The Organizational Strategist

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

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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 3, 2009

Clean Tech: Working Smarter, not Harder


-Introduction-

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

-Sustainable Alternative Energy Avenues-

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

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

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

-Organizational Clean Tech Use-

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

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

-Summary-

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

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

 

-Hyperlinked Sites-

Smart Grid explanation site: http://www.strategy-business.com/article/li00091?pg=all

Greentechgrid site: http://www.greentechmedia.com/channel/gridtech/

McKinsey Interactive article: https://www.mckinseyquarterly.com/Energy_Resources_Materials/Electric_Power/Evaluating_the_potential_of_solar_technologies_2426

ARPA-E receives $400 million for clean tech grants: http://dailyme.com/story/2009102300006546/obama-business-leaders-push-clean-energy.html

Financial Times article mentioning Microsoft and Google looking into wind energy: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/8ebb43e6-bf37-11de-a696-00144feab49a.html?nclick_check=1

Computerworld article on Windows 7: http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9139707/Early_adopters_finding_Windows_7_saves_time_and_energy

Microsoft Software Enabled Earth blog post on Windows 7: http://blogs.msdn.com/see/archive/2009/10/22/top-5-environmental-considerations-to-make-the-move-to-windows-7.aspx

Microsoft Software Enabled Earth blog post on carbon reductions by using downloads: http://blogs.msdn.com/see/archive/2009/10/15/study-on-digital-distribution-of-software-shows-significant-environmental-benefits.aspx

Triple Bottom Line Sustainability post: https://whittblog.wordpress.com/2009/10/20/triple-bottom-line-sustainability-and-value-chain-analysis/

October 20, 2009

Triple Bottom Line Sustainability and Value Chain Analysis


Sustainability is a topic that has become more popular and compelling in recent years. However, there does not seem to be a single definition for the term. Many times sustainability is associated exclusively with environmental concerns, health, and standards. The green movement for environmental safety, climate control, preserving threatened or endangered species and so on is also often considered to be synonymous with sustainability. However, I will use the term sustainability as it relates to stakeholders and shareholders of whatever the product, service, or organization the term is being used to describe. Stakeholders and shareholders are included because sustainability relates to the triple bottom line. This triple bottom line is also known as the three P’s, which are People, Planet, and Profit. Other terms that are often used with triple bottom line sustainability are social, environmental, and economic. A truly sustainably acting organization would operate in such a way that it only creates value through its initiatives. The organization would not destroy value in any way for any of its inputs or outputs.

I grew up and am now back in the “Evergreen State” aka Washington State. Seattle is well known for being a “greener” area. Thus, looking out for ways of reducing, reusing, and recycling waste has become commonplace. Going for my graduate education broadened my understanding though. I was first introduced to organizational sustainability through the Business as an Agent of World Benefit and Organizational Behavior department in the Weatherhead School of Management at Case. There I learned how corporate social responsibility, taking proactive environmental measures and other helpful efforts where organizations, for profit and not for profit, can thrive through acting sustainably.

A helpful way to model where and how an organization’s influence, as well as what important factors there are to understand where sustainability concerns can arise, would be to map out a sustainability value chain. The value chain mapping shows the impact areas before, during and after the involvement of products and services from an organization. There are three segments to the value chain that relate to the organization: Upstream, Operations, and Downstream. Upstream refers to the activities and impacts that take place before the direct involvement of the organization. The Operations segment refers to the activities and impacts where and when the organization is taking direct involvement. Downstream refers to activities and impacts that take place after the direct involvement of the organization. Those segments address the economic, societal, and environmental impact areas.

As a hypothetical example, take a manufacturing company as the context. I put together a PowerPoint slide to identify the areas should be addressed in order for the manufacturing company to act in a sustainable manner.

Value Chain Example 

 With a more specific example, the economic, environmental, and societal activities and impacts become clearer. In order for a company to be more sustainable, it would need to partner with upstream and downstream organizations to make the entire value chain more sustainable.

In future posts, I plan to use the triple bottom line as a frame of reference to use and help explain how organizations, products, and/or services are or potentially are not sustainable.

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