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Strategic Transformation - Part I Executive Alignment

Would you embark on a major business initiative without first making sure all the relevant players - be they the CEO/COO/CFO, departmental and functional leaders, etc. - understand the purpose of the initiative and their role in supporting the effort?

Most of you would say “Of course not!” However, we find that many clients want to begin work on a large initiative without first ensuring the leadership team is aligned on the desired outcomes, the role they must play to achieve them, and other critical leadership elements. We define the leadership team as the 5-7 people who are in charge of an initiative, will monitor its progress, provide resources, and ultimately be responsible for the outcomes.

The reason we believe Leadership Alignment is a critical success factor for strategic initiatives is that it enables you to:

  • Identify the link between this initiative and the current business strategy.
  • Create consistent messages on the purpose, sense of urgency, and outcomes.
  • Articulate the “what’s in it for me?” for all key stakeholders.
  • Address barriers, remove roadblocks, and gain commitment for long-term success.
  • Resolve conflicting priorities and navigate the political waters inherent in any change effort.
  • Ensure solutions will be implemented with their full support.
  • Enhance the credibility of the leadership team.


Closing Point: For any initiative to succeed, we need to engage the time and talent of the people who must carry it out. An aligned leadership team stands as a beacon for the desired outcomes and understands their role in leading others.

Strategic Transformation - Part II Scoping Effectively

Our last column helped us to align our leadership team and prepare to introduce a new initiative. Now the question becomes how to scope individual projects in a manner that will ensure success.

We often see clients try to scope projects so large that they would need twice the resources allocated to get them completed on time. This is particularly true when we work with Lean/Six Sigma projects and new green or black belts. Projects are initially so ambitious that they are far beyond the capability of the existing team. What works far better is to scope projects more modestly so that teams can complete them in a reasonable amount of time creating quick(er) wins, a sense of momentum, and confidence in the process.

One model that we suggest is the “Success Triangle.” The fundamental principle is that in any project there are three elements that must balance: Goal, Time, and Resources. If a team has a specific goal they want to achieve by a certain time, they have to have the resources necessary to make this happen. If there is a change to one of the elements, e.g., the time frame to achieve it is shortened, then either the goal or the resources or both must also change.

Here are some tips for effective scoping:

  • Scope a project for a 2-3 month time frame. If it’s a bigger project, break it down into smaller pieces. A healthcare client wanting to streamline the Emergency Department process found it helpful to break this into 3 smaller, more manageable projects.
  • Ask the team the question: If the SMART Goals are achieved, will the project issue/ problem be solved?
  • Make sure the project team has a designated, committed, and knowledgeable sponsor. By this we mean someone who supports the team, can provide coaching and advice, hold people accountable for action items, and is ultimately responsible for the project’s success.
  • Have regular meetings to ensure the team is on track, and course corrections are made as needed.
  • Be clear on roles -- who are the full-time team members, and who are people needed only as a resource or subject matter expert?
  • Celebrate both the shorter-term successes and project completion. Have a pizza lunch, take the team out to dinner, provide coffee-store gift cards, etc.


Closing Point: Make sure your Success Triangle stays balanced. This ensures teams complete projects on time and feel like they have made a valuable contribution to the organization.

Strategic Transformation - Part III Pay Attention to the Humans!

Our last column provided some tips on how to scope individual projects in a manner that will ensure success and will get them completed in a shorter time frame.  Now let’s look at the need to pay attention to the human element of change.

One of the forces we see at play with our clients is the need to “get going” and “make something happen” so that results can happen sooner.  This makes complete sense, especially in environments where the pace of change is rapid, there are business consequences (e.g., customer satisfaction), dollars saved or lost, and competitors lurking to steal market share.  What does not make sense is to try and speed the strategic or “technical” solution along without also paying attention to the people closest to and most impacted by the change.  In fact, our experience is that by taking more time up front to create your change strategy, you can save time and organizational “churn” later on by focusing on key aspects related to the human element of change.

