As a business leader, would you like to improve collaboration, enhance customer experience, and improve performance? One small Canadian company worked with a Six Seconds Preferred Partner to drive change using objective data on team dynamics to guide the process. The result was dramatic improvement in engagement and across-the-board increases in key organizational drivers and outcomes. Here is their story…
The Case for Change
by Paul Stillman, Ph.D. (Director of Organizational Vitality, Six Seconds) and Hanley Brite (Founder and Principal, Authentic Connections, Inc.)
Westcomm Pump is based in Calgary, Canada and is a value-added reseller and engineering company in the oil and gas industry. They design and market large and complex fluid transportation systems. The company was founded in 1997 by Sam Shen, who stepped back from day-to-day management in 2014 and named his son Jeff company president. Jeff had worked in the business in various capacities for most of his 10-year career, but he found his first executive role challenging and company performance suffered. Without action, future success could not be assured.
In 2016, Hanley Brite, Founder and Principal with Authentic Connections, Inc. (ACI), a firm dedicated to enhancing leadership and organizational vitality, met with Jeff to discuss how to help his management team. Through open and honest dialogue, they created a framework for consultation and facilitation and agreed to work together on solutions to
- create respected and influential leadership,
- increase the size and nature of sales,
- improve customer service, and
- foster more effective inter-departmental cooperation.
Jeff Shen primarily drove the initiative. Realizing that morale, productivity, and the general outlook for the business were negative, he decided to step up and turn things around. ACI consultants utilized assessment tools from Six Seconds, a global leader in emotional intelligence (EQ), to gain actionable data. The consultants developed coaching relationships with the three key leaders, all of whom took the Six Seconds Emotional Intelligence (SEI) assessment that measures 8 EQ competencies from a leadership perspective. They held a series of all-hands meetings and administered a Team Vital Signs (TVS) assessment to measure climate and performance factors.
Heart of the Story
The findings from the assessments constituted a major wake-up call for the three key leaders, especially Jeff Shen, the president. They recognized that at zero engagement, they were not in the game and could not expect others to follow if they were not leading. After heart-to-heart talks with the ACI consultant and with each other, they embraced a renewed commitment to work toward increased engagement. As a result, they formed an engagement team (E-Team), comprising the three top leaders, to implement strategies and actions identified in the TVS assessment report and debrief session.
They asked these key questions to help bring people together:
- What is truly important to your team members?
- How effective are you in managing individual and organizational expectations and goals?
- Do you know what is expected of you and others and have the communications channels to discuss appropriately?
The ACI consultants met with the E-Team bi-weekly to discuss key initiatives identified from the original TVS results. This kept the team focused and helped engage the larger team in constructive conversations prompted by the critical questions above. This tied directly back to the data from the TVS and the lowest scores for effective feedback and taking responsibility.
Organizing for Engagement
The ACI consultants structured the process as an engagement strategy arising out of the combined data from the initial TVS and the SEIs of the three leaders rather than an intervention.
The strategy had two major components:
ONE: At the outset of the E-Team meetings, the three leaders assumed the discussion would be about how the overall team was operating. The consultant quickly shifted the focus to how the three of them were operating as a leadership team within the larger team, what was in the way of their own engagement, and how they were showing up. The principle of leading by example by resolving their own differences was key to changing the overall mood and momentum of the larger team.
TWO: The consultant held weekly individual coaching sessions with the three leaders. These coaching sessions were designed to have the leaders begin to connect their interactions with others to specific EQ competencies, especially during tense or crisis situations. Making these connections had noticeable changes, emerging from many informal sources, in the way leadership was perceived.
Despite the difficult circumstances, team members exhibited a lower level of resistance than would be expected of a group going through this kind of process. People were mostly open and willing to accept the feedback, some of which was hard to take.
The most significant low point was confronting the leaders on the zero “engaged” score on the first TVS. The leaders quickly became aware of challenges on multiple levels: a) dealing with the team as a whole, b) dealing with the less-than-effective dynamics among, and, most daunting, c) dealing with their individual lack of engagement and what steps they would have to take to overcome those feelings.
The highs came in both informal and formal ways:
- As the leaders began interacting with people with a renewed sense of commitment and began “listening more and talking less,” their personal enthusiasm grew and this was contagious.
