The “Blank Slate” of Change

Many of us attempt to write the script for new beginnings on our personal New Year’s “blank slate.” Because of socially shared beliefs in free will, positive thinking, and individual effort—we believe we can change whatever we choose.

Markets and businesses continually change. Metrics can motivate a business to act on its goals—such as sales, revenue, and overall growth objectives. Strategic planning focuses on the what, but may not adequately address how to make it happen.

Technically, once we have lived a few years we are not really blank slates, because we accumulate knowledge, capabilities, and experience. We also have a lot of baggage—dysfunctional behaviors, bad habits, biases, and an assortment of self-deceptions. Humans are complex beings, not robots. We have big brains that process a wide range of emotions, experiences, and desires. These factors make self-change, and organizational change complicated and difficult.

Reinforcers … the events that follow an action—control human behavior. Reinforcers that are positive will make a behavior stronger, but a punisher may eliminate it. Habits are strengthened and maintained by personal payoffs—and therefore are difficult to change. To maintain a new habit, you must have an alternative—and stronger payoff.

Business leaders and managers can use rigorous metric analysis to get information. Statistical processes examine every step and event, to see where the problems occur. Too often we try to change human behavior by sheer force of will—”let’s just do better.” But if we do not have honest and open communication to perform “root cause” analyses,” how will we isolate what to change? You cannot change what you do not know.

Leaders will fail to improve workforce activities if they demand different results—without understanding the complexities of cause and effect. Knowing which actions are correlated to which results, will support a change initiative.  Additionally, positive changes can be maintained with meaningful reward and recognition.

Prudent business managers construct positive organizational cultures. They understand what motivates an employee to do well on the job. They peel back the layers to get at “why does this problem happen, and what can we change—to get the results we want?”

Organizational change is not easy, but if you learn the right things about your business—positive change is possible.

Congruence–When Your Business Is Consistent

In the practice of mental health, a major goal is congruency—consistency among the perceived self, the actual self, and the ideal self. For organizational health, employee behaviors should be congruent with company goals. It is when … what you say you will do, is the same as what you do.

If you want to get colloquial, congruency is when a company “walks the talk.” The word alignment is used a lot in business performance theory. Whether it is describing culture, leadership, employee engagement, customer experience or other elements … it is basically matching words to behavior.

Strong and effective business cultures are congruent. Expectations are understood, and they are achieved.

We have all seen when the “boss” says one thing and does another, and how it damages morale and employee engagement. Or when an employee talks about doing a better job—but doesn’t. How about when businesses say, “we take care of our customers,” but don’t?

Because businesses are filled with people, there are organizational blind spots. Leaders can be over confident about their own abilities—no one likes to admit shortcomings. Inconsistency in organizational practices, or ones that don’t make logical sense, can damage employee motivation. Employee disengagement limits positive customer experiences.

Any of these negative elements can derail a company.

We know from science that energy is conserved, and that it is a function of where energy is directed. People can resist change because of the belief that it takes a lot of work to change. But if you observe people—it can be astounding to see how much energy is expended to maintain dysfunctional behavior, to deceive others, or to “put on a front?”

At GAPWORX we say, “you can’t change what you don’t know.” We talk about becoming more aware—before acting. People seek out mental health practitioners because they are stuck in behavioral patterns. Therapists provide insight and understanding to their clients, create alternative ways of thinking, and help them make better decisions. Likewise, for businesses—outside objectivity and perspective can be a real stimulus for positive organizational change.

Business leaders should strive for congruent organizations, where the actions of employees fulfill company mission and values. It is the satisfaction experienced by their customers … “they said it right, and they did it right.”

Storytelling [… Editing and Ghostwriting]

Listening to a radio interview of a celebrity promoting his new book, I recalled the efforts that I and other colleagues had in 2015 when we collaboratively wrote “How to Hire the Right Consultant.” Excluding years of writing blog posts, that book was my first effort to publish and reach a broader audience. Although my contribution was only a single chapter on Customer Development, I learned about editing and publishing.

Reflecting on that publishing effort, it occurred to me that the process of writing and editing a book parallels GAPWORX work processes as we deliver services to our clients. While the specifics of a project’s scope of work vary with each client, in many ways what we do is … help clients to tell their stories in a more compelling way.

As all businesses engage and promote their business in the marketplace, they are … storytelling. Some are service companies. Others manufacturer products. All are unique. They come in all sizes, and either enjoy some measure of financial success, or eventually close their doors. In every instance, and ideally with every prospect and customer interaction, they strive to listen, to build rapport and trust, to persuade as to their value proposition, and hopefully either create a new customer or secure additional business. Basically, storytelling is about SELLING and SERVING.

