Human Capital

Change Your Language – Change Your Culture


By James Stakem

When I compare my Marine Corps and corporate experiences, one of the most striking differences is in the language used to describe individuals in the two environments. In the Marine Corps there is a lot of pride in being a Marine. To be a Marine is to be part of something special. In the corporate world, this level of connection to and pride in an organization is rare, maybe non-existent. To be fair, there are significant differences between the military and corporate world; however, there are lessons to be learned from the military about building a culture and team.

Many companies invest heavily in culture, but when leaders in these organizations refer to their employees as assets, resources, direct reports, and the like, they indicate a poor understanding of some of the basic tenets of building a positive team culture. What kind of culture is built when employees in an organization are referred to as resources? The first time I heard the term resource as a reference to an employee was in a job interview. It took me a few minutes to figure out that a “resource” was a human being. As a Marine, I can’t imagine an environment where someone says, “We need to get some ‘resources’ to charge that hill”; however, companies do the corporate equivalent all the time.

This is not to say that the only thing a company needs to do in order to build a culture is to come up with a slick name for the employees. There is a lot more to it than that, and in the case of the Marine Corps, the organization builds esprit de corps in a multitude of ways. That being said, when companies refer to their employees in an impersonal, transactional way, it’s hard to imagine they could build a strong team, regardless of other efforts.

Zappos is an example of an organization that gets it when it comes to culture. CEO, Tony Hsieh says in Your Culture is Your Brand:

“At Zappos, our belief is that if you get the culture right, most of the other stuff — like great customer service, or building a great long-term brand, or passionate employees and customers — will happen naturally on its own”

Unfortunately, some organizations believe that culture is a consequence of an organization’s outputs instead of the other way around. This approach leads organizations to focus on creating products and providing services, and culture becomes an afterthought to be developed in a ten-minute staff meeting exercise.

Other organizations, such as Google, have developed a culture around their people. Employees at Google are called “Googlers,” but building a culture goes much deeper than a simple name. The technology giant doesn’t have a Human Resources department – instead they have People Operations, and there is a reason for the difference. Google’s People Operations department states, “… we’re the champions of Google’s colorful culture.Laszlo Bock, Google’s Senior Vice President of People Operations, says:

“Nurturing the people in your organization doesn’t require expensive perks or touchy-feely gimmicks. It’s about motivating, engaging and listening – and it can work for anybody”

How motivating and engaging is it when valuable employees are referred to as a resource or direct report? When thinking about joining a company which says, “Our employees are our greatest resource” listen closely to make sure the daily corporate interactions uphold this principle. If you are an organization that espouses to value employees, take some time to make sure your routine language matches the image you portray on the company website. Creating a culture in which employees routinely speak of each other in a way that emphasizes value, connection, and respect is a critical step in creating a positive corporate culture in your organization.

Please share your stories of corporate language in your organizations in the comment section below.

Establishing a Successful Cross-Functional Team

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By Brit Nanna

Consider this scenario: You were asked to provide change management support for a sizeable international development effort for a foreign government. It entails implementing broad-sweeping reforms affecting multiple departments.  You created a change management strategy and plan you believe will help your client realize its desired outcomes, taking into account every possible challenge you might confront. Continue reading

The Value of Really Knowing Your Value

Value Blog Title Graphic_Skills

By Bob Etris

We all want a job where we can wake up each day and feel that immediate, energizing pull at the prospect of getting into the office.  To look forward to our work and the challenges that lie ahead. For many of us, that feeling is not there nearly as often as we would like.  Why is that?

Thinking of the working world as a whole, we can strip out certain parts of the population before we try to answer that question.  First, let’s remove the parts of the population that are not afforded the educational or other resources needed to develop the careers they would like, and instead focus on those that have (all things being equal) a real chance to select the career of their choice.  Taking it a step further, if we remove ‘exceptional’ circumstances that contribute to career discontent or low morale – a company buyout, layoffs, downsizing, terrible bosses, challenging clients, awful teammates, seasonally-driven workload or stressor events – we are left with some foundational questions that bear exploring.

