Four Common Types of Difficult Employees And How To Deal With Them

This post is a companion to one or our top Voice America Interviews featuring Mike Morrow-Fox talking about bad bosses and the impact they have on organizations 

One of the jobs of managers is to create an environment that promotes employee engagement and produces organizational results. Difficult employees adversely impact the team members who work with them. Managers need to find productive ways to address these difficulties or they risk negatively impacting the entire working team. According to a Gallup article published in December 2016, “Compared with disengaged teams, engaged teams show 24% to 59% less turnover, 10% higher customer ratings, 21% greater profitability, 17% higher productivity, 28% less shrinkage, 70% fewer safety incidents and 41% less absenteeism.” The research clearly suggests that managers who address these difficult employees will produce better organizational results than those who do not.

The following is a guest post written by Jackie Edwards, professional writer experienced in the HR side of finance and banking,. It’s the reality of being an employer that your team might not always be filled with employees who support your vision and work hard for you. At some point you’ll have to deal with a difficult personality in the workplace. As stated in the Journal of Business & Economics, difficult employees can become of the most challenging issues you face, according. Here are four common types of difficult employee that you’ll likely have to come across and tips on how to tackle them effectively.

Dark-Side Dan

This is the employee who’s always negative. When you bring up an exciting project, he’ll tell you why it won’t work. It can be frustrating to deal with someone who’s always raining on everyone’s parade while thinking his way is the only right one. But a good tip is to see him as offering constructive criticism. He might show you the worst-case scenarios of corporate decisions that could help you make the right choice.

But dealing with such a difficult personality can actually be quite straightforward. Hold a meeting with your team and give everyone a chance to talk about their skills and struggles, see what this difficult employee says and coax them for a reply. You want your team members to be vulnerable at times, as it makes for a supportive, cooperative team.

Power-Hungry Pam

This is the employee who wants your job. She’ll take on leadership roles, such as by trying to be seen as holding a position of power with her co-workers, or trying to derail your authority, such as by ignoring your instructions. The best way to deal with highly-ambitious employees is to give them lots of work to do so that they won’t have time to try to manage other workers. Therefore keeping the workplace peace intact.

Mr. Excuse

You asked your employee to have a task completed by the end of the day, but he had something important to do across town or he had to deal with a co-worker’s problem, or he was stuck with a faulty printer. He always has excuses for not doing work or not listening to your instructions. In a global survey of 10,000 adults, 42 per cent confessed to lying about how busy they were at work. Although you might be quick to label this worker lazy, there could be another reason for his annoying behavior. Perhaps they are disastisfied with work? The best thing to do is have an open conversation with him to try to understand where he’s coming from and how you can utilize his best qualities, while minimizing his future games.

The Toddler

The minute this employee doesn’t like something, she’ll lose her cool, make sarcastic comments, or get into fights with co-workers. She also doesn’t deal with constructive criticism, which makes dealing with her a nightmare. If she’s a talented worker you don’t want to lose, remind her that her great work will take her far, but she needs to tone down her defensiveness as managers need to be likeable in order to succeed. Having a real heart-to-heart with this employee will not only show her that you’re willing to support your team members, but it also highlights that you’re after her best interests, which will help her see the error of her ways.

Difficult employees are everywhere, and they might even be part of your team. The key is to know how to tackle them effectively so that you can make use of their skills and decrease workplace drama which negatively impacts everyone’s productivity.

To become a more innovative leader, please consider our online leader development program. For additional tools, we recommend taking leadership assessments, using the Innovative Leadership Fieldbook and Innovative Leaders Guide to Transforming Organizations, and adding coaching to our online innovative leadership program. We also offer several workshops to help you build these skills.

What Questions Help Identify High Quality Leaders For Your Organization?

This article was originally posted in Forbes in August 2016. It is the companion to the VoiceAmerica Interview with Richard Oliver on July 25 Executive Perspective: Building Vibrancy, Increasing Engagement, Improving Performance. In the interview Richard talks about his experience of dramatically increasing employee engagement at a 60 year old manufacturing company as their President.

As leaders, we are expected to be highly effective at identifying strong leadership, then rewarding it, retaining it, and developing it. Additionally, we are expected to remove bad leadership. Yet leadership is quite subjective. How do we know what “effective” leadership is?

In recent conversations, I realized that how we answer that simple question generates wildly different answers from my respected colleagues. For example, some might say effective leadership is generating strong financial results, while others might measure it based on personal recognition, promotion, social impact or building legacy. It is by asking the right questions that we can clarify what effective leadership is so as to reach the best outcome for our organizations.

I suggest starting with a list of questions from ecosynomics, a framework developed by Jim Ritchie-Dunham, an adjunct researcher at Harvard. Specifically, this framework poses four questions that organizations should consider in order to identify the greatest leadership potential and, consequently, to experience the greatest value from that leadership.

1. What Is Your Potential Leadership Capacity (How Much)?

Sustained value is one measure, but we can’t necessarily predict who will sustain value based on past performance. As we look across the organization’s ecosystem, performance is a starting point but not the final indicator because organizations, and people, run into unavoidable and unpredictable disruptions. As a result, such disruptions may reflect negatively on performance, but may not be an accurate reflection of sustained value of an individual.

Another measure is a set of behaviors or competencies that signal leadership potential. When we move from looking for results to looking for potential, we have moved out of our standard conversation. If we don’t talk about potential, we are missing an important variable when selecting leaders. As we consider potential, we need to also look for employees who are curious and continually learning in a changing environment. It is leaders who continue to “innovate how they lead” who will be able to consistently deliver over the long term.

