“Blessed are the Peacemakers:” Making Peace

“Blessed are the Peacemakers:” Making Peace

Learning how to make peace is something that we all need to learn how to do, especially with people or situations that we find difficult.  But what if that is your job?  In working with law enforcement agencies over the last twenty years, I have come to appreciate those who really understand what it means to be a “peace officer.”

Take “Big Red,” a cop that was well known in his community and who knew almost everyone in it as well.  When the inevitable bar fight broke out on a Saturday night, all it took was for “Big Red” to walk in, break it up, look people in the eye, and tell them to go home or they were going to jail.  Contrast that to the same bar in the same town a few years later, after “Big Red” had retired.  When a bar fight broke out, five squad cars would descend on the scene and officers would rush into the bar.  Instead of calming the scene, they often further enraged bar patrons and owners by escalating the situation with their actions and words.

Somewhere along the line, the process of policing began to change not only in this city but across the country, moving from a sense of mutual respect and accountability to that of a well-armed and unapproachable law enforcement agency.  Historically, with the advent of patrol cars, police officers took to their squads and left their walking beats, becoming more and more disconnected from the communities they served.  And after the Vietnam War with a lot of vets returning home, anyone who knew how to handle a gun and defend themselves seemed like a good fit for law enforcement, especially since there was little required firearms training to get them started.  But as any good cop will tell you, learning how to defuse a situation – or make peace – is the more important skill and not something that was really taught.

“When public trust and service are combined, police organizations are able to keep the peace and improve the quality of life for their community.”   

While it is fortunate that in recent years a large emphasis has been placed on de-escalation training for officers, many police departments still fail to recognize that they are not the law, but simply enforcers of it.  Their power comes from the community that charters them and the trust that people have in them.  When public trust and service are combined, police organizations are able to keep the peace and improve the quality of life for their community.    But this requires a completely different mindset than ONLY resorting to physical tactics when something goes wrong – much more finesse, with an eye toward short- AND long-term community relations, is necessary.

A number of years ago, I worked on a consulting team composed of a retired Chief of Police, a retired SWAT guy, and a law enforcement researcher.  We were hired to help a city police department improve its relationship with the community.  There was a fairly low crime rate and there were no active lawsuits, but there was a growing dissatisfaction with the police department, as well as complaints about police behavior that seemed to fall on deaf ears.  With shrinking city revenues, lawmakers wondered about whether this was a good investment of their money.  When a new Chief of Police was appointed, both he and the City Manager thought it would be a good time to make some changes.

As external consultants, we conducted an overall assessment of the situation and quickly realized that we needed to focus first on the department’s management team.  There were five managers – a Chief of Police and four Lieutenants – that did not get along well or respect each other.  They ran the department like four different “mini-departments,” because each shift had its own supervising Lieutenant who had his own management style and priorities.  Citizens said they simply had to look at their watches to know when police would be setting speed traps, looking for drunk drivers, or simply waiting at the local donut house for a dispatch call.  None of their priorities were based on actual crime data or community input.

We began with a 2 ½ day “deep dive” leadership retreat that confronted the Command Staff with data and feedback from the community, their officers, and civilian staff, as well as key choices to make about the future.  What did they want to create together?  As individual leaders, were they “in” or were they “out?”  Were they willing to put aside their differences to work cohesively as a team?  What would they do differently, as a leadership team, and each individual, going forward?

The talk was difficult, and it was real.  By the time we finished the session, the team had come together around what they saw as the purpose of the department, their goals and aspirations for it, and how they needed to manage differently.  In addition, each person got personal feedback from his or her peers about what they wanted to see changed in order for that person to be a better leader and team player.  The result was that although one Lieutenant decided to retire, the remainder recommitted to their work and a new leadership team was born, carrying a united message to their staff and the community.

The Command Staff’s vision was that this police department was going to help raise the quality of life in their city, by working with citizens and other governing bodies to address safety issues that needed attention.  It meant that the management team would need to redesign police services and retrain their officers to focus on smaller problems to keep them from becoming bigger problems.  This required a huge shift in thinking, because the average cop would now be accountable for getting to know the citizens of his or her assigned geographic area, learning what was important to them in terms of safety and quality of life, and working with them and other city agencies to solve problems creatively.

A great example of this was the installation of streetlights in a dark downtown alleyway that attracted problems after bars closed.  Business owners would often have to clean up trash the next day before opening their doors.  The police department was unable to “stakeout” the alley every night due to resource constraints.  Rather than just respond to the crimes as the occurred, the officer assigned to the downtown business district worked with business owners to propose additional streetlights to the City Council, and then worked with the City Engineer on where to install them.  Better lighting and selective enforcement made the problem go away.

Although the new approach made sense, it was counter to the current police culture in which officers felt that everyday nuisance issues were beneath them to handle.  The leadership team had to tackle a great deal of internal resistance and union pressure to implement this approach, and needed to be resolutely consistent and united in its purpose.  They worked at it, and slowly but surely, their department started to change.   Several years later, the department was recognized by the International Association of the Chiefs of Police for their community policing success.  Five years later, it was ranked as the best department nationally with respect to citizen complaints, based on interviews conducted in undercover visits.

