TAG Consulting

How Great Leaders Set The Pace

August 23, 2016

runners-set-pace_origBlue Zone behavior moves a person to pace the one with whom they are experiencing conflict. Pacing is one of the most important skills a leader has and is essential in navigating conflict.

So what does it mean to pace someone?

Pacing involves getting into the other person’s world by:

  1. Seeing things from their perspective.
  2. Affirming that perspective, whether or not we actually agree.
  3. Demonstrating empathy through words and nonverbal cues.

Pacing is not about giving the impression of agreement. In fact, we have to be careful not to give the impression that we agree when we don’t – this is downright manipulative.

Being understood is one thing. Being agreed with is quite another.

But whether we agree or not, hearing and doing everything we can to understand are essential conflict skills.

5 Results of A Healthy Organizational Culture

August 23, 2016


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 results (with a hat tip to Parr) that flow to an organization with a healthy culture:

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

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

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.

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

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.

Win By Asking The Best Questions

August 15, 2016


Question-asking is an increasingly lost art in an era of constant talk and ‘pushing content’.

But asking the right questions is of primary importance in thriving through conflict, because we can’t work through conflict well until we put ourselves in the shoes of the other.

Four elements make for a powerful question:
1. It comes from a place of genuine curiosity.
Great questions aren’t means to an end – to win an argument, elicit information for negotiation purposes, to create leverage. A great question comes from a place where the asker admits at least the potential of ignorance and is  open to the possibility of growth in understanding.

2. It is direct, simple, and usually open-ended.
If I ask a question programmed to get a response or maneuver the one answering into a one-down position, I’ve introduced noise and the potential of defensiveness into the equation. My question’s intent is  clear – I desire information and for the one I am asking to have the time, space, and freedom to answer truthfully, without fear of losing.

3. It generates creative thinking and surfaces underlying information.
A question opens a dialogue – it doesn’t win an argument. It shows that I am engaged, poised to grow and develop a relationship, not best a partner in a negotiating. It invites the one answering to be truthful, vulnerable, and trusting. When this happens, previously hidden truths emerge and point the way through the conflict.

4. It encourages self-reflection.
In a real sense, a good question gives me more information about me – it reveals what I value, what I hope for, my strategic choices, and my desired outcome. And it invites the answer to reflect as well. “Yes” or “No” or “You’re right” may have value, but they only scratch the surface of our stories, experiences, and values. Deeper questions deepen relationships and self-understanding.

What’s the best question you’ve been asked recently?
What’s the best question you’ve asked recently?

Take Your Team’s Temperature

August 15, 2016

PictureOne of the most important components of culture is Organizational Climate. This is rooted in our innate desire to belong to a creative community. We can learn a lot about an organization by walking through their work areas slowly, having casual conversations with people, paying attention to snippets of conversation during workshop breaks—in general, taking the temperature of the place.

In early 2014, Google made one of its biggest-ever acquisitions. It purchased a company called Nest, which makes a thermostat and a smoke alarm, for $3.2 billion.

Yep, Google—the worldwide leader in search and in organizing information—bought a thermostat and a smoke detector for just north of three billion.

Many observers scratched their heads. What would a technology firm want with a company that makes boring commodities that hang on a wall in your house and are only noticed when they beep or you become uncomfortable? No one has ever looked at a thermostat or a smoke alarm and said “Cool!”
At least not very many people.

But the acquisition made sense. Nest makes thermostats and smoke alarms that are connected to the Internet, and thus can be used to gather data about customers and potential customers. Google’s avowed mission is to “organize and simplify the world’s information” and certainly house fires, carbon monoxide levels, and how warm people like their living areas are part of that data set.

But there may be something more at play here. Google realizes that climate matters, that temperature makes a difference, that whether or not a room is warm or cool has a big bearing on the happiness and productivity of the people in that room! The climate in your home makes a difference. The same is true in your organization.

