The Organizational Strategist

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?

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January 13, 2010

Whole System Sustainability – Bringing Together Stakeholders to Generate Action


-Introduction-

  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.

-Summary-

  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.

-Links-

Bonnie Richley’s LinkedIn profile: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/bonnie-richley-ph-d/8/59/915

Upcoming Webinar on Sustainability & Whole Systems: http://weatherhead.case.edu/about/events/detail.cfm?eid=1470

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.

November 3, 2009

Augmented Reality: This looks cool, literally

Filed under: Technology — Tags: , , , , — Whit @ 4:34 pm

I just read about Augmented Reality (AR) in this Business Week article. Not having heard of AR previously, I was drawn in by the examples from the Star Wars and Terminator movies. The future implications of how AR could be used sound fantastic. I’m good at quickly recognizing people visually, yet names often take a while to recall. Having a tip to help me remember a person’s name based on facial recognition software would be great. Business networking at a conference would be extraordinarily easy in finding the right people to talk to for a particular interest.

Knowing about the Monocle iPhone application makes me want a smart phone even more now. This is one tech that I plan on following for future applications.

 

Business Week AR Article: http://www.businessweek.com/technology/content/nov2009/tc2009112_434755.htm?campaign_id=rss_tech

October 13, 2009

Twhitterpated


I’ve been trying out Twitter this past summer. In this short time, I’ve experienced some of the good and bad aspects of using the service. The good is that I’ve been able to connect with friends, colleagues, and organizations. The bad is that I do occasionally get over-twittered aka “twitter pated” from the entries that talk about eating a sandwich or similar mundane information.

For those of you who may be thinking “What the heck is a Twitter? Isn’t that some kind of a bird call? I know my nephew is sometimes a little twit…” or similar thoughts, Twitter is an online social networking and social navigation application. More specifically, it is called a micro-blog. That’s because it allows short and pithy updates to a community of followers or readers. By saying short and pithy, that means 140 characters. That’s characters (letters, numbers, and symbols) only, not full words. The 140 character micro-blog posts on Twitter are called “Tweets”. Many people use Twitter on their internet enabled smart phones to send updates on what they have been doing. What people say on Twitter will vary from insightful and helpful to silly or completely nonsensical.

In looking into Twitter, I quickly found that having two types of accounts was very helpful. One account includes my professional colleagues, interesting organizations, and other peers. The other account is with my friends for everyday information; where I can talk about the great honey roasted turkey and colby-jack cheese sandwich that I just had. Both of my accounts are low in followers so I haven’t been able to get the quick feedback that Twitter is famous for giving. That aspect will hopefully come with time. I have found interesting articles, helpful tips, and new areas to explore from monitoring my professional connections’ tweets. In my informal account, I have been able to stay more in touch with friends from across the country.

Another recent San Jose Mercury News article confirms much of what I’ve mentioned and says a bit more, especially on the networking and job search realms. The article has a bulleted list of do’s and don’ts for Twitter job hunting, which may be of interest. Here they are:

DOS AND DON’TS WHEN JOB-HUNTING ON TWITTER

1. DO follow potential employers to learn more about their products and service.

2. DON’T get sucked in; get the information you’re looking for, then get out.

3. DO use multiple Twitter profiles — a personal one, for instance, as well as those created specifically to follow certain employers.

4. DON’T use a silly or cartoonish icon on your profile — it could turn off a potential employer.

5. DO use directories like Twellow or Mr. Tweet to help you locate other professionals and trendsetters in your field.

There are a few aspects to Twitter that I have yet to get into.

One of the areas I haven’t used Twitter for much yet is to look up target companies to monitor what’s being said about them and subscribe to their feed(s), if they have them. T-Mobile is a company of interest for me and today I was watching the various complaints and comparisons being said about their products. Evidently the Sidekick phones can delete user data. Imagine somehow losing all of your contacts at once. That would be awfully frustrating. I’ve read that T-Mobile is issuing a $100 gift certificate for those who have such data problems.

Twitter also has a number of different applications available. These applications can be used to sort feeds, link accounts, navigate, organize and more. Since my phone is not a smart phone, I don’t have internet connectivity. So, much of the convenience that many Twitter users enjoy, I won’t be able to access. I do hope to get such a phone sometime, perhaps not a Sidekick though, and enjoy the tweets as they come and go.

