A very short story about blizzards and business crises,
A very short story about blizzards and business crises,
I have often written about the need to find allies at work to accomplish change and stay positive.
While I know this to be true, I have been guilty in trying to go it alone. I am the fire-starter, the organizer, the person who gets things done. My husband has a similar mindset. So when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease two years ago, we found one of the most renown Parkinson’s neurologists, got the medication, read the books, and decided that we wouldn’t let Parkinson’s define our lives.
It was with great apprehension that we went to a five-day a “wellness retreat” with 57 other people with Parkinson’s and their care partners last week at Kripalu, the yoga and spiritual center in the hills of Western Massachusetts. Since the program was sponsored by the National Parkinson’s Foundation, we thought that we would learn a great deal from medical experts about research, symptoms, medications, resources, and what to be aware of as the condition progresses. And we did.
But what I really came away with is less anxiety and more confidence that I can do this, no matter how wonky the disease may affect my husband. The wisdom, practical know-how, and generosity of those 57 people in the retreat was a stark reminder that it’s better not to try to take on difficult situations alone. There’s always much to learn from people who know more and have experienced worse. One self-less act really brought home this message.
Selfishly I wanted my husband to participate in a noontime event called Yoga Dance, open to everyone at Kripalu not just the PD folks. It’s like a wild-ass dance party with great music and free form dancing. Makes me feel like 19 again. I asked each man in our PD wellness workshop if he would go to yoga dance, explaining that if a bunch of guys went my husband would too. They all agreed, including Ray who was having a particularly tough day with his PD.
Ray and his partner Richard went into the big dance room, music blaring, lots of athletic yoga people dancing like joyful fools. Feeling very uncomfortable Ray told Richard he needed to leave, his body just couldn’t move to the music. They left the room for a few minutes and came back, where Ray tried again. He and Richard soon left a second time, and then they came back in for a third try.
Ray was upset that he couldn’t move. Richard was upset that Ray was upset. It was a horrible, unsettling incident that reminded them both of the realities of Parkinson’s.
While they struggled my husband and I danced like young lovers. Ray and Richard didn’t know, but it was our 30th wedding anniversary.
Genuine collaboration is what Ray did coming to that lunchtime yoga dance. He came from a deep well of thoughtfulness and wanting to help me. Even though it was so, so hard for him.
Wonderful insight on change, creativity and collaboration from composer Philip Glass from last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine:
When I talk to young composers, I tell them, I know that you’re all worried about finding your voice. Actually you’re going to find your voice. By the time you’re 30, you’ll find it.
But that’s not the problem. The problem is getting rid of it. You have to find an engine for change.
And that’s what collaborative work does. Whatever we do together will make us different.
People who change the world in small and big ways, rebel FOR change they believe will make a difference. They are also keen observers and want to work with others to make the possible real. Over the holidays I had the luxurious pleasure of re-reading author and leadership activist Margaret Wheatley’s book Turning To One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future.
Here’s an excerpt that captures the behaviors of those with a desire to lead.
Ask “what’s possible?” not “What’s wrong?” Keep asking. Notice what you care about. Assume that many others share your dreams.
Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters.
Be intrigued by the differences you hear.
Invite in everybody who cares to work on what’s possible.
Remember, you don’t fear people whose story you know. Real listening always brings people closer together.
Trust that meaningful conversations can change your world.
Rely on human goodness. Stay together.
Executives can lay out a goal and what they think needs to be done to achieve that goal. People then (hopefully) follow orders and business moves ahead.
This traditional leadership approach cultivates a follower culture. Yet, follower cultures don’t cultivate creativity, innovation, transparency or engagement.
Barbara DeBuono, CEO of Orbis International, takes a different approach, one that more and more highly-effective leaders are adopting: she poses important, provocative questions and then facilitates and guides meaningful conversations. Conversations where people figure out together the ways they believe the organization can best achieve the goal.
She explained the approach to The New York times’ Adam Bryant in the “Corner Office” column:
I asked a group of people at Orbis, “Do you think we’re a high performing organization?” and then I shut my mouth. I wanted them to give me the answer.
