Category Archives: Teams

Video: Patrick Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team

Note: If you have trouble viewing the video, you can watch it on YouTube.

In this video, Patrick Lencioni author of “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” talks about behaviors that derail teams.

Summary of the 5 Dysfunctions of a Team (from PDF on Lencioni’s website):

Dysfunction #1: Absence of Trust
This occurs when team members are reluctant to be vulnerable with one another and are unwilling to admit their mistakes, weaknesses or needs for help. Without a certain comfort level among team members, a foundation of trust is impossible.

Dysfunction #2: Fear of Conflict
Teams that are lacking on trust are incapable of engaging in unfiltered, passionate debate about key issues, causing situations where team conflict can easily turn into veiled discussions and back channel comments. In a work setting where team members do not openly air their opinions, inferior decisions are the result.

Dysfunction #3: Lack of Commitment
Without conflict, it is difficult for team members to commit to decisions, creating an environment where ambiguity prevails. Lack of direction and commitment can make employees, particularly star employees, disgruntled

Dysfunction #4: Avoidance of Accountability
When teams don’t commit to a clear plan of action, even the most focused and driven individuals hesitate to call their peers on actions and behaviors that may seem counterproductive to the overall good of the team.

Dysfunction #5: Inattention to Results
Team members naturally tend to put their own needs (ego, career development, recognition, etc.) ahead of the collective goals of the team when individuals aren’t held accountable. If a team has lost sight of the need for achievement, the business ultimately suffers.

Dan Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

Note: If you have trouble viewing the video, you can watch it on YouTube.

I want to thank WorkplacePsychology.Net reader Chris Webb for sending me a link to this video about Dan Pink’s book, “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.”

What’s so impressive are the visual illustrations done by the artist (also called a “graphic facilitator”) at Cognitive Media to visually capture what the author is trying to verbally communicate about motivation.

The video is a great complement to two earlier posts, 3 Primary Goals of People at Work and What Really Motivates Employees.

If you are like me, someone who loves to “think visually,” you’ll love this video. Thanks again Chris!

The Mechanic in the Organization

In “Organization Development: The Process of Leading Organizational Change” (2010), professor Donald Anderson talks about a model of organizational consulting called “Mechanic Model.” Imagine your car causing you problems (e.g., making a strange noise, surging and stopping, has trouble starting, etc.). So you take it into the nearest car shop (or one you trust) and ask the mechanic to troubleshoot the problem or problems and then fix them. As a consumer relying on the mechanic’s expertise, you don’t care about the technical or detailed explanations of how or why something works or doesn’t work (and you really don’t want to get your hands dirty), you simply want it fixed.

“The mechanic is responsible for figuring out what is wrong and fixing it. If the repair does not successfully solve the problem, the responsibility is the mechanic’s, not ours” (Anderson, 2010, p. 86).

When organizational clients have neither the time nor the patience to deal with problems, they often look for mechanic model solutions. But, Dr. Anderson cautions, this is not a good role for consultants to put themselves in because it’s rarely successful.

Why? Dr. Anderson says that this mechanic model gives consultants such wide latitude and responsibility over both the “problem” and the “solution” to the point that the clients (i.e. the organizations) “relinquish both accountability and responsibility for the problem” (p. 86).

By not getting their hands dirty (i.e., involved), organizations do not recognize their role in the problem and thus fail to gain the “insight into the process of assessing and implementing solutions” (p. 86).

This is a more complex way of saying that they never learn to “fish for themselves” by relying on others.

When I worked overseas consulting to education professionals, I sometimes found myself in this mechanic role. As a young and eager crisis management consultant, I wanted to do all that I could to help the schools, the administrators, educators, and students. However, after several months of repeating, re-teaching, and/or re-implementing strategies I finally realized the limitations of this Mechanic Model mentality.

By being the “go-to guy” or the “specialist,” I inadvertently made the system and employees dependent on an outsider to solve or fix their problems. In psychology, we say this is enabling. It’s a strange predicament to be in because, on the one hand, you want to be recognized for your skills. On the other hand, however, you also want to work to make things better so that when the time comes for you to move on (in my case I relocated back to Dallas to be closer to my elderly parents), the people and organizations are still able to firmly stand on their own without relying on assistance.

Thus, what you want to do is: Work to empower and not to enable.

It took listening, insight, and collaboration with a very capable team of professionals to start the process of empowerment and then later implementing change strategies. I think consultants before me failed to recognize this systemic mindset and found themselves in the mechanic role (just like I initially found myself in).

