Lessons in Snow

Late­ly, I’ve begun to think about the cul­ture of orga­ni­za­tions a lit­tle dif­fer­ent­ly than I used to. I once believed a medi­um or large size orga­ni­za­tion striv­ing to induce a major shift in the way things are done would have to do a great deal of ana­lyt­i­cal work, then set up and admin­is­ter rather large, cost­ly pro­grams. This is, after all, the DNA of the orga­ni­za­tion we are mess­ing around with, so of course we have to study the mol­e­cules in detail, then “objec­tive­ly” decide what kind of vast shift to the enter­prise is called for. I hear this kind of ana­lyt­i­cal approach to major ini­tia­tives these days; for exam­ple, with employ­ee engage­ment pro­grams (or train­ing pro­grams in emo­tion­al intel­li­gence, or lean ini­tia­tives). They may need a sur­vey and assess­ment phase, a train­ing phase, an imple­men­ta­tion phase, a fol­low-up and mea­sure­ment phase. It’s all depen­dent on expen­sive con­sul­tants and their spe­cial knowl­edge, tax­ing exist­ing staff to the max, and some­times pay­ing for oth­er cost­ly infra­struc­ture changes. To say noth­ing of gain­ing senior man­age­ment “buy-in” in the first place.

I’m won­der­ing if there is a sim­pler, less expen­sive way.

DSC_0278 - Version 2

One ques­tion that has repeat­ed­ly come for­ward for me is how much val­ue the big sur­veys real­ly hold; you know the ones designed to mea­sure employ­ee atti­tudes across a series of bench­marked mea­sures, with lots of data that gets rolled up into exec­u­tive reports to high­light seem­ing­ly major themes (e.g., “com­mu­ni­ca­tions”) and tar­get par­tic­u­lar work units where morale is espe­cial­ly low. The themes get reduced to gener­ics such as “recog­ni­tion” or “trust,” qual­i­ties that for the most part can­not be pro­grammed into orga­ni­za­tions. Recent­ly — even worse — the Gallup orga­ni­za­tion, one of the biggest ven­dors of such sur­veys, is now say­ing that the real­ly big strat­e­gy has to do with hir­ing the right peo­ple as man­agers in the first place. Well, that’s not much news, and the prob­lem is that it does­n’t do any­thing for trans­for­ma­tion. What’s the option? Fire 70% of the man­agers out there and start over? I’m only being par­tial­ly face­tious. It seems to me, quite seri­ous­ly, that the answer is we don’t real­ly have an answer and sur­veys don’t pro­vide it. There is no expert view that will solve the prob­lems. It seems the answer must come from some­where else; some oth­er source, clos­er to home.

The oth­er day I noticed some­thing quite remark­able in a client orga­ni­za­tion: an exec­u­tive hav­ing a con­ver­sa­tion with two mid­dle man­agers from a dif­fer­ent divi­sion than his own. The exec­u­tive had become curi­ous about what it was real­ly like to work in the firm — from a “street-lev­el” view, he said — and the man­agers had offered infor­mal­ly to fill him in. It was­n’t a big deal, just an open exchange of ques­tions and obser­va­tions. In the course of an hour the man­agers iden­ti­fied at least three quite action­able areas. One involved doing some­thing about an abu­sive high-lev­el pro­fes­sion­al staff mem­ber whose demean­ing behav­ior neg­a­tive­ly affect­ed a work unit try­ing to cope with large changes to their work­load and work meth­ods. A sec­ond issue involved a peer who was noto­ri­ous for lack­ing per­son­al coop­er­a­tion when asked for help by oth­ers from out­side his depart­ment. A third had to do with a reg­u­lar, large-group man­age­ment team meet­ing that was for­mal to the point of being intim­i­dat­ing, where peo­ple might be grilled for bring­ing up their unfin­ished ideas. None of the prob­lems seemed insur­mount­able. Some inter­ven­tion was called for in the case of the abu­sive staff mem­ber and the unco­op­er­a­tive peer, and the man­age­ment team meet­ing could just as well be fixed with a bet­ter struc­ture that incor­po­rat­ed some small group work, a par­tic­i­pa­to­ry agen­da, and a more infor­mal atmosphere.