How do you deconstruct the complex journey of finding a profession you love, into a simple and solvable problem?  What goes into creating professional engagement, loyalty, satisfaction, and personal and professional development?

I believe that for any of us to find our space to exercise our professional and personal passions, we need to find an employer that not only allows, but intentionally seeks ways to marry up three distinct attributes.  Figure 1 below illustrates how these attributes relate, and what follows explores how you can find yourself in the center as often as possible.

Sweetspot Graphic

  • What you love to do – there is no such thing as work life balance.  There is only life, and work is a huge part of it.  Your work should be a harmonious and satisfying part of your life. You have to know what you enjoy in your professional realm in order to take purposeful and proactive steps to find an employer that enables you to fully apply those professional interests.  Similarly, many of us have meaningful personal interests that align to the missions, values, and strategic plans of one or more organizations.  Applying your personal interests – such as giving to the community, mentoring others, contributing to a social good, relaxing with friends, learning new skills, or helping to create new connections – don’t have to be limited to your personal life.  Your professional career can and should further enable your ability to do what you love on a more personal level.
  • What you excel at – all of us have talents, and successful professionals know how to apply those talents in their jobs.  The *most* successful professionals know how to find jobs that require and reward them for successfully applying their skills on work that inherently sets them up for success.  For example, if you work best with people, you should not find yourself alone and behind a desk all day.  If you are fantastic with numbers, one would wonder if you should spend your time as a writer or editor.  It takes a lot of time, reflection, feedback, and personal development to really understand what you excel at.  It’s equally important to appreciate that what we think we’re good at and where others see us excel are not always one in the same. Ultimately, taking that time yields a productive investment because we enjoy what we are good at, and only through deliberate exploration of that area will we know how to aim our careers in that direction.
  • What your employer can derive value from – we all feel most valuable and useful when we know we are working on something that matters.  The framing around what makes it ‘matter’ can vary – it can be to help a colleague, to further a project or organizational outcome, to spur social change, to maximize profit, to achieve professional goals.  It can be any number of things.  What matters is that what you do must be something your company clearly values in a consistent and materially significant way.  That value may be measured differently, but finding it helps you to know that what you do is contributing to something greater than yourself.  We all want to know we are making a difference in helping our team and our organization achieve their goals.

How do you find the kind of job that meets these criteria?   You start by knowing what you are looking for.  I hope this short piece has helped you to think creatively about your career, and to know how to measure the value of the path you’re on.

Building and Maintaining a Culture of Innovation

By Nicole Morrow and Omoefe Abugo

Establishing a lasting organizational culture of innovation takes time, dedication and encouragement. During a recent staff meeting, our very own Bob Etris made a statement that resonated with me. Etris said that reaching our desired state requires “creativity, patience and having a view of the long road ahead.”

Just as Rome was not built in a day, cultures of innovation are not established overnight. It is something all members of an organization must be committed to. It is a desired state that will come into fruition when all members feel empowered to contribute meaningful, positive ideas and actions to the organization’s mission.


Foster inclusiveness

Organizations must include all members to spark collective confidence. They must spark collective confidence to bring about repeated meaningful change. They must bring about repeated meaningful change to establish a culture of innovation.

Through our organization-wide training program, Evans University, we work to provide all staff members with a full package of tailored and agile training opportunities to meet their unique needs, and prepare them to handle all challenges or opportunities that may arise. Through out Discovering Individuals Styles of Communication training, staff members become more self-aware and continue to seek new, effective communication techniques based on their distinct traits. Our Strengths Finder Assessment has been a hit in the office. Through this assessment, staff members learn their five core strengths and are then provided guidance on how to develop, promote and use those strengths in the workplace and with our clients.

The Evans University stands as an invaluable tool in ensuring all members of the Evans Family reach their full potential every day.

