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How “Player Coaches” Can Increase Productivity as a Leader

For those of us who are “player coaches,” management is a second job, and it becomes critical for us to find ways to enhance our efficiency in the workplace. In honor of #WorldProductivityDay we would like to share this #Forbes article “8 Proven Ways to Increase Your Productivity as a Leader” incorporating a combination of soft and hard leadership skills. In summary, author Deep Patel shares these recommendations:

  1. Set clear goals and expectations for each period in order to encourage buy in from your team and avoid confusion and disappointment down the road.
  2. Invest in organizational tools to create a strong infrastructure that will keep you and your team organized and on track.
  3. Avoid long meetings that can waste time and instead schedule meetings that are 10-15 minutes in length.
  4. Get to know your team members so that you can be more efficient in your leadership and communication. Enjoy a midday lunch or activity that gives you a chance to learn more about each other.
  5. Host “feedback sessions” or weekly one-on-ones with your team members to ensure clear communication. Be sure to ask for feedback from your team about your management style so that you can continue to improve as their leader.
  6. Set clear “do not disturb” times during the week so that your team knows when you need to focus and be productive.
  7. Keep information transparent so that your team can answer their own questions with a little research rather than having to come to you too often.
  8. Write everything down so that you aren’t spending valuable time trying to remember the important things you need to accomplish.

At #AvionConsulting we strive to not only follow these guidelines in our own daily work, but we also train our clients to adopt these habits for their leadership development. There is a payoff we can all enjoy…being as productive as possible during work hours allows us to decompress and truly enjoy our downtime and refuel for the next big push. Do you practice additional methods to increase productivity as a leader that you would like to share?  We look forward to hearing from you and invite you to join the #AvionConsulting newsletter for further discussion at

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How to Implement Culture Effectively for a Successful Merger

In this insightful article about the importance of culture for successful mergers from McKinsey & Co the authors address the fact that although most leaders are aware that taking culture into account during a merger is critical, the reality is that often times leaders don’t actually follow suit, resulting in poor results and a lack of cultural cohesion and alignment after the integration. Establishing a clear understanding of the cultures of both companies undergoing a merger prior to the merger taking place is of utmost importance. Beverly Goulet, former Executive Vice President and Chief Integration Officer at American Airlines stated from her experience, “One thing I wish we had done was [to create] a culture diagnostic right at the start of our planning process. That would have eliminated some of the misperceptions about both company cultures. It would have established an objective set of criteria around which we could have had conversations based on facts rather than just anecdotes or beliefs.” In order to help organizations avoid this pitfall, the article provides three key steps for understanding and managing culture during a merger.


Step 1: Diagnose how work gets done

It is important to understand management practices and working norms of both companies. For example, what are their procedures for decision making, motivating employees, and enforcing accountability? Utilizing a combination of surveys and one-on-one interviews is recommended for a holistic assessment and understanding. For further information about these two methods, visit our recent article


Step 2: Set Priorities

Once the cultural diagnostic is established, priorities can be set to maximize the value of the deal by determining which cultural aspects should be emphasized, and where it is important to maintain but manage meaningful differences that when combined can result in a higher performing organization. At this point, the leadership team agrees on the desired behaviors and follow up with a comprehensive change plan structured around cultural themes. It is important that the leaders also drive all initiatives rather than delegating them.


Step 3: Hard-wire and support change

Once the important themes and initiatives have been identified, they can be integrated into the new company’s operating model and daily practices. “The redesign of policies, processes, and governance models must reflect these important cultural aspects if change is to stick. For example, nurturing a culture of respect might be reflected in company policy and values statements. To manage cultural integration properly, the merger team must also ensure that the right messages and behavior cascade throughout the new company. By identifying the most influential employees, leaders can recruit them as change agents and give them the training and skills they need to be effective in this role. This would include instruction in how to communicate the change story and how to role-model the behavior required in the influencers’ parts of the business.”


In conclusion, it has been shown that new companies resulting from mergers that have aligned corporate cultures and strong organizational health deliver three times the shareholder returns of those whose cultures are not closely linked. At Avion Consulting we emphasize understanding and alignment of cultures for our client organizations who are considering mergers. Have you been through a merger with your organization, and if so, how important was it to address culture within the two organizations before, during, and after the integration?  We invite you to join the #AvionConsulting newsletter for further discussion at

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How Focusing on a ‘Central Issue’ Helps Leaders Improve

On Tuesday, June 4th we posted about an article by Darius Foroux explaining the importance of focusing on one thing at a time to achieve more in your lifetime Our research, reflected in our our best-selling book “How Leaders Improve”, found a similar pattern. Specifically, those leaders who made the greatest improvements in perceived effectiveness indicated that they tended to focus on 1-2 related issues to work on for their own development before focusing on other unrelated issues that may have also been identified during their 360 assessments. We refer to this concept as the “Central Issue,” which is conceptually similar to Foroux’s concept of focusing on one thing at a time.

