcel Group. (2013). Taking the Stage, Breakthrough Stories from Women Leaders. San Diego, CA. Retrieved from https://www.humansynergistics.com/docs/default-source/default-document-library/caring-for-results-and-people-at-the-same-time.pdf

    7 Lafferty, J. C. (1973). Life Styles Inventory™. Plymouth, MI: Human Synergistics.

    8 Kuppler, T. (2018, Feb. 9). A Historic Shift in Expecting Leaders to Understand and Evolve Culture. https://www.humansynergistics.com/resources/content/2018/02/12/a-historic-shift-in-expecting-leaders-to-understand-and-evolve-culture

    9 Goldsmith, M. and Morgan, H. (n.d.). Leadership Is a Contact Sport. strategy+business. Retrieved from http://www.marshallgoldsmith.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/LeaderContactSport.pdf

    10 Duggan, K. (2015, Dec. 15). Six Companies That Are Redefining Performance Management. Retrieved from https://www.fastcompany.com/3054547/six-companies-that-are-redefining-performance-management

  • Southwest Airlines Reveals 5 Culture Lessons

    by Meghan Oliver | May 29, 2018

    Southwest Airlines Reveals 5 Culture Lessons

    Despite the tragic incident on Southwest Airlines’ Flight 1380 on April 17, 2018, the culture of the Best Loved Airline ensured that the accident did not tarnish its reputation. The 1380 flight crew, in an interview on CBS News, attributed their success in safely landing the plane to their shared values. Although the crew didn’t mention a specific core value, Southwest’s Servants Heart was evident throughout all the actions taken after the accident, from Captain Tammie Jo Shults walking the aisle and speaking to every passenger once the plane was safely landed to the heartfelt message from CEO Gary Kelly.

    In an era of general consumer contempt for the airline business, it is heartening to see that one airline, Southwest Airlines, is walking its talk and living its cultural values. The overall attitude of the company can be best summarized by the airlines’ co-founder and Chairman Emeritus Herb Kelleher, who said: “The business of business is people.” Even though the company honors and values all people involved in its business - employees, customers, supplier/vendors, and shareholders - the company puts its employees first. Southwest Airlines recognizes that treating its employees well creates happy customers, which results in financial success. The outcomes of this formula are shown in the company’s outstanding business statistics, which include:

    • 4% voluntary turnover
    • 44 consecutive years of profitability
    • #1 lowest number of customer complaints
    • 85% employees say they’re proud to work for Southwest
    • No layoffs, no furloughs ever

    What other US airline can boast these same results?

    I was fortunate to have been invited to attend Southwest Airlines Culture Connection in December 2017 in Dallas, Texas. It was a half-day event that showcased the company’s methods of strengthening, reinforcing, and maintaining its strongly positive culture. I applaud Southwest Airlines for offering this twice-yearly “peek under the covers” of their workplace culture at no cost to the attendees. In contrast, Zappos and Disney charge fees to attend similar events they host.

    Here are five lessons learned from Southwest’s Culture Connection day:

    1. Evolve your culture.

    Southwest Airlines has been in existence for over 50 years, and it started without explicitly articulated values but a shared sense of what the Southwest spirit was. About ten years ago, the leaders decided to formalize their workplace culture by identifying six values they wished to honor. They have created a department of Culture Services, whose mission is to retain focus on company values, the employees and “low cost,” which is one of the company’s values. One way they remind employees of the culture is through “Culture Blitzes,” in which a Culture Services team visits an airport and touches every Southwest employee there with food and fun. The team even cleans the planes for the flight operations employees.

    2. Equip “leaders,” regardless of what position they have.

    Leaders are recognized at all levels of the company hierarchy, not just at the top of the hierarchy. At the Culture Connection event, we saw a video of a baggage handler who plays the ukulele for passengers when he has a moment to spare. As he said, “No one can frown when you’re listening to a ukulele.” His leadership is celebrated in the video. Leaders and high potential associates attend extensive leadership training, up to three weeks at a time, and are exposed to the company’s managerial best practices and what they call the “way we do things around here.” Leaders are encouraged to know about their employees' needs outside of the workplace and are given authority to spend money to care for associates in ways such as sending flowers after a death along with sending Southwest-branded baby items to an employee’s newborns.

    3. Empower and appreciate employees.


    When the company needed new uniforms for their flight attendants, they recruited a task force of flight attendants themselves to help design the uniforms. When customers use social media or other means of communication to compliment an employee, Southwest’s team of responders, in turn, forwards the compliment to the employee and her boss. In fact, Southwest receives over 7,000 of these kinds of compliments a month! Another way the company encourages employee acknowledgment is through peer to peer recognition. With this, the company created a system which encourages employees to give “points” to colleagues. In turn, with these “points”, employees can purchase from a catalog of items that the company provides.

    4. Model the way

    Executives and managers are fully expected to lead the way with their behavior in the workplace. To reinforce this idea, executives are video-recorded telling personal stories that illustrate the values and spirit of Southwest Airlines. In turn, managers coach associates who fail to live out the values and expected behaviors of the organization, while many newer hires simply self-select out of the system when they recognize that their behaviors don’t conform to the prevailing workplace culture.

    5. Design the physical space to enforce culture.

    At Southwest Airlines’ headquarters in Dallas, Texas, the office has been recently redesigned around “culture centers” on each of the floors. Each center highlights one of the company’s values and provides break services (coffee and kitchen facilities), meeting rooms and quite a bit of color, photos, and flair to demonstrate that particular value. Different departments, such as accounting and marketing, are clustered around the centers, encouraging communication and chance encounters between employees across departments.

