Webinar – July 18, 2024 | Using AI for Culture Transformation

using ai for culture transformation

Using AI for Culture Transformation

At this free-of-charge July 18th webinar, Cathleen Cooke, Chief Client Officer at Human Synergistics will be joined by experienced HR executive Michael Kern and Dr. Robert A. Cooke.

Making a special appearance, Rob will discuss the timely and relevant topic of using Artificial Intelligence, in particular our proprietary approach to AI, to help leaders and teams make informed decisions about transforming their culture. Rob’s expertise provides a profound understanding of how culture and leadership assessments can drive organizational excellence. His work has positively impacted the realm of leadership, teams, and organizational development globally.

Register for the July webinar here: https://bit.ly/4alPHOH

The Journey of Improvement is Continuous

In today’s ever-evolving workplace, adaptability is crucial—not just a welcomed advantage, but a fundamental necessity for staying relevant and thriving. Achieving success goes beyond just sketching out goals and strategies; it’s about consistently reviewing our progress and adjusting our sails as needed. Developing constructive leaders, fostering unified teams, and nurturing an achievement-oriented organizational culture are now essentials, not just goals. It’s all about taking a proactive approach to improvement, ensuring we’re not just setting targets but actively monitoring and refining our journey towards success with every step we take.

This post dives into the critical, yet often overlooked, step of remeasurement in an organization’s development process and examines how planned remeasurement can drive improvements benefiting both individuals and organizations.

The Importance of the Remeasure

Remeasurement serves as a bridge between where we are and where we aim to be. The process recognizes clear signs of improvement while pinpointing areas that require further fine-tuning. By reviewing and comparing initial assessment results against remeasure assessment results, leaders and organizations can ensure that their development strategies are yielding the desired outcomes and make informed decisions about what comes next.

Encouraging Sustained Progress

Remeasuring isn’t just about monitoring progress; it’s about instilling the importance of continuous improvement within an organization. This approach shifts the focus from achieving fixed goals to nurturing an environment where learning, development, and growth are ongoing processes. It aligns leadership approaches with individual and organizational objectives ensuring that each endeavor contributes to an overarching vision of success.

Throughout my consulting career, I’ve seen the positive impact of integrating a remeasurement process into client strategies. The approach not only empowers clients to take ownership of their change journey, but also ensures their continued growth.

~Roxanne Ray, Senior Consultant, Human Synergistics

Strategies for Effective Remeasurement

To leverage the full potential of remeasurement in developing leaders, individuals, teams, and organizational cultures, consider the following strategies:

  1. Set Clear Benchmarks: Begin with clear expectations and establish specific, measurable objectives. This clarity forms the basis for effective remeasurement and adjustment.
  2. Establish a Cadence: Incorporate remeasurement at the onset and into the regular rhythm of your organizational processes. Once every two years – with at least one pulse in between – ensures that progress is continually monitored and addressed.
  3. Foster Transparent Communication: Open communication helps in recognizing accomplishments and areas for further development, which is essential in the change process, whether it’s an individual leadership assessment or an organization-wide assessment. This transparent approach can make the reassessment process more relevant and actionable. Consider cultivating an environment where feedback is not only encouraged but actively sought.
  4. Utilize Proven Tools: Implement proven methodologies like the Human Synergistics’ Circumplex and range of assessments to dramatically enhance the impact of your development strategies. Embracing Constructive styles aligns you and your team with time-tested practices to support change initiatives locally, regionally, and even globally. This approach nurtures an environment where positive behaviors thrive and leads to a more vibrant and effective organizational culture.
  5. Enlist Experienced Help: With the right expertise, navigating the complexities of culture change turns seemingly impossible challenges into opportunities. Whether you want to boost the effectiveness of your internal consultants or gain insight from an external expert, a network of accredited practitioners can facilitate your remeasure process and guide you through the intricacies of growth.

For organizations looking to develop their internal capacity, we provide comprehensive accreditation in our models and tools, ensuring your in-house team not only understands the path forward but excels in guiding others along.

For those looking outside your walls, our broad network spans industries, states, and even international borders, ensuring a match with consultants who bring expertise and an understanding of your culture and language nuances, regional specificities, and unique challenges.

In my experience, remeasurement is foundational for lasting change. It acts as both a reflection and a compass, revealing the organization’s progress and guiding members towards their long-term aspirations.

~ Mary McCullock, Senior Consultant, Human Synergistics

Moving Forward

Integrating the remeasure process into your development strategies ensures continuous improvement and alignment with broader objectives. This structured approach celebrates progress, identifies growth prospects, and equips leaders and teams with the insight, agility, and resilience needed to refine their organizational goals.

Call to Action

Are you on course towards organizational success? How can you be certain? Discover how remeasurement can guide you in realigning, refocusing, and revitalizing your organization’s future. Contact us to learn more.