In every business, these storytelling activities—through the roles and responsibilities of all employees—are performed at varying degrees of effectiveness. When specific financial measures are falling short of expectations, and the resources inside of a business are stretched too thin or are lacking in some capacity to affect the change, most businesses reach out to trusted advisors to supplement their ability to resolve the challenges.

As external advisors engage to solve problems, we liken that to the publishing equivalent of editing. At GAPWORX, as our services are customized to address client needs, we collaborate and train to improve company processes and behaviors. Our project activities are, in effect, an editing of the story each company tells. As we work behind the scenes, our editing is ghostwriting.

Regardless of how one labels the activities, a new and improved story is created by changing some mix of processes, behaviors, and capabilities … to improve the individual and collective attainment of company goals and objectives.

Start From the Inside

At GAPWORX, we work primarily with small companies led by entrepreneurs—the captains of their own boats. There is an understandable reluctance on their part to take things outside. Self-reliance can be a good thing … if there is a strong organizational culture and requisite resources of talent and time. There is a lot of useful outside expertise available for companies, but often it is perceived as “you’re telling me what to do,” instead of “helping me make my company better.”

It could be helpful to think—that instead of “outside in,” it could be “inside out.” Meaning, if you want a strong business culture, employee engagement, and customer engagement—the organization must have accurate information, meaningful communication, and effective systems. All individuals within an organization must possess personal motivation, ownership, and accountability—and then act that way.

Think of it as the intrapersonal drives the interpersonal. Intrapersonal attributes are individual self-awareness, critical thinking, effective mental habits, and emotional intelligence. Interpersonal effectiveness is when self-aware, self-motivated, and capable individuals work together within the organization to accomplish collective and shared goals. Conversational intelligence among employees, which relate company stories, positive customer experiences, and problem-solving—all build shared meaning, beliefs, and the “esprit de corps” needed to keep the company moving forward. This exemplifies the socially intelligent organization.

We encourage businesses to look beyond packaged “one size fits all” programs for organizational change. There are no silver bullet or bolt on solutions that work for every business. For any change process to work it must capture the “hearts and minds” of the people who do the everyday work. For organizations that are small or closely held—the more important it is to get everyone’s input, to analyze weaknesses and problems, implement solutions, and build systems.

Intellectual honesty—as Jim Collins calls “confronting the brutal facts,” can identify the rational elements that need attention. Employee emotions must be accounted for, as well. Organizations with clear vision and mission can build intrapersonal strength with leadership, mentoring, and coaching. Strong individuals can make for interpersonally effective teams.

Outside expertise and consultation that incorporates objectivity, feedback, and facilitation can yield tremendous results. No individual, or no organization, is completely self-aware. Even though it is a cliché—you can’t work on, or change what you don’t know.


We are fans of alliteration. It is evidenced in our company’s tagline—Awareness, Action, Achievement—and in other constructs within our models, processes, and intellectual property. We recognize that alliteration is advantageous, as it supports how all of us can more effectively remember things—processes and activities—that otherwise might be too complex.

Many business processes are complex, some by necessity. They provide a means for teams and individuals inside a company to accomplish specific activities in a best practice manner. The opposite approach might be described as “winging it,” and that is rarely advisable in business. Wherever possible, we believe that business processes and activities should be clear, concise, and complete (another alliteration), and not unnecessarily complex.

Many aspects of personal lives outside of business do not have templates, and we instinctively just “wing it.” That is how it should be. There should be freedom and flexibility, as we interact with family and friends. We adopt routines around our work days, but the consequence of NOT adhering to a specific personal routine is typically minimal.

In business, however, the negative consequence of “winging it” can be significant. It can adversely impact almost every aspect of business, but especially the interactions of employees with prospects and clients. So, to prevent or minimize such negative consequences, businesses have practices, processes, and procedures, which help build capabilities in roles, responsibilities, and relationships.

But, let’s consider the added dimension of business schemas. A schema is the present capacity of AWARENESS, attitudes, motivations, behaviors, capabilities, and knowledge to effectively perform in given situations.

For example, if you hire a new sales executive to fill a vacancy, but nine months later you are questioning that hire, because anticipated predictive performance indicators are coming up short. You ask, why? Often the answer is multi-faceted.

Maybe the executive’s prior sales environment was quite different, with a variety of factors. And those factors contributed to prior success.

Maybe sales capabilities need to be more aligned to a team selling environment, or maybe onboarding processes fell short of transferring needed company, technical, or product knowledge. These are performance factors that can be readily improved in most circumstances.

Understanding that salesperson’s prior sales environment in greater detail might have changed the hiring decision, but understanding it now might help you expand your business schema. With greater awareness of attitudes, motivations, behaviors, and capabilities, you can help the sales executive to once again be successful.

It might be … something surprisingly simple.