I also asked them, “What do you think a high performing organization would look like?”
The next question I ask: “Do you want to be one? And if so, what is a high performing organization? Let’s discuss what it is.
Barbara explains that taking this kind of honest, open conversational approach gets people to drop their defenses, opens up honest conversations about difficult issues, and creates a new energy level among people. “I definitely see a spring in people’s step,” she remarked.
I’m noticing that those who lead effectively:
What fun to be interviewed by friend and client Janet Swaysland, senior vice president of Monster Worldwide, for the Monster corporate blog. Here’s what we talked about.
I heard Carmen Medina, recently retired CIA deputy director of intelligence, talk about how she was part of an informal Rebel Alliance of employees at the CIA, and how questioning assumptions and the status quo helped two rebels at the agency create the Intellipedia, a groundbreaking approach to intelligence that was awarded a Service to America national medal.
I began wondering how innovation and change happens in big organizations. You hear about innovators in start-ups all the time. But not so much in big companies. I was curious about the people in big organizations who blaze new trails and find ways to change business as usual. What are their characteristics? What makes them tick? How do you find them? Could they be an untapped resource for creating more innovative, engaged corporate cultures?
Carmen graciously let me pick her brain for a day about her personal experience as a “heretic” and about the Rebel Alliance at the agency. Then I had to know more.
There are always those people who are frustrated and bitter, more focused on stirring things up than making things better. Unfortunately those “bad” rebels get noticed while so many of the good rebels do not. The good, or what I call benevolent rebels, aren’t looking for attention. They want to help their organizations succeed, and fix things that aren’t working as well as they could be.
In my quantitative and qualitative research about rebels, I’ve found that these benevolent rebels are creative (88%), curious (82%) people not afraid of risk (88%). They are motivated first and foremost by wanting to feel like they’re making a difference. (92%). They also tend to be positive, which has led Carmen to say, “Optimism is the greatest act of rebellion.”
Rebels have the courage to name the elephants in the room, see new ways to solve problems, bring outside ideas into the organization, and be the first to try new approaches.
However, these change and innovation rebels will make you feel uncomfortable. They call out problems others are afraid to (92%) and challenge assumptions and sacred cow practices (92%), both of which are essential to real innovation, but often shunned in organizations. They also tend to go around the rules, question executive decisions, start projects without all the official approvals, and ask a lot of questions.
Rebels are not motivated by formal recognition or financial incentives. They’re self-motivated to want to make a difference and to solve things that are not working as well as they could. The research found that just 27% want formal recognition. What they do want is to be asked their opinions more often and be invited to work on special teams to solve specific issues.
I was also surprised by what I call the 90/30 conundrum. Approximately 90% of the survey respondents agreed that activating rebels can improve corporate culture and create a more innovative company. Yet only a third said they were very satisfied with rebels’ ability to provide that value in their organizations.
I think there is a rebel in everyone, but our rebel spirits has been suppressed. We have a couple of generations of people in the workforce who have been rewarded for keeping routine things going and for conforming. That goes for everyone from CEOs to front line workers. The result is complacency, fear of doing things differently, and resistance to change. People complain but don’t act. Rebels are the kind of people who act.
There are many ways. The most essential is creating more collaborative ways to lead and manage. The days of leader-as-hero are over. No one person — or handful of people –has all the answers or the best answers.
To activate the inner rebel in their people, leaders need to set clear purposes or missions, ask questions that challenge people to think in new ways, and then create safe, collaborative ways for people to get involved in creating the ideas that support the mission. When I guide collaborative sessions where people dig into meaty issues, real magic happens; the power of diverse thinking coupled with people’s desire to create something bigger and better than they could alone or in their departmental silos is pretty amazing. No surprise, this type of involvement and collaboration is what rebels most want with their companies.
If you are a “keep the routine going” person you face far greater risks than someone with the skills and courage to question the status quo and create new approaches. When things get tough – as they always will — who do you want to keep on your team? The benevolent rebels who see ways to improve and have the fearlessness to pioneer new ways? Or the person who keeps the engine running? Who do your most talented people want to work for? Safe, complacent Charlie or innovative, risk-taking Charlie?
