The Organizational Strategist

July 31, 2011

Strategic Wisdom: An informed action is the impactful one

Wisdom is defined by as the following:

1. the quality or state of being wise; knowledge of what is true or right coupled with just judgment as to action; sagacity, discernment, or insight.

2. scholarly knowledge or learning: the wisdom of the schools.

3. wise sayings or teachings; precepts.

There are many things I appreciate or learn from others that I find to be wisdom.  What may be wisdom to me may not be the same to others.  That is because what is insightful varies based on perspective and experience.  If I were to receive the same advice as I heard recently during a radically different phase of my life, I may not find it interesting or valuable.  In recollection though, I have found that old wisdom still rings true when I place myself back in the mindset and position I was in. 

I’ve compiled a short list of phrases or sayings that I have found to be astute and helpful that applies to the context of the Organizational Strategist.  These may be from famous sources, but they are currently unknown to me.  I hope you find them to be valuable in your own way. 


Words create worlds – I heard this saying in regards to appreciative inquiry designs and dialogues.  The words that are chosen to create inquiry, start and intervention, or bring about new thought signal what is to come.  The core design of a question is the harbinger of what will come from the response.  Choose your words with care and thought to bring about new ideas and actions.

Distinction in strategy is powerful – Strategy is the alignment of capabilities and resources to win in a market.  If the mix of capabilities and resources create a unique approach, it becomes more difficult to duplicate or substitute.  This makes them more appealing, interesting, and sustainable over time.  This differentiation is often a core element of many of the most influential strategies.

Health comes before strategy – While devising and implementing strategy are vitally important to the success of an organization, health can be more important.  If an organization is very unhealthy, it will not matter if the strategy is magnificently planned because people are what make strategy effective.  Having a healthy and productive organization is the foundation that long term strategy needs to build on.

Strategy wins over culture – Strategy is mean to be the alignment of ALL the applicable capabilities and resources in an organization to win in its market. That would include the behavior and activity that happens among the people within the organization.  The culture of an organization is often an important element in victory or defeat.  Due to that, successful strategies should pay heed to the importance of culture and how it enables or disables the effectiveness of strategy.

Culture change starts via stories and examples – The culture of an organization is grown and cultivated over time.  It is not a simple level to switch or dial to spin.  What initiates culture change is vision, storytelling, leadership, and guiding principles for others to take ahold of and build upon.

People act on what is measured and tracked – Aspirational statements and visions do not have direct impact to people unless it falls within their power and ability to act upon.  People may be well intentioned and give extra effort, but if they are not contributing to the core metrics of an organization, they will not be as effective.  As a result of that, key performance indicators (KPIs) and tracking form the basis of what is most important in an organization.  If it is measured and tracked where people are held accountable to those qualitative or quantitative results, it will be more important for those people to act upon.

Innovation should be protected and incubated – Innovation by its core nature involves ideas and trying something new or different.  The more a company has a drive for delivery, the further detached the innovation should become.  That enables more freedom in thinking and the ability to experiment.

Do not try to apply lean principles to innovation – Like the above point, innovation involves creativity. Lean, Six Sigma, CMMI and other mechanisms for process improvement do very well for maturing processes.  However, they should not be imposed on new processes and ideas as they can stifle the possibilities that can emerge.

Every change is an opportunity – Whether change is occurring because something good or bad is expected to happen, treat the approach as a new opportunity.  By thinking openly, the solutions to challenges, problems, or goals can lead to far better results than the anticipated return to a status quo.

People do not inherently resist change, but they do resist being changed – Much like taxes, change is a constant force in everyone’s lives.  It may be slower or faster, dramatic or gradual, positive or negative or other elements.  Change is something we all exposed to and happens whether or not we are ready for it.  Yet, when we plan, understand, and welcome change it can be embraced and boosting.  If we fight it, then it becomes a battle or a war.  The important point is that inspiring others to buy-in to change makes it so they accept it.

If you have thoughts to share on these sayings or other ones that have been valuable to you, share them here!  I am sure to not be the only one who would enjoy the conversation and learning.


July 11, 2010

Corporate Social Responsibility as a Strategic Advantage


Strategy is the alignment of resources and capabilities to win in the market. The more encompassing, pervasive, and thorough the strategy is throughout an organization, the more effective it should be. Generally speaking, the harder you try to make something happen, the more likely it will happen. The same is true with an organization and its devotion to a particular cause. The more the organization tries to enact a given strategy, the more likely it is to happen.

-Strategic CSR-

Corporate Social Responsibility is a great example of a common category of effort that organizations pursue which has great potential for enabling the organization’s strategy, but often falls very short of realizing the full potential. Often times, companies will have a volunteer day, a cause that it endorses or a charitable organization it helps out.

