• When Competitive Cultures Run Amok

    by Kalani Iwi'ula | Nov 13, 2018

    What companies lose when it’s all about winning

    Competing and winning can be very satisfying and even just taking part is often a terrific experience. “Competition brings out the best in people,” or so the adage goes. But what if the culture of your workplace was all about competition? That everything you did was viewed through the lens of winners and losers. Where collaborating and building relationships wasn’t valued as highly as the take-no-prisoners and win-at-all-cost approach to achieving goals. Where “successful” individuals were recognised as heroes of the organisation, and unsuccessful staff were subordinate.

    The False-Positives of a Competitive Culture

    When I have a client whose company’s culture screams ‘COMPETE!’ and they look at me with true pride saying “yeah, isn’t it great – we have been so successful!”, I know it’s going to be a long mandate. This is because research tells us that leveraging a competitive framework to drive success has a limited shelf-life for most companies. What ultimately unravels the hitherto success story is the toll that an excessively competitive environment takes on its people. It’s often a long journey before a client can recognise the unhealthy and damaging effects of a competitive culture run amok.

    Consequences of a Win-Lose Environment

    Some leaders genuinely feel that encouraging fierce competition will bring out the best in their people; whilst others operate in industries where competitive constructs are the accepted way of doing business. We create a competitive culture when we reward wins over the pursuit of goals; when relationships are secondary to results. Companies operating at the extremes in this regard (e.g., highly competitive company cultures) often observe the following outcomes:

    • Employee disengagement: Members resign that they will ever be in the ‘winners’ circle’ and at some point, they are no longer motivated to try
    • Burn-out: Employees are trying too hard to participate in a race that isn’t something they’re invested in, or because their successes are never quite good enough
    • Flagging intrinsic motivation: Replaced by extrinsic motivational drivers – often money, leading to increased costs
    • Only one winner: People don’t build positive, authentic relationships with their peers for fear of needing to trample them at the proverbial finish line
    • Focus on failures rather than highlight opportunities to improve moving forward
    • Decline in collaboration and creativity, suggesting that innovation is stifled as employees guard their resources and knowledge
    • Ultimately, the decline of organisational quality. Critical information isn’t being shared as groups and individuals operate as competitors not team players

    Collaboration as a Path to Success

    Our family runs – all of us. Admittedly, our teenage children run twice as fast as we adults do, but much is due to their training with a tremendous cross-country (XC) squad at school. I thought XC running was a highly competitive individual sport. And whist there are elements of one’s individual pursuit of excellence, it’s also about collaboration, shared goals and teamwork.

    A XC squad is comprised of several runners and each runner’s finishing place counts for points towards the team’s total. The lower the total points, the better the squad places. So, encouraging your running buddies to fight for 27th place instead of 30th will boost the whole team’s performance.

    cross country runner team

    When a XC squad gets it right, the fastest runners set a challenging pace in training, which inspires the rest of the team to stretch themselves. The slower runners get coached by the speedy athletes through an exchange in which both parties grow. The grit and fortitude of the middle pack creates a sense of shared purpose, encouraging the naturally faster contenders to do their best. And in competition, runners who finish first circle back to the course to encourage their team mates to strive for that bit extra. I have even seen it go so far that one of our squad’s runners stopped his race to jog with another school’s competitor to ensure that kid was able to just finish after a fall.

    “The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.” ~Phil Jackson, author, coach, executive

    The coach of our kid’s XC squad has built an incredible culture, and the leaders of the team (the school seniors, who change each year) emphatically embody these values of co-operation, participation and effort as exemplified by Coach Mullens. He doesn’t talk about the winners, he talks about the new personal bests and the shared experiences that bind the group. Winning is not the squad’s singular objective, although more often than not, they do win. Their success is a bi-product of a team culture inspired through collaboration and achievement. Sadly, organisations all too often forget this.

    Coaching for Personal and Collective Growth

    When you see a company or a group where the balance between sparring with each other to achieve challenging goals and mutual support are in sync, you see long-term viability for success. Encouraging leaders who are caught in a competitive trap to see the possibilities for personal growth and organisational success if they give up some of the extremes of competing is challenging but not impossible, and having coached and consulted on this exact “competitive vs collaborative” culture struggle quite often, I recommend the following strategies with confidence:

    • Make 27th place an achievement worthy of praise to give everyone something to celebrate. First over the line might not be the biggest achievement leading to the success of the group—it may well be the slowest member of the team whose contribution is most important
    • Build an environment where the diverse talents of members are qualities that are truly celebrated
    • Encourage authentic relationship building through shared experiences of successes, failures and daily interactions
    • Leverage the strengths of the experienced and talented by having them coach others to help lift the whole team; reward collective growth, not individual performance
    • Create shared objectives to generate momentum to move faster and with greater focus 

    Future Leaders Will Demand Better

    runner future leaderThe XC squad to which our children belong gives me hope for the future. The kids leaving this team will not be content to work in a company where good people fall by the wayside just because their efforts weren’t gold-medal worthy. They will have seen what can be achieved by being competitive but doing so in a way which brings out the best in everyone for the mutual success of not only the squad, but of the sport as a whole. They will know that in a competition there are always those who don’t win, and how we chose to treat those who come over the line later is completely within our control.

    So, I ask you, are the winners in your midst team-players and valuable mentors, or has the company’s culture become one that puts the second-place holders off the team?


    Creative credits: Inset photos; image copyright: L. Frauenlob, “XC runner 2016”

  • Ultimate Culture Webinar - What are your Blind Spots? with Jim Haudan and Rich Berens

    by Meghan Oliver | Nov 13, 2018

    Root Inc Chairman, Jim Haudan, and CEO and Chief Client Fanatic, Rich Berens, reveal the five most common blind spots that thwart leaders and their organizations from attaining higher levels of member engagement and creating real and meaningful strategic and culture change. They outline how to create a thriving organization by focusing on purpose over profits and motivate employees at every level. Tim Kuppler facilitates this webinar based on Jim and Rich's recently released book, What Are Your Blind Spots? Conquering the 5 Misconceptions that Hold Leaders Back.

      Download the slide deck

  • Linking Organizational Culture to Traditional Business Measures of Success

    by Kalani Iwi'ula | Nov 12, 2018

    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 Missing C in C-Suite = Culture

    by Kalani Iwi'ula | Nov 12, 2018

    Marti Wronski, General Counsel and SVP with the Milwaukee Brewers Baseball Club, shares: “Successful transformation happens when the majority of people in the company have aligned beliefs and when proper leadership mindsets fuel consistent action.”

  • People First—Culture Transformation at OSK

    by Kalani Iwi'ula | Nov 12, 2018

    Angie Zeigler, Vice President of Talent Management at Oshkosh, on the importance of syncing leader and manager development with efforts to understand and evolve the overall culture.

  • Seven Top Culture Insights from the 1st Regional Ultimate Culture Conference

    by Kalani Iwi'ula | Nov 06, 2018

    In 2015, we at Human Synergistics hosted our inaugural Annual Ultimate Culture Conference to bring visibility to important insights from culture pioneers and progressive leaders. Though that event and the following 2nd and 3rd conferences sparked outstanding feedback and learning, we felt there was an opportunity to translate more of the learnings to action by building on relationships that already exist in regions and local communities.

    We shifted our focus to regional culture conferences in partnership with major universities, and in September, we collaborated with the University of Wisconsin Center for Executive and Professional Development (CPED) to host our 1st Regional Ultimate Culture Conference. The following seven “ultimate culture insights” made an impact with the passionate audience of culture experts and change agents.

