Capturing the Full Human Capacity of the Workforce

Human beings have some astonishing capabilities. Just imagine, every time a DNA molecule splits, 2 billion digits of code is replicated and this happens 3 billion times a day. Yet every day, these amazing creatures are treated as simple units of production like interchangeable parts.


It was an astounding admission from an institution of higher education. A first-time manager received an eight-hour course in management. It was virtually all focused on the HR rules surrounding sexual harassment and diversity training, how to fill out the various forms that needed to be completed, and processes for hiring and firing. There was nothing that would ensure her success. Within a few months, she was accused of creating a toxic work environment

Unfortunately, this is not an outlier. It is more often the norm. Ken Blanchard reports that only 39% of all first-time managers receive any training, and fewer receive any mentoring or coaching. In an interview with a millennial, he reported that when his engineering firm accepted him as one of the emerging leaders, they gave him no training, coaching, or mentoring. A firm with $5 Billion in revenues could not spare a nickel on his success. Furthermore, reports by Gallup demonstrate that millennials are rejecting leadership training anyway. Besides, when they receive training, they go back to their organizations and cannot implement what they learn because of institutionalized systems.

The solution

In my research into how high-performing organizations approach the practice of leadership, I found that they first design a system of leadership. They create organizational DNA for their practice of leadership. Then they train, coach, and mentor every leader and manager to the requirements of the system. However, they do not merely coach and mentor their leaders for professional traits and attributes. These high performing organizations have learned that to capture their leaders’ full capacity, they must tailor their training and coaching to the whole person so that they can capture the full breadth of the human capacity and opportunity. There are several benefits to this approach:

  1. Training is designed for their specific organization. These organizations spend little on stand-alone lecture-based or even online training that does not directly connect to their particular requirements.
  2. Coaching is personalized. In one of my interviews, I learned that every leader is measured against their staff’s levels of engagement. If specific thresholds are not maintained, a coach will be brought in to assist that particular leader. Is it a surprise that this healthcare institution has received Gallups’s prestigious “Exceptional Workplace Award” every year that it has been in existence?
  3. Training is continuous. There is little evidence that one and done training has any organizational impact. In one of my case studies, I found a manufacturing firm that does training every day. From 8:00-8:05 every morning, training happens. Every job has been broken into five-minute increments.
  4. Training makes better human beings. Millennials are on record that they expect their value to be developed, which means they become better human beings in the process. They want personal development as much as they want professional development.

However, there is a caveat. This means that leadership must be understood as a designed organizational system rather than a collection of lone individuals leading based on personal values. “My team, my way, my rules” is no longer a valid way of leading. Deming said it best: A bad system will beat a good person any day.” Therefore, design a great system and add good people to the system.

Dan Edds is the author of Leveraging the Genetics of Leadership, cracking the code of sustainable team performance. He can be reached for comment at, and he is happy to take a personal phone call at (425) 269-8854

Making Workforce Engagement Strategic

53% Of the workforce is nonengaged. 13% Is actively sabotaging their workplace. 51% Of the workforce is actively looking for a new job. Gallup also reports that 70% of employee engagement can be attributed to the manager. Yet nationally, we spend an estimated $50 Billion on developing better leaders and managers. Still, as Jeffrey Pfeffer says, “It is not just that all the efforts to develop better leaders…have failed to make things appreciably better…. It makes things much worse.”

Who or what is to blame? While I am tempted to blame it on leadership, in reality, leaders are just operating in poorly designed systems, if they were designed at all. As Deming famously said, “A bad system will beat a good person every time.” If this is true, let’s stop focusing on developing better leaders because this strategy is not working. Let’s start designing better systems of leadership.

What does a designed leadership system look like, and if we saw one walking down the street, how would we recognize it? In my research that has resulted in the book, Leveraging the Genetics of Leadership, cracking the code of sustainable team performance, I recognized a designed leadership system by high levels of employee engagement for extended periods. The minimum I looked for was five years.

