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

Game Changer

Sandra A. Suran was just featured in the January 2015 issue of ASPIRE Magazine, a very cool, online, international magazine.  

ASPIRE’s mission is to inspire people around the world to use business as a force for good and to shine the spotlight on Game Changers.  

Susan SuranSo, they tell the stories of Game Changers to inspire and share their best practices to empower others to follow their lead.

Here is a link to the article about Sandra, written by Susan Bender Phelps:

“The Collective Heartbeat – The Foundation for Organizational Resilience”

Click to hear more about ASPIRE:

What’s greater than a Magic Bullet?

Magic Bullet imageDo you know how to improve the resilience of your organization?  There is no magic bullet. But, there is a way to improve resilience constantly while making changes more efficiently and sustainably.

Changes don’t stick unless the people in your organization want them to happen. And people don’t want changes to happen unless they truly believe it will be successful and will benefit the organization, their department and their job.

Even great “magic bullet” solutions soon lose their impact.  The best improvements to infrastructure (processes, systems and organization structure) and cutting edge improvment tools don’t necessarily accomplish their intended purpose if they aren’t effectively linked with each other and with all stakeholders.  And none of these changes by themselves will help build resilience for the long haul.

You can improve your organization’s ability to make sustainable changes while also increasing people’s desire to make changes.  That’s the key to success: build ability (with tools, improved infrastructure) and desire (through increased group knowledge and trust) at the same time.   My new book The DNA of the Resilient Organization and the Workshop of the same name will teach you how to embed resilience with every change project you undertake.

Buy The DNA of the Resilient Organization at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s and other great book stores. Ask about Group Presentations and the Workshop:

The DNA of the Resilient Organization“Great book for the large or small organization. It has so much content focused on connecting the pieces of the structure, the culture and the thinking of the organization. And then Sandra gives example at each step on how it works and how it doesn’t work when those pieces do not come together. This is a book that pulls together the missing links to help an organization determine what is missing, so they can fix the problems moving toward synthesis and resilience.”  Steve Harpham, Living Water Financial Advisors, Former Controller, UPS

“In this book Sandra Suran does a beautiful job of bringing together all the concepts that make up a resilient organization.  Sandra has worked with our company a number of times over the years and has helped us be the resilient company we are.  My management team is reading it to prepare us for the future.”  Tom Kelly, President, Neil Kelly Company

“Sports as a Business Example – Selfless Leaders Breed Trust!”

LeadersTeam sports provide good examples for important business concepts, even for those of us who haven’t been athletes or rabid fans. That’s because the concepts at work in sports are so physically visible and the results of changes are so immediate. Even the result of concept changes that normally develop over a longer term in business can frequently be seen in spectator sports over just a season. Helfrich - Ducks

The University of Oregon Ducks football team provided a good example, played out over just three months this year. The events dramatically displayed the incredible difference that a selfless leader can make. The leader is Mark Helfrich, the Duck’s new Head Coach. He replaced the highly acclaimed Chip Kelly, who built the Ducks from a mediocre team to a national threat in 2 seasons. (See my December 10, 2014 blog Chip was a tough act to follow. But two seasons after Chip’s departure, the Ducks are in the Final Four, ranked at #2, and will play in the Rose Bowl.

How did that happen? Not easily. Most people didn’t believe that moving an untried Offensive Coordinator up from within the coaching staff would provide the same fire and drive to succeed that Chip did against the best teams in the country. Many people didn’t believe that Mark was as strong a leader as Chip Kelly. And then there was the terrible loss to Arizona early in the season, following disastrous injuries to key players. Those events shook everyone’s confidence even more, including the team’s confidence in themselves. How did doubt in themselves totally turn around? How did the Ducks get to the #2 ranking in the Final Four?

Jason Quick, Sports Reporter for The Oregonian, asked that question and found the answer. He reported it in his December 21, 2014 editorial: A selfless leader. A selfless leader breeds Trust. And Trust enables Resilience. Here’s how that worked with the Oregon Ducks. In the locker room after the horrible loss, a devastated team expected a lashing from their Coach. Instead, they received an apology; Coach Helfrich blamed himself and talked about what he and the other coaches needed to do to better prepare the team for future games.

Because he took responsibility for the loss himself, as their leader and coach, they trusted him. He talked about what everyone, as a team, including himself, needed to work on. He helped them to understand that together, working on details, they could improve their process and better respond to challenges.

Mark Helfrich proved that he would lead the changes by doing things differently himself. He paid more attention to areas that he hadn’t focused on in the past. He paid more attention to details and helped everyone else to do the same. That approach helped everyone to believe even more in one another and in their proven process for winning. He increased the level of Trust in the entire Team. The players said it was because, “After we lost, he was the first person to believe in us. . . He was the first one to stand up and take ownership and take some of the blame . . .”

Because of Mark’s selflessness, his ability to take some blame and change himself, everyone was willing to assess themselves. They immediately made changes that helped the UofO Ducks to win all the remaining games – decisively. The DNA of the Resilient OrganizationResilience, built with Trust, enables that response.


