Talent Development 33 Identify Relationships

April 12, 2021
Organization Chart

Section 3.3 in the CPTD Certification program for ATD is Organization and Culture. Skill Statement C has “Skill in identifying formal and informal relationships and hierarchies and power dynamics in an organization.”  

The Formal Structure

The formal power structure in most organizations is easy to identify. Simply start with the organization chart, and pay attention to any dotted line relationships that are identified.  A dotted line indicates an influence but not a direct reporting relationship.

It is important to recognize that any organization chart represents a point in time.  The actual organization is always in a state of flux, whereby some people are in the process of moving up the organization while others may be leaving or even moving down.  The issue of succession planning needs to be handled with great care, because it not only defines the future state of the organization but impacts the morale of people currently working in it.

It is common to have the issue of impending succession be the root cause of all kinds of political infighting within an organization. Most people perform today’s tasks with one eye on their future potential and the other eye on what other people might be planning.

The power will be distributed in a way that reflects the solid line relationships between managers and subordinates, but there is a caveat.

The chart will tell you who reports to whom and what the basic structure looks like. Some organizations have very loose or vague organization charts, and there are some groups that prefer to have no chart at all.  For these situations, you need to identify the informal relationships and power dynamics. You need to stay alert for the signals of people operating in ways that are not consistent with the formal organization.

Modifications for a Virtual or Hybrid Situation

When some or all of the people are working remotely, the formal structure is still in place, but the inter-office dynamics can be very different from the conventional patterns. In a virtual world, interfaces are usually planned in advance without the opportunity for chance encounters that are so important for interpersonal dialog. Meetings usually involve groups of people, so individual coaching is less prevalent than in a conventional office environment. Supervisors should be encouraged to have frequent one-on-one time with each of their direct reports.

Informal Power Structures

In parallel to the official formal structure is a kind of web of influence that permeates every organization.  These paths of authority often go around the official or intended layout and frequently operate in a clandestine manner.

The best way to describe the informal paths of influence is to give some examples. This is not a complete list, but is a series of things that might come up in a typical arrangement.

Outside influence

You might find a situation where Mary is reporting to Alice directly, yet she is being given “advice” from another manager who is at Alice’s level or above.  Alice may or may not be aware of this parallel path, and it may lead to significant friction at times when Mary does not do the bidding of her official supervisor.


Often, people who are fond of each other will seek to influence decisions about placements or decisions based on history rather than potential. The basis of politics is that people do things for people they like.  You need to keep alert to this type of potential disruption.


Family ties can be the basis for power struggles in any organization. An employee may have a relative who is in a position to influence him or her outside the normal chain of command.  This pattern often becomes a stumbling block when succession planning is happening.  Sometimes the illogical advance of a relative usurps the normal progression of functions and upsets people or causes loss of motivation.


Favoritism is similar to nepotism. It occurs when one person singles out a specific person for special attention.  The perception of favoritism usually leads to a loss of trust within an organization.  When trust is lost, people do all kinds of crazy things to hang onto power. It can get very messy.


The stated goals of an organization may include Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.  Unfortunately, in many organizations, managers prefer to advance people who look and think like they do. The perception is that people who think and act differently will upset the normal chain of command and cause decision making to be more cumbersome. 

This habit is a dangerous one because it works against diversity, which is a highly effective means to keep “groupthink” in check.  Having people with differing points of view is a significant advantage in any organization because it leads to more robust solutions.  It is sad that many organizations find themselves operating with a “monoculture” when it comes to specific functions.

There is a delicate balance here.  You want to achieve a state where diverse opinions are heard and respected, but you also want to avoid having disruptive conversations that cause people to become polarized. The key defense here is to keep working on a culture of high trust where all voices are included and mutual respect is the expectation.

The Antidote

When assessing the relationships and power structure of a group, it is important to be highly vigilant and constantly look for potential abuses.  Try to build a culture of high trust where diversity is valued and succession is an open discussion. Shut down the back channels of influence and be as transparent as possible with all decisions regarding the placement of people.

Be willing to confront abuses directly and expose people who abuse power for their own advancement. Check your own choices and make sure you are doing succession decisions with the highest level of integrity and always with an eye toward Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. 

Talent Development 28 Data and Analytics

March 8, 2021

Section 3.7 in the CPTD Certification program for ATD is Data and Analytics. Section C reads, “Skill in analyzing and interpreting results of data analysis to identify patterns, trends, and relationships among variables.”

In this brief article, I will share the tools I use to help leaders understand their performance in terms of where additional development work would produce the most significant forward momentum.