But the difference between how I eventually succeeded, and others did not, were these things:

  1. Understanding the difference between empowering and enabling.
  2. Believing in those who will take over the helm. Your consulting role is to help people and organizations guide their own ships.
  3. Equipping people with the right tools for their roles within the organization.
  4. Never accepting “I can’t” as an excuse.
  5. Showing people that you care about and respect them.

If I were to pick the top two reasons I believe change occurred, they are: (1) respecting people and taking an interest in their well-being, and (2) giving them the right tools they need to succeed.


Anderson, D. (2010). Organization Development: The Process of Leading Organizational Change. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

6 Steps to Guide Employees Through Change

In a previous post titled, “Implementing Change and Overcoming Resistance,” I talked about Kotter’s 8-Stage Process to Creating Major Change.

In this post, I’ll pass along another gem from Harvard Business Review’s Answer Exchange and the suggestions for creating a guiding vision to help employees through change.


  1. Describe a desirable future, one that people would be happy to have right now if they could. Include specifics about how the change will improve the business and how the improvements will benefit employees.
  2. Make the vision compelling. The benefits of the change must be clear and the vision must be better than the status quo so that people will gladly undertake the effort and make the necessary sacrifices.
  3. Ensure that the vision is realistic. It must be perceived as achievable.
  4. Focus on a manageable and coherent set of goals.
  5. Build in flexibility so that if the circumstances change, the vision can change, too.
  6. Make sure the vision is easy to communicate. Managers at all levels of the organization need to be able to communicate the vision to their people.

Though some items on this list are similar to those on Kotter’s 8-Stage Process to Creating Major Change, it’s still a nice summary.


Originally posted on HBR Answer Exchange (now defunct); Adapted from the book Managing Change: Pocket Mentor Series, Harvard Business Press

Do All Employees Want a Challenging Job?

In their classic text, Organizational Behavior, Robbins & Judge (2009) posed and answered an interesting question about employee motivation. The professors asked in a blurb titled, “Myth or Science: ‘Everyone Wants a Challenging Job?’”

In response to this question, Robbins & Judge (2009) say the answer is FALSE! While many employees do seek and desire challenging, engaging work, some employees do not. It might surprise some to read this because it certainly sounds contrary to what we often hear from the media and even some academics. Instead, Robbins & Judge (2009) contend that “some people prosper in simple, routinized work” (p. 219).

But what exactly is it that explains those who prefer challenging work and those who prefer simple, routinized work? Robbins & Judge (2009) maintain that the “strength of an individual’s higher-order needs” is the key. They assert that “[i]ndividuals with high growth needs are more responsive to challenging work” (p. 219).

No current data exist but an older study from the 1970s estimate roughly 15% of employees seek higher-order need satisfaction (i.e. challenging, engaging work). “Even after adjusting for technological and economic changes in the nature of work, it seems unlikely that the number today exceeds 40 percent” (p. 219).

“Many employees relish challenging work. But this desire has been overgeneralized to all workers. Organizations increasingly have pushed extra responsibilities onto workers, often without knowing whether this is desired or how an employee will handle the increased responsibilities” (Robbins & Judge, 2009, p. 219).


Robbins, S.P. & Judge, T.A. (2009). Organizational Behavior (13th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

6 Steps to Manage Resistance to Change


Understand why people are resisting the change. Reasons may include:

  1. They believe the change is unnecessary or will make things worse.
  2. They don’t trust the people leading the change effort.
  3. They don’t like the way the change was introduced.
  4. They are not confident the change will succeed.
  5. They feel that change will mean personal loss — of security, money, status, or friends.
  6. They’ve already experienced a lot of change and can’t handle any more disruption.

Encourage employees to openly express their thoughts and feelings about the change program.
Listen carefully to their concerns, explore their fears, and take their comments seriously.
Engage them in the planning and implementation processes.
Identify those who have something to lose, and anticipate how they might respond.
Help them find new roles either in your group or somewhere else in the organization—roles that represent genuine contributions and mitigate their losses.


Originally posted on HBR Answer Exchange (now defunct); Adapted from the book Managing Change: Pocket Mentor Series, Harvard Business Press

3 Primary Goals of People at Work

In “The Enthusiastic Employee” authors Sirota, Mischkind, and Meltzer (2005), working under Sirota Consulting, surveyed 2.5 million employees in 237 organizations in 89 countries about what they want from their jobs.

Contrary to wide and unsubstantiated claims made about worker attitudes, the authors found through their research that the overall satisfaction of workers with their work is strong and consistent across a wide variety of industries, occupations, and cultures. Furthermore, these researchers maintain that there is no evidence that younger workers are any more or less disenchanted than older workers.