For example, Don Chalmers Ford, located in Albuquerque, NM, is consistently ranked as either the best or among the best Ford dealerships to work for in the universe of 5,000 Ford dealerships. How do they do this? One way is to make the engagement of their workforce a strategic priority. In their 2016 National Baldrige Application, the nation’s highest award for excellence, they state, “Comprehensive and critical workforce engagement…is at the core of DCF’s (Don Chalmers Ford) integrated strategic planning system.” In simple terms, Don Chalmers Ford has built the engagement of its workforce into its business strategy.

When Core Values Drive the System of Leadership

I spoke with Gerald Midgley, Professor of Systems Thinking at the Centre for Systems Studies, Business School, University of Hull, UK. He had given me the honor of reviewing my book, Leveraging the Genetics of Leadership. One of his first questions was this, “how does your model of a leadership system account for organizational values?” It was a great question because I had seen the link, but I did not know what to do about it. Dr. Midgley’s question forced me to incorporate organizational values into leadership systems deployed by the highest performing organizations. The link was the personal behaviors of individual leaders.

As an avid LinkedIn user, I am struck by the frequency of comments that go something like this, “organizations identify their core values, proudly display them on posters, then promptly forget them.” However, what I had seen in my research is that organizations that consistently perform at the highest levels emphasize, if not more, on behaviors as they do values. Because without core behaviors, core values are meaningless. There is an excellent story about Virginia Mason Medical Center, located in Seattle, Washington.

One day, a nurse was prepping a cancer patient for chemotherapy. She noticed two required tests had not yet been completed and told her directing physician, who told her to proceed anyway. She had to choose
between orders and doing what she thought was right for the patient. Respect (core value) dictated that the patient was her highest priority, so she called the chief of cancer services, who, in turn, called the physician to tell him the two tests must be done before delivering the chemotherapy. Furious, the physician let loose on the nurse, verbally abusing her. She again called the chief of cancer services, who pulled a Patient Safety Alert (PSA), the equivalent of a Toyota worker pulling the stop cord, bringing production to a halt, so an error does not get passed on. The chief of cancer services called the physician again, this time telling him his conduct was unprofessional, abusive, and in violation of Virginia Mason’s value of respect (core value).
During my tour, I did not see posters advertising core values. What I did so was a poster titled Foundational Behaviors. It is a poster regularly reviewed by the executive leadership team. It reminds them that their behaviors are foundational to the execution of their core value that drives their healthcare delivery – respect.
Just how good is Virginia Mason?
• Recipient of Healthgrades Distinguished Hospital Award for Clinical Excellence, eight consecutive years, placing Virginia Mason in the top 5 percent of the nearly 4,500 US hospitals.
• Recipient of Healthgrades highest award for patient experience for eight consecutive years.
• Recipient of seventeen consecutive “A” in the Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grade Program, for success in preventing medical mistakes and other potential harm.

Time to Destroy Followership!

I recently attended a conference where one of the speakers spoke glowingly about the need to develop “followership” within the workforce. Her logic was impeccable. Give the workforce reasons to come to work and enjoy being followers. I wanted to scream. The very idea of “followership” is demeaning and outdated. It has its roots in a day where men (primarily) assumed leadership positions because of superior education, technical skills, or birthright. There were two kinds of people in the world, leaders, and followers. Leaders were superior beings than followers. Many times, through divine placement into the social order.

Today, we enjoy the most highly educated workforce in humanity’s history, and in many ways, their technical skills are as good as or better than their bosses. Who in their right mind gets up in the morning, excited that they will go to work and be a “follower?” There are over half a billion profiles on LinkedIn. I am confident in saying, not one of them has placed in their profile that they are a “follower” looking for a leader.
Furthermore, if anyone is listening, millennials and the generation behind them have made it clear that they are not interested in being followers of anyone. Why should they have been taught since infancy that they are “special” and that they can change the world?
In his book, Turn the Ship Around, Captain David Marquet tells the story of taking over command of the nuclear-powered attack submarine, the USS Santa Fe. During the first training exercise, he discovered rather rudely that the Navy had trained him in a leadership system that would not work. He had to design a new system on the fly, one that abolished the notion of leader-follower to a leader-leader model. He describes the impact of leaders developing followers, “Psychologically for the leader, this is tremendously rewarding. It is seductive. Psychologically for most followers, this is debilitating”. In two years, this new leadership system turned the submarine from the lowest-performing ship in the fleet to the highest performance the Navy had ever seen.
Writer and speakers still talk about the need for bold and courageous leaders. I no longer believe this. The need or our day is for people in positions of organizational leadership to create a workforce that is bold and courageous. This means the destruction of “followership.”