2. Who Decides Our Leadership Potential?

Often leadership teams “rack and stack” their teams during an annual review process. These are often long and arduous processes. Many companies are revising the performance feedback process in favor of new approaches designed to provide ongoing feedback, but still need a mechanism to determine financial compensation beyond market value, promotion, performance improvement or exit.

The other side of this evaluation is the hiring process. Who is deciding your leadership potential? Is it the leader? The leader’s peers? A group of more senior leaders? Do they have the correct criteria and information to make decisions? What does it say about your leaders and to your leaders if they and their peers are not involved directly in the process in a meaningful way? An example is an organization that uses the vibrancy survey or similar tool within work groups to identify leadership impact on employees.

3. By What Criteria Do We Determine Value?

It is easy to measure the financial impact a leader delivers, but measuring results is more complicated. When we look at results and behaviors, we can look at tools like 360-degree feedback along with financials. These can seem like relatively straightforward equations but, again, who gives feedback and who administers the process to ensure it is impartial and that each variable in the equation is weighted properly?

Some companies have specific equations to measure the balance between results and behaviors. A “nine box,” for example, looks at a 3×3 matrix that places results on one axis and behaviors on the other. While I am a proponent of competencies that consider mindset in addition to behaviors, these are still relatively difficult to measure so behaviors may be our closest reliable approximation. If these measures determine and drive your leader’s performance, it might be worthwhile to be as rigorous in determining what to value (part of mindset) as much as how they performed against those values. As an example, leaders who value collaboration will consistently build collaboration into all of their actions vs. someone who collaborates to check a box because they were told this is important.

The difference is that if the idea of collaboration is built into my thoughts and actions, when it comes time to actually collaborate, others will be expecting it and trust my intentions. If I am making judgments on team members through checking a box, they may not trust me and may not be willing to collaborate fully. It is important to consider the question from multiple views: What does the leader, culture and organization value and reward?

4. How Do We Interact To Realize Our Greatest Leadership Potential?

Your organization’s culture sends a clear message as to how leadership is discovered and developed. Do your culture and organizational structure promote leaders working together on shared goals, or are they pitted against one another to maximize their own units?

How much time are leaders actually spending on mentoring, for example? If I came into an organization to evaluate performance against this question, I would spot-check mentor calendars to see if they are meeting regularly with their mentees and find out whether they discussing development goals and working toward employee success. I would be checking for tangible evidence that the organization has a structure that promotes matching high potentials with seasoned leaders and has a budget for regular interactions that could include books and lunches. When selecting leaders, we must define what our organization’s approach is to leadership culture and understand how this drives the results we want.

In summary, as the world changes at an ever-increasing rate, it is important to update our way of evaluating, structuring, measuring and rewarding leaders to ensure they are equipped to meet changes effectively. For organizations, it will be useful to evaluate your current criteria and determine if it will meet your needs going forward.

To become a more innovative leader, please consider our online leader development program. For additional tools, we recommend taking leadership assessments, using the Innovative Leadership Fieldbook and Innovative Leaders Guide to Transforming Organizations, and adding coaching to our online innovative leadership program. We also offer several workshops to help you build these skills.

About the author Maureen Metcalf, CEO and Founder of Metcalf & Associates, is a renowned executive advisor, author, speaker, and coach whose 30 years of business experience provides high-impact, practical solutions that support her clients’ leadership development and organizational transformations. Maureen is recognized as an innovative, principled thought leader who combines intellectual rigor and discipline with an ability to translate theory into practice. Her operational skills are coupled with a strategic ability to analyze, develop, and implement successful strategies for profitability, growth, and sustainability.

Organizations Have Personality Types: How Do You Fit?

Belinda Gore EnneagramThis guest blog was written as a companion to the VoiceAmerica Interview with Belinda Gore on April 24, Building Leadership Self-Awareness Using Personality Type. In the interview and the blog, Belinda explores how she uses the Enneagram to help leaders build the self-awareness that enables them to perform effectively. It is also the companion to a foundational blog post Leveraging Leadership Type to Improve Leadership Effectiveness

As a reminder from a prior post, when the 65-member Advisory Council for the Stanford Graduate School of Business was polled several years ago on the topic of what is most important to include in the school’s curriculum, there was overwhelming agreement that the most important thing business school graduates needed to learn was self-awareness and the resulting ability to reduce denial in their perceptions of themselves and their actions. Pretty impressive. This speaks to the emerging recognition that we highlight in Innovative Leadership: leaders, through their own personality quirks and biases, can derail the most progressive initiatives toward an organization’s sustainable success.

In my experience using the Enneagram system as a psychologist and a leadership coach over the past twenty-three years, I find the enneagram to be more robust than any other system I have encountered. Many organizations are familiar with DISC, MBTI, Social Styles, and other systems, and training in these models has given employees at every level of the organization a foundation in models for self-awareness. I have found leaders at every level able to readily learn the rich and versatile information the Enneagram offers.

Just as leaders have “personalities,” so do organizations. This is just another way to think about the organizational culture, the mission or role the organization seeks to fulfill, the favored strategies for accomplishing goals, the behaviors that are rewarded and those that are not, and the subtle hiring filters that tend to screen out people who do not fit. The senior leaders of the organization may or may not reflect the culture. It is immensely valuable for leaders to determine their organization’s personality type to be able to harness the natural strengths of that pattern and avoid the imbedded tendencies that create problems. Leaders are likely to have a strong influence on the development of organizational culture, but without clear awareness they may not realize how the leader and the group are aligned and how they sometimes work in opposition.

