TAG Consulting

Is Your Culture Clear?

April 23, 2017

It’s Spring, which means I am out in the yard more. The other day, a small furry caterpillar caught my eye. I decided to watch it.

Which got boring really quickly! For me, at least.

I’m sure the caterpillar was on an epic journey to form the temporary shell of a chrysalis so that it could undergo the necessary transformation into a butterfly. The remarkable transformation from one species into another.

Watching that fuzzy creature reminded me of an experiment conducted by Dr. Thomas Watson. Dr. Watson placed a caterpillar on the rim of a large pot containing dirt and several of a caterpillars’ favorite plants. One by one each of the furry crawlers would inch along that edge.

Researchers look for patterns and trends. Dr. Watson noticed that the first caterpillar stayed on the edge of the rim. The second followed the first caterpillar’s lead. This was repeated across all the caterpillars, a half a dozen or so all making the assumption that the caterpillar in front of them knew where he or she was going.

Around and around the rim they went until every last one died of starvation. The food they were roaming around the rim of the pot looking for was just below, inside the pot the entire time.

This isn’t a story about leaders, but about an even more powerful force…..


At TAG we get the privilege to work with many different organizations across the world. What we find is that people thrive in cultures that are crafted to help them belong, contribute, and make a difference. Realize these three elements in full and you have a thriving culture. One thing every organization with a thriving culture has as a leading asset is clarity.

These organizations are aligned with a clear focus and their direction is clear. That doesn’t mean they get it all right, but when it comes to clarity, they have a very real sense of purpose and meaning. In other words, they know why they exist and they have crystal clear focus on pursuing that purpose.

Thriving organizations know why they exist. They are filled with people who embody that purpose in very real and concrete ways. Too often, we encounter people more like the caterpillars in Dr. Watson’s experiment. Circling around the rim, filling days with busyness and movement that lead nowhere. Organizations suffer from the O-Curve, the monotonous meandering in circles that look busy, but lead nowhere. An O-Curve culture is characterized by a senseless pursuit of things that don’t matter and subsequently lead an organization to irrelevance.

Circuit City was featured in Jim Collins’ book Good To Great. One of those long time establishments that cornered the market in electronics, prided themselves on their customer service, and knew that they couldn’t fail. In fact, reports from those who stuck around to the bitter end state they thought they were going to be salvaged by last minute investors.

The O-Curve set in. Going around the rim waiting for the right investor to buy them and save them from impending peril. Looking back, many close to the company and even the founding family (who were not in the company at the end) say that Circuit City lost their way. They lost their why, their meaning and purpose. In other words, they lost their clarity. They were traveling around the rim of the pot thinking someone was going to show them the lush green vegetation for them to feast on.

We’ve found a solution for this lack of clarity and it comes with a name:

The Frames of Clarity

Your organization or team might be due for a check up. Instead of a vision test, maybe it is time for a Clarity Test? Why does your organization exist? Why does it matter to the people you serve? Are you leading people around the same rim of your organization, or to a place of thriving success? How do you know?

There are at least three frames through which to view your organization in order to assess clarity.

Your first frame is the balcony frame. Getting out of the weeds, the day-to-day and taking things in at a new angle. Seeing the bigger picture, not of what is coming, but what is happening. Asking questions that seem obvious, maybe even foolish, about the day-to-day occurrences on the dance floor of the organization. When you force yourself out of your normal viewing area into a new realm, you start to see things differently. It’s in that difference that clarity is discovered, where sights and sounds resonate more clearly. A place where you can begin to see the moving parts, the chemistry, or lack thereof, the synchronized connections of the individuals, groups and teams that comprise the organization.

Leaders belong on the balcony so they can gain clarity and offer it to others. The balcony view is not an elitist, club level view however. It is the leader’s role to bring other people onto the balcony. Effective leaders seek to bring others to clarity, connecting with people in such a way to show them new perspective and learn about their perspective.

That introduces the next frame. Clarity comes when we look through the frame of another individual’s perspective and context. Clarity emerges when we shift angles, change directions and look differently at the same thing.

