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’.

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

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

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.

Three Culture-Killing Mistakes Leaders Can Make

October 31, 2017

At TAG, we wake up every day committed to helping leaders and organizations perform at a higher level, in ways that lead to productivity, employee and team engagement, and success as measured by a chosen mission.

The primary way we do that is by serving leaders who are committed to crafting thriving organizational cultures where everyone realizes their innate desire to belong, to contribute, and to make a difference. This can’t happen unless leaders are focused on the strengths, not the weaknesses of their people.

Because we are strengths-based in our thinking, we spend more time focusing on what’s going right in an organization – or with a leader – than what is going wrong. But combine decades of experience and you’ll see some common mistakes leaders make that can be culture-killers unless they’re addressed.

Lacking self-awareness. Like the general population, managers tend to have little self-awareness, all the while thinking that they know themselves perfectly well. But study after study continues to confirm the fact that our minds generally are very unreliable. And this is especially true when it comes to knowing ourselves and analyzing our own behavior.

A question we like to ask is “What is it like to be on the receiving end of you”? Many leaders have no clue as to their own ‘wiring’ and how their behavior is perceived by those around them. That’s why in our consulting practice, we take a great deal of time to assess people and organizations, to get a handle on how people are wired, and how they go about ‘doing life.’

Managing and leadership generally has many behavioral facets: how I deal with superiors, with peers, with subordinates. How I communicate both verbally and non-verbally. What activities energize. Which drain and deplete. One of the most interesting facets of leading is the decision-making process. Most managers will tell you that they make decisions logically and reasonably. But studies indicate quite the opposite. Your desires decide what you want. Your logical brain crafts an explanation, and you execute.

A thriving culture can be so powerful that it is a counterweight to some of our own worst impulses and default thinking.

Mistaking ‘care’ for affirmation. A manager has taken a new position in a new city in the non-profit organization in which she has worked successfully for some time. This is a significant promotion which carries with it a great deal of responsibility and a team of eight direct reports. After she has been in this new position for six months, one of her direct reports levels the charge on her that she “doesn’t care.”

Sue, our manager in question, is a brilliant woman who has always made significant demands on herself, always expecting the highest performance, and needing little if any outside encouragement or motivation. All of her motivation is internal. This profile has translated into superior performance, and has led to one promotion after another.

Now with the charge of ‘not caring,’ she is baffled, and wonders if she is doing the wrong thing by her team. When asked about some of the history of her new team, as best she understands it, she explains that they have been led by managers who were very empathetic, constantly asking reports about their current personal situations. Accountability was another matter. Yes, there were the usual number of high performers. But mediocrity and poor performance went unchallenged.

Now Sue has entered this organization with high standards and a very specific vision (endorsed by leadership) as to where she wants to take the organization, and the performance needed by everyone to achieve.

Sue needs to have her situation reframed, so that she can refocus on what is actually going on, and what she now needs to do. She has become semi-paralyzed with the ‘not caring’ charge. But is that charge valid? Does she in fact need to alter her behavior?

The reframe is the fact that this is the organizational system pushing back on her higher standards, and need for accountability. She definitely is not the empathetic person delving into the personal lives of her reports. She is the high-achieving manager with a definite program that requires particular performance goals. And now the system is reacting and pushing back on her, attempting to alter her behavior (as she is trying to alter the behavior of her people) and become more in line with what the system has experienced down through its existence.

Caring has to do with nurture. It is a valid characteristic, when used at the right time in the proper context. But it often competes with another value: challenge – the value that sets goals and expectations of performance to reach those goals. Proper parenting is a mixture of nurture and challenge. When one of these values is emphasized too strongly over the other, difficulties will begin to emerge for the children.

As a first step for Sue, clear performance standards and metrics need to be established for each position. This first element is unfortunately lacking time and again across the organizational spectrum. When there is unclear performance standards, expectations become fuzzy (what am I to do, at what intensity, over what period of time?).

As people are clear on what is expected of them, it becomes clear what represents superior, average, or subpar performance. As people perform in expected to above expected levels, the manager can then affirm them. These people will then feel appreciated for the work they are doing, and understand clearly how they are contributing to the successful completion of the mission.

Failing to hold people accountable. This builds on the point made above. First, people need clear expectations. Then they need periodic feedback (accountability) as to how they are measuring up to the expectations. What often happens is two fold: 1) no precise performance standards are ever laid down specifically tailored to each position, and 2) no periodic performance reviews are scheduled wherein employees are evaluated on the specifically tailored performance standards. Evaluations, when they are conducted, are general and subjective, and therefore of no practical use in helping employees understand how their performance fits into the overall mission of the organization. These evaluations are useless in assisting employees to understand how they are performing with a view toward making modifications for improvement.

