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Posts tagged ‘Organization Development’

fearless leadership

Here are the opening paragraphs of a longer article:

Organizations are only as good as the people inside. Yet the organizations and the people are under increasing stress. Do more with less. Cut costs. Do the same work with fewer people. Order supplies “just in time.” Skip training – there’s no time or money. Check your email, texts, and social media 24/7. We have entered a time when managers can be asked repeatedly to cut costs, people, and resources without loss of quality.

Many people in organizations that I work with can no longer tell me when the workday ends or even when the workweek begins. The main behavior at lunch or in meetings is the head bent down to check the latest electronic message. The pressure increases as boards and agencies create unfunded mandates and demand measureable results in shorter timeframes. Complexity increases as decisions made across the street and around the world have equal impact on operations. Forget what you know about employee engagement, the value of training and development, about making decisions from core values. Just get it done.

In the face of pressure and uncertainty, leaders want to solve, fix, and inspire. Many believe that if only they work harder or learn the latest management techniques, they can address the difficult challenges. They act from a genuine desire to help, to save the system and people around them. They fight the urge to revert to command and control management. But they end up exhausted by demands from above and dissatisfaction below.

But there is a choice: to be a fearless leader.

Click here to read more about fearless leadership.

What’s your story about leadership in the face of complexity and uncertainty?

decide: to cut off

Decision-making can be one of the most challenging parts of leading and managing. The root of the word decide comes from the Latin decidere, literally, to cut off, from de- + caedere to cut. When I make a decision I “cut off” other options. Perhaps that is why it is sometimes easier to put off decisions until tomorrow.

Organizations teach and use decision-making methods from facilitation strategies to formal Six-Sigma processes. There are personal methods like pro/con lists. I’ve recently been reading about and experimenting with the Cynefin Framework.

The Cynefin Framework (pronounced “key-nevin”) asks decision makers to assess context patterns and ask ourselves how we learn and what we know in five different domains. With the domain identified, we can choose questions, analyze the issue, and create an action plan. It enables us to include linear decision-making processes and expand beyond them when the context demands it.  It asks us to integrate what we know about our expertise, management theory, psychology, and complex adaptive systems.

Here is a short summary of the five domains:

  • Simple, where the relationship between cause and effect is obvious to all, the approach is to Sense – Categorise – Respond and we can apply best practice.
  • Complicated, where the relationship between cause and effect requires analysis or some other form of investigation and/or the application of expert knowledge, the approach is to Sense – Analyze – Respond and we can apply good practice.
  • Complex, where the relationship between cause and effect can only be perceived in retrospect, but not in advance, the approach is to Probe – Sense – Respond and we can sense emergent practice.
  • Chaotic, where there is no relationship between cause and effect at systems level, the approach is to Act – Sense – Respond and we can discover novel practice.
  • Disorder, which is the state of not knowing what type of causality exists, in which state people will revert to their own comfort zone in making a decision. (1)

And, from Snowden and Boone, developers of the Cynefin process:

In the complex environment of the current business world, leaders often will be called upon to act against their instincts. They will need to know when to share power and when to wield it alone, when to look to the wisdom of the group and when to take their own counsel. A deep understanding of context, the ability to embrace complexity and paradox, and a willingness to flexibly change leadership style will be required for leaders who want to make things happen in a time of increasing uncertainty. (2)

What methods do you use when making decisions? What questions would you find most useful in each of these domains?

Cognitive-Edge Methods (free)
Harvard Business Review: A Leader’s Framework for Decision Making

(1) Cynefin retrieved from on January 28, 2013.
(2) Snowden, D. J. & Boone, M. E. (2007) “A Leader’s Framework for Decision Making.” Harvard Business Review, 85(11), p. 69-76.

the devil and email

How often have you written an e-mail and when you clicked “Send” immediately wished for an “undo” button? How often have you received an e-mail and spent minutes, hours, or days steaming with frustration?

The good news about e-mail is that it is a quick way to communicate at a distance without interrupting someone’s schedule. The bad news about e-mail is that since it’s not face-to-face, it can – and often does – produce unintended results.

When we meet people face-to-face, communication is primarily nonverbal: 53% face, 38% voice, 7% words (Mehrabian). Nonverbal cues include social context, facial expressions, tone of voice, body posture, and gestures. We use these cues to send and receive information. When we e-mail, we’re starting with only 7% of what is needed for effective communication. But danger lurks beyond the lack of nonverbal communication.