Rebels are proactive thinkers and creators. There will always be a market for those skills in capitalistic economies.
All my life. Like Lady Gaga, I was just born that way. Sometimes my velocity for seeing emerging patterns and opportunities — and wanting to do things in new ways — has put people off. A boss once told me, “You’re always three years ahead in spotting what’s next. You have to help us catch up with you.” I wish someone had taught me early on how to more effectively introduce new ideas and navigate organizational politics to get those ideas adopted.
My struggles as a benevolent rebel is one reason why I’m so intent on helping rebels learn how to be more effective change agents inside big organizations. Similarly, my admiration for leaders who embrace and empower rebels is why I’m driven to help leaders be more effective and courageous.
“When I read it my heart sank. The vision statement didn’t reflect our university at all. Our soul and passions were nowhere to be found,” a dean at a major American university explained to me last week.
“How could that happen,” I asked. “Wasn’t this a collaborative process where people came together to talk about possibilities, aspirations, and how to build on your formidable strengths?”
“Nope,” he replied. “The president wanted this to be done fast. He hired a consultant and had some meetings with him, and then the consultant sent us a vision statement three weeks later. When we read it, we couldn’t tell that it was for our university. It could have been for any major university.”
“But you could have had speed and participation and you would have ended up with vision and beliefs that mean something,” I suggested.
“That’s not the perception. The feeling is that if you involve people, it will take a long time.”
I hear this a lot from executives. It would be “nice” to get people involved, but we don’t have time for that. Here’s the flip side: if you don’t involve people, you’ll end up with something that is ignored, something that requires enormous energy for “buy in,” something that people don’t feel motivated to make real. Your vision, plan or strategy will likely get stuck when it comes to implementation.
The real opportunity is to use new talent and techniques for facilitating collaborative planning so that you can achieve participation and speed.
Check out some of the “open source” collaboration and positive change techniques like the Art of Hosting, World Cafe, and Appreciative Inquiry. No proprietary methodologies here. Just brilliant approaches that work.
Innovative organizations like Google, The Gates Foundation, the city of Columbus, Ohio, and many more are adopting these approaches into their cultures for one reason: tapping into your own talent in new ways is the best way to ultimately achieve more, more quickly and in more meaningful ways.
So many corporate mavericks and rebels have great ideas, but those ideas often never see the light of day because of the way we truth-tellers and fire-starters behave. As a lifelong outlier — yet successful business executive — here are some of the things I’ve learned, often the hard way, that may help you or the rebels in your organization.
1. Be positive: recommendations that are stated in the affirmative, that show what’s possible vs.what’s wrong, are more likely to be heard and acted on.
2. Frame it: frame how your idea helps the organization’s goals, cause, purpose. The more relevant the idea is to what everyone wants to achieve, the more open people will be to the idea.
3. Ask questions that highlight the possibilities vs. further damn the problems. Possibilities create energy, problem dissing saps it.
4. Judge ideas, not people. The first creates useful conversations, the second hurts, disrupts and usually dead-ends.
5. When angry, stop and wonder why. This has been especially helpful to me. I used to get so angry that I’d immediately react, or should I say over-react. Wondering why a person or company did or said something provides helpful perspective. The more we understand hidden motivations the more we can frame our ideas.
6. Strive for influence not power: influence inspires and motivates people to believe and act; power requires them to do so. Influence evokes possibilities, power evokes fear. Power requires authority, titles and positions. Influence can be earned by anyone, no titles required.
7. Start the flame, tap into the collective brilliance of others to fuel the fire: Change agents and rebels are the ones with the courage to be the first to stand up. To move from ideas to action, bring in others who want to help. One person with a contrary idea usually gets little attention. Three people with a shared passion around a contrary idea start to get noticed.
8. Share the glory: Revel in achieving something that benefits many, sharing the credit and the glory of all involved. During my freshman year in college a philosophy professor told us, “Those who know know.” Even if it’s never publicly shown.