    Southwest Airlines’ culture is a role model for other companies. The airline’s success demonstrates the need for a strong and vibrant company culture that puts its employees first. Let’s all take a lesson from them. When you learn from the best, you become the best!

    I look forward to your comments below.

  • Make an Impact, Influence Others and Transform Results

    by Kalani Iwi'ula | May 18, 2018

    Dr. Peter Fuda, Founder and Principal, The Alignment Partnership and Adjunct Professor, Macquarie Graduate School of Management, delivered a captivating presentation titled, Make an Impact, Influence Others and Transform Results. Dr. Fuda was in the middle of his presentation, and the audience was hanging on every word.

  • A Template for Organizational Cultural Change

    by Meghan Oliver | May 15, 2018

    Template for Organizational Cultural Change

    A Snapshot of Culture in Action

    A man and his wife entered a deli together late one afternoon. They were the only customers in the place. The server behind the deli counter said, “May I help you?” But before either could reply, the other person behind the deli counter, standing off to the side, uttered a fairly loud “uh-hum.” A discussion then took place between the two employees. 

    Finally, the server returned to the customers and pointing to a ticket dispenser, said, “I’m sorry, but you’ll have to take a number.” The husband pulled #94. His wife pointed to the digital sign on the back wall that read 87. “88,” says the server, behind the counter, “89,” “90,” “This is insane,” says the wife. “91” continues the server, “92,” “93,” “94.” At that point, the husband and wife looked at each other in disbelief. The wife turned to the server and said, “Sorry, we just lost our appetites, we’ll buy our corned beef and salami elsewhere.”

    After the couple left, the server went back over to the other person behind the counter—who was her boss—and asked, “Now wasn’t that a bit stupid we just lost a good sale?” Her boss replied, “Stupid or not, that’s the way we do things around here.”

    Until you understand what culture is and how it is driving your business the wrong way, learning how to change it to significantly improve results will be challenging. Why? Because the old, “Stupid or not, that’s the way we do things around here” will just keep re-emerging.

    And, to be clear, by results, I mean results achieved by your customers through your company’s products or services. Not simply products delivered, systems installed, or services provided, but business results—needs met, problems solved, and goals achieved.

    Above all, Culture Matters Because it Dictates Competitive Advantage

    The power of culture and an incisive plan to manage it is well stated by Jack Welch.

    "Look, its Management 101 to say that the best competitive weapon a company can possess is a strong culture. But the devil is in the details of execution. And if you don’t get it right, it’s the devil to pay."

    Adam Zuckerman, a consultant in Towers Watson’s Chicago office, shows how culture drives marketplace success.

    "There is growing recognition of the fact among business leaders [that a strong culture drives competitive advantages]. The reality is that culture is one of very few truly sustainable competitive advantages. Companies win not because of what they do, but because of how they do it. And how they do it is determined by culture."

    My favorite statement regarding the power of organization culture on business performance and competitiveness is the oft-quoted organization effectiveness maxim that says:


    Meaning, you can have a good strategy in place, but if you don’t have the culture and the enabling systems that allow you to successfully implement that strategy, the culture of the organization will defeat the strategy.

    Finally, a November 2015 study “How Corporate Culture Affects the Bottom Line” by Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business adds weight to the point that corporate culture is an essential element of business success driving profitability, acquisition decisions, and even whether employees behave in ethical ways.

    Executives overwhelmingly indicated that an effective corporate culture is essential for a company to thrive in the modern business world. Among the findings:

    • More than 90% said that culture was important at their firms
    • 92% said they believed improving their firm’s corporate culture would improve the value of the company
    • More than 50% said corporate culture influences productivity, creativity, profitability, firm value and growth rates
    • Only 15% said their firm’s corporate culture was where it needed to be

    A Snapshot of Culture

    In my Mining Group Gold andmy Building Team Power workshops, I have posed this question to participants: “What does organizational culture mean to you?” A synthesized definition has emerged over time from the many inputs:

    Organizational culture is the integrated sum total of all the formally and informally learned and shared assumptions, values, and beliefs, which governs how people behave in organizations. Culture is habitually implied, not expressly defined, yet it has a profound influence on the people in the organization and shapes how they go about their business of working.

    Or as more cryptically stated in our opening story:Culture is: How we consistently do things around here.

    Think of culture as the software that drives how an organization operates. It is the billions of zeros and ones that comprise the code that defines the organization’s basic personality, the essence of how its people interact and work.

    Culture operates on both a conscious and unconscious level. It is dynamic and fluid; it is never static. Culture can’t be copied or easily pinned down. Corporate cultures are constantly self-renewing and slowly evolving. The culture that was effective ten years ago under a given set of circumstances may be out of touch and ineffective today. There is no generically good culture. What works for your operation in your market may be a disaster for a different organization in another market.

    Three Intertwined Drivers that Determine Culture

    Edgar Schein’s seminal research is pretty clear that three highly interconnected factors are the primary drivers of an organization’s culture. Artifacts give you the first impressions of an organization’s culture. Certainly, words espousing values and beliefs about how we operate around here are important in providing the formal benchmark for the STATED culture. But far more important are the deep-seated visible behaviors that are widely shared and practiced day-in-and-day-out.

    Let’s examine the three drivers.


    Basic Underlying Assumptions – This is the underpinning of any culture; the ultimate source of values and actions that move the organization. These basic, underlying assumptions are not written down, but they are widely known, shared, ingrained, and followed by the majority of employees.

    These are the powerful unconscious, taken-for-granted beliefs, perceptions, thoughts, and feelings that people have come to observe, recognize, and adopt as “the real way to work and succeed here.” They most likely have been around a long time, have survived many “administrations” and directly impact the emergent culture.