    1. “Employees don’t believe what they see on the walls; they believe what they see in the halls.”

      Tracy Nelson, Vice President of Learning & Development at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, shared this unambiguous language about the reality of culture in the workplace and stressed the importance of what employees “see in the halls.” It’s great for leaders to invest the time in sharing their mission, vision and values, but it’s even more important to understand how team members are behaving and what expectations, norms or “unwritten rules” are driving that behavior. For example, “If I make a mistake, should I admit it or sweep it under the rug?” “Do I feel comfortable sharing my ideas or speaking up?”

      People in most organizations interpret and talk about this behavior “in the halls” in many ways, so it may be difficult to translate this collective knowledge to action. I have referenced the “culture measurement illusion” before: It is rare for organizations to understand, measure and define a common language for the underlying culture in terms of beliefs, assumptions and behavioral norms (the “unwritten” rules driving the behavior they see on the surface). Many think they are doing this work with a survey focusing on factors like engagement, satisfaction, or great workplace using so-called “culture assessments,” but these are nearly all, by definition, work climate assessments.

    2. Culture is always growing and evolving. You need to understand if you are growing “good culture” or something that turns out to be toxic.

      Steve Lipton, Partner with Wipfli and leader of their Performance Consulting, talked about the “culture petri dish.” He emphasized that, in addition to the overall culture, there are many sub-cultures that need to be understood. You can hope that you’re growing a “good” or Constructive culture, but if you don’t take the time to understand it, there could be very negative attributes evolving beneath the surface. These points resonated with me.

      Many leaders avoid the work to understand culture because they think their culture is “good” or they don’t have any problems. These leaders are totally missing the power of intentional culture development to improve or sustain performance when it’s viewed as a strategic priority. Most organizations unfortunately lack an understanding of how their current culture is impacting major mission or performance priorities. This undermines efforts to engage and unite team members as leaders struggle with defensive norms that, based on the work of Robert Cooke and J. Clayton Lafferty, may range from internal competition and opposition to avoidant, dependent and conventional expectations. All organizations should see value in understanding their current culture as a foundation for effectively dealing with increased complexity, overcoming challenges and improving effectiveness.1

    3. “Your supervisor is more important to your health than your physician.”

      Angie Zeigler, Vice President of Talent Management at Oshkosh, shared this shocking point from the Mayo Clinic. It was part of her presentation on People-First Culture Transformation. The journey at Oshkosh, a 101-year-old company, included the decision to start with their top 100 leaders and understanding the gap between their “Ideal Culture” and “Current Culture” using the Organizational Culture Inventory® (OCI®).1, 2 A Culture and Development Roadmap was defined across all leadership levels, including specific competency and behavior development programs for senior leaders, middle managers and front-line leaders.

      Oshkosh - Mayo Clinic

      Angie emphasized the importance of synching leader and manager development with efforts to understand and evolve the overall culture. Many organizations experience challenges with behavior and jump to deliver well-intended training or development efforts. Leaders may learn new skills and approaches via such efforts but struggle to translate them into action when they are back on the job and bombarded by cultural norms that may be very inconsistent with what they learned. It’s easy to look away from inclusive approaches and revert to a “just get it done” mindset when faced with the cultural realities in many organizations.

    4. Leaders need to obtain feedback to understand how they are reinforcing the current culture and act on what they learn.

      Marti Wronski, General Counsel and Senior Vice President with the Milwaukee Brewers Baseball Club, shared: “Successful transformation happens when the majority of people in the company have aligned beliefs and when proper leadership mindsets fuel consistent action.” A key part of their culture journey was involving each senior leader in utilizing the Leadership/Impact® assessment to understand the “Ideal Impact” they want to have on the behavior of others and how that compares to their “Current Impact.” 3 The Brewers obtained expert external help to support the process, which included group work with the senior leadership team and one-on-ones with each senior leader.


      Marti warned that this is “serious work,” and “the Culture Bus is not for the faint of heart.” Their culture journey may still be in progress, but Brewers fans have plenty to be proud about with the team’s return to the playoffs for the first time in seven years and falling one game short of a World Series birth.

    5. “Individuals are at different points of competence in understanding differences.”

      This insight came from Binnu Palta Hill, Assistant Dean for Diversity and Inclusion at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and it is critical for understanding the complexity of culture. She continued, “we lack a shared understanding” as we fill in assumptions.

      This insight hit home with me because leaders must understand this “filling in assumptions” will take place as team members work together. Judgements and conclusions can run wild if there aren’t consistent approaches to involving team members, facilitating upward communication and acting on what you learn. This is especially true when cross-functional work is needed and gaps in collaboration, communication or other critical areas emerge. Relationships may not be developed across groups to the point where team members are comfortable sharing concerns and ideas. Team members may not speak openly but, rest assured, the “filling in of assumptions” and judgements will continue in their minds. We can understand the norms, beliefs and assumptions driving the behavior we see on the surface only if we invest in intentional culture assessment and development efforts. It may take time, but consistent, inclusive efforts will be positively received by most individuals and will build shared understanding and reduce this “filling in of assumptions.”

    6. “The five-percenters should not dictate whether you take a risk.”

      I loved this point from Madison Chief of Police, Michael Koval. He talked about how he focuses on getting 95% of people along with him and then strong leadership “rules the day.” There are always naysayers and critics that will find problems with any idea. He shared, “Police forces are the most loathe-to-change institutions.” They must deal with mega-lawsuits, legislative mandates and problems “jettisoned off social media.” It was inspiring to hear him talk about being customer-focused on every call and his Notre Dame football team-inspired slogan of “police like a champion today.”

    7. It’s critical for you to “be on your mental game” as a change agent.

    8. This insight came from Tricia Downing, motivational speaker, consultant, athlete and the first female paraplegic to finish an Iron distance triathlon. She talked about how distractions and worries get people off their mental game. This is so true in the world of sport and for leaders involved in culture-related change efforts. Fear and hesitation can cripple improvement plans as leaders encounter inevitable obstacles. Tricia shared a story about her recovery from a devastating accident that occurred exactly 18 years before the day of the conference. She emphasized “the need to figure out ways to get around your problems,” and she obviously knows what she is talking about. I can’t imagine a top leader looking Tricia in the face and saying “it’s too hard” to deal with their culture-related problems and challenges.

      It’s a natural part of the process to encounter resistance and doubt your own ability or approach. Edgar Schein, culture expert and professor emeritus with MIT Sloan School of Management, once said, “You only truly begin to understand your culture when you try to change it.” Learn from the resistance and adjust your approach, if appropriate, in coordination with others. You don’t need to tackle the problems alone. Colleagues, outside experts and other trusted advisors can help you think through how to re-group and deal with the inevitable resistance. The process to “figure out ways to get around problems” can be scary and frustrating, but your courage and persistence will pay off.

    A final insight: It’s important to understand how culture is created and how it evolves as a foundation for defining effective change efforts.

    One of the highlights of the day was a new interactive learning experience called The Culture Journey. Attendees participated in this two-hour experience around tables of 6-8 people. Human Synergistics and Root Inc. developed The Culture Journey to help people understand what culture is, how culture is created and how it evolves as a foundation for defining effective change efforts. It was exciting to see how participants could relate to people depicted on the visual Root Learning Map® and the scenario cards.4

    Learning Map group exercise

    The session ended with a summary of three critical points regarding culture-related change efforts:

    1. Help leaders understand what culture really is and how it evolves
    2. Assess the culture and climate with qualitative and quantitative methods
    3. Engage teams and develop leaders to drive shared learning and results

    Culture Journey

    These sound so simple, but they are overlooked in most change efforts. It’s incredibly rare for me to run across an organization that can confidently state they consistently cover these three points as a key part of supporting their mission, strategy and performance priorities. This will change as more sophisticated and comprehensive approaches replace over-simplified culture and performance development efforts that fall short of delivering the targeted results for individuals, teams and organizations.

