TAG Consulting

Three Tips For Navigating Transitions

November 27, 2015

We meet many of our clients when they are in the middle of navigating transitions.

Something is changing inside their organization, especially something people-related. Market conditions are changing outside their organization. Their community is changing around them.


Transitions are stressful, disorienting, sometimes terrifying. They are also a tremendous opportunity, if you learn how to navigate and leverage them with character and wisdom.

If you find yourself in the middle of transition, take heart from three principles we have learned from colleagues and clients about how to transition wisely and well.

  1. Demonstrate Credibility – leaders who navigate transition well are consistently even-handed and fair and in so doing have built up reservoirs of trust – ‘deposits’ if you will – which can be drawn upon in the uncertain and occasionally fearful times transition brings about.
  2. Practice Transparency – the temptation for leaders in transition is to hoard information to protect processes or to deflect criticism. The best transition navigators default to sharing as much information as possible unless to do so will give away trade secrets or irreplaceable intellectual property. This includes information about the conditions that have led to decisions about transition, the rationale for tough calls related to transition, and the long-term effects of transition on those in the organization.
  3. Lead With Honor – especially in the case where transitions result in tough personnel decisions, unless an employee was dismissed for ethical or legal reasons every effort is made to honor those leaving, thank them for their contributions and point out their positive characteristics. Not only is this the right thing to do, but it engenders trust and loyalty in those who stay behind. Team members are exponentially more likely to behave in an honorable way when they are convinced their leaders and their organizations are themselves honorable.

A worthy exercise is to conduct a transition inventory of yourself and your organization.

Consider each of the principles of transition – are you and your organization credible, transparent, and honorable? What do you need to do, whom do you need to consult in order to bring your level up to excellent for each of the three principles?



How Does A Healthy Culture Help Your Organization?

November 25, 2015

We’ve heard it a lot and even understand it – “This culture stuff is fluffy. It’s soft stuff. ‘Have a nice day’ and all that is great but I have sales targets to hit, products to get to market, customers to serve. What matters is if I have good people who know how to do their jobs – that’s all”.

And it’s true that you can maintain a decent enough organization with no attempt at crafting a winning culture. But you can’t have a great one – one that energizes and fulfills you, your team, and your customers.

The writer and blogger Shawn Parr defines culture like this: “A balanced blend of human psychology, attitudes, actions, and beliefs that combined either create pleasure or pain, serious momentum, or miserable stagnation”.

We love that definition because it’s vivid and sounds like someone who has been there. It’s no fun to experience misery and boredom at work, even if the paycheck is good and the job is relatively secure. We’d much rather come to work at a place that is pleasurable and marked by momentum!

Execution is key, strategy is important, marketing is crucial, research and development provides an edge – for sure. But culture eats all of these things for breakfast.

Here are some of the benefits (with a hat tip to Parr) that flow to an organization with a healthy culture:

1. Focus
Everyone knows why they are there and are on point in terms of mission.

2. Motivation
If you know why you are doing what you are doing, it’s easy to get keyed up to do it!

3. Connection
Healthy cultures breed teamwork and there are few things as satisfying as being part of a group who accomplishes a shared purpose. People come out of their silos and join one another on the playing field.

4. Cohesion
Healthy cultures are  unified – everyone knows their  role and the importance of their contribution and at their best they work together seamlessly.

5. Spirit
Spirit is what brings life to an organization, the thing that animates it to be more than a series of soulless objectives or bullet points in a strategic plan. Think of the last time you flew Southwest airlines with its culture of “love” as opposed to your last flight on – you know – one of those ‘other’ big airlines.

That’s the value proposition of a healthy and winning culture – experiencing much more often than not the sorts of workplace qualities that bring life, good relationships, a sense of mission, and lasting accomplishment.

Life In The Blue Zone

November 24, 2015

When we are in conflict we can choose to respond in one of two ways.

The first way is from the Blue Zone. This is where you maintain professionalism and you keep your emotional cool. You can tell you are in the Blue Zone when you are demonstrating several behaviors and leading a workplace where these behaviors are widely demonstrated by others.

