Better Me, Better We, Better Organizations

Laying the Foundation for a Constructive Culture

‘Tis the season for reflecting on the year that’s ended and planning for the year we’ve entered. A ritual that often results in…NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS!

It’s known that New Year’s resolutions come with an abysmally low success rate—only 8% of people achieve them. Probably as low, if not lower, than the success rate of major organizational changes; such as mergers, reorganizations, and—near-and-dear to the readers of this blog’s hearts—culture change initiatives, which fail at a dismal rate of 70% — a statistic that has not changed in over 30 years.1

A New Resolution

Why are we so bad at change—as individuals and as organizations? While there are many layers to that onion, I believe that one of the key failure factors is that we start wrong. We start by trying to change our behaviors, without changing our mindsets first. It’s like building a new house on a shaky old foundation that might have been appropriate in yesteryear but is not up for the challenge of being buffeted by the tidal waves of disruption we are experiencing today (and will be for the foreseeable future).


During the 3rd Annual Ultimate Culture Conference hosted by Human Synergistics, Mark Wilson of Loblaw Companies Limited provided a powerful case study of how his company achieved a measurable and sustained transformation to a more Constructive culture by replacing its old foundation with a strong, new edifice. Wilson coined the culture change “B3”: Better Me, Better We, Better Loblaw. As he explained, the transformation began with “shifting mindsets.” Leaders must own the culture-shaping process, unfreezing and moving beliefs that are no longer serving them or the company. Then, and only then, can people up, down, and across the organization embrace the transformational journey and unfreeze their existing habits to make personal behavior change.

Easier said than done. As Peter Fuda, a prolific change agent, noted during his presentation at the conference, “taking action is the easy part. The hardest part, that takes the longest, is moving from awareness to acceptance. Only after acceptance can you get into action.” This important approach to understanding change, the “Triple A Approach,” was developed many years ago by J. Clayton Lafferty and Lorraine F. Lafferty of Human Synergistics.2

These concepts are foundational to building Change Intelligence® (CQ®), a critical competency for leaders at all levels today, which entails both mindset and behavioral shifts.3 CQ is defined as the awareness of one’s style of leading change, and the ability to adapt one’s style to be optimally effective across people and situations. If leaders are not aware of their “style,” and the unexplored mindsets driving their behavior, they cannot consciously make a different choice, which could result in a better outcome. As renowned business educator and coach, Marshall Goldsmith, wryly observed at the conference, “what got you here won’t get you there,” and “leaders are often victims of their own success.” Behaviors that led to successful outcomes in the past are repeated, even when potentially inappropriate (or worse, damaging) and ineffective for meeting the change challenges of the future. When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Leaders who are more reflective are more effective.

Leaders who are more reflective are more effective. Once one becomes aware of one’s style, the corollary of that is that one becomes aware of other styles—that one has other options about how to think and act as a leader. The more tools a leader has in her toolbox, the better she is able to act effectively across a much wider array of challenging situations. Sometimes one needs a hammer.  Sometimes a wrench or power tool is required. The more options one has, the more power one has.

Growing a New Mindset

As William James observed about the budding field of psychology over a century ago, “The greatest revolution of our generation is the discovery that human beings by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives.” In this century, thanks to the work of Carol Dweck, we know that by changing how we think, we can change whether we perform to our potential, or whether we struggle to meet ever-increasing challenges in our V.U.C.A world.4

In Dweck’s words, summarizing her research with student populations: “We found that students’ mindsets—how they perceive their abilities—played a key role in their motivation and achievement, and we found that if we changed students’ mindsets, we could boost their achievement. More precisely, students who believed their intelligence could be developed (a GROWTH mindset) outperformed those who believed their intelligence was fixed (a FIXED mindset). And when students learned through a structured program that they could “grow their brains” and increase their intellectual abilities, they did better. Finally, we found that having children focus on the process that leads to learning (like hard work or trying new strategies) could foster a growth mindset and its benefits.”5


Management guru Peter Drucker asserts, “We now accept the fact that learning is a lifelong process of keeping abreast of change. And the most pressing task is to teach people how to learn.” As Henry Ford quipped, “If you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right!” We need to remind ourselves—and teach others—that neither our mindsets nor our behaviors are fixed and immutable.

Findings from neuroscience are instructive. A common mindset last century was “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” We now know that the brain is constantly creating new neural networks, and that “neuroplasticity” is a very real phenomenon—our brains learn until the day we die. Our brains are not fixed—we are all wired for continuous growth and continuous improvement.6

Better Me.  Better We.  Better Organizations.