Design is everything. It is all aroundEncourage failure

Freedom to fail is the freedom to flourish. We learn from our successes, but we often times learn the most valuable lessons from our failures. Disappointment hurts, but it is crucial to not dwell on the negative aspects of our mistakes. If harnessed, our failures can act as springboards for growth and advancement.

When employees do not fear failure, they act boldly and creatively. We saw this at Evans during The Challenge, an internal competition rooted in building relationships, sparking creativity and rewarding innovation through social media engagement and online content building. The competition did not focus on a right way to participate. It encouraged staff members to channel their creativity toward an organizational cause. We did not fear failure or missing the mark. Instead, we boldly sought out new channels to express our individual and collective expertise.

Celebrate success

We learn from our failures. We analyze. We adapt. We grow. Our collective and individual growth leads to the pivotal successes all organizations desire. As we continue to make breakthroughs and experience success, it is important to recognize the individuals who led the initiatives, braved the elements and saw to it that the race was won.

Our very own Iliana Alvarado outlined the importance of celebrating the successes of individuals in an organization. “By understanding what drives each person—and celebrating these drivers – I am able to discover their unique talents, skills, and interests,” Alvarado said. “This allows me to align them with the right role on our engagement and keeps them motivated to be successful.”

Nurture creativity

Creativity has no bounds. Organizations must realize this, and work to foster environments that nurture and encourage creative solutions to complex problems. Organizational leaders can accomplish this in various ways. Providing a workspace optimized for ingenuity plays a major part in the collective creativity of any company. Evans’ open concept office enables employees to easily collaborate with each other and explore various solution channels. When it’s time to hunker down and get the juices flowing, our staff members migrate to our closed-off meeting rooms.


Workplace environments should never inhibit creativity. Instead, the environment should nurture ingenuity and innovation. However, we must know when to rest, refuel and return to work recharged. Working to our highest creative potential involves constant renewal. Spending time away from work not thinking about tomorrow’s tasks allows us to come to the workplace with fresh perspectives we can use to tackle the day’s undertakings.

In a recent TED Talk, Harvard University professor Linda Hill reminded us of the power of creativity. To spark meaningful innovation, “you have to unleash the talents and passions of many people, and you have to harness them into a work that is actually useful,” said Hill. Unleashed creativity creates innovative solutions. More importantly, unleashed creativity spurs a collective organizational confidence.

Emphasize design

Design is everything. It is all around us. It shapes the way we see the world. When working with clients, it is important to design with the client’s end in mind. One of the major tenants of Design Thinking is implementing human-centered problem solving. All innovative solutions must be tailored around the needs the client. This enables you to understand your clients, recognize their strengths and weaknesses, and build a solution that meets them at their needs.

The call for innovation is tremendous, but it is not something that can be developed at one’s convenience. We must focus on what is important, prioritize our goals and focus on delivering products and services of exceptional value. Most importantly, we must realize that it is a team effort. Once everyone is on board, an organization can move confidently toward its desired state.

Making the Most of Your Team’s Knowledge

By Margit Jochmann

Have you ever found yourself in a meeting where everyone present dives right into discussing the subject matter at hand, without introducing the new folks in the room?  Or, have been part of a project team where some members are clearly experts in a field, but for others you are not quite sure how they relate to the mission at hand?  Then you, or your team, may be missing out on some of the valuable knowledge available at your fingertips or may take longer to find the solution needed.

TeamworkTeams are typically comprised of a diverse set of team members, with different expertise, skills and specialized domains. For example, a project team developing a new IT automation platform may include staff with project management background, various engineering disciplines, business representatives, user representatives, etc.  – all together representing a wealth of knowledge available to the team to effectively design and deliver a solution. However, making use of this knowledge pool and its benefits requires knowing who knows what and who is good at what.

So, How Do You Tap Into Your Team’s Knowledge?

