My 1st Friday Favorite Guru Series: Karen Brethower

We begin the First Friday of this month, October 2015, with another of my Favorite Gurus, Karen Brethower.


I finally met Karen in 2009 after first hearing about her in 1979.

It was sad that it was at the ISPI tribute to the late Geary A. Rummler, a colleague of hers back in the 1960s and 70s.

I had first heard about her from my colleagues at Wickes Lumber in the fall of 1979, and read some “current then” version of her 1967 paper: Maintenance Systems: The Neglected Half of Behavior Change

Geary Rummler talked about her in glowing terms frequently. I don’t recall the details – but that’s my takeaway.

About Karen Searles Brethower


Karen Brethower, Ph.D., Executive Consultant with The Advisory Alliance, has over 25 years of experience as a business-focused executive leadership consultant, with extensive experience in executive assessment, succession planning, talent management and C-suite executive coaching. She has been a consultant to executives, teams, and organizations making change in the face of industry restructuring, de-mutualization, divestiture, deregulation, and merger & acquisition.

Karen assists companies in clarifying their strategic options and projecting the talent needed to deliver against those options. Karen partners with executives in a variety of ways. Conducting Executive Assessments (Board-initiated and other) Designing and preparing Board presentations on Executive Talent Revitalizing and designing Executive Succession Planning Creating Talent Review/Management processes Analyzing strategic plans and deriving key talent issues.

Karen has facilitated successful organization changes in a variety of settings. Her organization effectiveness work has included:

Conducting Board-initiated Executive Assessment of the internal CEO successor in recently merged company. Subsequently assessed top three layers of executives.

Upgrading the Country Manager success rate via changes to candidate assessment, selection and placement for a global Fortune 500 company with predominantly domestic senior management.

Created a post-divestiture process for Headquarters and Field units. Re-established “at risk” sales levels and customer service quality.

Karen has extensive experience in the manufacturing, marketing, pharmaceutical, finance, telecommunications, defense, energy and research industries.

She has held national offices in the American Society for Training and Development in the areas of research, evaluation, organization development and national issues. She has also been a member of the Training Research Forum, National Society for Performance and Instruction, Organization Development Network, Conference Board Development Council, Environmental Scanning Association and Human Resource Planning Society.

Karen holds a Ph.D. in Behavioral Sciences from the University of Michigan. She also attended The University of Mexico and taught an executive development program in Mexico in Spanish. She has taught in numerous executive development programs and has been a keynote speaker in the U.S., Latin America and the Pacific Rim.


Karen focuses on executive assessment and coaching, negotiation and conflict management, and facilitated planning.

Dr. Brethower served as Vice President and Director of Manpower Planning and Executive Development at Chase Manhattan Bank and was also employed by Ford Motor Company.

She held national office with ASTD and with NSPI (now ISPI).

Articles by Karen

Here is a link to Fred Nickols’ posting of “Maintenance Systems: The Neglected Half of Behavior Change” :

Maintenance Systems – Karen Brethower

Note: This paper originally appeared as Chapter III (pp. 60-72) in Managing the Instructional Programming Effort (1967), edited by Geary A. Rummler, Joseph P. Yaney and Albert W. Schrader. Ann Arbor: Bureau of Industrial Relations, University of Michigan.


Here is an article PDF Karen co-authored with Geary A. Rummler in 1979:


– another classic in my development path decades ago.

Video of Karen

At the Geary Rummler Tribute

Here is Karen with former colleague Dale Brethower – talking about Geary – from the 6:05 to the 19:42 minute marks.

My Lessons Learned From Karen

It is the importance of the behavior maintenance. That is best summed up by me liberating these two sets of content – right from the article:

  • Successful training involves two phases: acquisition and maintenance of behavior.
  • Some ways of maintaining the behavior are by providing the person with feedback on the quality of his work, providing positive consequences to the person for performing at or above standard. Feedback and positive consequences are provided by structuring the job environment so that it provides them through supervision, other sources of recognition, discipline, social contact, money or other meaningful consequences.

Which takes me/you/all of us – back to leadership/supervision, or the lack thereof – in the learner’s job context.

The authentic “back at the ranch” if you will – for all your learners.

Their real world. Where the extinguishers of the new behavior might exist in leadership/management itself. Working at cross purposes.

So – did we take that into consideration with our change – our Learning/Training or whatever – and combat that?

That’s what I learned from Karen, and others. Get real. Deal with the real context – and not some blue sky construct – by people who don’t have a clue about that real world. Which is why I prefer to work with Master Performers and do group processes for both Analysis and Design – and then hand off those Master Performers to the developers to get on with those steps. And build the quality in from the git-go – by building the authenticity in with the Master Performers. And letting them own that.

Share Your Stories

If the work of Karen Searles Brethower has been a valuable influence and/or resource for you – please share your stories about that in the comments section below.

Or simply share a URL there that is relevant.

And – thank you – for sharing!

The My First Friday Favorite Guru Series

We each have many influencers, mentors, both active and passive, knowingly and unknowingly in their respective roles in our development.

This series is my attempt to acknowledge all of them… one by one… in no particular order… as I attempt to consciously reflect on what I have learned and whom I have learned it from, regarding all things “Performance Improvement” – my first focus.

I have a long list.

Lucky me.

Next month – Brenda Sugrue.

Links to All of the Past Posts in the MFFF Guru Series

Here is a page with links to all of the Past Posts from this My First Friday Favorite Guru Series, as listed below – find that – here.

  • Brenda Sugrue – November 2015
  • Karen Brethower – October 2015
  • Jim Pershing – September 2015
  • Timm Esque – August 2015
  • Ryan Watkins – July 2015
  • Ken Silber – June 2015
  • Roger Chevalier – May 2015
  • Darryl Sink – April 2015
  • Jeanne Farrington – March 2015
  • Don Clark – February 2015
  • Frank T. Wydra – January 2015
  • Philip B. Crosby – December 2014
  • Donald L. Dewar – November 2014
  • Joseph M. Juran – October 2014
  • W. Edwards Deming – September 2014
  • Bonnie B. Small – August 2014
  • Walter A. Shewhart – July 2014
  • Carl Binder – June 2014
  • Ruth Clark – May 2014
  • Rob Foshay – April 2014
  • John Carlisle – March 2014
  • Miki Lane – February 2014
  • Harold Stolovitch – January 2014
  • Bill Wiggenhorn – December 2013
  • Will Thalheimer – November 2013
  • Roger Kaufman – October 2013
  • Roger Addison – September 2013
  • Ray Svenson – August 2013
  • Dick (Richard E.) Clark – July 2013
  • Allison Rossett – June 2013
  • Carol Panza – May 2013
  • Jane Bozarth – April 2013
  • Judy Hale – March 2013
  • Margo Murray – February 2013
  • Neil Rackham – January 2013
  • Robert (Bob) F. Mager – December 2012
  • Joe H. Harless – November 2012
  • Thomas F. Gilbert – October 2012
  • Sivasailam Thiagarajan (Thiagi) – September 2012
  • Geary A. Rummler – August 2012
  • Dale Brethower – July 2012

Here is a page with links to all of the above Past Posts in My First Friday Favorite Guru Series – here.

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5 comments on “My 1st Friday Favorite Guru Series: Karen Brethower

  1. Pingback: Several Belated Remembrances – HPT Treasures – for Evidence Based Performance Improvement

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