Focus on energy and efficiency
This is a workplace where everyone shows up to do their job, they have the right tools, and they are motivated to do good work. They’re not distracted by drama and political intrigue. There’s a buzz and energy in the workplace. People are moving freely and enthusiastically, the conversation is focused and yet lighthearted. Stuff is getting done by focused people who seem to enjoy each other, at least most of the time!

Structures of the organization are closely monitored and respected.
Performance reviews, goal-setting, follow-up evaluation get done. Reporting structures are respected and honored. There is real accountability but it is not the accountability of soul-crushing bureaucracy and micromanagement. The workplace is characterized by the trust that exists when everyone agrees on standards and expectations.

Business issues are the top priority
When a business has a clear sense of mission, strong and vibrant core values, and a winning strategy it has a chance to succeed. This chance becomes reality when core business issues are seen as the first thing, not personal rivalries, territory-marking, and clawing for territory – all of the things that make for a miserable professional environment.

The Blue Zone is the place of emotional health and professional focus.

How about your workplace?
Are these three characteristics of the Blue Zone true of where you work?
Would you say that your workplace is a “place of emotional health and professional focus”?
What needs to change in order to make it so?

Is Your Organization Dependable?

November 23, 2015

Trust is the basis of all relationships and honesty is the basis of trust.

You can’t trust someone unless you believe that person will keep a promise, be candid with you, and never betray you.

Trust gets built over time but can be destroyed in a moment. That’s why dependability is such a vital component for leadership and such an integral part of a winning culture.

A person or organization is dependable if it can be relied upon to act in certain ways. 

If I do what I promise over and over I am considered to be dependable. True for people; true for organizations.

People like working for and doing business with dependable organizations because life is not dependable. When I can find a dependable place to use my talents, provide for my needs, or acquire the products or services I need, I am going to become intensely loyal.

Is your organization dependable?

Here are three characteristics of dependable organizations:

1. They make and keep promises.
The United States Constitution is a promise that makes our government and society possible. Church, clubs, businesses all have policy manuals, bylaws, employee manuals which define how people will live and work together in a way that fosters trust. An organization with a winning culture is not afraid to make promises, but it is terrified of not being able to keep them.

2. They are consistent.
When I behave in a consistent way, people know what to expect of me. They may not always agree with me, but they will know what they are likely to get. When my consistency proves to be excellent, reliable, trustworthy, high-quality then I am building a relationship as much as I am building a business.

3. They are predictable.
If I am consistent, I have a proven past. If I am predictable then I promise a trustworthy future. When we have confidence that we can predict  positive  behavior from a person or organization we can have trust in them. We know our faith in them won’t be disappointed  and we know that we have a great shot of finding a great employer, business partner, or vendor.

Engaged employees say “Yes!” when we ask them “Can management in your organization be counted on to come through when needed?”

How about your organization?
Are you dependable?
Do your employees believe you can be counted on to come through when needed?
On a scale of 1-10 how dependable are you as an organization, as a leader?
If you are anything but a “10” what could tick the numbers up for you, beginning today?

Leading Internal Change Like An Olympic Champion

November 20, 2015


David Marsh may be the greatest coach of any sport ever.

No lie.

Marsh is the coach of the 2016 United States Olympic women’s swimming team but, as great an honor as that is, his resume in total is even more stunning.

Twelve national championships as men’s and women’s swimming coach at Auburn University.
Eight time national coach of the year.
Coach of 47 Olympians, and counting.
Head Elite Coach and CEO of the US Olympic Committee Center of Excellence with SwimMAC Carolina.

We’re honored to know David Marsh personally and we got to interview him at length for the book. When he took over at Auburn in 1990, he was only thirty years old and inherited a team that was,  by any measure, terrible. The previous year, the team had scored no points (as in “zero”) at the Southeastern Conference championship meet.

It’s tough to do that.

In the book, we tell the story of how Coach Marsh was able to turn Auburn into a perennial national championship contender and we hope you will read the story at length there – it’s inspiring and instructive!

