TAG Consulting

The Ten Commandments of Building A Great Culture (4-6)

December 30, 2015

Last post, we looked at the first three  “commandments” of building a great culture:
1. Create Safe Spaces
2. Direct Intentional Conversations
3. Manage Anxiety Levels

Today, we’ll look at commandments 4-6.

4. Use The Water Cooler. Leaders who are crafting winning cultures and managing change are by definition busy people.  But the good ones know that even in the business they have to carve out time to listen to their people and to communicate personal care and concern.

The very best leaders we know schedule unscheduled time.

Read that last sentence carefully!

These leaders build into their calendar time for no formal meetings, calls, or  paperwork. They simply get out into the field – whatever their ‘field’ is and hang out with employees and/or volunteers. They have quick, unscripted conversations which end up being impactful moments. The leader becomes a visible, incarnational, reassuring presence.

5. Reward Risk Taking
When anxiety is high – like it is during times of transition and culture change – tolerance for risk tends to be low. Both leaders and people are anxious, knowing their own jobs and maybe even the survival of the enterprise may be on the line. But the very best leaders we have worked with know that this is the time to say “You can risk and experiment. We won’t just tolerate you doing this – we want to encourage it. As a matter of fact, you will be rewarded for trying new things and taking risks.” This serves as an anxiety-reducer, truth be told.

6. Resist Consensus Building
It’s important to engage people in conversations, but not for the sake of consensus. Engage people in conversation to gather the best information relevant to the decisions you need to make. Engage people in conversation to build a guiding coalition which can push change forward and influence others.

But know that not everyone will buy in, at least right away. Crafting a culture should involve bringing as many people along as possible but it’s not about a vote. The conversations that come in the course of crafting change are about a respectful asking for wisdom earned from experience that will help the leader be the best steward possible as the cultural change is implemented.

One phrase we use all the time is “Leadership involves disappointing people at a rate they can tolerate!”. You do want to maximize the buy-in and minimize the disappointment, but disappointment will come. The decision made through an insistence on consensus is often a lowest-common-denominator sort of decision.

Just Talk To Me!

December 29, 2015

We’re focused on the four characteristics of trustworthy organizational cultures that our research revealed:

  1. Dependability
  2. Communication
  3. Learning
  4. Integrity

Remember that trustworthiness leads to employee engagement which leads to profitability, so these four characteristics are of paramount importance!

Today, our focus is Communication.

One of our leadership coaching clients shared with us the details of what should have been a perfect job. She believed passionately in the mission of the organization, she was well compensated, she had freedom to use her gifts and talents, and she respected and enjoyed her coworkers.

But she had a problem that was leading her to case about for other professional options.

“It’s my supervisor”, she told us. “He expects me to be a mindreader. I mean, this is a competent guy who allows me freedom, but he never, ever talks to me or communicates expectations or even fully discloses new initiatives. I don’t think he is trying to pull anything over on me or play politics, but he just won’t talk. I mean, just talk to me!”.

communication cans

She is not alone.

Trustworthy organizations and trustworthy leaders communicate with urgency and clarity.

Communication is all about how well the organization does three things:

  1. Manages information
  2. Communicates direction
  3. Clarifies expectations

Every organization needs an internal information manager, whether or not that is their sold job description or just part of it. This person is not the one who knows “where the bodies are buried” but the one who makes sure that those who need to know actually do in fact know.

He is a trusted partner and teammate and the leaders of the organization give him latitude, trust, flexibility, and freedom. He will lead the way with digital employee newsletters, town hall meetings, and other creative forms of internal communication.

Employees and volunteers long for direction, are eager to be led, and want to know where the organization is going and how their efforts will help to get it there. It is this last part – how is what I am doing going to advance our cause? – that is often missing when leaders provide direction.

It’s not enough to say ‘Take that hill’. We have to help each person on the team understand the unique contribution they will make to the hill-taking.

Finally, team members know when they show up each day what they are to do that day and have a clear sense of what they must do to fulfill their assignment and advance the mission of the organization.

This is more, way more, than a to do list. It’s a ‘flight list’ for mission success.

Examine the life and ministry of Jesus Christ and you will see that his tasks often differed from day to day but they were all driven by a sense of intentional mission: “My desire is to do the will of him who sent me”.

Do your team members have a similarly clear sense of direction, expectation, and contribution?

It all starts with the communication prowess and commitment of senior leader.


The Ten Commandments of Creating A Great Culture (1-3)

December 28, 2015

We try very hard not to be reductionistic in our thinking. Leadership can’t be reduced to formulas or steps or maxims; it is a living, breathing, relational activity.

But we do want to be practical. We have decades of work invested with leaders and organizations in changing and shaping culture. We have worked with well-intentioned leaders who pushed through change initiatives but never saw a culture transformation, and talented leaders who could never quite grasp the delicate dynamics that go into culture-crafting. What both groups lacked was that they never learned to lovingly and expertly cook the secret sauce.