    The following employee quotes will demonstrate how basic underlying assumptions drive behavior and culture.

    • “Even though the senior team screams that the customer is #1, we all know that revenue and profit numbers rule in this company because that is what determines our bonus. So, make your numbers any way you can because highly bonused people get the promotions.”
    • “Collaboration is touted as one of our core values, but you rarely see it. Direct force predominates. But indirect force for getting cooperation when you lack direct authority over people is also used. That process means bullying people to go along by bringing up the name of a big boss and then asserting that he/she expects the stated results to be achieved with everyone’s full participation. We all know that autocratic leadership is our true core value, not collaboration.”

    Espoused Values – These are the formal statements espoused by the senior leadership team to all employees. They are usually written down in small pamphlets, laminated wallet cards, or slick PowerPoint slides. These espoused values are distributed to all employees. Once distributed, whether or not the senior leadership team ever references them again in speeches, videos, all-hands communication meetings, and roundtables with employees varies widely among organizations. Espoused Values typically fall within six areas.

    • Mission: What is our reason for existing?
    • Goals: What we intend to accomplish?
    • Strategies: How do we intend to accomplish these goals?
    • Business Principles: What principles do we stand for to drive our business?
    • Core Values: What values do we hold dear and recognize?
    • Managerial Behaviors/Actions: What are expected ways of behaving and relating?

    Artifacts – Four highly visible elements fall under the artifacts heading—symbols, structures, processes, and rituals. All four are aimed at helping to give people a common identity, to bind them, and organize them together as part of a larger whole. Artifacts typically give people their first impression of an organization’s culture and too often are the only factors considered when trying to change the culture.

    1. Symbols:
    • Corporate logos—like Apple’s partially bitten apple, McDonald’s golden arches, Nike’s swoosh, and Goodyear’s winged foot—not only are ways to build a brand, they act as a common cultural identity for all employees. Plus, in the era of the smartphone, logos are more than a visual symbol, they are the icons that people touch dozens of times a day—and shame to any firm that angers its customers by making a misguided attempt to change that icon.
    • Architecture, decor, company cars, windowed offices, and titles are highly visible cultural symbols. As are symbols of “winning” like awarding a Rolex watch to a high achiever, or symbols of “equalization” by eliminating all offices and having all managers, including the president, reside in an open landscape.
    • Symbols emphasizing collaboration and creativity can be shown by having table and chair clusters in a large atrium for small collaborative meetings, having whiteboards all around, and having several high-tech video/audio conference rooms available for long distance meetings.

    These are just some ways symbols visually signify and solidify a corporate culture.

    Besides symbols, three other Artifacts greatly influence organizational culture.

    1. Structures:
    • Every organization must have an organizational structure. What structural elements are set in place such as—rigid vs. flexible work specialization, integrated vs. isolated departmentalization, hierarchical vs. flat chain-of-command, broad vs. narrow span-of-control, stringent vs. flexible job descriptions, etc.—and how these structures are managed will help shape the culture within an organization.
    1. Processes:
    • What management pays attention to and rewards, who it recruits and hires via its talent acquisition processes, the image it creates through its multimedia advertising processes, the quality of the customer service and support systems it has in place are just a few examples of powerful processes that shape culture.
    1. Rituals:
    • These are formal and informal ceremonies that are part of the organizational “work-a-day” world. Annual kick-offs meetings, President’s Club trip for top salespeople, long service award ceremonies, often retold stories of company history that turn into myths, birthday cake and ice cream on an employee’s birthday, company picnics, organized volunteer projects for the United Way are typical rituals that help set a culture.

    In some of Schein's recent work, you may appreciate his lily pond analogy shown here portraying the way in which the components of culture operate at different levels of depth and awareness in a state of movement, as opposed to the rigid state of an iceberg; and his interview covering various aspects of culture change.


    The Issue of Misalignment

    Here are a few examples that portray how disconnects can occur among the three cultural drivers.

    (1) Basic Underlying Assumptions (“Be fast, be cost-effective, and if quality has to take a hit so be it.”are in conflict with Espoused Values (“We believe in providing the highest quality in both customer and product service, which will gain trust over time.”); or,

    (2) Basic Underlying Assumptions (“We live in an ‘I’ culture purely based on individual performance.”do not align properly to reinforce and facilitate success of a visible Artifact(“Our highly respected, first-class talent development organization uses state-of-the-art tools and processes to teach teamwork and collaboration.”); or,

    (3) Espoused Values (“We expect all teammates to think and act in an entrepreneurial manner, like owners this business.”violate/contradict a known Artifact (“An organization structure that is very hierarchical with centralized decision making.”)

    You certainly will have cultural problems that cripple your business if any of the three intertwined drivers are misaligned.

    On the other hand, even if these three are all aligned, but the whole is not producing an effective, competitive company, a planned cultural change is in order.

    Some Lessons Learned about Change

    TKayser_image_Change_Same.png-277x300In either case, people will fight to protect the status quo—even one they don’t like—because, at least, they understand it and know how to cope with it. Therefore, in attempting to change culture, it is important to remember you are attacking the most entrenched and stable part of your organization; and, the defenders of the current condition can be legion.

    Changing behaviors is the most powerful determinant of real cultural change. What people actually do matters more than what they say. Therefore, to obtain more positive influences from your cultural situation, it is better to focus on changing behavior which can lead to real culture change. Direct appeals to change beliefs, values, or ways of doing things rarely achieve the desired results—but if behaviors are changed the mindsets will follow.