The effects of corporate social responsibility are many fold. Usually this takes the form of putting in some volunteering hours for local clubs or community efforts. What ends up happening is that the employees help out in the community, some positive visibility to the organization comes through, possibly tax benefits are derived, and the organization’s employees feel that they are making a positive impact where they live, which boosts morale. These efforts are good, but not great. Quite easily, they could be great if channeled and reframed to maximize the potential.

How to do this will depend on what is most needed or wanted in an organization. What you want to do is find out where the sweet spot is with the kind of visibility, networking, impact and so forth you want to make, be known for, or receive. That sets the desired outcome and measures of success, which should align well with the overall strategy an organization is pursuing. Additionally, you would want to pair up the kind of output your employees want to do. That sets your current state and desired approach. The support and channeling is where the magic happens to make the link between the organizational strategy and what activities employees would like to do for their corporate social responsibility projects. In this linkage, look for ways of doing the following:

  • Making a lasting impact
  • Helping out in areas that will set up your organization for increased chances of success
  • Finding areas where a small change can have large benefits to your organization and the organization that you are helping out
  • Making the benefits repeatable and having a cumulative effect
  • Finding areas to get the right kind of visibility
  • Being very certain that the way your employees participate is in tune with their own beliefs/desires because their enthusiasm carries through for impact and quality of time spent
  • Researching and understand where your involvement can make the biggest potential feedback
  • Enabling connectivity to the community, brand recognition and relationship building

An example that comes to mind is an idea I proposed when working at a small consulting firm a few years back. The company wanted to grow and was constantly on the lookout for new business analysts and potential consultants. The firm, being personally and professionally invested in the community, was very much in tune with helping out the surrounding organizations and the city overall. What I suggested was that, as a CSR effort, the company partner with schools or professional organizations to put on case study competitions, business plan competitions, and the like while the small consulting firm would help out in a sponsor/volunteer capacity. What this would do is help out the community by finding ways to improve the quality of business plans, critical thinking and other abilities of those involved. The consulting firm employees would be able to directly impact and enhance the innovation and idea incubation through the competition structure while helping improve the individual’s efforts at the same time. Plus, the consulting firm would gain exposure to new ideas, potential candidates and gain insight into perspective client organizations (particularly through real case studies).


The difference between ordinary CSR and CSR that brings strategic advantages to an organization is the method and approach behind the CSR. If CSR is approaches as a means to further enact an organization’s strategy, it has the potential for great benefit. This topic is similar to the author Jim Collins’ thoughts in his book Good to Great where he describes distinction from his classification of level four versus level 5 leadership. The level 5 leaders are the devoted to a cause or effort that is beyond just their own success, fame, and ambition. The topic of Servant Leadership and the Aspen Institute’s teachings also come to mind as they are akin to level 5 leadership. Harness the innate potential, core beliefs, and spirit of giving for your organization and surrounding community or stakeholders to find strategic advantages that are yours to be realized.

May 14, 2010

Sustaining the Spirit of Sustainability

Filed under: Organizational Development, Sustainability — Whit @ 10:36 pm


Sustainability, in its many forms and definitions, has gradually become a more important and pressing topic for organization managers, change agents, and thought leaders. At this time, there are few organizations that have made sustainability pervasive throughout their organization and many do not make sustainability a truly strategic initiative. There are courageous individuals who strive to influence, set or otherwise work to make organizations sustainable via internal or external actions. Unfortunately, many sustainability initiatives that you may hear about are nothing more than green washing to make an effort or organization appear to be environmentally friendly, which would then potentially influence consumer opinion. The more profound and impactful sustainability goes well beyond simply greening an organization a bit, as green washing does, to make it so that decision making, daily work, and future planning incorporate the triple bottom line into the organization’s thinking.

-Sustaining Yourself and the Potential of Sustainability-

There are many reasons for sustainability becoming more important. The value in pursuing a triple bottom line (People, Planet, and Profit) is immense. If an organization does adopt such a strategic and holistically encompassing undertaking, it would take a lot of time, effort, and continued dedication. Achieving a sustainable organization would be a long and enduring competitive advantage in many forms. Beyond that, I bet that it would feel immensely good to work with or for such an organization.

Fortunately for those who aspire to be the harbingers of sustainability, the need for sustainable organizations will only grow in time. With resources decreasing due to increasing world population, among other factors, and our world being more interconnected via global interactions, the advantage of sustainability will become ever more appealing and rewarding for an organization to pursue. I have hope that sustainability roles, contracts and other opportunities will become more abundant in the future.