Building Resilience Creates Teams of All First Stringers! University of Oregon’s Football Team Proves It!

The University of Oregon final 2014 football season games against Oregon State and Arizona certainly prove the benefits of working towards resilience! As announcers at the Oregon State vs. University of Oregon game constantly commented: “Oregon is the only team to have gone seven years in a row winning 10 games.” Chip Kelly built the resilient team and started the winning streak.

When Chip left to take over as head coach of the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles, UofO’s Offensive Coordinator, Mark Helfrich, took over as Head Coach. And the UofO Ducks haven’t skipped a beat since then. They survived the departure of Chip Kelly, the brilliant leader who understood the need for resilience in order to overcome adversity no matter what the situation.

More specifics about Chip Kelly, Phil Knight, and other great leaders who understand the importance of building resilience attributes for their teams are in my Book, The DNA of the Resilient Organization. Two years after Chip Kelly left, the team he built (coaches and players) is a great example of what embedded resilience can do for an organization.

As Jason Quick, sports writer for The Oregonian, said after the UofO/Oregon State game, “No team in college football has been as dominant and destructive in their final seven games than Oregon. But more impressive than the seven consecutive weeks of scoring 40 or more points, and more staggering than the more than 24-point average margin of victory in those games, is how the Ducks did it. Their two most decorated offensive linemen watched from the sidelines [injured]; their best receiver blew his knee out before the season started. One of their spiritual and most respected leaders, who also happens to be one of their most important receivers . . . missed his third game because of injury. And the opening day starter at running back missed the past two games. The setbacks, the gut punches, go on and on. Yet, so have the Ducks’ big wins.”

How have they done it?  “As new Offensive Coordinator Scott Frost said, “…ever since I’ve been at Oregon, we’ve lost somebody we didn’t think we could replace, and somebody else has come in and done a great job.  So I trust coach Helfrich and the rest of the staff to get guys ready to play.”

The DNA of the Resilient Organization

The coaches and recruiters say that the Duck football program attracts a special kind of player – “…one who is selfless, smart and mentally tough …” It is ” . . . a program of excellence that focuses on one thing: Every guy out here realizes he is just one of many in the whole process, the whole system. .  .  we’re a team.  . . And everybody is expected to perform on this team. ”

The Ducks figured out how to build a resilient organization – you build unity: one collective heartbeat. 

It Won’t Happen If People Don’t Want It To

listening2Changes don’t happen successfully unless the people in the organization want them to happen. They may give lip service commitment to new initiatives and they may go along with them for a while, but they won’t stick unless stakeholders believe the changes are good and that they can succeed.

I learned that fact decades ago when I worked on change improvement projects which were very successful in the short term. Years later, I would find that the plan lost momentum or was set aside for another initiative.  It was always because some group hadn’t totally bought-in. Or, there was another perspective on the future that hadn’t surfaced during the change process. That’s when I changed my approach – to go deeper and broader in involving more people in more ways and to improve my own listening and involving skills.

Most consultants, internal and external, fail to have sustainable results because they don’t listen and involve effectively. They may have a good plan and process tools, but that’s not enough. The key to success is in listening deeply, responding proactively to messages heard, and involving stakeholders in the next steps. In other words, let THEM make it happen.

Doing those steps effectively takes great facilitation, coaching, and advance preparation in order to be a very knowledgeable resource. The job of the best consultants is to assist in the best possible ways, not to assess, plan and direct implementation by themselves. It means teaching leaders at every level, including peer, to lead their teams.

NFL General Manager Bobby Beathard (Washington Redskins and San Diego Chargers) compared the leadership concepts in my new book to Don Shula, the only one to coach “a perfect season”.  “He did it with teamwork, trust and great leadership, just like you describe in the book”. You don’t accomplish those attributes without superior listening.

Listening is the critical skill to effectively, sustainably facilitate change. Process thinking, analytical ability, and strategic thinking are all very important skills, but strong listening skills are the most important. Without them, successful sustainable change can’t happen!

My First Radio Interview!


BSR LogoI did the first ever in my life radio interview last week!  It was for Jackie B. Peterson’s Better, Smarter, Richer program on Solo Pro Radio. Jackie is a wonderful interviewer. She asked me some great questions about helping companies to embrace change and to be more successful with growth initiatives. She focused on my book, The DNA of the Resilient Organization.

Here are some of the areas she covered in the interview:

1. Strategic planning and organizational restructuring require big picture thinking. What does it take to make such comprehensive change work?

2. What exactly is “resilience”? Why is it important?

3. How do organizations become resilient? How do you recognize when an organization is resilient?

4. Can an organization that is not resilient become resilient? How?

5. What directions do you see as major trends in business? Given those trends, what do organizations need to do to be successful in the future?

To hear my responses to these and other questions, go to the Broadcast page on or to

To buy the book, go to any bookstore or go to To read more about it, go to the Book Page at and to to see all my 5-Star Reviews!

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

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.