The underlying mechanism:  In 1985[1], Wegner introduced a concept that is an important mechanism to understand in this context – “transactive memory.” He discovered that people in close relationships are much better and faster at remembering certain information and solving certain tasks than two people that do not know each other – due to a division of labor and specialization taking place over time.  This happens because we are aware of our mental strengths and limits, and we are good at understanding the abilities of others.  Hang around a workmate long enough and you begin to realize that while you are terrible at remembering your corporate meeting schedule, or how long a kilometer is relative to a mile, they are great at it.  You begin to subconsciously delegate the task of remembering “that stuff” to them, treating them like a notepad or encyclopedia.Brainpower

Shared remembering:  In a transactive memory system, we share the work of remembering, which makes us collectively smarter and expands our ability to understand the world around us.  Each person in a team doesn’t need to remember everything the team needs to know, remembering who knows what and how to access that information is what matters.  Thus, a transactive memory system can provide teams with more and better knowledge than any individual could access on his or her own.

Teams Benefitting Most

Hand?Teams engaging in knowledge work particularly benefit from transactive memory, especially for tasks:

  • Requiring innovation
  • Involving diverse sets of knowledge
  • Requiring efficient coordination between team members

… all features typical for many project teams.

Transactive memory may not be helpful for all kinds of teams or work though, for example, when little specialization is required.

Developing a Strong Transactive Memory System

Communication and interaction.  Team members learn about each other’s expertise through sharing knowledge and seeking information from others.

  • How to share:  Opportunities for “who did what” type conversations and getting to know each other can range from water cooler encounters to targeted team-building sessions.  At a minimum, take a few minutes to introduce each other when new team members join. 
  • What to share:  Consider different kinds of knowledge beneficial for sharing.  This can include “hard” aspects such as education, certifications, specialized domains etc., as well as “softer” aspects such as personal strengths or preferences.

Joint training on the task supports the development of transactive memory.  The interactions taking place during joint training allow for learning about team members’ skills or the lack of knowledge in certain areas and help to assess the accuracy and reliability of this information.Memory

Sharing relevant documentation.  While face-to-face interaction is most effective, transactive memory can also be fostered without interaction, for example, by sharing documentation on task-relevant information regarding team members’ knowledge, skills, and domains of expertise.

Contributing to Team Success

A strong transactive memory system within a team contributes to its success, both at a task and (inter)personal level, through providing:

  • Quick access to large amounts of knowledge
  • Increased specialization – division of responsibility on different kinds of knowledge allows team members to broaden their own knowledge in a specific area, thus allowing for more innovation
  • Improved decision making processes
  • Increased satisfaction and sense of identification within the team, for example, by better alignment between task assignments and qualifications
  • Increased coordination and efficiency – the shared understanding regarding interpersonal relations and different expertise domains, enables members to better predict and anticipate how others would behave, leading to well-coordinated and efficient interactions

So, Are You Making the Most of Your Team’s Knowledge?  Do You Know Who Your Knowledge Experts Are?

[1] Introduced by Wegner, Giuliano, and Hertel (1985) and Wegner (1986)

Leadership competencies, coaching and performance

By Lauren Thomas

I am often asked whether coaching can really change a leader’s behavior, or transform the way they lead. Sometimes the question arises from people who are considering coaching. Others have a personal interest in discovering more about the coaching relationship. Sometimes the question stems from someone with a challenging relationship with a leader who may possess stronger strategic, operational or technical skills than interpersonal skills. Occasionally the people asking the question are very confident in their own abilities to lead, generally dismissive of the idea of coaching, and assert that they cannot see any benefit! Asking whether a coach can change someone’s behavior is a bit like asking how many psychologists it takes to change a light bulb. Of course, the answer is that the light bulb has to want to change – as does the leader being coached. Interestingly, I find that the reason why people ask about coaching in the first place can provide valuable insight into their motivation and willingness to change.