Here are a few tips for effective change management: *

  • Is there a sense of urgency for your project or initiative?  Be able to articulate the reason for the change: “Here’s why we need to do this project, now, even with the other priorities we have.”  Make sure you have “proof” or data that supports the need for change.  For example, “We have 35 customer complaints a week, and each call costs us $250 to rectify, so each month we’re spending about $35,000 on our  ’cost of poor quality’.”
  • Do you have an Elevator Speech for your project or initiative?  This is a concise, compelling communication vehicle that conveys:
    • What you are working on,
    • Why it is important,
    • Where you plan to go (desired future), and
    • How the person you are talking to can help you.
  • Have you engaged with your key stakeholders?  This means taking time to identify who these people are, i.e., those who are closest to or most impacted by the change, and whose support and long-term commitment could make or break your efforts.  In addition, beyond identifying these key people, you have to develop an engagement plan, e.g., what will you do to ensure their commitment for the life of the project or initiative?

In our work with clients, one research project showed that the biggest differentiator between successful and unsuccessful change efforts was successfully engaging the hearts and minds of the key stakeholders.

*Note: We are cribbing from our change management model here, but paying attention to even these three elements will go a long way towards ensuring you create a sustained change and not just keep to an aggressive project plan.

Closing Point:  If you think about the qualities and characteristics of successful change, what comes to mind?  Are they mostly technical issues, e.g., a project planning template, or are they people issues like strong leadership, people understanding the need for change, and stakeholder support?  Of course, both are essential but you need a methodology for paying attention to these people issues to sustain change. If that is what’s missing in your change management, we’d love to help.

Sustainability and Change Management: A Key Partnership

Can sustainability efforts benefit from the same change principles, methods, and tools as would any other organizational initiative? We believe they can. For the past several years Destra has partnered with BSR and an affiliate in Brazil, REVER, to integrate their expertise in sustainability with our background in organizational change management.  What we’ve seen is that change management has the potential to increase sustainability efforts’ impact, organizational support, and integration with the core business. 

Here are three key areas sustainability initiatives benefit from integrating our change model:

  • Creating a Sense of Urgency – Most sustainability efforts begin with an assessment that identifies priority issues to focus on, e.g., reduce airborne emissions.  Project teams, which work closest to the relevant functional area, then address these issues.  One of the team’s first steps is to validate the sense of urgency and compiling the sources of “proof” needed to support the case in practical, compelling terms. This significantly increases the understanding and ownership of the sustainability assessment results and reinforces the need to take action.
  • Creating a Compelling Vision – Given the number of social and environmental issues that must be addressed, corporate sustainability is inherently complex.  Implementation requires multiple objectives, work streams, and departments. To align across this many players, it is critical to articulate a compelling and shared vision for where the company is headed on its sustainability journey and how this is tied to value generation for the business. The same holds true at the focus area level; the team needs to define the vision for the overall outcomes.
  • Engaging Stakeholders – For sustainability efforts the only way to ensure lasting change is to engage the hearts and minds of those closest to, most impacted by, and with the biggest stake in the change.  Energy needs to be spent in assessing who the key stakeholders are and the level of support needed to make the change successful as well as identifying what stakeholders specifically need to do to make the change happen.

In our experience, by integrating the change work into project planning and regularly assessing against the elements we know are crucial to change – shared urgency, focused vision, building stakeholder commitment, and the other elements of our change model – sustainability teams improve the odds of delivering value at the project level and promote the integration of sustainability into everyday business practices.

The Business Case for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR):  What’s Yours?

Let’s look at a broad question for companies involved in or thinking about becoming involved in Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives: “What is the business case for doing CSR-related activities?”

There is a growing body of evidence suggesting that engaging in CSR helps a business in many aspects including financially.  We looked at data from sources ranging from Nielson surveys to recent academic studies that track the financial performance of companies using indicators such as the FTSE KLD 400 Social Index.

For example, a recent report by Nielsen, " Doing Well by Doing Good," is based on a global survey of 30,000 consumers in 60 countries.  Nielsen found that:

  • More than two-thirds of consumers (67 percent) prefer to work for socially responsible companies.
  • More than half (55 percent) will pay extra for products and services from companies committed to making a positive social and environmental impact.

