TAG Consulting

How To Become A World Class Listener

December 16, 2015

Most people in positions of leadership – parents, coaches, managers – die with their mouths open.

Instead of listening, we chat away or simply are poised, waiting our turn to talk. But leaders who lead from the Blue Zone must learn how to listen. They must value listening and they must see listening as a craft that must be learned and practiced continually.

There is a foundational belief and a foundational practice that make Blue Zone listening possible.

First, Blue Zone leaders must believe that people are valuable and important and deserve to be listened to! As a matter of fact, not much of what we say will be valuable without this basic belief – it will all be tactical skills that may help in the short term but won’t prove to be of lasting value. Valuing others and their opinions and experiences sets the foundation for living in the Blue Zone.

Good listening is fueled by curiosity and empathy; it’s hard to be a great listener if you are not interested in other people.
This is not listening as a sales tactic. This is something deeper. It’s believing deeply that each and every person has value simply because they showed up on Planet Earth and because they are in front of you. This is a way of living – believing – which shapes the way we relate to others.

If we believe that people are simply commodities or potential customers or consumers without seeing them for the mystery they are the stories they are living, we’ll simply skate along the thin surface of things. The Blue Zone is more than a tactic or a position to adopt. It is a way of life. I can’t listen to you until I believe you have something of value to offer.

But I can come to a conversation with you, fully believing that you are of value and what you have to say is of value, and find you in sphinx-like silence. Many people when asked questions will remain silent. They’ve been conditioned in other situations to believe that their opinion is not truly being sought, that their personhood is not really being affirmed. They are tempted to believe that the person speaking to them – particularly if that person has a position of power in relationship to them – is merely asking a rhetorical question with a predetermined answer. So, the practice to cultivate is one of patience – to show up in the relationship and in the conversation rock solid in the belief that the person before you has value and has something valuable to say..and that you are content to wait until they believe that and believe that YOU believe it as well.

This takes time and must be cultivated – but consider how firm this ground is upon which to  engage in conflict that can actually end up being richly productive!

How about you?
Do you truly believe that others  – their personhood, experiences, and opinions – have value?
And are you willing to be patient until they believe that you really, deeply believe that?

Is It Time For You To Change?

December 15, 2015

There’s an undercurrent of discontent and restlessness in your thinking and feeling and leadership. You sense that something needs to change in your organization, but you’re not sure what.

Are you overreacting? Things appear to be fine on the surface. People are engaged, at least engaged enough. The bottom line is OK.

But there’s still that nagging sense that unless something changes soon, you will be behind the curve. Things outside the organization are changing so fast, it’s hard to keep up. Things are OK for now, but what if…..

The term “strategic inflection point” describes a major change in a business when there are major transitions outside of itself, in its competitive environment. Every inflection point requires a change in strategy – nothing less will do.

There are a handful of sources for these inflection points . Here is a handy primer to help you know if your own organization is facing one.

1. Changing Technologies. Is your organization keeping up with what is happening in the tech sector affecting your business? Is external technological change outpacing what is going on inside?

2. Changing Demographics. The population of the United States is still booming and in the years to come much of that increase will be driven by immigration. One of out of five Americans will be foreign born by 2050. The population already here is aging; in 2050 twenty percent of the population will be aged 65 or older. Are you prepared for those changes? Do they affect your business?

3. Changing Regulations. We can expect to see consistent regulatory changes to every industry, changes which will always have unintended consequences. How is the regulatory environment changing for your industry and how could that influence the way you do business?

4. Changing Consumer Appetites. Consumers are fickle. One day we are eating carbohydrates; the next we are paleo! Try keeping up with trends in popular music or fashion! Now think of ‘fads’ in your own industry. How many are fads and how many MIGHT be pointing to disruptions with the potential to change an entire industry?

5. Changing Media. The civilization we live in today as evolved through four strategic inflection points related to communications: Oral, Print, Broadcast, and Digital. Each has radically changed the way humans behave, socialize, consume, and relate. We have a lot of church clients. Ten years ago, churches looking to do external marketing to attract new attenders used direct mail campaigns. Hardly any used “online” methods to grow.

Now less than three percent of churches use direct mail and nearly two thirds are relying on social media to get the word out.