In order to help leaders identify their central issue, we determined 6 questions that would help narrow their focus.

  1. Does Feedback All Point in One Direction? When our most improved leaders read through all of their feedback, it seems that some of them – consciously or not – focused their improvement efforts on one issue that was “in the center” of all of the other feedback, and that all other feedback “pointed to.” Extensive 360-degree feedback often results in both qualitative and quantitative feedback in which there are literally hundreds of data points and dozens of comments. The leaders who we found improved the most following this feedback figured out how it pointed to one “central issue” that would help them focus on improvement towards that central goal. The bottom line is that improvement requires focus.
  2. What is the Common Thread? While writing How Leaders Improve, we spoke to a woman named Laura, owner of a sewing shop in Oregon called “The Common Thread,” and she explained to us that “in sewing, we use a common thread to gather fabric,” and she noted that it’s a “very important part of the construction of almost any garment.” We think this actual meaning of the term “common thread” nicely captures the essence of what we heard from some of our most improved leaders:  Their central issue was represented by some theme in their feedback that helped them to gather together all the other feedback into a single, concise issue they can work on.
  3. What Message Becomes Front of Mind? It is important for a leader to have a way of keeping his or her central issue in the “front of his or her mind.” Just as marketers need to cut through the advertising clutter to make sure their product is “front of mind” for consumers (for example when you think of tissue, Kleenex comes to mind), one of the things that characterized the central issue for some of our most improved leaders was that the issue was something that was “front-of-mind” for them, even months after they had gotten their feedback and developed their action plans.
  4. What Blind Spots Get Exposed? One of the factors that characterizes the central issues that our most improved leaders identified is that they were in areas where the leaders were surprised that they were getting feedback that they needed to become more effective. For example, one of our most improved leaders getting feedback from his manager indicating that he needed to improve in the area of problem solving. At first this was surprising to the leader, as he had always viewed this as a one of his key strengths.  However, as he thought more deeply about the feedback, he decided that the issue was that, in his words, “I kept these skills to myself, meaning that I would solve a problem but not share that with anybody.”  So, his central issue became communication – appropriately and effectively letting people know about solutions to problems he had come up with. As we sometimes say to leaders we work with, “The feedback doesn’t create the perception.”  The perception was already there; the feedback just brings it out into the open.
  5. Can I Really Control This? The term self-efficacy refers to one’s belief in his or her ability to complete tasks and reach goals. This is an important factor for leaders to address when responding to feedback and identifying their central issue as something that they feel confident they can work to improve. Leaders who made the greatest improvement in their perceived credibility addressed topics they believed they could materially impact.
  6. What is My Development Focus? One of the likely reasons that central issues were so common among our most improved leaders is that they created focus for one’s development efforts. More specifically, having a central issue enables a leader to, in essence, use a relatively broad lens through which to view a number of disparate bits of feedback in order to focus on a consistent theme. For example, one of our most improved leaders wanted to work on both building relationships and conveying passion.  This leader integrated these two specific development goals under the Central Issue of “Creating More Impactful Relationships.”  The leader’s action steps included networking, meeting one-on-one with others in the organization, and seeking to use effective non-verbal and verbal forms of communication

In conclusion, while the importance for leaders to find a “central issue” to focus on in order to effectively improve is evident, this concept can be quite complicated. When reflecting on one’s 360 feedback, we believe the above 6 questions may help a leader to identify the necessary elements of the central issue needed to create necessary focus on their improvement and development.

As a leader, how have you responded to feedback and identified a central issue to focus on in order to improve? We look forward to your comments and invite you to join the #AvionConsulting newsletter for further discussion at

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Extrinsic Factors that Influence a Leader’s “Ripeness for Change”

The “RIPEN” model developed by #AvionConsulting has been explored in detail in our two best-selling books “How Leaders Improve” and “Ready, Set, RIPEN!” The model reflects characteristics that determine a leader’s readiness to make a specific behavior change. From our extensive research, as well as case studies validating this model, we have identified several extrinsic (or situational) factors that leaders would be wise to leverage to help others enhance their ripeness to make a change.

Opportunity for Advancement: Being presented with an opportunity for advancement often creates an incentive (which represents the “I” in the RIPEN model) for that leader to improve in order to be awarded the promotion, which in turn, focuses individuals on their growth and development. Thus, individuating that one is being considered for advancement often results in that individual having a more open mindset regarding their coachability. 