Another study we ran across by H.J. Palmer written in 2012 highlights the following results for CSR programs, including that they:

  • Produce a competitive advantage because they improve corporate reputation.
  • Provide companies a benefit from increased customer and investor loyalty.
  • Give employers an enhanced ability to attract better employees, increase employee morale, and increase productivity.
  • Help to reduce operating costs in the long term.
  • Contribute to reducing corporate risk (e.g., fines for violating environmental standards, product recalls, etc.) because such programs help build transparency, foster an ethical culture, and improve the attitude of stakeholders towards the corporation.

Our question is this: What kinds of results have you seen, financial or otherwise, that create a compelling case for engaging in CSR?

Boomers and Business Strategy: How to Exit Your Business in a Profitable Manner

The statistics on the boomer wave are astounding – 2/3s of all business are owned by this generation of entrepreneurs!  With many of these owners nearing traditional retirement age (this year the youngest boomers turned 50, while the oldest are rapidly approaching 70), there will be enormous implications as businesses transition to others or are sold outright.

Recently we’ve partnered with Capitalize Network, which offers comprehensive exit planning services to small- and mid-size businesses. They are really looking to serve the growing demographic of baby boomer business owners who will be transitioning in the next several years.

Although Destra has worked with all types of companies in various industries, we haven’t specifically focused on smaller, privately held businesses. What do we have to offer those planning to transition from their business?

What we know is that whether a company is in its infancy, a growth stage, or more mature, we believe the critical elements that drive profitability and organizational excellence fall into these four areas: Leadership, Change Management, Process Improvement, and Strategy.

Organizational Excellence image

With all of our clients, we help them reflect upon their business health by assessing their capabilities in these areas and then crafting a development plan based on the results.

For business owners who are looking to sell their business, attending to these areas helps to increase the company’s value prior to sale and ensures that any exit/transition plan is truly comprehensive.

For boomer business owners or owners whose business is booming, assessing the strength of your company on these four elements is a great first step. Take Destra’s strategic business assessment to get you started:


Virtual vs. Face-to-Face: Still Debating After All These Years – by Joe Schroeter

Virtual and remote teams have been with us now for decades.  However, most of the conversation over the effectiveness of virtual teams versus the need for co-location continues in one way or another.  

The research can read a bit more like propaganda at times (especially when done by companies that offer virtual collaboration) but is worth a quick review.  For the most part, virtual teams originated by necessity more than by design. Recent studies have concluded that doing more creative or “innovative” work is best done face-to-face and that such free flowing innovation is difficult to achieve virtually. I understand and probably gravitate to that view. I have also seen first hand my professional musician friend collaborate virtually to create great music without ever setting foot in the same room. Even personal fitness training is going virtual. In turn, research has evolved from indicating that virtual teams are not only as effective as, but even more so than co-located work. Studies conducted by Sloan and Cisco report that virtual teams can outperform co-located groups. Skepticism of a virtual collaboration company study aside, it cannot be denied that technology has made immense headway to provide us all with excellent collaboration and communication tools.  Skype, Cisco, and others practically make us feel like we are in the same room together.

While technology can make a huge difference, particularly to drive execution, the holy grail remains, i.e.,  to feel like we are in the same room together.  Particularly with cross-cultural work teams, issues such as trust, accountability, and connection remain critical to doing great work. At Destra we watch what people do on real teams and at least part of the time, teams want to be face-to-face.   We see remote teams putting up photos of their teammates with notes at their desks; becoming Facebook friends; visiting other offices on vacations; and asking their managers, “Hey, I’ve been working with my team for two years. Do you think I could meet them someday?” At the top of the motivation list for employees after challenging work is the opportunity to work with people they trust and enjoy. That personal connection remains important, particularly when working globally. The teams we work with are clearly more successful when they have formed face-to-face and get together at least periodically to continue to build the levels of trust and connection necessary to go beyond just getting the work done on time and within requirements.  

We’d love to hear your view on the matter if you’d take a moment to answer three questions for us in this Virtual vs. Face-to-Face survey link. You can learn more about how Destra works with both virtual and face-to-face teams to help you be not just effective, but great.