This con­ver­sa­tion could be a cat­a­lyst, I thought to myself. Sup­pose, the exec­u­tive just worked on one of those prob­lems and it was solved. What would be so hard about that, and what pos­i­tive impacts would result? Could this sin­gle stone thrown in the pond induce some­thing pos­i­tive and good as a mod­el for a bet­ter way of work­ing togeth­er? Could it, along with oth­er infor­mal efforts, begin to change the DNA? And would­n’t that be the pur­pose of all that big change pro­grams any­way, to get peo­ple talk­ing to each oth­er, solv­ing prob­lems — because they want­ed to? No big train­ing effort required? 

Well, the truth is that the orga­ni­za­tion in ques­tion (per­haps like yours) does suf­fer from two kinds of challenges. 

The first kind has to do with issues — such as the abu­sive staff mem­ber, unco­op­er­a­tive peer, and bad meet­ing for­mat. But it’s the sec­ond chal­lenge that’s tru­ly the prob­lem: the absence of means to infor­mal­ly and open­ly com­mu­ni­cate about the issues as they come up and then col­lab­o­ra­tive­ly take action — do some­thing about it. It seems to me this sec­ond prob­lem speaks direct­ly to chang­ing the DNA. And it’s not like­ly to be solved by a sur­vey, even one that calls out all the issues and the past absence of action on them. The DNA only changes when a leader hears and then, with­out force, coer­cion, pro­grams, eval­u­a­tions, exter­nal incen­tives or direc­tives, per­son­al­ly and pos­i­tive­ly choos­es to address what he or she has heard. A sur­vey won’t change a cul­ture, but a sin­gle play­er respond­ing to an infor­mal con­ver­sa­tion and oper­at­ing gen­er­a­tive­ly can per­haps do more to tru­ly open that door. That per­son can act as a gen­tle but dynam­ic force. Just imag­ine if this kind of cul­ture were already in place — what would that do when it came time to learn more about employ­ee engage­ment or emo­tion­al intel­li­gence or lean? Do you think it might be eas­i­er to “imple­ment” — and a whole lot less expensively?

Of course what I’m say­ing here is that you and I could be exact­ly the lead­ers who begin the shift in the DNA through our own infor­mal actions. We don’t have to wait.

A friend of mine refers to this phe­nom­e­non as shov­el­ing snow. You can either wait until the snow is five feet high, we’re up to our necks in it and can no longer move, blam­ing oth­ers, or we can notice the snow as it begins to fall in the first place. Then we have a chance to shov­el it out of the way togeth­er when it is only a cou­ple of inch­es deep. If more snow falls, we keep shov­el­ing. In effect, we’re always shov­el­ing, but the dif­fer­ence is that while some will be iso­lat­ed in their hous­es by five feet of snow, those who shov­el togeth­er reg­u­lar­ly will always have a clear path to and from their doors. 

I wish more peo­ple in lead­er­ship roles under­stood snow and what to do about it. The exec­u­tive in this case is begin­ning to under­stand it, learn from it, come to grips with it. Good for him. You just have to get to know the oth­er real­ly good peo­ple in your orga­ni­za­tion and ask them about the weath­er. Since they are out in it every day doing their jobs, they can eas­i­ly tell you whether the snow is falling and whether, in fact, it is a bliz­zard — if you catch my drift.


RSS and email sub­scrip­tion, month­ly Unfold­ing Lead­er­ship newslet­ter, search and oth­er func­tions may be found at the “Fur­ther Infor­ma­tion” tab at the bot­tom of this page.


  • Anoth­er thought-pro­vok­ing post Dan. 

    High­light­ing a very impor­tant part of your post here:

    But it’s the sec­ond chal­lenge that’s tru­ly the prob­lem: the absence of means to infor­mal­ly and open­ly com­mu­ni­cate about the issues as they come up and then col­lab­o­ra­tive­ly take action — do some­thing about it.’

    Our chal­lenge with this is derived from the fact that there are still very few peo­ple who know how or are will­ing to com­mu­ni­cate the issues direct­ly. There’s still a major lack of gen­uine assertive­ness all across the board. Fur­ther com­pli­cat­ed by (and I hate labels yet hope­ful­ly it will serve the point here) peo­ple who have learned to be pas­sive, oth­ers who are over­ly aggres­sive, and then the pas­sive aggres­sive bunch. 