Is your organization keeping up with the ways in which your customers consume information?

That may all feel overwhelming, but in fact a good look at the potential external disruptions and strategic inflection points for your business can be  bracing and even fun.

Think of taking your key leaders as well as some young leaders you are looking to develop, gathering their resources and asking them to do a survey of the key external factors influencing your industry.

You just might find that it is the perfect time for a change!

The 4 Building Blocks of a Trustworthy Culture

December 14, 2015

We live in a society characterized by distrust. And this distrust has invaded the cultures of the organizations in which we work.

A recent poll found that only seven percent of employees strongly agree that they trust their senior managers to look out for their best interests.

Even worse, only seven percent agree that they trust their coworkers to do so!

The reality is that we live in a world that is saturated with distrust and your employees bring this distrust in the doors with them every day.


But there is hope. The same poll found that 58% of employees who had strong trust in their management were ‘completely satisfied’ with their jobs and 63% would consider spending the rest of their careers with their organizations.

It’s indisputable – there is a direct link between trust in leadership and employee engagement and retention. Organizations which have cultures characterized by trust are thriving organizations.

Our research and experience at TAG shows that employees who work for an organization defined by trust feel valued, work harder, experience greater satisfaction, and are less likely to think about leaving for somewhere else.

They belong, contribute, and make a difference.

An annual survey of “Best Places To Work In America’ found that the most appealing workplaces were distinguished by high levels of trust, cooperation, and commitment and did better than their peers and competitors in these ways:

  • They have stronger long-term financial performance
  • They experience lower turnover
  • They receive more job applications
  • They are more diverse in their employee/volunteer base

Organizations with thriving cultures have as one of their components the experience of Connection – their people are connected by trust and a willingness to let each other shine. Connected organizations are characterized by these four attributes.

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

Here’s an idea: have your leadership team engage in a series of discussions about trust in your culture, revolving around those four attributes. You’ll discover where trust is deeply rooted in your organization. And you will discover ways to shore up trust where it is lacking.

Relationships Are More Important Than People

December 11, 2015

Whether or not you believe your organization functions as a whole or as a collection of separate parts has a profound influence on the way you lead and the nature of your organization’s culture.

An important part of  being an effective leader is thinking in systems – looking at the forest, not just the trees. A leader knows that her organization is in fact a dynamic and complex whole, not just a collection of parts.

Individual humans are complex and so a collection of humans is very complex. The network of relationships within the system of your organization – whether 10 people or 10,000 – is inherently complex. Any change in the group affects the group as a whole.

Effective leaders focus on the relationships, the lines between individuals, more than on the individuals themselves.

When there is a problem in an organization, the easy thing to do is to find an individual to blame (Jim has a bad attitude, Susan is overly ambitious, Bob is careless, Mary runs over people). So, the solution appears to be an easy one – get rid of Jim, Susan, Bob, or Mary and the problem in the organization goes away!

Only, the problem remains and we wonder why.

It’s because there are issues in the system – the interrelationships – that aren’t solved by scapegoating.

The answers to chronic problems in the organization are rarely if ever safely laid at the feet of any one person. The wise leader sees past personalities and focuses on the ways in which individuals within the group relate to one another.

In organizations with healthy interdependence, members say things like these responses from our survey, The Engagement Dashboard  (TED):
-When a problem repeats itself, I understand that I may be part of the problem.
-My actions are influenced by those around me, even though I am ultimately responsible.
-In turn, my actions influence those around me.
-The way people interact with each other takes on a predictable pattern over time and that offers real insight into the way things work around here.

Find out more about TED here.

A great resolve for a leader is to learn to think and see in systems rather than problems and relationships rather than individuals.

Are You Anxious?

December 10, 2015

Who’s the most anxious person in your organization?

Perhaps your answer is “me”! Whether you put your finger on yourself or someone else comes to mind, anxiety in an organization is an exhausting, distracting, and sometimes frightening thing.

When we encounter a person who is anxious, our own anxiety level tends to skyrocket. Driven by our own anxiety we want to do anything possible to either eliminate the source of the anxiety or, often, to eliminate the anxious person!

And anxiety has a nasty tendency to spread like wildfire through an organization, sapping morale, cutting productivity, eroding trust in leadership.