Take some time to think about how what you see looks like to someone else. How do you do that? Ask them questions. Walk a day or a few hours in their world, their shoes, gaining insights from their viewpoint. It’s what the show Undercover Boss brought into the popular culture. CEO’s disguising themselves as part of the workforce in order to learn and grow. Most every time the CEO’s eyes are opened. It’s because they have the opportunity to look through another person’s frame.

Finally, look through the frame of your customer or stakeholder. Think about who that is first. Many teams don’t even have clarity about that. Why do they do business with you? What are their other options for the product or service you deliver and provide? What compels them to do business with your organization? Often times in organizational life we get so caught up in the day-to-day operations of the internal processes and structures that we neglect the external viewpoint. Looking through the lens of the customer’s perspective sheds the filter that working and existing within the organizational system tends to overlay.

Whichever frame you choose to use, look for misalignment and areas of disconnect. And look for fresh perspective and new insights. Such clarity refuels the organization’s capacity for growth and innovation. Without it, organizations struggle, people become disengaged and we start roaming around in caterpillar circles.

Break the cycle, seek clarity and craft a thriving organizational culture, one where everyone involved realizes the fulfillment of their innate desire to belong, to contribute, and to make a difference.

Shane Roberson is one of TAG’s Culture Architects and its Vice President for Client Services. He is the co-author of Your Intentional Difference: One Word Changes Everything. To get to know Shane better, click here.

5 Questions To Shape Your Organization’s Culture

April 17, 2017

If you’re leading change and crafting a thriving culture, you are going to confront tough problems.

Probably daily.

When facing a tough challenge, penetrating questions are your best friend.

The failure to ask questions, or to create a culture where questions are allowed and even encouraged, can be deadly. Look no further than recent headlines.

Media reports have focused on United Airlines’ customer service debacle which involved overbooking and a passenger bodily dragged off of a plane. The negative PR has been otherworldly and their market value has suffered greatly.

A lot of the attention has been paid to tactics. In fact, scratch below the surface, and the evidence indicates that United has a culture of ‘do – don’t ask’,  where employees were encouraged to follow rules first and think and ask questions later, if at all.

Engaged employees know that they have permission to ask questions – even tough ones.

Here are five questions to add to your toolkit as a leader and to build into your culture:

1. What does our mission or purpose as an organization have to say about this challenge?
2. Does this challenge emerge from conditions internal or external to our organization?
3. Who are the people most directly affected by this problem? How are they seeing it?
4. Where does this problem reveal itself – at the high level of mission and values or closer to the ground in routine tasks and processes?
5. What if any authority do I have to confront this challenge?

These questions may not provide the answer to your specific challenge but, without a doubt, they will better position you to work with others to provide the solutions you need.

In our work as Culture Architects, we help organizations of all kinds ask the right questions every day. We’d love to serve you. You can contact us here

Culture Works, Part 1

April 11, 2017


Is Complaining About Work Inevitable?

On a recent flight from Denver to Washington, D.C. I overheard the flight crew talking about their work. They were complaining about the airline, critiquing the competition and griping about passengers. This is not the first conversation like this I’ve overheard. It seems to happen everywhere all the time.

Is complaining about our work just part of the job? Is it something that is inevitable? Unavoidable?

I’ve done it. You’ve done it. And it’s easy to justify it.

Work is, after all, a four-letter word. So is “boss”! So why not talk bad about it and them?

As a Culture Architect, I believe that humans have an innate desire to belong, contribute and make a difference, not just at work but in life. So, what happens when we don’t belong, can’t contribute and aren’t making a difference?

We feel like an outsider. We experience rejection. We feel undervalued.

So we complain.

The late Peter Drucker wrote, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” In other words, the culture that surrounds us either encourages us to belong, enables us to contribute and empowers us to make a difference or it doesn’t.

Millions of dollars and employee hours are invested in creating “strategic plans”, but the best strategy in the world will never create a thriving organizational culture or overcome an unhealthy culture.

The correlation between a thriving culture and employee engagement is undeniable. And employee engagement is the key predictor of organizational productivity and success. People who work in a place where a thriving culture is cultivated are more positive, less likely to quit, take fewer sick days, spend more time at work and take greater initiative.

