The Organizational Strategist

July 31, 2011

Strategic Wisdom: An informed action is the impactful one


Wisdom is defined by dictionary.com 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.

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December 28, 2010

The problem with problems


There have been many times I’ve encountered client ‘pain points’, corporate problems that need fixing, organizational symptoms that need cures, and other various difficulties or challenges that need to be overcome.  Consulting and professional advancement often takes on an approach that aims to remedy the bad parts of an organization.  There, it takes empathy, listening, and observation to grasp where having a quick impact can be accomplished.  It is often easy to see what needs to change in these situations and find the right mitigation can lead to strong results. 

However, focusing around fixing a problem is inherently limiting.  I call this a “deficit-based” approach or focus.  It is deficit-based because it is looking at something that is underperforming, worse than the norm, or otherwise below the accepted operational standard.  With this kind of deficit-based focus, the optimal solution is to return things to the status quo.  It’s the patch that returns the flow of work back to the expected pace or output.  With a deficit-based approach, the outcome of the consulting initiative will result in returning the flow of business to the accepted status quo.  By defining the status quo as the planned end result, it prevents growth, acceleration, or otherwise improvement beyond the current thinking. 

Our business society is an ever-evolving environment.   It can be really difficult to take time away from delivering or working on an output to revisit the design or original intention.  We are forced to make decisions without knowing all of the information.  Our efforts need to change along with the environment and that means making the most of our efforts. 

When uncovering an area that needs to be changed, approach it as an opportunity.  In any time where a planned change is to occur, take the time to understand the implications of the decisions and actions.  Simply “fixing” the problem will leave the organization as it was in the past before whatever change caused a problem in the first place.  This may mean the organization is obsolete, even with the problem being fixed.  When a computer starts to slow down and eventually whirrs its last hard disk spin, a consumer would not replace the machine with the same model as the original.  The consumer would go out and buy a new computer with improved technical specifications!  Understanding the design, underlying thinking, and assumptions can do much to clarify what should be done for the future.  Additionally, new information, ideas, and possibilities are ripe for the picking.  These are where the opportunities are for the next level to be achieved.  By incorporating new information and design elements, the resulting organization can become much better than what was the “status quo.”  This different approach can take the simple fix into a revolutionary advancement!

February 22, 2010

Unlocking Hidden Potential through Positive Deviants


-Introduction-

In any organization, there will be top performers, exemplary people, and outliers from the norm of the workplace. Those people have experienced the extraordinary in some fashion and the better ones will be able to repeat or recreate their great efforts over time. One can identify them because they are the ones that receive awards, get recognition, obtain big promotions and raises, succeed where others fail, get placed in the high profile and visible projects and more. They are the rock stars of an organization. These are the positive deviants. They are set apart from the flock because of their efforts, which makes them a deviant. Their excellent results are the positive aspect.

-Background of Positive Deviance-

My experience with searching for positive deviants came from my studies and application of Appreciative Inquiry (AI) as taught by David Cooperrider and Ron Fry while in my later years at Weatherhead School of Management. When taken as a part of an AI interview and allowing for interviewees to engage in their own stories, positive deviants or examples of their actions can be a very powerful and moving start to a change initiative. When the AI interview questionnaire is well worded to allow for variety, diversity, and imagination, interviewees share their stories of positive deviance with pleasure and fond remembrance. Eyes light up, energy flows from the story teller, and everyone gets engaged in the moment. It’s a marvel to witness and leaves a lasting impression on everyone.

The more diverse and encompassing the positive deviant search is, the higher the likelihood that fantastic ideas, actions, and results will emerge. Any time where an experience or approach may be different, a positive deviant search could take place. If there is a rigid structure that must be followed with no divergence, then there will be no deviants, positive or otherwise, available. The tightly scripted internationally routed computer tech support calls, where the tech support person knows no more vocabulary than the script itself, comes to mind. That is a situation where positive deviants would be difficult to find. The environment where positive deviants will blossom the most would be one that is diverse, learning, experimenting and evolving. For example, business development professionals that make sales calls seem like an art form of intricately dancing wordplay, skillful topic navigation, and provocative offers would be a highly promising area to look for positive deviants.