If you think of anxiety as a form of resistance, though, and remember our mantra that “Resistance is your ally” you will have a better shot at managing and reducing chronic anxiety.

And remember this:
The most anxious person in an organization is always a symbol of the organization as a whole.

When a group is anxious they need more than anything else for their anxiety to be recognized and understood and brought into the open. What the group needs is a leader who is managing his or her own anxiety and in so doing creating a “holding environment” where the anxiety of a group can be acknowledged but contained. Over time, as the anxiety in the organization is reduced the very best resources and creativity of the team  gets freed from focusing on anxiety to tackling the challenges the organization is facing.

Such a leader is called a non-anxious presence. There’s no bigger challenge for a leader than to be this person, especially when you own anxiety is so high.

To be a non-anxious presence on a daily basis requires balancing two emphases – self-awareness and other-centeredness.

You have to be aware that you are anxious yourself and be calm and shrewd about determining the source of that anxiety. Realize that the anxiety of others is not primarily about you but that you are the one in position to help them navigate and manage it. Like resistance, anxiety can be your friend in that it reveals deeper forces at work in an organization and gives you the chance to adjust your strategies. Anxiety is both an early warning sign and a gift to a leader – pointing the way to new ways of thinking and being, new approaches to chronic problems. But you can’t lead in this until you have the courage to name and face your own anxiety.

Once you have learned to be a non-anxious presence in your own life you have the opportunity to turn to others. Anxious people are not your problem; they are given to you as a trust. Your job as a leader is to create the holding environment where their anxieties can be acknowledged, honestly named, and dealt with by truth tempered with compassion.

Such a holding environment results in business measurables such as increased productivity , energy for customers and clients, and productivity. But it also results in more fully engaged employees who are willing to give more and more of their discretionary energy because they are being honored and affirmed.

As always for a leader, your fundamental challenge is not to save your organization, but to save yourself! And that can start with the very real anxiety you may be experiencing.

What’s Your Brand?

December 9, 2015

The very best brands in the world have gone beyond creating brands.

They have created “brand communities”. They all make you think of something, and cause most people to think of the same thing.

What do you think of when you think of these brands –
Star Trek
University of North Carolina Basketball
Notre Dame Football
Southwest Airlines
In-and-Out Burgers

Chances are that when you think of these brands you think of SOMETHING.

And, without a doubt, there are legions of people who are devoutly loyal to each one. They are part of a brand community.

A  brand community is a group of passionate customers who identify so strongly with the brand that they will organize parts of their life around it. They will go  miles out of their way to shop at a particular branded store. They will arrange family events around their team’s playoff games. They will spend more money than necessary to purchase the brand.

Brand communities make sense in a world like ours where there is such a palpable craving for community. People want to belong, contribute, and make a difference, and brand communities touch the longing for belonging. If you can create a brand community around your product or service you almost can’t help but be successful!

There are two key components to creating a brand community.
1. Your whole organization, not just your marketing people, must be committed. Your commitment to the brand must be reflected in everything from organizational structure to internal communication to the reputation you have in your surrounding community. In the book, we tell the story of how Harley Davidson turned a failing business model into a thriving brand community. They flattened management, hosted elaborate and impactful community service projects, and put their senior management face to face with customers at social events. Perhaps  most importantly, employees became riders! We tell the story here.

Whether you are in the business of motorcycles, machine tools, or mayonnaise you can take steps to create a brand community as well – IF your organization is all in.

2. You must get into the lives of people, not just their wallets.  Most of us love Goldfish crackers. They’re tasty, portable, and you can consume lots of them in a single bite. What’s not to love? Riding a cool wave, the marketing folks behind Goldfish tried to create a suite of interactive games for kids on its website. The effort flopped.

Then someone had an idea. Someone in the organization read the devastating statistics about low self-esteem among kids and childhood depression. So its website and marketing folks teamed up, pulled the silly games, and begin to create forums for conversations around the issues most important in the lives of kids and families, branching out to community-based initiatives to help kids with mental health issues. Kids responded, parents said ‘thanks’ and the brand went to new heights.

The Goldfish people said “We want you to buy our crackers but we also want to be a positive part of your life beyond your snack choices.” A brand community was deepened and a brand experienced new success.

