TAG Consulting

Two Reasons Your Organization Must Change

May 16, 2016

change fatal

Most organizations we encounter – whether they are in the Public, Private, or Social sector – know that change is a never-ending, continuously updated process. The very best of those organizations institutionalize change, knowing that innovation happens best at the moment of peak success.

It’s best not to wait to institute change leadership until change is necessary, but sometimes that is exactly the position in which we find ourselves. There are two fail-proof indicators that change has to happen, and happen now.

The first reason for immediate change is when the gap between who we are and who we say we want to be is an obviously huge one.

It’s rare that we will be exactly who we want to be, as a person or as an organization made up of people. Congruence is a lifelong pursuit. But there are times when the gap is just too big to ignore.

Let’s say we are a person who says “I want to be deeply committed to my family, spending all of the time with them that I can”. But when we honestly examine our lives, we find that the pressures of work or other outside pursuits have resulted in our missing a string of family birthdays, soccer matches, dance recitals, and graduations. There’s a gap there – one we must address.

Or our organization claims “Our people are our priority”. But we have high turnover, there is a nasty, backbiting culture in place, and when we dare to survey employee engagement the results are discouraging.

People can survive and even thrive in tough turnaround situations. But it’s tough to last fifteen minutes when the gap between who we are and who we want to be is wide and there is no plan in place to narrow it.

The second reason for immediate change is when we are experiencing competing values clashing to the point that we can’t ignore them.

A medical practice has older partners who are trying to maximize their earnings and market share and have the time to do so since most of their children are grown and gone. The younger partners have kids in high school and want to have a practice characterized by work-life balance. A not for profit sees huge potential for increasing human services – this will require more fundraising and more staffing…but also a cost-cutting initiative.

When we are facing canyons between our aspiration and our reality and between the values on our team there is bad news and good news.

The bad news is that the change that is necessary is likely to cause the experience of loss for some people involved. It may be positional, financial, or motivational – but there will be “winners” and “losers” in any kind of significant change initiative.

The good news is that everyone in the organization will be aware and desirous of some sort of change because the tension and pain of continuing with the status quo is too high, or will be very soon.

This is the point where leaders earn their pay. Recognizing the need for change, defining that change, mobilizing the people and resources necessary for the change, managing their own anxiety and that of others, telling the truth even when it hurts – this is the real stuff of leadership.

Navigated with courage, the end result is a change where the organization wins and the team is more energized and engaged than ever.

This kind of change leadership is what TAG specializes in. Every day our consultants and coaches are engaged in supporting leaders and organizations in the process of change, helping them to anticipate landmines, craft winning strategies, and consolidate gains for the common good.

We’d love to talk to you about how we can support you in your change initiative. Click here to find out more about our approach to change and here to get in touch with us.


Image cred: forbes.com

How To Disrupt The Status Quo

May 12, 2016


All organizations tend to maintain the status quo.

This is true whether the organization is a business, a family, a government agency, or a not-for-profit.

We’re comfortable with the status quo, even if we know it could be better, and often we will work vigorously to protect it. It’s just the way systems work.

One of the main tasks of a leader is to disrupt the status quo, to bring change. The problem is that often we don’t know how to do it.

So, we rely on what has worked before. If we’re in the position of a leader, something we have done in the past has worked and so we keep trying that again and again…until it doesn’t work anymore.

You know the adage – if the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. If you have a go-to approach for problem-solving, you will be tempted to use it over and over again.

Until yesterday’s solution becomes today’s problem.

In our book, The Leadership Triangle, co-authored by Kevin Graham Ford and Ken Tucker, we make the case that there are three different types of leadership challenges, each of which require a different kind of leadership solution (what we call an Option).

The Strategic Option is the first type of response. A strategic challenge arises when something in the environment external to your organization has changed in a way that impacts the organization. Maybe your customers’ preferences or values have shifted. Maybe a technological advance has disrupted your industry. Maybe a competitor has innovated in a way that threatens your market share. Maybe something has shifted in the regulatory environment and your rules of engagement are now different.

Whatever the case, your internal status quo has been disrupted by a change in the external status quo and you must change in order to remain relevant.