The majority of the responses fall into three factors. The authors call this the Three Factor Theory of Human Motivation in the Workplace. They are: equity, achievement and camaraderie.

  1. Equity: To be treated justly in relation to the basic conditions of employment. These basic conditions include physiological (e.g., safe work environment), economic (e.g., job security, fair pay), and psychological (e.g., treated respectfully & fairly).
  2. Achievement: Employees are enthusiastic working for organizations that provide them with a clear, credible and inspiring organizational purpose – “reason for being here.” There are four sources of employee pride. In essence they reflect the idea of excellence:
    • Excellence in the organization’s financial performance.
    • Excellence in the efficiency with which the work of the organization gets done.
    • Excellence in the characteristics of the organization’s products such as their usefulness, distinctness and quality.
    • Excellence in the organization’s moral character.
  3. Camaraderie: Employees want to work collaboratively. They get the greatest satisfaction from being a member of and working on a team to achieve a common goal. In fact, the authors assert that cooperation, and not job descriptions or organizational charts, is the unifying force holding the various parts of an organization together.

Sirota, Mischkind, and Meltzer (2005) say that one key to overcome conflict and encourage cooperation is to build partnerships. The parties involved do this by collaborating to work toward common goals.

However, they caution that in order to build partnerships within and throughout the organization,

“[A]ction must begin with, and be sustained by, senior management” (p. 283).

It is only when senior leadership has the foresight to see what can be, not just what is, along with the perseverance and hard work to translate philosophy into concrete daily policies will partnership organizations emerge. Above all, it requires “seeing and treating employees as genuine allies in achieving change” (Sirota, Mischkind, & Meltzer, 2005, p. 301).


Sirota, D., Mischkind, L.A., & Meltzer, M.I. (2005). The Enthusiastic Employee: How Companies Profit by Giving Workers What They Want. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Wharton School Publishing.

5 Reasons Why Employees Stay

Earlier in 2010, the Conference Board surveyed 5,000 U.S. households and found that only 45 percent of those surveyed say they’re satisfied with their jobs. It notes that this number is down from 61.1 percent in 1987.

According to Lynn Franco, director of the Consumer Research Center of The Conference Board, “[w]hile one in 10 Americans is now unemployed, their working compatriots of all ages and incomes continue to grow increasingly unhappy.”

John Gibbons, program director of employee engagement research and services at The Conference Board, believes that challenging and meaningful work is important to engaging workers and that “[w]idespread job dissatisfaction negatively affects employee behavior and retention, which can impact enterprise-level success.”

These findings offer valid concerns and serve as a wake-up call to organizations of employee discontent and why they ultimately leave.

Ok, so we know why employees leave. But, why do they stay?

I’m sure there are lots of good reasons, but I like what the editors of Harvard Business Review’s Answer Exchange (a forum to ask questions, get answers, and engage with other business professionals) say about why employees stay.


  1. Pride in the organization. People want to work for well-managed companies.
  2. Compatible supervisor. People may stay just to work for a particular individual who is supportive of them.
  3. Compensation. People want to work for companies that offer fair compensation, including competitive wages and benefits as well as opportunities to learn and achieve.
  4. Affiliation. People want to continue working with colleagues they respect and like.
  5. Meaningful work. People want to work for companies that let them do work that appeals to their deepest, most passionate interests.


Originally posted on HBR Answer Exchange (now defunct); Adapted from the book Harvard Business Essentials: Guide to Hiring and Keeping the Best People, Harvard Business Press

I Can’t Get No…Job Satisfaction, That Is: America’s Unhappy Workers. Research Report #1459-09-RR. The Conference Board.

Gender and Leadership – Does It Matter?

I come across the topic of gender and leadership quite a bit and thought I would share what I found after researching this subject. The questions are always the same and it goes like this,

“Does gender (being male vs. female) affect your leadership styles/abilities at work?”

I want to help in dispelling the myths that are perpetuated throughout both the Internet as well as some (not so well-researched) literature. The following is a piece I researched and wrote about a month ago.


According to “Work in the 21st Century,” 99.6 percent of all top executives of Fortune 500 companies are men, while just 0.4 percent are women. Interestingly, the book “Leadership in Organizations,” states that there are no consistent findings on gender differences in leadership.


The U.S. Department of Labor reports that women comprise 46.5 percent of the total U.S. workforce and are estimated to account for 47 percent of the labor force in 2016.

Leadership Styles

Frank Landy, Ph.D. and Jeffrey Conte, Ph.D., maintain in their book, “Work in the 21st Century,” that women tend to favor a democratic and participative leadership style, while men prefer an autocratic leadership style.