Crafting a brand community makes good business sense – but there is another benefit as well: it helps build a fun and cohesive corporate culture.

How about your brand?
Do you understand the power of a brand community?
To what brands are you personally, even illogically loyal? Why?
Could your organization be all-in as to creating a brand community?

Focus on Strengths To Have A Winning Organization

December 8, 2015

When an organization has a healthy climate, the end result is that employees or volunteers are engaged. When they think about their jobs, their thoughts run to sentiments such as these: “I matter around here. They pay attention to my strengths and talents here. I am making a difference”.


In our employee survey, The Engagement Dashboard, which you can read about here, organizations with a healthy culture see that their employees answer yes to questions such as “I get to use my talents and strengths every day at work”.

There are lots of tools to identify employee strengths but the very best organizations, whether or not they choose to use formal tools, somehow seem to consistently identify and develop skilled managers and leaders.

Two questions are critical in identifying and developing talented leaders who are sold out to the mission:

  1. What does it take to win in our business?
  2. How will we know a winner when we see him or her?

Once you’ve found them, you’ve got to nurture them!

Here are three critical ingredients for developing employees around their strengths and creating employee engagement:

  1. Create a common language around strengths and skills. Whether you use a ready made tool or create your own vocabulary, make sure that you are fostering conversations about strengths more than shortcomings. In our work with clients, this is one of our preoccupations – how can we turn the internal and external conversations to focus on strengths and promise. It’s key to ‘catch’ team members praising the strengths of others and build on such comments. it makes a huge difference both in productivity and climate!
  2. Make sure managers are talking to team members about strengths. Sure, you have to have a daily task-focus – stuff has to get done! But make sure that you circle every conversation you can around to the employee or volunteer’s strengths and talents – you’ll see improved morale and productivity as a result. And cultivate and place managers who are willing to run a personal risk by shifting responsibilities around to make sure people are in places where they can shine.
  3. Align your performance systems around strengths. The promise should be simple: “We will put you in a place where you can use your strengths and talents. If you do so in alignment with our corporate mission you will be promoted and rewarded and in so doing you will fulfill your desire to contribute, belong, and to make a difference.”

Simply put, it’s more fun to work in a place where employees are engaged around their strengths and thus committed and loyal to the organizational mission.

To read much more check out our new book The Secret Sauce here or be in touch with us – we’d love to help you create a winning, strengths-based organizational climate in the place you serve!

Three Tips For Attracting and Retaining Talent

December 7, 2015

No organization can win without talent!  And truly talented people are drawn to well-managed organizations with a healthy and winning culture.

People are hungry to be managed well, even if they are already high performers. We’ve found that there are three crucial elements to attracting and retaining talent.

1. Supervise just enough
Managers who groom top talent know when to supervise and when to position themselves to offer help. The best managers are more like coaches than taskmasters, ensuring that their team members have the right amount of support and the proper resources, but not digging into the details. Whenever possible, they position themselves on the balcony, taking a birds’-eye view of the team and the organization.

In our research, one word came up repeatedly as talented team members described their managers – “HELPFUL“.

2.  Give consistent and helpful feedback
Talented employees are also looking for feedback that is timely and specific. They relish performance reviews – whether formal or informal -that are actually linked to results. And they expect to have input into their own evaluations and to be able to evaluate those who report to them.

In our research, one word came up repeatedly when talented team members described the feedback they received – “USEFUL“.

3.  Make sure that rewards are commensurate with performance
Talented employees expect to be rewarded in a way that honors their contribution and ascribes them value. This includes the basics of competitive compensation and benefits packages, to be sure, but it means more. Talented team members expect rewards that are specific to their needs and passions and take their talent profiles into consideration.

For one employee, this may mean extra time off to pursue an area of passion – a volunteer activity or a life-giving hobby. For another, it may mean paid time and expenses covered for a professional development opportunity such as a conference, class, or retreat.

In our research one word came up repeatedly when talented team members described the rewards they received – “PERSONAL“.

How about your organization?
Are you attracting and retaining top talent?
Are you supervising, feeding back, and rewarding in ways designed to meet the needs of the most talented people in your organization and industry?