Do you recognize any of those mistakes in your own organization?

How can you address them beginning today?

The Leadership Lie

October 24, 2017

When it comes to leadership, you have been lied to.

Actually, we all have been.

Here’s the lie:

“Some people are just natural born leaders.”

This is a lie. It is one of many lies we have been told about leaders and leading.

The truth is that leaders are made, not born.

Leaders are forged through experience and trial. While others are reading books on “leadership”, leaders are learning to read a room, to interpret body language, to resolve conflict and to trust and empower people to succeed and fail.

Recently I was invited to give a presentation on Leading and Following to a group of people at the University of Colorado. I shared with them the difference between “Leadership” and “Leader”.

Leadership is a verb. It is a philosophy. We write and read books about leadership. It is also what we blame when something happens we don’t like or agree with. All too often I hear phrases like, “I blame leadership for that” or “leadership made that decision”.

As though there is some unknown faceless entity that makes choices and decisions we don’t agree with.

On the other hand, “leader” is a noun. It is a person. It is an individual. These people lead even when not in formal positions of leadership.

There is nothing worse than trying to follow a person in a position of leadership when they are not leading. It is like being forever trapped behind that one car in the fast lane that is driving under the speed limit. It is frustrating and discouraging.

“Leadership” is never self-aware, whereas the most remarkable leaders are the most remarkably self-aware. They know who they are, what they are good at doing, what they are lacking. They know what they bring to every agenda, every meeting, every project. They know how to surround themselves with others who excel in areas they do not.
I find that leaders rarely read books about “leadership”. They read books about leaders or books written by leaders.

At our best, we do leader development, not leadership development.

In her book Team of Rivals Doris Kearns Goodwin tells a little known story about Abraham Lincoln and Leo Tolstoy.

In 1908, in a wild and remote area of the North Caucasus, Leo Tolstoy, the greatest writer of the age, was the guest of a tribal chief “living far away from civilized life in the mountains.” Gathering his family and neighbors, the chief asked Tolstoy to tell stories about the famous men of history. Tolstoy told how he entertained the eager crowd for hours with tales of Alexander, Caesar, Frederick the Great, and Napoleon.

When he was winding to a close, the chief stood and said, “But you have not told us a syllable about the greatest general and greatest ruler of the world. We want to know something about him. He was a hero. He spoke with a voice of thunder; he laughed like the sunrise and his deeds were strong as the rock…His name was Lincoln and the country in which he lived is called America, which is so far away that if a youth should journey to reach it he would be an old man when he arrived. Tell us of that man.”

“I looked at them,” Tolstoy recalled, “and saw their faces all aglow, while their eyes were burning. I saw that those rude barbarians were really interested in a man whose name and deeds had already become a legend.” He told them everything he knew about Lincoln’s “home life and youth…his habits, his influence upon the people and his physical strength.”

By every account of Lincoln’s life, he was not a born leader. Many people looked at him and saw nothing extraordinary.

And yet for many he is the epitome of a leader. A leader who succeed and failed. A leader who took risks and chances. A leader who most likely never read a book on leadership.

As we look at our present situation, our culture is in need of leaders. People who have spent a lifetime being molded and shaped by circumstances and experience. People who are self-aware and more importantly socially-aware. People who lead by the strength of their convictions and their commitment to people.

Trevor Bron

To meet Trevor, click here.

To Build A Great Culture, Drink More Water

October 10, 2017

Most of us know that good health requires drinking lots of water. But as we rush through our days most of us say we don’t even have time to think about it.

But what would you say if we told you that going to the water cooler often would make you a better leader and give you a head start on crafting a thriving organizational culture?

Culture-crafting leaders are, by definition, busy men and women. The good ones know that they must listen to their people so that they can understand, filter accurate information from people saying “what the boss wants to hear” and communicate personal care and concern for the team.

There are lots of things you can do to create virtual water coolers, whether or not your office has a burbling blue machine with a tap.
-An “I read every email” policy from senior leaders.
-Town hall meetings.
-Focus groups where the boss reads the transcripts.
-Open door policies within set office hours.

Now, these are good but none pack the punch of tons of informal, off the clock, in the moment unplanned conversations. Some of the very best leaders we have worked with schedule unscheduled time.

Yep, you read that right. They build into their calendars time for NO formal meetings, phone calls, or strategic planning. They simply get out of the office and into the “field” and talk to people.

Unscripted conversations, heartfelt ‘thank yous’ , and the simple visibility of the leader all go a long way towards creating engagement, high morale, and loyalty – all key ingredients for culture change!

Plus, you’ll be better hydrated for better health!

4 Building Blocks For A Trustworthy Culture

September 28, 2017

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.