Category Archives: People Matters

Posts related to the people side of strategy and operations

How Our Brains’ Hidden Process Can Sabotage Feedback

Feedback is about both performance and perception. For constructive feedback to be received well, and to promote intended change, it helps to understand some things about how our brain works.

Our brain makes meaning of the world around us, help us decide the appropriate action for a given situation, and create learning to build a model for future action.

When giving feedback, it helps to be aware of how our brain works and to be mindful of the pitfalls that can sabotage our well-intended actions.

The Basis for Feedback

In the feedback process, we start by making observations of behavior, listening to the words we hear, or our belief about others. Our brain takes the information and makes meaning based on our internal models, beliefs, and values. This is an internal process that is not visible to others AND may not be in our awareness.

The Slippery Slope

When we give feedback that is not skilled, we will often talk about our conclusions (our story of what is happening) without discussing the input and the meaning we made. If we are unaware of this process, it is easy to believe that we are just talking about the ‘facts ‘when we each have a different reality and a different set of facts.

Sometimes we create similar stories of an event and we consider this agreement. If the stories are different, we have disagreement.

How to Avoid the Slippery Slope

Realizing that this process goes on in the background for each of us gives us the opportunity to interrupt the cascade of thoughts and actions.

It comes down to this:

“When I draw a conclusion based on ‘observed facts’, I need to own that. Acknowledging that my conclusion is a story I created, it is no longer fact … it is my story.”

So doing gives the opportunity to revise our stories to create alignment and a shared reality.


Joe and Mary are in a meeting. Mary is the leader of the meeting. Mary observes that Joe is checking his mobile during the conversation and missed a question directed to him by another participant.

Mary’s Reality: “Joe, I am concerned about your commitment. I know that you have some feelings about me leading this effort and that you think you should be in charge here. You are not paying attention to what is being discussed and you are sabotaging our ability to get this important work done.”

Joe’s Reality:“Just before this meeting I had a call from my son’s school that he is ill and needs to go home. I called our after-school childcare provider to see if she can pick him up. I had not heard back from her before the meeting and was checking my mobile to see if this situation is resolved. I am committed to this work and think you are the right person to be leading the effort. I am disappointed that you think that I am not a team player.”

What could have been done to avoid the misunderstanding:

  • Joe could have disclosed to Mary and the group that there was a situation needing his attention and he might be interrupted during the meeting.
  • Mary could have spoken about the behavior she was seeing and asked Joe what might be going on or, alternatively, disclosed the story she was making from her observation.

Since Mary is the leader of the meeting and has some organizational power here, she now has a conflict to resolve with Joe. There might also be unintended impact on other meeting participants who observed the interaction and created their own story about the event. Mary may never know her impact on others and there could even be a negative impact on team performance.


  • Avoid making a story about someone else’s intention or reasons based on their behavior. You are the expert in your world but not in the other’s world.
  • Disclose your facts and the meaning you are making before deciding that what to you is an ‘obvious conclusion’ is indeed correct.
  • Ask an open-ended question to find out what is happening for the other person.
  • Take the initiative to disclose relevant information you are holding. That is, let your story out before someone else does it for you.

About this Post

  • This original post was authored by IntelliVen Principal Dennis Werkmeister to help a leadership team he works with to improve their communication.
  • If you want to learn more about how to communicate effectively as a leader, visit and subscribe to IntelliVen for more insights and resources.

About this Featured Image

  • The two stick-figures are giving feedback to each other, one with a brain showing internal models, beliefs, and values, and a thought bubble with an interpretation that is different from what the other stick-figure is saying or doing, with an expression of surprise, anger, or sadness, indicating a negative reaction to the feedback. See related images here.

What to Do When Your Employees Want More Communication

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This post was initially drafted by Bing using
ChatGPT-4 connected to in response to a client question. See end notes for more.

Communication is essential for any organization to succeed. It helps align goals, foster collaboration, build trust, and resolve conflicts. However, many leaders struggle to communicate effectively with their employees, especially in times of change and uncertainty. In fact, one of the most common requests from employees in surveys is that they want more communication from their leaders.