    There are a number of ways to motivate behavioral change that affects changes in organizational culture.

    • Hiring new people that “fit” the new culture
    • Giving recognition to practitioners of new culture tools/methods
    • Providing monetary incentives to practitioners of new culture tools/methods
    • Role-modeling by managers of new culture values/philosophy/tools/processes
    • Dismissing those digging in to maintain the status quo of the old culture
    • Promoting opinion leaders who demonstrate new culture desired behaviors

    Internalization of a cultural change—where people embrace the new behaviors and work methods by choice because it makes more sense than the old alternative behaviors—will determine the lasting power of the cultural change being undertaken.

    Just doing the “same old, same old” by changing organizational structures, work processes, decision rights, policies, etc. without any thoughtful plan to account for needed behavioral changes that will—over time—bring about a transitional alignment of shared assumptions, values, and beliefs with the behaviors just won’t cut it. All you will get is what the organization effectiveness experts call “change fatigue.”

    Communication among people at all levels anesthetized by “change fatigue” goes something like this: “Here comes another ice cream flavor of the month change program (structural, strategic, work process, technology, etc.) from on high; but, if we just hunker down in our silos for a bit, this too shall pass and we will soon be back to business as usual.”

    An old saying captures this point: “The more things change, the more they remain the same.” That is, there can be any number of changes (moving from structure A to structure B, changing from work process A to work process B, etc.) but unless there are accompanying transitions to new behaviors, the culture will remain the same once the dust clears.

    Schein, in his outstanding book, Corporate Culture Survival Guide (1st Ed., pp. 62-63), underscores why so many organizations fail to pull-off a desired culture change.

    ". . . employees wish there were more teamwork, more trust among employees, and so on. However, examining the artifacts typically shows reward-and-incentive systems that put a premium on individual accomplishment and competition among employees for the scarce promotional opportunities that are available. If the company really wants to become team-based, it has to replace those individualistic systems that have worked in the past and are deeply embedded in people’s thinking. If it cannot or will not do that, the end result could be a decrease in morale as employees discover what they hoped for is not happening.

    We can espouse teamwork, openness of communications, empowered employees who make responsible decisions, high levels of trust, and consensus-based decision making in flat and lean organizations until we are blue in the face. But the harsh reality is that in most corporate cultures these practices don’t exist because the cultures were built on deep assumptions of hierarchy, tight controls, managerial prerogatives, limited communication to employees, and the assumption that management and employees are basically in conflict anyway—a truth symbolized by the presence of unions, grievance procedures, the right to strike, and other artifacts that tell us what the cultural assumptions really are. These assumptions are likely to be deeply embedded and do not change just because a new management group [or even the current one] announces a new culture.”

    In Summary

    As you recognize that culture matters because for better or worse it rules your organization, you begin to see that working on your culture is not an HR topic. Quite the opposite—it’s a financial and strategic topic. In fact, it’s one of the most important things you can do to create a sustainable competitive advantage. And what’s more critical to your organization's future survival and growth than that?

    If you enjoyed this perspective on organizational culture, I invite you to continue with my series here.


    Reprinted with permission from Tom Kayser.

  • What Can Lawyers Learn From Surviving a (Simulated) Plane Crash Together?

    by Meghan Oliver | Apr 27, 2018

    Last spring, about 100 of Mayer Brown LLP's senior associates from around the world arrived in New York City for a senior associate conference. Very quickly, they crash-landed in a frigid, desolate landscape in subarctic Canada in a Subarctic Survival Situation™ developed by Human Synergistics International. They landed far from civilization, surrounded by arctic swamps and high snow drifts, in freezing weather, and with no means of communication to the outside world. As the plane sunk, they were able to salvage only 15 items to aid their survival.

    The obvious question of this exercise is whether one is better off making survival decisions on one’s own or by harnessing the power of a group. Not surprisingly, even among office-bound lawyers with strong personalities, groups nearly always outperform individuals. The not-so-obvious lessons about team building and leadership were plentiful as well. Here are five things that we learned from surviving together in the tundra.

    Note: The steel wrench and candles are not among the actual items included in the Subarctic Survival Situation. They were used to preserve the integrity of the simulation.

    Click here to download the case study.

  • CEO Transitions: From Shared Accountability to Culture Change Success

    by Meghan Oliver | Apr 24, 2018

    CEO Transitions

    There is nothing more exciting than the moment a new leader is announced. Employees Google her/his name, wondering what she/he will do to change the organization. A new leader brings new ideas. She/he offers a new vision. They may even help the organization imagine better ways to remain relevant and thrive in the future.

    CEOs transition into organizations thousands of times each year across for- and not-for-profit sectors. How often new CEOs arrive, their tenure, and the rate at which they succeed in achieving a new vision versus failing to meet board expectations have been well-reported and even studied in academia—the results are stunning.

    Studies suggest two out of five new CEOs fail to meet their objectives in their first 18 months. Even CEOs who thrive in their first 18 months face an average tenure of 7.6 years, down from the global 9.5-year average in 1995. The outlook is grimmer for outside CEO hires, who take twice as long to ramp up as those promoted from within. C-suite executives report that only one in five CEOs hired from outside are considered high performers at the end of their first year, while nearly half leave within the first 18 months.

    Such systemic failure has nothing to do with competence, knowledge, or experience, but instead ties to how the CEO transition was orchestrated and whether major steps were missed.