    It was great to see this audience of culture enthusiasts armed with important insights that will help them make a meaningful difference at their organizations. We look forward to continuing the culture conversation and hope to see you at a future Ultimate Culture event!


    Editor’s Note: If you are interested in learning more about the Culture Journey Learning Experience, Ultimate Culture Conference, Organizational Culture Inventory, Leadership/Impact and the Ultimate Culture and Performance Quick-Start program, please contact us.

    1 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.

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

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

    4 Root Learning Map®. Sylvania, OH. Root, Inc.

  • Fostering a Fearless Culture by Reframing Our Response to Failure

    by Kalani Iwi'ula | Oct 31, 2018

    In a previous post, I shared what it means to cultivate a “fail-fast” organisational culture, what typically happens when people experience failure, and how essential it is to detach people’s fears about failure and enable them to normalize their concerns and anxieties. I described that when people fail, they unconsciously sink into a series of reactive responses that engage them neurologically and emotionally resulting in a range of irrational, cognitive (thinking and feeling) distortions, which usually involves disappointment, confusion and shame.

    Ed Catmull, President of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios, offers a courageous reframe on failure:

    “If we as leaders can talk about our mistakes and our part in them, then we can make it safe for others. You don’t run from it or pretend it doesn’t exist. This is why I make appoint of being open about our meltdowns inside Pixar, because they teach us something important: being open about problems is the first step toward learning from them. My goal is not to drive out fear completely, because fear is inevitable in high-stakes situations. What I want is to loosen its grip on us. While we don’t want too many failures, we must think of the cost of failure as an investment in the future.”

    Cultivate teachable and coachable moments

    When an individual or team experiences failure, a useful strategy is to support and encourage them to hit their “pause button”—to take a moment, retreat and reflect, and become aware of their unconscious auto-response. This allows people the time and space to take a “reflective stance” and connect with their range of thoughts and feelings, and to the results they caused.

    Illustrated in the diagram below, working this way creates a safe space allowing an individual to connect with and acknowledge their pain and fear of shame and being shamed. It also allows the creation of a new space where someone has both the permission and trust to become self-compassionate, inquisitive, and curious about why or how the failure happened and what can be learned.

    fail fast model


    Choose a Constructive response to failure

    Hitting the “pause button” and creating the safe space for immersing mindfully into what happened creates an opportunity to dwell on what might become a teachable and coachable moment. This involves using the specific question patterning outlined in the diagram above to generate a new, more resourceful operating pattern to apply the next time a failure occurs.

    This allows the individual or team to take responsibility by acknowledging that their position of power and control is within themselves. That when they step into it and own it, they can continually learn from mistakes and failures, and coach and teach their people to do so as well.

    This way of working allows people to apply mistakes and failures as teachable and coachable moments so that people become less risk-averse, defensive and avoidant. It can be used to empower people to become authentically creative, compassionate, courageous, decisive, smart risk-takers and business game-changers.

    Drive out fear and normalize failure

    Normalizing and using failure as pivot points unleashes peoples’ potential for innovation and enables organisations to build the critical, cultural change foundations necessary to adapt, grow, and out-innovate their competitors.

    Cultivate trust in the workplace

    One of the key points that Catmull makes is about creating an environment where trust becomes an inherent part of the workplace culture. He says,

    “Trusting others doesn’t mean that they won’t make mistakes. It means that if they do, you trust they will act to help solve it.”

    This requires a constructive organisation culture and leadership style that embraces patience and acceptance, transparency and authenticity, and consistency and compassion.

    It requires leaders to role model a way of working that assumes people come from the best intention and want to see, respond to, and solve problems creatively.

    Survive, thrive, and onward

    Organisations who courageously confront the challenges of the 21st century will survive, thrive, flow and flourish by developing an organisational culture that interprets and applies failure as a manifestation of exploration and learning, rather than trying to avoid or out-think it!


  • Organizational Culture Assessment in a Non-Profit Organization

    by Kalani Iwi'ula | Oct 23, 2018

    Whether it’s providing emergency shelter or hot meals for an individual or family or raising funds to further the mission of a larger group, non-profit organizations provide a message of hope and caring to multitudes of those less fortunate—day in and day out. Led by advocates armed with a focused vision and unswerving commitment to their purpose, these non-profit organizations answer a higher calling, often with little managerial or organizational experience. Programs and services vary by region and organization, but they share a common goal of making a difference in their communities and across the globe.

    We are honored to share one story of a group of citizens concerned about the number of people in need of help and a gathering place to share. We have kept this organization anonymous to maintain the privacy of its members and beneficiaries. Yet, for more than 50 years of seeking to make a difference in their community, resources, ideas, and volunteer-hours were pooled to build and operate a thriving program that has served its community to this day.

    Assessing Workplace Culture in a Non-profit Setting

    The usefulness of organizational culture as a construct for research and an assessment tool for organizations has been well established over the past decades.1 While research and practice involving organizational culture are, to a large extent, associated with for-profit organizations, crucial work in the usefulness of understanding organizational culture for non-profit organizations and its actual impact and practicality can be found in broad sectors of society.

    Research exists on culture in non-profits and its relationship with outcomes such as fundraising success and employee attitudes, but more can be made known about the different ways in which paid staff and volunteers experience organizational culture.2

    We had an opportunity to consult for a non-profit organization in our community that is undergoing major changes, including mergers with other community organizations, a vast increase in the number of employees, and an expansion of programs and services it offers to the community. After a tour at the site and conversations with the organization’s board of directors, it was clear that an assessment of organizational culture would provide important information to understand the issues that the organization is facing, and how the experienced culture may differ between paid staff and volunteers.

    A Perspective on Work by Employees & Volunteers

    The Organizational Culture Inventory® (OCI®) was administered to the managers, employees, and volunteers of a non-profit organization.3 Our findings highlighted that the culture experienced by volunteers can be very different from that experienced by employees – even when these individuals work side by side. In our study, volunteers reportedly experienced a much more Constructive culture than did employees, and more generally, the culture profile for volunteers (compared to that of employees) more closely resembled what is historically considered to be ideal for the organization. (See Figure 1)

    While employees reportedly experienced stronger Passive/Defensive and Aggressive/Defensive styles than did volunteers, these findings can likely be attributed to the type of work that goes on in this organization, which in turn affects the systems and structures, and the perceived cultural differences between these two groups.

    Figure 1, Click to enlarge image.
    Nonprofit Circumplex profiles

    Our impressions during the interview with the Board of Directors asserted that there is a turnover issue (or a low commitment issue) with paid employees, while on the other hand, volunteers have been committed and demonstrated low turnover over the years – which is evidently reflected in the results of the OCI assessment. It should be noted that for non-profit organizations, two different sets of effective management practices and policies are required to reach the same output for both paid and volunteer workers,4 as research has suggested two distinct sets of factors impacting their respective outlooks with the organization.5

    Transactional & Relational Factors—Same Output, Different Outlook

    While it is intuitive that a certain level of commitment and personal ethics is required to volunteer with a non-profit organization (i.e., a match in values between volunteers and the organization’s mission),6 there are organizational factors that can also impact the level of volunteers’ intention to stay with the organization – and they can be drastically different from factors influencing paid employees’ intention to stay.7 For example, while paid employees’ commitment to the organization is largely impacted through transactional, relational, and normative factors,8 volunteers tend to evaluate their intention to stay with the NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) based primarily on relational factors,9 as well as the alignment of personal values and motivations with those of the organization.