Dawn of the Leadership System – Creating the Employee Experience

In the 2018 Gallup Report,” Designing Your organization’s Employee Experience,” Gallup is clear, “The manager alone accounts for 70% of the variance in team engagement…” The article goes on to say that contemporary workers are “consumers” of the workplace. In short, forward-thinking organizations realize that they need to pay as much attention to the worker’s experience as they do about the customer. The implications for this are significant:

1) Developing capable leaders and managers is critical.
2) Organizations that wish to achieve a competitive advantage must make the employee experience a strategic imperative.\
3) This experience is more than a paycheck. Millennial’s are looking for growth, development, and opportunity.
4) If leadership development and employee experience are critical, a system of leadership is required. The system will provide unique organizational DNA so that every leader is working to create the same experience.

In their book, An Everyone Culture authors Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey, both of Harvard, profile three elite companies—Bridgewater Associates, The Decurion Corporation, and Next Jump, Inc.

Each of these organizations takes a unique approach to designing the experience of the workforce. For example, Next Jump, a $2 billion (2016) e-commerce company that seeks to revolutionize the workplace
culture. Next Jump has a focus of “self-development above all else.” Self-development includes an emphasis on behavior, character formation, and leadership development. Visit their website, and even though they are a very successful technology firm, the home page has nothing about their technology. It is all about the experience of the workforce. One of their critical messages is this: Better Me + Better You = Better Us.
In other words, they have made the workforce experience a strategic advantage in their drive to create software.

To review the full Gallup article, visit:

Dawn of the Leadership System

Intersecting Core Values with Human Behaviors

It is Tuesday morning, 7:00 AM. The executive team of Virginia Mason Medical Center meets in a drab hallway with charts and graphs on a wall. Once a week, they meet like this to review progress toward strategic objectives. Virginia Mason has been recognized by the Leapfrog Group with 17 consecutive ‘A’ Hospital Safety Grades, for preventing medical mistakes and other potential harm.Virginia Mason is one of the safest hospitals in America, maybe even the world. This may sound insignificant because we assume hospitals are safe. The reality is not so clear

. A most recent study conducted by the Johns Hopkins Armstrong Institute for Patient Safety and Quality found that 160,000 people die from deaths due to errors, accidents, injuries, and infections while in hospitals. This puts avoidable deaths in hospitals right behind heart disease and cancer in America as a leading cause of death.

Virginia Mason has a unique approach to leadership. They do not rely on the myth of the transformative leader. Instead, they have designed a system of leadership with a unique DNA and then trains every leader to the system’s requirements. The system transforms, but not just a few. It transforms the entire culture. The system starts from a core value of respect, respect for the patient, respect for the work, and respect for the worker. Everything hangs on respect. Through rules and routines, respect also drives behavior. For example, respect requires the executive team to be on time. Being late is disrespectful to others and their time. Respect also requires the executive team to stand as they review progress. Sitting around a conference table discussing progress wastes time.

At the end of that hallway is a laminated poster. It lists ten behaviors, expected to be modeled by leaders. On closure inspection, I see small green post-it dots by several. Each has an initial written on it. The initials represent members of the leadership team who commit themselves to practice specific behaviors for the year. Here they are, ten behaviors that are driven by a value of respect.

• Listen to understand
• Keep your promises
• Be encouraging
• Connect with others
• Express gratitude
• Share information
• Speak up
• Walk in their shoes
• Grow and develop
• Be a team player

What would the workplace be like, if organizational core values could be tied to specific behaviors of leaders and management?

