How to Leverage Management/Impact® for Constructive Strategy Execution

A Case Study Perspective

In our work, we strive to understand the impact leaders and their teams have in their organizations, and we facilitate a focused and direct action-planning effort on how they might elevate their impact as they solve problems or execute work. As leaders and managers, the behaviors they promote and the ways they treat each other as they approach their work are also observable as they do their work. And from our experience, an organization desiring to leverage culture as a strategic asset is best served when its leaders can link culture change efforts to the ongoing changes associated with strategy execution. This formal integration of strategy and culture provides a unique opportunity for proactive, measurable application of efforts that shift behaviors to be more constructive in nature, while leaders, teams and individuals are doing their real, day-to-day work.

As an extensive user of valid and reliable measurement tools, we find the quantitative analysis of operational behaviors to be quite practical in helping organizations and their leaders cultivate performance-sustaining cultures. Our vendor of choice for measurement diagnostics is Human Synergistics, a leading provider of integrated organizational assessments for individuals, managers, leaders, teams and work groups, and organizational culture. We incorporate nearly all the HS tools in our consultancy work and some of them are mentioned in this article.

We have witnessed firsthand how organizations start off wanting to leverage culture to improve their performance. However, even after administering a cultural assessment and forming culture teams and constructively oriented initiatives, the companies that do not link culture change directly to real work activities struggle to shift behaviors. Almost always, the result is frustration, time waste, and investment loss.

One way we facilitate this integration of strategy and culture is through an annual administration of the Leadership/Impact® (L/I) and Management/Impact® (M/I) surveys.1, 2  What better scenario exists to apply a valid and reliable measurement tool than crafting the work a client will be executing in pursuit of strategic goals?

The following case study illustrates the great work of a line manager in assessing the opportunities that were possible when linking a need for increased safety performance to improvements in the execution of specific managerial responsibilities. The relevant areas were Managing Goals, Managing Learning and Managing Communications—all measured by Management/Impact—in pursuit of shaping a Constructive culture.3

“ . . . the companies that do not link culture change directly to real work activities struggle to shift behaviors. Almost always, the result is frustration, time waste, and investment loss.”
~Kevin Smith

When Teams Go Astray

When deciding which business challenge to follow, a new line manager studied the company’s four strategic goals and concluded that safety was the biggest gap for the department—they received three OSHA recordables the previous year. A recordable injury or illness under OSHA is one that requires medical treatment beyond first aid, as well as one that causes death, days away from work, restricted work or transfer to another job, or loss of consciousness.

In analyzing the group dynamic, the manager determined that supervisors were not spending enough time in the field and field teams were frustrated by continuous requests with insufficient explanation. This distracted them from focusing fully on safe work. Understandably, the manager chose safety as the business challenge for the supervisors’ M/I action plans.

In assessing and preparing to work with the supervisors, the manager concluded that they were allotting too much time for both administrative work and out-of-region committees, thereby siphoning time better spent in the field. A review of the supervisors’ M/I results and conversations with the field crews revealed that the supervisors were driving a fear-based response (Circumplex styles of Avoidance and Dependent), and that crew members lacked understanding of the goals and specific KPIs (Managing Goals). Additionally, the manager observed that crew-to-supervisor field relations were strained by poor communication (Managing Communications), overuse of power, and a lack of good working relationships across the teams (Managing Inter-Unit Relations).

A Strategy for Change

The manager immediately reset safety as a business priority. And with the aid of the Circumplex, the manager helped the supervisors visualize and comprehend the need to demonstrate and promote more Humanistic-Encouraging behaviors in their daily interactions. Specifically, the supervisors needed to repair and then deepen good working relationships with crew members, which in turn would support more effective coaching. This work group also agreed that a secondary focus needed to be on Achievement to address the lack of clarity on goals and priorities and the lack of understanding about why priorities were shifting.

In summary, the renewed focus on safety would be supported by improving the M/I management approaches of Managing Goals, Learning and Communications.

While each supervisor built out a personalized development plan, the manager reset expectations and facilitated the supervisors in building improvement plans in the following areas:

  • Prioritizing safety over clerical work and attending meetings
  • Communicating changes in work and procedures to the crews, so they would know why the changes were being made and their role in executing the work
  • Providing coaching throughout the entire organization to remind and re-skill all members instead of singling out individuals to help set a new norm for organization-wide learning – eliminating the hiding of errors for fear of individual retribution

The manager worked with the supervisors to build skills in delivering messages and fielding questions to help front-line workers better understand and support change and shifting priorities.