    • Examples of relational factors include being socially integrated as “part of the team” within the organization and being involved through effective communication across organizational levels,10 and these are important to both paid and unpaid workers in an organization.
    • While some transactional factors play a role in retaining volunteers’ commitment, the impact is minor.

    By definition, volunteers and organizations do not have a transactional relationship in a traditional monetary sense; however, commitment and intention to stay are often dictated by management practices, including proper training and support as well as adequate access to resources and integration within the organization.11

    When Differences Collide—Expectations & Perceptions of Organizational Culture

    Generally, in non-profit organizations and especially in organizations undergoing major change, employees may feel a greater sense of stress, uncertainty, and job insecurity. These factors may then contribute to stronger levels of Defensive cultural styles as greater expectations to protect one’s own status and security emerge.12

    Volunteers of non-profit organizations likely do not experience such expectations within their work roles, or at least to the same extent, and more generally may be treated differently, with behavioral expectations more positive and Constructive in nature. Most non-profit organizations rely heavily on volunteers to handle their daily operations and to keep the organization going; naturally, volunteers may be treated differently in terms of appreciation and respect for altruistically committing and serving the organization’s mission.13, 14

    Expectations for paid employees and volunteers may differ in several ways. Most volunteers do not undergo the same or similar procedures as their paid counterparts.15 For example, volunteers are often not screened during the application process, and are often retained in their roles even if they are not a great fit for the position – which likely would not be the case for paid employees.16 Furthermore, volunteers have different expectations within their roles and responsibilities, as volunteers’ responsibilities are often focused on tackling tasks that are directly related to the mission of the organization without having to go through the administrative procedures employees do.17 As such, the experienced culture may be more positive or Constructive for volunteers because of the nature of their roles within the organization since their roles are less likely to involve pressures or expectations that are associated with Defensive styles (i.e., threats to status and security).

    Our Findings

    Organizational culture isn’t a concern only for large corporations or young startups. Rather, it is important for all organizations as it sets the context for everything organizations do, and this includes non-profits that serve their communities with pride and purpose.

    In our case study, findings suggest that it cannot be assumed employees and volunteers experience culture in the same way within an organization, even when they work side by side, and that the OCI should be administered to both groups when assessing organizational culture in nonprofit organizations.


    Editor’s Note: For other real-life examples on how culture impacts the effectiveness and mission of non-profits, consider these cases: The Girl Scouts of the USA and Catholic publishing company, The Word Among Us.


    1 Ashkanasy, N. M., Wilderom, C. P. M., & Peterson, M. F. (2011). The handbook of organizational culture and climate, 2nd ed. Los Angeles, CA, US: Sage.

    2 Rousseau, D. M. (1990). Normative beliefs in fund-raising organizations: Linking culture to organizational performance and individual responses. Group & Organization Studies, 15, 448-460. Retrieved from http://gom.sagepub.com/content/15/4/448.abstract

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

    4 Carvalho, A., & Sampaio, M. (2017). Volunteer management beyond prescribed best practice: a case study of Portuguese non-profits. Personnel Review, 46(2), 410-428. doi: 10.1108/pr-04-2014-0081

    5 Romaioli, D., Nencini, A., & Meneghini, A. (2016). How to foster commitment among volunteers: A social constructionist study in Italian nonprofit organizations. Journal of Social Service Research, 42(5), 718-728. doi: 10.1080/01488376.2016.1202880; Fitzpatrick, T., Remmer, J., & Leimanis, M. (2014). A study exploring risk management issues among volunteers in an oncology support program. Journal of Social Service Research, 41(1), 25-38. doi: 10.1080/01488376.2014.930945

    6 Rothschild, J., & Milofsky, C. (2006). The centrality of values, passions, and ethics in the nonprofit sector. Nonprofit Management and Leadership, 17(2), 137-143. doi: 10.1002/nml.139

    7 Romaioli, Nencini, & Meneghini, 2016

    8 Meyer, J., & Allen, N. (1997). Commitment in the workplace. Thousand Oaks, Calif: Sage Publication.

    9 (Stirling, Kilpatrick, & Orpin, 2011)

    10 (Romaioli, Nencini, & Mengehini, 2016; Fitzpatrick, Remmer, & Leimanis, 2015)

    11 Romaioli, Nencini, & Mengehini, 2016; Fitzpatrick, Remmer, & Leimanis, 2015)

    12 Organizational Culture Inventory (OCI): Interpretation and development guide. Plymouth, MI, US: Human Synergistics.

    13 Boezeman, E., & Ellemers, N. (2014). Volunteer leadership: The role of pride and respect in organizational identification and leadership satisfaction. Leadership, 10(2), 160-173. doi: 10.1177/1742715012467687

    14 Ramaioli, Nencini, & Mengehini, 2016

    15 Stirling, C., Kilpatrick, S., & Orpin, P. (2011). A psychological contract perspective to the link between non-profit organizations' management practices and volunteer sustainability. Human Resource Development International, 14(3), 321-336. doi: 10.1080/13678868.2011.585066

    16 Carvalho & Sampaio, 2016

    17 Stirling, Kilpatrick, & Oprin, 2011

  • Ultimate Culture Webinar - Tapping Into 15 Years of Changing Organizational Cultures Across the Globe

    by Meghan Oliver | Oct 18, 2018

    Silke Zanker and Ricardo Gil from Axialent discuss myths surrounding culture and strategies for change based on 15 years of global culture transformation and their partnership with Human Synergistics. Silke and Ricardo share Axialent’s Conscious Business principles for attaining sustainable business results and cover key points of culture change journeys in this webinar facilitated by Tim Kuppler, Director of Culture & Organization Development for Human Synergistics.

  • Framework for a New Leadership Culture

    by Kalani Iwi'ula | Oct 16, 2018

    An emerging leadership context

    The world meta-narrative is shifting. We are seeing sometimes confusing, short-term shifts (although sometimes of significant magnitude) in economic, technological, societal and environmental aspects of our universe. We are straddled between:

    • Humanity’s relatively recent narrative that contains the elements of material abundance, of rampant consumption, and production by a minority and a poor and marginalised majority; simple and linear, direct cause and effect; the religious overriding the spiritual; the scientific overriding the religious; (patriarchal) order and control; and the non-paradoxical, non-ambiguous. In this story, the independent, self-serving, divisive leader rules. 
    • And a slowly emerging new and overarching, meta-narrative that contains elements of the holistic, of mutually dependent, diverse, interconnected and continuously evolving ecosystems. Sustainable systems characterised by complexity and the ability to self-organise. Non-dualism, freedom and belonging. A story where science and spirituality no longer collide, hence, more voices are being raised to herald a ‘new consciousness.’ Relationships (not separation), hi-touch partnering hi-tech, other-serving, and sound thinking practices are slowly becoming more valued by more people.

    We cannot afford to slip back, as Margaret Wheatley reluctantly reveals: “I'm sad to report that in the past few years, ever since uncertainty became our insistent 21st century companion, leadership has taken a great leap backwards to the familiar territory of command and control."1 (Wheatley, M. 2005

    Instead, in this developing new narrative, we need to hone new skills, do things differently, let go of the past and of our egotistical individualism. And heal rather than steal the future. “In nature, headlong growth and all-out competition are features of immature ecosystems, followed by complex interdependency, symbiosis, cooperation, and the cycling of resources. The next stage of human economy will parallel what we are beginning to understand about nature.2 (Eisenstein, C. 2011)

    Your old road is rapidly agin’
    Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand
    For the times they are a-changin’ 
    ~Bob Dylan

    Our start-point may well be the French 16th century thinker Michel de Montaigne’s wonderfully humble and provocative acknowledgement: Que sais-je?  What do I know?!