Alice Eagly, Mary Johannesen-Schmidt and Marloes van Engen, in the July 2003 issue of “Psychological Bulletin,” argue women have an advantage over men in competing for leadership positions, and even suggested that women would make better executives.


Gary Yukl, Ph.D., cautions in his book, “Leadership in Organizations,” that research on differences in gender and leadership effectiveness has been inconclusive. For this reason, he contends that gender is not a good predictor of leadership effectiveness and does not impact employees or the workplace.

Expert Advice

According to Gary Powell, Ph.D., in the August 1990 issue of “Academy of Management Executive,” there are no differences between male and female managers. In addition, Dr. Powell says that any “sex differences that have been found are few, found in laboratory studies more than field studies, and tend to cancel each other out. (p. 71)” In short, gender does not affect leadership in business.


  • “Academy of Management Executive”; One More Time: Do Female and Male Managers Differ?; Gary Powell; August 1990
  • “Leadership in Organizations”; Gary Yukl; 2010
  • “Psychological Bulletin”; Transformational, Transactional, and Laissez-Faire Leadership Styles: A Meta-Analysis Comparing Women and Men; Alice Eagly, Mary Johannesen-Schmidt and Marloes van Engen; July 2003
  • “U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics”; Employment and Earnings, 2008 Annual Averages and the Monthly Labor Review; November 2007
  • “Work in the 21st Century: An Introduction to Industrial and Organizational Psychology”; Frank J. Landy and Jefferey M. Conte; 2007

High-Performing Organizations

The Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) has a nice article on what separates high performing organizations from low performing ones. i4cp’s research consistently indicates that companies that excel in the following five domains are typically high performers:

Note: Each point starts with i4cp’s research & wording, followed by my comments & analysis in italics.

1. Strategy

High-performing organizations have strategies that are more consistent, clearly communicated and well thought out. They are more likely than other companies to say that their philosophies are consistent with their strategies and their performance measurements mirror their strategies.

I’ve discussed before about John Kotter’s 8-Stage Change Process, one of which is developing a vision and strategy for your organization.

2. Leadership

High-performing organizations have leadership that is clear, fair and talent-oriented. Those leaders are more likely to promote the best people for the job, to make sure performance expectations are well known and consistent with the strategy, and to be committed to developing their people.

Gary Yukl (2010) in “Leadership in Organizations” shares 10 essences of effective leadership. Among these, Dr. Yukl says some effective leadership functions include developing and empowering people, promoting social justice and morality (the idea of fairness & compassion), and creating alignment on objectives and strategies.

3. Talent

There is a commitment to the right talent within the organization, and while employees are treated as unique individuals, the organization takes a holistic approach to managing and making decisions based on data-driven information. This begins with a strategic approach to workforce planning. It entails looking at the organization from an outside-in perspective that identifies the business model components and areas that drive value and then determines what the organization needs.

It’s not surprising research has found that staffing practices are related to organizational performance (Landy & Conte, 2007).

4. Culture

The culture is strong in all the right ways, and employees are more likely to think the organization is a good place to work. Employees not only adapt well to change, they embrace it. High performers also emphasize a readiness to meet new challenges and are committed to innovation.

In “Implementing Change and Overcoming Resistance,” I talked about the culture within an organization. Organizational culture has a strong impact on employees, and in some cases the leaders.

In fact, with older, more established organizations, the organizational culture affects the leadership team rather than the other way around (Yukl, 2010).

5. Market

High-performing organizations have a strong market focus and go above and beyond for their customers. They are organized internally around what’s best for the customer, they think hard about customers’ future and long-term needs, and their strategy is based on customer data. And they are more likely to see customer information as the most important factor for developing new products and services.

In an earlier post titled “3 Tips on Leadership,” I shared sage advice from leadership expert, Warren Bennis. Dr. Bennis says that leaders need to have contextual intelligence. That is, they need to understand their own organization (from the inside out) as well as the larger business industry.


Bielaszka-DuVernay, C. (2009, April 13). Avoid mistakes that plague new leaders: An interview with Warren Bennis. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from

Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp). New i4cp Study: The Five Domains of High-Performance Organizations. Retrieved from

Landy, F. J. & Conte, J. M. (2007). Work in the 21st Century: An Introduction to Industrial and Organizational Psychology (2nd Ed.). Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

Oakes, K. (2010, January 29). The Five Domains of High Performance. Retrieved from

Yukl, G. (2010). Leadership in organizations (7th Ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ:
Prentice Hall.