With that in mind, we offer these Ten Commandments of Creating Culture. Think of these as the indispensable ingredients in the secret sauce. Ten is a lot to digest all at once, so we will take it a few at a time!

The Ten Commandments of Creating A Great Culture (1-3)
1. Create Safe Places. Our world is not safe. The current electoral environment in the U.S. illustrates that people are looking for and longing for  safety for themselves and their children. Unfortunately, our organizations can feel like the least safe places of all. A leader who is leading change must insure that hir or her people feel safe. Safe to express their opinions, challenge the status quo, pursue personal passions, bring all of their gifts and talents to the table. Perhaps most of all, safe to brave conflict – not just to survive it, but to thrive through it. In our experience, leaders tend to overestimate how safe their people feel. Take a long, intelligent look – be willing to ask risky questions – at how safe your environment actually is.

2. Direct Intentional Conversations. It’s not enough to offer a suggestion box anymore. Every organization with a great culture has safe places where people can speak their minds, express their dissent, and call their leaders to account. Ask: “What specific and readily accessible forums have we created in our organization for people to speak their minds and hearts during this time of change?” Our colleague , Ken Tucker, has written an excellent, practical, book called Intentional Conversations which deals with this very topic in depth – you can find it here.

3. Manage Anxiety Levels. Anxiety is an unseen, internal fuel that drives us. We may well be living in the most anxiety-ridden time in the history of the Western world. Anxiety is our natural response when we feel threatened or insecure. And this threat always takes shape in our hearts and minds as the fear of loss. If you are leading cultural change there WILL be loss for some people – loss of power, position, comfort, security, perhaps even a job. The important thing to realize is that if you are in the business of crafting cultural change you own the responsibility to create safe places for people to share this anxiety without being overwhelmed by it.

Later this week….the next three commandments of creating a great culture!

For Employee Engagement, Be Dependable

December 23, 2015

In a post several days ago, we shared that our research revealed that there are four components that go into the trustworthy leadership which is an inevitable predictor of employee engagement:

  1. Dependability
  2. Communication
  3. Learning
  4. Integrity

We’ll focus on each in turn. Today is Dependability.

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, you will view me as trustworthy and dependable. Same thing for an organization.

Dependable organizations say what they mean and mean what they say. They can be relied upon when the chips are down. In situations where lesser organizations might succumb to pressure and break their word, dependable organizations keep the faith even when the short term price feels too high. As a result, people like doing business with and working for dependable organizations.

Like them or not, the Duke University Blue Devils are a legendary basketball program led by a legendary coach, Mike Krzyzewski. When asked to name his greatest accomplishment, “Coach K” doesn’t list the multiple conference and national championship banners or rattle off a list of first team All-Americans or cite his record-breaking win total.

His self-reported finest accomplishment? “When that kid who plays here knows that I’ve been honest with him”.


We found these three characteristics of dependable organizations.

  1. They make and keep promises. This is the social and leadership contract that makes organizations of all kinds – business, governments, churches, charities, families – possible. It is the necessary foundation for trust, which is the necessary foundation for loyalty, safety, and engagement.
  2. They are consistent. Over time, dependable organizations, like dependable people, act in ways consistent with their stated values. No matter the internal stressors or external pressures, these organizations act just as they have in the past, securing the present and creating trust in the future. What was important yesterday will be important today and will be important tomorrow.
  3. They are predictable. Consistency looks to past experience. Dependability is more than a promise – it is a commitment rooted in a track record. When we have confidence that we can predict the behavior of a person or organization then we can have trust in that person or organization. Our faith in them won’t be disappointed.

At TAG Consulting, one of our highest aspirations is to help organizations live into their true selves, consistent with their values, creating a climate and culture of dependability where employees are fulfilled and fully engaged.

Listen To The Music, Not Just The Words

December 22, 2015


Great listeners listen musically as well as analytically.

President Jimmy Carter is by all accounts a wonderful man who had a difficult time hearing the music as a leader – he was often politically ‘tone deaf’ as President.

Carter tended to rely on ‘rational discourse’ to weigh decisions. People prepared long briefing papers which he would sift through in  private. Doing it that way enabled him to listen to their arguments analytically, but not musically. The President didn’t enjoy being in meetings where there was posturing, arguing, and haggling. You might say he was conflict-averse. Which was a problem, because great teams (and leaders) are comfortable with conflict.

We don’t have conflict for conflict’s sake. But listening carefully helps us to hear the music behind a conflict in such a way that conflict may well lead to greater understanding!

Listening musically attunes the leader to the tone of voice and the intensity of the argument which, in turn, point to underlying concerns. Listening musically enables leaders to get underneath and behind the surface to ask “What’s the real argument that we are having?”.