    The Impact on Organisations

    Based on the shift in the world meta-narrative as outlined above, organisations may expect to change as follows:

    Changing the meta-narrative

    Clearly, such mega changes in an organisation’s operating model necessitates deep and embedded leadership throughout. A new leadership culture. A culture of leadership.

    Mary Slaughter points to a shift of emphasis from leadership and change, to leadership culture, which she defines as “shared everyday habits” within the organizational system, and “shifting leadership behavior is a lever for shifting culture, the center of the nesting doll of organizational habits.”3 (Slaughter, M. 2018)

    Required Leadership Development Response: Content

    Throughout our lives we are shaped by influences (nature and nurture) that guide our leadership outlook, approach, values, capacities and behaviors – some of which remain unconscious.

    There are optimum times or stages where positive individual development may best be introduced, taught and applied. For example, relationship attachment, values formation, ethical maturity, and so on. But a number of emerging developmental approaches allow us to address and add these developmental needs (and shifts in line with the new narrative) well after the optimum time for their introduction.

    The importance of comprehensive leadership development at all levels in the organisation cannot be over-emphasised. Development that addresses the intellectual, emotional, social, spiritual, and their embodiment (physical). This importance is magnified given the perilous state of affairs in the World – environmentally, economically and socially – coupled with a seeming lack of moral backbone, widespread pursuance of self-interest, undisciplined capitalism, rampant bad behaviour at many levels, and a drastic and widespread decline in respect for, and trust of, leaders in general.

    Influences that shape us

    A special leadership development response is called for in respect of leaders at all levels in the organisation. Such an approach will foster lasting culture change.

    Required Leadership Development Response: Process Factors

    Ensure psychological safety is present for all learning methods – coaching, training, self-development - for individuals and groups. This is especially important for leadership learning where people need to be themselves in a trusting, supportive environment, as “a lack of team psychological safety may inhibit experimenting, admitting mistakes, or questioning current practices in teams.4, 5 (Tofte, G. 2016, citing Edmondson, A.C. 1999)

    This creates a good culture-change climate (including the adoption of psychological safety principles and practices in the workplace to ensure ongoing teamwork). These measures may include a conversational process where (briefly):

    • on-line diagnostic questions trigger new thinking on a chosen topic,
    • which leads to immersion via carefully chosen exercises and reflections
    • followed by anecdote circle facilitation that promotes attentive listening and yields valuable qualitative information (feelings, beliefs and attitudes)
    • and in-depth analyses and interpretation then provides the means for participants to begin conversing, deciding, and implementing changes together.

    Build wisdom by following a probing, existential questioning approach. “Wisdom is a practice that reflects the developmental process by which individuals increase self-knowledge, self-integration, nonattachment, self-transcendence, and compassion, as well as a deeper understanding of life. This practice involves better self-regulation and ethical choices, resulting in greater good for oneself and others.6 (Trowbridge, R. H and Ferrari, M. 2009).

    The following framework combines the key topics of Servant Leadership, Mastery and Higher Purpose:

    leader development framework 

    Thus, leader development includes getting to know 'self,' confronting the shadow side, and facing ourselves. This is no small task but neuroscience shows that what has been hardwired can be rewired. Techniques like deeper mindfulness and meditation (to instil calm, enable clear focus, compassionate relating, wonder and creativity, and appreciation of sustainability imperatives; reflection, disclosure and feedback; priming and nudging towards transitions, uncovering and identifying unconscious biases, counter-attitudinal advocacy, story reframing; and psychosynthesis for triggering psychological and spiritual growth.7 (Ferrucci, P.  2004)

    The questions on the diagram above cover both being and doing. They relate to work, home and social lives. They focus on the positive without neglecting what needs mending. They were for Tolstoy a lifelong quest:

    In his turn, Tolstoy was of course aware that he was following in a long line of authors. In asking, “Who, what am I?”, he self-consciously echoed Socrates, Marcus Aurelius, Descartes, Pascal, Kant, Rousseau. But he believed that ordinary peasants asked it as well. Tolstoy particularly loved a story about his old nanny. She would lie alone listening to the clock ticking on the wall; the clock asked: “Who are you – what are you?” (Kto ty chto? Kto ty chto ty?). Tolstoy echoed: “This is the entire essence of life: Who are you? What are you?” (Paperno, I. 2014)

    Utilise projects as incubators of the required leadership characteristics and culture, which may include:9, 10, 11 (Sense, A & Fernando, M 2011; Aronson, Z H.et al 2001; Ashmos, D & Duchon, Dennis 2000)

    • Esprit de corps (a team spirit)
    • Purpose and meaning
    • (Authentic) Relationships and Results (What servant leadership is all about)
    • Freedom of action
    • Adventure, discovery
    • Trust
    • Sound, honest, deep and meaningful cultural/ social interactions and practices
    • Empowerment
    • Belonging and bonding (And having each other’s back)
    • The intrinsic satisfaction of doing and achieving something worthwhile
    • An opportunity to build self-esteem via the process of learning, growing and delivering
    • Collaboration
    • Utilising positive stress
    • Sharing of everything: shared values, responsibility, accountability, measures, decision-making, problem-solving …

    And engaging with rather than managing both internal and external stakeholders. Worsley offers a useful model which covers the project continuum from stakeholder-neutral to stakeholder-led engagement.12 (Worsley, L.M. 2017)

    Clearly, arriving at answers to these and other vital questions requires wisdom, which is a search built into the intent, content, and approach of a thoughtful, inclusive, leadership development approach.


    Photo by Jessica Ruscello on Unsplash.


    1 Wheatley, Margaret J. (2005). How Is Your Leadership Changing? Retrieved from http://www.margaretwheatley.com/articles/howisyourleadership.html 

    2 Eisenstein, Charles (2011). Sacred Economics: Money, Gift & Society in the Age of Transition, Evolver Editions

    3 Slaughter, Mary (2018). Why NeuroLeadership Is Moving from 'Leadership and Change' to 'Culture and Leadership.' LinkedIn, June 14, 2018. Retrieved from https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/why-neuroleadership-moving-from-leadership-change-mary-slaughter/ 

    4 Tofte, Guro (2016). Team psychological safety as a moderator in the relationship between team leadership and team learning in management teams. Master Thesis: Work and Organizational Psychology Department of Psychology, University of Oslo, 2016. (involving 135 Norwegian and 81 Danish leadership teams)

    5 Edmondson, A. C. (1999). Psychological safety and learning behavior in work teams. Administrative Science Quarterly, 44(2), 350–383. Retrieved from https://www.duo.uio.no/bitstream/handle/10852/53613/Team-psychological-safety-as-a-moderator-in-the-relationship-between-team-leadership-and-team-learning-in-management-teams.pdf 

    6 Trowbridge, Richard Hawley and Ferrari Michel (2009). Research in Human Development, cited by Massimo (the K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy at the City College of New York) in Sophia vs Phronesis: two conceptions of wisdom. September 20, 2016. Retrieved from https://howtobeastoic.wordpress.com/2016/09/20/sophia-vs-phronesis-two-conceptions-of-wisdom/ 

    7 Ferrucci, Piero (2004). What We May Be: techniques for psychological and spiritual growth through psychosynthesis. Jeremy P.Tarcher/ Penguin NY

    8 Paperno, Irina (2014). Who, What am I?: Tolstoy Struggles to Narrate the Self. Cornell University Press, 1st Edition

    9 Aronson, Z H.; Lechler, Thomas; Reilly, Richard R.; Shenhar, Aaron J. (2001). (Stevens Institute of Technology) Project Spirit - A Strategic Concept. Published in Management of Engineering and Technology, (Publisher: IEEE)

    10 Ashmos, Donde P & Duchon, Dennis (University of Texas at San Antonio) (2000). Spirituality at Work: a conceptualization and measure Journal of Management Inquiry. Vol 9 No. 2, June 2000 134-145 © Sage Publications, Inc.

