The Circular Mean of Organizational Transformation

… Or maybe …

A Perhaps more nuanced and practical application of Rohn’s Average of Five rule.

Circular Mean Equation, the average of Angles
Circular Mean Equation, the average of Angles

I probably lost half the potential readers of this blog post by just posting a picture of that equation. But fear not intrepid reader! There is no math required for this post. Its more an observational approach of a topic that has made the rounds for years. A topic that has elements of behavioral truth – and how it matters when you are involved in doing big organizational turn-arounds, or transformational changes. It’s also not as heady as I may have led you to think.

I guess it was about 10 years ago that I heard about this concept called the ‘The Average of 5 Rule’. It is originally attributed to Jim Rohn, a motivational speaker. The basic premise is that YOU become the average of the 5 people you surround yourself with most. If the group of people that you hang around with tend to be motivated and action oriented people, you tend to be more inclined to take action. If you find that you surround yourself under-achievers you may not strive as hard. Can you hear your mother’s voice about the friends you are hanging around? I sure can.

If you surround yourself with positive people, you will be positive. If you surround yourself with negative people your world view will skew negative. I have seen this dynamic across countless teams and in my opinion its at the heart of the differences between high performing teams and teams that are stuck in the mud. I see it across larger groups too. Just think about the giant echo chambers we see developing in society today. There is something there. I think.

Over the years I have seen this concept debated back and forth with some people taking a very literal interpretation of Rohn’s statement and others taking a more nuanced view of it. Let me stop you right here, If you haven’t heard of this concept before, a quick Internet search will bring up hundreds of links (pro and con) and even videos. If you get a chance to listen or watch any videos from Jim, I think you will find him to be a compelling speaker. At least I do… and to be honest, its probably a good quality to have if you want to be a successful ‘motivational speaker’ which he was.

For myself, I have never taken a hard-line, literal interpretation of this and have approached it in a more nuanced way. Because depending upon the lens or angle that observer evaluates your group of five with it will likely tend to be generally correct. 

Wait just a second there! People are not robots. We have free will. What you are saying is poppycock! Take your charlatan views elsewhere. We are people of science.

Of course. Everyone is different, and of course free-will comes into play and one can do whatever they want. You don’t have to be the average. In fact I actually try and bet on the power of individuality in breaking through the larger negative tenants of changing culture in an organization. Nothing changes unless its organic and authentic. Sometimes as the leader you may have to give it a few pushes, nudges, or knocks to get that started and one of the best ways is to encourage or boost that self-actualization in people.

If I was divulging recipes in how I think about leadership it is actually an important factor in how I have actioned change and led management teams throughout my career. In my opinion it becomes incredibly more important if I am being asked to drive transformation or change. You are given a team or teams, all of which have preexisting cultural averages (Actually multi-dimensional average of five rules! – Hey!I thought you said there would be no math) in both the large and the small.

Its not as simple as just saying the Average of Five. The Average of five rule should be viewed from various angles or perspectives. No person or team is one dimensional, but when viewed from multiple angles you can start to determine the true shape of a team and its culture. Once determined, you as the leader can help change the make-up of the dynamics in driving better results on your averages.

In effect its not just the rule of the average of five, its the average of the angles. By the way, if you were wondering – that is what I was trying to reference in the equation above. It is how you calculate the average of angles in Non-Euclidian Geometry.

Again with the math! You said no math!

The trick here is knowing that what is observed is truly observed but its only through one angle or view. It comes from the vantage point from where you alone stand and which angle you are looking at it from. Spending the time to look at people, teams, interactions and cultures is important in transformative situations, doing it from the different angles – even more so. Collecting that feedback from others is equally important to ensure that your own biases aren’t coming into play. It is a basic precept in changing organizational cultures. If you can influence team dynamics by looking at the averages of five and introducing the kinds of change you are looking for – you change the average. Now getting that right takes experience, understanding, and real time spent looking at the various averages of angles. But it does provide you with a useful tool for assessment.

New blood from either inside (perhaps other internal groups) or outside (new hires) the organization is a key tactic in this approach. But its not the only one. Introducing different rewards and outcomes and offering other types of incentives can also drive the right kinds of change and expectations. Usually its a mixture of both that can take an under-performing team and make it great.

Give it time

If you ever try and use this technique, there is another key factor – time. Teams and cultures do not change over night. Neither does the average of five or my more complexly nuanced average of angles. Giving it the time, and having the patience to let those changes take place is important. Many times the desire (and likely pressure) to drive change quickly will cause you undue stress and try to force you into a situation to show results more quickly. All I can caution is patience in these scenarios. People, systems, and cultures are complex things. Just as you spent time up front evaluating those angles, you need to ensure you give yourself the gift of ongoing observation as the changes take place.

If you have ever had to replace an engine or vital component in a machine or car, built your own custom computer rig, or any other project like that – you know that you spend the time to ensure you have lubricated what needs lubricating, greased what needs greasing, tightened what you need to tighten… and then you try to start it up. Despite all the prep work you have done, the machine still needs to operate on its own before you can declare victory…or… figure out what you may have missed. An extra turn of a screw here, a little tightening there, a little tweaking of the computer settings or parameters there – and only then are you truly off and running. This approach is no different. Its work. Its staying vigilant. Its paying attention.

There are no magic mathematical formulas here. It’s work. It’s team dynamics. It’s people. Even veteran leaders get it wrong until they get it right and the only way to get it right is to continue to observe. From all angles. You never really quit tweaking as the equation keeps changing.


2 thoughts on “The Circular Mean of Organizational Transformation

  1. Read it a couple of times. Loved it.

    “If you can influence team dynamics by looking at the averages of five and introducing the kinds of change you are looking for – you change the average.” – so true. Loved it; lived it.

    For a winning team, I go back to the example I have used multiple times – even with my small team @Fiserv. Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan. Jordan never came close to a championship ring until Phil Jackson ( in my mind, the right type of leader) entered the ring and transformed the team and brought the right type of players Michael needed to be around him to win championship. In other words, Phil brought in changes that changed the average of five and changed the dynamics of the team to a championship team – through organization ( team, in this case) transformation. Same Jordan who didn’t have a ring ended up with six – but not without the transformation that lead to a higher “average of 5”. Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe also needed the same organizational transformation from Jackson before they won their championships. But this is where average of angles came in. Type of changes required in Bulls organization was different than that was required in Lakers to get the same results.

    Loved reading it. Keep posting.

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