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 26, 2010

The key to your introductions is a Unique Value Proposition


-Introduction-

Have you ever had a hard time understanding why a corporate project is happening? You may have wondered the following questions. What are the benefits? Why is it happening at this time? How come I have been asked to be involved? In another instance, you might be talking with someone new that you met at a party, as a part of a networking event, in an interview or even just chatting around the water cooler, and, after ten minutes of taking, you do not know what they actually do for your organization. That can be frustrating and awkward for everyone involved. Having a clear message to describe a project, goal, or even yourself can be very helpful for making a good impression, standing out, and articulating value. This is where having a unique value proposition can really help.

-About Unique Value Propositions-

Recently I was asked what I can give that no one else can give. I will admit that I was taken aback and did not respond well. Comparing myself with all of humanity’s capability and experience made me think that I did not have much to offer. I’m not arrogant enough to think that I can give something that no one else can give. However, that was probably not the true intent of the inquiry. Ideally, I would have described the unique value that I do offer without stating I am somehow better than everyone else.

What I could’ve brought up would be what I feel I do particularly well. Unfortunately, I find it hard to advertise for myself. I do believe in myself and am confident in my abilities. However, I try to think through my actions, words, and choices appropriately, respectfully, and truthfully. This can create a quandary in interviews, networking and other areas where a form of competition comes about. It’s especially true when an interviewer asks you what makes you the best candidate.

Before doing an informational interview with an alumnus while doing my MBA at Weatherhead, the term of UVP was unknown to me. UVP stands for Unique Value Proposition. It is a marketing term that is also known as Unique Selling Proposition (USP). It can be used for all sorts of scenarios. Project initiatives, job interviews, networking, investment pitches, stakeholder communications and more can all benefit from having one or more simple, concise, and powerful UVPs. Having multiple UVPs can help where there are different values to articulate. For example, it would be helpful for me to articulate what my UVP is as an organizational strategist, as a Web 2.0 practitioner and consultant, and as a Gen Y researcher. These three areas are interests of mine, but often create different conversational paths due to the varied topics.

-Creating a Unique Value Proposition-

Here are some simple steps and tips to creating an individual’s UVP. To create a UVP for a product, project, initiative or other method, a very similar process can be followed.

1) List who you want to talk with: this will help determine how many UVPs you will need and the directions you can take your UVP(s)

2) List descriptions of your strengths, unique experiences, and achievements: this will provide the meat of the value portion of your UVP

3) List the stakeholders from step #1: having this list helps identify if there are special circumstances or other nuances you need to address (Need help identifying stakeholders? Check out this earlier blog article)

4) Pick the best elements of what sets you apart: this should cover the What’s In It For Me (WIIFM) relating to the stakeholders you just identified

5) Combine it all into a short, pithy, and powerful sentence or phrase: this is where it all comes together in a concise, easy to understand sentence

Tips for UVPs:

– Value comes first. Make sure yours is clear. If there is no value to the proposition, it won’t matter how unique it is.

– Put your UVP into terms that your audience will understand. If it is too technical, has too many buzz words or simply does not make sense, it will not help. If you can articulate your UVP in the same way that they would, that’s marvelous.

– Practice it so that it becomes natural, adaptable, and flows into your elevator pitch. An elevator pitch is a scalable introduction to a person, project or initiative. The UVP can be the tag line for your elevator pitch.

– Make your UVP interesting and short. These are not speeches, nor do they give all the details. Ideally, after someone hears your UVP, they would want to hear your full elevator pitch. That should lead into a rich discussion.

– For a longer description of UVPs and more details, you can search the web. There are a lot of articles on this and similar topics. Here are a couple of articles that I found to be more informative and helpful: Infomarketerzone article and Summit Insight blog post.

Example UVP:

“The combination of cutting edge tech, business, and OD degrees with Fortune 50 experience make me uniquely positioned to strategically and effectively lead Gen Y initiatives.” 

-Closing-

There are many uses for your unique value proposition. I have found them a good fit for managerial updates and suggested talking points for their teams, website content, email tag lines, and the all important topic of What’s In It For Me(WIIFM) for each stakeholder group. A UVP should resonate with sponsors, leaders, managers, and your specialist workers. Please comment to share your own UVPs and thoughts. Good luck with your efforts!

-Links-

Article that has tips for stakeholder mapping: https://whittblog.wordpress.com/2010/01/02/accelerating-your-strategic-projects-thru-whole-system-involvement/

Infomarketerzone article: http://www.infomarketerszone.com/public/182.cfm

Summit Insight blog post: http://www.summitinsight.com/blogviewd.asp?id=91

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 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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