    11 Sense, Andrew & Fernando, Mario (2011). School of Management and Marketing, Faculty of Commerce, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, NSW, 2522, Australia). The spiritual identity of projects International Journal of Project Management, 29 pgs. 504–513 © 2010 Elsevier Ltd. and IPMA. All rights reserved.

    12 Worsley, L.M. (2017). Stakeholder-led Project Management: changing the way we manage projects. Business Expert Press NY

  • #1 Reason for Culture Change Success

    by Kalani Iwi'ula | Oct 09, 2018

    The 1st Regional Ultimate Culture Conference included real-life examples from two different organizations that were both focused on culture change to support their businesses. From baseball to big trucks, culture transformation is a commitment that is not for the faint of heart. Here are their stories, the key factors, and the consistent number-one reason for culture change success.

    Oshkosh: Putting People First to Impact Culture

    Angie Zeigler, VP of Talent Management at Oshkosh Corporation, began her presentation by sharing information about the various brands that make up the Oshkosh family. While many people associate Oshkosh with baby clothes, it is actually a Fortune 500 company that designs and builds the world's toughest specialty trucks. They celebrated a 100-year anniversary and have numerous accolades (including the Forbes Best Large Employer and Most Ethical Company awards) that support their commitment to their customers and employees.

    When Wilson Jones was promoted to CEO, he made a commitment to become a People First organization. Something is working, because the reviews on Glassdoor are glowing: “The People First culture and our new levels of community engagement are inspiring. For the first time in my 29 years with Oshkosh, I actually encourage folks (including my own offspring) to apply for positions with Oshkosh,” and “I have never worked with a CEO who was so genuine and caring. Once he meets you, he will not forget your name” are two examples.

    Oshkosh Corp

    In her presentation, Angie pointed out that “the way we are working isn’t working.” When people are happy and not “just working,” they are more productive, and the number-one determinant of happiness is meaningful work among people who care. Unfortunately, what most people who run organizations learn is how to manage, not lead: to view people as objects and functions and define success as money, power, and position. Creating a work environment where people care is uncommon, but that’s exactly what Oshkosh was determined to do. The People First culture is reflected throughout the organization, as evidenced by numerous great place to work awards and a 4.5 out of 5 score on Glassdoor.

    Milwaukee Brewers: Bases Loaded for Culture Change

    Congratulations to the Milwaukee Brewers for clinching the National League Central title! Although a World Series is the goal for a baseball team, how to get there extends beyond the players on the field. Recognizing that the entire organization contributes to the success of the team, the Brewers organization embarked on a deep dive into culture.

    The Brewers are an organization with a long, storied history. When good people started leaving, they decided to investigate the deeper cultural challenges. Marti Wronski, General Counsel & Senior Vice President - Administration, presented the story of their journey as they looked to take the organization to the next level.

    There are elements of an organization’s culture that bring strength as well as elements that stymie growth and innovation. Mindsets and behavioral norms become entrenched in organizations that have been around for many years. Last week, Edgar Schein participated in a webinar with Human Synergistics to discuss his new book, Humble Leadership. He explained that culture is about creating stability and leadership is about creating change. When there are strategic direction shifts that require change, the status quo of culture often fights back.

    C is for Culture

    Marti defined culture as the “pervasive values, beliefs, and attitudes that characterize the company and are the guiding practices.” The Brewers’ journey is a partnership with leaders rather than an initiative from Marti and the HR team. She is committed to doing it right and improving the culture and its impact on performance.

    The Key Factors

    Oshkosh and the Brewers have very different core businesses, and they each took an approach to change that was unique, yet shared certain features. Common to both stories were key factors that are essential for a successful culture journey.

    • Why – It’s essential to have a reason for doing culture work that’s bigger than the obstacles that inevitably arise. Culture change is a long-term journey that requires long-term leadership commitment. When Dave Barger was CEO of Jet Blue, he said that 50 % of his time was spent on culture. That indicates the seriousness with which he saw culture as part of his leadership role. In his book, Hit Refresh, Satya Nadella said that the “C” in CEO stands for culture. He recognizes how essential culture is, and that it must be owned by leaders at the top of the organization.

      Culture is either accidental, intentional, or hypocritical (leaders profess one thing and do something different). When an organization decides to get more intentional by focusing on a culture change journey, the “why” must support the strategy or a critical business objective.  

    • How – The two stories of transformation included similar approaches to the culture journey. The change was initiated by senior leaders, who recognized the importance of culture in supporting strategy. They began by creating a common language. Once everyone recognized and agreed upon the need for culture change, they gathered data to create a more complete view and expose things that otherwise wouldn’t have been known.

      Both organizations used qualitative and quantitative methods to gather data. By gathering quantitative culture data, you will have objective information about the current culture that allows a robust discussion about what exists. Further, it increases the trust and acceptance by senior leaders who may discount internally gathered qualitative data. Using an external survey instrument focuses attention on the results versus challenging the survey’s validity. As one presenter said, “If there is already a disconnect between leaders and employees, why would true answers come from employees? Use a third-party assessment.” A validated culture survey also enables an organization to establish a baseline and measure progress over time.

      Qualitative data helps tell the story behind the quantitative data. They can be gathered through interviews, focus groups, observation, customer interviews (where appropriate), and other internal research. Adding qualitative data leads to a fuller understanding than quantitative data alone. Leaders can draw erroneous conclusions from survey data when they miss the context from qualitative data. Quantitative and qualitative data together create the complete picture to build a common language and understand how culture is impacting the strategy and future of the organization.
    • What – Assuming you have a compelling reason to change and everyone has a common language with real data, it’s time to act. The data will likely point to specific areas (such as human resource systems or structural factors) that can become levers for change. The Brewers realized that their culture was not bad, it was ineffective. Sometimes, leaders look at culture results and are quick to characterize a culture as bad. Don’t dismiss what exists; leverage what works and build on it. Use the strengths of your culture revealed by the data and pay attention to where change is needed. More generally, Marti points out that once you get your data, “the one thing you can’t do is nothing.”

    The Brewers used their data to plan, communicate, and take action. But first, leadership must get aligned with respect to what they learned, what needs to be done, and the direction everyone is going. Proper leadership mindsets fuel consistent action. Like the Brewers, start with changes that can be made to demonstrate commitment and create quick wins. Evaluating the structure and making appropriate reporting changes, updating the workspace, and improving communication are all examples of changes that can create momentum and show visible action.

    The takeaway from both stories is that culture change is achievable for any type of organization that wants to improve results. The final key factor in common between the two organizations is also the most essential to culture change success.

    #1 Reason for Success

    Successful culture change is a leadership commitment, not a project. Leadership is about action—behaving in new ways that set an example. Commitment is needed because employees look to the leaders to see whether their behaviors align with their words. The number-one reason for change success is sponsorship.1 Sponsorship involves being a visible participant, communicating support for the change frequently and effectively, and building a coalition of other supporters.