Promotion: If we expand on the extrinsic factor of opportunity and look ahead to the actual promotion into an advanced position, leaders are often more ripe for change during this transition because they come to the realization (which represents the “R” in the RIPEN model) that they are lacking some of the skills required for the new position and are motivated to make improvements and build those skills. Thus, we believe transition coaching has a higher likelihood of yielding behavior change.

A question we as leadership consultants sometimes get is whether we think it makes sense for a leader to participate in a leadership development program when the leader is in the midst of a transition.  While every situation is different, our general response is:  Yes, we think it’s a great time to do it.  In fact, we often counsel leaders we work with who are in such transitions that the feedback and follow up processes that are part of our programs represent a great way of essentially introducing oneself to one’s new team, and of getting off to a strong start.

In our experience, when a leader in transition tells his or her new team, “I have gotten some feedback as part of a leadership development program I’m participating in, and here are some of my strengths and areas for development,” it helps to establish a team climate of openness, humility, and self-development – all positive things for a team in transition.  Additionally, it appears that being in transition is an external factor that can enable leaders to adopt a more open and flexible mindset toward their own development, provided they are approaching the change with sufficiently positive mindsets (confidence, security, engagement, etc.).

Organizational Change: Companies are constantly navigating change, such as a large acquisition, the hiring of a new CEO, an entirely new operating model, a major systems implementation, or a shift in legislation directly and significantly impacting one organization’s industry, just to name a few. There are differing opinions on whether leaders should be going through leadership development programs during such times. From our extensive research and experience, we have found that this may actually be the best time for a leader to participate in a development experience.

For example, one of our client organizations was in the early stages of a shift to a new operating model while participating in the annual high-potential leadership development program that our firm runs for this organization.  This operating model change impacted literally every area within the company, and many leaders throughout the organization had different types of leadership responsibility for aligning their areas with the new model. One such leader was in the leadership development program that was just starting up, and when interviewed about drivers of her significant improvement, she cited “the amount of change we are going through as an organization and the implications for me,” adding that she thought it was a “good time to expand my skill set.” The fact that her organization was going through a major change made it a particularly good time for her to be working on her leadership skills.  In considering which of the RIPEN factors organizational change appears to have been activated for this leader, we believe that both Realization (insight about the need to change) and Pressure (urgency to make the change in the near future) are likely suspects.

Timing: Each of the three factors just discussed (potential for advancement, transition, and organizational change/support) has something to do with timing.  Either the leader going through the development experience saw an opportunity to advance in the foreseeable future, the leader was in the midst of some sort of professional transition, or the leader’s organization was going through some sort of significant change.

Beyond those three factors, a number of our most improved leaders cited other timing-related factors that created a degree of ripeness.  One such factor these leaders expressed is that being in their role for 1-3 years enabled them to form an accurate understanding of what they needed to do to lead more effectively, but not so long as to feel overly entrenched in their old ways of operating.  In other words, the timing increased their ripeness by providing them with clarity or perspective about their potential evolution as a leader.  Sufficient times in one’s role serves to both enhance confidence and improve familiarity with the role, which likely drives the internal RIPEN factor of Expectation.  Additionally, it strikes us as very likely that sufficient time in role also promotes soul searching and reflection, which relates to the internal RIPEN factor of Realization.

In summary, our coachability or ripeness to change varies based on the situational or extrinsic factors we are navigating. As talent developers, these are factors you can leverage to enhance your team members’ ripeness for change and development, much the way a greenhouse serves to expedite plant’s growth cycle.

We’d like to hear your feedback on this subject and also invite you to join the Avion Consulting newsletter for further discussion at

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360-Degree Interview Based Feedback vs. Online Survey Based Feedback

Business leaders may be curious as to the differences between interview-based 360 feedback versus online survey based feedback. They are similar, but distinct processes which offer different pros and cons. Both are forms of soliciting feedback regarding strengths and weaknesses from subordinates, peers, supervisors, and even external stakeholders such as customers or suppliers. In this article we will explore those differences and which situations are ideal for using each approach.

Interview-based 360-degree feedback is a high touch proposition that, while more expensive and time consuming, offers a number of benefits. The process entails interviewing a broad set of stakeholders regarding a leader’s strengths and development opportunities and synthesizing this input in such a way as to ensure feedback providers’ responses remain confidential. In our experience, interview based feedback enables leaders to get more honest and contextualized feedback from those being interviewed. We typically use interview based 360 feedback for senior executives, high potential development and succession planning efforts, because this process:

  • Produces greater clarity and context than numerical ratings
  • Allows problems to be diagnosed (versus just getting a low score on an item)
  • The consultant can be more hard hitting and pointed in delivering feedback.
  • The consultant can emphasize the most important priorities in the delivery of the feedback so that the coachee doesn’t get caught up in minutia.

