Ralph Kilmann, Ph.D., is CEO of Kilmann Diagnostics (KD) in Newport Coast, California. In this capacity, he has created all of KD’s recorded online courses and assessment tools on conflict management, change management, expanding consciousness, and quantum transformation. Ralph’s online products are used by such high-profile organizations as Amazon, Bank of America, DuPont, Exxon Mobil, FedEx, GE, Google, Harvard University, JP Morgan Chase, Microsoft, NASA, Siemens, Twitter, the U.S. Army, and the World Health Organization.
Ralph earned both his B.S. in graphic arts management and M.S. in industrial administration from Carnegie Mellon University in 1970 and a Ph.D. degree in the behavioral sciences in management and social systems design from the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1972. After Ralph left UCLA, he immediately began his professional career as an Assistant Professor at the Katz School of Business, University of Pittsburgh. In 1991, the faculty awarded him the George H. Love Professorship of Organization and Management, which he held until 2002 when he relinquished his tenured faculty position. Instead of staying in Pittsburgh, Ralph moved to the West Coast, since he wanted to fulfill his California Dream, which led to the creation of Kilmann Diagnostics.
Ralph is an internationally recognized authority on systems change. He has consulted for numerous corporations throughout the United States and Europe, including AT&T, IBM, Ford, General Electric, Lockheed, Olivetti, Philips, TRW, Wolseley, and Xerox. He has also consulted for numerous healthcare, financial, and government organizations, including the U.S. Bureau of the Census and the Office of the U.S. President.
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Table of Contents
We’re happy that you could join us today! Please introduce yourself to our readers. What’s your story?
Ralph Kilmann: I spent 30 years as a professor in the Katz Graduate School of Business, University of Pittsburgh, where I created all my theories and methods for helping organizations achieve long-term success. My methods and assessment tools cover eight tracks of quantum transformation: culture, skills, teams, strategy structure, reward systems, and the three approaches to process management (gradual process, radical process, and learning process improvement). But it all begins and ends with culture… the usually silent norms that powerfully dictate how members should interact with one another on the job. All the other change initiates will soon fade out if the cultural norms do not support doing things in new ways.
I developed a quantitative measure of Culture-Gaps so that groups and organizations can identify their most troublesome culture gaps that stand in the way of long-term success… so members can then proceed to close the gaps to satisfy and delight all internal and external stakeholders. I recently integrated ALL my theories and methods into my legacy book: Creating a Quantum Organization, which includes separate chapters on each of the eight tracks and then concludes with the 20 critical success factors that must be honored in order to succeed at quantum transformation.
CEOs and leaders usually have different motives and aspirations when getting started. Let’s go straight to the beginning. What was your primary goal for starting your business? Was it wealth, respect, or to offer a service that would help improve lives?
Ralph Kilmann: After serving 30 years at the University of Pittsburgh, I decided to create an Online Learning Platform that would allow participants around the world to learn my theories and methods by taking a sequence of eleven online courses and nine assessment tools, In essence, I created my own university so I could continue serving the world with my work, no longer having to rely on my association with any brick-and-mortar educational institution.
My goal? Kilmann Diagnostics LLC is dedicated to resolving conflict throughout the world by providing my series of online courses and assessment tools on quantum transformation. You can visit the website for my courses, assessments, books, articles, and blogs… which I created during the past 50 years!
Tell us about 2 things that you like and two things that you dislike about your industry. Share what you’d like to see change and why.
Ralph Kilmann: I love that people love to learn, not only about the world and the marketplace but also about themselves. I love it when people have a genuine interest and desire to improve their organizations, so everyone can be more productive and satisfied with their work-life. I dislike that many organizations do NOT encourage people to learn and grow, but seem most interested in maintaining the status quo, even in the face of an increasingly dynamic and complex world.
I dislike that some people show little tolerance for people who are different from them in any way, so they are not able to make use of diversity in solving our complex problems, which can never be solved by single solutions that are based on only one perspective.
Companies around the world are rapidly changing their work environment and organizational culture to facilitate diversity. How do you see your organizational culture changing in the next 3 years and how do you see yourself creating that change?
Ralph Kilmann: As CEO, I am responsible for creating and maintaining a healthy culture for all members of my organization. This is especially crucial since the work of Kilmann Diagnostics is helping OTHER organizations diagnose and then improve their company culture, so all other change initiatives (skills training, team building, strategy changes, structure changes, reward system changes) will take place continually and effectively.