Leveraging Expertise for Organizational Success

Experienced consultants bring a wealth of knowledge and understanding that can contribute greatly to guiding organizations towards their cultural objectives. These change agents offer perspectives that go beyond conventional practice to provide tailored strategies that help leaders with their constructive impact or in discovering their organizational potential. By leveraging a skilled consultant, leaders can navigate the complexities of today’s business climate to drive effective change.

For a comprehensive change process, it’s crucial to understand the key components and strategies that skilled consultants rely on. At its core, a professional’s toolkit should include a suite of fundamental elements and methodologies as outlined below.

Charting Course: The Vital Role of Assessments

In the realm of organizational development, valid and reliable assessments form the foundation for organizational culture understanding. They offer clear, measurable insights into the current state of affairs highlighting strengths, identifying themes, and pinpointing areas for growth and improvement. Utilizing assessment tools such as the Organizational Culture Inventory® or Leadership/Impact® not only establishes a benchmark but also paves the way for targeted and impactful development strategies.

Cultivating a Positive Culture with a Constructive Approach

Embracing Constructive Styles as identified by Human Synergistics is central to establishing a positive and productive workplace environment. These four behavioral styles – Achievement, Self-Actualizing, Humanistic-Encouraging, and Affiliative – as described in Dr. Robert A. Cooke’s article “Create Constructive Cultures and Impact the World” are linked to enhanced motivation, engagement, teamwork, quality, adaptability, and profitability. Encouraging these styles is essential for achieving long term organizational success and retaining top talent.

Navigating Growth Through Feedback

Objective, behavior-based feedback, especially when delivered constructively and strategically, is a powerful catalyst for growth and development, encourages learning, and builds trust. When facilitated by an accredited coach, this feedback can align individual efforts with the broader goals of the organization. With their unique perspective, a skilled practitioner can offer insight and new awareness for personal achievement or organizational progress.

“Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful.”

~ Margaret J. Wheatley

Evaluating Progress & Making Adjustments

One integral step often overlooked in the improvement journey is the remeasure – reassessing to measure progress and identifying areas for further improvement. By comparing the initial assessment against the remeasure results, you obtain tangible evidence of improvement while pinpointing areas where adjustments are still necessary. Whether for individual or organization-wide development, regular remeasures embed a culture of continuous improvement ensuring that leadership strategies contribute to both individual and organizational goals.

Integrating Wellness and Adaptive Leadership in the Digital Age

In today’s rapidly evolving workplace, prioritizing wellness and adaptive leadership is essential for maintaining productive, creative, and engaged employees. Upskilling the entire workforce, while critically important, isn’t just about business growth; it involves developing all personnel in being resilient and agile, understanding empathy, and being prepared for future challenges. Working with consultants can be invaluable for leaders as they strive to find balance between upskilling initiatives and cultivating adaptability within their teams.

Launching for Success

As you reset your focus this new year, reflect on the past for useful insights and consider the value an experienced perspective could provide.

For more than five decades, Human Synergistics has been at the forefront of driving constructive change worldwide. We’re dedicated to creating lasting change across all levels of the organization with our globally recognized solutions and experienced team. Whether as professional consultants or in-house HR professionals, our trusted network of accredited practitioners are diverse in their backgrounds, experiences, and industry knowledge to support your organizational change journey.

When you’re ready to chart a path for organizational success, let’s begin a conversation.

Empowering Tomorrow’s Leaders: A University’s Approach

In a world where technology and innovation are constantly reshaping landscapes, education is no exception. Immersive learning, with its hands-on, real-world scenarios, has emerged as a cornerstone in today’s educational environment. At the forefront of this movement is Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), an institution renowned for its innovative spirit and steadfast dedication to combining business expertise with technological excellence.

Innovative Learning for a Changing World: How WPI is Leading the Way

For more than five decades, WPI has been a hub of innovation in the academic world and a global leader in project-based learning. Their mission goes beyond just imparting knowledge; it’s more about guiding technically adept students in becoming adaptive leaders capable of crafting sustainable solutions with a global impact. This commitment to project-based experiential learning is deeply ingrained in WPI’s values, ensuring students are equipped to navigate the complexities of our ever-evolving world.

The Transformative Power of Simulations in Education & Business

The integration of simulations into academic curricula represents a logical shift in teaching methodologies. These tools go beyond traditional learning; they immerse learners in real-world scenarios, offering them an opportunity to:

  • Sharpen their decision-making abilities
  • Improve communication and contributions
  • Cultivate an inclusive learning environment
  • Foster enhanced teamwork and collaboration
  • Prepare for real-world challenges

Problem-solving simulations, a well-established tool for team building, have a rich history represented by the Subarctic Survival Situation™, developed by Human Synergistics. With a product history spanning 45 years, Subarctic emphasizes the value of collective decision-making, the potential for group synergy, and the profound impact of group processes on overall performance.

