TAG Consulting

The Answer Is In The Room

January 29, 2018

When we walk into an engagement with a new client we have a fundamental operating premise, no matter the challenges or opportunities they are facing:

The answer is in the room.

This shapes our work as consultants. We don’t bring in three ring binders or non-writable PDFs full of prefabricated solutions.

Sure, we believe that we bring experience and expertise but that is geared towards helping the leaders who are on the ground and know their organizations work together to find answers and solutions for their challenges.

As a leader you face opportunities and challenges every single day. It is easy to focus on your own limitations, or those of your team.

But it is a much better idea to focus on their strengths and possibilities.

And to focus on creating an organizational culture that focuses on that.

The next time you get your team around a table, look around, see each of them for their strengths, and remind yourself ‘The answer is in this room’.

Why Resistance Is Your Ally

December 11, 2017

Call it what you will – resistance, pushback, challenge, opposition – it’s basically an opposing force that slows or stops movement. Anyone in leadership, be it parenting, teaching, directing a government agency or pastoring a church, should come to expect resistance. Resistance is everywhere!

It is important to NOT be surprised when resistance emerges. In fact, it is an element in the process of leadership that we should welcome. Welcome it, then learn how to handle it correctly.

All of us resist at times. It’s a way of protecting ourselves from real or perceived danger, most notably when change is unfolding. In and of itself, resistance is not a bad thing. It’s merely energy. If we can effectively redirect this energy we can move the resistance in the direction of change.

The first signal resistance sends to my mind is ‘I don’t like this change. In fact, I don’t like ANY change!’.

The second thing resistance signals is ‘OK, I can tolerate some change, but you’re going too fast’. When we receive the signal – whatever it is – it’s up to us to determine what the signal means.

Resistance signals issues that are lurking underneath the surface and that are tapping into our most deeply held values. That’s one of the great benefits of resistance and why we don’t hesitate to call it our ally.

Resistance is our ally because it lets us know that there is something important on in our life, our leadership, or both. It lets us know something needs to change and that change will be for the better.

Toxic Culture or Thriving Ethos?

December 11, 2017

Darya Zabelina and Michael Robinson of North Dakota State University, conducted a study several years ago with two groups. The first group was given the following prompt: You are seven years old. School is canceled, and you have the entire day to yourself. What would you do? Where would you go? Who would you see?

The second group was given the same prompt minus the first sentence. This means they didn’t imagine themselves as seven years old – they remained in their adult mindset. Neither group could see the other prompt given.

Next, the psychologists asked their subjects to take ten minutes to write a response. Afterwards the subjects were given various tests of creativity, such as inventing alternative uses for an old tire, or completing incomplete sketches.  Zabelina and Robinson found that “individuals [in] the mindset condition involving childlike thinking…exhibited higher levels of creativity than did those in the control condition.” This effect was especially pronounced with subjects who identify themselves as introverts.

Which begs the question: What happens to our innate creativity when we age?

Zabelina and Robinson discuss a few reasons. The first is that regions of the frontal cortex – a part of the brain responsible for rule-based behavior – are not fully developed until our teenage years. This means that when we are young our thoughts are free-flowing and without inhibitions. Curiosity, not logic and reason, guides our intellectual musings. The second is that current educational practices discourage creativity.

Sir Ken Robinson says, “The whole system of public education around the world is a protracted process of university entrance. And the consequence is that many highly talented, brilliant, creative people think they’re not, because the thing they were good at school wasn’t valued, or was actually stigmatized.” So that’s where we lost our creativity.

Plato said “Whatever is honored will be cultivated.”

The opposite is true too. What we do not honor, we do not cultivate. Creativity has suffered at the hands of university entrance.

But, there is hope…no matter the reasons, the authors stress, adults can still tap into their more imaginative younger selves. Creativity… giving life to an idea, expression, thought, movement or a construct is life-giving for people, vital to organizational health, and directly impacts the mission. Every system has within its ranks the creative answers to the most challenging questions that system faces. Which means that innovation is not to be delegated as the solitary work of the Marketing Department or the Research & Development group.

Your climate matters. Strong organizational climate is found where creativity and innovation is honored. Better yet, where it is fueled. Everyone in our organizations has something to offer. Do we give them the space and permission to wrestle with the challenges and opportunities our organization faces?

We know that a toxic culture is a place where…
…new ideas can be seen as a threat to the establishment
…there is a pervasive fear of failure
…we are structured so as not allow out of the box thinking
…micro-managing is a way of life
…there is not enough time nor the permission to utilize one’s “work” time to be creative
…the physical work environment is disheartening
…there is no mechanism for brainstorming
…the generation of new expressions and ideas is limited to certain senior leaders or appointed positions.

So, let’s turn that around. A thriving ethos is a place where…
…new ideas are invited and encouraged as a way of finding new paths forward.
…we embrace failing so we can learn a new way.
…we structure to permit innovation in and out of the box.
…we unleash the “what if” in everyone.
…we provide tinkering space that might lead to the next break through idea.
…we design our spaces to invoke a catalyst of creative energy.
…everyone brings fresh thinking.