As an example, a mid-size utility company instituted leadership development training based on the Enneagram. In assessing several hundred people within the company, it became clear that the organization has a Type Six culture, one of loyalty. The Type Six pattern is reflected in the company’s mission to provide reliable and affordable gas and electric energy to their customers and to promote safety for their employees in power plants and in distribution. Loyalty is highly valued within the company and many employees have worked for the company for twenty years or more. Attention is paid to identifying potential problems and working out solutions before they occur; when there is a power outage due to weather conditions, there is an expectation that the entire workforce will be available to provide support until the situation is resolved. In some Enneagram training groups of individual contributors, up to 50% of the employees determined for themselves—using an assessment tool along with classroom training and guided group discussion—to have a Type Six personality. Among mid-level managers, that percentage drops to around 35%, and in the top group of senior leaders less than 10% assess themselves as having a Type Six personality pattern.

This is not unusual. Why? Because leaders in the C-suites, those who have risen to the top leadership levels, are not equally distributed around the Enneagram circle but tend to cluster in another sub-grouping.

As a leader, there is great value for you to understand your type to build your awareness of your predispositions. It is also important to understand the organization’s type to better understand how you fit within the organization. Understanding your type will lead you to the following questions:

  1. Is your style a natural fit with that of the majority?
  2. What gifts do you bring because of your similarities?
  3. What blind spots are present if too many people share the same personality type?
  4. If you have a different type, how do your predispositions fill gaps?
  5. How do you manage your similarities and differences to both fit and fill gaps?

By answering these questions, you will have a clearer sense of how you, as a leader, may best contribute and some of the inherent struggles if you have a different type than the majority that comprises the culture. While being part of the minority allows you to fill gaps, you may also find yourself excluded or struggling to communicate effectively. It is through self-awareness and skillful interactions that you will be able to navigate any organizations predispositions.

To become a more innovative leader, please consider our online leader development program. For additional tools, we recommend taking leadership assessments, using the Innovative Leadership Fieldbook and Innovative Leaders Guide to Transforming Organizations, and adding coaching to our online innovative leadership program. We also offer several workshops to help you build these skills.

About the Author
Belinda Gore, PhD focuses on designing, developing and delivering leadership, assessments, workshops, and coaching. She is a key thought leader in the development of the Innovative Leadership framework. She is a psychologist, executive coach, and experienced seminar leader who is skilled in supporting her clients in high-level learning. With 30 years’ experience in leadership development and interpersonal skills training, she is known for helping teams discover strength in their diversity to achieve their mutual goals, and works with individual leaders to access their natural talents to maximize effectiveness and personal satisfaction. Her clients have included senior leadership in global companies, senior and middle management in both corporate and nonprofit organizations, and entrepreneurs. She will be leading our new service line focused on helping leaders and their organizations build resilience along with offering leadership team development, board development, coaching, and Enneagram assessment.

What is a Culture of Innovation and Continuous Learning?

Nimble CultureThis blog is a companion to the interview with Guru Vasudeva on VoiceAmerica “Innovative Leaders Driving Thriving Organizations” on April 18, 2017 Nationwide’s Journey to Create a Culture of Innovation and Continuous learning.

Carla’s company had just decided that being agile would create a strategic advantage for them as a company shifting from manufacturing technology to a company that wanted to compete in the data and analytics space. One of the key challenges they needed to address was to shift from a culture of manufacturing for the telecom industry toward a high-tech culture of agility. The first task was to define the cultural principles and agreements about behavior. This blog offers some of the key principles they used to inform their transformation.

To successfully implement an agile or innovative business model, the organizational culture and behavioral agreements need to support agility. This culture model is a product of a combination of Agile software development principles combined with other innovative culture models. Each company will refine culture to align with their specific organization. Culture can make the difference between successful implementation and failure, especially when the organization is making a major change. This is particularly true when organizations move from a more traditional culture to one associated with agility and innovation. This culture model looks at five key elements that we consider foundational to create an environment and agreements that support agility and innovation in a rapidly changing environment.

  1. Customer first. Organizations that are willing to listen to customer recommendations and have a process to evaluate those recommendations have the highest probability of retaining customers and staying ahead of the competition. We create an environment in which we encourage our customers to offer recommendations and we evaluate them systematically to see how we can use them to become more effective.
  2. Collaborative. Organizations that work cross-functionally can create prototypes much more quickly than environments that work sequentially. This means every group and person must consistently have an opportunity to contribute their expertise. It also means we create an environment in which people feel safe to express their perspective.
  3. Rigorous experimentation. We value the creative process. We encourage people to develop hypotheses about how to make changes and test their ideas. We continually learn from controlled and well-crafted experiments. We reward innovation and learning.
  4. Nimble decision making. We recognize that we don’t have perfect information and a decision today can be refined as we learn from our experiments later. In an environment of continual evolution, we will never have full information and often we won’t even have sufficient information to make a long-term decision, but we often have enough information to decide about our next step. We need to know our long-term direction, and reward making decisions and keeping an open mind to revising course when we gain additional information.
  5. Resilient. We value adaptability, flexibility, and curiosity as they are the fuel for our process. Ongoing change requires we build a foundation of well-being that supports ongoing creativity and change. Resilient people respond to situations with an attitude of curiosity and the ability to act with flexibility and adaptability.

We recommend these elements as general guiding principles and corresponding agreements about how we work together as colleagues. When organizations have explicit agreements such as these, they can drive behavior and ensure that organizational processes are aligned. This alignment is as important as having principles and agreements. An example of alignment is retrospective meetings (also called lessons learned meetings) where employees are expected to explore what worked and what did not. These meetings only work if employees are rewarded for sharing what they’ve learned and not punished for making mistakes.