Until such a time when organizations all adopt and aspire to obtain a holistic triple bottom line, there are steps that can be taken. There is much power in leading by example, modeling the change, and embracing the options that sustainability presents. By making gradual, persistent, and effective changes to oneself and one’s organization, the path toward sustainability can be set. Along the way, be sure that you and your own pursuits are not diminished or burnt out. Personally, I have, at times, become burnt out on trying to do the right thing and act on behalf of sustainable notions. It is tough being a leader. Leadership takes a lot of dedicated effort and not having a means of renewal and helpful avenue to channel difficulties could have lasting negative consequences. Be sure to take time for yourself. Renew the energy that you have. Take proactive measures if and when you can, but be smart about how you go about doing it. Be fair to yourself. Sustainability starts with the idealists, innovative champions and agents of change. It should spread naturally, not through force of will, or by leaning upon selected initiatives or people to carry the whole.

Some take-aways include the following:

–          Do not force sustainability upon your organization. It should be a natural growth that gradually gets more cultivated and spread throughout an organization.

–          Continually build, refine, and construct relationships, projects, and infrastructure to support everyone. Going too hard and too fast can cause problems. A distance runner sets a good pace and sticks to it. By sprinting too much, the stamina and ability to continue dwindles.

–          Stay strong and stay true over time. Achieving a sustainable organization, lifestyle, program or other initiative cannot happen overnight. Such initiatives need a longer term focus and thinking. The importance and relevance of sustainability initiatives will only grow as time goes on anyway so building inertia and success now can enable much later on.


The investiture of the triple bottom line into an organization is a holistic undertaking. In its own way, this is a very encompassing strategic aim because it would need to pull on the resources and capabilities to win and continue to win in market spaces. There are some organizations that have undertaken the triple bottom line, which should be applauded. On the other hand, there are far, far more that have not even begun to think along those lines. In order for those organizations that are new to sustainability to change their course, there needs to be influential, informed, and inspirational people employed that want to build sustainability into their organization. It may take time to find the right opportunity to create sustainability, but it is worth the diligence and effort for all those involved.

May 6, 2010

A Strategic Course of Action: Outsourcing and Partnership

Filed under: Organizational Development, Strategy, Sustainability — Whit @ 10:41 pm


Every organization has its strengths and its weaknesses. To create a strong, lasting competitive advantage the strengths of an organization must be very powerful and able to overshadow its weaknesses. At the same time, an entire organization should be kept healthy like how a boat should have strong oars or a motor to move without any holes in the hull to drag it down. Any weakness that causes its organization to sink should be minimized, patched, and brought up so that the organization, as a whole, is better.

-Forging Partnerships with Complementary Strengths-

In order to overcome the shortcomings in an organization, a number of things can be done. Creating a whole new function to replace the old is an option. However, this can take a lot of time, dedication, and resources in order to make this happen. This can be a very promising long term option if such a deep commitment can be made. An alternative is to make gradual changes (ex: process improvement, strategic divestment, or infrastructure upgrades) to work toward a more successful function. Yet this may take a very long time to reach the desired level and, without truly knowing root causes of organizational weakness, it can be very hard to sustain and renew improvement. Finally, there is relying on external help to replace, fix, rebuild or otherwise overcome the weakness in an organization. This can be accomplished through outsourcing a function.

If done right, outsourcing can become more than a quick fix to a troubled area. Outsourcing is often done in order to trim costs. The global economic network with differing material and labor costs makes outsourcing very promising for cost cutting purposes. Beyond that, outsourcing can become an opportunity for strategic partnership. This is a much more impactful and beneficial type of outsourcing as it becomes more relationship driven instead of simply give and take. What this means is to actively partner and engage with another organization to harness complementary organizational strengths. The ideal outsourcing candidate should be an organization that can offer its core strengths and sustainable competitive advantages in the relevant area. For instance, an organization that has very poor IT enablement and server infrastructure can partner with IBM to provide such support.

Ideally, two or more organizations could find pairings of strengths and weaknesses to complement each other and form a truly symbiotic relationship. This kind of partnering could lead beyond long lasting contracts and mutually reinforcing interactions. In the extreme, it could lead to merging organizations if the relationship and cross-organizational benefits are strong enough and the organizations are compatible in other ways as well.


Creating an enduring strategy is what organizations should strive to accomplish. However, that does not mean that all of the answers or ideas must be generated or grasped from inside the organization itself. Outsourcing can bring many benefits and help overcome many organizational difficulties. The external environment, while treacherous in many competitive landscapes, can be welcoming and invigorating.

March 10, 2010

Finding, living and thriving in your Personal Strategy


Recently I was in downtown Seattle after a couple of business meetings. I stopped at one of my favorite restaurants, Jimmy Johns, to enjoy a delicious sub-sandwich. One of the fun aspects of Jimmy Johns is the humorous signs that decorate the walls and windows. I saw three signs that were stacked next to each other saying the following:


You don’t need the money


You’ve never been hurt


Nobody’s watching

Those signs made me think about what I feel one’s own personal strategy should be like. Please indulge me as I impart some thoughts from my personal experience and what, hopefully, could be wisdom.