Making peace, from city-wide initiatives, to defusing violence, is an invaluable gift to us all.  And as an incredibly famous person once said, “Blessed are the peace makers, for they will be called children of God.”  (Matthew 5:9)

Catherine M. (Cathy) Perme is a partner at Peterson & Perme Associates, LLC and the author of “Confucius in My Cubicle: Practical Wisdom for the Leader in All of Us” (2017), available on Amazon.

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Culture Connects the Dots for Equitable and Effective Public Safety

Culture Connects the Dots for Equitable and Effective Public Safety

What do the report by the 2015 President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, the debate on “warrior” versus “guardian” mindsets, and discussions about delivering equitable and effective public safety have in common?


Culture is the common thread, according to newly retired Plymouth Police Chief Mike Goldstein and public safety culture consultants Cathy Perme and Amber Peterson. And this was corroborated by data they collected via culture assessment tools from Human Synergistics to determine how Constructive versus Defensive cultures shape the execution of daily work in police departments.

Countering Fear of Police

Consider, for example, the following sequence of events at the Plymouth police department in 2016. After a fatal shooting by police at a routine traffic stop in nearby Falcon Heights, Minnesota – one of a string of incidents in cities across the country – a Plymouth resident wrote Police Chief Mike Goldstein asking for assurances that Plymouth police wouldn’t kill his son in a police encounter.

Goldstein tried writing back. “I explained who we are,” Goldstein said, “what we believe in and how we carry out our mission. Then I said to myself, ‘This is a weighty topic and I don’t feel a letter is enough.’ So, I offered a face-to-face meeting. I’ve been meeting with that resident and others every four to six weeks ever since to talk about race relations.”

The meetings exemplify Goldstein’s proactive approach to communicating with Plymouth residents. Some would call it “guardian” instead of “warrior” policing. Others might say it’s a “community” instead of “cops-know-best” approach. Goldstein calls it “community caretaking.”

Assessing Police Culture in the City

Regardless, it’s emblematic of the different ways – from accentuating mission and core values to improving hiring and training – Goldstein and his command staff have managed the department’s culture over more than 15 years. The culture they created enabled them to properly implement strategy and achieve exemplary results. The list of outcomes is pages long, including improving traffic safety and creating a regional plan to respond to large events (those for which resources need to be pulled from several cities). It’s what law enforcement leaders say has made the Plymouth department a model for effectively delivering law enforcement throughout Minnesota and across the country.

Yet, the culture isn’t perfect. Despite all of Goldstein’s work, there is still a gap between what officers from top to bottom in the department experience versus the ideal to which they aspire. The gap, signaled by a late 2020 culture assessment, came as a surprise. Led by Perme & Peterson Associates, the culture assessment – using the Human Synergistics Organizational Culture Inventory® (OCI) and Organizational Effectiveness Inventory®(OEI) – pointed to a disconnect in the middle of the organization.

“I wanted to take a real-life temperature of where the department really was… I think law enforcement leaders need this information.”–Mike Goldstein, Plymouth, MN, Police Chief, retired

Goldstein commissioned the survey in the Fall as he prepared to retire after 17 years as chief and 31 years with the department. He wanted to leave city leaders and the next chief with observations and data they could use to continue bettering the culture and, hence, the department. “I wanted to take a real-life temperature of where the department really was,” Goldstein said. “I think law enforcement leaders need this information.”

Success Means Focusing on People

Since he became chief in 2004 in the Minneapolis-St. Paul suburb, Goldstein has consistently focused on creating a constructive culture. Back then, there was no handy playbook for guidance. So, Goldstein borrowed from initiatives elsewhere where he saw the kind of outcomes he sought from his officers. “When one of my officers leaves from a call,” he said, for example, “We don’t want the citizens involved to decide they won’t ever call us again.”

Goldstein found that, for the initiatives to be successful, he had to focus on people – the young officers he hired, the sergeants he promoted, and the command staff who helped him lead. He made it a point for the department to hire only those who exhibit a servant leadership mentality, are trainable, display a robust work ethic, believe in great customer service, and lead balanced lives. As they continued on the force, officers were expected to grow and develop, technically and personally. “We value education, training, and learning,” Goldstein said.

Law Enforcement and 21st Century Policing

President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing issued its report in 2015 following the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, 18, by a 28-year-old police officer in Ferguson, Missouri the year before – a shooting that precipitated days of rioting.1 Goldstein embraced the report and its conclusions “whole-heartedly.” The task force recommendations were the equivalent of a national playbook, confirming what Goldstein had been doing over the years to build a constructive culture and lighting the way for further enhancements.