So what should leaders do when they face this feedback? How can they improve their communication skills and meet the expectations of their employees? Here are four tips to consider, along with some examples and quotes from successful leaders:

  1. Listen more than you talk.

    Communication is a two-way street, and employees want to feel heard and understood by their leaders. Listening is not only a sign of respect, but also a way to learn from your employees, understand their perspectives, and identify their needs and concerns. When you listen, you also show that you value their input and feedback, which can boost their engagement and motivation. To listen effectively, you need to avoid distractions, ask open-ended questions, paraphrase what you hear, and acknowledge their emotions. As Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, said: “To be a good leader you have to be a great listener. Brilliant ideas can spring from the most unlikely places.”

  2. Be clear and consistent.

    Employees want to know what is expected of them, what is happening in the organization, and why. They also want to know how they fit into the bigger picture and how their work contributes to the vision and mission of the organization. To communicate clearly and consistently, use simple and direct language, avoid jargon and ambiguity, and repeat your key messages across different channels and platforms. Align your words and actions, and follow through on your promises and commitments. As Simon Sinek, author and motivational speaker, said: “Great leaders are clear. They understand themselves. They understand their purpose. They understand their why.”

  3. Be transparent and honest.

    Employees want to trust their leaders, and trust is built on transparency and honesty. Transparency means sharing relevant information with your employees, even when it is difficult or uncomfortable. Honesty means telling the truth, even when it is not what they want to hear. To communicate transparently and honestly, you need to share both good and bad news, admit your mistakes and limitations, explain your decisions and rationale, and address rumors and misinformation. As Warren Buffett, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, said: “Honesty is a very expensive gift. Don’t expect it from cheap people.”

  4. Be empathetic and supportive.

    Employees want to feel cared for and supported by their leaders, especially in times of stress and challenge. Empathy means putting yourself in their shoes and understanding their feelings and experiences. Support means providing them with the resources, guidance, feedback, recognition, and encouragement they need to succeed. To communicate empathetically and supportively, you need to express appreciation and gratitude, acknowledge their achievements and challenges, offer help and solutions, and celebrate their successes. As Oprah Winfrey, media mogul and philanthropist, said: “Leadership is about empathy. It is about having the ability to relate to and connect with people for the purpose of inspiring and empowering their lives.”

Communication is not a one-time event, but an ongoing process that requires constant attention and improvement. By following these tips, you can enhance your communication skills as a leader and create a positive impact on your employees and your organization.

If you want to learn more about how to communicate effectively as a leader, visit and subscribe to IntelliVen for more insights and resources.

The initial draft of this post was prepared by Bing using ChatGPT-4 and as the primary source in response to this prompt.

If you would like to learn how you can use ChatGPT to ask for assistance with a business matter, send an email to:

This post's featured image was generated by Dall-e, a neural network developed by OpenAI. For more information, visit:


Achieve Breakthrough Performance with More Effective Leadership

Growth is good.

But growth can be really hard.

Maybe your organization’s growth has plateaued. Why has it stalled? Is the issue in strategy, alignment, execution, backlog, or capacity? Maybe all these areas?

Or maybe you have the opposite problem, and growth is exploding and your team can’t keep up. What needs to change to enable the organization to scale?

IntelliVen has created one-of-a-kind tailored and immersive experiences to prepare your leaders to answer these questions and address these problems.

The Manage to Lead for Breakthrough Performance Program arm leaders and their teams to maximize organization performance when facing a variety of challenges crucial to meeting your goals. 

The program introduces practical tools, methods, and principles consistent with Organization Development (OD) best practices for leaders and their teams, and their HR/OD business partner or business consultant if they have one.

All organizations can benefit, especially those struggling to reach the next level or those facing such rapid growth that leaders are overwhelmed. Other organizations will find value as they seek to innovate in the face of market disruption. The program will also benefit those looking to capitalize on new technology, introduce new products, enter new markets or manage strategic initiatives. 

The IntelliVen MtL for Breakthrough Performance Program focuses on making sure your leaders are clear and aligned on important questions such as:

  • What are we trying to accomplish?
  • What do we provide?
  • Who are our target customers?
  • What problem do we solve for them?
  • What are we counting on each other to do?
  • How do we identify and respond to performance blockers?
  • Do our leaders possess and use the mindset, interpersonal skills and behaviors that propel excellent team performance?