- The first TVS resulted in a number of initiatives directly in response to the data. The two lowest items in the survey were “I get feedback effectively” and “The team takes responsibility for work.” Teams met off-site to address these issues directly. This led to many important conversations within the team that had not happened before but were critical. The overall response was very positive and was later identified as a major driver of commitment and engagement.
- The second TVS debrief, held off-site, was a high point. It served as an affirmation of the leaders’ positive energy and direction.
Ultimately, this strategy and process led to higher levels of trust, as reflected in the second TVS.
Where to From Here?
Focusing on anything other than sales, marketing, and the operations of their core business was foreign to the leaders. It took patience to bring them to understand and value the underlying organizational and interpersonal dynamics to a point where they were willing to spend the time and energy on issues like feedback and compassionate performance management. Recognizing links between the leaders’ SEIs, especially their areas of challenge, and overall engagement of the team as reflected in the original TVS, produced a breakthrough.
The TVS questionnaire allowed participants to provide feedback on what to start, stop, and continue, along with comments on custom questions.
The feedback revealed several themes in each category. Under Start, the consensus was to enhance positive interaction, communication, and sharing, as well as take more responsibility to initiate and follow through on projects. As one participant noted, we need to “communicate and share knowledge more, be more open to sharing ideas, supporting others.” It was just as important to Stop certain habits, to be less reactive, not to shift responsibility, and to show up for work as scheduled. One person put it this way, “Waiting for others to initiate, procrastinating, reading into situations in a negative tone” was holding everyone back.
Looking to the future, participants felt that they must Continue to keep up momentum, to execute, to be open to giving and receiving feedback.
The key, one person said, was “staying focused on the goals and objectives of the company and engaging in the growth initiatives of our business.” This positive attitude enabled people to feel confident about Westcomm Pump’s future success and to make the effort to figure out the way forward. They rated the prospects very high, noting that “we have what it takes, with strong leadership and market savvy.” Just the act of acknowledging that a problem existed and bringing in outside assistance instilled optimistic feelings. One person commented that he was “more confident now as the management and ownership have taken the necessary steps for the teams and business to grow.”
How Do We Get There?
Turning insight into action was the next challenge. ACI consultants used the Six Seconds Change MAP to facilitate the strategic process, as illustrated in Figure 1:
In the Change MAP, the cycle of Engage, Activate, and Reflect drives the critical transitions that overcome the feelings of frustration, fear, and judgment that work to resist change. By instilling excitement, courage, and curiosity, and working collaboratively, they re-aligned the power structure and shifted the focus of senior leadership on growth.
As a final step, the TVS was conducted again eight months after the initial assessment. Changes in engagement scores were dramatic, with the percentage of engaged team members increasing from zero to over 22 percent and the percentage disengaged declining from 40 to 11 percent, as shown in Figure 2:
The bottom line for action was expressed by one participant, who said we must “use online marketing and social media more, have clear decision-making practices and structures, keep up the great work, and let’s move forward.” Another participant, reflecting on the process of focusing on team performance, added, “We have become a much more cohesive unit in the last 6 months.”
In addition to measuring overall engagement, the TVS assesses five climate drivers, based on the Vital Signs (VS) model, depicted in Figure 3:
The pre- and post-intervention TVS assessments showed significant progress across all five drivers, with scores improving from below the benchmarked average to above. The follow-up trust score was at the cusp of high performance, the top quartile of all teams in the database. The driver comparison is seen in Figure 4:
The TVS also measures four team-related outcomes, as shown in Figure 5:
As with the drivers, all outcome scores improved in the follow-up TVS assessment, going from below the benchmarked average to well above. In particular, collaborative efforts cleared away barriers to agility, resulting in increased ability to generate results and producing major increases in satisfaction and sustainability for the team. These results are illustrated in Figure 6:
The TVS calculates the standard deviation (SD) of the team’s driver and outcome scores. The average, normed SD is 15, with under 12 indicating highly-aligned groups and over 18 representing inconsistency among respondents. As seen in Figure 7, the SD for all drivers and outcomes placed the team in the high-aligned category:
The TVS identifies critical items representing the three highest and lowest scores on individual questionnaire items. Analyzing the critical items can help direct strategic action, based on leveraging what the team is doing well and understanding where improvement efforts should be focused. Figure 8 presents the critical items from the initial assessment:
Aligning for Success
Using actionable data from the initial assessments and feedback to drive the change process created alignment within the team and organization. Based on these results, the team was able to leverage commitment to goals, a sense of working well together, and a belief in the value of the team’s work to address areas of concern. Notably, the three lowest critical items increased significantly in the follow-up assessment, with question number 4 improving to 100.4, number 8 going up to 103.1, and number 1 increasing to 99.2.