The Report’s authors pulled together a long list of best practices that would “promote effective crime reduction while building public trust.” Among them: “Law enforcement culture should embrace a guardian – rather than warrior – mindset to build trust and legitimacy both within agencies and with the public.” To do so, the report said, law enforcement should adopt “procedural justice” methods; that is, cops ought to consider the spirit versus the letter of the law with everyone, both inside and outside their departments, regardless of race, religion, gender, or any other difference. Does every minor infraction require a citation? No. The reaction should be apropos to the circumstance.

The report also singled out community policing as another important strategy. It asked police to “engage in multidisciplinary, community team approaches for planning, implementing and responding to crisis situations” with complex causes.

Taken together, the recommendations in the 21st Century Policing report amounted to a manifesto for change. Many departments are already far along implementing various recommendations; others lag well behind. Continued high-profile incidents like the George Floyd death at the hands of police in Minneapolis last summer highlight the urgency for the latter departments to change.

Why No Change?

Why no change? It all comes down to culture, say Perme and Peterson. The 21st Century Policing report warned: “There is an old saying, ‘Organizational culture eats policy for lunch.’ Any law enforcement organization can make great rules and policies that emphasize the guardian role, but if policies conflict with the existing culture, they will not be institutionalized and behavior will not change.”

Unfortunately, the Report did not talk about how to change culture. That’s where Perme and Peterson come in. Both agree with the report’s finding on the importance of culture. So does Chief Goldstein, who explains: “If you want to have success in accomplishing anything in your department, you have to have the culture to support it. By not assessing what you have and where you need to go with culture, you won’t have success. And you’ll have lots of problems.”

Warriors AND Guardians

It’s here where deeply held views on warrior versus guardian come into play. It’s here where decades of federal gifting of surplus military hardware to local police together with wins by police unions seeking to protect their members have made it difficult for law enforcement leaders to root out unwarranted use of force. Debates continue about these and other factors making it more difficult to forge a different type of police department culture.2

“If the next school shooting comes, responders have to be warriors. It’s not either/or. It’s a spectrum. It’s not if you choose one or the other given the situation, it’s when that switch happens and to what degree.”–Amber Peterson, public safety culture consultant

The back and forth is nuanced. “Sometimes we need warriors,” said Chief Goldstein. Adds consultant Amber Peterson, a former police officer, “If the next school shooting comes, responders have to be warriors. It’s not either/or. It’s a spectrum. It’s not if you choose one or the other given the situation, it’s when that switch happens and to what degree.” Think procedural justice here. Also, think community policing. Officers decide many times a day how to react.

Going guardian or warrior – switching from one to the other – can be done poorly, or it can be done well.

Different Cultures Get Different Results

Building on a growing body of evidence from their culture assessment work using Human Synergistics surveys and qualitative approaches, Perme and Peterson have identified measures for what constitutes “poor” and “well.” In addition, they’ve been able to point to levers for changing culture.

Here’s how Human Synergistics defines cultures as predominately Constructive or Defensive based on over 47 years of research: A Constructive culture encourages members of the organization to interact with people and approach tasks in ways that enable them to meet their higher-order needs. A Defensive culture requires members to interact with others in self-protective ways (Passive) and/or in self-promoting ways (Aggressive) to maintain their position and personal security.

And here’s how Perme and Peterson have found these cultures to shape both guardian and warrior practices in police departments:

    In a Defensive Culture   In a Constructive Culture
  Guardian Role
  • The department culture may drive officers to be intensely focused on gaining approval from their peers, superiors, or community. In doing so, officers could sacrifice what’s right and realistic within their capabilities. 
  • Officers may avoid taking calls where they may be required to use force or could fail to use force when it is warranted (which, in turn, could cost them their jobs). 
  • Officers could take on too many responsibilities – consider themselves always on duty, for example – which isn’t sustainable. This could be for fear of being passed over for promotion, which endangers their health and their ability to serve others.


  • The culture drives officers to stay in touch with their core motivation for becoming a police officer.Usually, that’s service and servant leadership. 
  • It pushes officers to plan ahead and to talk through scenarios with their sergeants, fellow officers, and community members. This enables them to quickly switch into either warrior or guardian mode at a moment’s notice. 
  • It prizes and reinforces officers’ ability to deescalate difficult situations.
  Warrior Role
  • Officers may trap themselves in a status quo mentality and might follow orders from senior officers, without questioning them, even if they know they’re wrong. 
  • They may remain constantly at odds with department goals and policies, including those they view as unrealistic, based on their own personal experience on their shift. 
  • When difficult incidents occur, lateral communication may break down – leading to officers refusing to work together, freezing, or going rogue. 
  • When police unions prevail in defending rogue officers, toxic warrior mentalities become tougher to change.3


  • Even in tense situations, officers keep the welfare of all stakeholders top of mind. 
  • In the moment, they cooperate well with others, even with peers with whom they don’t “see eye-to-eye.” 
  • They are trusted to make sound “decide-to-shoot” decisions. 
  • They treat those they arrest with respect. 
  • After an especially difficult incident, debriefings occur where officers learn what went well and what didn’t.


