Good Interpersonal Communication – Without It You Can’t Be Successful at Home or at Work

In reviewing my Blogs, I noticed that my post on Communication remains the most read, by a large margin, of all my Blogs.  It has been read in over 90 countries.

Here it is again for those who haven’t seen it or for those who might enjoy reading it again!  I hope these ideas lead to a happier, more fulfilling environment in your homes and workplaces and to much greater, more sustainable success!


CommunicationTwo major life events have consumed and defined my year 2014: completion of The DNA of the Resilient Organization and the passing of my father, Robert Joseph Van Handel. They are surely the heaviest impact events of my life. In working on both areas today, I was hit by the realization that the most important factor in achieving success in both our personal and work lives is Communication.

How many people, in realizing that they are coming to the end of their lives, contemplate the relationships that could have been more fruitful and more joyous if they had taken more steps to improve Communication? Most, if not all, I am sure. My Dad certainly did. As his eldest and the one closest to him geographically and emotionally in both early and late years, I was privileged to hear and to understand that about him. He had great regrets.

As the confidante of hundreds of leaders and observer of their companies, I can attest to the heavy impact and needless damage caused by insufficient and ineffective communication among leaders and with their troops. Most leaders don’t see the cause of their internal problems as inadequate communication.

In The DNA of the Resilient Organization, I describe the Barriers to Successful Change. They are ALL related to ineffective communication.

1. People aren’t listened to (or perceive they aren’t).
2. People from diverse levels and related groups aren’t sufficiently involved in planning.
3. People don’t trust one another – because leaders don’t sufficiently exercise or promote open communication and sharing.
4. People are afraid of failure because penalties for failing are greater than the rewards for taking risk.

Those same barriers get in the way of good family relationships and lead to unresolved family differences, jealousies, and walls between one another. The greatest loss from lack of interpersonal, proactive (even occasionally confrontational) communication in both our home and work lives is the inability to build environments of joy. Effective communication leads to a happier, more fulfilling environment in homes and in workplaces.

Gratitude and Uniqueness!

2015 was a phenomenal year for me, a year of life accomplishments and awards.  When a year like this occurs, what does it mean and how do we respond? I believe it is important to share our journey with the people we touch. We can inspire them to greater hope and faith whatever their current situation may be. Rewards for hard work and faith do come if we focus on goals and on our greater purpose.

Big Events of 2015:

  1. Teaching second year graduate students at Willamette University’s Atkinson Graduate School of Management was one of the most joyful, gratifying experiences of my life. The students were wonderful and the work was a stimulating challenge.

LY SS5882 Will Classroom 1The semester of teaching was also one of the most all-consuming, relentless-focus experiences of my life! 

The experience-based, exercise-focused course was based partially on my book, The DNA of the Resilient Organization and  also  on the other books which were significant inspirations for my work over the last 25 years:  The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge; A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink; Diagnostic Interviewing, John Quay; The Art of War, Sun Tsu; and Absolute Honesty, Larry Johnson and Bob Phillips

One student summarized the course with a central sentence from the book: “Successfully and sustainably accomplishing organizational change is simple – build both Ability and Desire at the same time.” The University said that my unique accomplishment with the book was that it linked two disciplines: Organization Development and Risk Management.

  1. My second major event of 2015 was a huge surprise. My 2003 article, “How to Effectively Implement Change”, was chosen by the Journal of Corporate Accounting and Finance as one of the “Top Articles of All-Time” in their 30 years of publishing.  The Journal featured the article again in their “Best of” May/June 2015 Edition – #1 on the cover.

JCAF May-June 2015 Cover

The JCAF is a juried professional publication, available by subscription only. Selection of the best articles was by their Editorial Board of leaders representing national corporations, universities and libraries.

Selection of my article was based on two criteria: 1) Enduring usefulness and 2) Most accessed online.

 3. award_bigThe third 2015 honor/accomplishment was receiving the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco award: “The Ray Dezember Award for Epitomizing the Meaning of the Fed Family.” This was especially meaningful because Ray Dezember was a friend and director of the Federal Reserve Bank from Bakersfield,  the honor was given at the annual “Fed Family” meeting in San Francisco, and it was a big surprise!