Keeping Organizational Design (and Redesign) Relevant – by Joe Schroeter

Organizational design remains one of the most popular topics of interest for leaders across all industries.   It is particularly specific to each company.  A Hay Group study mentioned in Fortune Magazine found that the World’s Most Admired companies had little in common when it came to organizational design.  Design is also difficult. McKinsey has estimated that less than 25% of redesign efforts are successful.   Despite the lagging success of redesign efforts, leaders in companies mid-size and larger have a habit of seeking out new organizational redesign efforts.   Unfortunately organizational redesign can be one of the more maligned and ridiculed of leadership actions by those who must suffer through them, i.e., the people that actually do the work.

To make things more difficult, the drivers of organizational design are changing.  In addition to business and product strategy, compliance, risk, and the digital age are affecting organizational design in new ways. Compliance and risk are particularly dynamic environmental factors.  Changes in healthcare, financial, and extra-territorial regulation are hitting business not just at the operational level, but are changing how business models work.   The digital strategy of a company works like a new capability or high-powered employee that needs to be leveraged effectively throughout the company to avoid being ignored or outright rejected.

And yet, organizational design matters!  With good simple design, the work done becomes much smoother and can feed morale in subtle and effective ways by removing dissonance and friction in how strategy is executed.   The starting point is not what is the new organizational design and how do you implement it?  The right question is what is the change in your environment or capability and how does your current design respond to it?  Look for the gaps and engage the people impacted in assessment.   Too often we see the response is almost immediately about lines and boxes.   Search for the number of compliance officer and chief data officer positions currently listed on job boards and you’ll see my point.  

Those kinds of organizational structure changes may be part of a redesign but they are never the only one needed.  If you find that your current design is lacking after adequate inquiry, be precise about where it falls short: in roles, or process, or capabilities, or people, or business model.  Destra’s organizational assessments help uncover a more precise understanding of true capability gaps and needs.  Then and only then ask yourself what you hope to achieve with your organizational redesign and start working on the components of a successful redesign effort.  You’ll save yourself some frustration and keep your credibility within the company as someone who does work that matters.

“Siri…Can You Help Me with Some Consulting?”

We read about ever more and different services being offered virtually – personal assistance, coaching, counseling, medical advice. And more of us have availed ourselves of some of these (Siri anyone?)  So where does that leave consulting? Is this a field that is moving toward a virtual presence as well?

A colleague of ours keeps encouraging us to move into this area. What’s interesting though is that we already consult ‘virtually’ (and have been for years) even if we haven’t thought of it that way or marketed our business that way; this isn’t anything new. For most of us around the globe, it’s just the way business is done. After initial face-to-face meetings, much of our work is done via conference calls, web conferences, or video conferences or at least much is done that way in between on-site work. So the difference would be in doing more of our work or all of it remotely.

In the past year, we did two projects completely virtually (and this was a first for us): one focused on coaching a South American-based client using our change management methodology and another focused on developing internal capability around facilitation skills for a global financial services company. Two very different projects yet what made them both successful were three critical factors:

• a strong partnership,
• content knowledge on the part of the clients, and
• significant preparation on our part.

The first is perhaps the most important - we had a strong relationship with the people involved, had worked together in the past, and the partnership was based on face-to-face interaction. The trust and partnership that already existed made it possible to work successfully in a remote environment. Secondly, both clients had seen or been trained in the content and context (change management and facilitation skills respectively) that we were delivering prior to the virtual work. This allowed us to focus on assisting them with the strategic goals of their engagements. And finally we did significant preparation (read: time consuming and extremely thorough) to make the coaching on change and the content on facilitation come to life in a virtual environment. It took creativity and thinking about our work in different ways to achieve the results that both clients wanted and needed.   

The lessons from these two engagements highlight what we learned almost 15 years ago when a former partner published her book titled “Tools for Virtual Teams”: Face-to-face interaction is a vital foundation for almost any type of significant virtual work. The other takeaway is that much of the coaching and consulting we all provide can be done virtually with enough context setting and the right preparation.  So Siri’s answer is “Yes someone can help you with virtual consulting.”

Time, learning, and connecting with others:  Part I

I believe it was Ben Franklin who said that time equals money, then again he also stated that beer was God’s way of showing us he loves us.  In any case, the point of exploration here is that if time equals a return on investment, then there are some balances and shifting mindsets regarding the time spent developing the talent and capability of employees.