Connecting Culture and 21st Century Policing

To help his officers better work across the warrior versus guardian spectrum and to better understand other aspects of his organization’s culture, Chief Goldstein pointed to his department’s just-completed culture assessment for answers. The OCI and OEI used by Perme and Peterson can map culture and its causes to the 21st Century Policing task force recommendations – not only for Plymouth but for police departments across the country.

For the Plymouth police, the assessment showed that Goldstein and top brass have articulated well the department’s mission, done a good job providing service to citizens, empowered front-line officers, and displayed good communication up and down the chain of command. Officers reported they intended to stay with the department and felt their jobs were secure. Overall, the organization scored well in external adaptability and service quality. As a result, the department enjoys an excellent reputation in the community.

Levers for Change

Nevertheless, Goldstein noted that the assessment “teased out things we need to do.” He said he looks to his sergeants – the day-to-day keepers of his organization’s culture – to be consistent in supervising front-line officers and to reinforce what’s learned in training. Yet some focused more on task than on people. Some coached and developed officers; others didn’t. Sergeants, the equivalent of mid-level managers in other organizations, were not always on the same page with each other or members of the command staff, Goldstein said.

The OCI/OEI identified levers for change—that is, improvements that could be made to further strengthen constructive norms and increase effectiveness. These levers, validated via focus groups and interviews, include: Goal emphasis, regular performance feedback, mentoring, and collaboration to better build internal coordination. Such changes are especially important given the new generation of police officers coming on board.

Reflections: A Case for Culture

At the end of the day, the newly-retired Chief can reflect back and connect his emphasis on developing a constructive culture to the 21st Century Policing report, the debate over guardian versus warrior policing, and the feedback provided by the quantitative tool to measure culture. Goldstein is “thrilled” with what he and his department have accomplished. At the same time, he readily says he would not have learned what he did about his department’s culture, and he would not have been able to articulate next steps for his successor, had it not been for the Perme and Peterson assessment. He is confident his successor will pick up where he left off. “In the pursuit of perfection,” he said, “you might catch excellence.”

90-Day Culture & Performance Quick-Start Program


To learn more about Perme & Peterson Associates’ Public Safety Quick-Start Culture Program, click here!


For change agents in the private sector, Education, or Government, Human Synergistics will help you engage your organization and its members in designing and implementing a customized 90-day blueprint for accelerated results and success in your business.

Contributor: As a former police officer and now a public safety culture consultant, Amber Peterson focuses on helping public safety groups build a culture inside that creates public trust outside. She contributed to this blog post.


1 Final Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. Washington DC: United States Department of Justice. 2015. https://cops.usdoj.gov/pdf/taskforce/taskforce_finalreport.pdf.

2 Seth Stoughton commentary, Harvard Law Review, April 10, 2015, “Law Enforcement’s “Warrior” Problem,” https://harvardlawreview.org/2015/04/law-enforcements-warrior-problem/

3 Kim Barker, Michael H. Keller and Steve Eder, New York Times, Dec. 22, 2020 (updated Jan. 6, 2021), “How Cities Lost Control of Police Discipline,” https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/22/us/police-misconduct-discipline.html

About the Author:

Bill Bancroft is Managing Principal of Conbrio, a Dallas-based consulting firm and one of our Associates at Perme & Peterson Associates, LLC. He’s an accredited practitioner in the Organizational Culture Inventory® (OCI®), Organizational Effectiveness Inventory® (OEI), Leadership/Impact® (L/I), and the Management/Impact® (M/I) instruments. Bill uses these and other diagnostics in his work guiding leaders and their teams in culture and leadership development. With deep expertise in strategy and innovation, his clientele spans the private, public and not-for-profit sectors.

Contact The Amber Edge

Phone: 218.213.1303

e-Mail:  info@theamberedge.com

What I’ve Learned about Surviving Economic Busts

What I’ve Learned about Surviving Economic Busts


These are such scary times, both personally and professionally, that the easiest thing to do would be to crawl into a shell and stay there until everything sorts itself out.  Unfortunately, life goes on and so must we, as we maneuver through this pandemic and try to come out whole on the other side of it.

Luckily, I’ve learned a few things over my 30 years of being in business, about how to weather economic realities that are beyond my control.   I’ve successfully survived the impact of the first Gulf war in 1991 (just a year after starting my business); the Tech bust in 1998; 9/11 in 2001; and the Great Recession in 2009-12.   Here is what I am putting into my own playbook now to get through this unprecedented time;  I offer these “lessons learned” to you as well.  