During a recent graduate student orientation at WPI’s Business School, incoming students were introduced to the Subarctic Survival simulation. Set in a challenging cold-weather scenario, the exercise challenged students to communicate, collaborate, and critically analyze group dynamics. Incorporating effective teaching tools, like simulations, helps instructors to prepare their students for successful careers in industry, a practice embraced by numerous higher education institutions.

Blending Talents: Crafting Dynamic Learning Experiences

At the heart of WPI’s educational experiences is a synergy of talents, each bringing unique strengths to forge a dynamic learning environment. Nurturing this process is Robert Sarnie, whose innovative approach to teaching merges finance, fun, and futuristic learning. With a rich background at Fidelity Investments, Sarnie enriches his classroom experience with engaging videos and real-world applications, making complex concepts accessible and exciting. “I’m just trying to make it over-the-top engaging,” he says. It’s about preparing students for real-world challenges, ensuring they’re agile, adaptable, and forward-thinking.

Still, the creation of a vibrant educational landscape isn’t a solo endeavor. It thrives on collaboration and the collective expertise of dedicated staff members like Sandy Wellinghoff and Tom Clark. Wellinghoff’s strategic oversight of the MBA program helps shape a curriculum that’s both comprehensive and contemporary, while Clark’s extensive outreach initiatives fortify WPI’s network with students, alumni, and corporate entities. Their combined efforts lay the foundation for an educational experience that’s not only instructive but also inspiring.

“You can get something good done by yourself, but you’re not going to get anything big done.”

~Prof. Rob Sarnie

It’s this blending of different experiences, expertise, and energies that transform a simulation from a good exercise to a profound, life-altering encounter. Sarnie’s reflection, “You can get something good done by yourself, but you’re not going to get anything big done,” captures this ethos well.

Real Impact: Voices of Future Leaders

“I had the opportunity to participate in the Subarctic Survivor Simulation, and I must say, it was an enriching experience. The simulation went remarkably well and it exceeded my expectations in terms of knowledge sharing and teamwork. It was evident that everyone was genuinely committed to our collective success. The simulation also provided a fantastic platform for us to explore the concept of team synergy. As we worked together to tackle challenges and make decisions, it became increasingly clear how the combined efforts of a cohesive team can achieve remarkable results. Learning about team dynamics in such a practical setting was invaluable…” 

~Alison G., MS in Operations and Supply Chain Analytics Student

“Engaging in the Subarctic Survival Simulation was a delightful surprise. What I initially perceived as just another ordinary simulation turned out to be a remarkable experience. The organizers and the simulation itself were nothing short of amazing…” 

~Allen G., MS in Information Technology Student

Looking Ahead as a Difference Maker

The convergence of technology, business insights, and immersive learning is redefining the boundaries of education and corporate training. Classroom-based exercises, while not direct measures of resilience, provide students with invaluable opportunities to demonstrate and refine resilient qualities like adaptability, problem-solving, and stress management. These experiences equip participants with the skills and mindset required to effectively navigate challenging situations both academically and in real-world contexts.

At Human Synergistics, we provide surveys to guide organizational change, assessments to help leaders improve their impact, and simulations to enhance the effectiveness of work teams. As long-time allies of educational providers like WPI for more than 5 decades, it is our privilege to support institutions worldwide in contributing to the learning journeys of countless students.

Dean Debora Jackson provides this thoughtful challenge: “Want to be a difference maker? Join us.”

If you’d like to experience a digital survival simulation firsthand, we invite you to schedule a free demo.

image credits: WPI.edu

Embracing Constructive Styles for Organizational Success in the Era of AI

In our rapidly evolving modern workplace, the emergence of Artificial Intelligence (AI) brings both excitement and concerns. While AI offers transformative possibilities for businesses, it can also instill stress and fear among workers.1

Leaders can play a crucial role in helping their people embrace AI while alleviating their apprehension. With a clear understanding of the Constructive Styles and their value in fostering innovation and collaborative teamwork, leaders have the means to prepare their workforce to effectively navigate this new reality.2

In this blog post, we’ll explore the potential impact of AI in the workplace and how Constructive leadership and cultural styles can empower employees to adapt and solve complex business problems through mutual support, creative problem-solving, and synergy.

The Phenomenon of Artificial Intelligence: Balancing Opportunities and Challenges

Artificial Intelligence has the potential to revolutionize various aspects of work, from automating repetitive tasks to enabling data-driven decision-making.3 However, the fear of job displacement and the unknown implications of AI can create anxiety, stress, and resistance in people.

Leaders need to address these concerns by communicating with transparency and emphasizing the potential benefits of AI as a tool that can augment human capabilities rather than replace them. This position has been advocated by many observers, including Larry English in a recent Forbes article on AI and culture.4 Demonstrating a commitment to support employees throughout the transition and maintain open communication channels will help build trust and dispel misconceptions.