Evidence-Based Training: Debunking the Myth of Learning Styles

In “Evidence-Based Training Methods: A Guide for Training Professionals,” Ruth Clark (2010) states that one of the biggest myths perpetuated by training professionals is accommodating different learning styles.

“The learning style myth leads to some very unproductive training approaches that are counter to modern evidence of what works…The time and energy spent perpetuating the various learning style myths can be more wisely invested in supporting individual differences that are proven to make a difference—namely, prior knowledge of the learner.” (Clark, 2010, p. 10)

In her book, Dr. Clark cites a research study (by Kratzig and Arbuthnott) conducted with college students about learning styles. A group of college students were asked to do 3 things: (1) Rate their own learning style as visual, auditory, or kinesthetic; (2) Each student took a learning style test that puts them into the visual, auditory, or kinesthetic category; and (3) Each student was administered three tests to measure visual, auditory, or kinesthetic memory.

If the idea about learning style were true, we would expect someone who considers himself a visual learner to score higher on the visual part of the learning style test and have better visual recall.

“However, when all of the measures were compared, there were absolutely no relationships! A person who rated themselves an auditory learner was just as likely to score higher on the kinesthetic scale of the learning style test and show best memory for visual data. The research team concluded that ‘in contrast to learning style theory, it appears that people are able to learn effectively using all three sensory modalities’ (Kratzig & Arbuthnott 2006, 241)” (Clark, 2010, p.11).

Another example she provides is in explaining how something works. We normally think that a video or animated cartoon would be the best way to show how something works, but Dr. Clark says we would be wrong. Instead, according Dr. Clark, evidence shows that “when teaching how things work, a series of still visuals can be as good as or better than animations for learning (Ketter, 2010, p. 56).

Dr. Clark explains that the reason for this is because animation overloads our brains because there’s just too much visual information for us to process. “[But] a series of still visuals…can be reviewed and revisited at the learner’s preferred pace” (Ketter, 2010, p. 56).

Fad or Fact: Individuals with visual learning styles learn best from lessons with graphics.

FAD. There is no evidence for the prevalent myth of learning styles such as visual learners and auditory learners. Perpetuating this myth detracts resources from more productive proven training methods.

Source: “Evidence-Based Training Methods: A Guide for Training Professionals” (Clark, 2010, p. 22)

Wow! I love solid evidence to dispel the misconceptions we sometimes hold onto. As a trainer, I’m thankful for Dr. Clark’s evidence-based research.


Clark, R.C. (2010). Evidence-Based Training Methods: A Guide for Training Professionals. Alexandria, VA: ASTD Press.

Ketter, P. (2010). Evidence-Based Training Methods: Toward a Professional Level of Practice. T+D, 64(4), 54-58.

Leadership Lessons from the Titanic

“Madam, God himself could not sink this ship.” –A steward on the Titanic

In a discussion about stubborn leaders, I thought about the story of the sinking of the Titanic. Through research, I came across an article by Phil Landesberg called, “Back to the Future – Titanic Lessons in Leadership” (2001).

Titanic’s arrival was a modern marvel. It was “a grand combination of modern technology and luxury built to tame the capriciousness of nature” (Landesberg, 2001, p. 53). With the latest technological and design ingenuity, along with its massive size (the largest moving object at the time), newspapers proclaimed it to be “unsinkable.”

But, the Harland & Wolff Shipyard (builder of the Titanic) and the White Star Line (operator of the Titanic) knew that there were some scenarios that could sink the ship. But, in order to attract customers, both the ship’s maker and its operator went along with the marketing of the Titanic’s unsinkability.

Chosen to navigate the Titanic was a charismatic captain named Captain E. J. Smith, nicknamed “the millionaire’s captain.” Part of his job was to “cater to the expectations of wealthy and influential passengers” (Landesberg, 2001, p. 54).

For the most part, (from the time it set sail on April 10, 1912 to about an hour prior to it colliding with an iceberg) the Titanic’s voyage was pleasant, nothing out of the ordinary. Maybe that was the reason for Captain Smith’s cancellation of a lifeboat drill planned for Sunday April 14th.

Ironically, what made for a romantic setting—calm seas and a moonless night—signaled potential dangers as those conditions made spotting icebergs difficult. However, rather than staying to pilot the ship, Captain Smith instead went to a dinner hosted in his honor. He gave instructions to keep the Titanic on course and maintain speed unless visibility became a factor.