  • Focuson the Future
    • Prepare for a very different future.
    • Consider the consequences of decisions for both short and long term to balance the needs of both.
    • Continually scan to see what patterns are emerging in business/industry; think about what opportunities these patterns might present for you.
  • Invest“plow the ground for the Future”
    • Now is the time to invest in marketing, building new skills, developing capacity, and expanding networks to be ready for a different future.  
    • Get better at what seems to be looming in the future (technology?)
    • Don’t have a lot of money? You can still invest by volunteering time and effort in ways that provide new learning opportunities, community visibility, and expanded networks.
  • Team upand care for the people around you
    • Care for the people (customers, employees, community, vendors, etc.) that make your business a success. Now is the time to be generous with others. 
    • Reach out to clients to maintain the relationship; find out what is becoming important to them.
    • Now more than ever, it is also important to build partnerships and teamwork across businesses and industries to identify and shape new opportunities for the future.
  • Stay Positiveand take care of yourself
    • Take care of your own mental health.
    • Don’t be shy to apply for benefits and loans of which you may be eligible – it is not a personal failure!
    • Everyone wants to work with a winner – your attitude is your strength.

Invariably, there will be those who prosper in the year ahead.  Remember the Chinese saying, “The times produce their heroes.”   Best to you, and good luck to us all!

Catherine M. (Cathy) Perme is a partner at Peterson & Perme Associates, LLC and the author of “Confucius in My Cubicle: Practical Wisdom for the Leader in All of Us” (2017), available on Amazon.

Contact The Amber Edge

Phone: 218.213.1303

e-Mail:  info@theamberedge.com

The 4 Biggest Mistakes You Can Make in Strategic Planning

The 4 Biggest Mistakes You Can Make in Strategic Planning

I have been facilitating strategic planning for the past 30 years in organizations large and small, and seen the spectrum of success – from organizations that actually transform themselves, to those that eventually “go away” (out of business, merged) due to inability to implement a new direction.  Here are the biggest mistakes that I see leadership teams make in strategic planning. 

1. Not Understanding Your Current Culture

The old adage that “Culture eats strategy for lunch” is true – along with breakfast and dinner. If you are oblivious to what your culture is, what causes it and how it operates, my bet is that your strategic planning process actually REINFORCES your current culture. That’s great, if your culture is highly Constructive[1]. If it’s not, however – you won’t get the results you hope for.     

If you wonder why your strategic planning efforts fall short or plans are never implemented, then the issue is your culture, not your plan. You probably have a Defensive[2] culture — one in which people feel they need to protect themselves to maintain their own security as member of your organization.  The impact of a Defensive culture is that people avoid engaging, are reluctant to put forth ideas, are wary of change, and may actively undermine your plan. 

I was actually hired by one very prescient CEO who said, “you are the fifth consultant/facilitator we’ve hired. I take the leadership team off-site for two days every year to do strategic planning, but nothing is ever implemented. I am wondering if we have a culture problem.” We found out he did, by assessing that first, and then building a planning process that actually started to change culture at the same time.

2. Lack of Leadership Cohesion

For me, this is often a leading indicator of a Defensive culture. If the leadership team is not cohesive,  they will often enter into strategic planning with competing agendas and group dynamics that produce a “lukewarm” plan to which they tepidly commit.  Sometimes they try to work this out in the process of strategic planning; other times I suggest working with the team in advance to deal with some of the dynamics before starting planning. 

If the leadership team is NOT cohesive coming out of strategic planning, individual leaders will work their own agendas — sending mixed messages about direction and priorities down into the organization. This creates anxiety for employees at all levels who want to do the right thing but don’t know who to please. The result is that some employees “lay low” (opt-out, try to avoid blame) while others may get more aggressive (argue, oppose, just do and ask questions later). Both sets of behaviors are the opposite of authentic employee engagement.

3. Benevolent Paternalism / Lack of Engagement

Engagement is not culture – it is the outcome of culture.  You need to get to the underlying beliefs, values, and expectations (often unwritten and yet strongly reinforced) that causes an employee to engage or not.

One of the expectations that I have found in organizations when doing strategic planning is what I call “benevolent paternalism” — i.e. the belief that leaders need to shield employees from information that might worry them.  The result of this belief is that execs and managers do not share what is happening in the larger world and how the organization needs to adapt. 

I have found that when employees and stakeholder are authentically brought into the planning process and work with leaders to create a shared understanding of current reality, they are invaluable in defining strategy that will actually work. They are also more willing to see their own roles, to trust leaders to lead, and to endure the discomfort of implementation. Why? Because now they truly understand “The Why”.

Successful strategic planning is based on a shared understanding of current reality as well as a shared vision for the future. That means that both execs and employees are working together to create these shared pictures – from employees understanding the potential impact of economic and geopolitical forces, to execs understanding the conditions of the workplace and the capacity of employees to weather these forces. Having authentic conversations together about the totality of current reality and where the organization needs to go creates that shared vision.    

4. Not Planning for Adaptability

Many folks think that once a plan is done, they don’t need to revisit it again for another year. At the beginning of implementation, strategies are straightforward because they were based on the current reality at the time. However, we know too well that reality changes quickly these days, and part of the work of strategic implementation is to determine which of those changes warrants a change in direction.  THAT is what planning checkpoints are all about!