Does your organization more closely resemble a toxic culture or a thriving ethos?


Shane Roberson

A Football Coach Crafts Thriving Culture

December 4, 2017

You’ll appreciate this whether or not you are a football fan.

Coach Scott Frost took over a moribund University of Central Florida football program and turned it around dramatically. This season they are undefeated leading into their season-ending bowl game – a remarkable achievement!

This past weekend, Coach Frost – after a real struggle – decided to accept the head coaching position at his alma mater, Nebraska.

Many times when this happens, there is bitterness all around as players and fans at the former school feel jilted.

Not the case with Coach Frost. Media members reported nothing short of a love fest. But it wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns. There were reasons behind the love.

Reporter Robin Washut wrote about what UCF players told him Coach Frost had meant to them:

He taught us how to love each other.”

“We forgot what the importance of team was, and he brought that back to us.”

“When Coach Frost came here, he built trust with everyone.”

If you’re looking for a great description of what a culture-crafting leader does, you can stop right there!

Would your team say those things about you?


Photo cred: Omaha World-Herald

Leadership Is All About Connection

December 1, 2017

A college freshman walks into his very first college course – the dreaded eight o’clock class.

Freshman year can be a bit awkward, especially so for this young man. He barely graduated high school, was forced to suspend any dreams he had of going away to school like the rest of his friends and felt stuck going to a junior college. Life did not quite work out his way up to this point.

His father died when he was 15, he was cut from every sports team, never “fit in” anywhere in high school. A shy, overweight, average young man who felt fairly invisible in what felt like the college for misfits.

The students shuffled in, plopping behind desks that felt sized for a middle school student. In walks a man just under six feet tall, wearing wrinkled black pants, white dress shirt untucked, adorned with a black necktie that was loosened like he had already been through a long day.

His wiry black hair was disheveled and his grin completed the package of the image of a mad scientist. Professor Herman Heluza fit the bill for what one would expect for a junior college instructor of a freshman English class.

Already defeated, our young college student readied himself for another series of struggles, trying to make something of himself. Failure defined his existence to this point.

He was never a particularly good student, especially in high school. He had all but given up being anything. He knew he wasn’t very smart, believed that he didn’t have much in the way of mental capacity and intellectual capabilities. It had be reinforced throughout high school. Just to graduate from High School he had to beg a teacher to give him a D in Geometry after he had failed it once before.

English was definitely not his strong suit. Identified as having a reading comprehension problem in sixth grade, he never quite recovered. His work was always sub-standard. He knew how to do just enough to squeak by. In his writing, he grew used to seeing a lot of red ink all over his papers.

He submitted his first paper, not thinking much of it. Receiving it back in class he skipped through the first few pages to go to where the grade would be, on the back page.

Wait, what? A double take. A big letter A. Verifying it was his paper, his immediate thought? “This crazy prof didn’t read my paper.”

Over the course of the semester he kept getting papers with very few comments (translate…very little red ink) and A’s. Wow, this had never happened before, ever!

The final paper, Professor Heluza provided ample feedback with a note at the end, “Please make an appointment with me to come see me as soon as possible!” Yikes! Gulp! His first thought? “He thought I cheated.”

The student remembers, “I knew this was all too good to be true; he thinks I’m plagiarizing.”

The two connected in the professor’s office. Professor Heluza sat down, looked the student in the eye (a bit uncomfortably) and said “I love your writing!”

Shocked, the young man listened. Herman leaned in a little closer, “There’s a gift inside of you that you have to let out. The world needs what you have to offer! You are going to be a great writer and speaker some day.”

That day, this odd, disheveled, sort of weird College Freshman English Professor named Herman connected a skipped over, discarded, “dumb” student with purpose and meaning. Heluza was able to tap into latent potential, unrealized capacity that gave this young man a platform from which to contribute.

There is a gift inside each of us that is waiting to be expressed! It is your unique contribution that fulfills your innate sense of what it means to be human. You long – we all do – for a place to contribute and make an impact.

What Herman Heluza did for that young man was to connect his capacity with a specific way to contribute.

John Quincy Adams said “You’re a leader if you inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more.” You could say Professor Heluza was a leader! Leaders of thriving organizations inspire people to realize their capacity, their gift, to contribute to the organization. It’s all about connection, taking the time to meaningfully engage so we can see the potential in people even when they have lost sight of what they can offer.

There is more power in relationship than any position, piece of information or expertise can provide. Relationships are power. Our new economy is based on an age old natural resource; our ability and capacity to connect with people and their potential. Herman Heluza connected capacity with contribution and saved the life of a young man who thought he would amount to nothing.