Leadergrow Advanced Leadership Assessment

Before designing a leadership development program for an organization, it is essential to do some research on where the current capabilities strong or weak. I will describe a typical process to obtain and analyze these data. Recognize that each situation is unique, so various other methods could be used in specific circumstances.

Let’s suppose we have a large organization comprised of ten departments. The senior leader wants to upgrade the performance of the entire company, so she calls me in to provide some training. The first order of business is to obtain some data by area relative to how effective each leader is.

There may be some extant data, such as quality of work life surveys or blockage surveys. Turnover or other HR data such as grievance reports may be available. All these should be reviewed as part of the data set.

I often use a 360-degree leadership effectiveness survey to assess the quality of each leader on 20 different dimensions.

Dimensions of Leadership Measured

1. Builds an environment of trust
2. Builds an equitable and inclusive culture that produces excellent results
3. Ability to be genuine and connect well with people at all levels
4. Is firm but fair; does not play favorites
5. Publicly admits mistakes; demonstrates humility
6. Leads by example
7. Demonstrates consistent integrity
8. Listens deeply
9. Allows people to give their input without fear
10. Negotiates and advocates well
11. Operates as a level five leader; passionate but humble
12. Makes good decisions and demonstrates business acumen
13. Builds a reinforcing culture
14. Communicates well with people and groups
15. Calms stressful conditions and diffuses explosive situations
16. Manages personnel development
17. Generates passion within people
18. Develops others
19. Reduces the credibility gap between workers and management
20. Builds a “safe” environment: both physical and psychological safety

Analysis of the data

My survey asks five questions in each of the 20 dimensions, giving me 100 data points for each person who does the survey. Each person rates the 100 questions on a scale of 1 (does not display) to 5 (is a champion on this dimension).

I analyze each leader looking at four demographic levels; self, superiors, subordinates, and peers. I provide a tabulated form for each leader using a color-coded format that allows each person the ability to spot areas of particularly strong or weak performance. I do this by calculating the mean and standard deviation for each of the 100 questions. I also look at the covariation by level to see if there is a bias there.

Each leader, and the overall leader, has a quick way to determine the level of development that is required by the individual leader or perhaps, as is often the case, for the whole population of leaders.

Then I design development programs to address the areas that need improvement and further refine areas of strength.

Path forward

I often repeat the survey two or three years later to see if the development programs have had the desired impact. Also, sometimes a particular leader will call me back in to measure progress in his or her area.


It is important to use robust processes when evaluating the effectiveness of leaders prior to conducting an improvement program.


Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.

Talent Development 26 Communication

February 17, 2021

Section 1.1 in the CPTD Certification program for ATD is Communication. Section C reads, “Skill in conceiving, developing, and delivering information in various formats and media.”

I will share my process for injecting a great variety of communication tools in my leadership development work.

In a world where increasingly we do training and development remotely, it is imperative to spice up the content using a variety of communication methods to keep people from zoning out. Let’s apply this idea to several areas of leadership training.

Starting up

Have some kind of ice breaker or informal discussion to get people feeling comfortable with communicating openly. This activity is especially important if the group is just meeting for the first time.

Do not belabor this start-up ritual, but do provide some informal way to get things going. I like to go around the room and have all participants introduce themselves and state what they hope to get out of the training. Then I can make a comment.

For example, if one person says she wants to know how to build higher trust within her group, I might say “I’m glad you brought that subject up, Kathy. We will be covering the concept of building higher trust extensively in session two of this course.”


You can get people involved by asking them to come up with a lot of ideas on a specific topic. You can work as a large group or put people into breakout rooms for more intimate discussions. If you do the latter, make sure to have each room appoint a spokes person who can report ideas generated to the larger group once people return.


The use of PowerPoint or some other form of content delivery is essential to keep things on track, but you must avoid the “death by PowerPoint” syndrome. Here are some rules I use to keep the PPT from taking over and putting everyone to sleep.

1, Less than 5 bullets on each slide and less than 8 words per bullet
2. Use a plain white background
3. Include a photograph (not clip art) to illustrate the concept being discussed. Be sure to obtain a license for each photograph used. If you can find something humorous or provocative to illustrate your point, that helps.
4. Never read your slides. Talk about the concepts and ask questions. Engage the group.
5. Move quickly unless you are embellishing the content with a story or some kind of gag.
6. Switch in and out of the screen share frequently to add variety.


Work to add stories (humorous or serious) to help illustrate your points. Keep the stories brief and always ask if anyone in the group has a story they wish to add.