Without formal planning checkpoints, two things can happen, often at the same time. One, the organization continues to follow its road-map even though it gets harder to do and is less effective; and two, those who are sensitive to change in the environment may simply course-correct on their own, potentially creating confusion in the organization as a whole. Often, blame gets cast as people dig into their positions, trust goes down, and chaos ensues. 

Strategic implementation checkpoints should be done more than once a year – I would suggest every 4-6 months.  Checkpoints should be as inclusive as possible and engage employees as well as leaders to do a quick reassessment of current reality (what’s changed since the last look, and what does it mean?) and then determine what needs to change (if anything) as a result, and how.

A Word of Encouragement

If some of these issues resonate with you, know that you are not alone! And if you want some help in doing strategic planning differently, let’s talk. We will design a high-engagement process for your organization based on an assessment of your culture first, so that you begin to change your culture (if needed) in the process of planning and build on it during implementation for lasting success.

About the Author

Cathy Perme is the Managing Partner of Perme & Peterson Associates, LLC. She has run a successful independent consulting firm in Minneapolis for thirty years that has helped hundreds of organizations, from two-person firms to multinational corporations to focus clearly, organize effectively, and act with courage. She enjoys working with all levels of an organization, from CEO’s to line workers, and believes that we all have the opportunity to “take the lead” in our personal and professional lives. 

[1] A term coined by Human Synergistics, Inc. which has been researching and measuring organizational culture for over 46 years. Constructive cultures are correlated with high performance, quality, integrity, teamwork, engagement and effective communication.

[2] The opposite of Constructive, this term by Human Synergistics, Inc. describes cultures that are correlated with bureaucracy, poor quality, lack of engagement, internal politics and high stress and turnover.



Catherine M. (Cathy) Perme is a partner at Peterson & Perme Associates, LLC and the author of “Confucius in My Cubicle: Practical Wisdom for the Leader in All of Us” (2017), available on Amazon.

Contact The Amber Edge

Phone: 218.213.1303

e-Mail:  info@theamberedge.com

Raising All Boats

Raising All Boats

Truth be told, I could have been a hell of a union organizer.  Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio unions were part of my everyday life.  Most kids in my neighborhood had at least one family member in a union.   And in fact, those unions were essential to the health and well-being of our moms and dads in manufacturing, steel, and foundry work; they also helped provide us with the solid middle-class life that we all enjoyed. 

The engineer in me chose a different path, however — helping people and organizations as they wrestle with what is needed to keep in business, while adapting to unrelenting change in the world around them.  Over the last thirty years, I’ve worked with all levels of management from CEO to line supervisors, and all levels of union leadership (including union presidents, union stewards, business agents, and union members) in the process of change. 

As a result, I honor both management and unions as clear stakeholders in the process of change. Both are essential to constructive change that “raises all boats.”  That analogy is what late Senator Paul Wellstone from Minnesota defined as change that betters both a society and the individuals within it.   

However, it’s the mind-set that each side brings to the table that can either make or break that outcome.  Below are some strategies to work together constructively, based on how I’ve seen successful leaders (on both sides) do that.  

For Management: 

The most successful and respected managers I’ve worked with over the years have had several traits in common that help build trust with unions in the process of change. 

  • They authentically care about their workers
  • They are upfront and true to their word
  • They assume good intentions
  • They replace judgement with inquiry when conflicts occur

Here is how you as a manager can work with unions to drive change that helps to “raise all boats.”   

Respect the union/union leader’s role and treat them like partners in change. 

This means creating a constructive culture with them, by being transparent about the big picture that you are seeing, soliciting their input, and inviting them into the problem-solving process with you.   It means exploring and finding solutions that support success for both the organization and the workers involved.       

Be transparent and communicate as often as possible.

Where possible (taking into consideration privacy laws) be transparent about what’s happening in your organization and the world around you, that the organization must address.  You need to provide information and context, especially in a rapidly changing world.  Don’t sugar-coat bad news, but do position it for greater understanding. 

Be clear about your decision-making boundaries.

Unlike unions, the typical organization is NOT a democracy.  Managers have a responsibility for the organization as a whole, and decision-making authority to enable that.  As a result, it is important that youare clear about how you will make decisions in this rapidly changing world. 

  • On what issues you are willing to take feedback and input before making a decision?
  • Where you are willing to develop a consensual solution to a problem?
  • Where you must ultimately make the decision yourself (and why?)

I have found that when managers work respectfully and not judgmentally with unions, unions also respond in new ways.   As a result, when managers and union leaders are opposed on issues, decisions and negotiations that are built on mutual respect and trust– although not always liked – are often accepted by all.   

For Unions:

The unions I’ve worked with over the years have represented a wide variety of professions, from manufacturing to higher ed, from crafts people to office workers, from police officers to teachers to custodians.  In working with union leaders in organizational change efforts,  I often see two different mind-sets, each with different effectiveness when it comes to change.   