9. Communicate in ways that create clarity from complexity: People need to understand what the idea is, why it’s relevant, and how it will provide value. Too often we get caught up in the “how we’re going to change things” before addressing the other important issues: context, relevancy, value.
10. Address the cost/value tradeoff: are the benefits and value of the new way commensurate with the costs of change?
11. Let it breathe: people often need time to absorb a new way, think on it for a while. As rebels we see things sooner and clearer than most and get impatient with other people who aren’t as fast and decisive as we. If we go too fast, we can mow over people, hurting the chances of being able to affect change. In my corporate rebel research study, one write-in comment summed it up, “know that our velocity scares people.”
12. Pick the right boss or executive sponsor: find that person who appreciates your creativity, your fire-starting ideas, your naked truth-telling — and who can help guide and protect you through the complexities of organizational politics and decision making.
13. Ask good questions, become a keen listener: These two skills will serve as your advanced navigational systems as you chart through often foggy and potentially dangerous corporate seas.
14. Learn how to facilitate messy collaboration workshops to improve on your ideas, get buy in from others. People act on what they believe in. The more people who participate in shaping a new way, the more likely it is that they will adopt that new way.
15. Show how success can be measured.
16. Address the fears: understand what people fear about the idea; respect, explore and test their assumptions; and/or explain how you plan to remove or minimize those fears.
17. Learn how to have constructive conversations. Most organizations are use to discussions (usually in the form of PowerPoint) that advocate for ideas, a win/lose form of communications. Constructive what/if conversations examine assumptions, open up possibilities, invite everyone to contribute, and value all points of view. A good book on this topic is “Naming Elephants: How to Surface Undiscussables for Greater Organizational Success.”
18. Be thoughtful in all you do: Thoughtfulness engenders support, abets truth telling, brings more humanity to our work, and adds more meaning to our cause.
19. Know when to walk away: perseverance is important. But so is knowing when to walk away, when the support for your idea just isn’t there. It may have nothing to do with you or the idea, the timing might not be right. Or the risks may be too great for the corporate culture. Or people might not believe it’s really possible. Don’t let your idea turn into a negative soapbox, where you lose your influence and rob yourself of energy and health. As Yogi Berra supposedly once said, “If no one wants to come, there’s nothing we can do to stop them.”
20. Believe you are enough.
What happens when frustrations in an organization reach a boiling point?
People either check out and say, “Just tell me what I need to do.”
Or they get angry and act out, “We’re mad as hell and aren’t going take this crap any more.”
Compliance or dissent. Both suck the life out of people and an organization. At least the vocal dissenters are engaged enough to care and want to do something to improve things. The compliant auto-pilots are much more checked out.
Yet my new research on corporate rebels, to be released in two weeks, finds that executives are far more annoyed with the dissenters who challenge the status quo. They’re even more annoyed when their leadership decisions are questioned.
Last week I heard a story about a well-regarded, passionate physician at a major teaching hospital who questioned his executives’ decisions in a public forum. Her intention was well meaning. But she was shown the door two days later after years of service. Guess how many talented, frustrated people at that institution are likely to slide right into compliance.
Compliance at a time when heath care desperately needs creative solutions.
People want their work to matter. Let their voices be heard. Involve them in creating better ways. It may be the only way to succeed in a world of such seismic change.
What makes some collaboration and brainstorming workshops great — and others a drain? What makes some customer advisory board meetings thought-provoking, high-energy sessions, while others are a nice meal and friendly conversation?
Aside from having a clear purpose, the most important ingredient for success is asking good questions.
Think back on workshops and meetings that you have loved. What made them so great? My guess is open-minded people, a skilled facilitator, and great questions that you rarely have the opportunity to discuss with other smart people. And those great questions probably helped you see new ideas that got people excited
Here are some questions to consider as you frame up an agenda for your next collaborative session. They’re from “The Art of Powerful Questions: Catalyzing Insight, Innovation and Action” that you can download here from The World Cafe.