    The pas­sive peo­ple aren’t going to say much of any­thing at all. The aggres­sives will bull­doze oth­er peo­ple over to get what they want (and in lead­er­ship, the under­lings tol­er­ate if they are depen­dent on their pay­checks) And the pas­sive aggres­sive is per­haps the most dan­ger­ous one of all. They can’t han­dle direct com­mu­ni­ca­tion either and yet will find a way to ‘attack’ indi­rect­ly using more covert methods. 

    It cer­tain­ly helps to know who/what you are deal­ing with in order to be able to find those solu­tions to good communication. 

    Anoth­er one for deep reflec­tion Dan. Thanks for sharing. : )

  • Dear Saman­tha~

    You are so right — the way we have thought about the prob­lem is in terms of get­ting oth­ers to speak up. I co-authored two books on the sub­ject and have a great deal of respect for the chal­lenges you men­tion. They are real. 

    And yet what I observed of the exec­u­tive being curi­ous and the man­agers shar­ing open­ly also sug­gests that we may have been think­ing about the prob­lem from the wrong side. I have seen the phe­nom­e­non of gen­tle inquiry by a senior leader cre­ate a dynam­ic open­ing many times. When the request is not part of a for­mal sur­vey, when it’s not in too large a group, when it is moti­vat­ed by gen­uine curios­i­ty and good will, when the con­ver­sa­tion is unique to the peo­ple and very infor­mal, some­thing else besides the walls you describe can hap­pen. The sur­vey method is designed to be used (and sub­tly rein­forces) an envi­ron­ment of mis­trust. The the­o­ry is by solv­ing the prob­lems sur­faced by such a sur­vey, trust can be built or restored. But I think, increas­ing­ly, there is a flaw in that log­ic. Trust is built by peo­ple reach­ing out infor­mal­ly to one anoth­er, and then act­ing on their con­nec­tion. An exec­u­tive who asks and lis­tens, man­agers (in this case) who are will­ing to share.

    There are prob­lems with this approach, too, of course. One could com­plain that such a method won’t “scale.” Just because one per­son vol­un­tar­i­ly seeks infor­ma­tion and is will­ing to do some­thing about what is learned, does not nec­es­sar­i­ly mean oth­ers will also do it. Espe­cial­ly if it is a require­ment or to be done on a sched­ule. It has to come from the lead­er’s soul, whether that leader is the ques­tion­er or the lead­ers who share information. 

    We yearn to make sure every­one par­tic­i­pates, every­one is com­mit­ted, but in the end that just comes down to anoth­er kind of com­pli­ance and force. But per­haps if one exec­u­tive leads the way, this can be viewed as an invi­ta­tion for oth­ers to fol­low. If in fact there is ener­gy in a group to change the DNA of exist­ing cul­ture, then some­thing can hap­pen. If the ener­gy is not there, it can­not be forced.

    From my stand­point, we can­not sim­ply go on being crit­i­cal of employ­ees for their aggres­sion or pas­siv­i­ty. Pre­cise­ly the same thing could be said of any orga­ni­za­tion­al group, includ­ing mid­dle and senior man­agers. Bet­ter to focus on the good peo­ple who are will­ing to take a small leap of faith, who will be open to an ongo­ing con­ver­sa­tion — if asked in the right way. By right way, I mean, this isn’t some inter­ro­ga­tion or writ­ing of promis­so­ry notes. It’s a dia­logue about “what is” by peo­ple who might dif­fer in stature or for­mal pow­er but who respect a deep­er human­i­ty as part­ners in the same organization.

    I love the idea of bring­ing out onto the sur­face all the strengths — and objec­tions — to what I am sug­gest­ing. Maybe togeth­er we can fig­ure this out.

    All the best

  • Yes, the rea­son sur­vey’s don’t work is pre­cise­ly because it lacks REAL con­nec­tion with a per­son. There’s no ‘rela­tion­ship’ cre­at­ed via sur­veys or oth­er sim­i­lar means of info-col­lec­tion methods.