On the other hand, online 360-degree feedback entails raters completing an online survey about a leader and rating them on a number of specific leadership or management competencies. The main benefit of this approach in comparison to interview based feedback is that it is less expensive that interview-based feedback, rendering it a scalable solution. An additional benefit of online 360 feedback is that the quantitative feedback enables relatively simple assessment of change over time. When using online feedback, we strongly recommend employing a “flash follow-up survey.” This entails reassessing feedback providers on a subset (typically 5) of items 6 months after the original survey was completed to measure progress on a targeted set of priorities. This approach is far more focused and efficient than simply reassessing all stakeholders on all original items. Bottom line: this approach to collecting online follow up feedback saves time and delivers the most valuable data needed for improvement.

When deciding between using interview based 360-degree feedback or online 360-degree feedback, one needs to think about the goals of their coaching process. Is the goal to offer a scalable method of enhancing leader self-awareness across a wide number of people managers/ in which case online feedback is best, or is the goal to provide deeper insight and awareness to a subset of leaders where interview based feedback will provide optimal results?

At Avion Consulting, we incorporate both 360-degree feedback and online tools to help our clients in their efforts to improve as leaders. Business leaders, have you used either of these tools and how would you evaluate their effectiveness? For more about Avion Consulting’s services, visit We also invite you to join the #AvionConsulting newsletter for further discussion at

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7 Mindsets that Predispose Leaders to Being Ripe for Change

During the process of writing our book, “How Leaders Improve” we collected extensive data from observations of our most improved leaders. Interestingly, we noticed that they tended to adopt seven consistent mindsets that seemed to predispose them to being ripe. These mindsets which we will discuss in more detail include openness, ambition, soul-searching, desire for ROI, commitment to self-improvement, believing that ripeness is important, and fear of consequences of inaction.

1. Openness

Perhaps the most prominent intrinsic factor related to ripeness that we saw in our data was simply the leader’s openness to the entire development process.  Numerous interviewees highlighted a general openness to feedback and to anything that might help one to get better in general.  As one leader put it, “I was open to improving; I think generally my disposition is that I feel like I’m a work in progress and always have a bent toward this.”  Similarly, others noted that their motivation for participating in the leadership development program was just to get feedback, to be willing to change, and to seek to better oneself.

As another leader put it, “I have always had a hunger to improve – no matter what the area of need might be – I just always want to get better.  So this process will help me know what I can work on and where to focus my improvement efforts.”  Based on our research, this is a great starting place for improvement.

2. Ambition

Some of our most improved leaders indicated that their ripeness for improvement had to do with the fact that they anticipated some opportunity to take their careers to a higher level at some point in the foreseeable future. One leader in our sample captured the essence of this factor very nicely, stating that, “I was at a point in my career where I was committed to getting to the next level, so I welcomed this opportunity; it was a well thought-out, structured program, and I wanted to take advantage of it.”  In other words, even though there was no opportunity for advancement right in front of the leader, there was a level of ambition that caused the leader to want to capitalize as fully as possible on the leadership development experience that was being offered. As one of our most improved leaders put it, “You never know when a promotion may come along, so you need to always be focused on self-improvement.”

3. Soul-Searching

            Some of our most improved leaders were actually in a much different place in terms of their careers and their ambitions.  As we listened to these leaders explaining why they threw themselves into the leadership development experience, we latched onto a term that one leader used to describe where she was at, psychologically, emotionally, and maybe even spiritually, at the time of the leadership development experience:  The term soul-searching.

            A number of our most improved leaders seem to have been in such a place in the midst of their leadership development efforts, and they used amazingly consistent language in describing where they were at in their career journeys.  For example, one leader said, “I was going through some soul-searching about my career, and that made me open to the feedback.”  Another leader said, “I was asking myself – should I consider leaving, or should I focus on building my career here?  That caused me to take this program seriously.”  In short, there is some evidence that leaders who were asking bigger questions about their work lives (for example, about whether they were in the right jobs, companies, or even fields) may have been particularly ripe for improvement as leaders.

4. Desire for ROI

At the outset of some of our leadership development programs, we note to the group that an investment is being made for them to be there, and then we ask:  Exactly what is being invested?   Almost invariably, we hear two responses: “Money and time” (and “time,” of course, is “money”).  Our next question, typically, is:  If an investment is being made, what would you then hope for or expect?  The answer, of course, is “a return on investment,” or ROI. 

Our most improved leaders consistently demonstrated the mindset that they were determined to get value out of the leadership development experience. One of our leaders effectively captured this idea, saying, “If you are going to put all that time and effort into it, and if you then don’t make changes, it’s a big waste of time.”  Another echoed this idea, stating, “If you don’t make any changes, why did you sign up for this in the first place?”