When we’re open to ideas they often emerge unexpectedly, almost out of nowhere.
“Where do you come up with these ideas,” I’ve heard leaders ask people, almost incredulously. Interestingly many creative types don’t necessarily come up with the ideas. Instead, they’re tuned into the world in a wide open frequency, and they find ideas. Or people suggest things to them and they have the interest and courage to say, “Huh. What if we took that idea and….”
The challenge as leaders is to be open. To not have our plans so locked down that there isn’t room for a new approach. To not think of “research” in only the traditional market research ways. To listen to people and take in not just the idea, but how the person feels about the idea. Is there a certain hunger, drive, passion in how the person is sharing an idea? That’s always a signal for me to tune in. This just might not be business as usual.
Here’s a TED talk from Eric Whitacre who, with two thousand other people around the world, created a magical virtual choir. And it started with a young woman sending him a video with an idea and Eric saying, “huh…what if….”
Take a look. Inspiring. A reminder to me to keep some white space open for opportunities that just might come out of left field.
Real collaboration requires that we get messy — asking new questions, questioning what we know, and putting aside our urge to get things done. It takes time to think together, letting thoughts meander, listening to different people share stories and ideas that may or may not be directly related to the topic at hand. It takes recognition that thinking is acting.
Learning to collaborate has been a long and challenging journey for me, a former Type A, “let’s get it done now” kind of person. While I’m open minded I’m also skeptical, a paradox that many executives share.
But having experienced what can happen when people check their egos at the door and open their minds to “structured unstructured” collaboration has been transformational for me. And, believe me, that “transformational” word is one I rarely use. The outcomes can make such a difference to company success that I now dedicate much of my client work on facilitating strategic collaborative processes for complex organizations and companies.
With every workshop I’m reminded that the most creative, strategic answers come from people within a company. Not outside management consulting firms or the latest best selling business book author. The secret is guiding people through a messy process where they are able to talk about questions that rarely get talked about, with people in the company that they rarely have the time or opportunity to talk with in any meaningful way.
A great article on the messiness and value of collaboration, “Collaboration: The Courage to Step into a Meaningful Mess,” was published this month by Alycia Lee and Tatiana Glad over at the Berkana Institute. Here are a few of the authors’ key points that especially resonated with me:
One last thought. It seems that every CEO in the world talks about innovation as a strategic priority, but few are pushing their companies to work in new ways to be innovative.
The secret is simple: step into messy collaboration that asks the big questions and involves diverse people far beyond the C-suite.
Last month I had the good fortune at the BIF6 conference to hear John Hagel, co-chairman of Deloitte’s Center for Edge Innovation, talk about his research on passion and sustained personal performance, and the need to change our institutions to encourage and leverage this passion. (Here’s the video.)
It was one of those 15-minute talks that felt important, especially the 2009 Shift Index research that found only 20 percent of people feel passionate about their work, and self-employed people are twice as likely to be passionate about their work than people who work for institutions. What does this say about big businesses, hospitals and government agencies?!
To learn more, I read John’s new book, The Power of Pull, which puts swirling ideas around open collaboration, passion, social business, innovation and organizational culture into one compelling context. The book also gives a giant, well-researched kick in the ass to those who are clinging to “business and leadership as usual.”
John and his co-authors John Seely Brown and Lang Davison believe that businesses must change in order to more quickly and continuously pull new ideas into a company from passionate people inside and outside the company.
In the traditional push business model we forecast demand and push resources to the right place at the right time. Profits come from controlling intellectual property, getting bigger to achieve economies of scale, and creating processes and specialized jobs to ensure those processes are executed as efficiently as possible.
But with today’s greater access to resources, people and capital, that model is starting to break down. There’s more competition from around the globe. Shorter product life cycles. Price wars due to over supply and commoditization. The push model with its focus on control and incremental improvement is breaking down. People are miserable at work, and leaders manage in fear, not having the competencies for this new unpredictable, changing world.
This book explores several big concepts, each deserving a book of its own and certainly deserving much more discussion than this post. But here are three that were especially compelling to me. (Note: the bold highlights are mine.)