“When the brain receives insufficient data about others’ feelings, it just makes stuff up (Meng).” Our brain fills in the blanks, making assumptions about emotions and context. And not only do our brains make up the missing pieces, our brains automatically assume those made-up “facts” are reality. The problem grows larger when we recall that our brains are more likely to feel threatened rather than assuming the best.

If your boss comes into your office, sits down, relaxes by leaning back in the chair, and with twinkling eyes and a smile says, “Well, that could have gone better ….” You know that your boss isn’t anxious or upset by the nonverbal cues offered. However, if you received an e-mail with the same words in the subject line, your brain would immediately try to choose from fight, flight, or freeze. Even if your boss had no intention of attacking, your e-mailed response has the potential to increase the miscommunication. And the cycle escalates. Meng says, “I am not sure if the devil invented e-mail, but I am sure it made his job easier.”

Remember that the e-mail needs to contain information including context and emotional state, along with facts and beliefs.

Remember that if you are unclear, leaving room for questions about what you wish to communicate, the recipient’s brain will fill in the blanks.

To increase the likelihood that your e-mail will communicate effectively, keep the brain in mind:

  1. Choose a subject line carefully. Be concise and specific.
  2. Include language that clarifies the facts, your feelings, and what you believe about the subject.
  3. Use the SCARF model for social brain-behavior (The brain treats these five domains as essential to personal survival.):
    1. Status – Acknowledge actions and behaviors that are already supporting the desired actions and results.
    2. Certainty – Be clear about your expectations and needs including: who, when, what, where, and how.
    3. Autonomy – Allow the recipient to exert as much control as possible over required action items or requests; ask for their opinions and feelings on the subject matter.
    4. Relatedness – Be gracious; create a connection.
    5. Fairness – Be consistent and transparent.

Finally, as you review the e-mail, put yourself in the shoes of the recipient. Imagine that you don’t know the situation, that you don’t know the emotional context, that your brain will fill-in-the-blanks negatively. Then revise as needed.

Using e-mail effectively allows recipients to increase their connection with you and align with your goals. The impacts of increasing status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, and fairness include building connections, more easily resolving technical issues, and willing engagement. Hopefully these tips will make the devil’s job a little more difficult.

What strategies do you use to be specific in email communication?

Further reading:
Mehrabian, A. (1972). Nonverbal communication. Aldine-Atherton, Chicago, IL.
Meng, C. (2012). Search inside yourself. HarperCollins, New York, NY.
Rock, D. 2010. Your Brian at Work. Harper. New York, NY.
Siegel, D. (2010) Mindsight: The Science of Personal Transformation. Random House, New York, NY

Freud, Kandinsky, and Mahler meet in a coffee shop

“People” who give advice about writing blogs say that an entry should always be short – terse and concise. But, I’ve been processing information about neuroscience, creativity, history, art, and education – asking how this all fits with organization development. This reflecting process doesn’t fit neatly onto one computer screen. If you’re interested in the same, I invite you to read on and add to the conversation … .

Mixing together at coffee shops, museums, and parties, Freud, Kandinsky, and Mahler were some of the scientists, painters, writers, and musicians who lived in Vienna, Austria at the opening of the 20th century. It was an exciting place and time. Biology, anatomy, chemistry, and physics stirred together giving birth to neuroscience. Painters, musicians, and writers experimented under the influence of new ideas from scientists and philosophers.

While I think of Freud as one of the fathers of psychoanalysis, Freud began his career studying anatomy. He was part of the group of scientists at the University of Vienna medical school who studied the brain, deconstructing one cell at a time – and anticipated the neuron doctrine. Another, Santiago Ramón y Cajal was a painter and anatomy specialist who ultimately theorized that neurons are the brain’s building blocks. Biology, neurology, fine art, and human behavior intersected.

Is it important that Ramón y Cajal was a painter? Eric Kandel, In Search of Memory, writes, “He brought to his task an uncanny ability to infer the properties of living nerve cells from static images of dead nerve cells. This leap of the imagination, perhaps derived from his artistic bent, enabled him to capture and describe in vivid terms and in beautiful drawings the essential nature of any observation he made (p. 61).” The suggestion made by Kandel and others is that Ramón y Cajal used his cross-disciplinary skills to make discoveries.

The connections formed across disciplines in Vienna included interactions with musicians like Mahler who were bridging from Mozart and Beethovan to a new school of composers. It included interactions with the expressionist and early abstract painters including Klimt and Kandinsky in Vienna and Cézanne and Picasso elsewhere in Europe. Klimt in particular interacted with scientists and artists; he was influenced by Darwin and the research coming from London’s Royal Society. For example, Klimt’s paintings, Adele Bloch-Bauer’s Portrait and The Kiss include geometric, cell structures hidden within the figure.