Understanding Constructive Styles: Empowering Workers for Innovation

The Circumplex-based model of leadership and culture, as established by Human Synergistics, equips leaders with a framework to understand, practice, and leverage positive behaviors that drive problem-solving and innovation. The framework has three groups of behaviors and norms, the most effective of which are the Constructive styles: Achievement, Self-Actualizing, Humanistic-Encouraging, and Affiliative. These positive styles contrast with and can replace less effective, Defensive, styles—not only with respect to the behaviors that leaders themselves exhibit but also the behaviors they encourage in the people around them (that is, cultural norms). Learn more about this framework in this excellent overview by Dr. Robert A. Cooke and through the HS interactive Circumplex model.

The Achievement style encourages setting high standards, challenging the status quo, and thinking ahead and planning—enabling team members to embrace and shape the potential of AI as a tool for innovation rather than a threat to their roles.

Leaders can boost experimentation and provide resources for employees to explore, test, and strengthen AI-driven solutions that enhance productivity, efficiency, and customer experience. This will help work teams embrace AI by enabling them to take ownership and increase its potential for improving their performance and jobs.

The Self-Actualizing style fosters a growth mindset, emphasizing personal development and encouraging people to continuously learn and adapt to technological advancements, including AI.

Leaders can support discovery and mastery, encouraging their people to see AI as an opportunity for acquiring new skills and expanding their knowledge. They can promote learning by providing training programs and resources that enable employees to develop the necessary skills to effectively work alongside AI technologies.

Embracing Constructive Styles: Cultivating Collaborative Teamwork

Successfully integrating AI into business operations requires coordinating related activities. This coordination is encouraged within and between groups by Constructive norms that highlight and reinforce listening, cooperating, and, more generally, interacting in positive ways.

The Humanistic-Encouraging style emphasizes creating a supportive environment where workers feel valued and safe, allowing them to explore AI-related opportunities with confidence.

The Affiliative style promotes a sense of belonging and open communication among team members, creating an environment where they can collaborate effectively to tackle complex challenges.

Leaders can accentuate the importance of collaboration in the context of AI by encouraging cross-functional teams to bring work groups together thereby combining human expertise with AI capabilities.5 Promoting and enabling an inclusive workplace where all team members contribute their ideas and insights with a sense of ownership and engagement is essential for leaders to consider.

Preparation and Upskilling: Equipping Workers for AI Integration

To mitigate the fear and stress associated with AI, leaders must invest in training and upskilling programs that help people develop the necessary capabilities to work alongside AI technologies.6  These initiatives should focus on skills and areas that complement AI capabilities, such as critical thinking, problem-solving, and emotional agility.

Key Learnings

  • The emergence of AI can create stress and fear in the workplace. Leaders need to address these concerns through transparent communication and support.
  • Understanding the Constructive Styles empowers leaders to foster innovation and problem-solving in the face of AI.
  • Collaborative teamwork is crucial for effectively integrating AI into business processes. Constructive Styles enable effective collaboration and psychological safety.
  • By embracing Constructive Styles, leaders can champion psychological safety, where workers feel comfortable experimenting, sharing ideas, and learning from failures without fear of punishment or rejection.
  • Constructive leaders encourage open dialogue, diverse perspectives, and constructive differing, enabling teams to harness the power of AI collectively.
  • Leaders must invest in upskilling programs to equip workers with the skills needed to complement AI technologies.


Author’s Note

Stay tuned for news on Human Synergistics’ research and development on AI recommendations for cultural change in organizations. We are developing algorithms to help identify the most relevant culture styles and levers for change on which an organization should focus. The recommendations are based not only on the organization’s OCI and OEI results but also on the historical relationships between levers for change, culture styles, and outcomes.

The type of AI being used to produce the Prescriptive Feedback and Action Plan is Traditional AI, based on our own proprietary code, logic, data, and algorithms. We are not using generative AI, which is used, for example, by ChatGPT, Dall-E and Bard. We’ll keep you up to date on this new feature via our website and email outreach.

More generally, the past few years have been marked by significant disruptions and transformations, from the far-reaching impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic to the disruptive influence of AI. In light of these changes, it’s essential to equip your leaders and work groups with the necessary tools and strategies to thrive in the months ahead. From leadership assessment and feedback, to executive coaching programs and cultural transformation initiatives, we offer a range of services designed to help you build resilience, foster innovation, and achieve sustainable growth. Stay tuned for practical tips and actionable strategies to help your organization thrive in this rapidly changing world.

To schedule a complimentary discussion on envisioning your constructive culture, contact us here.