5. Commitment to Self-Improvement

Great leaders tend to see leadership as a journey more than a destination; they view themselves as a work in progress and have a commitment to self-improvement that shows up any time they have an opportunity to learn something new about leadership, and about themselves as leaders.  And this quality was prominent among our most improved leaders.

 Perhaps more so than any of the other mindsets related to ripeness, our most improved leaders used language to describe this mindset that made clear that intrinsic motivation to improve is a key to development as a leader.  To illustrate, one leader said, “Wanting to learn and improve is key; self-motivation is the most important thing.”  Another echoed that idea, saying, “Improvement has got to be self-initiated.  If someone isn’t 100% dedicated to improving, they are not going to improve.”

6. Believing that Ripeness is Important

Another finding from our research highlights a common mindset of individuals who are ripe for improvement.  One of our interview questions was as follows: “On a scale of 1-10, how important did you think it was to make changes based on any / all of this (360-degree) feedback?”  The average rating in response to that question was a 9.3.  And by far the most common response to that question was a 10.  When asked to provide a rationale for one’s rating, the responses highlighted two clear themes.  First, as referenced above, these individuals demonstrated a commitment to self-improvement.  Second, a number of our leaders identified likely incentives that rendered improvement in an area particularly important to them.  As one leader indicated, “I knew I probably would not get to a higher level without improving in the key area that surfaced in my feedback.”

7. Fear of Consequences of Inaction

Some of our most improved leaders also reported “avoidance motivators” as being powerful determinants of one’s ripeness.  For example, one leader in our study received generally excellent baseline feedback.  However, this leader did have one consistently critical “outlier” in her 360-degree feedback report, someone who rated her much lower than others on a number of dimensions.  The leader had just gotten a new boss, and she was concerned that this outlier would create negative perceptions with her new boss.  So, she decided to directly address the feedback with her new boss.  As she explained it, “We had gone through a transition of executive leadership, and I wanted to put my best foot forward and make a good first impression.  It was worrisome to me to have my new boss see me in that light, so I openly discussed this feedback with him right away by saying, ‘I don’t know if you’ve seen my 360 but I would like to chat with you right away.’” This leader was motivated to avoid negative consequences, which illustrates the idea that sometimes individuals are ripe to make a change due to fear of inaction or some potential negative consequence. 

In short, there are numerous “ripeness mindsets” that our research indicates are clearly associated with improvement, and these mindsets are based on both “approach” and “avoidance” motivators.  We believe that the RIPEN model that we have developed at #AvionConsulting captures all of the intrinsic ripeness factors discussed thus far. The RIPEN model was first introduced in our best-selling book “How Leaders Improve” and is explored in greater detail in our recently released best-seller “Ready, Set, RIPEN!”

         We help our clients to learn and adopt the RIPEN model in their efforts to develop improve as leaders. Business leaders, which mindsets described in this article are reflective of the mindsets you possess and how have they contributed to your improvement? For more about Avion Consulting and our books, visit We also invite you to join the #AvionConsulting newsletter for further discussion at

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Assessing “Ripeness” for Change

Assessing a person’s “ripeness” for changing their behaviors is a critical first step before investing in further. As the Buddhist saying goes, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” All of us have at least one area in our lives in which we are resistant to change. Our “ripeness” varies by task, not by individual. (

Our RIPEN model

Below are five questions to assess how “ripe” a person is for change.

R (Realization)

Does this person realize that s/he needs to change this particular behavior?

This often seems like an obvious question. Many of our clients respond, “Of course so-and-so knows they needs to change — I’ve told them that!”

But the question is not, “Have you given this person feedback?” The question is whether the person takes the feedback seriously and takes ownership over it.

If you are giving feedback and you get a response such as, “Okay, I know something needs to change, but it’s not my fault,” or, “People think that? That’s completely contrary to my motivations,” then this person hasn’t taken ownership for his or her behaviors. Remember it’s not about asking people to change themselves, but to adapt their behaviors.

There are many strategies for how to help people come to their own realization — to have a “light bulb” moment — but in general, it’s far more effective to lead them to it by asking guiding questions instead of forcing it upon them, which tends to trigger defensiveness. Get people to focus on what they can control and take ownership over instead of all the things they cannot.

I (Incentive)

Is this person motivated to change this particular behavior?

Again, this seems like a simple question. But it’s more nuanced than it seems.

There are two types of incentives. There are the incentives to change: it could be a positive incentive to gain something (e.g. a promotion) or to truly live out one’s values and beliefs, or it could be a negative incentive to avoid something (e.g. embarrassing oneself in front of a client). Either way, the person feels the motivation to change. Think of this type of incentive as the “ignition keys” that rev an individual’s engine for change.