1. Passion: When we tap into the work we were meant to do – our passion – work becomes meaningful. It’s not easy to uncover our individual passions, and it’s even more challenging for organizations to change their mindset and internal systems to harness passion in a way that attracts talent and puts it to work in new collaborative ways. The book puts passion into a business context that is rarely articulated in the business world.
2. Get better faster, together. Creating new ways for people to work together and share tacit knowledge will help employees get better faster and improve overall performance of the organization. Tacit knowledge is the “know-how” kind of knowledge, but most company information we share is the “know what” kind.
To me this emphasis on tacit learning is big. I’ve been advising some major companies on how to get value from the community platforms they are investing in. I’m finding that employees do NOT want to use these platforms for simple “know what “ information; they can get that from the company Intranet or email.
What they do want is a way to work with team members across silos and geographies to get work done in better and faster ways. They want more meaningful, trusted relationships. They want to read and ask question of colleagues about how they’re doing things, and ask for help, offer help, and see new ways that things could be done altogether. The opportunity to use new digital platforms to support this is significant, but it does mean providing goals for clear outcomes, and not creating so many rules and processes that it sucks the life out of the opportunity. More World of Warcraft, less Lotus Notes.
3. A meaningful mission or shaping view: Having a clear, win-win mission is essential to attract and focus talent, resources and ideas – especially the most passionate, self-motivated people. The authors define a “shaping view” as a “galvanizing statement about the future of a market, an industry, or a broad social arena and how tomorrow will be different from today and how everybody will be better off” because of it.
This isn’t the first book to emphasize how critical a meaningful mission is to attract and motivate people. Built to Last, Tribal Leadership, Firms of Endearment, Tribes and many others have found that people want to work for companies with a compelling mission and purpose beyond growth and profitability. Yet few organizations have this articulation of where the industry is going and how you’re going to be part of that bigger movement.
It will be fascinating to see whether big, push companies will evolve fast enough to retain the talents of those passionate people on a quest to do meaningful work within the confines of today’s corporate cultures, cultures that often value process and politics more than outcomes and new ideas. Or whether passionate people and the Gen Y generation will simply flee these organizations and create new types of organizations that fit how people love to work.
The book notes that there are more billionaires under 40 than any other time in our history. People who make history, whether it’s Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg, don’t have the patience or time to wait for companies to catch up.
They value their passion more than organizational politics.
Maybe this is the year to uncover your passion and begin to let it guide you, as an individual contributor or as a leader. In my next post I’ll share some books and workshops that might help on your quest.
As Joseph Campbell told Bill Moyers in an interview: “If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you…. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in your field of bliss, and they open doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.”
Talk about pull.
“The first step for leading in a social environment is admitting that you’re not a genius,” explained Jim Lavoie, CEO of Rite-Solutions in his talk, “The Five Social Competencies of Highly Effective Leaders” at the Conference Board Social Media MeetUp. “When you admit that you as CEO don’t have all the answers you can then begin to harvest and harness the intellectual bandwidth of your organization.
Having once been a command-and-control CEO, Lavoie has learned that there’s a different way to lead, focusing on meaningful, trusted relationships vs.the typical transactional approach where I pay you, you do the job. The results: more innovative ideas, cost savings, retention of highly-skilled people, and a work environment that is, well, fun. People like coming to work and feel that they have a say and are relevant.
Using collaborative platforms in creative ways also helps to draw out the introverts. “If you don’t make innovation and collaboration and introvert sport, you’re leaving behind more than half of your intellectual bandwidth. Introverts don’t respond to ‘why don’t you put a PowerPoint together to explain your idea.’ But they do want to provide input and advance ideas they believe in. It’s leadership’s role to find new ways to help people provide that input.”
(This New York Times article explains how Lavoie and his business partner Joe Marino have done just that in his company.)
Lavoie says senior management has to play the first pieces of this new relationship puzzle, making people feel important and that they belong. Here’s a summary graphic of Jim’s relationship-driven corporate culture puzzle.