Dawn of the Leadership System

Ed Catmull is the President of Disney Animation Studios and one of the co-founders of Pixar. He is also the author of “Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration.” This book outlines the management practices that created Pixar, one of the world’s most creative and innovative companies. So, I think it wise that when he describes a word in the context of the employee experience, management, leadership, and innovation, it is worth paying attention. That word is one I never once heard in my MBA program. It is not a word we hear used in discussions of organizational management or leadership. Yet he uses it freely and openly. It is the word “love.” In discussing the need for open debate, candor, in a process called brain trust, he states, “frank talk, spirited debate, laughter, and love.”

There it is. Love. Unfortunately, we equate love with romance or deeply felt personal emotions. Therefore, we don’t usually use it in the context of leading high performing companies or teams. I think it is time we change this because I heard the same word from two senior U.S. Army officers. One was a thirty-four-year veteran, Army Ranger, and member of the Special Forces. The other was a 32-year veteran, holder of multiple purpose hearts, and a 4 Star General by the name of Barry McCaffrey. When I asked both officers how the Army approaches leadership, they immediately talked about servant leadership and then spoke of love in the next breath.

I confess it is a word I am not comfortable with when used in the context of organizational leadership. It is a little “squishy” for me. Yet when one of the most highly decorated generals to have ever worn the uniform and when one of the giants in the world of technology speak of love (not the romantic stuff) in the workplace I think it is time to bring the word into our conversations regarding leadership.

The U.S. Army has a core value, “put the welfare of the nation, the Army, and your subordinates before your own.” Is there a better way of describing love than this? What would happen if the leaders in our healthcare institutions, manufacturing companies, or technology firms were taught to “put the welfare of your customers, your firm, and your subordinate before your own?” It makes me wonder how fast customers would be stampeding to your doorstep.

But how to do this? Can treating subordinates in loving ways be left up to every leader or manager’s goodwill or personal values? Something tells me no. Love is such a high calling that it requires a designed system so that every leader or manager knows exactly what it looks like.

The Morality of Excellence

When Paul O’Neil became CEO of Alcoa, he told the workforce that he would negotiate with them on anything except their safety. O’Neil made safety the lens through which every process and system could be measured. The result, workplace accidents went down and continued to go down long after he retired. O’Neil left behind a leadership system that required leaders to look out for the safety of the workforce. He considered it wrong that a worker would ever be in a place of having to work and worry about their physical safety.

I frequently hear researchers, pundits, PhD’s, and just plain folks talking about the high moral value of taking care of the workforce. It is a good argument, but incomplete. During O’Neil’s tenure as CEO, the market valuation of Alcoa surged from $3 billion to $27.5 billion, and net income rose from $200 million to $1.5 billion, while also making Alcoa one of the safest places to work in America. When Paul retired, it was safer to work in an Alcoa foundry with 2000 (F) liquid aluminum flowing around than in the back office of an insurance company shuffling paper. There is no conflict between caring for the workforce and economic returns. A high level of engagement in the workforce will drive economic returns.

Now let’s talk about another kind of morality—the morality of excellence. In twenty-five years of consulting, I have never met one worker who was excited about going to work every day for a mediocre organization. Yet, I have met many leaders who were just fine with average. When leaders accept mediocre as acceptable, they force it onto their workforce. They rob them of the opportunity of being on a championship-caliber team. It is abusive of a workforce that is craving to be proud of where they work. This is immoral. However, in an all too rare occurrence, I have seen organizations intentionally engage every member of the workforce around a singular common value. It might be respect, relationship, service, safety and even love. In these rare organizations, not only do they get the best out of their workforce, but they lay the foundation for humans to flourish.

The Value of Values

The U. S. Marine Corps is one of the world’s elite organizations. Who are they and what is their identity? Their values. They create their identity through their core values – Honor, courage, and commitment. These three core values define a Marine. The result? “The values of the Marine Corps guide our actions and intensify our fight so that every battle we face—we’re able to face down.

Why is it that thirty years after wearing the uniform, Marine veterans stand with pride when the Marine Corps Hymn is played? Being a Marine is still their identity. Once a Marine, always a Marine. Semper fidelis = always faithful.