Deliberate refinement

Photo courtesy of

Someone who is already considering a coaching relationship may already have a degree of self-awareness, understand that there are areas where they could enhance their performance, and be motivated to discover more. This attitude is often found among those who understand that leadership is human-centered. Sustaining a vision, delivering a major change, or leading an investment program are all important leadership activities. Yet the very best leaders manage to achieve these accomplishments indirectly, through other people. These leaders often engage in self-reflection to gauge the extent to which they can fine-tune their performance. In such instances, coaching the leader is like coaching a sporting champion. The performance gains are likely to be incremental, but once a new technique is mastered, it can have a marked impact, not just on the leader, but on the people led. While the tweaks and adjustments may be small, when they are intentional and deliberate, consistent and visible, they can help refine a leader’s performance. In these cases, coaching is really about maximizing personal effectiveness and interpersonal influence.

Leadership for technical experts

For the second group of people, the gains from coaching can be more dramatic. We have all worked with challenging leaders – leaders who may lead in name, rather than by example, and who don’t seem to understand our perspective. So how do leaders who are not “people-people” get into leadership roles? Organizations often need to promote technical and operational specialists to management and leadership positions. Some experts welcome the progression, while others feel they have to take the role when it is offered, because not to take it would send the wrong message. Such progressions are not always supported with adequate and appropriate training and education. Even where development opportunities are provided, there may be little encouragement or incentive for a new leader to try new approaches. Many technical specialists who struggle with the human element of leadership do not see the value of people management until difficulties arise. For leaders who value competence highly, as most technical specialists do, coaching may have negative connotations. It may be viewed as remedial support or performance management, rather than as a positive intervention to help them become even more effective in their roles. In these situations, coaching can help leaders see themselves as others see them and develop their own strategies and style for dealing with the people issues that they find most challenging to handle.

Reflective coaching

Photo courtesy of

For the third group of people, I wonder whether their direct reports share their confidence in their own ability to lead. Sometimes their self-confidence is more than justified, but sometimes it is not. How many of us would readily challenge someone who repeatedly told us they were a wonderful leader? Most people would be reluctant to directly respond, especially if that person was in a more senior role. Would we be more likely to smile, and say something positive about one of their strengths? Or possibly even change the subject and let them believe what they want to believe? There are many reasons why people may prefer to not provide their leaders with feedback:

  • Respect for someone who is in a more senior position
  • Concern about possible reaction from the leader
  • Not wanting to be seen as someone who provides negative feedback
  • Concern about repercussion on own career prospects and development opportunities

Even where a leader’s confidence in his or her people’s management abilities is accurate, it can sometimes be rooted in opinion rather than objective feedback. It can be challenging for senior leaders to obtain objective, honest feedback on their own leadership style. Much depends on being able to ask in an appropriate way, the nature of their relationships with direct reports and peers, and the organizational culture. This problem is compounded by the “Whispers” game that occurs in organizations, where people can be somewhat reluctant to pass negative information to senior management. We often filter what we say to our leaders, especially when that information relates to their interpersonal style. In these instances, coaching can serve as a mirror, allowing leaders to see where their confidence is justified, and where there may be a mismatch between their beliefs and what others see.

Seeing yourself as other see you

Whatever the motivation for asking about coaching, there can be few leaders who are not interested in what people really think about them. There are many tools a coach can use to support leaders. One instrument valuable for its focus on leadership competencies is the CPI260. This self-completion questionnaire provides a view of the leader as seen by others, in key competency areas of self-management, organizational capabilities, team building and teamwork, problem-solving and sustaining the vision. The CPI260’s design does this without needing to use 360° feedback from other people. The CPI260 can be used with established, high-performing leaders and with emerging leaders seeking promotion from more operational or technical roles. Its valuable insights into leadership style enable the CPI260 to win over leaders who are initially skeptical about the benefits that coaching can deliver. Coaches like the way it supports personal insights for clients. However, whether change really results from coaching, with or without the CPI260, depends on a number of factors. It depends on the reasons and motivations for seeking coaching, the nature of the coaching relationship, the skill of the coach, and ultimately, by how much the leader really wants to change.

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