How TotalSDI Can Serve Organizations

In my time at Greystone Technology, it was an honor (and a blast) to be in the room as we explored improving, enhancing, and expanding the company culture. One week, in preparation for our leadership team meeting, Peter Melby, one of Greystone’s owners, sent us an HBR article that opened with the following lines:

“To an extent that we ourselves are only beginning to appreciate, most people at work, even in high-performing organizations, divert considerable energy every day to a second job that no one has hired them to do: preserving their reputations, putting their best selves forward, and hiding their inadequacies from others and themselves. We believe this is the single biggest cause of wasted resources in nearly every company today.

What would happen if people felt no need to do this second job? What if, instead of hiding their weaknesses, they were comfortable acknowledging and learning from them? What if companies made this possible by creating a culture in which people could see their mistakes not as vulnerabilities but as prime opportunities for personal growth?”

How provocative! How thrilling to imagine a culture where one could be vulnerable and open in their work, without fear! And as leaders, how exciting to imagine less wasted time, higher productivity, and increased retention.

The article goes on to describe these “Deliberately Developmental Organizations” in detail and is well worth reading.

As I have moved into my relationship awareness work with the TotalSDI suite of assessments, I am struck at how brilliantly TotalSDI serves this aim of becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization.

First, engaging with TotalSDI can normalize conversations about strengths and “weaknesses.” The authors of the article state,

“…[P]eople grow through the proper combination of challenge and support, which includes recognizing and transcending their blind spots, limitations, and internal resistance to change. For this approach to succeed, employees must be willing to reveal their inadequacies at work—not just their business-as-usual, got-it-all-together selves—and the organization must create a trustworthy and reliable community to make such exposure safe.”

All too often, emotions and defenses begin to rise as we discuss difficult areas of ourselves, but such discussions are necessary for real growth to occur. Fortunately, the very language of TotalSDI de-fangs and diffuses these conversations from the beginning by changing the verbiage away from that of “weaknesses,” preferring instead the idea of “overdone strengths.”

Relationship Awareness Theory, on which TotalSDI is founded, sees weaknesses NOT as immutable inherent flaws that can never be conquered, but rather as strengths that have at times served one well, but become destructive when overdone.

For example, persevering is a great strength in maintaining focus through difficulties and obstacles. We all would aspire to be people who persevere. BUT, if one were to persevere to the point that other’s views or preferences were disregarded or violated, that easily becomes the overdone strength of stubbornness. Stubbornness is the dark side of persevering. When seen in this light, a conversation about this “weakness” becomes much easier because it focuses on the positive origin and not the negative results.

Furthermore, engaging with TotalSDI allows for a measure of healthy triangulation in conversations that can easily become emotionally charged. The focus can move from confrontational (We need to discuss your stubbornness…) to collaborative (In your Strengths Portrait, you’ve noted that persevering is high on your strengths. What happens when that strength gets overdone?). While we don’t want to diminish personal responsibility for how we engage with others, simply having an external assessment as the focal point of a conversation allows individuals to discuss sensitive matters with a healthy layer of detachment.

Side note: Greystone Technology has continued to develop their culture work as Peter and the rest of Greystone’s leadership continue to disrupt traditional HR practices in favor of an approach that engages the whole person. Check out Peter’s “Boss or Babysitter” initiative for more at!