-Personal Strategy-

I’ve heard the saying that “if you love what you do, you’ll never work another day in your life”. Everyone’s ideal career or jobs would be to do what they love and satisfy whatever their professional goals may be. Understanding your strengths, organizational fit, dreams or goals and more is a long path of self discovery and learning about the business environments that we can immerse ourselves in. Finding what you love to do can be a short path or a long winding road to walk, but it is a journey that you should endeavor to take. It starts within you to learn what you do and do not like, love, and appreciate. From that, your journey goes into various specialties, environments, organizational dynamics and more as you test what is available and possible for you. Once you understand how you, in your own way, can win in your individual market of opportunities through aligning your individual resources and capabilities, you have your strategy. That strategy can make it so you can “work like you don’t need the money.”

In personal and professional relationships, I feel everyone should be open, trusting, candid and respectful. The reason for that is that you can be yourself more easily around others and that the time it can take to form meaningful relationships is decreased. If there are barriers to creating good relationships then it will naturally be harder to form those good relationships. I do not mean that you should be naïve, ignorant of danger signs or not protective of what is most important to you. People tend to set up defensive barriers because of past difficulties, environments, or circumstances. Learning from your experiences is vital to survival. However, I say you should strive to find a balance and make it so that you can create the best relationships with others as fast as you can. You do not want needless barriers to happiness or potential in your life. Life, in many ways, is short and I say let’s all try to make the most of it. That is a path to “love like you’ve never been hurt.”

At the same time with finding your calling, purpose, ideal job or whatever shapes that takes, it is important to know that there are many sides to a person. Your work self may be very different than your at home self. Each of your own roles or selves, as I’ve been calling them, has their own needs. In the business world, there are many causes and organizations that pursue sustainability and to do that effectively and efficiently they need to think through all of their various interactions, relationships, suppliers, distributors, customers, employees, and environment. Making an organization sustainable is no small feat and those causes and organizations that assist with sustainable initiatives know that. Similarly, sustaining your different selves can take a lot of time, effort, and planning. “Work hard and play hard” is another saying that I enjoy using and practicing. You need to find people, resources, and activities that will help sustain you in the good times and the hard times. In those efforts that renew you, live it up. The more you can renew yourself and sustain yourself at your best, the better your life will be. Make the most of your opportunities to truly be yourself and enjoy the time you have. If you can do that then you should “dance like nobody’s watching.”


Strategy can take many forms and levels. Most of the articles in this blog have related to large scale organizations and strategic elements. However, an individual’s strategy can mimic the decision making, in-depth planning, adaptability and alignment that larger scale strategy. For your personal strategy, I strongly encourage you to find what you love and pursue it; to trust, welcome, and strengthen your relationships; and to sustain yourself and live your adventures to their fullest.

February 15, 2010

Leadership will be vital to harnessing, cultivating, and retaining Gen Y


As time goes by, each generation has its time to thrive. Baby Boomers have been enjoying their career prime for awhile now and are starting retirement or already have retired. Gen Xers have strived to find their prime and have been making headway. As I noted in an earlier article, Gen Y has been trying to get a foothold but times have been tough. In the coming years, Gen Y will be at a disadvantage because of the knowledge and experience gap created by the current economic climate and Boomer’s prolonging retirement. Companies that have not been cultivating the coming generation will face a talent management crisis once Baby Boomers and Gen X can no longer do all or most of the work necessary. What this means is that those companies will need to develop their Gen Y capacity and since the most talented Gen Y individuals will be highly sought after. To both attract and retain the talented, organizational leadership, management and supervision will be crucial.

-Exceptional Cases-

There are instances of individuals and companies that are already implementing measures to mitigate the risk and challenge for younger workers that the job market and economy has been creating. These are examples in which lessons can be learned and hopefully emulated by organizations and individuals alike. Not all examples will be feasible, but they can still help.

Many Baby Boomers are working longer, which makes it harder for Gen X and Gen Y to get jobs or move up the corporate ladder. Thankfully, there are some ways of lessening this difficulty. Take Abbot Labs as an example from this Businessweek article. The company has set up an arrangement where veteran workers can opt to work less days, take more vacation, and keep the same contributions to their retirement. While their salaries are decreased, this generates more opportunities for other employees, which will help close in on the knowledge and experience gaps. 

Additionally, there are Gen Y individuals who are utilizing technology to their advantage with flexible work styles according to an article by the Whig Standard, an online Canadian news site. These individuals are taking on multiple jobs to fulfill their varied needs and wants out of their professional life, which gives them more experience, skills, and knowledge. These parallel careers are made possible by flexible hours, pay for performance, communication accessibility devices (smart phones and the like) and roles that do not require a regular full time commitment.

