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Judith E. Glaser

Transforming Organizational Culture

A C-IQ Case Study in Leading Change

By: Nicklas Balboa, Denice R. Hinden, PhD, Len Rothman, MBA & Richard D. Glaser, PhD

Cultural transformation is an advanced leadership skill. Managing internal organizational problems is often difficult because they are filled with uncertainty, tangled webs of broken trust, and mixed bags of human emotion. Managing these issues requires a coaching strategy that embraces learning, experimentation, and adaptation. When people in an organization are not connecting in healthy ways, it is a coach’s job to restore trust. One way to do this is by identifying the healthy and unhealthy patterns of engagement and interaction dynamics of the team.

Conversational Intelligence® (C-IQ) teaches us to see differently—to listen differently—and to process what we are perceiving differently. C-IQ fosters safe and trusting conversational environments that allow us to express our inner thoughts and feelings in ways that can strengthen relationships.

In an ongoing C-IQ Case Study, coaches Denice Hinden and Len Rothman tackle complex organizational trust issues in a mid-sized Nonprofit Social Enterprise in Tennessee.

It Starts with Discovery

Our brains love discovery. By establishing a set of Rules of Engagement with discovery as the focus, we can prime a conversational space for trust, allowing groups to engage and open up without fear. This safe space allows people to lower their guards and begin to listen to connect. Instead of listening to confirm what we know, listening to connect opens up space for others to share their ideas and perspectives. This ‘generative’ form of conversation is the foundation of trust, the key to any healthy, successful relationship.

In a meeting with the Chief Operating Officer (COO) Denice and Len discover that the organization lost its way due to lack of leadership, direction, and a disengaged staff. Administrative functions (i.e., HR, Finance, IT) and Operations are siloed because of fractured methods of communication. For example, seventeen satellite locations are operating with their own set of rules, lacking a centralized form of communication. There is a pervasive fear among employees that if they speak up about their concerns, they will lose their jobs. This disciplinary environment focuses on boxing people into a set of rules to operate by, rather than cultivating their aspirations.

Our brains react negatively to loss of autonomy and the inability to explore. When our environment becomes dominated by rules, sometimes we check out and give up. Struggling companies can turn this negative trend around by Co-creating ideas to promote an inclusive work environment.

Co-creating the Concept

Co-creation opens the “infinite space” our minds need to be free to connect with others in new ways. Breakthroughs occur as participants stay open to influence, embracing new ideas in the face of change.

With a Co-creating mindset, the coaches walk the COO through a draft of her ideas on how to improve the organization’s current internal affairs. The team decides that in order to make a positive change in this organization, that change has to start with the top. The CEO is nearing the end of an impactful 42-year career and wishes to position the organization for future success. With his legacy in mind, the team proposes their idea of creating an executive leadership team that will focus on shifting the internal organizational culture, with the goal of establishing trust among the corporate office and the fractured satellites.

A New Perspective on Organizational Culture

Phase 1 of the initiative is Co-creating a new culture identity statement. Under the direction of Denice, the leaders invite every department to submit an idea for the statement name. They compile all the potential names in a survey and encourage everyone to select the name that aligns with their aspirations for a positive, healthy change in culture.

The results reveal that the group is in consensus and desires a name that brings everyone together through a sense of shared purpose. By appealing to the employees’ concerns about judgmental leadership, the leaders effectively establish a foundation of trust through the employee selected name: “We Are One”. In a follow-up with the employees, the leaders discover that the new initiative has already positively impacted morale and is giving employees hope for future success.

The next step is Co-creating a set of core-operating values that will set the tone for reframing the organizational culture. The leaders capitalize on the positive feedback and implement a barbeque roadshow, visiting every satellite location to connect and introduce the organization’s new core values:

  • Count on Us: We do what we say with excellence directed towards the common purpose of our mission.
  • Better Together: We set forward-thinking goals and partner and collaborate to achieve them.
  • We Aim High: We speak from truth and set and meet high standards.
  • You Matter: We value every person giving each other the same consideration.
  • Seek Understanding: We proactively gather all opinions to be inclusive and develop a shared vision for common action.