Critical items in the follow-up assessment, shown in Figure 9, demonstrated a belief that the team has the ability to improve, cooperates effectively, and embraces its future direction. As part of the reflection phase of the Change MAP process, the new lowest critical items point the way for future improvement efforts, focusing on explaining the team’s goals, the autonomy to propose new projects, and favoring change even if it is disruptive.
While the positive changes at Westcomm reflect, in part, the history, current circumstances, and leadership of the company, some elements of the approach they took are broadly applicable. Here are three key lessons from this case that can help all managers, leaders, consultants:
- The TVS was not implemented at the outset of the intervention. The leaders and consultant recognized that they needed to take the time to build a level of trust within the team so that the survey and ensuing results would not be misperceived as fault-finding or directly related to individual performance. This timing was critical to the success of the engagement.
- The TVS debrief was delivered off-site and focused on actions to improve team morale and performance. The second part of the day was devoted to an “Engagement Workshop” based on the TVS data that led to key initiatives and a high level of team member involvement going forward. This design transformed the process from a “management thing” to a “whole team thing.”
- The three leaders had all previously taken the SEI. Working with them individually before the off-site session, the consultant was able to connect the dots directly from their EQ competency strengths and challenges to the TVS results. This greatly enhanced their ability to show up off-site in more facilitative roles. Follow-up conversations with team members confirmed that this made a big positive difference in both trust and confidence of leadership and the process.
Westcomm Pump, under Jeff Shen’s leadership, is in a much stronger position now as a result of the consultation and facilitation by ACI and the hard work of team members. The SEI assessment provided leaders with insight into their EQ competencies and informed the coaching process, while the TVS offered actionable data to improve team engagement and performance. These positive changes have begun to deliver on the promise of increased sales, improved customer service, more effective inter-departmental cooperation, and respected and influential leadership.
Testimonial from Jeff Shen:
My EQ assessment (SEI), integrated with the Team Vital Signs process has had an impact on me personally because it addresses the emotional side of my leadership. Under duress I am better able to step back and look at the bigger picture, then take action. It has shown me how much my leadership affects the outcome of the organization, and how small strategic adjustments can lead to tremendous results. It has helped me be a happy person at work, and I’ve found it to pay dividends in the performance of others. It has taught me to always try to have a good time no matter the situation.
The TVS process has also helped the organization as a whole by bringing in measurable results and allowing a discussion on the topic. We are able to look at ourselves and each other and be brutally honest and provide meaningful feedback. People take ownership of their roles and actions, and it promotes leadership throughout the company. Most important for me personally, it holds me as a leader accountable to my team and helps me to take ownership of my role.
About the Authors
Hanley Brite is founder and principal with Authentic Connections, Inc. With more than 35 years of experience as an entrepreneur, executive coach, educator, and organizational consultant, Hanley has worked with individuals, teams, and organizations in all aspects of individual and organizational development. Hanley has deep and proven expertise in the areas of transformational change processes, emotional intelligence, organization assessment, learning design, and facilitation. He has coached many people at all levels at key junctures in their careers.
Authentic Connections, Inc., based in New Boston, New Hampshire, is a Six Seconds Preferred Partner committed to improving organizational vitality by focusing on leadership architecture, actions for engagement, and masterful change. www.authenticconnections.com
Dr. Paul Stillman is Director of Organizational Vitality at Six Seconds. He has over 30 years of experience as a healthcare executive and consultant. He has a Ph.D. in Human and Organizational Systems and is a Life Fellow in the American College of Healthcare Executives.
Paul leads global efforts to promote the use of Vital Signs, Six Seconds’ suite of organization assessment tools, providing training and mentoring to support effective implementation. The Vital Signs tools, as shown in this case, provide a powerful, practical framework to understand and develop the people-side of performance.