But this kind of culture doesn’t just happen. It takes time and effort. As Plato said, “What is honored is cultivated”.

What does your organization honor? What does your organization cultivate?

Ask yourself a few of the questions we use at TAG to diagnose organizational culture:

1. Our average employee can articulate why the organization exists. True/False
2. Our organization’s mission is clear and concise. True/False
3. Our organization’s communication tools are effective. True/False
4. Our organization’s leaders are all headed in the same direction. True/False
5. I know where we are headed in the next year. True/False
6. People in the organization honor our Core Values. True/False
7. Team members know how they contribute to the ‘why’ of our organization. True/False
8. Every department feels ownership around the driving purpose of the organization.
9. In our team meetings push back and challenges are encouraged. True/False
10. Our organization fosters an environment where new ideas surface. True/False
11. We provide time and space for people to think differently about challenges we face.
12. People are encouraged to embrace conflict and work through it. True/False
13. Our employees feel connected to each other and the mission. True/False
14. People are encouraged to connect regularly to learn from each other. True/False
15. We are encouraged to collaborate with other teams in our organization. True/False
16. Managers and Leaders make a priority of developing connections between team members
and other teams. True/False
17. Our company has a system to regularly reward people. True/False

Add up your “True” scores:
• 1-6 Your Culture Needs Some Serious Attention.
• 7-12 Your Culture Is Good but Could Be Great.
• 13-18 Your Culture Is Vibrant and Should Be Maximized.

The conversations that happen while in the break room at work, the hallway after a meeting or even standing in the airplane galley are also a good indication of culture. Create a habit of listening carefully to the conversations around you – not just the ones you start.

Want to talk to one of our Culture Architects about creating a thriving organizational culture at your workplace? Click here.

Next up in this series – What makes for a thriving organizational culture?

Trevor J. Bron is a Senior Consultant and Culture Architect with TAG Consulting. To find out more about Trevor, click here.

Ubers, Piano Bars, And Your Organization

April 3, 2017

Ever left something behind in an airline seat pocket, a taxi, or an Uber?

Thought so.

Recently, Uber put out a list of the most common (keys, eyeglasses, wallets, etc) and the most unusual items left behind in their cars. Here are a few items actual people left behind in actual Ubers:

  • A lobster
  • Smoke machine
  • Laser
  • Bulletproof vest
  • Charcoal grill
  • Superman cape

You might imagine there is a story behind each of these!

(We hope the loss of the Superman cape didn’t thwart an important rescue. “Look to the sky…there’s…oops”).

The same is true for the things that organizations leave behind.

In the early, golden days of air travel, American Airlines’ 747s had a piano bar onboard.

No kidding. Here’s the proof:

These days you’re lucky to have adequate legroom.

What we leave behind says much about who we are. But what we make sure to keep says a lot as well.

When you are leading organizational change, particularly if it involves crafting a new organizational culture, it’s usually easy to see what you should leave behind.

  • Outdated assumptions
  • Obsolete processes
  • Ineffective strategies
  • Outmoded traditions
  • Uninspiring visions
  • Unaligned values

It’s harder to discern what you should keep. But those decisions are equally important.

The process of leading change by crafting a thriving organizational culture requires walking the tightrope between “preserving the core” (in the words of the writer Jim Collins) and making bold decisions to throw off things that are harmful to your new way of living as an organization.

Fail to make the big changes and you risk your entire change initiative being choked out.

Fail to preserve the important things and you risk damaging morale and violating the essential DNA of your organization.

What do you need to get rid of as a leader?

And what is worth fighting to preserve?

Way More Than Just Another Cup of Coffee

March 29, 2017

Bitty and Beau’s is not your average coffee shop.

For one thing, they are housed on the grounds of and in the former facilities of a thriving automobile dealership.

For another, they are run almost exclusively by men and women with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDDs).

But the thing that strikes you most is the culture. The culture hugs you around the neck the moment you step into their usually slam-packed crowded store in Wilmington, North Carolina.