Unlike raw intellectual intelligence, or IQ, which is indeed difficult to significantly improve after adulthood, our CQ and our EQ (Emotional Intelligence) are both much more malleable—and much more clearly linked to success in life and work. Much research shows that IQ, along with technical skills and abilities, may get you the job. However, once you’re in the job, it’s EQ—not IQ—that separates superior from average performers across industries, job classes, and hierarchical levels.7

Towards that end, the Arbinger Institute offers a fascinating insight into the “one change that most dramatically improves performance, sparks collaboration, and accelerates innovation—a shift to an outward mindset.” An outward mindset is characterized by an inclusive and palpable focus on others’ needs, objectives, and challenges. However, “unknowingly, too many of us operate from an inward mindset—a narrow-minded focus on self-centered goals and objectives.” Sounds eerily like dynamics plaguing non-Constructive cultures in Human Synergistics’ research. Leaders shape culture. Leaders with growth-oriented, outward-focused mindsets foster Constructive cultures.8

Ring in the new year not by starting off with new b.s. (in the form of New Year’s resolutions) but rather by letting go of old b.s. (belief systems).

Ring in the new year not by starting off with new b.s. (in the form of New Year’s resolutions) but rather by letting go of old b.s. (belief systems). Embrace a growth-oriented, outward-focused mindset. Become aware of a new way of being, consciously reflect upon accepting it, and then intentionally choose new actions to advance your own and your organization’s collective success. As Jack Welch said, “If the pace of change on the outside is faster than on the inside, the end is near.” Welch was referring to the pace of change outside versus inside organizations. I assert the same is true for changes outside and inside ourselves as leaders. If it’s gonna be, it starts with me.



1 Ashkenas, R. (2013, April 16). Change Management Needs to Change. Harvard Business Review.

2 Lafferty, J. and Lafferty L (1996). Perfectionism: A Sure Cure for Happiness. Plymouth MI: Human Synergistics.

3 Trautlein, B. (2013). Change Intelligence: Use the Power of CQ to Lead Change that Sticks. Austin TX: Greenleaf Book Group Press.

4,5 Doocey, C. (2017, January 10). Perception of failure: The end of the road or a new beginning? Centre for Leadership Advantage.

6 Reisyan, G. (2017, June 6). Cultivate Yourself and Others for more Social and Material Benefit – A practical Coaching case., Human Synergistics.

7 Deutschendorf, H. (2015, June 22). Why Emotionally Intelligent People Are More Successful.

8 Szumal, J. (2015, September 2). The Real Culture Debate. Constructive Culture blog, Human Synergistics.

Why Thank You Goes a Long Way: The Power of Recognition

A hallmark of a Constructive culture

I often ask the leaders for whom I consult two simple questions:

First, “Do you need positive feedback to do your best at work—like you need air and water?” Typically, a small percentage will say yes.

Second, I ask the question with a twist: “When you get an ‘atta-boy’ or ‘atta-girl,’ does it make a difference?” Almost everyone, every time, says yes!

Leaders leave gold on the table by not showing appreciation for their people. It’s easy, it’s free, and it’s hugely impactful.

Are Your Expectations in Proper Focus?

We all want to motivate and get the best out of ourselves and others. But we live in “problem-solving” mode. That’s why we get paid the big bucks, right? The result is that we focus on what’s wrong or what’s not working and leap to the rescue and fix it. That’s what’s on our radar screen: the problems.

Yet every day, all around us, good people are doing good work—often great work—that goes unrecognized. In our zeal to drive forward, what’s working—and who’s working—is in our blind spot. We blow right by as we speed along.

But what gets rewarded gets repeated. Recognizing others’ contributions—both tangible outcomes as well as efforts towards the goal—is one of the best ways to reinforce expectations. And that’s also important because leaders almost invariably believe that their expectations are much clearer than do their employees!

On Gratitude

We’ve learned so much in recent years from research done in fields ranging from neuroscience to positive psychology to medicine about the benefits of an attitude of gratitude spanning from mental and physical health to relationships and teamwork to goal achievement. The regular practice of showing gratitude for others is like putting a deposit in one’s emotional bank account. At some point, we’ll need to make a withdrawal. We’ll have to ask someone to take on a challenging task. Or we’ll have to deliver some bad news or share negative feedback. But the more reserves we have of positive mutual regard, the more we’ll be able to have difficult conversations in a way that preserves and even promotes collaboration.

Leadership Impact on Culture

If your organization has a Constructive culture—give thanks for it!

If your organization doesn’t have a Constructive culture—give thanks and get it!