    Take Action

    The People First culture at Oshkosh is supported by leaders and is being taught through their “Lens of Leadership” development program. Attending this program is creating a coalition and alignment across all the leaders. Based on the frequent references to the People First culture in the corporate statements and the employee comments on Glassdoor, it’s clear that development and communication is working!

    One of the impressive things Angie shared was the Oshkosh CEO’s recognition that culture is impacted by leaders but outlives them. He is a great sponsor of the current change initiatives but is also working to ensure there are systems and structures to support the People First culture beyond his tenure.

    Marti shared that leaders face fear, fatigue, and frustration as they lead change. Longer-term changes that are needed require discipline. Without that, it’s easy to get distracted by competing, more tangible, yet short-term issues. Leaders must be resilient for culture to get reset. Finally, leaders must follow through. Even when there is pushback, commitment to the change is needed: “You have to believe until everyone else around you is believing,” Marti said. In her summary remarks, she noted, “This is heart and soul work.” Culture change requires leaders who are “all in” and willing to do what it takes to be successful.

    If you decide to embark on a culture change journey, remember to answer the "Why, How, and What" questions. Then share with company leaders that the number-one reason for your success will be their long term commitment to the mission of culture change. I welcome your thoughts on social media.


    Photo by Anders Jildén on Unsplash.

    1 Prosci. Executive Sponsor's Importance and Role. Retrieved from https://www.prosci.com/resources/articles/importance-and-role-of-executive-sponsor 

  • The Impact of Trust on Corporate Culture

    by Kalani Iwi'ula | Oct 02, 2018

    In a recent conversation with the CEO of a public company, one of my colleagues inquired about the role trust plays in his organization. His response mirrored those of his peers over the past ten years when we first started asking this question.

    “Trust is very high as evidenced by our quarterly earnings.”

    This CEO’s perspective on the impact of trust on corporate culture would make Milton Friedman theorists proud, as it focused solely on his shareholders, to the exclusion of all other stakeholders. For those unfamiliar with Friedman’s theory, it was simply that “the sole responsibility of business is to increase profits.”

    Telling quite a different “trust” story is the online employee reviews from that same company:

    Upper management gets a pass as the underlings get the scrutiny.

    Management and HR gossip about employees.

    They instructed me to do things that were not inline with the company handbook. When I would point out the discrepancies they would refer to it as a corporate typo.

    Coworkers were rude and made lewd comments towards the women. They say there is zero tolerance policy for harassment but when a team leader or supervisor is the one doing the harassing it is completely acceptable with the HR department.

    This is a great place to work if you enjoy being miserable and underpaid.

    The business case for Trust

    Speaking in 2016 at an annual conference of the Arthur W. Page Society, Paul Polman, CEO at Unilever noted that without trust in companies, there can be no genuine prosperity. Seventy-five percent of U.S. graduates, he said, do not want to work for big companies anymore. 

    In today’s rapidly changing business environment, building a trust-based culture should be a top priority of both the Board of Directors and CEO. Why?

    Our FACTS® Framework calculates the trustworthiness of US based public companies and we have issued an annual report of our findings since 2012. On average, the “Top 10” most trustworthy public companies have outperformed the S&P 500 by over 30% annually. 

    The business case for creating a trustworthy culture continues to be made, yet, it is rarely acknowledged let alone implemented. It requires not only leadership acknowledgement but also the acceptance and application of the essential principles upon which a foundation of trust can be built.

    Time-tested Principles

    In the summer of 2017, Trust Across America-Trust Around the World’s global Trust Alliance began to develop a set of universal trust-building Principles that could be applied in any organization of any size.

    Tap Into Trust downloadBeginning with almost ninety ideas, and over the course of a year, members weighed-in on the most essential elements and honed the ideas to twelve final Principles that form the acronym, “TAP INTO TRUST.”

    TAP (Trust Alliance Principles) was published in April 2018 and is currently available as a free PDF download in 15 languages. As of August 2018, our movement has attracted over 21,200 global professionals.

    Tap Into Trust

    Can these Principles impact workplace culture?

    Absolutely. Let’s start with the first principle of TRUTH. In a high trust culture, employees are not afraid to speak the truth. In fact, they receive positive feedback from leadership for doing so, regardless of the “issue.” This builds two-way trust (and confidence) in both leadership and among team members, as personal and/or professional gains take a back seat.

    We surveyed our TAP steering committee for further input on the impact of TAP on culture:

    Alain Bolea, a management and leadership advisor, had this to say about TALENT:

    What is Talent? Too often, it gets boiled down to skills. And yes, skills are a given. Yet, for an organization to experience ongoing success, it takes more than skills. It requires highly coordinated action which requires a culture of trust — a culture of trust capable of delivering the superior returns on equity well documented by the FACTS® Framework.

    How does talent show up in a culture of trust? In organizational life, stressful times are an opportunity to gauge the mettle of its people. In difficult moments, talent shows when an individual displays moral character by addressing the higher good rather than a personal agenda; when that individual finds the right word, the right question, the right idea, the right action that embodies the shared values of the organization and inspires others to a solution. Two organizations may have the same skill set, but talent will distinguish the vibrant one from the ho-hum one.

    And three of our members chose to comment on the impact of RESPECT on culture, each providing a slightly different but important perspective:

    "When RESPECT is the minimum standard, organizations make it clear that they encourage positive interactions with colleagues, customers and partners. Managing for 'respectful interactions only' helps build a positive workplace with better leadership, stronger relationships, improved communication and increased productivity. Employees are better able to thrive in respectful workplace cultures, and for that reason they will tend to seek them out when making career moves." ~Linda Fisher-Thornton

    Mutual respect is an aspect of trust that greatly enhances a positive workplace culture. Respecting alternative opinions can positively impact one’s company culture as much as discouraging questioning can negatively impact it. A common negative feedback item in leadership development workshops entails publicly embarrassing those who offer a discrepant view. A culture where people respect one another not only drives out fear but it also allows everyone a greater chance to thrive. ~Holly Latty-Mann

    In these turbulent economic, social and political times, organizations need to be flexible and adaptive to survive and thrive. Certainly, change stresses relationships in any organization, but those that build a culture of trust will find that change produces renewed engagement. Respect is key to this kind of culture. Especially in uncertain times, the knowledge and ideas from every level of the organization provide the basis for positive innovation. These organizations can leverage the engagement of their people to see more opportunities and adapt plans to changing circumstances. ~Bart Alexander

    When culture and purpose unite

    And getting back to Paul Polman, what has he done differently at Unilever that most leaders have yet to do? Very simply, he has evolved the company into one with a culture of PURPOSE.

    According to Unilever’s website:

    Our Corporate Purpose states that to succeed requires "the highest standards of corporate behavior towards everyone we work with, the communities we touch, and the environment on which we have an impact."

    Doing so requires leadership that is committed to a shared vision transcending beyond the walls of the company itself. When culture and purpose unite, attracting and keeping talented employees is just one of the many positive outcomes. Building trust-based principles into the DNA of an organization elevates security among employees. They spend less time looking over their shoulders and more time engaging, innovating, collaborating and working for the “greater good.” Efficiency increases as decisions are made faster and turnover decreases.

    In today’s team-driven business world, building a culture based on trust is one of the most important responsibilities of leaders in all types of organizations, and it’s no longer “just about profits.” While companies may go to great lengths to establish a culture that encourages trust, it falls upon individual leaders to follow through with those intentions and deliver that level of trust to both their internal and external stakeholders.