But there are also “counter-incentives” that prevent people from changing; they are the “parking brakes” on a car. When people aren’t changing their behaviors, chances are that they are doing it for a good reason. The status quo is working for them in some way that needs to be understood and explored. Fear of failure, complacency, and fear of change are common counter-incentives.

Whatever the situation is, examine what naturally motivates a person to change (not what you think should motivate them) as well as their counter-incentives to not change. And then think about what you could do to encourage the former and address the latter.

P (Pressure)

Does this person believe s/he needs to make this behavioral change immediately?

Even if a person reaches a Realization and all the Incentives are lined up, they may not get around to changing their behavior and may instead choose to focus on other priorities. That’s because this person doesn’t feel sufficient “pressure” to make necessary changes. In other words, there is no “narrowing window of opportunity” or “pressing deadline” that is at the forefront of this person’s mind.

One under-appreciated pressure driver is a change in situations. For example, when a person is presented with a big client opportunity or is hit with a big organizational change. Reflect on what conditions would need to be in place for this person to start accelerating their journey of change.

E (Expectation)

Does this person feel confident that s/he can successfully change XYZ behaviors?

Sometimes what gets in the way of change is not a lack of motivation, but simply a lack of confidence: that is, a lack of confidence in one’s ability to achieve a certain goal. The good news is that raising a person’s expectation or confidence is fairly straightforward: It entails equipping people with the right resources (e.g. books, classes, role models, managerial support) that will help them improve their skills and/or change their behaviors.

The catch is that this element of the model tends to be overly relied upon. Many people jump to this right away by directly mapping out for someone the step-by-step plan for change and giving them a pep talk to build their confidence. That is all well and good if someone is asking for guidance and already feels an urgent need to change. Until then, your advice will likely not make a big impact. But once you feel someone has met the “R,” “I,” and “P” criteria for change and is seeking out advice, then it’s time to get to work and help them map out a plan for how to make the desired changes.

N (Natural inclination)

Does this person see her/himself as someone whose strengths and weaknesses are “fixed” or “open to change”?

If the answer is “open to change,” then this person has a “high” natural inclination for change. People with a high natural inclination see themselves as someone whose weaknesses can be improved, whose strengths are a result of a lot of hard work, and who seeks out avenues for self-improvement. Having high natural inclination acts as a “tailwind” that accelerates the pace of change—this person is likely to be curious about and open to change, and much less defensive about any feedback.

If the answer is “fixed,” then this person has a “low” natural inclination for change. People with such an predisposition may be very talented and successful, but they see their strengths as natural talents they’ve always had and accept their weaknesses as inherently part of who they are. These people tend to be resistant to constructive feedback and are reluctant to get outside their comfort zone. Their low natural inclination acts as a “headwind” that will make their journey towards change much slower and more difficult, but certainly not impossible, especially if all the other elements of the model are present.

These five elements constitute a model for understanding if someone is “ripe” for change. As you can see, a person’s “ripeness” level is not static, but rather dynamic. How “ripe” someone is for change can fluctuate depending on a number of factors, from pressure to incentive to expectation and so on. When we are “ripe and ready,” then the gears of change will finally begin to turn. As a result, “ripeness” is task specific.

The RIPEN model was first introduced in our best-selling book “How Leaders Improve” and is explored in greater detail in our recently released best-seller “Ready, Set, RIPEN!”

We help our clients to learn and adopt the RIPEN model in their efforts to develop others. Business leaders, what tools have you used to help an employee change their behavior? How do you think the RIPEN model can be incorporated into future coaching experiences? For more about Avion Consulting and our books, visit We also invite you to join the #AvionConsulting newsletter for further discussion at

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Using the RIPEN Model for Behavioral Change in Employees

Often times business leaders find themselves facing a dilemma with an employee who seems resistant to make the changes necessary in order to demonstrate the desired performance levels. Do these leaders use the “easy button” and replace the employee, or do they dig their heels in and work with that employee to facilitate change? After decades of experience as coaches and as psychologists, we have found that people can and do change their behaviors—they simply need to be “ripe” enough to do so. That is, the right conditions and psychological factors need to be in place for them to be open and willing to change. We have developed a model that outlines the conditions and psychological factors that determine how open and willing a person is to changing their behavior: RIPEN. Our model lays out the five factors – realization (R), incentive (I), pressure (P), expectation (E) and natural inclination (N) – that determines how open a person is to changing their behaviors, regardless of what the change is. The RIPEN model was first introduced in our best-selling book “How Leaders Improve” and is explored in greater detail in our recently released best-seller “Ready, Set, RIPEN!”