To support the supervisors’ development, the manager looked across regional operating borders to identify highly effective supervisors in other service areas and arranged for peer-to-peer coaching.

“Sometimes people don’t know when they’re not doing good – hearing it from a respected peer has impact.”

Through the peer coaching relationships, the supervisors worked together and adopted a standardized pre-work checklist that helped crews focus on critical safety factors. Peer coaches helped them improve time management, allowing for more time in the field with crews, and worked with the supervisors to increase skills in delivery of messages that were supported by more context.

Organization-Wide Intervention

The field manager worked with the regional director to better translate the safety goals for the front line.

Individual-Level Intervention

In addition to improving the team of supervisors, the field manager knew that each supervisor was different and could benefit from tailored coaching.

For example, the field manager worked specifically with one supervisor to improve his approach to self-development and managing emotions. This supervisor was provided with training in time management, self-management and, to overcome his historically blunt style of interacting, communication.

Proud of These Outcomes

Today, the department is proud of their zero-incident record (as of Q3 2018). The field manager’s improved relationship with the supervisors and the supervisors’ deeper connection with the front-line workers have worked well to quell fears that previously existed. The front-line workers are more focused on safe operations because they better understand their roles and the “why” behind changes brought to them.

The department has achieved significant improvement in all Constructive norms, especially Self-Actualizing and Humanistic-Encouraging.

The most challenged supervisor, who took advantage of additional development beyond what was completed by and with his peers, has transformed into a top performer, leveraging strong messaging skills, leading the use of pre-work safety checklists, and continuing to deepen his trusting relationships with the crews in supporting change.

By promoting the value of growth, learning, and managing work execution through clear goals and expectations, the supervisor team was able to shift away from their administrative focus and to instead emphasize key safety items, engage teams in discussing them, and provide more time for dialog about changes coming down from above and what they meant for the teams.

Examples of the improvements in M/I results are illustrated by the impact profiles below.

Supervisor Success:

Supervisor success profiles - Management/Impact

The supervisors’ Circumplexes above show the important shifts in their impact, away from Defensive and toward Constructive, that resulted from a well-executed improvement plan supported by coaching.

Note: The Circumplex is Human Synergistics’ 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: ConstructivePassive/Defensive, and Aggressive/Defensive.

For related information on these styles, visit the interactive Circumplex and click through the graphics.



1 Cooke, R. A. (1996). Leadership/Impact® (L/I). Plymouth, MI: Human Synergistics International.

2 Szumal, J. L. & Cooke, R. A. (2008). Management/Impact® (M/I). Plymouth, MI: Human Synergistics International.

3 The terminology is 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.


Photo credit: rawpixel on Unsplash.

Leveraging Culture and Managing Change

Performance through engagement—The Force Multiplier Theory

Leveraging Culture and Managing Change

The following opinion is an extended look into “The Force Multiplier Theory.” It’s a concept I’ll introduce below, and it’s one we routinely use in helping organizations, teams, and leaders to understand the role of culture in organizational performance and effectiveness.

The overarching idea isn’t rocket science. Seemingly, whenever we share this perspective with people they always nod their heads in agreement and say, “absolutely,” or “we really need that.” Yet, as basic as the idea might seem, we still see organizations struggle with this concept and fail to invest in it, or not to its full potential.

Some Framing

There are a multitude of things any given company can do to improve performance; better communications, new equipment, more people, different people, new software, training, acquisition or divestiture. The list goes on. However, most of these actions fall into three distinct areas: Technology, Process, or People.

Force Multiplier Theory

Let’s assume that funding is not an issue. We know it’s not always the case but we also know that managers can often find funding for things when funding “doesn’t exist,” so perhaps it’s more about value and priority. As we’ve observed with our Utility clients, when a business model is rate-case based, sometimes money in not an issue and your business model is to effectively and efficiently spend increased budgets on capital expansion and asset management.

On Technologies

If we accept this for our hypothesis, then it’s safe to say that we can buy the best technologies, whether it’s IT infrastructure, software, or the best and newest equipment for any given industry.

How many times have you or a co-worker said, “…if we just had [insert name of tool or software here], we’d be so much more effective”? Several times, perhaps.