If you are trying to create a culture of agility and innovation, these are some of the elements we recommend you explore.

To become a more innovative leader, please consider our online leader development program. For additional tools, we recommend taking leadership assessments, using the Innovative Leadership Fieldbook and Innovative Leaders Guide to Transforming Organizations, and adding coaching to our online innovative leadership program. We also offer several workshops to help you build these skills.

About the author Maureen Metcalf, CEO and Founder of Metcalf & Associates, is a renowned executive advisor, author, speaker, and coach whose 30 years of business experience provides high-impact, practical solutions that support her clients’ leadership development and organizational transformations. Maureen is recognized as an innovative, principled thought leader who combines intellectual rigor and discipline with an ability to translate theory into practice. Her operational skills are coupled with a strategic ability to analyze, develop, and implement successful strategies for profitability, growth, and sustainability.


Rollercoaster of Change

Rollercoaster of ChangeThis blog is a companion to the interview with Mike Sayre and Dr. Dale Meyerrose on VoiceAmerica “Innovative Leaders Driving Thriving Organizations” on February 7, 2017, Focusing on the roller-coaster reality of complex change.

As we listen to leaders talk about their transformation success – it sounds as if they created a plan, executed on the plan and declared victory. In working with large complex change, this is rarely true. Things happen that derail the project, such as acquisitions, divestitures, and market changes. The test of a successful leader is how he or she responds to the changes that happen, pivots to revise the strategy for success, and implements the revised strategy.

The role of organizations is to deliver results aligned with their mission. In a complex and everchanging environment, organizations must change to keep pace.

Scott came into an organization that was in the process of making significant change. His job was to lead the portfolio of transformation initiatives and ensure the business continued to run effectively. This role meant that he needed a strong understanding of the current organizational operations, the direction of the change and the capacity to change.

Given the rate of change we are seeing across the business landscape, rarely do I see organizations that aren’t making multiple concurrent changes. I expect that this trend will continue well beyond my career. Organizations now need to adopt the ability to change as a core competency if they are to thrive long term.

Many leaders believe they are effective at change because they have led a few initiatives. As the bar increases, it is incumbent on you as a leader to continually hone this skill of leading organizational transformation, which means knowing how to both update yourself as a leader and transform your organization. For optimal effectiveness, both need to be done concurrently.

According to Dale, change falls along a continuum – and your approach needs to be adjusted accordingly. Here is the simple example of the continuum – you need to know which level of change you are putting in place:

  1. Fill potholes
  2. Repave the road
  3. Build new road

As a leader of change, it is helpful to categorize each change along the continuum and understand project dependencies as well as people impact. Your employees are the most valuable asset you have in implementing change. If you don’t take concrete steps to attend to the rate of change and their ability to adapt, you risk failure. People are resilient. If you are doing the “right things”, they will be actively engaged in managing through the transformation. You need to build trust and be appropriately transparent during a difficult transformation.

The more extreme the transformation, the bigger the people impact. How you handle people issues governs the success of the change. Because you have a limited number of employees who are familiar with your organization, they will govern the rate of change. While you can augment them with consultant or contingent workers, your long-term ability to perform will depend on your internal staff being prepared at the end of the transformation to operate the business. By attending to their capacity and building their resilience, you can accelerate the pace of change.

A key factor that is often overlooked during transformation is organizational culture. Are your changes aligned with the culture? Implementing change that is inconsistent with your culture can undermine the change initiative and the culture. For many companies the culture is the “secret sauce” of their success. If this is true for you, the recipe should be protected, which means it needs to be included in the change portfolio as a key factor and, in many cases, it should be one of the projects to ensure it is being attended to across the range of changes.

We have talked about people and culture but we have not yet addressed the question of turn-over. In many cases, some of the team will not fit after the transformation is complete. This could be because of the required skills and roles, or it could be because they don’t align with the culture. It is important to be aware of the expected attrition rate during a change and plan accordingly. People want to be treated fairly. When they see their colleagues treated with disrespect, you are at risk. That said, top performers want to be surrounded by top performers so they will expect their leaders to take action if team members are not meeting expectations. Action could be additional support or a different role. These decisions can be complicated because we are talking about employee’s livelihoods. Change leaders need to balance compassion for people with the requirements of the organization to implement the transformation.

By understanding the magnitude of change, planning the process, and taking into account the people and the culture, you will increase your probability of success. Every change runs into challenge, and with the support of your people, you will have the people involved who are committed to navigating the issues. If, on the other hand, you are not actively engaging your people at every step of the way, you risk failure.

To become a more innovative leader, please consider our online leader development program. For additional tools, we recommend taking leadership assessments, using the Innovative Leadership Fieldbook and Innovative Leaders Guide to Transforming Organizations, and adding coaching to our online innovative leadership program. We also offer several workshops to help you build these skills.

About the Author

Maureen Metcalf, CEO and Founder of Metcalf & Associates, is a renowned executive advisor, author, speaker, and coach whose 30 years of business experience provides high-impact, practical solutions that support her clients’ leadership development and organizational transformations. Maureen is recognized as an innovative, principled thought leader who combines intellectual rigor and discipline with an ability to translate theory into practice. Her operational skills are coupled with a strategic ability to analyze, develop, and implement successful strategies for profitability, growth, and sustainability.