We help our clients to learn and adopt the RIPEN model in their efforts to develop others, are pleased to hear feedback like this from Katsuyoshi Sugita, Head of HR, Microsoft Japan “The RIPEN model strikes the right balance between theoretical rigor and real world practicality. This methodology challenges many of the misconceptions business leaders have about how to coach and develop people and is sure to benefit those leaders looking to further develop their talent development skills.” Business leaders, what tools have you used to help an employee change their behavior? How do you think the RIPEN model can be incorporated into future coaching experiences? For more about Avion Consulting and our books, visit We also invite you to join the #AvionConsulting newsletter for further discussion at

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CAN I? Yes You Can!

Kaizen is the belief that small improvements over time can create huge changes. A fun mnemonic used to describe Kaizen is “Constant And Never-ending Improvement,” or “CAN I.” Historically, we’ve seen this term in use in manufacturing companies where employees at all levels work together to achieve “lean” improvements in a manufacturing process, such as implementing a PDCA cycle (plan, do, check, act) to a specific portion of production.

Organizations are quickly realizing that even in this digital age, sustaining success over time requires continual investment in talent development (The Talent Paradox, Deloitte, Oct 2018). And so, more recently, industries outside manufacturing have adopted and applied the Kaizen philosophy with a spin towards continuous improvement of people. In this adapted approach, organizations focus on implementing talent strategies that aim to retain employees by offering options for continuous professional development such as competency-based training programs, development planning, and coaching.

With this rise in the investment of talent comes a huge opportunity for employees. They need only step up to the plate to engage with these offerings in the interest of their own professional growth.

In a recently published Digital Business Global Executive Study (MIT Sloan Management Review, 2018), a full 90% of respondents recognized a need for annual skills updates, however only 50% saw development as a year-round, continuous exercise. When the need to improve is so widely apparent and the opportunities in talent development are so readily available, why do many employees let the chance to improve oneself pass them by? The answer boils down to what we like to call one’s “Ripeness.” This term describes a person’s readiness to change in general or in a particular area. Quite simply, there are some people who are “more ripe” than others (at certain points in time).

Where does Ripeness start?

While there are many components to determining a person’s ripeness, one component in particular refers to a person’s hard-wired level of openness to growth and development. In our research, we’ve found that the most improved leaders frequently reference a commitment to continued self-improvement. These leaders have a certain trait-level openness with a high natural inclination to change. Simply put, these leaders embody a “growth mindset”; believing that they can improve and develop over time. (Here’s a little history lesson: Psychologist Carol Dweck first coined the term “growth mindset” over 30 years ago. Since then, there has been much research around the term and the underlying beliefs people have about learning and intelligence.)

The flip side to this scenario is the leader who has low natural inclination, or a “fixed mindset.” Those who embody a fixed mindset generally think that their basic qualities (including their talents and skills) are permanent traits which are not likely to change much over time. While these people are generally less open to development efforts, it is not to say that they will not ever change. People with low natural inclination tend to need more direct and frequent feedback with specific goals, clear incentives, and time build into the change process to focus on skill and confidence building. One way to support their ripeness to change is to instill confidence and set the expectation that the requested change is not a big stretch and is more about behavioral tweaks rather than grand, sweeping personality changes. Another strategy to enhance ripeness for individuals who aren’t naturally open to development is to help them tweak something they are already doing, tap into a side of themselves that they don’t often display (hidden strengths), and set small, incremental goals for change over time. Most people with low natural inclination can and do make changes, it just requires more consistency and patience from those supporting their development.

Think of having low natural inclination as having a headwind – it can make the development journey more difficult, but not impossible. Having high natural inclination, on the other hand, acts as a tailwind, accelerating and speeding the journey of change.

A Challenge to Increase Ripeness

Assessing ripeness can be used in business as well as in personal dynamics, and can be expanded for organizations to enhance continuous professional development (people improvement) strategies. Here are some helpful questions to assess ripeness based on natural inclination to change, positioned in the spirit of the “CAN I” Kaizen approach:


  • Be open to self-development?
  • Point to instances where I have improved through hard work and persistence?
  • Be open to receiving feedback?
  • Be persistent in my pursuit of development goals?
  • Take advantage of development opportunities offered inside and outside my organization?
  • Be confident that my development efforts will have meaningful impact?

This concept has been developed and illustrated in detail in our newly released best-selling book “Ready, Set, RIPEN!” which can be found on Amazon in Kindle and paperback editions

We invite you to join the #AvionConsulting newsletter for further discussion at

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Guiding Metaphor: Your Professional Development GPS

Can something as simple as a personalized metaphor be used to overcome a leadership challenge? Our data, based on our two-year study of how leaders actually improve, suggests that metaphors are very instrumental in helping leaders remain focused on their key areas for development.