There has always been a question about how long people can be away from their desks to participate in a learning event.  What we are seeing today, because the pace of business is perceived to be going faster and faster, is even more pressure to minimize the time devoted to learning events.  That and the need for online content that allows for “Anywhere...Any time” access.  Certainly there is a push to find creative ways to engage people in learning in shorter time frames, though engagement of learners is always a foundational principle.

What we need to make sure is included in the talent development conversation is the question of learning outcomes.  Specifically, what happens when people need to learn more nuanced skills such as facilitating a meeting, or leading a group in process mapping, or dealing with difficult conversations?  In thinking about a learning event, the primary question is “What do you want participants to walk away having learned?”  This can range from overall awareness to having in-depth knowledge of the tools and skills related to the topic, including opportunities to practice and receive feedback.  If the interest is in awareness, or compliance training, mediums such as online or other computer based learning work fine.  In fact, according to Training Magazine (2014) 72% of mandatory compliance training was done online.

Other data I culled from Training Magazine (2014) and an ASTD report from 2013 that you may find interesting report that:

  • The average amount of training employees receive a year is 40.4 hours.  And in the ASTD research they found that employees in top-performing organizations received an average of 57.7 hours each. 
  • Well-trained employees have been shown to be more productive, averaging a 23 percent higher margin-to-product than untrained employees.
  • 29 percent of learning was delivered with blended learning techniques; 28.5 percent was delivered via online or computer-based technologies; and 1.4 percent delivered via mobile devices.
  • Online training was least used for executive training (40% had no online training), onboarding (35% none reported), and interpersonal skills (31% none reported).

However, what I also found interesting is that nearly 47 percent of training hours were delivered by a stand-and-deliver instructor in a classroom setting.  This I also interpret to mean that there is still, and I think will always be, a place for people to come together to build capability that involves not only learning tools and techniques but also the emotional intelligence that accompanies such skills. I was interested to find that in the world of neuroscience there is an increasing amount of data to back this up.  This is information we will explore in the second part of this post, coming next month!

Time, learning, and connecting with others: Part II

In the last post we talked about there being data from neuroscience supporting the concept that there is a fundamental human need to get together for a variety of social events, including training.  In this section let’s look at this information.

In an article by Joshua Freedman he mentions Marco Iacoboni as one of the pioneers in a new area of neuroscience related to our human need to connect.  Iacoboni was among a group of scientists in Italy a few years ago who accidentally discovered a whole new class of brain cells that seem to be the neural basis of empathy. They called them “mirror neurons” because these cells seemed to map one person’s actions into another’s brain.  So what does this have to do with face-to-face learning?

One of the central challenges in learning and leading is the ability for people to connect, to collaborate, and to find the common ground needed to work through difficult issues, and simply to interact and share ideas.  While as humans we can be quite independent, we are actually social animals, and mirror neurons are evidence of this interdependence.  “Mirror neurons seem to be a bridge between our thinking, feeling, and actions—and between people,” says Iacoboni. “This may be the neurological basis of human connectedness, which we urgently need in the world today.”  

So as practitioners we need to think about what types of content are best delivered online, via webcast, or in short bursts, and with what content do we need to tap the social nature of humans and develop not just our technical skills but our emotional intelligence as well.


Top Questions About Dealing with Disruptive Behaviors in Meetings

When we work with leaders on facilitation skills, one of the juiciest topics (i.e., generates the most interest) is dealing with difficult people or what we call disruptive behaviors in a meeting. In our roles with Destra here are three questions David and I hear most frequently and our responses:

What do you do if you have a person who talks over people and consistently disrupts meetings by going "on and on", but he/she is on topic?

Bette says: This is a behavior that you can handle in a few ways. One suggestion is to change the mode of conversation so that everyone has the opportunity to participate equally and one person (even if they are ‘on task’) is not dominating the conversation. One technique we use is called Nominal Group Technique (NGT). As the facilitator, what you do is give everyone a set amount of time (e.g., 2 minutes), and ask people to come up with a specific number of ideas (e.g., 2-3).  Then everyone in turn shares one idea at a time round robin style. Sometimes the type of person you’ve described will want to share more than one idea so just be clear on the process, that it is only one idea at a time.