For the first time in a long time, these leaders are working together to set aspirations for the organization that will shape future business. There is healthy skepticism from the employees, but they are open to change and are encouraged by the fresh, inclusive organization identity.

Investment in Leaders

Phase 2 of the initiative is investing in the leaders and the Board of Directors through eight months of leadership development with the newly formed three levels of leadership teams:

  • the executive leadership team,
  • mid-level managers reporting to the executive leaders, and
  • the operations team (retail store managers) with logistics to support their retail operations.

The framework for leadership development is adaptive on-the-job learning. The leadership development initiative includes a launch retreat with each group of leaders, where they explore leadership identity and practices. By embracing trust and collaborating, the once fractured corporate office and satellites begin a shift of culture from “I” to “WE”.

Each development session starts with a conversational activity: W.O.W. (Ways of Working Together) to establish trust in daily conversational interactions and ends with another, L.E.A.R.N. (Learn, Explore, Aspire To, Reframe, Needs), to educate the leaders on the different lenses that can be used to reframe situations in a more positive light.

Creating new conversational rituals can repair relationships because when you look inside the true meaning of someone else’s words, you begin to see how conflicts stem from the way we frame or define the words we use. Furthermore, when we graphically map what success looks like together, we can feel an organic and chemical change taking place that turns distrust into trust and transforms “my ideas” into “our ideas.” This dramatic shift moves us from "I" to "WE" — a neurochemical shift at the heart of Conversational Intelligence® that enables bonding and collaboration.

Introducing the Catalyst Tools™

C-IQ’s Catalyst Tools™ are a powerful set of measurement tools that analyze the frequency of negative cortisol-producing behaviors versus positive oxytocin-producing behaviors that occur during conversations in today’s workplaces. By introducing the concepts of positive feedback, the coaches can utilize the Catalyst Tools™ to create awareness of both healthy and unhealthy channels of communication.

The Executive Leadership Team identifies a gap in trust due to the new structure of the organization and their inexperience working together as a team. During a discovery session, the coaches recommend the TRUST Catalyst Tool to raise awareness among the team and open a new channel of communication for discussing levels of trust within their relationships, teams, and throughout the organization. The leaders agree that the new organization identity and core values establish a foundation of trust and transparency that will bring hope back to the workforce, add energy back into the organization, and positively impact the community they serve.

Early Evidence of Positive Impact

As we conclude this story, this organization is at the half-way point in the leadership development phase. Every day the participating leaders are building more trust and reconnecting the organization through healthy conversations.

The influence of Conversational Intelligence® is reviving and re-energizing this organization. As a result, staff turnover is at its lowest rate since 2014, siloes are disappearing and the workforce feels empowered to share their ideas, and leadership is listening and acting on staff recommendations.

At the beginning of the initiative, participating staff would show up with skeptical and cynical attitudes. Today, for the first time in years, the organization’s leaders know each other better, recognize their shared vision, and are working together towards growing trust in the organization. All thanks to a generative leader’s idea of a culture change. In 2020 the CEO will retire, and the COO who initiated the culture change will become the new President and CEO.

Trust is beginning to move this organization “to the next level of greatness” that Judith E. Glaser, founder of Conversational Intelligence® said, “depends on the quality of our culture, which depends on the quality of our conversations. Everything happens through conversations.”

Nicklas Balboa is a researcher and project manager for the CreatingWE Institute

Denice Hinden, PhD, is an Executive Coach Certified in Conversational Intelligence®, and President of Managance Coaching & Consulting

Len Rothman, MBA, is an Executive Coach Certified in Conversational Intelligence®

Richard D. Glaser, PhD, is a biochemist and founder of the CreatingWE Institute

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About the Author

Judith E. Glaser, the author of seven books including Conversational Intelligence, was a founding member of the Harvard Coaching Institute. She passed away in 2018.

Nicklas Balboa now manages her blog.