The Organizational Strategist

March 14, 2012

Strategy eats culture for breakfast, lunch, and dinner


I have often heard the saying “culture eats strategy for breakfast”.  I flat out disagree with that statement as it assumes strategy has a very limited view and definition.  When I hear that I immediately think that whoever says that has strategy poorly defined.

-Strategy and Culture-

Strategy, as I described it in an earlier article, is the alignment of resources and capabilities to win in the market.  The more important and bigger the strategy in a company means that this encompasses more and more of the resources and capabilities.  Strategy, by its very nature, is meant to encompass as much as possible about the company and particularly all of the factors that influence, empower, and enact it.

Culture is a much discussed organizational topic.  As I see it, all other facets of organization design speak to the intended structure (people alignment, reporting, function), workflow (horizontal, vertical, lateral connections), reinforcement (valuation/benefits, metrics/tracking), and people/policy (who actually fits into the structure, talent management, rules).  Culture is the glue that binds the organizational makeup together because it consists of the behavior, demeanor, and style that the individuals and groups exhibit.  Culture is all about the people and how they work together to enable or disable the organization’s intents.  That then means strategy should include culture in its definition because that speaks to the org’s resources (the people themselves as the most important piece) and capability (how effectively the intentions are carried out).

The Fast Company article of Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch left me wanting to read more as it did not speak to the conflict or overlap that strategy and culture can have.   The article speaks about many of the benefits of culture, but falls short on the linkage of culture to strategy.  When strategy does not take into account the enabling or perhaps disabling elements of culture, then the strategy either does not build on a key strength (where culture enables) or mitigate a primary challenge (where culture disables).   Strategy should always account for culture to help ensure the strategy’s success.  The bigger the change the strategy aims to create, the more impactful culture can be in regards to the adoption of the change, the impact the strategy has on the intangibles (brand, communication, values, etc.), and the overall success because most everything about strategy hinges on people.


Strategy in its definition, planning, and implementation is meant to be encompassing to create a holistic approach.  This means culture should always be a consideration.  When you cook your meals, you want to have all the right ingredients in place.  Without the proper ingredients, your whole meal can be less than desirable if not cause havoc in the kitchen. If you forget an ingredient, disaster can strike in all sorts of ways.  If my own culinary adventures are any indication, Strategy needs to include and address culture whenever culture is an ingredient in the mix.  Where and how have you seen an organizational culture enable strategy’s success?


My early strategy article:

Fast Company article:

June 8, 2011

Celebrate Success to Build Momentum

 I have been on many projects individually and as a part of a team where I felt I did great work and the results had a very strong, positive impact. Unfortunately, some of those projects led immediately into another project without honoring the work done, which helps in understanding and learning from the experience.  It also allows for “taking a breather” to regain faculties and energy. It is even more draining leaving a difficult or intense project and launching immediately into another.   I’ve seen very efficient and effective teams change their working dynamic and devolve into a challenging work environment.

On other occasions, an acknowledged break or departure from business as usual takes place after a major milestone to step back from the next step in line.  Activities like lessons learned, honoring commitments made and realized, acknowledging achievements and taking a break to relax are done to celebrate the great strides made and success of the project.  After such activities, I have seen low morale transform into high hopes and positive outlooks, a renewal of effort and commitments, performance improvement decisions for individuals and teamwork, and increased energy going into the next project. 

No one and no team can sustain high output and performance indefinitely.  Similar to how everyone needs to sleep, despite what some might say, everyone needs an occasional break.  It does not take much and simply having a team dinner, commemorative meeting or other special occasion can go a long ways to renewal.

When you have the occasion to celebrate success, make the time to look into the following areas:

  • Acknowledge strengths and accomplishments of your team and colleagues: This feedback reinforces continuity, performance, confidence, and morale.  Strengths based change is very powerful, energizing, and renewing in itself.  If there are people that have natural strengths that help out the team, go to the extra effort to praise them and enable those strengths to be drawn upon.
  • Learn from experience and past results: Understand what went well and what has not gone well.  Knowing these areas and making plans to extend the good parts and mitigate the bad parts leads to increased likelihood of success in the future.  Too often we are learning on the job through trial and error or by having to make snap judgments on how best to proceed.  Taking time to reflect, understand what happened, and understand how the strengths and/or accomplishments can be expanded, reused, or heightened in the future can be a very impactful and fruitful activity.
  • Build team and individual confidence, reliance, and overall effectiveness:  A well-functioning team is more than just the sum of its individual contributions together.  First a discussion on the accomplishments and achievements made by individuals should be done.  After that, the team should examine where and how those work products can be leveraged or built upon at the team level.  That leads to making the skills, strengths, and cooperation of a team complementary and generative.  The end results are that the work products make a lead ahead in their impact.