    The Reality of CEO Transitions

    THRUUE has worked with dozens of CEOs in transition, and the stakes are always incredibly high for both the organization and the reputation of the incoming CEO. While it does not guarantee success, a programmatic approach to new executive transition can increase the odds and shorten the timeframe in which success is likely to be achieved. Peter DiGiammarino, CEO, professor, author, and Chairman of THRUUE’s Board of Directors, recommends objectives that hold an entire leadership team accountable for the success of the inbound CEO. This is critical because a CEO without leadership team cohesion is like a moon without a planet.

    The objectives outlined below are easy to read but often difficult to achieve without previous experience, diligence, and sustained focus. For a successful transition, these goals should be to:

    • Raise the incumbent leadership team’s individual and collective consciousness as to what the entering executive seeks to accomplish and her/his definition of success in the first six months, first year, and beyond.
    • Turn incumbent executives from observers to stakeholders so their energy, wisdom, insights, and ideas are channeled constructively and can contribute to (rather than evaluate) success.
    • Accelerate the entering executive’s learning curve and integration into the organization’s leadership network.
    • Promote interest in and commitment to the entering executive and her/his vision for the organization’s future.

    We have organized what we have learned about CEO transitions into four key program areas on which incoming CEOs should focus. Each works toward accomplishing the above goals and, when implemented, increases the probability of success.

    These areas are:

    1. Vision: Define what you seek to do (change vision) and translate this vision into a reality your team can understand, appreciate, internalize, and commit to doing their best to achieve.
    2. Alignment: Secure leadership team cohesion and alignment around a shared plan to achieve the vision.
    3. Accountability: Establish a clear, unambiguous rhythm of accountability.
    4. Culture: Get a baseline picture of the culture you have inherited, formally or informally, using measurement techniques. An inherited current culture has the ability to enable or disable every vision and strategy you and your leadership team seek to achieve no matter how experienced and talented you are.

    Translate Your Change Vision from Interview Pitch to Reality

    Transitioning from a vision sold to the board in the interview process to on-the-ground traction and reality is one of the first steps for an incoming leader, and it begins with asking the right questions.

    THRUUE has guided dozens of new CEOs to answer and act upon the following series of questions, which results in action and enables a successful CEO transition. Entering executives should not only answer these questions but also explicitly gain leadership team alignment around them—a critical yet often overlooked step in a CEO transition.

    Vision to Action Questions:

    1. As the new CEO, what do you need to rapidly learn about the organization and its people, history, and culture to validate or enhance your vision?
    2. Do all or some members of the current leadership team share your vision, and how much time will you commit to gaining alignment and cohesion?
    3. How will you listen to the voice of the entire organization? (Asking the right questions at your first all-staff meeting—what is most important NOT to change, what do you most look forward to changing, and what will make that change difficult—is imperative.)
    4. What was the previous CEO’s vision for the organization, and how can you build on it or chart a new course without re-litigating past mistakes?
    5. How will you bring the voice of your customers or key constituencies into the vision? How will you make time to meet with customers so their input is woven into the change agenda?
    6. How will you co-create an 18-month plan (focus areas, work streams) with the leadership team to achieve the first steps toward your vision? (New leaders must define tangible first-year milestones that show clear progress toward the vision. If nothing is written down and agreed upon, then leadership team members will likely self-synchronize to old ways and priorities.)
    7. How will you align and communicate with dozens, hundreds, and possibly thousands of employees around the shared vision? (In THRUUE’s experience, leaders and leadership teams under-communicate their vision for the organization by an order of magnitude of ten.)
    8. What role will the board play in enabling your change vision, and what are their expectations for change and strategy that must be factored in?

    The above questions assume both the new CEO and the organization fully understand and can answer why their organization exists and why anyone should care. If you don’t know your “why,” “mission,” or “purpose,” then your vision will be rudderless. We encourage new CEOs to ensure the organization’s “why” is clear and compelling. If it is not, they must convene a session with leaders and the board in the first 120 days to define the “why” and ensure the mission is clear.

    Success Factor 1: Make Time with the Board

    In the first 120 days, we advise incoming CEOs to have explicit (weekly if needed) conversations with the Board Chairperson so the four program areas are made explicit and seen as the first component of the change agenda. Many first-time CEOs fail to understand the power of a strong partnership with the board chair in advancing the goals of the organization. Too often, CEOs implicitly drive forward, and board leaders implicitly imagine what the CEO is actually doing. CEOs must gauge and then engage in formal, ongoing conversations so the board is made fully aware of adoption or resistance to the change vision as the transition unfolds. It is our experience that when there is a mutually supportive partnership between the chair of the board and the CEO, the probability of success is exponentially enhanced.

    Alignment: Build a Team of Leaders and Followers

    Over the past two decades, there has been a clear evolution in how CEOs are viewed by employees. We now see more emphasis on a leader’s capacity to build and sustain an inclusive, high-trust relationship with a loyal, capable, and motivated followership as paramount to CEO success. Leadership, then, is being redefined as a relationship between leader and followers, and it requires a new set of competencies often neglected in the past. Being a leader today means winning over and convincing a mobile and demanding followership to stick around and help your organization achieve its potential for performance and growth.

    Opening a wide channel of communication requires incoming CEOs to spend hours in one-on-one meetings with direct reports, where both participants are actively and equally engaged in listening and speaking. This enables CEOs to ensure the team shares the same vision that the board expects the CEO to implement. For organizations that have 5-7 direct reports to the CEO, this means 10-14 hours of conversation must first occur and then be channeled into one or more leadership team meetings, conducted offsite so as to avoid distraction and gain the necessary team cohesion and alignment.

    Leaders must be competent in uncovering everything they can about who they are and how they engage with their followers. A followership is far less likely today to trust and follow those who hold command-and-control views of leading and who do not reach out for input.