We, at Kilmann Diagnostics, MUST practice what we preach. Indeed, the first thing I say when I begin working with a new person is that we MUST apply all the principles and practices of our own material to our organization… or all that material is not worth a thing. And we must do that day in and day out with every interaction. As such, our focus now for the next 3 years (and beyond) is to continually improve our culture, skills, teamwork, etc. just as we strive to help other organizations do the same for themselves.
According to the Michigan State University “An organization’s culture is responsible for creating the kind of environment in which the business is managed, and has a major impact on its ultimate success or failure.” What kind of culture has your organization adopted and how has it impacted your business?
Ralph Kilmann: Most discussions on company culture are vague, ideological, and philosophical… but not practical or actionable so that the culture can actually be improved. As such, since the early 1980s, I have focused on the concrete behavioral norms, also called cultural norms, that dictate, “how we do things around here.” However, in most organizations today, those cultural norms are unwritten and not discussed, and yet they have such a powerful impact on performance and satisfaction.
Here are some actual culture norms that are flourishing in many organizations, without being seen as such, let alone discussed: “Don’t disagree with the boss; don’t make waves, treat women as second-class citizens, complain about everything, look busy even if you are not, don’t trust other groups; don’t get caught sharing information with other groups; put down the work of others, and the like. Instead of these typical ACTUAL cultural norms, at Kilmann Diagnostics (and the work with other organizations), we create and apply the DESIRED cultural norms as follows: Take the chance of sharing your ideas with others, work effectively with other groups in the organization (we are all on the same team), support other members’ efforts to improve things and try new ways of doing things, speak up if you observe anyone not being treated with dignity and respect, value diversity since that’s the only way we can solve complex problems in today’s world, look for different points of view and make sure the quieter members are drawn into every discussion.
By having regular discussions about our cultural norms and making sure that people are following our DESIRED culture norms, our culture should enable us to respond quickly to changes in the business environment and to behave in a way in which every member feels valued, appreciated, and respected. An adaptive culture like this creates the greatest opportunity for long-term success and satisfaction for all concerned.
Richard Branson once famously stated “There’s no magic formula for great company culture. The key is just to treat your staff how you would like to be treated.” and Stephen R. Covey admonishes to “Always treat your employees exactly as you want them to treat your best customers. What’s your take on creating a great organizational culture?
Ralph Kilmann: Such statements of culture by those well-known people, although surely based on genuine intentions, do not result in effective ACTION to create and maintain a healthy culture. Such pronouncements as, “treat everyone well, and treat employees as you would treat your customers,” say nothing about WHAT SPECIFIC BEHAVIORS are actually required to create a healthy culture, as opposed to mere rhetoric and platitudes and dreams.
Instead of trying to create a healthy culture with noble words about treating everyone according to “the golden rule,” it’s more effective to specify the EXACT BEHAVIORS, which can be readily observed to see if management and employees are actually following the stated cultural guidelines. As such, by specifying the specific cultural norms will enable everyone to observe if the cultural guidelines are really being followed or if everyone is simply saying the right things but doing something entirely different when it counts.
For example, having a cultural norm, “come to meetings on time, since we need everyone present to address our complex challenges,” makes it easy to tell if people are actually coming to meetings on time, or if they arrive when they please. Late-arriving members can then be confronted as to why they are late while also reminding them that the desired cultural norm is to arrive at all meetings on time.
Similarly, the more specific the behavior that manifests the desired culture will always allow members to tell if the new culture is operating as intended or if people are merely given lip service to their cultural wishes and doing what they always did before the fanfare about a new corporate culture.
How would you describe your company’s overall culture? Give us examples.
Ralph Kilmann: We have weekly meetings where we always discuss how things are going, what needs to be improved, how we can work better together, and to ensure that everyone feels free to express their true views, experiences, and opinions. We remind one another that we would be HYPOCRITES if we did not apply to ourselves what we are providing to our clients and customers with respect to a healthy culture, updated skills for addressing complex problems, effective teamwork, and so forth.
We explicitly discuss our DESIRED cultural norms and make sure we bring any deviations to anyone’s attention. Without monitoring and sanctioning effective cultural behavior, the culture will go negative and dysfunctional if left alone. That is human nature. Instead, we make it EXPLICIT, behavioral focused, and we then monitor the behavior and point out when the desired cultural norms are being violated. It’s tough to stay focused and specific on culture, but it works!
It is believed that a company’s culture is rooted in a company’s values. What are your values and how do they affect daily life at the workplace?