-Tapping into the Latent Positive Deviance-

Surfacing the stories and examples of positive deviance is the core element of improving an organization or initiative. Here are some simplified steps to take to realize the value of positive deviance.

  1. Set the topic, context, direction or strategy that frames the environment where some may have demonstrated positive deviance
  2. Inquire about examples where the extraordinary happened in as many areas as possible
  3. Capture the story, knowledge, ideas, and more from these positive deviant examples
  4. Combine the captured information by theme
  5. Make the information actionable to individuals, teams, and organizations

There are many, many ways that learning can take place from positive deviants. Here are some opportunities that immediately come to mind:

  • Personal and professional development
  • Business process improvement
  • Training material expansion
  • Informational interview arrangements
  • Product/Service innovation
  • Career advice and insight
  • Cross-functional or team collaboration
  • Efficiency or effectiveness acceleration

-Conclusion-

Everyone has their brilliant moments. Some people, groups, or organizations have more moments than others. Unearthing and surfacing those moments of greatness and making more of them happen can be achieved through cultivation from positive deviants. Recognizing the sound of opportunity knocking is the first part, but taking the chance to engage in that opportunity leading to new adventures is a decision everyone must make. Who wouldn’t want to learn from those who have had astonishing adventures?

January 2, 2010

Accelerating your Strategic Projects thru Whole System Involvement


-Introduction-

  Take a few moments to think about a team or group effort that you’ve been involved in that went particularly well because of the right people being involved. Having the right people in place at the right time can drastically speed up a project, in whatever phase it may be in. Now think about the opposite scenario when a group effort took a really long time because of roadblocks like needing approvals, having to wait for a particular person’s or unit’s input, the complexity of needing to involve a huge number of stakeholders, or other problems.

  There are times when slowing down for a moment, allows the organization to speed up overall. Trying to do large scale change in a gradual fashion can seem to take forever. This might be the case because of the time it takes to bring aboard all of the stakeholders, ensure clear and complete communication, or to roll out the changes takes a lot of time, effort, and dedication. By bringing in the whole system to advance a project effort, the complexity and intricacies that can bog down a project are drastically reduced.

-Whole System Involvement-

  By bringing in people from all around the project’s organization as well as any relevant stakeholder groups into the same room at the same time, the whole system becomes involved and great things happen. This incorporation of different people and groups would come in the form of some sort of summit, conference, or workshop. I’ll use the term workshop. Helpful tip – Use the stakeholder groupings of the 4 I’s to help identify which kinds of stakeholders to bring in for the project.

    Interested – Who would be interested in this project?

    Informed – Who would be informed about some or all of the elements of this project?

    Impacted – Who would be impacted throughout the course of this project?

    Influenced – Who would be influenced by this project or who might be influential in implementing it?

The more representation that is involved in the workshop, the more informed, able, and empowered the entire effort can become. As more people become involved, there are a number of benefits:

  • More representation of disparate parts of systemic information can be included. Think about auxiliary business units, specialized areas, and other areas that may have unique input. This also drastically speeds up implementation planning.
  • Communication is simpler, easier, and faster. Any vision, direction, or other communication elements that most or all of the organization would need to know becomes much more effectively understood since the creation, intent, and core of the message would likely be made during the workshop.
  • Planning and empowerment for project implementation is able to be granted quickly. With the decision makers and sponsors being involved in the workshop, project presentations, pitches, and meetings are minimized. That means the people high up are on board with the change initiative at the same time as those who devise, design and implement.
  • New revelations and understanding become possible through the exposure and incorporation of stakeholder interactions that are further away from the known functions. For any given role in an organization, there are functions that are closer and further away. The further the role/function distance that is bridged, the more likely sharing of information can lead to new understanding. A strong proponent of whole system involvement is that a CEO might talk with an assembly line worker, which makes the workshop all the more real and powerful while allowing information sharing and collaboration. Diversity brings many benefits.
  • The importance and belief in the workshop goal(s) is shared by all. With the development that the workshop brings, so too does the understanding and shared importance spread. The diversity of individuals and stakeholder groups helps make sure that the workshop addresses any and all of the important points. That inclusion and collaboration helps foster championship among all present.