The real question here is if you or your coworker obtained that piece of technology, how significantly did performance increase? Any, if at all? How long before you saw results? More importantly, how long did the increase in performance last? What would the return on investment of that specific tool be over time, and in other parts of the organization that could use it as well?

On Process

The same goes for process. LEAN and Six Sigma have been adopted in a multitude of ways in nearly every industry. Today, many organizations and teams are gaining value from Agile approaches to parts of the business beyond software development. Practices like Process Mapping and Continuous Improvement are light years from what they were a decade ago. Some industries can benchmark peer organizations to identify best practice process. But even if they can’t, investments can be made in third-party solutions from vendors such as the Accentures and Deloittes of the world. The process answers are out there.

But let’s ask the same questions: With a new process or improvement effort, did performance increase? How significantly? How long before everyone was on board? How long did the increase in performance last? What would be the return on investment of that specific effort in best practices process?

In many cases, the answers to those questions for both technology and process would be—incremental, short-term, and not as much as expected, respectively.

On People … the Force Multiplier Theory

So, how can we achieve the improvements we imagine we’ll get from these investments? How can you sustain that performance change over the long term? How can you maximize the return on investment in implementing new technology and/or changing process?

We propose that this is achieved through an engaged workforce with high expectations for constructive behaviors.

You can deploy the best technologies, you can implement the best processes and procedure; but without leaders and employees who are truly engaged in continually pursuing improvement, overall performance will likely increase only sporadically and neither achieve nor sustain, the desired levels of achievement.

This is the Force Multiplier Theory—where people are the critical strategic factor for sustaining performance over time, achieving the desired levels of improvement, and facilitating the organizational effectiveness that drives ROI.

Below is some simple data on the performance of companies with strong cultures that respectfully pursue achievement, collaboration, and learning. This research is from a 300,000-person, 25 company international study found in, “All In: How the Best Managers Create a Culture of Belief and Drive Big Results,” Gostick & Elton, 2007, in partnership with Towers Watson, as well as some safety-culture focused research done by Behavioral Science.

Ephektiv Data Chart

The Deeper Dive: Constructive Norms and Change

As accredited practitioners of Human Synergistics’ systems and tools, we leverage their cultural assessment methodology and affirm through our practice that Constructive Cultures are the desired environment for deeply engaging employees to better accept change, pursue learning new ways of working, and even being the source of innovation that drives new technology adoption and continuous process improvement.

In research we’ve performed recently, we also see that the Constructive behaviors can play significant and direct roles in the adoption of technology and successful process change, which can be a double-edged sword of sorts for culture. As an organization looks to implement new enterprise-wide technologies such as Software as a Service (SaaS) or use of Geospatial Data Systems or GIS, the behavioral norms for Achievement and Humanistic-Encouraging are critical.

What are the goals and metrics we’ll measure while implementing and using the new technology, and can we respectfully coach, challenge and collaborate as we implement the new system?

Additionally, for organizations that are looking to develop and/or identify and purchase new technology, the Self-Actualizing and Affiliative norms are key. Are we adept at seeking out new ways of working? Are we open to change and influence? Can we stay in the mix when things are ambiguous? And how well can we come together differently than we have before, leveraging open and dynamic relationships internally, and with customers to develop and select new technologies that truly meet user needs?

As for continuous process improvement, we see the same. Organizations that have high expectations for Affiliative and Humanistic behaviors can maximize collaboration across changing process work activities to more rapidly identify new ways of working, new ways of measuring success, and collaborating in real time for quick solutions. Clear and measured goals are critical in processes involving many teams, and high focus on achieving milestones at expected levels of quality is a key factor in process flow.

Lastly, Self-Actualizing again supports openness to change and the pursuit of knowledge in continually improving. These Constructive norms support managers and workers alike engaged in Lean and Six Sigma efforts, as well as new working and management styles best suited for Agile.

In Summary

Our experience is that the basic concept of The Force Multiplier Theory is sound. When it’s about people and business efforts, success can be exponentially defined by the culture that supports them. As you look to deploy new efforts in yours or your clients’ organizations, it may be helpful to open a dialog on how Constructive behaviors directly impact the needs of the program. We find this continual integration between behavior and execution a valuable and insightful part of leveraging culture and managing change.

It’s been interesting to share more on this idea, and given that many of you are OD/OE practitioners, I welcome your thoughts and comments on social media.

This article is adapted and shared with permission by Kevin Smith/