Fixed vs. Growth Mindset

I sometimes describe a fixed mind-set as “Old Union” because it operates from a sharp distrust of management and sees every interaction as a battle to be won.  This mind-set has a very narrow view of the world and often assumes that management has control and influence over everything in the world around them.  It discounts external trends and pressures that threaten the organization’s success and survival, declaring it as management’s problem, not theirs.   

Unfortunately, what starts as a “win-lose” proposition often becomes “lose-lose” by the end.  That’s because long-term, the organization may go out of business or be otherwise hampered by something outside of management’s control.  (Lawsuits, anyone?)

I sometimes describe a growth mind-set as “New Union” because it recognizes that management is not in total control of the world around them– and that the organization needs to adapt to survive.   The union leaders I’ve met that have this mind-set are logical, well-informed, and aware of the challenges that the organization faces.  And unions with this mind-set see themselves as important partners (with management) in shaping that change.  It is about “win-win.” 

Suggestions to “raise all boats”

Here is how I have seen successful and respected union leaders and members both advocate for core principles, and work with management to “raise all boats” in the process of change. 

  • See the larger picture and help your members understand it, so that the union as a whole can be more effective.
  • Do provide input and advocate for members’ needs to the larger organization.
  • Work with management to craft win-win solutions where possible.
  • Take on key issues within the union (versus simply protect your members) if the reputation of your profession as a whole is diminishing.
    • A great example of this occurred when a local teacher’s union decided to take on the issue of ineffective teachers because the reputation of teachers as a whole was suffering in the community. They worked with the administration to identify and implement professional development to support teachers, as well as procedural justice to deal fairly with those who should no longer teach. 

The Bottom Line

Bottom-line, both management and unions need to take ownership for change as well as recognize each other as partners in change.  When this occurs, they can work together to deal with the continual need for organizations to adapt to change and to support the individuals that work in them, thereby “raising all boats.”


Catherine M. (Cathy) Perme is a partner at Peterson & Perme Associates, LLC.


Organizational Courage – Part 2

Organizational Courage – Part 2

What does organizational courage demand?

In part one of my two-part post, I introduced the notion of organizational courage and shared my thoughts on what it is and provided some framing. In this post I will share practical strategies and action steps you can take to build courage within your organization. 

As we know, the root for bravery is medieval French (“brave” meaning “splendid, valiant”) and medieval Italian (“bravo,” which originally meant “bold, wild, or savage”), and one could get the idea that bravery is all about show—and that drama, outward appearances, and public approval are important aspects of bravery. However, the root for courage is the Latin word “cor,” meaning “heart.” So, courage is about doing what is closest to the heart—in other words, what is important and gives us life.

The motive for courage is what makes it special; the role of courage is to make our vision and values real. Hence, I define organizational courage as the will to act in the face of fear or despair in order to enhance constructive and human growth.

Courage demands a personal vs. unexamined commitment1

When an organization simply “sells” the vision and “socializes” employees, it does not foster a personal commitment to deeper values and meaning. The introspection needed to personally commit to an action or idea is not performed by the vast majority of people and is not encouraged in organizational life. If one does take the time to reflect on the deeper meaning of an issue, the resulting values and actions will often fly in the face of currently established norms. Courageous people raise questions that others would not even think to ask. Remember the management team mentioned in part one of this blog post? What each of them struggled with was personal commitment—for the first time, they were faced with examining the meaning of the vision and the potential impact on their lives.

Courage demands being centered in values and vision

In many organizations, the vision and values, if stated, are rhetoric nicely framed on the wall or stuck in desk drawers and hauled out once a year for the annual report. Being “centered” in the vision and values means being continually focused and in dialog about them throughout the organization and, therefore, ensuring that they truly drive the organization’s day-to-day operating culture.

Courage means facing fears, living with anxiety, and letting go of results

I have watched people at every level of an organization wait patiently to “be empowered” from above, including a president who wanted to “be empowered” by the board. Courage is the power in empowerment.

When we strive to create our vision, the results aren’t predictable. To worry and obsess about them and try to control the outcome of our efforts before we even start will paralyze us. Unfortunately many organizational processes not only encourage but promote this “analysis paralysis” and penalize heavily for mistakes made along the way.

How do you build organizational courage?

Wherever you are in the organization

Empower yourself first. 

It is critical to clarify your own vision and values before signing up for someone else’s. Most adults have not thought about their values since they were teenagers, and yet our personal values shape our actions and responses to life. No matter where you are in an organization, you need to know what you stand for first. Then you can decide if the vision and values espoused by the organization are something you want to embrace. There will be no joy in working for an organization that you cannot fundamentally support. If vision and values have not been clarified or are out of focus, you have an opportunity to help shape them.

Start working in your “own backyard.” No matter if you run a business, manage a department of 70, or simply manage your own desk, you can start to create the kind of organization in which you want to work. Are you committed to providing stellar customer service? Then start giving it to everyone for whom you work and who works for you, rather than complain about poor service from others. By doing so, you will become much more centered in what customer service means, and by your actions you will begin to show others how to follow suit. You can start a multiplier effect simply by acting on the vision and values to which you are committed, and have a powerful impact on the organization without needing a fancy title or positional authority.

