News & Insight
April 2005

Using Technology to Initiate Transformational Change

Terrence Overholser

Last issue, we discussed how conflicting values can adversely impact both the cohesiveness of a management team and organizational productivity.

Team cohesiveness correlates highly to cultural integrity and productivity. Culture is shaped by the behaviors and decisions that management makes every day, and is the result of tradeoffs made between inherently conflicting values.

While the unproductive behaviors of individual executives can negatively impact team cohesiveness and productivity, management frequently recognizes the problem and takes corrective measures, often through executive coaching. The real problem, however, occurs when otherwise capable leaders do not function as a real team.

The impact on productivity is significant, but rarely obvious … and certainly not recognized. The symptoms are generally low trust and unresolved conflict, which are largely ignored in the interest of civil relationships. Often there are other “secondary gains” that work against resolution as well.

Online Assessment Tools

In the absence of data that demonstrates the impact that executives’ lack of cohesiveness has on productivity, there is no motivation to do the work needed to take the team to the next level. One way to provide this data is to conduct a series of individual, group and enterprise-wide surveys using online assessment tools. The Internet makes it easy to collect this information quickly, confidentially and securely, whether people work in the same building or on different continents.

Depending on the level of the management team and the scope of the project, it’s common to employ two or more of the following types of instruments:

Team Effectiveness Self-Assessment, where members of a management team evaluate how well they work together.

Gallup’s StrengthsFinder® instrument, a tool that measures the unique talents of each team member, and profiles the collective strengths and deficiencies of the team.

Customized Peer Review, in which team members evaluate one another on their leadership behaviors, skills and emotional intelligence competencies as well as on their impact on the cohesiveness of the team. The peer review often extends to include subordinates and other stakeholders to become a true 360-degree assessment.

Emotional Intelligence Self-Test, which gauges how effective executives are in each of the emotional intelligence competencies: self-awareness, ability to manage emotions, self-motivation, ability to relate well to others, and ability to coach/mentor others.

Customized Employee Engagement Survey, a broad, enterprise-wide instrument that probes three or more levels down in an organization to measure both the effectiveness of the organization in the key competency domains and the level of employee engagement.

Culture “Audit,” an online questionnaire administered to the organization’s top 50 leaders to assess the culture as it is today versus the culture that is required to achieve their market leadership strategy. This audit exposes the values conflicts that are the root cause of trust, conflict and commitment issues affecting productivity, and provides a useful framework for resolving the differences.

Structured intelligently, these instruments provide benchmark proficiency scores covering each of the key organizational and leadership competencies, against which progress over time can be measured quickly through our proprietary system. This has a powerful impact on rates of change. And all of these assessments yield both quantifiable results and subjective insights into the mindset of the organization that can be compared by location, business unit and other dimensions.

Proficiency Analysis

One of the keys steps in conducting such assessments is to measure both the level of satisfaction or effectiveness of the organization or leader in each factor and its importance to enhancing productivity.

For example, employees may be troubled by recent changes in your benefits or compensation programs and give them a 50% proficiency score, but these factors most often do not receive high importance ratings. On the other hand, the frequency and sincerity of recognition for a job well-done may be a very important motivating factor to employees, yet your firm’s culture may be such that managers feel they don’t need to offer such praise because such work is “expected.”

The combination of proficiency scores and importance ratings enables factors to be prioritized according to the probable impact on organizational productivity. A sample matrix follows:

P>85%; I<7.8

P>85%; I>8.0

P<70%; I<7.8

P<70%; I>8.0

Case Study

The power of the data is in the specific solution set employed -- the interrelationships among the assessment tools.

Recently, we surveyed one of the global units of a major corporation that was in a state of transition. The survey included a half-dozen units managed by senior executives responsible for the U.S. operations. The company was undergoing a merger, so there was a lot of stress among all levels of management. All of the U.S. operations were in the same location and required lots of cross-functional work, so these were not isolated groups at all.

From the employee engagement survey of these six U.S. operations, we found that while the employees in four of the groups were miserably disengaged, two were highly engaged. So how could people in the same organization, in the same location, have such totally different engagement levels?

The two executives with the highest levels of engagement received by far the highest scores on their emotional intelligence competencies, while the other four received mediocre scores. That confirmed in a very powerful way that emotionally intelligent leaders could still find ways to motivate their people in spite of stressful circumstances.

When management teams see data like this, the motivation to change -- to become a high-performing team and to further develop their leadership skills -- becomes compelling. Without that kind of inspiration, it is difficult to influence senior executives to do the kind of work that will transform their cultures. And at the end of the day, that is their real purpose as the organization’s “cultural trustees”: to create and preserve an environment that enables their people to thrive and achieve market leadership.

Terrence Overholser is founder and CEO of, and a WJM Associates faculty member. WJM-ManagementCentral is a strategic partnership that focuses on the design and delivery of assessment-based solutions that enhance organization and leadership performance.

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