The Vital Signs Model

As described in the book INSIDE CHANGE, we’ve worked for many years to put the key drivers of performance on the leaders’ dashboard.  In 2001, we started to survey organizations; in each project leaders contributed questions they wanted to ask.  By 2006 we had an incredible array of data about the questions that are important to leaders — and the way real people respond to those.  So we did a statistical analysis to distill that down.  In 2011 we conducted our third round of analysis, and drawing from this real-world experience we’ve created a simple, clear model of performance.

The VS Model is meaningful at multiple levels.  There are three different versions of the assessment to measure the drivers of performance:

for individual leaders (LVS)

within teams (TVS)

across whole organizations (OVS)


To define “performance,” we tap the concept of a balanced scorecard and consider that a high performing leader, team, or organization will balance the two axes shown to the right so:

There is a clear direction and path to it:  Strategy

That direction is put into action: Operations

There are systems to focus on customers and deliverables: Organization

Great people want to work there in a context that supports performance:  People

We present these as axes because success requires the right balance depending on the needs of the situation.  Sometimes leaders, teams, or organizations need to lean more in a particular direction — for example, during an intense product launch, the focus might be more on operations.  However, if you’re too operationally focused for too long, you lose sight of direction.  Likewise, during a reorganisation, it’s critical to focus on the strategy (how you will get to where you’re going) and at the same time you need to maintain your customer focus (organization) — but you can’t forget to communicate and engage the staff (people) or the change will fail.



So what kind of workplace environment will allow people to achieve these results — to perform optimally?

Culture is the knowledge that determines “correct” behavior: “how we do things around here.”  Climate is the way people react to working within that environment.  Culture is slow to change, climate is rapid.  Climate is a massive driver of performance:  Do you want to come work in a place that feels toxic?  Or are you more likely to invest yourself in a place where you look forward to working each day?

A high performing team or workplace climate is grounded in trust.  People have a sense of safety and assurance so they’ll take risks, share, innovate, and go beyond their own comfort zones.

People need to feel energized and committed to doing more than the minimum requirement: Motivation.

They need to be adaptable and innovative: Change.

They need to feel collaboration and communicate to take on the challenges:  Teamwork.

They need to be focused and accountable: Execution.


As shown in the model to the right, we conceptualize these five drivers with Trust as the fulcrum, the center. Motivation and Teamwork are on the people side; Change and Execution are on the organization side.  Motivation and Change drive strategic direction.  Teamwork and Execution drive operations.

In this framework, we can say leadership is the ability to build a context of trust where people are highly motivated, adaptable to change, working as a team, and executing (achieving useful results).

An effective team has a foundation of trust with people who are highly motivated, open to change, working collaboratively, and getting important work accomplished.

A high-performing organization likewise has a context of trust where most staff are energized to put in discretionary effort, people are adaptable, they work together beyond their silos, and they are getting results.



The Vital Signs tools are statistically validated and normed based on an international sample.  This process allows for accurate comparison between scales and provides built-in benchmarks.  Each of the VS tools has a different questionnaire, but all share the same model.  The online questionnaires take about 10 minutes, and are scored anonymously and confidentially.  There is a mix of quantitative scoring and focused narrative questions to provide context and depth to the data.

In this sample graph from TVS, you can see the five climate drivers and four business outcomes. The median score is 100 and standard deviations are at 15 points.  Scores in the left-hand grey zone represent a serious risk — these are in the lowest 25%.  Scores in the right-hand zone represent breakthrough strengths and are in the top 25%.

The first four drivers are the key elements of team climate.  Trust is a cross section, a fulcrum that balances the four other drivers, so it’s shown in blue.  Our definition of “performance” is captured in the four outcomes shown in the grey bars.  In all of the VS tools there are actually two questionnaires:  The drivers and the outcomes.  Statistically and empirically we know that the drivers are a major contributor to success in the outcomes, but they are measured independently.


To learn more about VS…

See the overview of the tools

Request a sample report

Contact Paul Stillman, Director of Organizational Vitality: [email protected]

Read the book INSIDE CHANGE

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