Help the organization find its touchstones and anchors.

An organization’s vision, mission, and values are its core, its anchors during turbulent times. They reflect our highest call to make a difference, feel useful, and be part of a successful and worthwhile organization—but we need to translate that call to everyday action, and sometimes we need help in doing that. A touchstone is a symbol, idea, mental picture, or story that brings us back to what’s important, to rapidly call us back to the vision and values when we seem adrift and confused. No matter where you are in the organization, you can help people define their touchstones and enrich the culture with stories and symbols that provide guidance during difficult times.

As an executive or manager

Examine and acknowledge your own fears first.2

When working with the concept of organizational courage, it’s important that we start with ourselves first. Fear is a normal human emotion. It can be rational or irrational—it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that suppressing it makes it grow because we’ve never brought it into the light for a good, hard examination. So we just continue to feed the fear and justify its existence.

What are executives and managers afraid of? Beyond the obvious business and personal survival fears, common fears are those of not being good enough, not being needed, losing control, disappointing others, and being “found out” (that one isn’t as good as he/she projects). What’s interesting about fear is that it makes us all believe that we are the only people who have this problem.

Before you can help your employees move past their fears, you must work on yourself first. This requires probing gently and honestly into the depths of your own fears. One technique is to map them down to the deepest possible level and examine what you are really afraid of and why.

Look at what you do that communicates or reinforces fear.

Executives especially can look totally impenetrable to the rest of the organization. Human frailties are masked over by position and title. If you have a strong personality, as most entrepreneurs do, your mere presence can intimidate people and your slightest comment taken as a firm command or reprimand to the affected parties. You may not even know what you do that strikes fear into the hearts of your employees, but fear you they will. So it is up to you to understand how you come across, show your own humanity, and change your behavior. Do you bark orders at your staff? Do you find only mistakes in the work presented to you and forget to praise their efforts? Do you constantly remind them, even in subtle ways, who pays the bills and what they can do if they don’t like it there? Do you shame them for making mistakes? You probably have legitimate concerns about your business, but how you communicate them will dictate the level of fear in your organization.

Help your organization to name and acknowledge its fears.

A lot of fear in organizations is caused by events—mergers, acquisitions, economic downturns, technical innovations, job changes, lawsuits, layoffs, etc. It is critical to get people to verbalize their fears and understand that it’s normal and OK to be afraid. How we act on our fears is what’s important.

Talk to your employees about your own fears and your own choices based on your vision and current reality. Ask them to share theirs. Acknowledge that it is a fearful time and that it is OK to be afraid. Remind them that fear is a normal emotion and that courage means walking with fear, not being fearless.

Give your employees as much information as possible about current reality—even if the outlook is not great. Holding out on them only feeds their fears because they will be convinced that the situation is worse than it is and act accordingly. Treat your employees like adults who can take care of themselves versus children that you need to protect, and you will get a workforce who act like adults.

Organizational courage is attainable, but it’s an inside-out job!

Be personally courageous—modeling courage is the best way to promote it.3

Do you have a management team that can’t seem to get the courage to do what needs to be done? Then you need to show them. Be voracious in your quest to acknowledge and embrace current reality: request and listen to feedback, get a variety of views, challenge your own filters, and admit your own fears. In front of your team, choose and re-choose your vision every day. Every meeting, ask what you need to do, that day, to help realize the vision. Then do it…and let go. 4

Even if the results of your actions are not seen on a daily basis, employees watching you be honest with yourself (and them) and then take appropriate action in spite of fear will be called to act a little more courageously themselves. True courage shines like a beacon and lifts up our spirits, reminding us that we are bound to each other in common humanity.

Organizational courage is an elusive, yet wondrous power. It is a quality that is critical to giving our lives and organizations meaning, and to move us through the upheaval of modern day. Organizational courage is attainable, but it’s an inside-out job!

What are your thoughts and what would you add to this topic? I welcome and look forward to your comments on LinkedIn.

[Editor’s note: This blog post was adapted from an article written by Cathy and published in Minnesota Ventures, Oct. 1991; it was republished in the Minnesota Ventures Growth Guide, May 1993; and has been updated for this blog, April 2019.]


1Walston, S. F. (2010, July 10). Awakening Courageous Leadership. Retrieved from http://www.trainingindustry.com/leadership/articles/awakening-courageous-leadership.aspx

2Taylor, J. (2009, October 21). Business: Why Change is So Hard, and How to Make it Easier. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-power-prime/200910/business-why-change-is-so-hard-and-how-make-it-easier

3Tardanico, S. (2015, January 13). 10 Traits of Courageous Leaders. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/susantardanico/2013/01/15/10-traits-of-courageous-leaders/#263b88ac5104

4Klein, M., & Napier, R. (2003).  Transform The Courage to Act:  5 Factors of Courage to Business. Palo Alto, CA: Davies-Black.


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