These artists and musicians were using the ideas of deconstruction to experiment with perspective, time, and form. Eric Kandel, The Age of Insight, reconnects these: “Visual perception begins in the retina as an information-processing system that deconstructs the form of objects and faces and then turns the critical components of those images into a neural code; this code is reflected in a pattern of action potentials in the brain (p. 219).”

Kandel asks if there is a common set of neurological skills underlying all of this creativity? While not implying that scientists, artists, philosophers, and musicians can swap places, his argument is that creative insight is universal. He suggests that creativity depends “on abilities like constructing metaphor, reinterpreting data, connecting unrelated ideas, resolving contradictions, and eliminating arbitrariness (TAoI, p. 458).” While “arbitrariness” is different for a quantum physicist and a painter, Aha! moments arise from similar strategies: planning, then relaxation, and even dreaming.

Research in neuroscience demonstrates that “the brain is a creativity machine. It searches for patterns amid chaos and ambiguity and it constructs models of the complex reality around us. This search for order and pattern is at the heart of the artistic and the scientific enterprise alike (TAoI, p.498).”

As I consider organizations, I observe a necessity for knowledge of science, philosophy, art, and, even, music. Organizations need external knowledge of logic and analysis along with internal knowledge of human behavior. They need strategy, engineering, and planning along with emotion and perception that allow creativity and adaptability. They need to creatively construct and destruct. The music flowing through the headset of the engineer and project manager can shift neural pathways. All of this works together, generating Aha! moments.

Recently a student asked which business books and magazines she should be reading in order to grow in understanding of organization development. Along with the usual suspects like Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, and Wired, I asked her if she had a membership at the local art museum, plans to attend concerts with friends, and a hobby that engaged her emotions and mind.

I close this reflection with a quote from biologist Stephen Jay Gould:

I want the sciences and humanities to become the greatest of pals, to recognize a deep kinship and necessary connection in pursuit of human decency and achievement, but to keep their ineluctably different aims and logics separate as they ply their joint projects and learn from each other. Let them be two musketeers –both for one and one for both– but not the graded stages of a single and grand consilient unity (p. 197).

What generates Aha! moments in your life? Do you engage with others who have broad interests?
How can organizations intentionally embrace science and the humanities?

Gould, S. J. (2003). The Hedgehog, the Fox, and the Magister’s Pox. Harmony Books, New York.
Kandel, E. R. (2012). The Age of Insight. Random House, New York.
Kandel, E. R. (2006). In Search of Memory. Random House, New York.

Can imagination be taught?
Brain Pickings: The Age of Insight

booster shots for life

One of the things I love about Organization Development is that it integrates disciplines from philosophy to sociology to art to neurobiology to adaptive systems and beyond. It nests into my love for learning. (Hmmm, I just used the word “love” twice in as many sentences; . . . the words remain as written.) I care deeply about learning, synthesizing, and sharing information and ideas.

Friday I heard Maria Popova interviewed by Flora Lichtman:

And the education system is, in a way, this antiquated universal vaccine model: We think that we can cram it all in a few years of formal schooling, and it’s going to protect us for the rest of our lives. But the way I think of learning and creative curiosity is as a kind of immune system against the life of mediocrity. … It requires constant boosts and constant sort of shots against that and priming the mind and the creative muscle.

Yes, this is a creative image! A few years of formal education, whether 12, 16, or more – at any age, cannot provide the knowledge we need to navigate all the years of our lives. That is why I seek exposure to a broad range of people, cultures, and organizations. That is why I read newspapers, blogs, peer-reviewed articles, and books from many locations and disciplines. That is why I love discussions in person and online that challenge my way of seeing and being in the world.

Where do you get your booster shots for creative curiosity? For life?

After reflecting on this, consider checking out Popova’s site: Brain Pickings.

Just tell me what to do!

the doldrums

In the afternoon they came unto a land,
In which it seemed always afternoon.
All round the coast the languid air did swoon,
Breathing like one that hath a weary dream.
– from Lord Alfred Tennyson’s
The Lotus-Eaters

“I’m bored.” I’ve heard this from the kids – bored with summer vacation or bored with the tedium of school lessons or bored with sports that require repetitive practice. Boredom in organizations can show up the second day on a job or in the sixth month of a project or after years in a career. Boredom in organizations is held responsible for all kinds of things. It gets blamed for the lack of productivity and innovation, for the lack of commitment and curiosity.