– The Knowledge and Experience Gap is Growing-

Despite that there are fine examples that some are undertaking, the overall difficulty that having an entire generation underemployed looms over us. This Businessinsider article states that fewer Gen Y individuals have been working in recent years. The long term challenge that this exacerbates is the widening knowledge and experience gap. With retirement stocks and funds being down, job creation not keeping up with demand and Gen Y individuals struggling to find relevant jobs, this problem won’t go away any time soon. As a result of this, the Gen Y individuals that are employed will become even more valuable in the long haul because they will have the skills and abilities an organization needs. Retention and dedication to the best of these employees will be pivotal.

Management and leadership in organizations will be the crux of harnessing and retaining Gen Y individuals. This finding came from an Appreciative Inquiry initiative in a national power company that studied its own employees, its prospective employees, and Gen Y individuals as a whole. From the 100+ Gen Y interviews done the vast majority (more than 75%) strongly emphasized seeking out and valuing good relationships with their colleagues, supervisors, and leadership. Relationships are supremely important. Knowing this, the next step would be to understand how to cultivate good relationships.

From my personal experience and the professional projects I’ve been on, I’ve found that Gen Y is not easy to please. Unlike other generational trends where a particular kind of reward would often fit anyone from a generational population, Gen Y is so diverse that each member may be motivated by different kinds of rewards. Gen Y’s wants and needs are mixed, yet their supervisors play a highly impactful role in their job satisfaction. Instead, leadership in an organization needs to pave the way to create a culture of mindfulness and awareness throughout the organization. By doing so, it can remain attentive to the needs and wants of its employees effectively and then respond accordingly. For the full paper that I wrote on how to lead Gen Y, see this link: Leading Generation Y by Whit Tice.

A conclusion the paper makes is that cultivating mindfulness, receptivity, and awareness throughout an organization will become increasingly important. This is the fundamental element that will allow management, supervisors, and leadership to understand, appreciate, and create lasting positive relationships with their Gen Y counterparts.  Without having such a basis, relationships with Gen Y will be shaky at best. That could lead to an organizational deficiency in knowledge, experience, and the ability to produce high quality work results.


The economy and difficulty Gen Y is experiencing will not go away any time soon. There will be ongoing repercussions for many years to come. To begin to overcome these repercussions, there are positive steps that can be made. A culture of mindfulness would go a long way to helping individuals, teams, and organizations overall.


Earlier Organizational Strategist blog Gen Y article:

Abbot Labs example:

Gen Y parallel careers:

Gen Y not working much:

January 20, 2010

Achieving Alignment & Balance through Strategic Planning


It’s the time of year again for New Year’s resolutions, performance management, expectation setting, and business goal setting. In their own way, those pursuits are setting up and aligning strategy. Such aspirations will range from bottom line monetary improvements, to marketplace innovations, to work/life balance, to personal happiness and well being.

Some of my own goals include the following:

  • Cultivate meaningful, positive relationships in my Seattle network by meeting 2+ people a week
  • Create 3+ articles per month for this blog and grow the readership (suggestions welcome!)
  • Overcome the challenging economic circumstances and find my way to a whole new professional adventure this year

A new year brings new possibilities and new dreams to everyone who sets their mind to doing so. It is very important to grasp onto these opportunities while they are knocking at your door. Be sure to keep in mind that opportunities can be entirely new or part of an ongoing series of pursuits.

-Maintain the Investment Balance of Sustaining versus Emerging-

When researching and plotting out the organizational alignment of resources and capabilities to win in the market, i.e. setting your organizational strategy, understand that there needs to be a balance. That balance should take place among your initiatives to sustain momentum and trying something entirely new. The proper balance will vary based upon your or your organizational needs. However, either extreme of the spectrum (focusing solely on emerging investments with no existing investment maintenance or sustaining existing investments and not investing in future potential) can lead to disaster.

Here are some scenarios:

  • The rapid scale creation and market of hard disks is a good example. The pace of creation and disruptive inventions was so great that every company creating new disks had to invest heavily in constantly improving or replacing their disk offerings. Many disk creating companies died off because they could not keep up with the pace of technological change and breakthrough. Disk drives were constantly being replaced. I remember zip disks, laser disks, optical drives, and other technologies that sounded very promising, but were replaced by CD ROMs, DVDs, and others as time went by.
  • Another example that comes to mind is the competition of American made automobiles against the foreign imports, especially Asian cars. This is a much more drawn out one as it took more years to gradually take effect. Regardless, we’ve seen Toyota, Hyundai, Nissan, and others gradually phase out or decrease sales of Ford, Dodge, and others because of their better prices, longevity, warranties, and so on. American auto makers tried to mimic their production system, which helped but ultimately only delayed the phasing out because of the continuing improvement and innovation that Toyota and others employed. Here the American car companies did not invest enough in new technologies to overcome the operational excellence and innovation of the international competition.
  • For company examples of the past decade, check out this interesting blog post from the Harvard Business Review.