1 Beauchene, V., de Bellefonds, N., Duranton, S., & Mills, S. (2023). AI at Work: What People Are Saying. BCG. https://www.bcg.com/publications/2023/what-people-are-saying-about-ai-at-work

2 Cooke, R. A., & Szumal, J. L. (1993). Measuring Normative Beliefs and Shared Behavioral Expectations in Organizations: The Reliability and Validity of the Organizational Culture Inventory. Psychological Reports, 72(3_suppl), 1299–1330. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.2466/pr0.1993.72.3c.1299

3 Bersin, J. (2023). New MIT Research Shows Spectacular Increase In White Collar Productivity From ChatGPT. Josh Bersin. https://joshbersin.com/2023/03/new-mit-research-shows-spectacular-increase-in-white-collar-productivity-from-chatgpt/

4 English, L. (2023). The Impact Of AI On Company Culture And How To Prepare Now. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/larryenglish/2023/05/25/the-impact-of-ai-on-company-culture-and-how-to-prepare-now/?sh=21c0d0fb5f15

5 Chui, M., et al. (2018). Notes from the AI frontier: Insights from hundreds of use cases. McKinsey Global Institute. https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/artificial-intelligence/notes-from-the-ai-frontier-modeling-the-impact-of-ai-on-the-world-economy

6 Bughin, J., Hazan, E., Lund, S., Dahlström, P., Wiesinger, A., & Subramaniam, A. (2018). Skill shift: Automation and the future of the workforce. McKinsey Global Institute. https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/future-of-work/skill-shift-automation-and-the-future-of-the-workforce

Culture Change Agents and their Role in Transforming Organizations

The Beacon

Being an agent of change for an organization’s culture requires solid strategic and communications skills. Those experienced in helping organizations to change their culture 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

Cultural 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.

What is a cultural change agent?

An agent of cultural change within an organization is a person who is trained and empowered to facilitate change. Sometimes this individual will be an internal member of the organization who has the perspective to see how things are and how they can improve. A cultural change agent is often external to the group—a consultant, for example—who has specific training to analyze and evaluate the organization’s culture and recommend ways that that might change. No matter the type of change agent, or their role in the organization, the work of facilitating cultural change is vital.

Examples of cultural change agents at work

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

The 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. Culture 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 & Wisconsin School of Business 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 CPED to coordinate a pilot culture study led by Lisa Yaffe, Program Director for Executive Leadership.

Accredited in the OCI, culture 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 culture change agent can be invaluable to your change effort. For additional examples of how change agents guide leaders in transforming their organizations, check out part two of this series.


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.

Top Ten Posts of 2018 from the Constructive Culture Blog

Key insights for creating a remarkable workplace culture!

It’s been an exceptional year of shared learning through case examples, stories, and posts on best practices. We’re delighted to share the following blog posts that garnered the highest traffic during the past year. They’re compiled here for your review and use as a resource for building constructive workplace cultures. You read them, we tracked them, let’s count them down!

#10 – Does Culture HAVE to Eat Strategy for Lunch?

By Cathy Perme

This strategic overview resonated with our readers. Experienced consultant, Cathy Perme, raises the important point that the strategic planning process in most organizations simply reinforces the current culture. In response to this reality, Cathy provides a case example and highlights an approach for adjusting the strategic planning process after organizational leaders gain a clear understanding of their current work culture and climate.

Get insights and take-aways here >

#9 – How an Icebreaker Can Demonstrate Group Synergy

By Caroline Walker and Hallie VanManen

group synergy tsunami simulationSimulations provide a powerful learning experience and meet a variety of organizational needs. Here’s a case summary that delivers added value by including an interactive experience on group synergy. The challenge? Getting teams to establish synergy is no simple task. As a matter of fact, most work teams underperform. But you can help your teams beat the odds by developing superior interpersonal and rational behaviors that lead to effective solutions.

Help your teams beat the odds >

#8 – Organizational Culture Assessment in a Non-Profit Organization

By Arief Kartolo, Carolyn Rauti and Catherine Kwantes

The specific missions and roles of non-profits vary by region and organization, but they share a common goal of making a difference in the communities they serve—at times taking on some of society’s most pressing work. And like for-profit entities, culture plays a vital role in not-for-profit organizations. This unique case study highlights the importance of understanding how paid and volunteer staff can experience the organization in different ways and, as a result, view the current culture very differently.

When differences collide: paid and volunteer staff >

#7 – Change Agents and their Role in Transforming Culture

By Kalani Iwiula

Change Agent for culture transformationThe guidance and expertise of a change agent can be invaluable to your organization’s change effort. Whether internal or external, change agents help leadership teams understand the challenges at hand, assess next steps, and collaborate on a clear path forward. Like a lighthouse, a change agent can provide safe passage. Part geek, part translator, part transformation specialist, guiding change is what they do.

Success stories and lessons learned >

#6 – #1 Reason for Culture Change Success

By Donna Brighton

Whether an organization builds big trucks or competes in the world of baseball, culture transformation requires a commitment that’s not for the faint of heart. Culture change expert Donna Brighton offers a superb perspective on leadership and culture change at two completely different, major organizations … both with the #1 reason for culture change success.

Discover the #1 reason >

#5 – Seven Top Culture Insights from the 1st Regional Ultimate Culture Conference

By Tim Kuppler

Culture expert, Tim Kuppler, shares seven insights gleaned from the 1st Regional Ultimate Culture Conference hosted by Human Synergistics and the University of Wisconsin Center for Professional and Executive Development (CPED). Whether you attended or missed the conference, you can advance your culture learning with this content-packed summary and video clips, all designed to help you make a meaningful difference in your organization. 