Maureen has published several papers and articles and speaks regularly on innovative leadership, resilience, and organizational transformation. She is the author of the award-winning Innovative Leadership Workbook Series and the co-author of The Innovative Leadership Fieldbook, winner of an International Book Award for Best Business Reference Book. She is also a regular contributor to

Understanding How Prejudice Impacts Leadership and Followership

Mike Hardy DiversityThis blog is a companion to an interview with Professor Mike Hardy on VoiceAmerica “Innovative Leaders Driving Thriving Organizations” on December 27, 2016 focusing on the importance of understanding how we address vulnerability and build trust when interacting with people who appear different.

Mike was an academic economist before changing course and working for the foreign service in the UK. He was interested in the Islamic world and the global issues facing us in that part of the world and our part of the world. He is now the Director of the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations at Coventry University. It is the largest peace studies center in Europe with a focus on mobilizing scholarship and academic work to help policy makers understand the issues of vulnerability and the importance of trust in creating peace.

We began by discussing how the study of peace is a leadership issue. Leadership changes the world, and presently we are in a mess in part because the quality of our leaders is, in many cases, lacking. By helping leaders understand their own views and behaviors when facing diversity, we enhance our leadership capacity. When we eliminate segments of the population because they appear different, we remove valuable insights and perspectives.

The ILA is interested in mobilizing leaders at all levels, and it empowers everyone to be leaders who address the compelling challenges we face in our families, communities and organizations. Mike is a true leader and role model in his field demonstrating leadership evolution and impact through his action. All of us, whether you consider yourself to be a leader, need to take stock of how we follow as well as how we lead.

The power of leaders is limited by how worthy they are of following and by whether their followers follow. The best leaders create other leaders and give them the space to lead. The expectation of leaders and followers is also dependent on the culture and systems in organizations. We recognize, as an example, government organizations often differ vastly from academics therefore the expectations of leaders and followers is different.

The twenty-first century is a relationship age and the inner-connectedness of everything. We discussed the forces of prejudice versus the forces of pluralism—Mike wants to promote living peacefully in complex diverse communities. If people are not comfortable living and working among diverse people, then leaders need to spend their time policing and setting rules and guidelines to keep us safe. The alternative is a scenario in which the group creates norms and finds ways to move through situations based on its agreements without the boss intervening. If we learn to be comfortable in the space difference creates, we discover opportunity for everyone and diversity becomes a true differentiator in solving the greatest problems. When we limit diversity, we limit perspectives and are at a disadvantage.

Now let’s shift from diversity to the crisis of migration and again how we manage the flood of people into Europe and the US who look and act differently than the prevailing culture. Millions of people are fleeing the conflict in Syria and other parts of the world in which appalling atrocities are taking place. The consequences of this flood of people who are different and without resources create a dilemma. How do countries deal with this when there is such a strong reaction of prejudice and fear? So, the real crisis is: How do countries and communities cope, finding a path forward to accommodate people yet maintaining social norms and function, when flooded with people who are different in significant ways? Are the refugees coming as migrants who are choosing to stay, or staying because they can’t go home? How do we as citizens and compassionate people deal with the drivers of the movement rather than the movement itself? The real driver of the threat is not the refugees, but the plight of refugees. How do we as a global community deal with this underlying problem?

Mike is researching identity. People present themselves in the way they want to be seen. His campaign asks: Can people move from a focus on who I am to how I behave? The literature suggests that identity creates problems for us. We see immigrants as different from those living in the communities they are joining. If we need to belong and if we need also to be different, how do we integrate these two drivers into peaceful relationships?

If my identity conflicts with your identity, does this mean we will be at odds because our groups are at odds? As humans, we see ourselves as a group of identities (soccer fans, Gen X, work focus, partner/family, nationality), how do we hold that complex set of identities? Our identities are like the many ingredients in a good stew; really tasty stew is comprised of many ingredients, including spices cooked over an extended time. In some cases, however, we behave as if people with different identities (or a few different ingredients in the stew) are wrong or distasteful. Because we focus on identity, we are conditioned to look at the barriers and differences rather than commonalities. This programming can create a significant challenge in how we interact with people who appear different. How can we shift from this focus on identity to a focus on behavior irrespective of identity?

Mike has built a university center to focus on how we deal with identity and cultural difference. He believes that after issues of poverty and climate change, this is the biggest issue facing us as global citizens. Learning to deal with differences may be the single biggest driver to reduce global and local conflict. Over the course of history, conflict was often about resources. Now we are finding that conflict is about changing people to be like us. If, in a global world, we are to live with increased levels of peace and prosperity, we need to change our mindset and behaviors.

What can we do in behavioral terms to change our current trajectory?

  1. We need to step up and be inclusive rather than exclusive wherever and whenever we can.
  2. Where we are excluding others, and how do we embrace differences in ways that make us feel safe?
  3. Ask the questions: How am I excluding others? Why am I excluding?
  4. We need to accept differences and learn to respect others (we don’t need to assimilate or change them, but rather respect their rights and differences).

About the Author

Professor Hardy was appointed as Executive Director of the Centre for Trust Peace and Social Relations in 2014. From 1995, Mike was a senior leader with the British Council responsible for the Council’s global programme for Intercultural Dialogue, youth engagement, and global strategic partnerships.

Mike is an applied economist by training and was Head of Economics and Public Policy at Leeds Metropolitan University before moving to a Chair in International Business at the University of Central Lancashire. His policy and research work in economics focused on local jobs plans and skills for development in local labour markets. In 1995, following work with the UK Government, British Council, and European Commission, Mike moved full time to British Council to develop international work in intercultural relations.

Following overseas postings in the Arab world and Asia, he was appointed to frame and lead British Council’s global programme in intercultural dialogue.