At Auburn, Coach Marsh had to change a culture, entirely, from the bottom up. He accomplished this by living into a lifelong slogan – “A Culture of Excellence is a Culture of Struggle”.

Internal change is like that. It’s a struggle. External change is often forced upon us. Internal change is just as necessary,  but we initiate it ourselves, often in the face of resistance. A winning culture-crafter has to be willing to lead the charge when it comes to internal disruption. Coach Marsh highlighted for us a number of lessons he learned about leading internal disruption as you craft a winning culture. Here are five:

1. Start with a simple change – but make sure it is a change related to values, behaviors, or attitudes.
At Auburn, this was teaching his swimmers how to shake hands and look people in the eye and how to place a towel around their necks.

2. Make sure your rules have teeth.
At one point, Marsh kicked all of his swimmers off of the team when they resisted some necessary changes. There was a path back, but Marsh insured that his important rules would be followed and honored.

3. Experiment and take smart risks.
It goes without saying that firing his whole team was a tremendous personal risk for Coach Marsh. Leaders who are orchestrating internal disruption have to demonstrate that they are willing to place themselves on the line for the greater good.

4. Foster accountability, not bureaucracy
A few smart rules, yes, but not top down command and control management. Increase accountability and decrease bureaucracy. Accountability reinforces values while bureaucracy decreases independent judgment and ownership. You’re after a culture of high accountability and very low bureaucracy.

5. Find your own solutions.
Don’t be quick to copy others. Too often, when leading internal disruption, leaders look for external solutions. But the real answers are organic, “in the room” as we like to say. Learn all you can from industry leaders but own the fact that change starts from the inside out.

How about you?
Is it time for you to lead a culture transformation through internal disruption?
Are you confident in your ability to run the risks personally while leading others to risk themselves?
Do your people sense a culture of accountability, free of all unnecessary bureaucracy?

Five Keys To Healthy Internal Boundaries

November 19, 2015

We’ve taken a look at how important healthy boundaries are for us in thriving through conflict and how boundaries that are either too rigid or too loose can wreck our relationships, careers, and peace of mind. There are two kinds of boundaries – the ones that regulate and protect how we think and feel internally and those that guide us in how to relate to others.

So, how do we make sure our boundaries are good and healthy ones which set us up for success?  Let’s take a look at five keys to making sure that your internal boundaries are healthy and secure.

1. Learn to recognize your own emotional responses.
If you consistently react the same way to similar situations, pay attention to that. Ask the question “What makes me angry, what makes me sad, what causes passion to rise up inside of me?”. Those are important cues to why you respond the way you do.

2. Become aware of how other people react to you.
If you’ve ever scratched your head and wondered “Why in the world did he react that way? That’s not what I meant at all” then you have the chance for a moment of exceptional insight. What verbal or nonverbal cues might you be giving  which are causing others to respond negatively, positively, or strongly to you?

3. Recognize situations in which you repeat the same behaviors and receive the same results.
The old cliche is ‘Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. Like most cliches there is a large measure of truth there. Turn that statement on its head. What behaviors, when repeated, produce pleasing and positive results for you in terms of your interactions with others? How can you cultivate them?

4. Recognize situations that create anxiety for you and  acknowledge that fear to yourself.
This is not about avoidance or turning away or succumbing to fear – far from it! You may have to dive into some very deep waters in conflict to learn more about yourself and your reactions. But if you can acknowledge the fear you have rather than denying it or attempting to beat it senseless, you have already accomplished a lot.

5. Become aware of the people who provoke emotional responses in you.
You may find yourself saying of others “She’s so needy”, “He’s so demanding”, “He makes me feel insignificant or anxious”.  Once you have recognized and acknowledged this you are in a perfect position to ask why and to dive deeper into the kind of self-understanding  which will lead to you becoming a skilled conflict navigator.

How are you doing with each of these five keys for healthy internal boundaries?
What can you do today to shore at least one of them up and turn it into a strength for you?