    Heart and soul dri­ven rather then forced com­pli­ance IS the way to go. That said, you’ve point­ed out many of the pros/cons to that as well. You are right, no one can be forced to com­mu­ni­cate beyond what their cur­rent com­fort lev­el. The more heart-cen­tered lead­ers that can cre­ate the safe­ty need­ed AND mod­el this infor­mal and open com­mu­ni­ca­tion style, the bet­ter to set the tone for the rest of the org. Grant­ed, not every­one will be open to it. If it’s not a fit, then it’s impor­tant for peo­ple to start explor­ing oth­er options. (if the per­son can no longer remain in the org)

    Thanks again for bring­ing up so many insights on this. I’m in align­ment with most of your view­points on this so it res­onates with me.

  • Dear Dan,

    I enjoy read­ing all of your posts, espe­cial­ly as you keep widen­ing the cir­cle of thought and rel­fec­tion on orga­ni­za­tion­al dynam­ics and behav­ior. For­give me for my long-wind­ed reac­tion, but here goes.

    The recent Gallup poll you invoked (http://bit.ly/15p6lo6) which reveals that 70% of cur­rent work­ers are emo­tion­al­ly dis­en­gaged in the work­place, was report­ed in the media with lit­tle fan­fare, point­ing out the cor­re­la­tion between pro­duc­tiv­i­ty and employ­ee engage­ment, which I see as a major “call to action.”

    I work in non-prof­it man­age­ment, with a spe­cial­ty in fundraising—the lifeblood of most char­i­ties. I can think of two expe­ri­ences I had work­ing with orga­ni­za­tions where the absence of strong lead­er­ship to instill what we call, “a cul­ture of philanthropy,” failed to take root because lead­er­ship failed to ensure that this cul­ture (read: employ­ee engage­ment) reached every lev­el of the respec­tive orga­ni­za­tions. Thus, the tra­di­tion­al silos had whit­tled down to every­one being buried in the snow. (Imag­ine 30 employ­ees in exam­ple #1 and 1,000 in exam­ple #2, all stand­ing in a group buried up to their necks, ren­dered immo­bile, and work­ing at cross purposes.)

    In exam­ple #1, the CEO was very “concerned” about the organization’s abil­i­ty to scale it’s fundrais­ing by a growth fac­tor of almost 40% in con­tributed income, just to meet the needs of the bot­tom line, expect­ing the endow­ment (sav­ings) to cov­er the short­fall if she failed. (This is not an uncom­mon dynam­ic). Work­ing with this client for over a year, I felt the CEO had learned the orga­ni­za­tion­al logis­tics to increase fund­ing, but lacked the will and resolve to con­front his entire team and demand that every­one “work as one”—with a shared vision to increase phil­an­thropy through height­ened employ­ee engage­ment. In sum, fear of con­fronta­tion, or fear of appear­ing too over hand­ed left both the CEO and his entire team frozen in the snow­drift, with no hope of increas­ing pro­duc­tiv­i­ty, or yield­ing sig­nif­i­cant growth in con­tributed income. 

    In exam­ple #2, the CEO had ful­ly embraced the con­cept of a cul­ture of phil­an­thropy, how­ev­er she lacked the resolve to make it an “institutional” pri­or­i­ty. While the CEO was ready to pitch in at every turn, and shov­el the snow, the folks in the silos were not get­ting the memo that “it takes a village,” and that no one was exempt from mov­ing the fundrais­ing nee­dle sim­ply because they worked out­side of the fundrais­ing depart­ment, such as finance, human resources, or facil­i­ties management. 

    If I may take some edi­to­r­i­al license here, build­ing on your metaphor, I see Christ­mas lights (glow­ing in the snow) con­nect­ing all of the employ­ees buried in the snow. Except these are Christ­mas lights of yore, where if one light burns out, the whole string of lights burn out, leav­ing no light at all. 

    The exam­ples I gave above have coun­ter­parts where phil­an­thropy is at the cen­ter of an orga­ni­za­tion, and even the jan­i­tor knows the val­ue and impor­tance of phil­an­thropy. My expe­ri­ence work­ing at Children’s Hos­pi­tal of Philadel­phia is a shin­ing example—from CEO to jan­i­tor, every­one is drink­ing the Kool Aid, and the dol­lars follow. 