As an individual contributor, team member, manager, and/or leader take the time to celebrate the successes that you and others on your team have created.  You may be surprised to see how that can help you, your team and your organization in the future.

October 4, 2010

Motivating your organization to advance strategically


Many of the posts made on this blog are about devising, understanding, and setting the right strategy. Crafting the right strategy is absolutely essential to make your organization win. Taking the strategy and implementing it can be an entirely different challenge. With the larger the number of people involved and the more complex the strategy is, the harder it can be to align the resources and capabilities. Organizational development makes that alignment occur. The means to enact organizational development requires motivation of the people involved. That motivation can take three different forms, each with their own approach.

-The three ways to motivate-

The three ways to motivate are faith, fact, and fear. Faith is the belief that something good will happen. Fact is grounded in using historic information to predict future occurrences. Fear is the belief that something bad will happen.  

Fear is the easiest to enact. I am reminded that this tactic is prevalent throughout our society when I see political campaigns, the evening news, or read newspapers. Simply by creating doubt, fear is enabled. Fear that something bad will happen is a strong pull. When used throughout an organization, it makes building trust harder, saps the energy of the people involved, and can lead to differing and opposing factions.

Fact is a methodical and time intensive approach to utilize. Data can be collected throughout an organization’s operations or brought in via market research, intelligence or data gathering services. Having a factual understanding of what has happened can be a strong indicator of what will happen in the future. The difficulty of relying too much on previous data is that new or changing environments with new or different variables may mean that the data is not available, or worse, deceiving and misdirecting.

Faith is likely the hardest to perform effectively. The belief that something will go well in the future must be built on trust. Trust can be difficult to build and is easy to break down. Blind faith can lead to poor decision making and action, just like the other over-uses of fear and fact. Yet, the belief and hope of positive notions is freeing and enabling. This is where visionary or inspirational motivation shines as it brings out the best in people and energizes those involved.


There is a right fitting time and place for each of the three motivational approaches. Motivation is what spurs on change. That change in the organization can make the strategy effective and realize its aims. The combination of the grounded nature of fact and uplifting character of faith is the best approach to take with guiding an organization. Having a factual, data driven environment ensures that the change is made and tracked in an informed manner. Having an inspired view of the future allows for creativity and openness.  Environments that utilize the best of fact and faith are both effective and enabling. That is where the most powerful strategies can be realized.

September 16, 2010

Is it time to change the org chart? Ensure the strategy is clear before making a change.


There have been many times when I’ve heard that an organization chart needs to be changed. The organization chart consists of the set up of teams, business units and other groupings of people. It also shows the reporting relationship and functional domain or title of those involved. The reason for the organization change that comes from a new org chart is often not clear. Changing for the sake of change itself is not good cause because this could lead to results that are good or bad. Changing without clear reasoning means that a mixed bag of opportunities and challenges awaits the organization. Too often the org chart itself is used to justify large changes. Instead, strategy should always come first.

-Follow the strategic path for clearer alignment –

Strategy sets the path forward. The organizational structure, process, reinforcement and policy should all follow. Strategy shines light on the direction to go forward. That light helps illuminate what resources and capabilities of the organization should be utilized and cultivated.

Creating a new structure (that structure coming from organization charts) to move forward without knowing how it fits with strategy may, in fact, be counterproductive. Organizing without a purpose in mind is like searching in the dark without a guiding light. The end goal may be achieved through a haphazard search, but you may get a lot of bumps, trips, or even falls before you reach it.

