The Human Effect



If vision is where you are going, culture is how you get there.

Change is an important topic for almost every organisation, and often a necessity to stay relevant and competitive in the world of tomorrow. To realise change takes, first of all, a clear vision and strategy. But when an organisational culture fails to keep pace with the strategy and goals, an envisioned change can easily lead to resistance, conflicts, stress, and discontent. The Human Effect operates from the fundamental conviction that an innovative vision and cultural change must go hand in hand to build High Performance Organisations.

Our philosophy and way of working are informed by various thinkers in management and organisational science. Otto Scharmer's Theory U method is the foundation to our approach: this method structurally incorporates both the 'hard' and the 'soft' sides of change. This helps organisations ask and answer questions such as: what is our situation, what do we need to do? What interests and desires are involved, on the personal, group, and societal levels? What can we observe and experience in our organisational culture? What risks and paradoxes are we encountering? Do we feel comfortable discussing these openly and honestly?

Amy Edmondson, a researcher at the Harvard Business School, has proposed that an honest and critical dialogue about such questions is crucial to help organisations grow into High-Performance Organisations. These are organisations that perform excellently on a wide range of parameters – not just financial results, but also delivering cutting-edge innovations, high employee and stakeholder satisfaction, ESG leadership, an attractive profile on the labour market, and so on.

Many organisations have the ambition to deliver such an excellent performance across many dimensions, but few of them succeed. Edmondson asked herself what it is exactly that makes this small number of organisations so much more effective than others. And she concluded that organisations that excel to this degree, tend to put significantly more emphasis on developing the leadership of people within the organisation. And while many organisations focus only on strategy, execution, processes and structures, High-Performance Organisations structurally invest in improving the interpersonal dynamics in the organisation.

The culture of High-Performance Organisations

Edmondson developed the following model to describe the different cultures within organisations.

The top left section represents the anxiety zone. The top left section represents the anxiety zone. When this 'culture of toughness' governs an organisation, people tend to experience a lot of pressure to perform and a low level of psychological safety. While people in such organisations tend to work very hard, they are often afraid to take responsibility for mistakes, and employee churn is usually high. As a result, the organisation's ability to learn is negatively affected. Conversely, the bottom right section is the comfort zone,representing a 'soft' corporate culture where psychological safety is high. This, however, often comes at the cost of people's sense of responsibility and the clarity of expectations, both in terms of performance and behaviour.

People are fully empowered to bring out the best in themselves when their organisation succeeds at maintaining clear expectations and performance norms as well as a climate of psychological safety. That culture of learning and performing (the upper-right section) defines High-Performance Organisations.

Achieving that culture requires investing in interaction and leadership. After all, it requires that leaders – managers and key players – within an organisation can communicate flexibly in ways that are both clear and normative, as well as self-reflective and vulnerable. The Human Effect helps them develop specific leadership competences on three different levels.

Core competences of the High Performance Organisation

The Human Effect's HPO programmes are focused on developing the substantive and relational compentences that leaders and teams need to establish and sustainably maintain a High Performance & Learning culture.

We develop these competences through a variety of methods: group sessions, reflections, workshops, coaching on-the-job and role playing with the support of professional actors. In the process, we are not afraid to face and address the less polished sides of ourselves and our organisations.

The following competences are developed:

Emotional literacy Building awareness of our own emotions and those of others. Dealing with interpersonal and intrapersonal tensions and insecurities. Recognising, understanding and discussing our instinctive response patterns.

Perspectivistic flexibility Open-minded strategic thinking. Improving listening skills. Coaching one another. Exploring our assumptions and testing them with others. Communicating expectations and feedback. Engaging in constructive conflicts.

Group dynamics Understanding systemic processes and learning how to intervene constructively. Evaluating dynamics through the 'helicopter perspective'. Practice taking the minority position and daring to stand alone. Maintaining focus and leveraging natural authority.

Measurable results

  • To help organisations track their growth towards High Performance Organisations, The Human Effect has developed a unique measuring tool. This enables us to quantify the following key performance indicators:
    Where are leaders (managers/key players) positioned in the HPO quadrant? How effective are they felt to be in terms of facilitating psychological safety and setting clear and high expectations?
  • Where are the teams positioned in the HPO quadrant? How do employees evaluate themselves and their colleagues in terms of effective and desirable behaviour?

To measure these results, we use an app with built-in questionnaires that we ask all leaders and team members to fill out (anonymously). Immediately afterwards, we will lead an open and honest conversation about the results. In coordination with leaders and teams, we will devise action plans to take further steps towards a High Performing & Learning culture. We will repeat the measurement regularly over the course of the programme, enabling us to track and demonstrate progress.

Working in the here-and-now

Crucial to our way of working is the concept of the 'here-and-now'. This means that we put real-time self-reflection and the practice of interpersonal interactions at the heart of our process.

Working in the here-and-now ensures that everyone who participates in THE's programmes becomes more aware of the effects of their behaviour and their interactive patterns. We should not be afraid to talk about emotions. We also teach participants to use the 'here-and-now' themselves and leverage this as an effective instrument when leading group discussions (team meetings, stand-ups, etc.). You will learn while doing, on the spot, in a way that resonates both intellectually and emotionally. This makes our programmes especially impactful and ensures lasting results.

Working in the here-and-now is an effective approach to reduce conflicts, tensions, and resistance in organisations. Many problems in organisations are not primarily caused by substantive failures, but by behaviour that is counterproductive – rushes to judgment, undue anger, narrowed understandings of a situation. Especially when 'something is on the line' and emotions play a part – for example when we find ourselves dependent on others, experience a loss of control, become frustrated by lack of progress – it becomes easy to respond in an emotionally charged, instinctual way. Such patterns can have a strong negative impact on organisational cultures – and they cannot be addressed through purely substantive (strategic, process-based...) measures.

Leadership that is capable of transcending everyday conflicts, helping an organisation develop, and 'getting everyone on the same page', requires a high level of behavioural awareness. By working in the 'here-and-now', we help leaders and teams develop these crucial skills – with tangible, measurable, and lasting results.