    It is high­ly dan­ger­ous for Amer­i­cans to take a col­lec­tive shrug at the cur­rent state of employ­ee dis­en­gage­ment. In the non-prof­it world, it means few­er clients served in med­ical clin­ics, high school coun­sel­ing, job readi­ness, food banks, senior cen­ters, child care cen­ters, etc. In the for prof­it side, it trans­lates to front line employ­ees who treat the “bread and but­ter” clients with lit­tle pas­sion, and noth­ing in the way of appro­pri­ate cus­tomer ser­vice, for a ser­vice econ­o­my. It’s a lose/lose propo­si­tion. Our econ­o­my, and the orga­ni­za­tions and insti­tu­tions on which we depend, and sup­port with our dol­lars, can­not afford to suc­cumb to ennui, bit­ter­ness and immobilization.

    It takes a vil­lage, and we are all like the light bulbs in the chain, and if one of us burns out, all the lights burn out. And then we end up mired in the snow, up to our necks, wish­ing “if only” we had shov­eled the snow when it was but a few inches. 

    Indeed, what I pro­pose (and I assume you would con­cur) is that repair­ing this employ­ee dis­con­nect requires con­stant main­te­nance, but the net result is we all have a clear path con­nect­ing each indi­vid­ual to one anoth­er, cog­nizant that if one gets buried up to his neck, we all suffer. 

    The answer is always the same—courage, “moral” courage from those in lead­er­ship roles to do what they were hired to do, lead, and for all the man­age­ment lev­els and silos to con­nect and work in har­mo­ny. Lead­er­ship inspires; man­age­ment con­spires. I salute you in your work to help train and grow the next gen­er­a­tion of lead­ers, as I have been an avid fan for over a decade. Great arti­cle, Dan. 

    Karl Valen­tine

  • @Samantha~

    Thanks for the reply, Saman­tha. You are rais­ing won­der­ful points.

    It seems to me the wor­ry behind many major projects that touch on man­age­ment and cul­tur­al norms is that there will be “resis­tance,” and then the dilem­ma is, “What do we do about it?” Although we often say the focus is on pos­i­tive lead­er­ship, in fact there is almost always back­ground, some­times “undis­cuss­able” con­cern about the resis­tors. This shows up as com­plaints of hypocrisy about the top lead­ers (why don’t they just make them do it), encour­ag­ing a more or less pun­ish­ing return to auto­crat­ic com­pli­ance meth­ods. In essence all we’ve got is a new “us” vs. “them” dilemma. 

    It seems what­ev­er new mod­el is cre­at­ed, we need a very dif­fer­ent kind of approach to “resis­tance.” I favor “invi­ta­tion­al” mod­els for change that focus on who is there, not who is not there, and an atti­tude of good will. (Otto Scharmer’s U‑Theory, for exam­ple). It’s nat­ur­al that ten­sions will arise, and the so can the desire for a broad­er, deep­er group dis­cus­sion, instead of being offend­ed by crit­i­cism. Rather than leav­ing things in the back­ground and “undis­cuss­able” and work­ing toward com­pli­ance, we can invite greater engage­ment more pre­cise­ly at the point and place of chal­lenge. The main prob­lem seems to be that we think this will “slow things down.” But it does­n’t slow things at all; it’s a nec­es­sary stage and poten­tial turn­ing point.

    Once again, thank you so much, my friend. You add and deep­en the dis­cus­sion so much!


  • @Karl~

    I love the sense of urgency you are bring­ing to this dis­cus­sion, Karl. I hear you as focus­ing on the will to lead — the will­ing­ness to con­front and then mobi­lize an orga­ni­za­tion through real engage­ment. I think this is right on target.

    As with Saman­tha’s com­ments, the con­cern we share is how to take action in a way that results in broad, not just local cul­ture change. By local, I mean maybe a work group here and there ver­sus a whole orga­ni­za­tion ded­i­cat­ed to work­ing in more effec­tive, proac­tive, trust-based and human­is­tic ways. 

    In both cas­es you cite, what it seems to me you’ve spelled out is the inner chal­lenge of cul­ture change, one that boils down to the per­son­al growth of the leader through con­flict and self-con­fronta­tion. A very strong norm in Amer­i­can busi­ness cul­ture is that lead­ers don’t show their per­son­al growth or vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty. They don’t put them­selves out there, tak­ing the risk to step into awk­ward space where there might be, once again, “resis­tance.” They should­n’t “have to” in order to effect change. This rep­re­sents an old-style, high­ly self-pro­tect­ed, hier­ar­chi­cal mod­el. And, unfor­tu­nate­ly, as Saman­tha artic­u­lat­ed so well, staff often rein­force this mod­el them­selves by not tak­ing any risks them­selves to speak hon­est­ly and vul­ner­a­bly either.