That’s a tongue-in-cheek way of summarizing some of my key takeaways from Human Synergistics’ recent (and excellent) Ultimate Culture Conference. As Mike Marino of Senn Delaney shared, “organizations become shadows of their leaders: leaders must own the culture-shaping process.”

Jumping from the individual to the organizational level, what are the hallmarks of a Constructive culture? Dr. Robert Cooke kicked off the conference by summarizing decades of Human Synergistics’ research that clearly demonstrates the crucial impact of leaders’ behaviors on organizational culture: “Constructive styles and norms encourage the attainment of organizational goals through the development of people, promote teamwork and synergy, and enhance individual, group and organizational adaptability and effectiveness.”1 Providing positive feedback develops people, fosters feelings of teamwork, and increases the probability of personal and collective accomplishment.2 I take great comfort in knowing that the core message of my Change Intelligence (CQ® or Change Quotient®) work corresponds nicely with many elements of the Constructive styles.3


Conversely, one of the hallmarks of Aggressive/Defensive cultures is people focusing on their own needs at the expense of others. Consider that the failure to relentlessly be on the lookout for opportunities to share positive feedback with our colleagues is not only stingy, but it also reinforces “me” versus “we” mindsets and behaviors.

That said, not all positive feedback is positive. A defining characteristic of Passive/Defensive cultures is approval seeking and conflict avoidance.4 Behaviors such as praising performance that doesn’t rock the boat and that supports conventional thinking can be the norm. This is the kiss of death for organizations that are experiencing significant disruption and the need to radically change to keep pace in our VUCA world.

Additionally, providing positive feedback can backfire, or at least miss the mark, depending on how it’s delivered. While praising someone in public is a winning way to reinforce expectations for a group, we need to know our people and be sensitive to those who are uncomfortable in the spotlight. Also, praise can come off as insincere if it’s vague or overly effusive. The best feedback is highly specific, noting exactly what the person did and why it mattered to you. Getting a “great job” might feel good, but think about how hearing this would feel: “Great job on that presentation to our prospective new client. You provided just the right level of detail on how our solution can help them. You really connected with the decision-makers by asking excellent questions to engage them in the conversation. You demonstrated that you cared about them and their company, not just about the sale. Much appreciated.” Receiving specific, genuine feedback will not only feel good but will also make a meaningful impact on the person and on their future performance.

In Practice with a Master Coach

If this already sounds like you, and you are a leader who actively capitalizes on opportunities to praise others, great job! (Wink!) However, if you think you would benefit from building muscle in this area, what can you do? More generally, how can you create positive, lasting change in leadership behavior and thereby shape the culture for everyone’s benefit?

Check out Dr. Marshall Goldsmith’s Feedforward process,5 which I’ve used myself and with many clients to achieve powerful leadership and personal results. In a nutshell, start with a behavior you want to change—such as, “I want to provide people with more specific, positive recognition on a regular basis.” Then, ask colleagues one-on-one for ideas about how to make this behavior change. When doing so, follow two ground rules. First, for your colleagues, their suggestions can only be positive, and only focused on the future—no mention of past mistakes, no color commentary about any doubts or skepticism—only positive, future-focused suggestions. Second, for yourself, you are not permitted to critique the suggestions at all—just listen!


Once your colleague has shared his or her suggestions, you have a great opportunity to make one of those aforementioned emotional bank account deposits. Thank him or her for taking the time to provide feedback and help you achieve your behavior change. After all, as Marshall advised at the conference, “What do you do when someone gives you a gift? (And their ideas are a gift!) You say, ‘thank you’!”

Bottom line: Recognition Gets Results

And recognition builds relationships. And relationships get results. A positive, virtuous, reinforcing cycle. Constructive cultures are, by definition, humanistic and encouraging. Leaders who role model these traits foster Constructive cultures. Remember the life (and leadership) lesson we all learned in kindergarten: say thanks!

So, recognize someone for their great work and really let them know it. There is nothing like feeling valued so give thanks, today!



1, 4 The terminologies are 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.

2 Cooke, Robert A. and Szumal, Janet L. (2000). Using the Organizational Culture Inventory to understand the operating cultures of organizations. In Ashkanasy, Neal M., Widerom, Celest P.M., and Peterson, M.F. (eds.), Handbook of Organizational Culture and Climate. Thousand Oaks CA: Sage Publications. (See pp. 154-155 on praise and Constructive cultures.)

3 Trautlein, Barbara (2013). Change Intelligence: Use the Power of CQ to Lead Change that Sticks. Austin TX: Greenleaf Book Group Press.

5 Goldsmith, Marshall (2012). FeedForward. Highland Park IL: Round Table Companies.