A metaphor can be defined as a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable. A “guiding metaphor” provides leaders with a high degree of guidance about how to be more effective in a way that is condensed and personally meaningful. For the most improved leaders in our study, identification of a guiding metaphor offered an easy, memorable, and effective point of reference to keep in mind throughout one’s entire leadership development experience.

The Nature of a Guiding Metaphor
In our research, we found that a leader’s use of a metaphor was often a sub-conscious process that directed and sustained one’s development efforts. In addition, we discovered that many of the metaphors used by the most improved leaders in our study were well-worn phrases or even clichés. Interestingly, the creativity or uniqueness of the metaphor did not seem to have any impact on its utility. All of this has led us to conclude that the primary value of a guiding metaphor is that it helps a leader to develop an enduring mental image of his or her central issue, which keeps the leader from falling back into old patterns and habits.
For example, one of the most improved leaders in our study used the metaphor, “I just needed to learn to stop giving people the answers to the test.” He was, of course, not literally giving people answers to a test. He was referring to feedback he received which indicated that his natural leadership style was to tell people what they should do when confronted with a problem or challenge. This leader needed to avoid being overly directive, and using this guiding metaphor helped him to keep this issue front-of-mind and not engage in his more natural but admittedly less effective behavior.

Metaphors and Common Leadership Challenges
In our work with thousands of leaders over the years, we have identified some common issues for leaders. In the following paragraphs, we share a few of these leadership challenges and the guiding metaphors that helped our most improved leaders stay focused on their key challenges and identify strategies for development.

1. Micro-managing (or “Being too far in the weeds”): One issue many leaders grapple with is micro-managing. One of our most improved leaders, when asked what he focused on over the course of the leadership development program he was involved in, said, “I needed to get out of the weeds.” The meaning of the metaphor, in his words, was, “I don’t need to be involved in every aspect of a project, and I shouldn’t be.” He added that he “should be more focused on establishing a larger direction.” The metaphor “get out of the weeds” served to raise this leader’s awareness about his central issue and the required actions for improving his effectiveness.

2. Lack of Direction (or “Not Having a tight enough rein”): The challenge area which represents the other end of the spectrum from micro-managing is providing too little direction. In this instance, the metaphor “not having a tight enough rein” appeared in feedback a leader received and she latched onto it. In her words, “I kept this metaphor in mind as I continued meeting with my direct reports.” Thus, while sometimes it is the leader him or herself who identifies the guiding metaphor, in other cases it appears in one’s feedback and the phrase is so personally meaningful that it strikes a chord with the leader and propels him or her to act on it.

3. Providing Effective Feedback (or “Not piling on”): Coming across as intimidating can be problematic for leaders. When one such leader showed marked improvement in this area, he attributed his success to staying focused on a single issue when delivering messages, rather than “piling on.” When he heard himself using the phrase “and another thing”, it was a signal he was about to “pile on” and overwhelm the person to whom he was delivering feedback. By focusing on a single issue and keeping this key metaphor front-of-mind, his messages were received in a more positive and helpful manner.

4. Leadership Presence (or “Practicing as if I’m going to sing”): One of our leaders received feedback suggesting he needed to improve his leadership presence when making presentations. His metaphor became, “practicing as if I’m going to sing.” As an accomplished vocalist, this leader reflected on how diligently he prepared whenever he had to sing in front of a crowd. He now prepares for every presentation with the same level of thoroughness. This metaphor served as a vivid, mental picture upon which this leader could focus to ensure his presentations were as effective as his prior singing performances.

5. Self-Management (or “Opening up the soda can”): Sometimes, guiding metaphors provide a visual representation that speaks to leaders. One leader identified the following metaphor to help increase composure and timing: “When I get angry, it’s like shaking and then immediately opening a soda can.” The work with this leader involved “waiting longer to open the soda can.” This memorable, visual representation of the leader’s central issue translated into developing behavioral strategies, like waiting until the next day to respond to colleagues who had frustrated him.

Have you identified your Guiding Metaphor?

This article highlights the influence of a guiding metaphor on one’s improvement as a leader. To summarize, a powerful guiding metaphor changes not only the way a leader thinks about what he or she is working on, but also the way the leader feels about it. The emotional aspect of a guiding metaphor acts as a powerful motivator for driving change. In this article we’ve highlighted some common guiding metaphors we’ve heard leaders adopt to focus their development. However, these are shared for illustrative purposes only. We hope that reading these examples has led you to reflect on your leadership development goals and on how a memorable guiding metaphor might be used to guide your development journey.


This is the fourth installment of the 10 insights derived from How Leaders Improve, a book written by @Avion Consulting Partners @John Gates, @Jeff Graddy, and @Sacha Lindekens.” The book is due to be published Fall of 2017. These 10 insights are designed help you to determine how you can improve as a leader, or help your team members develop their leadership effectiveness.