You are greeted immediately. The baristas smile, welcome you, and are extremely knowledgable about the coffee, baked goods, and other items for sale. Even when the waiting line is long for service, customers and staff alike are exchanging greetings, waves, high-fives, jokes.

Here’s the thing you notice – everyone is smiling.

They do a great job with the ambience. The coffee is really good. Of course, the same can be said of plenty of other coffeeshops. But not every coffee shop goes viral on social media and is named the “official coffee of the Rachel Ray show”. And not every coffeeshop has communities across the state of North Carolina competing to host its second location (we’re not kidding – there is an online competition which includes community leaders and government officials asking to be considered).

What makes Bitty and Beau’s stand out is their organizational culture.

You see it painted on the walls, really nearly every available space.

“Changing the way people see other people”.

And the space filled in by the word “see” also gets filled in with a variety of other words:






That’s their mantra and their mission. Changing the way people relate to people.

And it’s way more than a slogan. It shapes their organizational culture.

It’s reflected in the hiring strategy – men and women with IDDs – at every level.

It’s reflected in the way that employees treat each other and their customers.

It’s reflected in their decor and in their social media presence and on their website – which you can find here.

And it’s reflected in their success.

At TAG Consulting, we believe that all of us have three innate desires:

…To belong

…To contribute

…To make a difference.

And the organizations which craft cultures where these desires are honored and cultivated will succeed.

We know that the number one controllable factor in organizational success and productivity is employee engagement. Employees are engaged when their innate desires to belong, contribute, and make a difference can find repeated and encouraged expression.

We serve as Culture Architects.

We help craft thriving organizational culture.

Where people love coming to work. Believe in their teammates and in their corporate mission. Are psychologically, emotionally, and even spiritually connected. And where those organizations are – as a result – leaders in their respective industries.

We’d love to work alongside you as you craft a thriving organizational culture.

To find out more, you can watch this short video:

And you can connect with a Culture Architect by clicking here.

Leadership Development or Developing Leaders?

March 20, 2017

This is the third in a series that focuses on Four Questions That Forge Great Leaders. You can get caught up by reading about question one here and question two here.

The third question is: What is the difference between “leadership development” and “leader development?”

When we talk about the difference between “leadership development” and “leader development”, we’re talking about the difference between the philosophical and pragmatic.

Leadership development is a concept, a philosophy. It’s outside of us. It requires reading the right books, knowing the right words, attending the right conferences. “Leadership Development” is a philosophy.

“Leader Development” is a practice. It is not a philosophy. It is not theory; it is not about a group of people.

It’s about you. It’s about me. It’s about growing a leader. It’s about investing in an individual life and operating from the deeply held conviction that everyone can be a leader.

Management can sign off on a leadership development initiative in their organization and remain untouched by it. Those in their charge may learn some useful tactical things and improve their managerial acumen but the chances are that they will not grow as a leader.

Leader development is deeply relational and requires a personal commitment on the part of the one being developed as well as the one doing the developing.

Truth be told, the one “doing” the developing is being developed herself along the way. Because these roles are fluid and relational effective leader development requires a high and growing level of self-awareness on the part of both parties.

An honest question for honest leaders – can you say that you are sincerely and completely committed to the process of developing leaders in your organization?


Four Questions That Forge Great Leaders (Part 2)

March 13, 2017

Last time, we began a new series on four probing questions that help to forge great leaders. You can read about the first question here.

The second question is: What tools do you have in your leader’s tool belt?

Consider real-life tool belts, in the construction industry.

Framers have the simplest tool belt of all the trades. They need only a few tools to do their job; hammer, tape measure, nails. Simple.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is the electrician.

Electricians have the biggest and coolest tool belts. Their tool belts have hundreds of pockets containing every conceivable tool. Their tool belts are the envy of their colleagues. For one thing, they look cool. For another, electricians never have to fumble around to find the right tool. They have it right there, at their fingertips.

When we think about a leadership tool belt, most of us have the framer’s tool belt or no tool belt at all. In leadership we should have the electrician’s tool belt.

If you are a leader with one tool (say a hammer) what does every leadership challenge look like?