So, how is the temperature in your organization or on your team? It’s a great personal reflection question and also a great (and maybe even fun!) question for your team to wrestle with together.

Photo cred of Google Nest – amazon.com

Conflict: Friend or Enemy?

August 7, 2016


There’s at least one thing that we all have in common – we have to face conflict! It’s inevitable – we are going to find conflict in our personal and professional lives. Conflict crops up between marriage partners, between employees and employers, between political partisans, and between nations.

If you are a leader, you deal with conflict. As a matter of fact, it’s not too much to say that much of leadership is about conflict.

Many of you who are reading this paper are in formal positions of leadership. You undoubtedly face conflict challenges daily in one form or another. Because we coach many leaders across the organizational spectrum, we know that a significant amount of a leader’s time is caught up in conflict.

But that’s not all bad. At least it doesn’t have to be all bad. The healthiest organizations are loaded with conflict.

So are the least healthy.

What matters is the nature of the conflict.

Most people run from conflict. And yet conflict has a habit of showing up continually, even though every possible measure is taken to prevent it.

Here’s what we believe – foundationally – about conflict:

➢    You can’t escape conflict.  The issues on which we can disagree are endless.
➢    Conflict isn’t really the problem. The problem is how people relate to one another when they are in conflict. Conflict is NOT a bad thing; in fact, it’s a good and necessary thing.
➢    Conflict offers a unique and priceless opportunity to grow in self-awareness and maturity as a leader and as a person.

Understood properly, healthy conflict is actually your friend – not your foe! Why? Because it allows for possibility of growth in self-understanding and for an  increased range of options for leaders to deal with challenging dilemmas.

An Olympic Champion Talks About The Secret Sauce

August 7, 2016

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.

Katie Meili made the team for the Olympics in Rio in the breaststroke after being the longest of long shots. She gave Coach Marsh with lion’s share of the credit for her rapid rise. “He knew how to reach each of us in the way we needed to be reached”, she told Charlotte  magazine.

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! And this week we celebrate along with him and his team as they represent the United States before the eyes of the whole world!

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?

photo cred: queens.edu

The Workplace Of Your Dreams…Or Your Nightmares?

July 31, 2016


We use “Red Zone/Blue Zone” as convenient shorthand for how we all respond to the inevitable conflicts that will come our way. This plays out in our personal life to be sure – but it is also writ large in our professional lives. Whole organizations can end up living in either the Blue or the Red Zone.

How do you know which is which? Here is our quick set of comparison characteristics to contrast life in the Zones.

In the Red Zone:

  • We focus on feelings more than on results.
  • There are no common standards and no way of  monitoring performance and behavior.
  • People in the organization assume ‘family’ roles – mom, dad, arrogant older brother, spoiled little sister, patriarch, etc.

In the Blue Zone:

  • There is a focus on efficiency and effectiveness.
  • The structures of the organization are closely monitored and respected.
  • Business issues are the top priority.

What about your organization? Does the Red Zone or Blue Zone more closely describe the way people interact there?
If you want to move more into the Blue Zone, keep reading this blog!

A Leader’s Personal Inventory

July 31, 2016

Every smart business takes inventory, to determine what it has enough of and what it lacks – where it is flourishing and where it has deficiencies that must be addressed.

The same thing is true for leaders as individuals, especially those who want to be part of crafting great organizational cultures. Over our decades of work with organizations we have identified at least six key inventory items you as a leader will want to make sure are always in stock – each item represented by a probing question. Consider your current stock levels and the health of your inventory!

  1. Would the people who work for me say I walk my talk?
  2. Am I clear on my own personal values and do I live them out?
  3. Are others clear on my personal values?
  4. Do the products and services we offer the marketplace match up to what we say are our core values?
  5. When we say things like “our biggest asset is our employees” do we actually behave as if that is true?
  6. Does the way we treat customers, clients, and vendors comport with what we say we believe as an organization?