Can Organizational Departments Be More Vibrant Than The Overall Organization?

Vibrancy Light Contract

I am writing this post in conjunction with the Voice America interview to be aired on June 28 because I have worked with many leaders who are discouraged because they see their organizations as challenging and believe as leaders that they as leaders are stuck. This piece is intended to demonstrate that in some cases, departments within large organizations can be much more vibrant than the overall organization.

I have been working as a consultant with WCBE, a unit of Columbus City Schools, since 2012. I am now the board president of the “Our WCBE” a nonprofit organization that supports the station financially. This small department (WCBE) within a large government organization strikes me as highly vibrant and nimble even though the school district is not. I make this observation not as a criticism of the schools—obviously, a radio station runs differently than a school district and has far fewer concerns for safety and other factors that require the district to be much more cautious in fulfilling their obligations than does a radio station.

I wanted to understand if departments could be vibrant (a positive deviant) when the parent organization is more “statistically normal.” To prove our hypothesis that this is possible, WCBE employees took the Harmonic Vibrancy assessment twice. First as employees of the radio station, and again as employees of the school district. The scores varied significantly.

The next question I sought an answer for was: What is happening at the station that is different from what is happening with the district? The following points explain part of the difference between the organizations:

  1. Vibrancy starts with the leader, Dan Mushalko, who sees everyone on his team as competent people who fill important roles. This seems like a no-brainer and something that should be part of any workgroup, but working with Dan is different. He is always positive and supports people when they face challenges. This level of positivity is contagious. How it impacts vibrancy in a very resource-constrained organization is that people find creative ways to solve problems they wouldn’t even have in an organization that had sufficient resources. To say that it is not well funded is an understatement—some of their equipment is over 30 years old, not like the 2-year-old laptop we complain about. Imagine always trying to stay current with a 30-year-old piece of technology.
  2. Everyone pitches in and helps…because Dan pitches in and helps. The culture this team has created is one of a family. I know this sounds cliché and many people dislike the term. When I say family, I don’t mean everyone is always in a group hug, but like a healthy family, they have differences and they find constructive ways to accomplish the mission and work through the differences because they respect one another and need one another to accomplish the work they all value
  3. They value the mission. They are a community-based public radio station. They conduct community events regularly. They record local bands, they participate in local conferences, they support local restaurants and performers. They promote them and give them opportunities that are not available on commercial radio. When the weather is bad, they sleep at the station to ensure listeners get the latest news.
  4. They innovate. In many cases this is out of necessity, but innovate they do. Dan is a trained physicist so there is an environment of experimentation that is accepted and even expected. His office looks like a hybrid of a science convention and a sci-fi conference where he monitors satellite signals and repairs equipment along with managing shows and curating his own show, The Amazing Science Emporium.

Jim Ritchie-Dunham, Adjunct Harvard researcher and creator of the vibrancy framework has studied many vibrant organizations and departments within organizations that are vibrant. During the interview, he shares his experience with using the vibrancy framework and his learnings from other organizations who also created vibrant departments within large organizations. . The list above is specific to WCBE and, yet, I imagine if you think of organizations that stand out as highly vibrant from your own experience, you will find similar qualities and stories.

We hope you are able to listen to this interview. It is both informative and fun. Dan and Jim weave references to Star Trek into the conversation as they explore organizational dynamics.

SO….what can you do about becoming more effective? To become a more innovative leader, please consider our online leader development program. For additional tools, we recommend taking leadership assessments, using the Innovative Leadership Fieldbook and Innovative Leaders Guide to Transforming Organizations, and adding coaching to our online innovative leadership program. We also offer several workshops to help you build these skills.

About the author

Maureen Metcalf, founder and CEO of Metcalf & Associates, Inc., is a renowned executive advisor, author, speaker, and coach who brings thirty years of business experience to provide high-impact, practical solutions that support her clients’ leadership development and organizational transformations. She is recognized as an innovative, principled thought leader who combines intellectual rigor and discipline with an ability to translate theory into practice. Her operational skills are coupled with the strategic ability to analyze, develop, and implement successful strategies for profitability, growth, and sustainability.

In addition to working as an executive advisor, Maureen designs and teaches MBA classes in Leadership and Organizational Transformation. She is also the host of an international radio show focusing on innovative leadership, and the author of an award-winning book series on Innovative Leadership, including the Innovative Leaders Guide to Transforming Organizations, winner of a 2014 International Book Award.

Vibrancy: Case Study for Global Company Transformation

Vibrant Organizations - Ecosynomics FrameworkOrganizational Vibrancy is important topics. It is the topic of our interview this week (1/12/16) on the Voice America Business series. This body of work is making a great impact in pockets of organizations around the world and yet relatively unknown in others. I have personally found this model to have a great impact on several of my clients. It has helped them identify where they excel and what gets in the way of their teams bringing about the innovative solutions they say they want and need to have a thriving organization. The interview is with Jim Ritchie-Dunham, Annabel Membrillo, and  Ana Claudia Goncalves.

Discussion includes the following topics:
1. What is vibrancy?
2. How do agreements fit into this equation?
3. As the CEO of an international organization – what question were you looking to answer when you starting considering assessments?
4. Why the vibrancy assessment?
5. What value did you get?
6. What were the leadership qualities required to successfully implement the changes recommended to create a highly vibrant organization?

To accompany the interview, the participants provide an in depth case study for the project they discuss.