David says:  If this person is talking over others, then I would make sure to refer them to the working agreement of “Respect All Points of View” (which of course was posted at the beginning of the meeting) and make sure they let people finish their thoughts.  I would also make sure to do what we call Plus/Delta feedback at the end of the meeting.  How this works is as people leave the meeting they write two post-its, one is a Plus – what went well, and the other is a Delta or “Even Better If” and stick them on a flipchart.  A delta for this issue would look like “Let people finish their thoughts” or “Make your comments clear and concise.”  This form of providing feedback on the meeting is a great (and anonymous) way that disruptive behaviors get addressed. If all else fails, another strategy is to talk to the person ahead of time and ask for their help: “It would help the group if you made sure to let people finish their thoughts, and make sure your own comments are short and to the point.”

What do I do when conflicts arise in my meetings? What is the best way to resolve conflicts in a meeting?

David says:  It depends what the conflict is about.  Usually conflict starts as people haven't really listened to the other person, and are making assumptions about the other person’s point of view or data.  I would begin by intervening and saying something like “Wait a second, person A, you said that ______, please talk more about your perspective.”  Usually by having the person explain their perspective in more depth, including the rationale behind their thinking, a deeper understanding is achieved.  You can then ask person B to talk more about their point of view.  Bette, what would you add to this?

Bette says:  It’s useful to help participants come back to the facts or ‘what we know for sure’ about a situation. Do we have data to support our opinions? And as David said giving both parties time to advocate and explain how they’ve reached their conclusions can be very helpful in managing conflict in a meeting situation (and yes this takes time.) Another related tactic is to help the participants find whatever common ground they share around the issue. You may say something like this, “From what we are hearing, you both feel very strongly about X topic and acknowledge that we need to address this issue” or you may pose it as a question “What do you understand or agree with about person A’s/B’s point of view?”  Hopefully by finding common ground, the participants can carry on their conversation with respect. If not and the conflict is a distraction to the meeting and its purpose, table the discussion and here’s another opportunity to talk to the participants outside of the meeting.

How do I address people that are disruptive in meetings without calling them out or shaming them?

Bette says:  You can use the working agreements that have been established for the meeting, and address the entire group.  For example, you can say “Just a minute, I can't hear what (person) just said as we have a side-bar conversation going on.”  This way you aren’t calling the people out directly.

David says:  I agree with Bette, address the entire group versus the specific person or persons.  However, if they continue to be disruptive, you may have to address them directly.  And this is a good thing as the rest of the group is waiting for you to do this – it’s your role as the facilitator. You just want to make sure that you do it respectfully with thoughtfulness and consideration.

For more on dealing with disruptive behaviors, check out this great CNN interview with Dana Brownlee on Managing Difficult Meeting Personalities [Link:].

Book Review: Lean Change Management: Innovative Practices for Managing Organizational Change by Jason Little

We spent the summer reading and re-reading through the Change Management literature – oldies and goodies (like Kotter’s Leading Change and Bridges’ Managing Transitions) and newer titles including Jason Little’s Lean Change Management. It’s a fast, fun (seriously) read that covers much of the primary Change Management research and provides a new approach - the lean change cycle, a few new tools, and a refreshing perspective - informed by his understanding of lean, agile, organizational development, and psychology.

If you need a quick refresh on the primary change frameworks, Little covers Kotter’s 8-Step model, McKinsey 7S, and the ADKAR piece of Prosci’s model. This brisk grounding in the foundational research and a brief introduction to lean and agile concepts sets the stage for Little’s ‘Lean’ approach. Little proposes a ‘non-linear, feedback-driven’ model for managing change.

Lean Change Cycle ImageLittle explains that we start with insights on the current state and organizational culture, we then evaluate our options, and we initiate a change as an experiment. If this is all he covered that would be valuable but perhaps a bit dry. What makes the book exciting is that he explains how the model played out in real-life at an organization he calls ’The Commission.’ This story line weaves through the book, and it leaves us wanting to hear about the next change initiative as Little builds his case for a lean approach to change. A few of the tools that caught our attention: Lean Coffee (for getting those insights), Blast Radius of the Change (for capturing consequences), and the One Page Change Plan.