    If I were coach­ing these lead­ers, I might sug­gest they do what the exec­u­tive in this sto­ry did — go find out more about the issues with­in their orga­ni­za­tion and begin address­ing those from the stand­point of staff in the mid­dle and at the cus­tomer inter­face. This might lever­age the nat­ur­al ener­gy for improve­ment that exists in the organization. 

    The point is that “employ­ee engage­ment” begins with doing what good lead­ers have always done — pay atten­tion to, lis­ten to, and act on — infor­ma­tion from staff. It’s the fear of this, and of dis­cov­er­ing in the process one’s own inad­e­qua­cies as a leader, that keeps peo­ple — both leader and staff — in a very small, very for­mal box. Real employ­ee engage­ment means “lead­ers and employ­ees engag­ing togeth­er to address the chal­lenges an orga­ni­za­tion faces.” If a leader is not per­son­al­ly and ful­ly engag­ing with staff — and you give two excel­lent exam­ples of that — then things inevitably remain the same, and we end up rely­ing on the same old com­pli­ance mod­els and “pro­grams” to effect a shift in mind­sets and rela­tion­ships. In this sense, engage­ment becomes the lead­ers’ own will to lis­ten, vul­ner­a­bly speak, and act on the imper­a­tives of inter­nal and exter­nal change. These are mat­ters of the soul and, as you point­ed out, may be linked to a cer­tain lack of moral courage. In more com­pas­sion­ate moments, I’d say we all share in that prob­lem but it sure stands out for those who’ve agreed to take on key lead­er­ship roles.

    Thank you, my friend, for shar­ing your expe­ri­ences and keen insight into the challenge.

    All the best

  • Great analo­gies in this post and won­der­ful assess­ment of the “DNA” as you call it. The exam­ples you note are very solv­able with one sure ele­ment: Lead­er­ship that wants to change it not only because it will help the org. but also because they want to be in that type of pos­i­tive environment.

    It sounds so obvi­ous yet we often make assump­tions that lead­ers want a super pos­i­tive envi­ron­ment. Dig in and dig deep lead­ers to ask your­selves what fears or bias­es you have about an uplift­ing cul­ture? Some­where were you taught that its fake and dan­ger­ous because it over­looks trouble.

    Some lead­ers fail to address neg­a­tive abu­sive moments because they tru­ly think that tough and rough = suc­cess. Yes, … still to this day!

    There are also many lead­ers who are learn­ing and embrac­ing the val­ue of both objec­tiv­i­ty and pos­i­tive encour­age­ment for tremen­dous employ­ee engagement.

    … Kate

  • Thank you, Kate. Yes, you are right, there are all kinds of lead­ers out there right now: some who avoid, some who don’t see an advan­tage in cul­ture change work, some who think tough and rough equals suc­cess, and some who want a dif­fer­ent, more pos­i­tive way pret­ty bad­ly. It’s a mix that has­n’t sort­ed itself out, and all of these approach­es may coex­ist in the same organization! 

    As to the tough and rough folks, the inter­ven­tions I’ve seen, they focus less on sup­port­ing abu­sive behav­ior than try­ing to save or res­cue the offend­ing leader — often over a peri­od of years. Fre­quent­ly, they are folks who have beensent to coach­ing, but with­out clearcut expec­ta­tions for change — not a great prog­no­sis for improvement. 

    I liked what Karl said in his com­ment about “the will to lead.” If a per­son tru­ly has that and it is bal­anced by an inter­est in self-knowl­edge, much change, both inter­nal and exter­nal, can take place.

  • Hoda Maalouf (@MaaHoda) wrote:

    Dear Dan,
    I work as a head of depart­ment and aca­d­e­m­ic advi­sor for a large num­ber of stu­dents in my depart­ment. I could shift the advis­ing job to oth­er instruc­tors in my depart­ment like many chair­per­son do, but I did­n’t. Main­ly because with my dai­ly inter­ac­tion with stu­dents I could sense the prob­lems even as they start. Stu­dents talk to me and I lis­ten well. Fun­ny that, we reg­u­lar­ly do course/instructors eval­u­a­tions and get some sta­tis­tics out of them. The sta­tis­tics nev­er brought me any news, They are only con­fir­ma­tion of what I have learned from my direct con­tact with the students.