Ralph Kilmann: Having a discussion on values, keeps the discussion on culture much too vague to operationalize. People can talk for hours about their values and nothing changes. They can write their values down, print them on coffee cups and posters, but that does not mean that those general and vague platitudes to treat people well will actually be used in practice. So, ironically, talking about values merely avoids the tough issues of cultural change: If actual behavior and attitudes don’t change on the job and are not in line with what is needed for long-term success, it is totally irrelevant what values are documented and displayed.
It is a delay tactic. It is a way of avoiding the subject. A discussion on values prevents people from improving their cultural behavior in the workplace. Skip the vague statement of values, philosophies, and ideologies and get right down to the specific work of behavioral change on the job. Listing, discussing, and confronting people on their specific behavior will lead to change in the workplace.
An organization’s management has a deep impact on its culture. What is your management style and how well has it worked so far?
Ralph Kilmann: It’s essential to set the best example of the kind of behavior and attitudes you want to witness in others… whether employees or customers or other key stakeholders. No amount of talk (or idle rhetoric) can overcome hypocritical pronouncements that suggest, in essence: “Do as I say, not as I do” Leaders, managers, supervisions must be flawless in modeling the behavior they expect to see in others.
Every organization suffers from internal conflicts, whether functional or dysfunctional. Our readers would love to know, how do you solve an internal conflict?
Ralph Kilmann: I co-created the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument, also known as the TKI. That self-report instrument shows which of the five conflict modes a person might be using too much or too little: competing, collaborating, compromising, avoiding, and accommodating. Instead of using one or two conflict modes in every situation and ignoring the other available modes all the time, it’s best to enact the conflict mode that best fits the eight key attributes of the situation, regarding the level of stress, the amount of trust, the time available for discussion, the relative importance of the topic to each person, whether it’s important for the relationship to last, and so on.
So, I first assess the attributes of the situation and then select the conflict mode that is most likely to satisfy the most important needs of each person, as the situation allows. By modeling this conflict management behavior, my employees and customer get to see that most conflicts can be used to generate synergistic solutions that satisfy the people in the situation, rather than one person (the boss) being satisfied with everyone else dissatisfied and disappointed. Managing conflict well is one of the best ways of discovering and implementing creative solutions to complex messes, at home and at work.
According to Culture AMP, Only 40% of women feel satisfied with the decision-making process at their organization (versus 70% of men), which leads to job dissatisfaction and poor employee retention. What is your organization doing to facilitate an inclusive and supportive environment for women?
Ralph Kilmann: In many societies, women are expected to accommodate the men in the situation, while men are socialized to assert themselves so they can get their needs met. The cultural norms in many organizations further reinforce the primacy of men over women, whites over blacks, managers over direct reports, senior members over new recruits, etc., which might be contrary to WHO actually has the most knowledge, information, wisdom, and talent to address a particular problem or conflict.
But when the cultural norms are changed to support bringing all the relevant knowledge to bear on any problem, irrespective of where that knowledge resides (in a woman, a man, a white person, a black person, a straight person, a gay/lesbian person, etc.) then the organization has the best chance of fully utilizing its human resources in order to achieve long-term success for all key internal and external stakeholders. But any organization that differentially values one category of persons over another will always prevent that organization from achieving success… to everyone’s detriment.
We’re grateful for all that you have shared so far! We would also love to know if there was one thing that you could improve about your company’s culture, what would it be?
Ralph Kilmann: Gradually, the culture in my company, based on my example, is encouraging all employees to further expand their mind/body/spirit consciousness so they can bring even more of themselves into the workplace. I encourage everyone to explore their early traumas, see their patterns and defense mechanisms, pay attention to the tensions, signs, and signals in their body (which suggest when something is working well and when it isn’t), and to really know and feel that they are more than just their minds and their bodies: everyone can tap into the universal consciousness (what C.G. Jung called the Collective Unconscious), which is where all knowledge and information reside.
But expanding everyone’s consciousness, employees can have transcendent conversations that download amazing insights and wisdom from our Holographic Universe, which has always been the source of the most creative and inspiring solutions to any current problem or conflict.
This has been truly insightful and we thank you for your time. Our final question, however, might be a bit of a curveball. If you had a choice to either fly or be invisible, which would you choose and why?
Ralph Kilmann: I’d like to fly… so I can visit many more people, see many more places, and thus experience — and absorb — much more wisdom and passion. When the time is right, I will then be invisible 🙂
Larry Yatch, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Ralph Kilmann for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Ralph Kilmann or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
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