All in all a quick read (you could read it on the plane) that’s worth the time.

Review: Tim Leberecht: Four Ways to Build a Human Company in the Age of Machines (TEDTalk 2016)

Some prognosticators say that software or robots could replace half of the human workforce in the next 20 years. And why not? Machines are more efficient, while humans are more complicated and difficult to manage. Regardless if this is true, Leberecht wants organizations to remain human, in fact to become beautiful. If beautiful is not an appropriate term, try “An organization where the culture is strong and people are valued.”

Here are four principles Leberecht suggests we can use to build a strong organization.

1. Do the unnecessary. In April, 2016 Hamdi Ulukaya, the CEO and founder of Chobani granted stock, which represented "a mutual promise to work together with a shared purpose and responsibility,” to all 2000 employees. The New York Times estimated that the average award could be worth $150,000! One notable aspect of this decision is that it came out of the blue, there was no market or shareholder pressure. Employees were so surprised that many of them burst into tears when they heard the news. It was something out of nothing, and not really necessary, but it was beautiful! When you cut the unnecessary, Leberecht says, you cut everything. Leading with beauty means rising above what is merely necessary.

Think about what you do that might be deemed “unnecessary” yet is vital to creating a “beautiful” (committed and engaged) culture at your organization.

2. Create intimacy. Many studies show that how we feel about our workplace depends quite a bit on our relationships with our co-workers. These relationships, Leberecht says, are a string of micro-interactions, hundreds of them every day, that can distinguish a good life from a beautiful one. The secret of a healthy relationship, he notes, is not the grand gesture or lofty promise but small moments of attention. Intimacy. In our networked organizations we tout the strength of weak ties but underestimate the power of strong ones. The question becomes how do we design for organizational intimacy? 

One example he talks about was an NGO that had an initiative to promote gender equality in small villages in Northern India. The company leadership realized that to be effective, they first needed to have this same conversation internally. They brought together the staff and their spouses for a retreat where they talked about their personal relationships. This process not only broke down invisible barriers between couples, and the staff, but allowed people to relate to the communities they serve. Not a single team member quit in the next four years.

Another example Leberecht mentions (that of course we love) is Dannon, who wanted to translate a company manifesto into product initiatives. They gathered the management team and 100 people from all over the organization for a 3-day strategy retreat. The thing is, they asked everyone to wear costumes for the entire meeting.  People came in wigs, wore huge glasses, had feather boas, etc. They left with concrete outcomes, but when asked about this approach the woman who designed the session said, “Never underestimate the power of a ridiculous wig.” Wigs eliminate hierarchy, and hierarchy kills intimacy, from the CEO down to the intern.

Leberecht says that intimacy is not always easy in an organization where often our relationships are like an old married couple that has grown apart. There may have been betrayal, or disappointment, yet now they are desperate to be beautiful to one another again. For that we have to take a risk – the risk of being ugly.

Think about what you do that promotes or inhibits intimacy at your organization. What are the systems or structures in place that create good communication and kill hierarchy? That enhances people’s loyalty to your organization?

Review: Tim Leberecht: Four Ways to Build a Human Company in the Age of Machines (TEDTalk 2016).

Part Two:  We talked last time about the first two principles to build a “human” company: 1) Do the unnecessary: the extra organizational items, from bagel Wednesdays to granting stock to all employees; and 2) Create intimacy: find ways to promote honest and meaningful conversations.  Now we will provide an overview of the second two principles Leberecht talks about.

3. Risk being Ugly. Leberecht notes that many workplaces focus on the superficial aspects of the workplace. There are coffee bars, playgrounds, etc. built on the promise of positive psychology. One start-up he cited said if someone gets fired they have a “graduation” ceremony!

Ugly, however, cuts clean to the bone, and by this he means that we need to be honest and authentic. This doesn't mean you can't have fun, but you shouldn’t give in to the dark side of being vulgar or cynical. Instead, speak the honest truth. One company he mentioned wanted to transform an underperforming business unit. A team put together a list of the hundreds of issues that had become obstacles to better performance and put them all in a room they called the Ugly Room. The honest truth therefore became visible for all to see, and the Ugly Room became a place to do a biopsy on where they needed to cut out bureaucracy and inefficiencies.

