Applying My Theories and Methods Inside My Own Organization

Posted by Ralph H. Kilmann

Applying My Theories and Methods Inside My Own Organization

Ralph H. Kilmann, co-author of the Thomas-Kilmann Instrument (TKI)

NOTE: This blog is abridged from my 12/1/2021 interview with Larry Yatch for ValiantCEO.


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 various creations can be sorted into eight tracks for quantum transformation: culture, skills, teams, strategy-structure, reward systems, and the three approaches to process management (gradual process, radical process, and learning process improvement). 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.

Dr. Kilmann Holding His New Book!

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.

After serving three decades at the University of Pittsburgh, I moved to Newport Beach in Southern California, where 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 my website for my courses, assessments, books, articles, and blogs.

As CEO of Kilmann Diagnostics, I am responsible for creating and maintaining a healthy culture for all members in my organization. This is especially crucial since the work of my e-learning company 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 5 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.

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 effective 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.

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 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!

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.

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.

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.

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 organization further reinforce the primacy of men over women, white 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 articular 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.

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’m 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 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.

Most recently, I’ve been doing my best to inspire the future of leadership/executive coaching, organization development, human resource management, and all varieties of mediation/negotiation by suggesting how we can (must) expand mind/body/spirit consciousness for all citizens and then bring that expanded consciousness into all our organizations and institutions. I’m convinced that the ultimate foundation of all human services (supporting personal growth, promoting mental, family, and community health, succeeding at organizational transformation, and healing the planet) is consciousness itself.


Kilmann Diagnostics offers a series of eleven recorded online courses and nine assessment tools on the four timeless topics: conflict management, change management, consciousness, and transformation. By taking these courses and passing the Final Exams, you can earn your Certification in Conflict and Change Management with the Thomas-Kilmann Instrument (TKI). For the most up-to-date and comprehensive discussion of Dr. Kilmann’s theories and methods, see his 2021 Legacy Book: Creating a Quantum Organization: The Whys & Hows of Implementing Eight Tracks for Long-term success.