Imposing a new structure induces a disruption to the norm. It frees the boundaries of the established work flow and manners of work that are done. This can be cause good or bad results. In these situations where there is no clear path forward, it comes down to perception of the change instead. It depends on how that disruption is understood and oriented as to what the effect is like. If the change is seen as a problem or signals fear, that has lasting negative effects. On the other hand, if the change is seen as an opportunity, it may help open and broaden the perspective of the organization. In order for this kind of change to be helpful for the organization’s aims, the strategy needs to be clear and understood. That way, people understand better on how they can help make that strategy effective instead of simply relying on their perception of the change.

Thinking of a strategy in the view as a game of soccer comes to mind. Generally speaking, the aim of a soccer game is to score more goals in the allotted time than the other team. However, the approach teams take vary widely. The number of players at different parts of the field, how they play offense or defense, what formations to run (if any) and other elements tie into the structure of how to execute that strategy. The roles and responsibilities of the player alignment are akin to an organization chart. With young players, they all mass together to find and kick the ball around the field. This is what I’ve heard called bumble bee soccer. It’s like the ball is the core of the hive with players all buzzing around. As the players mature in skill and experience, roles become established and the clarity and helpfulness of an organizational chart (offense, midfield, defense, and goalie) is put in place and made clear. That organization alignment helps ensure the strategy is effective. Otherwise, the chaos of a structure imposed without cause or clear reason may not fit the aim of the strategy.

Strategy should be set as the guiding light for other action. There is much to say on how to set a strategy, how to communicate it and how to follow it. The structure that is set in an organization is a very strong support to enable a strategy to be effective. An organization chart is a common format that you would see and understand a structure but it could be much more. Organizational communication, responsibilities, roles or functions and other forms of operation fit in. Often times a hierarchy or chain of command is used in business, but it could be many different types of decision making and process (oligarchy, democracy, meritocracy, etc.). A flatter organization (meaning less hierarchy levels) allows for more independence of decision making, but does not has as clear a means of review or elevation in the instance of a problem. Organizations that need to respond quickly to market changes or that have a large diversity of products/services may be well served to have a flatter org chart. An org chart that is steep (meaning more hierarchy levels) centralizes decision making and often creates more controlled and oriented activity. Organizations that need tight control and monitoring to assure quality of end result or process may need a steeper org chart.


Like any type of change, there should be a driving end state that an organization aspires to achieve through its strategy. The org chart should be a core component to enable progress to help achieve the end state. There are many ways of advancing toward an end state. The path one leader may choose could be different than another. Each of those paths may be effective in their own way. Regardless of the approach, the underlining strategy should always be well known and clear to those who are involved and impacted by the strategy throughout the implementation. If this knowledge and comprehension is not present, inquire about it to make it understood better. The org chart changes are too often seen as the strategy itself. Do not change for the simple sake of change. Change because you believe in it. Change because you see value in its progress. Change because it will help you win in your market.

June 20, 2010

Bridging gaps by building trust


From job seeking to influencing stakeholders to making presentations to closing consulting deals, a key component is building trust. In each of these pursuits, the audience, reviewer, or participant will be judging fit with the objective(s) in mind. He or she judges fit by comparing what is needed to achieve the objective. A resume is a tool to convey expertise. An interview is a means to judge orientation, direction, ability and potentially many other traits. Presentations are meant to inform or persuade. Influencing stakeholders can involve other types or persuasion, bargaining, politicking and conversing. Closing deals with consultants involves taking risks to allow others to participate in activities and operations. These undertakings hinge upon the trust built up in the emerging or ongoing relationship(s).

-Demonstrating Capability and Orientation-

Trust boils down to two primary factors. Those factors are capability and orientation. Capability, as I am defining it for this use, is the ability, competence level or other gauge on how well one can achieve a desired outcome. Orientation, as I am using it here, is the fit with the preferred direction, culture, expectation or outlook.



The more capable a person is, the more they can be trusted to achieve. The more in line a person’s orientation is with the objective, the more the person can be trusted to understand which options to pursue. The combination of the two makes for trust.

In the absence of one dimension, then a person is not as trustworthy. For instance, if someone were to be very capable, yet not oriented to the objective, the person should not be trusted. If you are looking to create a website for a political party, you likely would not want to go to a website creator that is an outspoken follower of the opposing party, no matter how a technically proficient the person may be. Alternatively, if someone had the best intentions and is in tune with the objective yet is unable to achieve, you would not likely trust that person. This could be a friend who wants to help you move your delicate and fragile artwork and furniture to your brand new house, yet that friend is a compete klutz; you probably would not want that friend’s help.