My response to the kids, “It’s good for you to be bored.” I say this instead of suggesting something for them to do. If we seek to fill the boredom with something, with activity, those things become a flight from boredom rather than valuable in their own right. Bertrand Russell said that “a generation that cannot endure boredom will be a generation of little men.” There is value in boredom.

Joseph Brodsky offers a suggestion: “When boredom strikes, throw yourself into it. Let it squeeze you, submerge you, right to the bottom.” When boredom strikes, I stop. I step out of the context I’m in. I go for a walk, get a drink of water, gaze out of the window. I do my best not to run to a different activity. After all, boredom is an emotion, an experience. It will come and go. What will I do with it?

Is boredom valuable?

The Philosophy of Boredom
The assumptions of scientific management

I’ll take both

I sometimes feel caught between polarities. An example is the old conundrum: pick two, price, quality, or speed – you can’t have all three.

David Brooks writes in an op-ed piece today:

The enduring popularity of the Olympics teach the lesson that if you find yourself caught between two competing impulses, you don’t always need to choose between them. You can go for both simultaneously. A single institution can celebrate charitable compassion and military toughness. A three-week festival can be crassly commercial, but also strangely moving.

As organizations plan and innovate, it is tempting to choose one solution or another. The challenge is to ask, “Why not say ‘and'”? Brooks offers the  example of Lafley at Proctor and Gamble who chose to “lower prices and reduce costs” and ‘”innovate.” He pushed the vision for the company in both directions.

What examples can you think of where the power of “and” has changed the direction of your life or organization?

Running ahead for more of the same

following by leading by following

We all have multiple roles that we play. Sometimes we lead. Sometimes we follow. The hierarchy that used to define our systems is disappearing. Our systems are evolving in a constantly changing environment. August Trank offers 11 stories illustrating how great followers are leaders. The story themes:

  1. Seize the Initiative
  2. Create their Own Job
  3. Are Coachable
  4. Anticipate
  5. Are Great Communicators
  6. Are Goal Driven
  7. Show Don’t Tell
  8. Earn Trust
  9. Offer Solutions
  10. Are Compassionate
  11. Are Loyal

If this seems like a list of leadership traits, I agree. The two that connect with me today are #1: Seize the initiative. It’s everyone’s responsibility to offer their best, creative ideas in support of the organization. #8: Earn trust. Saying what you’ll do and doing what you say, keeping promises is foundational to relationship.

Which of these traits do you see in yourself? In your organization?

Just tell me what to do
Passionately curious

when it doesn’t “roll”

This is a cautionary tale. Once upon a time, there was an organization who chose to upgrade their business enterprise software. My role was to support the process. We walked through the due diligence steps: detailing requirements, seeking demonstrations, running software trials, and obtaining quotes. Having selected a vendor, I called to get the process rolling.

It didn’t roll. Every vendor telephone call and email ended with, “Next you will need to contact <insert department name here>. Here’s their email and telephone extension.” Use your imagination to envision rounds of email and phone tag. Time went by.

Ultimately the enterprise software was upgraded; data was migrated; people were trained; the bill was paid. But, I lost count of the number of times I had to push or pull the vendor forward. Now, almost a month later, there has been no follow-up.

This experience was full of uncertainty and frustration. It did not have to be this way. The vendor could have simplified the process by designating one point of contact at their company. One person to build a relationship, guide the process, manage the project timetable, and answer questions.

By not engaging us, the vendor lost opportunities. There is no motivation to be excited about the new software – we spent too much energy running the process. There is no story of an exceptional experience to share with others. There is no story of the vendor’s quality support or the company’s visible values.

I was not expecting to buy an entertaining or even transformational experience. But, in a time when much of what I buy is a commodity (food, software, services, etc.), the underlying experience and relationship by the vendor changes the value obtained.

How do you define an exceptional customer experience? How are your company’s values displayed throughout each client or customer contact?

Insanely Simple
Resource: Steal this Idea

Idea for reflection – 36

Simplicity can be a choice, a feeling, or a guiding light. You can tell pretty quickly when you’re in a place that believes in it and when you’re in a place that doesn’t.

Simplicity has its own kryptonite in the equal and opposite force of Complexity.

Ken Segall in Insanely Simple, p. 7 and 8

Insanely Simple
Idea for reflection – 35

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