And that is a critical question to answer because in the absence of an answer you get superficial buy-in. People go along in a pseudo-consensus or in a deferential way, but without commitment.

The next time you are in a conflict or facing a tough decision, listen more deeply than usual – behind the logic of the words being used – for the music playing underneath.

2 Questions For Spotting Talent

December 21, 2015

In an organization with a healthy culture, the end result is that employees fulfill their desire to be engaged. When they reflect on their jobs they think things like this: “I matter around here. My strengths are being recognized and used around here. I am making a difference in and through my work”>

In our employee survey, The Engagement Dashboard (TED) those organizations with a healthy culture consistently saw that their employees answered ‘yes’ to questions such as “I get to use my talents and strengths every day at work”.

Some organizations do this as a matter of course, putting employees through widely available strengths-identifying instruments. We recommend such tools and use a few ourselves.

However, the very best organizations end up identifying and developing managers and leaders who themselves are talent scouts, whether or not they use the formal tools.

These leaders use two questions as indispensable tools to identify talent:

What does it take to win in our business?

How will we know a winner when we see him or her?

If you can identify these people – fueled by your leaders’ experience in the industry and the available tools – and then deploy and encourage them, you will have made an important first step toward engaging your people.

Lead Change With the 3-D Method

December 21, 2015

At TAG, we encourage leaders to use a simple but profound tool to introduce change and arrive at tough decisions while regulating stress. Why is this important?

Because effective leaders know that too much change too fast creates anxiety and resistance.

We introduce the 3-D Method because it allows leaders to introduce change in three well-regulated phases, one step at a time. The three steps are Dialogue, Discussion, and Decision.

3-D apples

In the Dialogue phase, people simply state their own opinions without feedback or interruption from others. The goal in this step is information-gathering, seeing where people stand, getting everything out on the table. If you are working with a group, it is simply going around the circle and letting everyone speak their opinion about the real issues facing the group.

Often in the Dialogue phase leaders are surprised. There are issues that prove to be important which no one was paying attention to before. Dialogue leads to deeper understanding and we often hear comments like this: “I’ve learned more about this issue in forty-five minutes than I have in ten years!”.

In the Discussion phase, participants are free to agree or disagree with each other. The goal is to identify the issues, clarify the competing values in the group, and provide possible scenarios and options.

This usually takes place in a separate meeting, often days after the Dialogue phase.

“Competing values” is a critically important concept here. Often when competing values surface around one issue, it becomes clear that the same values are creating conflict and resistance around other issues. The team is able to make connections that were previously obscured. There are ‘a-ha’ moments that are surprising and helpful.

The Decision phase occurs next. There will be conflict here, but it is usually less stark because the group has already processed through the issue in the Dialogue and Discussion phases. It’s important to insure at this point that the conversation remains objective and focused on organizational issues.

This is the phase where the leader earns his or her ‘pay’. At the end of this phase, the recognized and authorized leaders in the group make a decision, based on what they perceive is the right direction for the organization. It’s not about consensus decision-making at this point, though consensus can be nice!

Following the 3-D Method does not insure that stress and anxiety are eliminated entirely but that they are regulated and manageable. Everyone has had the opportunity to provide input in a safe way; everyone has been heard; competing values have been surfaced and honored.

Over many years, with clients in all of the sectors – Public, Private, and Social – we have found that the 3-D Method provides a safe forum where change can happen and tough decisions be made. Try it in your organization, and we would love to encourage and serve you along the way!


Two Non-Negotiables For Leading Change

December 17, 2015

Because you are reading this blog we are going to assume that you are  a leader who is interested in crafting a healthy, winning culture!

We are partners with you in this quest. Our desire is to see many thousands of organizations in all of the sectors – Public, Private, and Social – begin the journey of crafting great cultures which result in engaged employees and volunteers. As you begin your quest – and our goal is  that this blog will be a regular encouragement on your journey – here are two initial things to keep in mind:

1. The first task of leadership is to distinguish between what needs to be preserved and what needs to change.As you work through changes in your organization, always be mindful of what must NOT change – your values, code, and macro-strategy. These things should not change with every shift in the wind. When external realities do dictate that you must change, you will want to make sure that those changes are in keeping with your organization’s code and deeply held values – holding fast to the permanent things while allowing your strategy to evolve.

2. When you come into an existing situation to make  changes, be very careful not to condemn the past. Always frame your vision in a positive, upbeat way. Your job is not to erase the past but to help people envision a brighter future.  These people were part of the past – they lived it and shaped it to some degree. Dwell on everything good and worthy in the organization’s past, even if it is clear that many things must change.

Leadership, particularly change leadership, is not about being popular. There will be moments of decided unpopularity for you as you craft a new culture. But don’t borrow trouble – preserve what needs to be preserved and honor what can be honored from prior cultures.