    Creating Shared Accountability

    It is critical to also drive accountability after rapidly creating an 18-month plan that your leadership team owns. After a vision plan is designed, CEOs must begin to immediately hold weekly or bi-weekly “check-ins” (one-on-one) with direct reports and have them report on sub-plans to syndicate the vision. It is a best practice that feedback should be clear and direct, with a constant conversation that asks:

    • What are you trying to make happen against the plan?
    • What have you done to accomplish it?
    • What happened and what did you learn?
    • What do you plan to do next?
    • What are the obstacles to making this happen?
    • What are you doing with your peers to collaborate?

    Ensuring constant communication and holding all team members individually accountable for their part of the plan will further buy-in and ensure that their time is being spent on what matters, not on what they may previously have engaged in.

    Success Factor II: Make Time with the Leadership Team

    In the first 120 days (and for your entire tenure), we advise incoming CEOs to have explicit bi-weekly reviews of the vision and plan. Each executive will own a piece of that plan and must be held accountable for answering how her/his team is executing against it. CEO success is tied to sustained management attention. When CEOs fail to gain traction in new organizations, it is often because they failed to drive accountability and clarity about the hundreds of things that must happen to move toward the vision.

    Understand the Culture

    Every organization is undergoing a profound set of external threats and technology-driven disruptions that seek to consume a new CEO’s clearest vision. In addition, every organization has a deeply ingrained set of values, behaviors, and habits that can either embrace or thwart the clearest vision.

    New CEOs should rapidly administer a cultural assessment so the values, behaviors, and norms in the current culture are quantified and understood. Surveys administered to employees and, when appropriate, the Board as well, enable you and your leadership team to identify the gaps between the current culture – “the way things are done around here now” – and the ideal culture – what people believe it will take for the organization to succeed. Diagnostics can also help you understand the systems, processes, and structural elements that reinforce current behaviors and norms. This provides insights on the functional changes that can be made to improve workplace culture and remove roadblocks to the ideal culture. Measuring cultural change also reveals your organization’s strengths: the cornerstones upon which your vision for transformation can be built. Even if you choose not to use a formal survey to diagnose what’s happening within the culture, new CEOs should spend time in small “focus group” settings and immerse with dozens of employees in understanding what norms and behaviors are alive inside the organization. Without question, the Board also has a role in understanding the culture, particularly in modeling the values of the organization and holding the CEO accountable for fostering a healthy workplace culture.

    Final Thoughts

    With two out of five new CEOs failing in the first 18 months of their tenure, it is clear that organizations and leaders need to invest in well-executed transitions. THRUUE has partnered with many CEOs to increase their chance of success. Culture will “eat your vision for breakfast” unless you measure and manage what is happening in your new organization. Use the reflection questions and insights in this post to evaluate your transitions, identify improvements, and increase the likelihood of success.

  • Shaping Your Culture For Competitive Advantage

    by Kalani Iwi'ula | Apr 20, 2018

    Most leaders have heard the expression, “You need to drive your culture or it will drive your business—for better or worse.” In reality, putting these words into action to achieve real cultural change with sustainable, measurable results is a long-term journey. The payoff is huge. With vision, focus, and investment in the right culture experts, diagnostics, and change processes, a Constructive culture can drive significant business performance.

    This was clearly demonstrated at the recent 3rd Annual Ultimate Culture Conference hosted by Human Synergistics in an experiential workshop, Culture as an Accelerator to Performance, which included a fascinating case study of a five-year journey to a ‘blue’ Constructive culture at the Canadian grocery and drug store giant, Loblaw Companies Limited.

    Mike Marino, President and CEO (ret. 2018) of culture-shaping firm Senn Delaney, a division of Heidrick Consulting, kicked off the workshop using a discussion tool called The Culture Continuum. The Culture Continuum, detailed below, describes six levels or stages of culture maturity, and the actions, behaviors, and thinking that typically show up at each level. To stimulate group discussion in the workshop, Marino briefly described each level while asking participants to imagine the workplace culture of their own organization and determine where it lies on the continuum. Participants came away with a deeper understanding of culture to help them engage in strategic discussions with executive teams on how to begin to evolve their culture.

    Beyond culture as a concept, participants also learned about how a Constructive culture can be developed. Mark Wilson, Loblaw Executive Vice President, Human Resources and Labor Relations, described the five-year strategic framework to change culture and climate using an integrated approach based on Senn Delaney’s culture-shaping methodology and Human Synergistics’ culture and leadership assessments. These diagnostics help members of organizations understand shared behavioral norms and support their individual development programs. The case study, detailed below, illustrates how this combined approach transformed the Loblaw culture with an impressive return on investment tied to improved business results and increased engagement.

    Understanding where your culture is on the ‘Culture Continuum’

    Over its 40 years of work helping companies shape their cultures, Senn Delaney has found that many companies suffer from an insider view of their workplace culture based on long-held beliefs and assumptions. Without an objective understanding of their culture’s real behaviors and norms, leaders would get stuck attempting to change the culture due to the absence of a clear path to sustained, measurable transformation based on objective data.

    As you read the descriptions below, drawn from the article, Find Your Place on the Culture Continuum, think about where your organization fits.1 You can begin to identify areas of strength, challenges thwarting performance, where the culture could progress, and how the culture could be a game changer that enables competitive advantage, synergy, cost savings, strategic execution, innovation, and business performance.


    Complacent (level 0): We’re content with how things get done

    How a complacent culture shows up: Leaders are content with how things are done. They may have a completely unrealistic view of the actual culture, or lack of awareness of the culture. Culture is never a factor in strategic discussion. There’s no linkage between HR processes and such foundational elements as mission, vision, and values — and no way of measuring how people are (or aren’t) aligned with them.