How do you do that, as a leader?

We suggest that you gather your team (after you have gathered your wits!) and run through this series of questions designed to grapple with your strategic challenge and move toward a wise and timely use of the Strategic Option:

  • What do we say yes to, that we should say no to?
  • What does our customer really value?
  • How are our competitors doing things differently than they used to?
  • What new competitors have emerged?
  • Who is our target audience, really?
  • What workarounds have our frontline employees adopted that could teach us something?
  • If we could create a niche for ourselves where we would be #1, what would that niche be?
  • What legacy will future leaders say we left behind for them?

If you wrestle with these questions and their answers, you will be much better equipped to deal with external disruptions, disrupt the status quo, and make wise and winning strategic decisions.

To read much more about the Strategic Option, check out The Leadership Triangle  on this page.

To learn more about how TAG’s team of experienced change leaders and status quo-disruptors can help your organization Discover its next best moves, click here.

Leading When Your Team Is Anxious

May 11, 2016


When your team is in the middle of change or dealing with conflict, you can count on one thing- – – people will feel anxious!

Anxiety is as normal as it can be, but left unchecked can become a destructive force causing people to withdraw, run for cover, avoid the real issues, and take their angst out on one another.

In times of change or conflict it is essential that the leader him- or herself be a non-anxious presence, dealing wisely and well with personal anxiety and helping others hold and contain their own anxiety, while allowing it to be expressed and acknowledged.

One of the best ways to do this is by asking questions for and about your team. Here are some of the ones we advise our clients to ask  about their team members:

What exactly is their stake in this issue?
What results do they truly desire?
What is their level of engagement in this issue?
What is the degree to which each one holds power and influence, and how are they exercising those things?
What are their core, underlying values?
What are their loyalties and obligations?
What potential losses are at stake for them?
What hidden alliances might they have?

Just the process of asking and working through the answers to these questions will help you manage your own anxiety and help your team re-focus from their anxiety to the real, underlying issues at hand. Give it a try!

Getting Ahead of Change

May 11, 2016


Recently we consulted with a family-owned general store. The store sold meats, vegetables, dairy products, clothing, hardware, toys, candy, and everything else you could imagine. They even had a computer repair service and tanning beds!

We were brought in due to a seismic shift in this small town. Walmart had just announced plans to build a new mega store, less than a mile away. Before we even arrived, the third generation owners of the general store knew that they had to change or die. Their options?


Create a niche.

Or win on personalized service.

But they knew that they could not compete head to head with Walmart on volume or price. What to do? What would you do?

Today, our world is in the midst of several seismic shifts. The late Andy Grove, founder of Intel (itself in the middle of a seismic shift as we write this post) describes these shifts as “strategic inflection points”. He defines these as “what happens to a business when a major change takes place in its competitive environment”.

This change can be simply change in the values of your customers or to their preferences. Or the introduction of a new technology impacting your business. Or the introduction of new regulations that shape your ability to do business.

What all of them have in common are that they require a fundamental change in business strategy from you. Nothing less will do.

Are there strategic inflection points on the horizon for your organization?
What is your strategy for monitoring the environment outside of your business so that you are not caught flatfooted when change comes?
Who in your organization is best prepared and gifted to see changes coming outside your four walls?

An Empowerment Checklist

May 3, 2016


Crack or click open any leadership book and you’re guaranteed to find a section in praise of empowerment.

You won’t find a leadership expert, business thinker, or organizational consultant who doesn’t sing the praises of empowering employees or volunteers, stakeholders, and even vendors.

We know empowerment is important and we know the stakes are high. It requires empowerment to have employee engagement and engagement is the single most important predictive factor in organizational success. We know that team members who don’t feel empowered usually become EX-team members, often competitors and anti-evangelists for the companies they left.

But the thing is, when it comes to empowerment we are long on praise and attempted description and short on diagnosis and measurement.

Here, then, is an eight point checklist which will help you determine whether or not you have a culture of empowerment. It is applicable to organizations of all kinds whether in the public, private or not for profit sectors. And it applies to both employees and volunteers.