You need a pipeline of things to come; to keep fresh, stay agile, and keep competing with other organizations. So that thought should always be present when doing strategic planning and goal setting. However, don’t neglect the good things you already have going. Like strength based change, it’s good to continually cultivate your strengths to make the most of them. There is a plethora of good information on finding the right kind of balance needed. For example, Clayton Christensen has written some excellent books on this kind of subject. The Innovator’s Dilemma and Innovator’s Solution are examples of such books. Generally speaking, I’ve found that the faster an industry changes, the more investment needs to be made for innovating. This may sound rather simple, but it can be really hard to let go of or trim the budget of the products/services that have become the seasoned “cash cows” of an organization in order to pave the way to the future. Always be thinking about the long term sustainability of yourself and organization (people, planet, and profit) and how the ever changing market environment needs and how your organization can be adaptable.


I am personally inspired by stories of courage and action. In fact, I made that a focus of my MBA class graduation speech. Similar to that messaging, know that it takes courage to make the big gains, try new things, and embark on new adventures. Taking risks does not always pay off. Yet, it may be an even bigger risk to the long term sustainability of an organization to take no risks at all. I encourage everyone to take the time to find the right balance of pursuing innovation, continual improvement in operations, and market fit. I look forward to hearing your stories of inspiration, courage and action.


Harvard Business Review blog:

My graduation speech:

January 13, 2010

Whole System Sustainability – Bringing Together Stakeholders to Generate Action


  Sustainability, renewable and/or alternative energy, the triple bottom line (People, Planet, Profit also known as the three P’s or 3P), and going green or building green all are hot topics right now. They will likely continue to grow in importance with the environment being more prominent in our thoughts and with the economic challenges we all face. Given this increase in both interest and necessity, where does a person or organization as a whole begin to unravel the path to create a more sustainable organization? What can be done? What should be done? How do we find the right steps to take?

-Sustainability & Whole System Involvement-

  It may be shocking, but the answers are all around. With the information age upon us and society’s urge to act in sustainable ways increasing, it is becoming easier to achieve much by acting for a sustainability goal.  As I’ve observed from my own sustainability consulting by facilitating workshops, conducting meetings, and collaboratively designing projects, the primary challenge for both individuals and organizations is a lack of information. Stakeholders of all sorts can help. Just like it’s surprising how often people are open to networking and willing to share their story, so too are organizations willing to partner, provide information and offer advice.

  The information one needs is out there! In my experience, it’s surprisingly easy to make good connections and create new insight once the right people meet up at the right time. They want to be found because they are doing good things for sustainability efforts and doing well as an organization at the same time. So the business enhancing elements are favored as well as the motivation to help out.

  As mentioned in my previous post, whole system involvement for your strategic priorities is very effective and helpful. With sustainability, organizations are still finding their way, trying to understand what ‘sustainability’ means to them, and learning what is available. However, I’ve found that it’s a matter of networking and finding diverse representatives for the varieties of stakeholder groups that makes overcoming challenges much easier than first thought. Non-government organizations, also known as NGOs (like Greenpeace, universities, charitable organizations), local businesses (farmers markets, small manufacturers, unions, professional groups, etc), local and federal government agencies (USDA, chambers of commerce, law enforcement or environmental officials) and, of course, the various stakeholder groups inside your organization should help comprise a whole system initiative.

  The diversity of information and representation can lead to many startling discoveries and partnerships. I have known of and heard about how fantastic new projects are started because the alignment of connections made and ideas generated. Whole systems involvement used to start sustainability initiatives bridges the gaps in information, motivation, and collaboration.


  Whole system involvement makes it so the right people can come to the right place at the right time. These gatherings of the minds and organizations create new dialogue and understanding. Sustainability is very achievable for you and your organization’s efforts. Like climbing a mountain, it takes a series of steps to reach your goal. Sustainability is no different in that regard. Yet, by bringing together the right people, you can learn the easiest, most effective way to the top of that sustainability mountain.

  If you would like to learn more, I have come across a webinar entitled “Sustainability: A Whole System Perspective” that is being offered by one of my instructor/consultant friends, Bonnie Richley, from Case Western Reserve University’s Weatherhead School of Management. Click here for information on her upcoming webinar. I anticipate that she’ll be able to give an elegant and informative take on this same topic.


Bonnie Richley’s LinkedIn profile:

Upcoming Webinar on Sustainability & Whole Systems:

November 25, 2009

Appreciative Inquiry: An Introduction to a Fantastic Way to Enact Change


I have found that properly involving people are often an incredibly critical factor, if not the most important factor, to ensuring some sort of organizational change goes along as planned. Understanding the direction of the change should come with the organizational strategy that has been set forth. Knowing the proper timing and ways to involve stakeholders in the change process comes with time and experience. Once those details and the strategy to go forward have been agreed upon, Appreciative Inquiry (AI) has been a favorite method of mine to involve any number of individuals from very small to incredibly large groups toward the implementation of an initiative.