Quickly building trust with clients, coworkers, managers, friends, and acquaintances is an invaluable ability. If one is able to do that, then opportunities can be realized, partnerships formed, jobs landed, or audiences won over. Strategic implementations involve people and change. Communicating the questions regarding the who, what, where, when and why of change heavily depends on building trust. Without trust, the stakeholders involved will be more hesitant to change. The more trust is present among the people involved, the more they should be able to work together effectively.

Sample ways to demonstrate capability:

  • Show proof of previous results (resume, awards, medals, shiny desk ornaments, etc)
  • Display credentials (certificates, licenses, diplomas, etc)
  • Talk through previous experiences citing specific details that indicate your involvement
  • Mock up processes, diagrams, solutions and so forth (ex: using a whiteboard)

Sample ways to demonstrate orientation:

  • Conversation on relevant talking points
  • Walking the talk (actions can speak louder than words)
  • Show empathy, sympathy and understanding
  • Relate to your situation in your own words
  • Exhibit your choices in tough situations or similar situations to those at hand


Trust is an enormous subject to cover. It is a foundational element of relationships. To be an effective strategist, being able to build trust is absolutely vital as most any strategy, whether it be organization wide or on a personal basis, involves people working together. As a strategist, know your experiences and abilities to be able to demonstrate your capability to succeed. As a strategist, know the paths you have taken and plan to take in the future so that you can demonstrate the orientation you take to achieve. As a strategist, be able to assemble bridges of communication and action by building trust.

May 20, 2010

Linking Strategy to Action: The Chains of Communication


Communication sets the flow of work, vitality, and pace of change. Strategy sets the direction and intended alignment of an organization. In order for that direction and alignment to be carried out, information must spread, be understood, and owned. Proper and thorough communication is the chain that links everyone together toward the same strategic purpose.

-Linking Chains of Communication-

The formulation of strategy is important and can be difficult. Once the strategy is set, the undertaking of implementation begins. However, if the follow through of communication is not done effectively then the strategy, no matter how insightful, game changing, innovative or powerful, will be all for naught. Effective strategy pulls upon the resources and capabilities of an organization to align them. With differing messages on what to do, how to do it, and where the organization should move forward, the strategy will not reach its full potential. While it may be that some stakeholders inside the organization do have the right message and understand the steps to take, those stakeholders will be undermined by all those that try to move forward in other directions.

To start the path forward properly, create a communication plan to spread the word, share milestone updates of progress, request input, and give tactical insight. The communication plan should be made with the following areas in mind.

  • Clarity of messaging – The information must be clear so that it is easily understood.
  • Consistency of messaging – The information must be continuously reinforced in all outreach efforts so every audience understands the same intention.
  • Pervasiveness of messaging – The information should spread to all relevant stakeholders.
  • Thoroughness of messaging – The information should reach all audiences in the manner that suits the audience.

To understand the relevant audiences for the communication plan, I suggest using the stakeholder groupings of the 4 I’s to help identify which kinds of messaging to put forth for the project(s).

Interested – Who would be interested in this project?

Informed – Who would be good to draw upon because they are informed in subject matter areas relating to 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?

Each stakeholder group should have its own messaging so that it is relevant to their needs. The core messaging should be clear, consistent, pervasive and thorough. Beyond the core of the messaging, slight nuances need to be present to reach different audiences and relate to the recipient’s interests. For instance, sending out a presentation deck on the benefits of a strategic initiative will be different for business audiences versus technical audiences, managers versus workers, field sales versus call center sales and so forth. It helps to think about the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) for each stakeholder group. This means that the messaging should be customized enough so that the value, relevant actions and background information is relevant to each audience.


Implementation of a strategy is no small feat. The amount of people involved, time taken to execute and follow through for implementation is drastically more complicated than the initial formulation of the strategy. Pulling together a tapestry of threads for communication creates a beautifully synthesized strategic implementation.

February 22, 2010

Unlocking Hidden Potential through Positive Deviants


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


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 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:

January 2, 2010

Accelerating your Strategic Projects thru Whole System Involvement


  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.


  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.

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