Rate yourself on a scale of 1-5 for each measure. Where you don’t hit 5, or at least a solid 4, you have the opportunity to develop a strategy which will develop more empowered, engaged, and productive employees.

  • People are given significant latitude and decision-making responsibility.
  • People know what’s expected of them.
  • People have the resources and training to do their tasks correctly.
  • People believe their leaders care about them as people.
  • People receive recognition and praise for good work regularly, and are accountable for mistakes.
  • People have the opportunity to do what they do best regularly.
  • People know that someone in the workplace encourages their development.
  • People know that they are expected to exercise leadership wherever they are, and they have been trained and empowered to feel confident in that role.

Empowerment is one aspect on an organization with engaged employees. Our online survey, The Engagement Dashboard,  has gathered data from hundreds of organizations and thousands of employees. It will reveal the current culture of your organization, its hidden capacities and potential, and will enable you to craft an organizational culture characterized by empowered and engaged employees or volunteers. To find our more about TED, click here.

Are You Listening?

May 3, 2016


Most folks in positions of leadership die with their mouths open. Instead of listening, they are chatting merrily away – or merely keeping silent while awaiting their turn to speak.

Leaders who lead from the Blue Zone must know how to listen. Leaders need to want to listen. They must value listening, and they must see listening as a difficult art to be learned.

This implies that every leader must believe that the people around them are valuable and that their opinions and disagreements matter. That’s the pretext for all effective listening. True, life-giving listening can’t be faked. It’s not a technique; it flows from personhood. Valuing others and their opinions sets the foundation for a person firmly situated in the Blue Zone.

Good listening is fueled by curiosity and empathy; it’s hard to be a great listener if you’re not interested in others.

The stereotype is that hard-charging executive types are self-centered, unwaveringly confident in their own values and opinions, loathe to take advice or even listen much to others. But read the biographies of great leaders and you will find with rare exceptions that they were world-class listeners. They listened – really listened – to their employees, constituents, staff, customers, even competitors. They flew on their own planes, ate in their own restaurants, visited their front lines of battle, startled customers in the check out line, chatted up folks on the factory floor.

This active role is called ‘dynamic listening’ and it’s pretty simple to execute:
You simply ask questions, all the time.

Without feeling the leader’s symptomatic urge to provide all the answers.

A transformational leader is one who acts more as listener and facilitator than expert, encouraging and even cajoling all stakeholders to wrestle with competing values, to unearth answers, and to do the work of leadership themselves.

Does “listener and facilitator” describe you?
Or do you feel the pressure to have all the answers?
When you are most honest with yourself do you find yourself genuinely interested in others, or are you just going through the motions because of your hectic pace?
Whom could you listen to today – and this week – who may not have had much of a voice previously?

Consensus Kills Change

May 3, 2016


Consensus-building is not the way to lead change. It’s the way to preserve the status quo.

To be sure, we’re not advocating a dictatorial management style. You should engage people in conversations, lots of conversations, and listen well.

But not for the sake of consensus.

Engage people in conversation so that you gather the most information possible to make great decisions.

Some bad (yet very common) advice is: “Don’t move ahead until you have gained the approval and agreement of everyone on your team”. This simply guarantees that you will never move ahead.

It’s critical that a change leader build a guiding coalition of influential team members who can influence others. And it’s always better to have more people bought in than not. But we have learned through the hard experience of helping others lead change that not everyone will buy in. Some people cannot deal with the anxiety of change. Others have a vested interest in the established ways of doing things. Others fear losing key alliances premised on the status quo. Others are simply oppositional by temperament.

This is where the leader has an intense and intensely demanding balancing act. It’s vitally important to engage people in the process of change. But input, once a leader or leadership team has made a directional decision, is not about approval. It’s about helping the leader make good decisions with as much input as possible.

Your skill set here must include framing, reframing, and setting expectations. You are truly listening to people and applying their wisest advice and best counsel. But your commitment is to transformational change, and you won’t shy away from that.

You’re not about finding consensus. You’re about courageously leading change.

This balancing act is part of a great culture – respectful listening borne from humility combined with the courage of an indomitable will.

Looking for tools, coaching, and support as you lead change? We can help – get in touch with us here.