There is an enormous that could be said about AI. In this post, I’ll just stick to the basics to help readers get a flavor of what it is. Further articles will mention more specific aspects of AI.

-Description of Appreciative Inquiry-

Appreciative Inquiry is fun to facilitate, energizes all of the participants, constructs and cultivates at the same time and is many other helpful attributes. It centers on finding the good, the strength, and the positive in an organization or individual, which forms the appreciation. The process to find that information is the inquiry. Hence, that combination becomes appreciative inquiry.

I came to know of AI from the Organizational Behavior (OB) department in Weatherhead. Those who taught me the most are Professors David Cooperrider and Ron Fry, who are both very well known for their consulting work and writing. They can both be recognized by their calm tone, easy going attitudes, and well pronounced mustaches. As a side note, it did seem that many of the distinguished characters in the OB department all had mustaches. Ladies, don’t worry, I have known many fantastic AI practitioners that are women.

In the MPOD (Master of Science in Positive Organizational Development and Change) program, AI changed the program so radically that it evolved into MPOD instead of simply MOD. With the addition of the “P” for Positive, often people ask “was organizational development negative previously?” The answer would be “no” because organizational development is meant to help build or implement changes. The approach in doing so would likely not have been as upbeat or optimistic because of the way that AI purposefully centers on the positive in an organization.

The positive focus is often referred to as a strengths based approach. In using AI, it pulls upon the good aspects that are already present or have been enacted in an organization. The inquiry is the information gathering that helps elicit the stories, descriptions, and other imaginings of what can be possible from the people involved. Due to the nature of pulling out the good aspects present in an organization, it makes it easier, more engaging, uplifting, energizing and more to be a part of the process. Unlike a problem-centric change initiative, one where the objective is to “fix” something, AI tries to create, build, cultivate and otherwise inspire growth in the system of influenced people. Often the energy and enthusiasm brought up in the AI process will produce new dialogue, conversations and fast paced team formation to further enact change.

-How AI Works-

I won’t get into the details of the 4D cycle of AI here yet or other specifics. Those juicy bits of information can wait for follow up posts.

As said above, AI involves a lot of interviewing and storytelling. That is the most crucial aspect of AI since that information and energy from the conversation fuels the rest of the effort. How the interviews are implemented can be done in many different fashions to meet the needs of the change intervention and other potential constraints (time, money, etc). The two methods that I know to be the most influential are cascading interviews and summits.

Cascading interviews

Cascading interviews are where a core group starts as interviewers to gather data, create energy, and discover ideas. Each interviewer would undergo a handful of interviews. The interviewees would then become interviewers and would interview another handful of people who have not been interviewed yet. Through the breadth and depth of the interviewing from gradually spreading out the AI interviews, the cascading effect is obtained. This method allows for the change process to occur at a more natural pace and does not necessitate people to be pulled away from their normal jobs in such a way that an offsite or series of multi-hour long meetings would.


AI Summits are multi-day workshops that include AI interviews, activities for planning and coordination, and project team formation. The intent with summits is to bring in as many of the key people as possible to try and enact a holistic change process.. AI, being a very energizing method, helps tremendously to provide the steam to the engine of change.

-AI in Action-

Here are some avenues that I have found AI to be helpful:

  • Job interviews
  • OD interventions on the topics of empowerment and performance management
  • Sustainability collaboration
  • Workshop facilitation
  • Best practice sharing
  • Personal development and coaching
  • Case study interviews
  • MBA curriculum design applications and ideas
  • Data gathering for a study on Gen Y values, motivation, and retention
  • AI strengths-based performance management reviews

Some Examples Where I know AI has been used very successfully:

  • Higher Education
  • Utilities (Coal and Water energy)
  • Aerospace & Defense
  • Fortune 100 companies
  • US Armed Forces
  • Manufacturing companies
  • United Nations Conferences
  • Engineering companies


AI rapidly became one of my favorite ways of implementing a phase or an entire change project. The AI interventions can rapidly grow with their own vitality in such a way that it’s both shocking and inspiring. Needless to say, I highly recommend finding your own vehicle for trying it out.

November 3, 2009

Clean Tech: Working Smarter, not Harder


The long held notions to reduce, reuse, and recycle will help our environment and preserve our limited resources still hold true. Consumers and companies are making more of an effort to care for our planet’s sustainability. However, the paths for achieving that aim have been evolving and diversifying. Using less material, fuel, electricity or other inputs (reduction) are still a primary pursuit. Yet, it seems to be that the biggest thing going on right now are innovations to harness and utilize energy through a smarter means instead of a more rigorous means. Essentially, the sustainability pursuits for organizations must work smarter, not harder, to keep up with the latest trends and technology.