    Ok, I have nev­er worked in a com­pa­ny (always in acad­e­mia), but prob­lems are the same: rude & abu­sive instruc­tors, lousy ones, etc. You can always know about them in an easy way & with no sta­tis­tics involved, sim­ply by being close to your peo­ple and by shar­ing their joy & problems. 

    Great Post!


  • Dear Hoda~

    You absolute­ly under­stand what I’m talk­ing about. If you lis­ten well, you’ll here the issues direct­ly, and maybe some that the sta­tis­tics could nev­er tell you, too. It is fan­tas­tic that you have devel­oped this lev­el of rap­port with your students. 

    The ques­tion for me is always, and what is next? What broad­er con­ver­sa­tions, per­haps even in a group set­ting with stu­dents and instruc­tors and admin­is­tra­tors, does this knowl­edge com­pel? How does your lead­er­ship move out­ward toward cul­ture change over all? I throw out this ques­tions sim­ply as mat­ter of explo­ration! What might be next? 

    Thank you for your kind words and shar­ing your expe­ri­ences, Hoda!

    All the best

  • Hoda Maalouf (@MaaHoda) wrote:


    I believe that a net­work of car­ing advi­sors would do the trick (in my case). If every sin­gle depart­ment has just one good lis­ten­er, then the issues of every­one are tak­en care of.

    Now, regard­ing how does my lead­er­ship move out­ward toward cul­ture change over all: By shov­el­ing the snow in my gar­den, i do hope that my neigh­bor would learn how to do it and start doing it, if he/she does­n’t I give a help­ing hand to tell him/how how, and if they can’t do it, I’ll find a handy­man to help him/her. Now if they refuse to do it and reject the help­ing hand, I believe this per­son ought to be work­ing in no one garden! 

    Extend­ing my view to the Busi­ness envi­ron­ment, I believe that they sim­ply need to hire cou­ple of full-time counselors/coaches capa­ble of lis­ten­ing well and then relay­ing the employ­ees con­cern to the high­er administrator.
    In this way they will be shov­el­ing the snow on a dai­ly basis.


  • I love the snow metaphor and I so appre­ci­ate your once again well writ­ten thoughts here, +Dan Oestre­ich. I feel that you have exposed an Emper­or has no Clothes line of thought for con­sul­tants, bring­ing words to some thoughts I have had about our process­es. It takes guts to sug­gest that more impor­tant than met­rics are the sim­ple bones of cross-lev­el com­mu­ni­ca­tion with­in an orga­ni­za­tion. Rather than col­lect­ing boat­loads of data which mea­sure “com­mu­ni­ca­tion” / pro­duc­tiv­i­ty levels/ etc., and then cre­at­ing exhaus­tive train­ing process­es, so much can be improved though installing basic pre­emp­tive sys­tems in which peo­ple sim­ply TALK to each oth­er. Thanks for a great post.

  • @Hoda~

    Thanks for reply­ing back, Hoda! I enjoy keep­ing the con­ver­sa­tion going! 

    You also bring up this chal­leng­ing piece: what if some­one, “your neigh­bor,” does­n’t also pay atten­tion and wel­come oth­ers’ con­cerns in the way you do. I love your response, which is to advise and sup­port. I think that’s an excel­lent answer. A few orga­ni­za­tions I know spon­sor reg­u­lar ses­sions for peers in lead­er­ship roles to talk with one anoth­er about the chal­lenges they are fac­ing. One orga­ni­za­tion calls these groups, “Trust teams,” and they can work wonders.

    So the only ques­tion is about the per­son who open­ly rejects the help­ing hand. A dilem­ma for me is that if you sim­ply ter­mi­nate this per­son, it makes all the oth­er things peo­ple might do a mat­ter of com­pli­ance, a sub­tle “or else.” So if I don’t attend the trust team meet­ing, will I get fired, makes atten­dance manda­to­ry rather than an open choice. It makes me won­der what oth­er kinds of sen­si­tive inter­ven­tions or bound­ary set­ting might be available. 

    Thank you again for your won­der­ful response!