    Marino said he meets leaders all the time who don’t think they have a culture. “They have a culture! They are either unaware of it or they are content or they haven't thought about.” He warned that complacency is a trap that even successful companies can fall into—to their peril. Curious (level 1): We can do better; let’s get started

    How a curious culture shows up: Leaders recognize that culture matters. Values are taken seriously and included in onboarding. However, there is little coordinated effort to communicate what the values mean or how behaviors drive the values.

    Marino noted that more companies than ever are at this stage of understanding culture better and wanting to move the needle. “Twenty-five years ago, when we would try to have a conversation about culture, we couldn't even get a meeting with a senior leader. Today, we get meetings and they already have units of the organization in place working on culture. That's how much we've changed, and how curious people are getting. People in human resources usually come into play at this point because something has happened in the market that indicates they have to be different.”

    Committed (level 2): As leaders, we drive the culture

    How a committed culture shows up: Culture matters, and resources are committed to improving it. Values are linked to specific behaviors in performance reviews, and positive results are occurring. Nevertheless, there is still no link to return on investment, and some senior leaders proclaim love for the values without actually living them.

    “The biggest insight is that leaders figure out they lead the culture because otherwise the culture is leading them,” Marino said. They begin to visualize the ideal culture and are proactive about making the changes needed to realize it.

    Catalyzed (level 3): How does this affect our business?

    How a catalyzed culture shows up: A spirit of curiosity, openness, and continuous improvement permeates the company, fueled by a strong vision, purpose, and values. Tying culture to performance is a business imperative, with culture and people metrics established and linked to return on investment.

    As the culture work progresses in an organization, leaders become deeply invested in understanding how the results from the culture changes taking place can be quantified. Marino called this an important inflection point. “They’re asking, ‘How does this now start to impact our return on investment? How does this impact business performance?’”

    Customer centric (level 4): Our employees’ experience is our customers’ experience

    How a customer-centric culture shows up: The environment (climate) created for employees is increasingly the one that customers experience, and it is reflected in strong customer satisfaction scores. People feel empowered to make customer-related decisions based on principles, not procedures. The goal is to be internally aligned and externally adaptable.

    Marino noted that, in this phase, the customer and employee experiences are interdependent; the culture has empowered and engaged employees who in turn deliver better customer service. Leaders are clear on how this is improving customer ratings and enabling stronger performance.

    Continuous (level 5): Our culture is our strategic asset

    How a continuous culture shows up: Leaders can list the positive aspects of their workplace culture that must never change, yet they are agile in pursuing opportunities in an evolving market. When customers or employees speak, leaders listen and make visible improvements based on what is learned.

    Marino noted that a continuous culture is really about evolving to stay agile. “It just becomes part of ‘the way we are’ and is seen as a strategic asset.”

    While understanding where your culture is on the continuum puts you on the right path, deeper diagnostics and a rigorous process are critical to achieve goals and embed the culture you envision.

    The journey to creating the ‘blue’ culture

    There is a clear distinction between changing a culture and shaping a culture, as Marino noted in his workshop. “Changing means you've got to be different. Shaping means there's an element of what you're doing that you want to keep, that you want to build on.” That is what Loblaw set out to do using both Human Synergistics’ assessments for measuring attributes of organizational culture and individual behavioral styles and Senn Delaney’s culture-shaping methodology to embed the desired culture.

    Video clip: Mike shares Senn Delaney’s four principles of culture shaping


    Wilson summarized it, noting that, “We've had two great partners—Human Synergistics and Senn Delaney. We found a way to integrate them really well.”

    The speed of change: Three catalysts for cultural change

    A $46-billion organization with 200,000 employees, Loblaw is composed of six divisions, including 2,300 grocery and drug stores, an apparel business, and a bank. Wilson described the workplace culture five years ago as being stuck between 0 and 1 (Complacent and Curious) on the Senn Delaney Culture Continuum. Fundamental changes to Loblaw’s culture, ways of working, and cost base were necessary to achieve the company vision of becoming a lean, agile organization of collaborative teams accountable for delivering responsive and innovative customer solutions and fulfilling its purpose of helping Canadians ‘Live Life Well.’

    Wilson described three catalysts that compelled leaders to act to transform the culture.

    Speed of Change Initiative: The company had spent $2 billion to upgrade its supply chain and IT infrastructure with unclear benefits. The board was anxious to see a return on that investment. A.T. Kearney was brought in to analyze the issues. It found that half the problems in achieving synergy and cost savings from the supply chain and IT investments were culture-related, including clear issues of internal fighting, siloes, passive-aggressive behavior, and lack of collaboration.

    Acquisition of Shoppers Drug Mart: Knowing that 75% of acquisitions fail to realize their fullest potential because of culture clashes, management and the board wanted to ensure that the pharmacy chain (a $14-billion acquisition) was integrated with maximum synergy.

    Potential Labor Dispute: A strike of 20,000 workers loomed, which posed a potential major threat to profits. “We got past it, but the sole reason why we almost had that $60-million strike was all because of the relationship we had with our leaders in the stores and our colleagues; it was fractured,” notes Wilson.

    Together, these three catalysts painted a sobering picture. “Our culture was breaking us as an organization, and we had to make drastic changes,” said Wilson.