In this case study, English version or Spanish version, Annabel and Ana Claudia describe the experience of taking a group in a global financial services company on the journey to the experience of a higher level of harmonic vibrancy, through the development of new, more collaborative practices.  These practices led to demonstrable improvements in performance and outcomes.  As Annabel shares, “I am very grateful to have had a living lab that, despite the scarcity agreements and rules in its organizational structure, implemented initiatives that I had not seen in all my years of working with organizations. This was possible because the company incorporated the transformation process into the day-to-day activities of the corporate world.”

To learn more about vibrancy, check out the website or the initial vibrancy post on our website. If you are interested, please take the vibrancy assessment. The assessment is available in 11 languages including Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, Afrikaans, Dutch, French, German, and Russian.

Creating Vibrant Organizations to Drive Performance

Vibrant Organizations - Ecosynomics FrameworkToday’s topic is Ecosynomics and the science of abundance, a quantitative framework developed by Jim Ritchie-Dunham and team based on extensive data collected across 93 countries identifying the factors that make an organization vibrant. This post highlights a key element of the Ecosynomics framework and how it drives organizational abundance by improving an organization’s ability to innovate out of key problems and create strategic advantage. You can learn more on the radio show, where he appears with Christoph Hinske, a fellow at the Institute for Strategic Clarity, and James Drinkwater, a senior policy advisor at the World Green Building Council.

How often have you worked in a situation where you withheld recommendations because it was easier to keep them to yourself than risk implementing something difficult? Does your organization unconsciously support the status quo rather than continually update what it does and how it performs work? The unconscious “agreements” we make with one another and with the company often drive behaviors that sub-optimize performance.

Here is an example of why Ecosynomics matters. When working for a technology company, Bill proposed several IT cost saving ideas. He was part of HR at this company, but had a strong technical background, which made the recommendations solid. Though they would have cut the licensing cost of HR software by $1 million per year, his suggestions were not implemented because the organization lacked a mechanism to make the suggested changes – it was less risky for all involved to continue with a higher-cost vendor than take on the personal risk of making a change that could be difficult to implement.

Enter Ecosynomics: a highly validated framework, set of assessment tools and transformation process that helps organizations address this type of endemic challenge.

The Institute for Strategic Clarity developed Ecosynomics based on observations of thousands of “positive economic deviants” (AKA, the “rock stars” of their categories) in 93 countries and 12 languages. The framework names the phenomena and supports all forms of social systems in making the shift from being stuck in the scarcity-driven structures proposed by contemporary economics to abundance-based structures offered by scientific insights. This well-tested framework quantifies the cost of scarcity and benefits of abundance, providing both a starting point and guiding frame for organizations to shift in ways that seemed impossible before now.

Ecosynomics looks at what people around the globe are doing to move from perceived realities of scarcity – characterized by ingratitude, “stuckness,” anxiety, apathy, mistrust, antisocial competitiveness, active disengagement and a high level of organizational failure – to perceived realities of abundance characterized by enthusiasm, flow, creative capacities, effectiveness, efficiency, trust, social solidarity and wellbeing. The research shows this is a basic, universal experience every human being knows: worldwide, tens of thousands of groups and teams in business, government, civil society, networks and communities are in the process of experimenting with and reinventing their fundamental agreements. They are discovering that they can generate higher levels of economic growth and business health, and lead the way to more productivity and job creation.

A key foundation of Ecosynomics is that (often unconscious) agreements among members of a group are the differentiator between organizations that consistently transcend the constraints of daily organizational lives and those that don’t. By creating conscious agreements that enable participants to identify creative solutions, they can more intentionally determine how to implement innovation and execute for results. Organizations that can’t do this will be outpaced by those that can.

The problem with most organizational agreements is that we don’t see them. They just are. Most often, we are unaware that what is happening around us is based on an agreement that one could potentially change. It seems that life is just that way. In our day-to-day interactions – at work and at home – we engage in a set of agreements and relationships whether we realize it or not. Sometimes they work, resulting in vibrant experiences and great outcomes, and sometimes they do not, leaving us feeling depleted, fatigued and disappointed about lousy outcomes. These agreements are a key foundation of organizational culture; as the agreements change, they drive culture change.

Ecosynomics makes it possible to see the often hidden, underlying agreements that most affect the human experience, enabling people to choose which fundamental assumptions they accept, the structures and processes that result from those assumptions, and the behaviors they want to experience in their daily interactions with others. It provides a unified framework for describing what tens of thousands of groups identified by ISC are learning.

Jim and his team discovered that these groups start from a different initial assumption than economic scarcity. They start with abundance. Ecosynomics, the social science of abundance, explains what they are learning and how it changes all the rules of the game.

Vibrant groups also achieve higher levels of social integration and governmental/administrative efficiency and effectiveness. They are demonstrating new ways of relating that are more sustainable and lead to higher performance and innovation than the currently accepted norm. What people in those groups are doing cannot be achieved by applying present-day economic agreements of scarcity (defined as state of lack, or not having enough, restricted in quantity).

The emerging science of Ecosynomics provides a model to begin to name the field that observers and practitioners are discovering associated with creating vibrant organizations. Vibrancy (the move away from scarcity) is required to drive the foundational changes needed to navigate the challenges we face as a society today. Unless we take an abundance mindset (a view that we can solve the problems we face using innovative thinking), we are destined to leave our children a world that is worse than the one we inherited.

The Ecosynomics framework is a model of health that describes what people are learning about how to move from lower to higher vibrancy and economic prosperity. Vibrancy is what social systems experience when they are identified with and acting out of their greatest potential. It implies the concordance of diverse perspectives in a shared, meaningful whole, resulting in the emergence of a new, larger possibility.