Marketing and branding initiatives are yet one more realm that Twitter has helped. I can see how product updates, previews on service releases, short introductions to articles and more could be a great fit for a company’s marketing, public relations and branding initiatives.

From these Twitter-offerings, I am going to explore what I can. I’ll certainly tap into the networking and company searching points as that’s a particular area of interest for me at the present. From a desktop client perspective, I’ll search to find what apps may be a good fit for me too. I will plan on updating this blog with a follow up on what’s gone well and what hasn’t for me. Feel free to follow me on my Twitter page. Links to do so are shown on the right hand sidebar of this blog.

The article mentioned has been hyperlinked to easily direct readers. In case that’s not working, the URL is as follows: http://www.mercurynews.com/ci_13474050?nclick_check=1.

October 12, 2009

Unfortunate trends for Gen Y and more


Generation Y has been an interest of mine for some time now. My interest comes from many angles, but my being on the cusp of Gen Y and Gen X is a major part of it. Another aspect that I want to keep up on is how Gen Y will impact business and how best to work with and/or lead them. During my Masters in Positive Organizational Development and Change degree, I did a leadership paper on how to lead Gen Ys. I may do another post on that in the future.

To give some background, the time period Gen Y usually starts is in the early to mid eighties. The actual range varies depending upon the studies done and how the boundaries are defined in the study, of course. Generally speaking, most Gen Yers, also known as Millennials, are entering the work force or have a handful of years of working experience by now. This places them in entry level positions, where learning is absolutely critical to prove oneself.

Unfortunately for Gen Y, many of the jobs they want and potentially need to get into are less available right now. The world wide economic downturn is certainly a huge set back for everyone. However, that makes it even tougher for a newly minted college grad. How can they get an entry level job, which ironically often require a few years of experience, when they have to compete against seasoned professionals? Why would a company hire a new grad when they can get a seasoned veteran for the same price?

That’s not the only challenge and this next one extends beyond the plight of Gen Yers. There is an even smaller ratio of available company jobs than there might have been if this recession took place several years earlier from now. Baby Boomers have an extraordinary work ethic and they are staying at their job longer than previous generations have. A recent MediaPost article states that the long time veterans are staying on for the following “psychological and social factors:

  • ‘to feel useful’
  • ‘to give myself something to do’
  • ‘to be with other people'”

While I applaud the stamina and dilligence, this trend will lead to systemic problems. If the veterans are not vacating their roles, others will not move up the corporate ladder. This will make it so others do not have as many growth and learning opportunities. Beyond that, there are simply less jobs available. That compounds to make it so that Gen Y and others have a tougher time even getting into the workforce. Gen Y will be forced to wait or take jobs that they aren’t hoping to get into, meaning not in their industry(ies) of choice, and so their initial years in the workforce won’t be building toward long term efforts.

To bring this home, companies need to take action. Companies need to take action both for their own long term sustainability and for the sake of their stakeholders (employees, shareholders, customers, etc). Beyond that, Gen Yers need to have opportunities to rise up. Knowledge management has long been a hot topic, but this needs to become a proactive and not just a reactive measure. New and existing lower ranking employees will need opportunities to grow, either through their own promotion and initiative or by having avenues of growth created for them. Thinking of long term strategy, a company needs to constantly be cultivating its employees, especially those companies and industries where expertise takes a long time to create. What would happen if there was a 5-10 year gap in the corporate ladder and experience? What many companies are trying to do is to shift those who are in retiring ages and those who are important and likely to leave, for whatever reason, to more mentoring, teaching, and coaching roles. This idea seems like a great one to me. This will still keep the expertise available for the important business challenges, help ensure that the knowledge/skill is passed on, and satisfy the veteran’s desires to stay active, involved, and social.

I’ve seen knowledge management and personal development done differently in many ways. In some cases, I’ve been really impressed with a company’s efforts or forward thinking. However, I’ve also been worried for the long term business stability, strategy and sustainability of very impressive companies. Regardless, this is a topic of importance that will not soon go away.

Note that this post was edited slightly after its initial publication.

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