 Now What?

So, my question was, what do I do with phenomenal gifts like these? How can I thank God for these incredibly wonderful events that happened all within one year?  I know the answer should be “Share” but the follow-on question is “How”?

The answer came recently with an invitation received only 10 hours before an Oregon Christian Chamber of Commerce event. I immediately accepted, partially because of the topic: Passion Drives Business: Inspiring Employees and Fostering Consumer Loyalty.

The speaker was Justine Haigh, Director of the Fulltime MBA program at George Fox University and Professor of Marketing. In her presentation I heard the answer to my question, “How?”

Justine’s message was that we can thank God and simultaneously achieve greater success and fulfillment for ourselves, our people, and our organization by sharing our unique gifts. We frequently find our uniqueness after periods of great trial, times when we are “crippled” in some way by devastating events: financial, family tragedy, debilitating illness or injury.

To use Justine’s words, really tough times “turn us inside out.” We then have two possible reactions: 1) Give up and retreat or, as Winston Churchill said, we can 2) “Never, never, ever, ever, ever give up”. We can keep going, step by step, and use the devastation to find our unique strengths and gifts. As that occurs, we build great personal passion which can inspire all those around us and lead to success we never imagined in directions we could never have anticipated.

Justine gave many examples of people who have done just that, very publicly. Here are a few:

These people found their uniqueness and took their organizations to new heights as a result of challenging life events.  They gained personal strength in tough times and developed their own unique direction, which resulted in great success for themselves and their organizations.

“Happiness is not about self-gratification.  It is about finding purpose.” — Helen Keller

“Don’t waste your time living someone else’s life.  Don’t let others be your voice.” — Steve Jobs, Commencement Speech at Stanford University

“We need to develop an authentic corporate cause.” Mohan Nair

“We need to expand from our organization ‘Mission’ to develop our ‘Cause’.” Justine Haigh 

I certainly have found that an attitude of Gratitude and Hope, especially when going through tough times, will guide you to your unique self. Utilizing your unique gifts for greater good is the best way to thank God, to become more resilient, and to achieve true Joy.



Joy – The Result of Unity/Resilience


I learned today that Beethoven wrote his immensely successful Ninth Symphony to convince people that the only way to Joy is through unity. In writing it, he became so absorbed and then personally infected that by the time he and, ultimately, his audience came to the “Ode to Joy”, they were consumed by it.

Beethoven read Friedrich Schiller’s “Ode to Joy” poem and started setting it to music in 1793 when he was only 22.  He returned to his “Ode to Joy” themes numerous times over his lifetime but did not complete a piece of music on it until he was commissioned to write the Ninth Symphony in 1822. He wanted to introduce the human voice to this special symphony about Joy and became the first classical composer to include a chorus and soloists within a  symphony.

The Ninth Symphony intended to reflect Schiller’s themes about human conflict resolved by unity. The Symphony’s fourth, “Ode to Joy”, movement begins with outrage and tumult, then restates themes from the first three movements, but interrupted and rejected – signifying conflict. A new theme is introduced, is slowly accepted, and ends with a triumphant statement of the new theme. Human voices are introduced to sing the new theme, “O friends, not these tones. Instead, let us sing more pleasing and joyful ones.” Beethoven’s objective was to display two concepts: the universal brotherhood of man through joy, and love of the heavenly father.

Without knowing the Beethoven story behind the Ninth Symphony, Joy is also how I ended my recent book about the concepts and strategies for sustainably achieving organization change, The DNA of the Resilient Organization When I began writing the final chapter, I recalled that when organizations achieved the higher levels of unity that lead to greater Resilience, they also reached high levels of organizational Joy. I realized that unity and joy are linked. That is the surprise and wonderful result of working towards unity/resilience!

“By now, you should understand that Resilience = Unity . . . And that true unity leads to joy. The greater the unity, the greater the resilience. . .