To act out of our greatest potential, we found five key relationships that must be in alignment. When I am with a group/organization:

  • Self: I feel good about who I am and what I am learning (I can share my aspirations and contribute my greatest potential, and trust that others support my success – including allowing me to make mistakes and learn).
  • Other: I believe others in the group support my success, and I support them (we don’t actively undermine one another).
  • Group: I support and contribute to the organization’s mission and culture. The organization’s leadership acts ethically and works for the good of its people and clients.
  • Source of Creativity/Spirit: We create an environment where creative ideas are solicited from everyone. We actively seek ways to continually improve our organization.
  • Process of Innovation/Nature: We pilot creative solutions and continually improve what we do and how we do it to meet the needs of all stakeholders.

If any of these relationships are out of balance, we will perform in a sub-optimal manner.

To learn about your organization’s vibrancy, take the free Ecosynomics vibrancy assessment. To learn more about the Institute for Strategic Clarity and the frameworks, follow this link or subscribe to Jim’s blog.

To become a more innovative leader, please consider our online leader development program. For additional tools, we recommend taking leadership assessments, using the Innovative Leadership Fieldbook and Innovative Leaders Guide to Transforming Organizations, and adding coaching to our online innovative leadership program. We also offer several workshops to help you build these skills.

If you are interested in receiving our ongoing blog series or other articles by email, please sign up in the box on the right labeled Get Email Updates From Us.

Organizational Vibrancy and the Agreements that Drive It

Vibrancy This post is written by Dani Robbins, guest blogger and co-author of the Innovative Leadership Workbook for Nonprofit Executives.

Many nonprofits operate on a model of scarcity. There’s often not enough money, staff or stuff and many decisions get made through the lens of cost. What if there was another way?

Maureen Metcalf, leadership expert and co-author of the Innovative Leadership Fieldbook and workbook series, which includes our book the Innovative Leadership Workbook for Nonprofit Executives, recently invited me to a Vibrancy Workshop facilitated by Jim Ritchie-Dunham from the Institute for Strategic Clarity. Maureen only invites me to transformational trainings so I was delighted to accept!

Jim started out talking about environments that are difficult, which the group defined as situations in which we don’t feel valued, in workplaces that don’t allow us to be our full selves, working for or with people that don’t allow us to thrive, or even think for ourselves. He contrasted (I just had a flash back to my HS English class) that with environments that do; workplaces where we’re excited to be, doing work that we find meaningful, surrounded by people who value our input.

How do you feel when thinking about those two environments?

Put your hands out. Using your hands as a scale, I want you to consider your left hand the difficult situations and your right hands to be the supportive environments. Raise the hand that reflects how you spend much of your time.

Is your left hand higher that your right? Jim would tell you that is because of agreements you, consciously or unconsciously, made.  If you change the agreements, you change the experience, which changes the outcome.

I can hear you out there shaking your head and saying, “I didn’t agree to that.” Some of us agree with our feet, which stay firmly planted where they are, despite our unhappiness. Some of us agree with our words. Some of us with our work, that is disengaged and below what we could do, if we were only supported the way we should. And some of us take our marbles and find another, more vibrant place to be.

Jim said that places in which we can thrive and people with whom we do thrive are described in words of light: Vibrant. Brilliant. Sunny. Bright.

Lack of Vibrancy is the price of not bringing out the best in everyone. When we do that, everyone loses. Vibrant is a long way away from the situation you were thinking about when you raised your left hand. How do we get to vibrant from darkness?

First question: Is the situation you’re in what you believe is the best situation for you?


What does the next level look like?

First stop: find people and situations that are positive deviants. It means exactly what you think: people who are succeeding (positive) despite not following the rules (deviants).

None of us want to be average, right? We know someone in some organization somewhere who is breaking all the rules and, somehow, still excelling at everything they do.

Jim then said something that I loved. He said if you can see it – figuratively or actually – you can become it.  You have to step into the potential.

Abundance is the idea that if: they can, you can, and we all can. It’s creative collaboration. Change the agreement; change the experience; change the outcome.

Life doesn’t have to be a zero sum game. I don’t have to lose for you to win. You’re not competing against me anyway. You’re competing against yourself, or you should be.

We are all responsible for our own work. If we agree to that, hold people to those agreements and set up our organizations accordingly, we would be vibrant and our organizations and our world would be abundant!

This description is just a taste of a comprehensive framework to help us evaluate our agreements and create more vibrant organizations for ourselves, our colleagues, teams and clients. Vibrant organizations have happier people who produce significantly better results.

I found this material fascinating and am using it regularly as I notice what agreements are driving my actions. I am also using it with my clients. Because I now understand that I can change the agreement; change the experience; change the outcome.  And so can you.

It is simple, obvious even – and also very powerful.

If you are interested in learning more about what this can look like, take a look at this 20 minute video about Thorlo, a vibrant company. Who would guess that one of our positive deviants is a sock company that does all of its manufacturing in the US, pays its staff well above average for similar work in the same field  and is also highly profitable? Thorlo deviates from the expectation that producing off shore is required. They have a work environment that is different than most people get to experience. They are an example of positive deviants and they are thriving!

If you are interested in learning more, please visit or contact us.

To become a more innovative leader, please consider our online leader development program. For additional tools, we recommend taking leadership assessments, using the Innovative Leadership Fieldbook and Innovative Leaders Guide to Transforming Organizations, and adding coaching to our online innovative leadership program. We also offer several workshops to help you build these skills.

If you are interested in receiving our ongoing blog series or other articles by email, please sign up in the box on the right labeled Get Email Updates From Us.

Photo credit: – Bruce McKay