“Less than an hour before Titanic was to collide with an iceberg, Californian’s wireless operator, Cyril Evans, tried to pass along a message from her captain warning that Californian was surrounded by ice and stopped. On board Titanic, Phillips (one of two Titanic wireless operators working for Marconi Company onboard to relay commercial messages) was busily sending commercial messages, and replied, ‘Shut up, shut up, I’m busy….’ Ten minutes before the collision, Evans, noting that Phillips was still busy with commercial messages, shut down his equipment and retired to his cabin” (Landesberg, 2001, p. 54).

Although a large iceberg was spotted by a lookout on the Titanic, its speed and proximity “meant that the efforts of the officer in charge to avoid a collision were doomed to failure. Titanic struck the iceberg on her starboard side, sustaining damage along a 300-foot section of her hull in a mere 10 seconds. Titanic’s design allowed her to take on water in two compartments and remain afloat, but more than four compartments were breached during the collision. Upon assessing the damage, Andrews (one of Titanic’s designer who was onboard) estimated that Titanic would sink in an hour or two” (Landesberg, 2001, p. 54-55).

In an atmosphere of confusion and chaos, women and children were loaded onto lifeboats (per Captain Smith’s order). Unfortunately, without an understanding of and experience with lifeboat procedures, “the lifeboats were only partially loaded before being lowered to the sea. Designed to carry up to 65 passengers, some left with only a dozen people on board. As the lifeboats rowed away from Titanic to avoid being sucked down when she sunk, hundreds of passengers were left screaming and thrashing about in freezing water” (Landesberg, 2001, p. 55).

By early morning on April 15th, only 705 people were still alive, while 1,517 died.


#1 Never Make Assumptions

Captain Smith and many other leaders affiliated to the Titanic assumed that it could never sink.

“I cannot imagine any condition which would cause a ship to founder. Modern shipbuilding has gone beyond that.” -Captain R. J. Smith, R.M.S. Titanic

#2 Watch for the Calm before the Storm

The quiet seas and a moonless sky made it hard to spot icebergs, making it deceiving that things were ok.

#3 Heed Warnings

There were attempts to warn the Titanic from another ship (the Californian’s Cyril Evans). But those messages were dismissed because Phillips (one of two Titanic wireless operators) was busy sending commercial messages.

#4 Stop Finding the Blame

“[I]f we look for culprits when something goes wrong, we’ll find them. However, holding individuals accountable for results can prevent learning how to improve performance or prevent a problem from recurring” (Landesberg, 2001, p. 56).

#5 Manage the System to Find a Solution

The Senate inquiry into the sinking of the Titanic revealed that Marconi wireless operators (like Jack Phillips who was onboard the Titanic to relay commercial messages) often would refuse “to communicate with wireless operators of ships (such as the Frankfurt) known to use competitor’s equipment. Frankfurt was the first ship to answer Titanic’s distress call and the operator went to consult his captain. When he returned, Phillips, on board Titanic, rudely refused to answer the question posed by Frankfurt’s captain, “What is the matter?” (Landesberg, 2001, p. 56).

The lack of cooperation and collaboration was evident in Landesberg’s (2001) account:

“While there seemed to be a ship relatively close by, the nearest ship responding to Titanic’s SOS distress signal was Carpathia, and she was more than four hours away” (p. 55).

“Leaders must look to cooperate (even while they compete) to improve the systems in which they operate, for the good of all…Had the aim of providing passenger safety been clear to everyone (i.e., Titanic’s officers and crew–including wireless operators and Californian’s officers and crew) there would have been far less confusion, more cooperation, and less loss of life on the evening of April 14, 1912.” (Landesberg, 2001, p. 56-57).


Landesberg, P. (2001). Back to the Future—Titanic Lessons in Leadership. Journal for Quality & Participation, 24(4), 53-57.

Implementing Change and Overcoming Resistance

[NOTE: This post was updated November 2016]

In “Leading Change” (1996), Kotter outlined an 8-Stage Process to Creating Major Change:

  1. Establish a Sense of Urgency: Examine market and competitive realities; identify and discuss crises, potential crises, or major opportunities
  2. Create the Guiding Coalition: Assemble a group with enough power to lead the change; get group to work together as a team
  3. Develop a Vision & Strategy: Create a vision to help direct the change effort; Develop strategies for achieving that vision
  4. Communicate the Vision: Use every vehicle possible to communicate the new vision and strategies; have Guiding Coalition role model the behavior expected of employees
  5. Empowering Action: Get rid of obstacles to change; change systems or structures that undermine the vision; encourage risk-taking and nontraditional ideas, activities, and actions
  6. Generating Short-Term Wins: Plan for visible performance improvements or “wins”; create those “wins”; recognize and reward employees who made “wins” possible
  7. Consolidate Gains and Produce More Change: Use increased credibility to change systems, structures, and policies that don’t fit the vision; hire, promote, and develop employees who can implement the change vision; reinvigorate the process with new projects, themes, and change agents
  8. Anchor New Approaches in the Corporate Culture: Create better performance via customer- and productivity-oriented behavior, more and better leadership, and more effective management; articulate the connections between the new behaviors and organizational success; develop the means to ensure leadership development and succession.