Three Things Every Employee Wants

November 19, 2015

The number one predictor of organizational success is fulfilled and engaged employees. That’s why the ‘hot’ field of employee engagement is no passing fad – engaged employees are no less than the most significant differentiator for every organization, in every sector.

(Because we work with not-for-profits as well as public and private sector organizations we should add that engaged volunteers are what most help social sector organizations such as churches succeed).

The measure of success in each of the three sectors – Public, Private, and Social – may look very different. But every organization in each of the sectors must have engaged employees if it is to be successful. Whether they are corporate executives, sales professionals, skilled craftsmen, teachers, counselors, or day care workers an employee must be fulfilled in their work and passionately engaged in their service if they are to give their best and if the organization is to thrive and win.

There are three things every employee or volunteer in every organization wants, even craves:

Everybody wants to belong, to contribute, and to make a difference.

In TAG’s most recent book, The Secret Sauce: Creating A Winning Culture , we argue that our greatest purpose in life is to be part of a creative community. This is at the core of being human. It’s that big of a deal! Perhaps your highest calling in life is to discover your place and contribution within a creative community.

Not every workplace can be called a “creative community”, as you well know. Some are toxic and destructive. Some are just plain boring.

Some are in between.

Consider this: if one of the highest human aspirations is to belong to a creative community then if you are the leader of an organization you have the opportunity to leverage your day to day work – whatever it is – to meet one of the deepest needs humans have.

Just think of that.

So, how are you doing as a leader and how is your organization doing in terms of:

  • Being a place where people belong, rather than just show up.
  • Calling on the most valuable talents and passions of your people and offering them ample opportunity to shine.
  • Creating work that not only has value in terms of profit but in terms of contributing to and making a difference in the lives of your employees, customers, vendors, and clients.

See, work is a noble thing and organizational life is a sacred trust.

This is what animates us day to day and leads us in our work, whether it’s coaching a leader, crafting a strategic plan, helping an organization analyze its market potential, or creating high-performing teams.


How To Lead Through External Change

November 18, 2015

If you are leading an organization, you already know that change is part of the deal. Not only must you pay attention to the ordinary disruptions that are a normal part of organizational life but you have to be aware of external disruptions as well, learning to discern which of them are passing fads and which are likely to force significant change for your organization.

So, how do you set yourself up to lead well through a time of significant external change?

1. Be aware and be proactive.
Make sure you are caught up on trends affecting both your organization’s environment and your industry as a whole.  Read, study, talk to experts, enlist skilled consultants, find out what people are saying, doing, and thinking in your industry. Make sure you are aware of opportunities before they are missed opportunities!

2.  Listen to your intuition.
Intuition is simply the ability of our brains to sift through mountains of input, experience, memories and events at a subconscious level and from all that input reach a decision. Sometimes we can do all the research and listen to all of the experts and still find “I’ve got to go with my gut on this one”. The most visionary leaders are those who have learned to hone this precious ability, even when it saws across the grain of logic. Especially if you have a rich account of experience to draw upon, learn to trust your sense of things.

3. Listen to organizational dissonance.
In times of change and challenge, there is often a difference between what an organization says and what it does. Senior leadership may be doing or assuming one thing while those on the front lines are doing quite another. Who is right and who is wrong? What values are in competition? Who is responding to change? Who is resisting change? When you encounter dissonance it is your responsibility as a leader to sift through it and find out where the truth lies.

4. Pay attention to your top competitor.
What is your competition doing that you are not? How is your competition responding to external changes in your industry? What does your competition see that you might be missing?

5. Listen to your people.
The people on the front lines of your organization – employees or volunteers – are closest to the disruptions,  both internal and external. Ask them what they are seeing and sensing. Wander around, paying attention. Build systems and processes to elicit their feedback and thoughts. People on the front lines want to be heard and they want immediate feedback.

This is a big part of empowering them to belong, contribute, and to make a difference.

How about you?
What is changing outside your organization – in your community, competition, industry?
What are you putting into place to respond to these changes?