    Understanding behavioral state of health

    During the Shoppers Drug Mart acquisition, Human Synergistics was engaged to conduct its Organizational Culture Inventory® (OCI®).2 Wilson stated: “We asked ourselves, ‘What do we think the culture is today, and what is the culture we want to aspire to?” The OCI provides a visual model, the Circumplex,3 which displays the levels of red (Aggressive/Defensive behavioral styles), green (Passive/Defensive behavioral styles), and blue (Constructive behavioral styles) that exist within the organization.4 The OCI revealed that there was work to do to move the organization to a more Constructive state of blue.

    Results from Human Synergistics’ Life Styles Inventory™ (LSI), an individual development tool that uses both self-assessment and feedback from colleagues to identify individual thinking and behavioral styles, also provided the ‘ah-has’ that the culture needed to shift.5 People across the organization galvanized around the notion of creating a ‘blue’ culture, and so the name for the Loblaw culture was born.

    Loblaw began to work on creating a more agile culture in 2014, with a focus on assessing and developing the organization and its leaders.

    In 2016, a simple framework was created to guide the culture-shaping process in three important areas:

    Shift Mindsets: Create behavior change through experiential sessions that inspire and enable colleagues to put personal change commitments into action. Led by the Team Management Board, aligned to the business strategy, and with the customer at the core, the behavioral changes would be driven by core values and talent and engagement efforts.

    Institutionalize Culture: Reinforce desired behaviors by embedding culture principles into people programs, institutional processes, and daily practices and ways of working.

    Energize the Organization: Engage colleagues in the culture journey through Culture Champions, communications campaigns, and fun events to drive awareness, understanding, and change.

    Embed and Sustain: A support structure was developed for leaders to cast the right shadow as culture was infused in revised HR programs, institutional processes, performance development, and measurements. Culture Champions from across the organization assisted with the transformation. More than 30,000 people went through an experimental two-day program, B3: Better Me, Better We, Better Loblaw, that helped people understand where they were and how they as individuals can contribute to a Better Loblaw through the core values and cultural principles. They also used the Life Styles Inventory™ as part of this program. A collaborative approach was needed for culture transformation at stores and distribution centers. A “We Project” was launched that included communication, joint business planning, store visits and more. “The We Project was about re-engineering our performance development program, and really reaching out to our colleagues to say, how do we be better leaders and develop ourselves, and be better coaches in line with our culture as to where we’re going?” said Wilson.

    Major milestones of the evolution to the blue culture included:

    Readiness for change: The culture journey began with leaders recognizing that as they worked to create a more agile organization, they needed to consider people and processes, and ensure the culture enabled success and sustainable benefits.

    Walk the talk of change: Three-day workshops for executives created personal awareness and insights, leading to openness for change. Leaders wanted to become more involved in shaping the culture, and 12 culture champions were born. The Life Styles Inventory™ (LSI) was introduced in executive workshops, providing a framework for thinking about ‘how’ they work.

    Assessment and leadership commitment: Loblaw team members were surveyed using the Organizational Culture Inventory® (OCI®) to measure and examine the current culture. Colleagues resoundingly said they wanted a more Constructive ‘blue’ culture. The Management Board used the Ideal form of the OCI to define the ideal culture. A Culture Champion group, made up of executives committed to driving cultural change, was formed and provided skills and training to model the ideal culture and related behaviors. An EVP was appointed to lead the culture change.

    Awareness-building: The decision was made to align to one set of values across the enterprise, and a soft launch of core values was done. Three simple culture principals—be authentic, build trust, make connections­—served as a foundation for bringing the culture and values to life. Communications campaigns were built to broaden awareness, create buy-in, and inspire change. Wilson noted that they wanted to make bringing the ‘blue’ culture to life fun and memorable. An example of how they made this happen was a “Summer of Blue” campaign, where daily tips were shared on how to be blue. They also held a “Mission Blue” campaign and training with a nod to Mission: Impossible, where participants all received blue Converse sneakers.

    Results of the transformation work in progress

    What results were realized from such a robust culture-shaping journey? Looking back on the process that began in 2014, Wilson pointed to several, noting the journey continues in 2018 and beyond.

    Video clip: Mark Wilson shares results of Loblaw’s culture journey


    Among the results:

    • Recognized $375 million in benefits attributed to systems and supply chain investments
    • Achieved $300-million synergy target from acquisition of Shoppers Drug Mart in two years instead of three; exceeded half a billion dollars in synergies within three years
    • Increased grocery store engagement by 8% over two years
    • Increased pharmacy store engagement by 8% to best in class over two years
    • Increased distribution center engagement by 13% over two years

    “We feel that we are transforming the culture,” said Wilson. “I think the business absolutely does realize that, had we not gone on this culture journey, there's no way we would have hit these numbers and where we needed to go.”



    1 Heidrick & Struggles. (2017, Dec. 7). Find Your Place on the Culture Continuum. Retrieved from http://www.heidrick.com/Knowledge-Center/Publication/Find_your_place_on_the_culture_continuum

    2 Cooke, R. A. & Lafferty, J. C. (1987). Organizational Culture Inventory®. Plymouth, MI: Human Synergistics.

    3 Terminology from Robert A. Cooke, Ph.D. and J. Clayton Lafferty, Ph.D., Organizational Culture Inventory® and Organizational Effectiveness Inventory®, Human Synergistics International, Plymouth, MI. Copyright © 1987-2007. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

    4 OCI® style names and descriptions are from Robert A. Cooke, Ph.D. and J. Clayton Lafferty, Ph.D., Organizational Culture Inventory®, Human Synergistics International, Plymouth, MI. Copyright © 1987-2007. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

    5 Lafferty, J. C. (1973). Life Styles Inventory™. Plymouth, MI: Human Synergistics.