Professor Kotter (1996) shared about a time he consulted with an intelligent and competent executive who struggled trying to implement a reorganization. Problem was many of his managers were against it. Kotter went through the 8-stage process. He asked the executive whether there was a sense of urgency (Stage #1) among the employees to change. The executive said, “Some do. But many probably do not.” (Kotter, 1996, p. 22). When asked about a compelling vision and strategy to implement (Stage #3), the executive replied, I think so [about the vision]…although I’m not sure how clear it [the strategy] is” (Kotter, 1996, p. 22). Finally, when Kotter inquired whether the managers understood and believed in the vision, the executive responded, “I wouldn’t be surprised if many [people] either don’t understand the concept or don’t entirely believe in it [the vision]” (Kotter, 1996, p. 22).

Kotter (1996) states that when Stages #1-4 of the Kotter model are skipped it’s inevitable that one will face resistance. The executive ran into resistance because he went directly to Stage #5. Kotter states that in attempting to implement change, many will rush through the process “without ever finishing the job” (Kotter, 1996, p. 22) or they’ll skip stages and either jump to or only do Stages 5, 6, and 7.

Schermerhorn, Hunt, and Osborn (2005) maintain that when employees resist change they are protecting/defending something they value and which seems threatened by the attempt at change.

Eight Reasons for Resisting Change (Schermerhorn, Hunt, & Osborn, 2005):

  1. Fear of the unknown
  2. Lack of good information
  3. Fear of loss of security
  4. No reasons to change
  5. Fear of loss of power
  6. Lack of resources
  7. Bad timing
  8. Habit

To overcome resistance to change, make sure that the following criteria are met (Schermerhorn, Hunt, & Osborn, 2005):

  • Benefit: Whatever it is that is changing, that change should have a clear relative advantage for those being asked to change; it should be seen as “a better way.”
  • Compatibility: The change should be as compatible as possible with the existing values and experiences of the people being asked to change.
  • Complexity: The change should be no more complex than necessary; it must be as easy as possible for people to understand and use.
  • Triability: The change should be something that people can try on a step-by-step basis and make adjustments as things progress.

There are 6 methods for dealing with resistance to change (and their advantages & drawbacks)*** (Schermerhorn, Hunt, & Osborn, 2005; Kotter & Schlesinger, 1979 & 2008):

Methods for dealing with resistance to change | Source: Kotter and Schlesinger's 2008 article "Choosing Strategies for Change"
Methods for dealing with resistance to change | Source: Kotter and Schlesinger’s 2008 article “Choosing Strategies for Change”

  1. Education & Communication: educate people about a change before it is implemented; help them understand the logic behind the change.
  2. Participation & Involvement: allow people to help design and implement the changes (e.g., ideas, task forces, committees).
  3. Facilitation & Support: provide help (emotional & material resources) for people having trouble adjusting to the change.
  4. Negotiation & Agreement: offers incentives to those who resist change.
  5. Manipulation & Cooptation: attempts to influence others.
  6. Explicit & Implicit Coercion: use of authority to get people to accept change.

***For additional (and quite valuable) information related to the six methods for dealing with resistance to change outlined by Schermerhorn and colleagues, there is a Harvard Business Review article by Kotter and Schlesinger (1979 & 2008). The 2008 article, “Choosing Strategies for Change” is a reprint of the same 1979 article. For better layout and graphics, I’ve referred to the 2008 article. I believe the six methods for dealing with resistance to change outlined by Schermerhorn and colleagues (2005) is based on or came directly from Kotter and Schlesinger’s 1979 article.

***In Kotter and Schlesinger’s 1979 HBR article (and in the 2008 HBR reprint) the six methods for dealing with resistance to change included the six approaches (e.g., education + communication, negotiation + agreement, etc.) as well as three more columns (commonly used in situations; advantages; and drawbacks). I found this to be especially useful and have posted a screenshot (above) of the graphic used in Kotter and Schlesinger’s 2008 HBR article. I would encourage readers to read Kotter and Schlesinger’s HBR article.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership + Talent Development Advisor


Kotter, J. P. & Schlesinger, L. A. (1979). Choosing strategies for change. Harvard Business Review, 57(2), 106-114.