It helps to have some demonstrations with actual props. That practice engages the brain in a different way and keeps the mind fresh. I have several quirky demonstrations to enhance my training. For example, here is a brief video of a demonstration I call my “Trust Barometer.”


I use magic illusions to break up the presentation and to keep people fresh. The illusions need to be very well done and professional, and they must bear some relationship to the topic being discussed. For example, in a module on managing change, I might do a coin trick to help illustrate it.


I have a collection of over 200 videos I can draw on to liven the discussion and give participants a break from listening to me. Some of these are humorous and others are inspirational. The feedback from participants is always that the videos provide excellent inspirational content in a different format. I generally try to work in a video during every couple hours of classroom time. The videos range in time from 5 minutes to 25 minutes.

Role Playing

I have frequent role play exercises where I send people off in pairs or triplets to act out a scene. This technique gets tricky, because I need to arrange different scripts for each participant. It takes advanced planning to pull this off, and I need to pay attention to who is in which room. For example, if the role play is between a supervisor and a problem employee, each person will have instructions that look at the situation from just their point of view. They are blind to the point of view of the other person until the role play begins.


I insert polls on occasion so participants get physically involved in the presentation. It is important to debrief each poll stating the conclusion that can be drawn.


I use the various annotation tools to help provide emphasis on certain slides. I am careful to not overuse the technique frequently enough to annoy people. Perhaps one in 20 slides will be suitable for annotation in some form.


The chat room is an excellent way to get people involved or allow them to ask questions on the fly. The challenge here is to be able to monitor the chat while you are still facilitating the entire class. I find it difficult to keep up, so I normally appoint someone to monitor the chat and rotate the chore for each class to share the load.


Always allow time at the end of a session to debrief. Ask the group what went well for them and what things I might have done differently. Listen carefully to the input and make the appropriate adjustments for future sessions.


Delivering the content in this variety of ways makes the class time go quickly and helps the group retain the material longer. Participants report having a “great time” while learning some important new skills.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.

Talent Development 21 Data and Analytics

December 30, 2020

Section 3.7 in the CPTD Certification program for ATD is Data & Analytics. Section A reads, “Skill in selecting and/or using data visualization techniques, for example flow charts, graphs, plots, word clouds, and heat maps.”

The old cliché that a picture is worth a thousand words is really true. This is especially true when a lot of data is involved or there is a level of complexity.

Trying to explain the relationship between different concepts can be tricky in words, but the mind can quickly absorb a large amount of data immediately in a picture and draw a conclusion. This clarity of thought saves a lot of time in training, and it helps to keep people fresh.

Death by PowerPoint

Many trainers practice “Death by PowerPoint,” where they show numerous slides with a lot of words and then read the words to the audience, sometimes turning their back on the audience to read the screen.  People zone out quickly.

A real example

Let me share an example of a picture being more powerful than a word description. I compared the level of trust in an entire organization from data gathered at different levels in the organization.

I measured trust as perceived by the top leaders in the organization, the middle managers, the supervisors, and the lead operators.

First I will try to describe my observations in words, then I will show that a quick glance at a chart makes the whole concept much easier to absorb.

I asked leaders at several levels in an organization to rate their company on how much trust there is. The rating was 1 = low trust and 10 = high trust.

I then noted that leaders at the top of the organization (senior leaders) rated trust much higher than lower levels. People at lower levels perceived less trust in the organization.

A strange anomaly

At the Supervisor and Group Leader levels, a curious “hole” in the data began to emerge in the area of 5-6.

I puzzled over this hole in the data for quite a while. I now believe that when confronted with the challenge to identify the level of trust on a scale of 1-10, most people immediately considered 5 or 6 to be “average” (whatever that meant to them).

Then they thought, “well, we are somewhat better or worse than average,” so that gave rise to a cluster of votes lower than 5-6 and a cluster that were higher.

That word picture is pretty difficult to follow and remember, but a chart showing the same data is rather easy to interpret. The digits represent the number of people at each level that voted for a particular trust rating.

A chart spells it out more clearly








I hope you agree that this single diagram makes the complex situation much easier to understand and remember.

With the COVID 19 Pandemic of 2020, it is even more important to use visualization techniques. We are living in a hybrid world, with some people at the office and most people still working from home or satellite locations.  Even if the vaccines are effective in controlling the virus in the future, most futurists predict we will never go back to a full in-person workforce. 

There will likely always be a significant portion of people working from home. For these people, the ability to show concepts graphically will be increasingly important.

When you develop training programs, make sure to include visual aids that are easy to digest. Also, go easy on the number of words used to keep people from zoning out.


Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014).

In addition, he has authored over 1000 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.