For key, actionable insights >

#4 – In Conversation with Edgar Schein: Answering Three Common Questions about Culture

By Aga Bajer

Aga Bajer & Ed Schein podcastCulture strategist, Aga Bajer, conducts this thoughtful and engaging interview with world renown culture expert, Edgar Schein. With interesting discussions on employee engagement, assessing culture, building relations and more, you’ll enjoy this refreshing look at culture and culture change.

Sit back, relax, enjoy >

#3 – It Starts with “Us” – The Importance of Leadership Team Alignment

By Alysun Johns

Nothing contributes more to an organization’s mission than clear alignment in the senior leadership team. And when leaders are pulled in conflicting directions, refocusing is essential. Enjoy this 9-point perspective on ensuring alignment in leadership teams.

How leaders can inspire exceptional performance >

#2 – Shaping Healthy, High-performing Workplace Cultures for More Than 40 Years

By Larry Senn

In this superb article, culture master Larry Senn talks about the principles Senn Delaney has developed over 40-years of helping leaders shape high-performing company cultures. Larry shares his views on what’s changed and what hasn’t over the decades and offers guidance on shaping your workplace culture.

Reflections of a culture master >

#1 – A Historic Shift in Expecting Leaders to Understand and Evolve Culture

By Tim Kuppler

Culture Crisis Historic ShiftThe year 2018 was an unkind one for many to endure as negative and/or negligent leader behaviors were exposed across industries, time and time again. Technology, news & entertainment, higher education, athletics, non-profit–you name the industry, and we had a crisis in trust.

In this timely post, culture expert Tim Kuppler offers a comprehensive 12-question culture challenge that change agents can use for unlocking the power of culture for good. And given the number of scandals plaguing domestic and global organizations at senior levels of leadership, this post provides relevant and significant guidance for leadership development and culture transformation.

Experience this historic shift here…and get involved, speak up, take action! >

Thank you!

To our readers, thank you for your support, social sharing, and content requests. To our bloggers, a special thank-you for sharing your stories and expertise so that others can learn from your journey. At Human Synergistics, we are passionate about our mission of Changing the World — One Organization at a Time®. Together, the contributions we make to this forum on leadership and culture will help guide our journey, and we invite you to join us.

Coming in 2019

Stay tuned for a rich series of “how-to” content from clients, partners, and members of our Global Change Circle of accredited consultants. There will be several ways to enjoy our content—blogs, webinars, videos, conferences and more, so watch this space for coming details on a remarkable year ahead for change agents!

Change Agents and their Role in Transforming Culture—Part 2

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 of 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. 

start up culture

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.



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

Feedforward: How to Revitalize Your Feedback Process

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 GoldsmithThe 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.”

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

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

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/wp-content/uploads/2024/01/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

Key Learnings on Transforming Leaders and Changing Culture

When it comes to shaping a thriving workplace culture, the influence of leaders on their organizations’ overall performance cannot be overemphasized. They serve as role models whose conduct and behavior are expected to align with their organizations’ values. While recent months have provided a deluge of executives and leaders who have lost their way, it’s a compelling time for change agents to help organizations shape their culture for a constructive future.

With January and February firmly in the books, the year is wide open with opportunities for revisiting goals, changes, and challenges. Perhaps the ideal time to assess, focus and map out vital leadership and culture intentions for your company or the organizations you support. Often, the best way to help leaders or teams focus on realigning the organization’s culture with its vision, values, and performance priorities is to reach into the recent past for insight, perspective, and advice. The following three blog posts garnered the highest reader interest as top posts in 2017 and offer actionable learning for those leading culture change and leadership development efforts in 2018.

Edgar Schein – A Preview of Organizational Culture and Leadership

Last year I had the honor of hearing Edgar Schein speak on a few occasions. As Professor Emeritus at the MIT Sloan School of Management, head of the Organizational Culture and Leadership Institute, and perhaps the most influential authority in the field of workplace culture, Ed Schein asks a lot of questions. It’s his way to engage you early and often, and he advocates that change agents do the same to establish deeper relationships with clients—Level Two relationships, as he refers to them.

The role of measurement is bell-clear once you know what you are trying to measure.
-Edgar Schein

In this video clip and accompanying blog post by Tim Kuppler, Director of Culture & Organization Development with Human Synergistics, Ed explains the importance of the quantitative and qualitative aspects in a specific order in the change process. In his book, Humble Inquiry, he introduces “the gentle art of asking instead of telling,” which suggests the qualitative process as using questions designed to elicit useful information long before an assessment—the quantitative aspect—is introduced.2 It’s this qualitative process, which plays a key role in building trusted relationships with leaders and understanding what they’re trying to accomplish that Ed urges needs come up front, after which an assessment tool may be useful. “When you know what you want to quantify and why, the role of measurement in support of your intervention efforts become bell clear,” he asserts.