A nail.

Whether it actually IS a nail or not. If your problem is in fact a nail and you have only a hammer, you’re good to go.

But if your problem is not a nail and you have only your hammer to employ, it’s a safe bet you are only going to make the problem worse.

Leaders should have lots of tools at our disposal, lots of different ways of thinking, lots of different ways of reacting, lots of different ways of conducting ourselves. That’s what will make us effective. That is what will make people actually enjoy working for us and allow us to create the kinds of organizational cultures where people experience the satisfaction of belonging, contributing, and making a difference.

No two people that we work with or for are wired alike. In our work with individuals, we place a lot of emphasis on talents and strengths and making sure that our clients know their own and how to use them at a moment’s notice. We emphasize the concept of Intentional Difference – living in that zone where you are able to offer your own best and unique contribution.

In our work with organizations, we make sure they have the tools they need to craft thriving organizational cultures.

Everybody who works for you is different. You, as a leader, have an obligation to treat and respond to them differently. Does that come naturally to anybody? No. You have to work at it every day. You have to be mindful of it every day. That means your tool belt has to be filled with lots of different tools.

How about you? Where is your tool belt robust, and where does it have some pockets and slots that need to be filled?

Four Questions That Forge Great Leaders (Part 1)

March 5, 2017

You’ve decided you want to know what it takes to become a leader. We’re with you in this, but – be warned – we hit a pretty big obstacle pretty quickly.

That obstacle presents itself through this undeniable fact: there is a predictable set of lies we tell ourselves when it comes to leadership.

Worse, we tell these lies to ourselves and others repeatedly. Let’s come clean by looking at maybe the biggest leadership lie of them all: “Some people are just ‘natural born leaders”.

There is no such thing as a natural born leader. But we have heard, repeatedly, that some people just emerge from the womb as unbelievably gifted leaders.

Now, unless our ego is well above the average, most of us assume we are not one of these ‘born that way’ types. So, we start out in our life as leaders with a disadvantage, right?

Having worked with hundreds of organizations and thousands of people we’ve learned that leaders are not born; they are made.

In reality, leaders are forged.

And there are two flames that forge all the very best leaders: self-awareness, and the ability to ask and answer the right questions about leadership. This series of posts will examine these four critical questions that shape transformational leaders.

The most remarkable leaders we know are the most remarkably self-aware.

Self-awareness doesn’t just happen. You don’t wake up one morning in the land of self-awareness. You work at it.

Self-awareness means you know what you’re good at. You know what you’re not good at. You know what you bring to every meeting, every project, every encounter, because you’re attuned to who you are.

You don’t just talk a good leadership game, but you play one out on the field, where there is mud and blood and conflict and the stakes are high.

Given this rooting, here’s the first of four questions which forge great leaders:

How do I learn leadership?
If people aren’t born leaders that means they must learn leadership somewhere. And the best leaders can point to a moment in time when they realized: I have to learn to lead.

There’s a skillset that goes with management. You hone your craft and you learn to manage that skillset well. You’re a good manager. But then there comes a critical point, a very specific moment in your life where you think, “You know what? I’ve got to do something more than manage my people, I’ve got to lead them.”

There is a stark difference between management and leadership. We see this most clearly when we determine “I am going to be a leader not because I was born a leader, not because someone has called me to be one and not because I have a particular role or a rank or a position, but because I feel that it’s the right thing to do.”

So, how do most people learn leadership? Well, most people don’t learn leadership. They know all the right words, but they don’t actually learn it.

If you learned how to be a leader at all, you probably learned it from somebody who wasn’t one. Most of us have worked for somebody who, to put it bluntly, was horrific as a leader.

Our leadership style, if we have one, is based on what not to be. Our leadership, as a result, is reactive.

Now, you can learn some great things that way. People who work for you are probably thankful that you’re not like that other person you worked for. But knowing what kind of leader we are not isn’t enough.

We have to determine to become proactive leaders. We must decide firmly to learn leadership with an effort of heart, mind, and soul.

Are you ready to make that determination and take the decision to grow as a leader? Then you’re ready for the next three questions.