  • Dear Blair

    I absolute­ly love your artic­u­late sum­ma­ry, Blair. It is an Emper­or dis­cus­sion, and there must be bet­ter ways to engage rather than just study at great expense the lev­el of engage­ment. Your notion of “pre­emp­tive sys­tems” and cul­ture hits the nail on the head. Thank you so much for tak­ing a moment to share your awe­some insights!

    All the best

  • For more on engage­ment, here is a very inter­est­ing arti­cle, “Ten Charts That Show We’ve All Got a Case of the Mon­days,” from Har­vard Busi­ness Review Blog Network.

    Of par­tic­u­lar note are com­ments to this post regard­ing how some man­agers resist engage­ment because they believe it can­not be measured. 

    I think this is more “con­sul­tant bait,” in the sense that it is very tempt­ing to counter that per­cep­tion with, “Oh, yes it can,” and then go on to do the sur­veys, maybe even care­ful­ly link­ing the results to prof­itabil­i­ty. All of which sounds pret­ty log­i­cal, but again such sur­veys are not engage­ment and don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly pro­duce it either. What’s called for again is a “pre­emp­tive,” “engag­ing” dia­logue about what mea­sure­ment is and is not.

  • Dan once again you have hit it out of the park!

    I love the metaphor of SNOW.

    We can blame orga­ni­za­tion, we can blame lead­ers, we can blame DNA.

    I see what you have described in your arti­cle in my line of work.

    And I always say, as you know, lead from with­in, it does not mat­ter if you are not the boss, it does not mat­ter you don’t own the company.

    I believe one per­son mod­el­ing the way, coura­geous­ly will be and can be the cat­a­lyst for change.

    Maybe I am dream­er, but I believe in people! 

    One per­son to stand out, stand up to make a change, even if slight… 


  • Dear Lol­ly~

    Exact­ly. To begin, it is often just one per­son who makes the dif­fer­ence. How else could change get start­ed? One per­son can be a “force­field” with­out using any “force” at all. I’ve seen it time and again. The words or even just the pres­ence of a par­tic­u­lar indi­vid­ual chan­nels an ener­gy that changes the game. This is not the same as charis­ma, which is often expe­ri­enced as a form of indi­vid­u­al­is­tic pow­er and there­fore of sub­tle com­pli­ance. Instead, it is the pow­er of a kind of inno­cence flow­ing into the world that reminds peo­ple of their orig­i­nal free­dom and the heart’s goals, that reminds peo­ple we are in this all together.

    Thank you so much for your many gifts, Lol­ly. They are much appreciated.

    Best to you

  • This is so very true, Dan. Anoth­er thought­ful, thought-pro­vok­ing article.

    Hav­ing those infor­mal chan­nels of feed­back and com­mu­ni­ca­tion are essen­tial yet so hard to do. It is a cul­tur­al thing and it needs to be start­ed ear­ly and rein­forced often. 

    The oth­er aspect is how a leader can make the small changes ear­ly and how much that saves an orga­ni­za­tion from mis­ery and down­turns. Yet, again, peo­ple close up and don’t make those changes. They would rather be snowed in than clear­ing the path forward.

    A few of the lessons in here is a chal­lenge to all: Be open and encour­age small dia­logues of feed­back. Lis­ten close­ly. Next, take the small steps of change to pre­vent large dis­as­ters and pro­mote big, pos­i­tive changes. 

    Great insights, Dan. Thank you. Jon

  • Jon, thank you — you’ve per­fect­ly restat­ed the plan. 

    I agree, it is “a cul­tur­al thing,” and if this is the sig­nif­i­cant change that the big pro­grams are try­ing to get at, then per­haps we can move in this direc­tion with­out them. They are not the change, they are what is sup­posed to induce it (and rarely, in my expe­ri­ence, do). But if one per­son begins and anoth­er fol­lows, as in the nat­ur­al world, a pat­tern can spread. The exact mech­a­nism for how things spread is the ulti­mate dilem­ma. We think we can enforce that, but such for­mal tac­tics rarely work. They are unnat­ur­al. Ulti­mate­ly, it prob­a­bly is just about love and how that expands and spreads because it is its nature to do so.

    All the best, Jon, and thanks again.


Leave a Reply

Your email is never shared.Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.