-Appreciative Inquiry Summit Usage-

  Appreciative Inquiry (AI) summits utilize whole system involvement as much as possible. The AI interviews work very well for bringing up great ideas and generating a lot of collaborative, positive energy. Summit designs often have one or more rounds of AI interviews where representatives from different stakeholder groups interview each other to bridge the differences among the participants and foster understanding. Due to the infectious energy that AI interviews bring, interviewers often become the biggest proponents of their interviewee’s ideas. With the whole system involvement, the benefits from diversity are increased. From that diversity, the information gathering/sharing is even better.

-Summary-

  It may seem that pulling so many people away from their normal jobs and roles is a crazy thing to do because of the productivity loss that would cause. Yet, if the project initiative is an important one, taking people away from their usual jobs can be well worth the time and effort. As listed above, there are many benefits from the large scale collaboration and involvement of the whole system.

December 2, 2009

Strengths Based Change – It’s Not Fluffy Stuff


-Introduction-

Frequent challenges surface against Appreciative Inquiry (AI), strength’s based coaching/consulting, and ‘soft skill’ focused activities. Those challenges often state that those kinds of activities are “fluffy”, offer little to no paths to business success or any real grounding in real or true business challenges. I won’t argue that some approaches do not match those challenges. However, those challenges are invalid if the strengths based change is done in such a way that it takes into account the whole picture (the good, the bad, and the not so pretty).

-Focus on the Strengths and Positives-

Grounding on the present reality, letting go of whatever is troubling, and being negative is ok. That’s true for strength based change initiatives as long as the process is meant to be a level setting experience that can then be catapulted into the positive focus.

Strengths based consulting/coaching builds upon whatever the best parts of an organization or individual has. The weaknesses are not meant to simply be avoided. On the contrary, they should be identified. Then, if there is energy around improving challenging areas, it’s a very helpful pursuit. However, it is often not as interesting, rewarding, or easy to improve a tough area. If that is the case, then finding where and how the weak area(s) can be compensated for or simply overcome by focusing on the best part(s) should be a priority task.

In AI summits, the negative baggage that people bring can, at times, be such a roadblock to the workshops that it must be addressed. Allowing time and ‘space’ for people to vent, acknowledge the challenges or difficulties that they have faced, and to understand what has happened previously in the organizational system can help people let go of their anxiety. Once the collective mindset has let go of the past, the group is more open to the future and the summit can resume.

-Example Activities & Framework-

To start with, identify the strengths, “best parts” and difficult areas from pursuits like these:

  • Search for positive deviants in an organization (AI activity)
  • Identification of best self for an individual (AI activity)
  • 360 feedback process for an individual (my favorite being Hay Group’s ECI and ESCI)
  • Strength Finder identification of an individual’s strengths
  • The well known SWOT activity for an individual or organization (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats)
  • Core competency analysis and breakdown for an organization
  • Competitive analysis comparing organization against target competitors for an organization

Doing these kinds of activities should give a lot of information regarding how performance has been, what areas have shined and those areas that are challenging. Map those findings against the intended strategy to see what pursuits would be the most fitting with the organization or personal aspirations. Focusing on strengths is often more energizing, fun, and empowering because the intent would be to build upon what is already going well and to extend and find the optimal usage and fit of the strong areas. As a means of leveraging strengths, it is possible to find ways of eliminating or severely reducing the weak areas. For example, you may have an individual who is great at inspiring and leading her team. She can motivate and energize them very effectively, but has trouble creating strong analytically based presentations. A positive resolution to this weakness might be to find a finance team manager who does not have solid leadership skills. Each, in turn, could benefit from pairing up to mentor each other and potentially help with engagement or presentations. In a similar fashion, using a SWOT on an organization can be beneficial in a strategic manner if the pairing of strengths and opportunities can make the threats and/or weaknesses lessened or, better yet, completely irrelevant.