If you’re considering a change program, remember to move beyond the work climate to gain an understanding of the underlying culture through a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods.

Josh Bersin – 5 Key Trends Driving Culture Change Today

Global research analyst Josh Bersin writes on human resources, leadership, technology, and the connection between work and life. He’s Founder and Principal at Bersin by Deloitte, where he heads their long-term strategy. Each year, the firm releases industry research coveted by HR leaders across the US and abroad.

In this top post and research-based presentation, Josh shares broad insights and data on the Future of Work, the disappearance of corporate hierarchies, employee engagement, the “network of teams” concept, and the “overwhelmed employee.” He segues an info-packed first segment into a section on why culture is important in the corporate setting and shares findings on key trends driving culture change in business. Overall, some fascinating analysis and reporting by Josh, which explains why this blog post garnered high reader interest.

If you follow the Human Capital Trends Report by Deloitte each year, the 2018 report is due out in April. In the meantime, Deloitte suggests that seismic shifts are reshaping the new world of work and HR and business leaders would do well to examine the research with their teams as they navigate the new landscape in 2018.

April is around the corner but if you can’t wait, the 2018 Predictions—Embracing Radical Transparency released by Bersin by Deloitte may include some overlap with the Trends report and their #1 prediction for 2018 is that agile organization models will start to go mainstream.3 Why all the focus on “agile organization” design in 2018? Josh explains that after decades of corporate hierarchy, companies are embracing the notion of “team at the center” with “squads and tribes” to help keep teams aligned into a world of “company as a network.”

This seems to be an accelerated version of the “network of teams” model and represents a profoundly different model than the one most companies use today to manage and serve their people. So, bring yourself up-to-date with this comprehensive presentation, blog, and video bonus.

If the “network of teams” concept intrigues you, consider applying an assessment to learn how team members on your work teams interact to solve problems. Teams must learn new ways of interacting and achieving results in a Constructive manner in order for a “network of teams” approach can achieve the intended results.

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

In Why Thank You Goes a Long Way: The Power of Recognition, experienced change strategist Barbara Trautlein shares why showing appreciation and recognizing employee contributions are essential for a healthy and productive workplace culture. She understands why the “secret sauce” of any successful company is its employees and knows that recognition gets results! “It’s free, it’s easy, and it’s hugely impactful. Recognition builds relationships and relationships get results,” Barbara affirms.

Barbara shares one cautionary point about positive feedback:

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

In contrast, leaders and team members who notice, offer feedback on, and celebrate real contributions and team successes promote a Constructive culture—one in which members know their efforts are appreciated, stay motivated to perform at a high level, and reciprocally offer words of praise and encouragement.

Moving forward

As interest in culture continues to grow, leaders will be tasked with shaping those cultures and developing others to meet mounting demands of increasing complexity and rapidly changing market needs. And as times change, we’ll continue to share perspectives and insights from skilled practitioners in culture and leadership like those featured herein.


1 Kuppler, T. (2018, Feb. 9). A Historic Shift in Expecting Leaders to Understand and Evolve Culture. Retrieved from http://constructiveculture.com/historic-shift-leaders-evolve-culture/

2 Schein, E. Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling. Oakland: Berrett-Koehler Publishers. 2013.

3 Bersin by Deloitte. (2018). Predictions for 2018: Embracing Radical Transparency. Retrieved from http://blog.bersin.com/prediction-1-agile-organization-models-will-start-to-go-mainstream/

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.

A CEO’s Impact on Culture and Performance

CEO Impact on Culture and Performance

The distinguishing feature of leading organizations is their culture. It affects performance, employee engagement, and the ability to create an innovative and positive work environment.

Leaders drive Culture, Culture drives Performance

Leaders have a significant impact on those around them and on the culture of their organization. And since culture affects every aspect of an organization, ranging from employee engagement, quality, agility, and innovativeness to brand and financial performance and long-term sustainability, we depend on leaders to lead in ways that create a culture that supports problem-solving and the long-term effectiveness of their organizations.

CEOs are the ultimate leaders, decision-makers, strategists, and visionaries, and their job is no easy feat. Facing high expectations and significant challenges, CEOs are under tremendous pressure to deliver results quickly. They’re often the first ones in the office, the last ones to leave, and they’re responsible for steering the ship through both smooth and rough waters. Given these challenges, the fact that CEOs show up to work day after day is expected yet admirable. Continue reading “A CEO’s Impact on Culture and Performance”

Unlearning Apple and Rethinking Company Culture: Building an authentic culture at Inkling

Founded by Matt MacInnis in 2009 as a way to make the world a smarter place, Inkling is on a mission to transform how field employees get work done. Calling Inkling Knowledge “a huge advancement over the usual, flat boring PDFs,” Fast Company named Inkling one of the most innovative companies in 2014.