“Unity, a collective heartbeat, is achieved with organizational wisdom and strength. The greater the collective Wisdom and Strength, the more likely the entity is to achieve a collective heartbeat, as . . . winning teams . . . all demonstrate.

“It is unity – with one another and with the Higher Power – that enables individuals to take risks, to innovate, to work zealously to accomplish the Mission and achieve the Vision. Unity enables resilience and, ultimately, the Joy of working for a greater good that sustains resilience.”

Excerpts from Chapter 10, The DNA of the Resilient Organization – How One Collective Heartbeat Creates Continuous Competitive Advantage.




My New Course – A Unique Linking of Two Disciplines

My new adventure – teaching a graduate course at Willamette University’s Atkinson Graduate School of Management – starts August 26. Clients, friends and family keep asking “What is the course about?” Its base is my new book, The DNA of the Resilient Organization, expanded to teach the skills necessary to effectively accomplish the concepts.

Clients, readers of my book, and Willamette University professors have said that the Book is very important because it is the first to link two major disciplines: Organization Development and Risk Management. 

In other words, the book and the course teach how to unify an organization’s people while simultaneously building high quality infrastructure to support their work. The result is greater Resilience. Several experts have said the Book is the first true sequel to Peter Senge’s Fifth Discipline, written in 1990. The DNA of the Resilient Organization moves several steps beyond – to organization Unity/Resilience.

Here is a description of the course, which is titled, “Enterprise Risk Reduction for Sustainable Growth”:

This course is the first to link Organization Development and Risk Management. Linking the two enables resilience. When the two disciplines are effectively linked, the result is sustainable change, leading to greater unity/resilience.

Contrary to popular perception, Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) need not stifle innovation. Effective ERM, linked with strong Organization Development, can assure successful and sustainable accomplishment. Therefore, ERM enables organizational resilience, defined as strength in adversity and the ability to bounce back in difficult situations. Reducing the impact of risks enables organizations to make positive changes more effectively and react to challenges more efficiently, with less trauma to the organization.

This course focuses on ways to reduce enterprise risk and thereby build resilience and greater sustainability for all types and sizes of organizations. Several concepts utilized in the course are derived from basic auditing concepts. These steps are simple but iterative, linking and constant, displaying how every change initiative can be used to define and assess related risks and to develop solutions that improve and embed greater resilience.

Using experiences with hundreds of organizations (for-profit, not-for-profit and governmental) and from guest speakers, students will learn organizational issues, tools, and solutions that can affect change initiatives, for better or worse.

For more information, visit Sandra’s Faculty Page

Another New Role — University Professor!

Willamette UniversityI just signed a contract to begin teaching a course in the Fall that I developed at the request of Willamette University’s Atkinson Graduate School of Management. The course is called, “Enterprise Risk Reduction for Sustainable Growth”.

Teaching has been a lifelong dream but I never thought it would happen. As a result of my new Book, The DNA of the Resilient Organization, the dream has come true. The course mirrors and expands the Book’s theme of combining risk management and organization development tools and approaches to achieve resilience. That’s the only way to effectively build resilience in this rapid-paced, constantly changing world.

The DNA of the Resilient OrganizationThe 2nd year graduate course defines and describes Organizational Resilience – strength in adversity and the ability to bounce back in difficult situations. Resilience is the goal of all risk management tools, processes, systems and structures. Resilience also enables sustainable growth through the embedded ability to respond to opportunities while minimizing risk of failure.

The process to achieving greater resilience is simple but iterative and constant, using every change project to define and assess related risk and to develop solutions that improve and embed greater resilience. This process builds group wisdom and organizational strength; together they build unity. Greater unity = greater resilience.

I am especially excited because I will teach at Willamette University, at its Atkinson Graduate School of Management. Bloomberg Businessweek’s 2014 business school rankings named Willamette’s MBA program a “top business school.” The Willamette MBA is the only program listed in Oregon and one of only two in the Pacific Northwest.  The Willamette MBA program is also one of only two MBA programs in the world to achieve dual accreditation in both Business and Public Administration.