-Sustainable Alternative Energy Avenues-

Smart grid is an example of this kind of sustainability pursuit that many companies, including Boeing, IBM, Oracle, Google, and more are getting into. Fundamentally it’s a means of working through the base economic principle of supply versus demand applied to mass scale electricity usage. As demand grows and supply isn’t as available, the price for energy (particularly electricity) goes up. The smart grid technologies and implementations would help manage the supply versus demand so that there isn’t as much stress on the plants creating the energy. Working smarter via smart grid technology and infrastructure would save money, reduce stress on energy generators, lessen the possibility of a power outage, and potentially allow for companies or households to sell back power. To learn more about how smart grids work, what components go into them, and the current evaluation of the potential benefits, check out this Strategy and Business article. To keep up with smart grid press, you may want to bookmark Greentech Media’s greentechgrid site, which can be found here. That last site has a lot of articles and resources to cover what all is happening, both from the technical and organizational involvement sides of smart grid development.

Solar panels, hydro-electric, and wind power and others take advantage of energy in its natural forms of movement and/or heat. These are other sustainable clean technology pursuits that have vast potential to provide the energy consumers need as well. These power sources take energy from a naturally occurring source and transform it into another, easily accessible and consumable means for our usage. Wind turbines and hydroelectric dams use the kinetic force of wind or gravity, respectively, to harness energy. Solar energy is harnessing the heat from the sun’s rays to polarize the photo-voltaic cells, among other solar power harnessing means. McKinsey did a neat interactive post on solar technologies. The article can be found here, which will explain the definitions as well as compare their strengths and challenges.

These technologies are all harnessing energy that is already out there; we just need to capture it. Once we’ve done that we can use it to our advantage. In some ways, these sources of energy are like finding a twenty dollar bill in your ski jacket that you had saved for emergency snacks and you are surprised to find it when you pull it out of your winter clothes bin. These are energy opportunities that are at your feet and we need to simply find a way to pick it up. Instead of doing the hard tasks of mining and burning to create energy as coal plants do, we can be smarter by using what we have all around us. These are ways we can work smarter, instead of harder.

-Organizational Clean Tech Use-

Better energy usage, capturing the energy that’s right in front of us and innovation to breakthrough into new energy avenues has caught the attention of organizations from government to businesses. Being smart about energy has definitely caught on. The gas-electricity hybrid Prius automobile from Toyota has been extremely popular and become a symbol of that company’s innovation. President Obama’s administration wants to make the US a leader in clean energy pursuits. An article from the San Jose Mercury News states that the new “Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy… has received $400 million through the federal stimulus act.” That money is going to be used to help fund new ideas to create the next generation of clean technologies in the US. Notable companies, Google and Microsoft, have long been looking for sustainability measures in their products and operations. As mentioned in this Financial Times article both of those companies are investigating wind energy and Microsoft has put a server farm in Dublin to take advantage of the natural cooling the weather there provides.

On the product side, I found that Microsoft’s Windows 7 Operating System has some clean tech examples. Windows 7 has improved power management and boot time, mentioned in this ComputerWorld article, which reduces power usage and the shortened boot time answers many prayers. A recent Microsoft’s Software Enables Earth sustainability blog post states that the power management features include automatically powering down when idle, handling system component power usage better (i.e. not powering a component when not needed/in use), and new diagnostic tools to help with power management. Another post from the same blog states that there’s a 91% carbon emission reduction from using digital downloads instead of producing CDs/DVDs. Most of these are management tools that enable more control of emissions and resource usage. While not revolutionary in their approach, smart and helpful decision making can help ensure a company has a lessened negative environmental impact, decreased energy costs, and increase operating performance.


The Triple Bottom Line Sustainability, defined and described in a previous article of mine here, can be achieved by many means. Energy usage has become an important topic and will likely continue to become even more important in the future. Clean tech, thus far, seems to be focused on better managing resources. The improved resource management and usage is done by working smarter, instead of working harder.

Pursuing improved management offers better awareness, control, security, and lessened risks. Leadership goes beyond management and inspires change. A question that I have been pondering after researching clean tech and the improved management of energy resources is what would it mean to be a leader in the clean technology realm?


-Hyperlinked Sites-

Smart Grid explanation site:

Greentechgrid site:

McKinsey Interactive article:

ARPA-E receives $400 million for clean tech grants:

Financial Times article mentioning Microsoft and Google looking into wind energy:

Computerworld article on Windows 7:

Microsoft Software Enabled Earth blog post on Windows 7:

Microsoft Software Enabled Earth blog post on carbon reductions by using downloads:

Triple Bottom Line Sustainability post:

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