Here’s something to consider:
 As a leader, what tone are you setting?
 Are you cultivating a climate where meaningful connections are established?
 Are you about opening gifts and breathing inspiration into people?
 Does your organization have a culture that is a place where people can contribute the best of what they have to offer?

The rest of the story? The young man went on to graduate college with a Bachelor’s Degree (with honors), one semester obtaining a 4.0 GPA. He completed a Masters degree from an Ivy League university and went on to get his doctorate and eventually became a published author and speaker.

All because of the power of one person recognizing the gift of another!

Shane Roberson

5 Questions Culture-Crafting Leaders Are Asking

November 26, 2017

Crafting a winning culture is a long and challenging process. It’s important and encouraging to take inventory along the way – and helpful to know how you are doing based on the experiences of others.

Here are five great questions that leaders engaged in the process of changing or crafting a thriving organizational culture can ask as they go:

1. Would the people who work for me say I walk the 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 our organization offers 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?

Is Your Navigation System On Point?

November 26, 2017

All of us have internal maps that shape how we think, feel, react, and relate to others.

As we encounter new experiences, we take out our maps to give us perspective (or a “frame”) on those experiences. We’re directed through all of life using those maps to guide us.

Unfortunately, we rarely pull out and analyze our maps. We don’t see the map, we see WITH the map, all the while believing that the way we are perceiving the world is universally real. But everyone has a different map of reality. If you are listening to those around you, you’ll begin to intuit a person’s map of reality in the way they phrase their experiences when they speak.

Researchers find that the left side of our brains (the logic side) is committed to interpreting all of our overt behavior and emotional responses. Evidently, this is done so that the brain can have a consistent story of all that is happening at any given time.

Sometimes the left side will go to bizarre lengths to correlate events into a coherent story. Unfortunately, these explanations from the left side of our brains often contradict what we have in our maps on the right side (the “feeling”, emotional side), which results in incongruence, double messages, and confusion for the listener.

So our perspective (our map) helps us to interpret the meaning of our experiences. But our interpretations are always bound by context.

In other words, a particular map that suits us just fine in one situation may not work well at all in another.

When you are operating in the Blue Zone in the middle of a conflict, your job is to listen carefully to how people are framing all of the situations involved in the conflict. Your task is to look over their shoulders as they consult their internal maps. Note to yourself whether or not these maps are helpful in moving the project, the relationship, the organization forward.

If the map is not helpful and in fact you are heading in the wrong direction your job is to offer a new map so that people can get a different orientation on what is actually happening.

To use an updated metaphor, sometimes you have to hit “alternate routes” on your GPS!

Of course it goes without saying that before you can help people get oriented correctly in conflict you have to be willing to do the hard and good work of taking an objective look at your own map!

Is There Enough Cynicism In Your Culture?

November 15, 2017


It takes time to build trust in an organization…but cynicism spreads like crabgrass!

Cynicism can be a destructive, corrosive force, stalking your office corridors and internal comms channels, completely altering the environment of your organization.

But, let’s face it – cynicism can’t be completely eliminated. As a matter of fact, when it is tamed and leveraged cynicism can play a positive role in the life of your organization.

How can you balance cynicism and trust in your organization?

When you are driving down the road and see a car approaching you in the opposite lane you have to make the decision to trust that it is going to remain in its lane as opposed to crashing head-first into you. Hundreds of times each day, we make similar decisions to trust. There’s no other way to function in life. In a very real sense, trust is as necessary to our daily survival as food and water.

But, as counterintuitive as it sounds, we need cynicism as well.

Let’s say we are driving late at night in hazardous conditions. A car is approaching in the opposite lane, going too fast and weaving across the road. A healthy degree of cynicism would lead us to assume that the driver is intoxicated or otherwise incapacitated and to take defensive measures. In that case, I am right not to trust.

Same thing in our organizations. Trust is healthy – indeed it is the most important predictive factor in the success of an organization. But there is also such a thing as a healthy dose of cynicism.

You can’t do the things that build trust unless you’ve done the things that manage cynicism.

For instance, it is appropriate to be a little cynical when onboarding a new hire. They are not going to be as competent as a veteran in their first days on the job. They need to be supervised and mentored in the culture and processes of your organization, no matter how sparkling their resume and credentials.

This is healthy organizational cynicism. It’s not personal distrust. As a matter of fact, we put systems of accountability in place to remove the need for personal distrust.

People have strengths and weaknesses and we have to manage those as leaders. Healthy leaders aren’t shy about putting mechanisms in place to support both employees and the organization as a whole.

The art is in balancing trust and cynicism – distinguishing between cynicism that is healthy and that which is unhealthy.

Unhealthy cynicism never allows trust to grow. Healthy cynicism fosters a safe, controlled environment in which trust is the ultimate goal. Monitoring processes are in place but those processes are fair and flexible, not rigid and domineering. They create a climate of equity and ownership where employees can say “This is MY organization; I can trust and I feel trusted because I know our shared values and commitments will be honored by everyone.