-Conclusion-

It does make sound business sense to have a strengths based approach. I’ve experienced people being very closed off and dismissive of an AI or positive-centric technique. However, once they experience the process, I’ve seen them transform into the most outspoken champions.

November 25, 2009

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


-Introduction-

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.

Summits

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

-Closing-

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 13, 2009

The keys necessary to secure a 1st Mover Advantage


Part 1 of 2 articles on 1st Mover Advantage

-Introduction-

                The energy and promise of a new innovation in a company’s services or products can be almost tangible. Such discoveries make business and marketing colleagues dream of market space potential and positive forecasts of sales, revenues, and profits. The entrepreneurial spirit brings a sparkle to the eye of everyone involved.

                That spirit has been present in many of the roles I’ve been in. I always aspire to generate and highlight the potential opportunities that an organization has. I have found that inspiring others to see a new vision, create a new venture, and work to realize possibility is a very engaging activity. Utilizing Appreciative Inquiry (AI), one of the many subjects that I immensely enjoyed learning during my time at Weatherhead, is a wonderful method for inspiring, creating, and engaging. More on AI will come in a later post though. I know that I’m not alone in constantly being eager to overcome challenges, live in the adventure, and realize the openings that innovations bring.

-Securing the First Mover Advantage-

                Innovations can come in many forms. At times, an improvement is realized and a market space is sustained. Other times, entirely new product or service domains, which have their own market spaces, are created. A new market space may be due to a product or service becoming available in a previously inaccessible geography, demographic or other realm. By moving into the new market space, the first mover advantage can be secured. The term “first mover advantage” refers to the mover being able to capture the resources or whatever potential the market space initially offers. This will mean that the vast majority of most receptive customers, valuable resources, brand notoriety and reputation, and any other available benefits go to the first mover. The sparkle in the entrepreneur’s eye is envisioning these kinds of potential benefits. Any other mover that tries to enter into the same market space will not be able to as easily or capture the same advantages. Exactly how much of the advantage remains after other movers enter into the same market space depends upon how the first mover utilizes the advantages of being the first entrant.

To make the most of the first mover advantage, the following points will help:

  • Harnessing the enthusiastic customers that could use the product or service to the most benefit
  • Obtaining the most precious or critical resources available in the market space
  • Cultivating new customers through communication of benefits
  • Ensuring sufficient infrastructure is in place to realize all potential market space advantages
  • Becoming well known for the innovation and being the first mover to the market space

                It should be noted that trying to take a first mover advantage, but not fully capturing the advantage or maintaining it can pave the way for other entrants to then over run the initial mover(s). The iPod product is a good example of this. The iPod is an mp3 music player, but it was not the first mp3 player on the market. The market was actually inundated with all of the different types of mp3 players and devices. The iPod was extraordinary in that market space for many reasons. For example, a very important factor was that it included the iTunes software, which helped overcome some of the challenges consumers had with song transferring, uploading, and organizing. That was a part of the infrastructure that Apple put into the holistic product package to address more of the consumer needs. The slick aesthetic and revolutionary design of the interface certainly helped too.

-Conclusion-

                Keep up the spirit of ingenuity, adventure, and entrepreneurship. When you happen upon a new market space, be quick to take the initiative. However, do not be so quick that the due diligence is not done to ensure the first mover advantage is not just a passing phase for your new venture.

October 10, 2009

Greetings and introduction


Hello reader(s),

  In this blog I, Whit Tice, plan to discuss the various areas of interest and initiatives that I have regarding business, technology, and organizational development. Some of the areas that I will likely talk about will be business strategy, appreciative inquiry, triple bottom line sustainability, new gadgets and gizmos, and generational interests (Baby Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y/Millennials, etc). More topics and the variety will likely change and evolve over time. I welcome your input as a means of open sharing of interests, resources, and ideas.

  This will be my first foray into blogging regarding professional interests and activity. As such, please ensure your contributions and, of course, mine are professional. Thanks for your interest and time!

All the best,

-Whit Tice

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