MtL Systems and Programs do not make judgements or provide answers. Instead, they provide tools, methods, and principles leaders learn to apply as they see fit in their organization. Up-and-coming leaders with technical backgrounds find MtL particularly helpful in that it makes people and business skills accessible and easy to implement.

IntelliVen is a San Francisco-based management consulting firm that works with up-and-coming leaders and their teams to get clear, aligned, and on track to achieve breakthrough performance.  Our proprietary system of tools and templates package what we have learned from decades of running and growing dozens of successful businesses.

We make doable the hard-to-implement actions driven by disarmingly simple truths.

The MtL Breakthrough Performance Program is offered as:

  • A Side-by-Side Accelerator Program where MtL-Consultants work alongside inhouse teams who learn and apply MtL tools, templates, and principles as they progress towards completion on a specific change initiative.
  • An MtL Immersion Program Academy where MtL Senior Operating Partners lead a cohort of two to five organization, unit, or function leaders and their top teams through 10 modules of asynchronous topic content and live sessions.

Either way, Your Case IS the Course. The program is a shared experience for a leader and team to work on, not just in, their business. You will apply business and organization development best practices to conceive, launch, and guide initiatives that realize targeted benefits, with real-time feedback. 

Guided by IntelliVen Principal Consultants with deep experience across all aspects of business, leadership, and organization development, your team will be immersed in a unique interactive online curriculum complemented with live online or in-room workshops featuring role-playing, case-based concept exploration, and direct feedback and assistance on your own case. 

Program alums join a Learning Community that is connected continuously online, and that convenes live virtually semi-annually, where new MtL System tools are introduced and progress with case application and lessons learned are shared.

The MtL Breakthrough Performance Program is based on the IntelliVen Manage to Lead System, a collection of tools, methods, and principles drawn from decades of experience applying organization development concepts and human behavior theory to developing successful organizations.  MtL melds competence in process and business for breakthrough performance improvement as depicted in the following diagram:

Process and Content
Manage to Lead flipped classroom learning where Your Case IS the Course

We work with several universities to develop and offer leading executive team development programs. Our approach is distinguished in that everything we do reflects executive competence in organization development and the practical application of human behavior theory.

Elements of MtL have been taught at The University of San Francisco, American University NtL/MSOD, MIT, Stanford, University of Maryland, George Mason University, Golden Gate University, and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

3 Truths and 6 Power Skills to Master Organization Politics

Organization politics make a lot of people uncomfortable. The untrained hope is that if politics are ignored, and if a job is done well, then well-earned rewards will come. Things rarely play out that way.

Organization politics is defined as anything done at work to increase the odds of success that has nothing at all to do with the work itself. Master executive coach and workplace psychologist, Dr. Dory Hollander, presents three unassailable truths about how things work in organizations and Six Power Skills for mastering the art of career enhancement. Continue reading 3 Truths and 6 Power Skills to Master Organization Politics

Case: The Ideal Mix of Sr. Executive Team Skills for Success

Case Background

Leaders of fast-growing, early-stage organizations operate at a fast pace. Often, the last thing there is time to do is to assess the top team’s skills and performance to determine how to prepare them for the next stage of growth.

Most team members know each other pretty well. They have a good idea about:

  • What each other is good at doing.
  • What each has contributed.
  • How each has grown.
  • What each should focus on next to improve.

However, team members rarely have the time, energy, training, or nerve to share what they know in a forthright, supportive conversation with one another.

Yet there are serious consequences to not providing feedback when it is needed most. As highlighted in the Wall Street Journal article, “How To Tell If You Are a Jerk in the Office” (C-Suite Strategies, Journal Report, Feb 23, 2015), confidential feedback for executives is important. Not only are leaders and co-workers affected adversely by dysfunctional behavior, but business performance and customer service can be damaged, often permanently, if poor behavior continues.

IntelliVen, a San Francisco-based executive development organization, uses a proprietary approach to help top leaders and their teams address executive feedback issues head-on. For example, IntelliVen worked with a fast-paced, $10M financial analytics firm serving Freddie Mac, U.S. Treasury, and Capital One among other leading financial institutions. The IntelliVen approach was used to assess the firm’s top team of senior executives relative to norms for successful organizations at a similar stage of evolution and to identify individual and team opportunities for learning.

Continue reading Case: The Ideal Mix of Sr. Executive Team Skills for Success