Next…”What tools do I need in my leader’s tool belt?”

Cynicism Is A Good Thing

February 28, 2017

The most healthy organizations allow for a balance between trust and cynicism when it comes to the outlook of their members.



Cynicism gets a bad rap. We tend to picture the cynic as the cranky, world-weary know it all on the last barstool to the right, or the tiresome guy in the break room who can’t stop talking about how the system is rigged against the little guy,

We tend not to seek out cynics in our personal life. And if we are ever accused of cynicism ourselves we’ll likely quickly and defensively say “No – I’m not cynical, just realistic!”.

But here’s a reframe: trust and cynicism go together.

Trust is the glue that holds an organization together. Employees will invest more trust in an organization that trusts them.

Our research which led to TED – The Engagement Dashboard, our online employee engagement survey, found that the number one predictive factor for a high performing organization is the deeply held belief that “Management can be counted upon to come through when needed”. That’s trust.

Trust is the currency of leadership.

But there’s a place for healthy cynicism too.

Cynicism says that new hires are not as likely to immediately replace the performance and reliability of the people they replaced so they need watching, accountability and support. Cynicism spurs the creation of financial controls and risk management strategies because it realizes that people won’t always do the right thing.

Cynicism isn’t the absence of trust so much as it is a way of reducing complexity.

For example, you’re driving alone on a rain-slicked road at night. The car coming towards you appears to be veering into your lane, a head on collision imminent.

To fully trust you have to suspend all belief that anything could be wrong – that the driver could be impaired or texting or reckless. You simply continue on your way without making adjustments or allowances.

But a little balanced cynicism recognizes that something could be amiss, allows you to raise your awareness and alertness and prepares you to take evasive action if needed. Without over-thinking it.

Here’s the bottom line for your organization: You can’t do the things that build trust unless you’ve done the things that manage cynicism.

In other words, the accountability and controls which healthy cynicism encourages allow for trust to flourish.

What about your organization?

Are you characterized by a culture built on trust? Or is it one where there is suspicion and unhealthy cynicism?

Are the appropriate standards, agreements, protocols, and standards of accountability which manage cynicism in a way that leads to the freedom that comes from trust?



A 3 Step Checklist For Empowering Your Team

February 20, 2017

Two important things to know about empowering your team:

  1. We measure empowerment by how willing people are to offer us their maximum discretionary effort.
  2. We know that people feel empowered when they are motivated to give their all.

Who doesn’t want to lead a workplace environment like that?

So, how do you – in real life and in real time – empower your team?

We offer you the checklist below as a way of measuring your progress as an empowering leader. Think of it as a punchlist for your project of empowering your team. Or, even better, think of the metaphor we often use – of a team climbing up a high mountain together!


Provide Clear Direction

An empowering leader defines the task for the team with crystal clarity. A common misconception about delegation (a component of empowerment) is that it is described by this attitude: “Do your own thing as long as you are within the basic parameters and standards of the organization”. That’s mostly being lazy and settling for less than full alignment.

Empowering direction-giving sounds more like this: “See that mountain? We’re going to climb it together, and here’s how”.


Provide Needed Resources

Nothing is more dis-empowering to a team than not having the tools they need to complete the task they have been assigned. As an empowering leader you make it a priority to give your people the tools and resources they need to carry out their assignments with excellence and passion.

It sounds like this: “Here is the equipment we need to climb this mountain together. This is how you use it. Trust me, I’ve tested it and everything is safe, secure, high quality, and in adequate supply. Let’s get started!”


Provide Coaching, Support, and Feedback

Along the way, the empowering leader is providing constant, specific coaching (“Here’s our strategy for taking the mountain”, support (“You’re doing great – here’s what I can give you for your next steps”) and feedback (“OK, let’s set up camp for the night, reflect on what we learned today and focus on how we can get even better tomorrow”)

As you get ready to climb your next mountain as a team, review this list together. Does your team have the direction, resources, feedback, support, and coaching it needs? Does each team member know that they are needed and valued and that their very best efforts will rejuvenate them and help the team win?

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