What can private organizations learn from the Marines? Let’s see:

I have had the privilege of working with hundreds of different organizations. I think each of them had some sense of their core values. Could anyone in the organization recite them? What is typical is the response I received from the assistant director of communications department who wrote the values as well as their mission statement. “just a minute … ya ah… they will come to me in a minute… ah”. I interviewed dozens of senior leaders, in this organization and not one could articulate their mission, vision, or core values. How unfortunate. They could have given their workforce great pride if anyone would have bothered to talk about them, let alone integrated them with their work.

In contrast, the U.S. Marine Corps regularly takes young men and women, trains them to identify with and perform an inherently dangerous job according to these values – honor, courage, and commitment. Furthermore, they begin their leadership training on the first day of boot camp, and this training is defined by fourteen behaviors/traits. It is all integrated into a designed system of leadership.

Next Jump is also one of the world’s elite organization. They are a technology firm, yet their technology does not define them. Their values, or more specifically, their mission, defines them – Changing Workplace Culture. They sell technology, but they identify themselves as an organization that is changing the experience of the workplace.

So, what are the lessons:

  1. Create an organizational identity and workforce engagement around transcendent values.
  2. Train, coach, and mentor every new hire, and every recruit relentlessly in the execution of these values.
  3. Self-doubt and lack of self-confidence is a universal human ailment. High performing organizations build the confidence of their workforce through their core values. Next time you are in a public gathering and the Marine Corp Hymn is played look around. Aging veterans will stand with pride with tears streaming down their faces. They remain – Semper fidelis (always faithful).

Of course, this means that values must be more than a poster that goes up in the break room. Values must be built into the systems and processes of their daily operations. Starting with the system of leadership.

Why Elite Organizations Focus on – the Experience of the Employee

I have been a customer for, shall I say it? Sprint, for twenty years. Two years ago, I upgraded my old Windows phone for a new Apple phone.

While the phone works great, my experience with Sprint was one from hell. I seldom use the word hate. I now freely say I hate Sprint, (I am neutral on T-Moble since I could walk to their world headquarters from my home). The agent serving me grossly misled me as to what I was receiving. When the bill came, it was four times what it should have been. In my first call to customer service, the agent knew precisely what had happened. I had been scammed, and said so plainly. Of course, he was powerless to do anything but refer me back to the store and an offer to file a report to the regional manager. Both of whom never returned calls or were always unavailable. Additional calls to customer service brought more of the same. Agents who were powerless to do anything other than refer me back to the store and make a report to the regional manager. A month after the transaction, my complaint was resolved. However, I was told that the fault was my own, but out of their respect for my customer loyalty, they would honor my request. They consented to take back the junk I did not want but was told was “free” so I should advantage of the offer (it was not free).

While the customer experience is a recurring theme in business writing and research, there is another experience that is becoming part of our organizational thinking – the employee experience. I have often wondered about the experience of those agents who work in stores that service and sell mobile phone technology. Every time I go into my Sprint store, there is a new set of agents. From my limited observation, turnover is high. It causes me to ask the question if the company has such little regard for my experience as a customer, what is it like working for them? So, I Googled it. The first response I found said this:

Free subpar cell service, decent benefits, good incentives, great hours
Unethical Department of the company. Most reps are lying to customers and cheating the company to boost their comp. 5-10 New employees coming in weekly almost if that tells you anything. Don’t believe you can make even $50k if you have any moral compass at all. That title is reserved to those willing to do what they have to do to put the numbers up in most cases.

Forward-thinking organizations are beginning to realize that the employee experience is critical for a quality customer experience. Based on years of research, the authors of The Employee Experience: How to attract talent, retain top performers, and drive results state: how do companies who consistently win their customers loyalty and affection?

“They build brands that seem impervious to harm. What is their secret? It’s right in front of them…It’s your employees. They are the secret to thrilled customers who boost profits, provide referrals, and who keep coming back.”

But there is a deeper question here. What kind of leadership does it take to build an employee experience that is consistently deployed across the organization? Can relying on the generous good will of individual leaders do the trick? My own research says no, the highest performing organizations design systems of leadership and then train, coach, and mentors every leader how to provide an experience their employees are wanting – growth, opportunity, development, respect, and meaning.