    How have you encouraged trust in your organization? Are there opportunities to facilitate more awareness about trust? I invite your thoughts and comments.
  • It Starts with “Us” – The Importance of Leadership Team Alignment

    by Kalani Iwi'ula | Sep 26, 2018

    “Leadership is a choice, not a position.” ~Stephen Covey

    Leadership is indeed a position and level within an organization, but how we lead is our choice. More importantly, how we work with our fellow leaders can help us inspire the best in our teams, be true role models for members of the broader organization, and shape our culture in a more positive and Constructive way.

    “You don’t lead by hitting people over the head—that’s assault, not leadership.” ~Dwight D. Eisenhower

    As Uncle Ben from Spider-Man said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Sometimes, when a person is promoted to a higher level, they lose their grasp on reality and begin to go on a “power trip” because of their new title. When they become consumed with their authority and status, tunnel vision begins and the focus shifts to ensuring that “my team” is doing well and meeting performance measures, rather than how the broader team and organization is performing. This, of course, leads to silos and a lack of cooperation and alignment that spirals and leads to poor performance and, more importantly, signals poor leadership. Members of their teams begin to lose hope, and you can often hear, “Well, if they aren’t doing it, why should we?”

    It’s important to measure the impact we are having on our direct reports. And it’s equally important to measure the impact we’re having on our peers.

    “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” ~Henry Ford

    One approach to begin looking at the impact a leadership team is having is to assess the team’s effectiveness. This can be done by working with the overall team while conducting individual development with each of the leaders to increase their effectiveness with their own teams. Through these nine steps, you can begin to see progress within months.

    1. Purpose & vision. Complete a requirement-gathering session to clarify the purpose and vision for both the team as a whole and the individual members’ development journeys.


    2. Team observation. Work with an outside expert to provide support to the team. The leadership expert can observe the team dynamics and individuals’ interactions to understand the team’s quality of communication, coordination, and overall performance. He or she can then help the team identify key focus areas that would elevate their effectiveness.


    3. Individual 360 assessments. Each team member begins their individual journey by completing a 360 assessment, such as Leadership/Impact® (L/I).1 L/I provides unique insights into a leader’s personal leadership strategies—and the impact of those strategies on others’ behavior and performance—to identify gaps between others’ perceptions of their leadership approach and how they would like to be perceived.


    4. Education. Coach team members to help them gain insights into the factors that make a leadership team effective. Show them how their individual behaviors and leadership strategies contribute to greater team success and shape the organization’s culture or the sub-culture of their divisions.


    5. Team development plan. The results of the 360 assessments show the team members the impact they are having on each other and connect it back to the ideal impact they would like to achieve. The team can identify the structures and systems needed to support their purpose and create a team development plan to help them move toward a more Constructive operating style.


    6. Individual development plans. The leadership expert carries out individual debriefs of the assessment results and helps each team member create a development plan based on their 360 results and the priorities identified as part of the team development plan. They also review the impact they are having on their direct reports and the manager to whom they report.


    7. Implementing the team development plan. The team can begin practicing refined and more sophisticated group processes and new one-on-one behaviors based on their team development action plan. Other assessments, including those measuring group styles and processes, can be utilized periodically to confirm the team is operating in a more Constructive and effective operating style.


      In this video clip, colleague Corrine Canter shares a brilliant case for using the Group Styles Inventory™ (GSI), a group dynamics instrument that allows teams to gain essential insights.2, 3 And for Rolling Stones fans, enjoy Corrine's opening observations.


      Download Corrine's presentation here.

    8. Ongoing coaching. Each team member participates in a regular one-on-one check-in with the leadership expert to receive ongoing support, track progress, reconcile individual development activities with team plans, and make any (other) necessary modifications in their development plan. Ongoing coaching can take place on a monthly, bi-monthly, or quarterly basis to support each individual in their development efforts.


    9. Progress and evaluation. Hold ongoing, facilitated team discussions to track progress toward operating in a more Constructive style. A complete re-measure via the individual assessments and any group surveys administered (as part of step 7) is recommended to confirm the progress with respect to individual and team outcomes and overall effectiveness. Importantly, these measures should be connected back to business measures at the organizational level (such as turnover, customer experience, etc.) to ensure the movement toward a more Constructive impact is increasing those metrics as well as overall business performance. Based on these results, the leadership team and expert can determine the next areas on which to focus to continue the team’s development journey.

    By going through this process, leaders can inspire exceptional performance, serve as better role models, and constructively shape their organization’s culture by working effectively as a team.

    “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” ~Helen Keller



    1 Cooke, R. A. (1996). Leadership/Impact® (L/I). Plymouth, MI: Human Synergistics.
    2 Cantor, Corrine (2018). Working Teams: That’s Culture. Presentation at the 20th Annual Culture and Leadership Conference. Sydney, Australia. https://www.human-synergistics.com.au/resources/content/2018/09/24/that's-culture-conference-videos 
    Cooke, R.A. & Lafferty, J. C. (1989). Group Styles Inventory®. Plymouth, MI: Human Synergistics.

  • Dealing with Uncertainty in an Era of Disruption

    by Kalani Iwi'ula | Sep 19, 2018

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

    Thoughts create our moods and behavior

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

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

    Maintaining a positive outlook is essential

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

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

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

    Advice for uncertain times

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

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

    You choose how to respond

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

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


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

  • Fake Culture

    by Kalani Iwi'ula | Sep 04, 2018

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

    Culture is NOT:

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

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

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

    How culture is formed?

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

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

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

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

    Can you change culture?

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

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

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

    Don’t be fooled – Take time to understand

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

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

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

  • How an Icebreaker Can Demonstrate Group Synergy

    by Kalani Iwi'ula | Aug 28, 2018

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

    Simulations for group dynamics

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

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

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

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

    A refresher on terms

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

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

    Did the teams survive?

    Yes and no. Mostly no.

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

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

    group synergy survival simulation tsunami

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

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

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


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

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

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

    Interpersonal and Rational Behavior Grid

    …and Learnings

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

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

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

    In closing and connecting on a personal note

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

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

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

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


    Photo by Patrick “NeuPaddy” Neufelder on Pixabay.


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

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

  • Shift Your Culture & Accelerate Performance: A How-To Webinar

    by Meghan Oliver | Aug 28, 2018

    The distinguishing feature of world-class organizations is their culture—and developing Constructive leaders and teams is essential to strengthening any organization's culture for business success. This webinar ties in with our Culture Quick-Start Program to help you quantify and connect culture to your top priorities.

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

    by Meghan Oliver | Aug 23, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


    About Human Synergistics International

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

    About Root Inc.

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

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

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

  • Culturally Intelligent Change

    by Kalani Iwi'ula | Aug 21, 2018

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

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

    Why Culture is Essential to Change Success

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

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

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

    The objectives of culturally intelligent change are to:

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

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

    Assess the culture & climate both qualitatively and quantitatively

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

    Use the culture data

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

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

    15 Key Culture Actions


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

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

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

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

    by Kalani Iwi'ula | Aug 15, 2018

    The Journey

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

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

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

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

    Let’s get started.

    SHAPE Australia

    Linking Organizational Culture to Traditional Business Measures of Success


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

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


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

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

    Senior leaders are enlisted as coaches in helping with:


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

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

    * Note: Percentages are from 2014 through 2017

    Summary PDF




    EI Leadership Institute

    Emotional Intelligent Habits that Build and Sustain a Constructive Culture

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


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

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

    Key business challenges:

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


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


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

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

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

    Summary PDF




    Silicon Valley Startup

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

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

    Case Study

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

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

    Linda Sharkey culture startup

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

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

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


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


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

    Summary PDF


    Lessons Learned

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

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

    In Closing

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

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

    Partnering with us

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

    Unique Opportunity

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

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



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

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

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

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

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