workplace culture

Key learnings on transforming leaders and changing culture

When it comes to shaping a thriving workplace culture, the influence of leaders on their organizations’ overall performance cannot be overemphasized. They serve as role models whose conduct and behavior are expected to align with their organizations’ values. While recent months have provided a deluge of executives and leaders who have lost their way, it’s a compelling time for change agents to help organizations shape their culture for a constructive future.Now is the time to capitalize on opportunities for revisiting goals, changes, and challenges. Perhaps the ideal time to assess, focus and map out vital leadership and culture intentions for your company or the organizations you support. Often, the best way to help leaders or teams focus on realigning the organization’s culture with its vision, values and performance priorities is to reach into the recent past for insight, perspective and advice.

The following three blog posts garnered the highest reader interest as top posts in 2017 and offer actionable learning for those leading culture change and leadership development efforts in 2018 and 2019.

1. Edgar Schein – A Preview of Organizational Culture and Leadership

Last year I had the honor of hearing Edgar Schein speak on a few occasions. As Professor Emeritus at the MIT Sloan School of Management, head of the Organizational Culture and Leadership Institute, and perhaps the most influential authority in the field of workplace culture, Ed Schein asks a lot of questions. It’s his way to engage you early and often, and he advocates that change agents do the same to establish deeper relationships with clients—Level Two relationships, as he refers to them.

The role of measurement is bell-clear once you know what you are trying to measure. -Edgar Schein

In this video clip and accompanying blog post by Tim Kuppler, Director of Culture & Organization Development with Human Synergistics, Ed explains the importance of the quantitative and qualitative aspects in a specific order in the change process. In his book, Humble Inquiry, he introduces “the gentle art of asking instead of telling,” which suggests the qualitative process as using questions designed to elicit useful information long before an assessment—the quantitative aspect—is introduced.2 It’s this qualitative process, which plays a key role in building trusted relationships with leaders and understanding what they’re trying to accomplish, that Ed urges needs come up front. After which, an assessment tool may be useful. “When you know what you want to quantify and why, the role of measurement in support of your intervention efforts become bell clear,” he asserts.

If you’re considering a change program, remember to move beyond the work climate to gain an understanding of the underlying culture through a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods.

2. Josh Bersin – 5 Key Trends Driving Culture Change Today

Global research analyst Josh Bersin writes on human resources, leadership, technology, and the connection between work and life. He’s Founder and Principal at Bersin by Deloitte, where he heads their long-term strategy. Each year, the firm releases industry research coveted by HR leaders across the US and abroad.

In this top post and research-based presentation, Josh shares broad insights and data on the Future of Work, the disappearance of corporate hierarchies, employee engagement, the “network of teams” concept, and the “overwhelmed employee.” He segues an info-packed first segment into a section on why culture is important in the corporate setting and shares findings on key trends driving culture change in business. Overall, some fascinating analysis and reporting by Josh, which explains why this blog post garnered high reader interest.

If you follow the Human Capital Trends Report by Deloitte each year, the 2018 report is due out in April. Deloitte suggests that seismic shifts are reshaping the new world of work and HR. It also suggest that business leaders would do well to examine the research with their teams as they navigate the new landscape in 2018.

The 2018 Predictions—Embracing Radical Transparency released by Bersin by Deloitte may include some overlap with the Trends report. Their #1 prediction for 2018 is that agile organization models will start to go mainstream.3 Why all the focus on “agile organization” design? Josh explains that after decades of corporate hierarchy, companies are embracing the notion of “team at the center” with “squads and tribes” to help keep teams aligned into a world of “company as a network.”

This seems to be an accelerated version of the “network of teams” model. It represents a profoundly different model than the one most companies use today to manage and serve people.

If the “network of teams” concept intrigues you, consider applying an assessment to learn how team members on your work teams interact to solve problems. Teams must learn new ways of interacting and achieving results in a constructive manner in order for a “network of teams” approach to achieve results.

3. Barbara Trautlein – Why Thank You Goes a Long Way: The Power of Recognition

In Why Thank You Goes a Long Way: The Power of Recognition, experienced change strategist Barbara Trautlein shares why showing appreciation and recognizing employee contributions are essential for a healthy and productive workplace culture. She understands why the “secret sauce” of any successful company is its employees and knows that recognition gets results! “It’s free, it’s easy, and it’s hugely impactful. Recognition builds relationships and relationships get results,” Barbara affirms.

Barbara shares one cautionary point about positive feedback:

That said, not all positive feedback is positive. A defining characteristic of Passive/Defensive cultures is approval seeking and conflict avoidance.4 Behaviors like praising performance that don’t rock the boat and that supports conventional thinking can be the norm. This is the kiss of death for organizations that are experiencing significant disruption and the need to radically change to keep pace in our VUCA world

In contrast, leaders and team members who notice, offer feedback on, and celebrate real contributions and team successes promote a Constructive culture—one in which members know their efforts are appreciated, stay motivated to perform at a high level, and reciprocally offer words of praise and encouragement.

Moving forward

Interest in culture continues to grow. Leaders will need to shape cultures and develop others to meet mounting demands of increasing complexity, and rapidly changing market needs. And as times change, we’ll continue to share perspectives and insights from skilled practitioners in culture and leadership.

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1 Kuppler, T. (2018, Feb. 9). A Historic Shift in Expecting Leaders to Understand and Evolve Culture. Retrieved from

2 Schein, E. Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling. Oakland: Berrett-Koehler Publishers. 2013.

3 Bersin by Deloitte. (2018). Predictions for 2018: Embracing Radical Transparency. Retrieved from

4 The terminologies are from Robert A. Cooke, Ph.D. and J. Clayton Lafferty, Ph.D., Organizational Culture Inventory® and Organizational Effectiveness Inventory®, Human Synergistics International, Plymouth, MI. Copyright © 1987-2007. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Article originally published on

kalani-iwiula_avatarBy Kalani Iwiula

Kalani is a marketing professional with Human Synergistics and oversees the company’s social media, blog properties, and blogger community. Kalani aims to create, curate, and support high-quality content covering workplace culture and the impact of leaders. He gives voice to colleague expertise via digital media planning and partnering. As an integrated marketing specialist, Kalani believes in the power of branding and its role in connecting how people think and perform in their workplace cultures.

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