On almost every change project, the leader who hires me asks that I also coach a promising leader as part of the project. Now I can help many more people and organizations through teaching graduate students who will become strong, knowledgeable leaders!


© The Suran Group, 2015

Sandra Suran’s article honored by national professional journal as one of Top 10 of All-time

JCAF CoverSandra’s 2003 article “How to Implement Change Effectively” was published in the Journal of Corporate Accounting & Finance (John Wiley & Sons). It was recently selected as one of the Top Ten of All-Time articles published “based on frequency of access by readers and the ongoing usefulness of its content.”  The Journal is “directed to CEO’s, corporate accounting & financial executives, and to outside auditors and accountants working with corporations.”

Kelly Sullivan, Wiley Journal Editor, Knowledge Services, notified Sandra this week that her article will be featured in the upcoming “Best of JCAF” May/June Issue, scheduled to print on April 18, 2015. Kelly said, “New readers will find these articles engaging and thought- provoking, while prior readers will appreciate the review of such enduring works.”

After publishing “How to Implement Change Effectively” in 2003, Wiley & Sons editors asked Sandra to write a book focused on the article. It took a while but Sandra’s book, “The DNA of the Resilient Organization” was printed in late 2014. The honored article topics are a core concept of the book, expanded and integrated with the strategies necessary to simultaneously build long term resilience.

To read the full article, click below:

“How To Implement Change Effectively”

For more of Sandra’s publications:

The DNA of the Resilient Organization


The DNA of the Resilient Organization 

A variety of Articles & Speeches



barnes-and-noble-icon  Amazon-icon

Cultural Barriers that Create the Glass Ceiling

SpeakingWhileFemaleI was invigorated by a recent New York Times article, “Speaking While Female” written by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant.   It is a superb example of why the problem of ‘not enough women in upper management and the Board Room’ hasn’t been solved in the last 30 years as it should have been. Finally, people recognize the problem – now it can be fixed!

The article summarizes very recent research that proves that when men speak, people (both men and women) listen. When a woman speaks, “she’s barely heard or she’s judged as too aggressive!” When men say almost the same thing, their ideas are appreciated. New studies, undertaken at Yale and at the University of Texas, are described in the article. The results conclusively confirm this gender bias.

As I read the article, I was reminded of an effort I led almost 30 years ago after my firm merged with KPMG (then Peat Marwick Mitchell). The goal of the effort was to help KPMG make greater strides in developing women as Partners. Women were not making Partner in the percentages they should have, given the average time for men to achieve Partner status.

Armed with a White Paper describing the situation, possible change initiatives, and the benefits of making changes to accelerate the professional development of women into partners at the firm, several male senior partners and I made a presentation to the Human Resource Director. He listened to our pitch politely, then dashed our hopes for any changes when he said, “You are wrong; we don’t need to make any changes. Now that we proactively seek out women as new hires, it is only a matter of time until they start making partner in the same percentages as men.”

The HR Director was wrong; it didn’t happen. The Accounting profession has some of the lowest rates for women at the top of any profession (an average of 20% for the four largest firms), despite the fact that the number of women new hires has averaged over 50% for decades. To their credit in the last ten years, KPMG has moved to vigorously change their percentages and now has aggressive programs to enhance career growth for women.

It still isn’t enough in the accounting profession, banking, law or in most industries. Women are in the workforce at almost equal numbers as men; they are in high percentages at middle management, but their numbers are abysmal in upper management, the C-Suite and in the Boardroom.

The problem is the culture and the environment. Nothing has been done to change it, or to even recognize that as the problem, until very recently. This article is the first recognition of the culture and environment problem I have seen, not only in accounting but for any industry.

We have to change the culture in business for women to make greater progress in reaching the top and succeeding in those positions. Promoting more women and selecting more women for Boards is a good step, as suggested in the article, but not good enough. True integration and equality of women in the workplace won’t happen until cultural issues are recognized as the problem, addressed, and solutions developed in each industry and within individual organizations.

The DNA of the Resilient Organization