Recently, Matt shared his personal journey at the 3rd Annual Ultimate Culture Conference in San Francisco. What follows is Matt’s story of breaking away from the Apple way of doing things in order to shape an authentic culture at Inkling.

Getting personal

Addressing and engaging an audience of leadership and culture change professionals, Matt described himself as a guy who started a company and is still doing it. “Mine is a personal journey,” he shared, “and in the shadow of Ed Schein, who has spent decades studying the sort of abstractions of culture and how they are applied to large organizations, my company of 150 people and how we build culture is a contrast in that it is very specific and much smaller and, therefore, maybe a little bit more actionable to you guys.”

Matt grew up in a small town in Northeastern Canada where, around age 9 or 10, he realized that at some level he was gay and endured a few tough, emotional years. “I was really bad at following the rules and I desperately wanted to fit in.” A self-proclaimed “black sheep,” Matt got his chance to escape when he was accepted to Harvard. But it wasn’t quite the opportunity for reinvention he had imagined. “There’s a lot of smart people at Harvard, way smarter than me, and for four years I bent the rules in many ways, and tried really hard to fit in. I just wanted to be as smart as everyone else and I kind of wasn’t.”

Fitting in at Apple

Despite feeling like he didn’t quite make the grade at Harvard, Matt landed a coveted position at Apple upon graduation. “I kind of felt like I fit in for the first time,” he said. “Everybody was a nerd; people were pretty smart but not too smart, and I got to be an entrepreneur within this amazing company.”


“It was my first exposure to the business world, so I picked up some habits, some things that made me successful at Apple,” Matt continued, sharing these early learnings:

  • Apple is renowned for its secrecy and you learn how to be a good citizen in that culture of isolation.
  • Apple does not look outside for innovation and you’re expected to come up with ideas to innovate—to find the new technology, that new breakthrough—without talking to customers.
  • Apple expects you to sit down and be high-output. Don’t ask questions. Don’t look for self-advancement; be humble.

Matt confided, “There were side effects that were unintended by how the culture was set up at Apple, but as a fresh-out-of-college young man who desperately wanted to fit in, I acquired these habits and adopted them to my advantage.”

VIDEO clip: Matt talks about being an effective leader by being your authentic self.

Starting up at Inkling

Matt did well at Apple, obtained his Green Card and, after 7 ½ years, started Inkling and a new journey began.

“When you start your own company, you bring your own default settings and apply things that you know, and so I applied the things that I knew.”

Matt articulated, “Imagine a room of 10 people not allowed to talk to each other. Imagine starting a new product from scratch and not talking to customers. Imagine 10 people all told what they had to do and to not ask any questions. It didn’t work terribly well, and to be perfectly honest, it took me a few years to really get that. I was blissfully happy for those years but with the benefit of hindsight, I’ve come to realize something about myself as a leader and who I am in building my own company.”

Matt MacInnis found that a culture that produces results in one environment wasn’t necessarily going to generate the same performance in a new environment. However, once he identified his own core values, it was easier and more engaging to bring them to his growing team.
–Lauryn Franzoni, executive coach and organization development consultant

With the confidence that emerges from authentic self-awareness, Matt offered this advice:

  • Be Transparent: A key to Inkling’s success is the notion of transparency. More accurately, being radically transparent—about everything from financials to how customers are doing and beyond. “Transparency has become the counterpoint to what I experienced at Apple and has driven a sense of belonging and value inside our company.”
  • Be Open and Listen: Listen to the people you serve. Inkling makes it a part of their culture to be humble and engage with people in the community in order to understand their world. “We have built a culture of listening to one another, of listening to our customers and focusing relentlessly on what is true as opposed to what we hope is true.”
  • Equal Point of View: Every person in the organization has an equal point of view on what the company should be doing. For example, in their hackathons, both cross-functional teams and clients are invited to solve new customer problems. As Matt said, “My favorite way to phrase it is love. The idea is that every single person in our company, from the garbage collector to the people who build the software, has an equal point of view on what we should be doing as a company.”

Being Authentic

Direct, articulate and unafraid to speak his mind, Matt has a vision for reinventing how knowledge is shared and is passionate about strengthening Inkling’s culture to power its expansion. He concluded his presentation with these thoughts and aspirations: “I am most excited about my job every day because it helps me learn about who I am, and the greatest reward in life is to figure out who you are and live by those values. Nothing contributes more to being an effective leader of an organization – whether you’re a CEO, or in HR, or a coach, or a manager – than just being your authentic self.”

About Inkling

As more businesses invest in mobile devices to help field teams do their jobs, Inkling Knowledge provides the smart content system they need to deliver mission-critical information at enterprise scale. By arming field workforces with a single version of knowledge, Inkling delivers training and operational guides in an interactive, mobile-first format that engages and empowers employees. The results are increases in productivity and proficiency that operational leaders can measure with in-depth analytics.

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Editorial support: Meghan Oliver