Kotter, J. P. & Schlesinger, L. A. (2008). Choosing strategies for change. Harvard Business Review, 86(7/8), 130-139. Also retrieved from

Kotter, J.P. (1996). Leading change. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Schermerhorn, J.R., Hunt, J.G., & Osborn, R.N. (2005). Organizational Behavior (9th ed.). New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Elements of Corporate Cultures

In “Culture by Default or by Design?” Edmonds and Glaser (2010) talk about the challenge of describing the culture of an organization. In the article, the authors maintain that the impact of your corporate culture can spell success or disaster for the organization.

The culture of your company is its personality, it’s “how things are done around here” (Edmonds & Glaser, 2010, p. 37). Culture can be the company’s values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors – both of the overall system itself and of the individual members who make up the organization.

Asking employees to describe their corporate culture is akin to asking a fish to describe what water is like. Neither the employee nor the fish can do it properly because they’re both immersed in it (Edmonds & Glaser, 2010). It’s even more challenging for new employees as they sometimes stumble onto and violate unwritten norms and rules embedded in the organization.

Schermerhorn, Hunt, and Osborn (2005) assert that the function of the organizational culture is to serve both as an external and internal role to help the organization adapt. Under the external role, questions asked include, “What exactly needs to be accomplished and how do we do this?” For the internal role, the question is “How do members of the organization work together, get along, and work out conflicts?”

On the surface it may seem apparent, but it can take years to fully understand some corporate culture (Schermerhorn, Hunt, & Osborn, 2005). The reason is that corporate culture is highly complex and multi-layered, composed of an observable culture, the shared values, and common cultural assumptions. The observable culture is the “how we do things around here.” The shared values link employees of a company together. Finally, common cultural assumptions are those “truths” that will come up after analyzing the culture (Schermerhorn, Hunt, & Osborn, 2005).

Elements of Strong Corporate Cultures (Schermerhorn, Hunt, & Osborn, 2005):

  • A widely shared real understanding of what the firm stands for, often embodied in slogans
  • A concern for individuals over rules, policies, procedures, and adherence to job duties
  • A recognition of heroes whose actions illustrate the company’s shared philosophy and concerns
  • A belief in ritual and ceremony as important to members and to building a common identity
  • A well-understood sense of the informal rules and expectations so that employees and managers understand what is expected of them
  • A belief that what employees and managers do is important and that it is important to share information and ideas


Edmonds, C. & Glaser, B. (2010). Culture by default or by design? Talent Management, 6(1), 36-39.

Schermerhorn, J.R., Hunt, J.G., & Osborn, R.N. (2005). Organizational Behavior (9th ed.). New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

What Really Motivates Employees

In an article titled, “What Really Motivates Workers” in the January-February 2010 issue of the Harvard Business Review, Amabile & Kramer (2010) invited over 600 managers from dozens of companies to rank the impact on employee motivation and emotions of five workplace factors:

  1. recognition,
  2. incentives,
  3. interpersonal support,
  4. support for making progress, and
  5. clear goals

The #1 ranking of the managers was “recognition for good work.”

However, and this surprised me, from their multiyear study in which they tracked the day-to-day activities, emotions, and motivation levels of hundreds of knowledge workers in various settings, Amabile & Kramer (2010) discovered that the #1 motivator for employees is progress.

You read that right folks, the top motivation for workers is making progress.

On days when workers have the sense they’re making headway in their jobs, or when they receive support that helps them overcome obstacles, their emotions are most positive and their drive to succeed is at its peak. (Amabile & Kramer, 2010, p. 44.)

Ironically, progress was the factor ranked dead last by managers as something that motivates employees.

The researchers analyzes nearly 12,000 diary entries, along with the writer’ daily ratings of their motivation and emotions. The analysis indicated that “making progress in one’s work – even incremental progress – is more frequently associated with positive emotions and high motivation than any other workday event” (Amabile & Kramer, 2010, p. 44).

The HBR article offered this advice to managers:

Avoid impeding progress by changing goals unilaterally, being indecisive, or holding up resources (Amabile & Kramer, 2010).

How managers can help facilitate progress (Amabile & Kramer, 2010):

  • Clarify overall goals
  • Ensure employees’ efforts are properly supported
  • Refrain from exerting time pressure so extreme such that minor glitches are seen as crises
  • Cultivate a culture of helpfulness
  • Roll up your own sleeves and help out
  • Celebrate progress, even small ones


Amabile, T.M. & Kramer, S.J. (2010). What really motivates workers. Harvard Business Review, 88(1), 44-45.