Leberecht says that the ugliest part of us is our brain, which renders what is unfamiliar or even uncomfortable as ugly. Whether it’s abstract art, atonal music, even us: we have all been ugly at some point; we were the foreigner, the new kid in school, etc. and will be ugly again when we don’t belong. Part of the process of ensuring that the honest truth continues to come to the fore is to remain incomplete.

Think about what your organization does to promote the honest, even ugly truth being surfaced. Do you have events or processes where it is okay and even encouraged for organizational inefficiencies and roadblocks to performance are surfaced and addressed?

4. Remain incomplete. Leberecht attended Up All Night, a self-organized protest movement in Paris formed in response to proposed labor laws in France. At a city plaza there were nightly forums whose purpose was to deliberate people’s vision of what the French Republic could become. Like other similar movements it was messy and full of controversy and contradictions. But whether you agreed with the movements’ goals or not, every gathering was an expression of raw humanity. People had a say about a lofty idea. Leberecht proposes that great organizations represent ideas worth fighting for, even and especially when the outcome is uncertain. Like Up All Night they are movements that are not perfectly organized but have something that we’re not sure about and we can't take our eyes off of them – they are beautiful.

These are all inherently human characteristics, and the qualities of what we all call home. Our task Leberecht says is to ensure we feel at home in our organizations. In the face of software and machine learning, we have to make beauty a part of our organizations, we have to design for them. If not, we may feel like aliens in an organization and society that has no appreciation for the unnecessary, the intimate, the ugly, or the incomplete.

Last, what does your organization do to encourage conversation and dialogue about the future, about strategy, and what the organization is and could become?

Brain Chemistry, People, and Personalities: What is the Same and What is Different - A review of an article on Biological Anthropologist Helen Fisher’s work on the neurological bases of personality types in HBR, March-April 2017.

Helen Fisher’s work on brain chemistry has been featured in TED Talks and NPR interviews, and originally focused on relationships for companies such as and Lately her work has been getting attention in business settings and implications for team effectiveness and reducing office conflict. We’ve looked at this work to provide a quick take on what is the same and different from the more commonly used personality assessments such as Myers-Briggs and StrengthsFinder.

What is the same: All assessments (including Fisher’s) are used as a means of understanding how we all are different when it comes to processing information, making decisions, working with others, etc. Whether our preference is for detail or big picture, rational or emotional thought processes, we can use the perspectives any assessment provides to better understand individual behaviors. We can also ensure that we elicit complementary modes of thinking when making decisions, and even tailor a presentation to a specific audience. All assessments acknowledge the need to flex our style to a certain degree. Last, if we are smart, it is less “We need a strong intuitive style to help us here” rather “Let’s make sure we have considered multiple perspectives before we make our decision.”

What is different: Fisher’s research is all neurologically based. She found that four biological systems – dopamine/norepinephrine, serotonin, testosterone, and estrogen/oxytocin – are each linked to a set of personality traits. These traits range from creativity and spontaneity (dopamine), direct and tough-mindedness (testosterone), and intuition and trusting (estrogen/oxytocin). Fisher holds that these four systems evolved from our hunter-gatherer societies over many generations. She worked with a statistician to create a set of questions that measures the degree to which people express the traits in each of these four systems.

Implications: Eventually, the advances in neuroscience will lead to more reliable ways of uncovering personality preferences. For now though, assessments remain a great way to provide insight into one’s own and colleagues styles, preferences and ways of working together. We also think the truism that “preference does not necessarily equate to performance” is one to be heeded, so be thoughtful about how you use any assessment in the workplace.

Small Changes Mean Big Impacts

Often we view organizational change as requiring large-scale changes in structures such as staffing, training, or measures. Yet we repeatedly see the impacts of small, easy-to-do changes that have significant impacts on the desired behavior, and hence the results we want to achieve. Here are four examples that we hope will get you thinking about what are some easy changes or “tweaks” you can do to make it easier for people to do the right thing.

Start school later: In her TED talk Wendy Troxel talks about the impacts of sleep deprivation on teenagers. Around puberty there is a delay in children’s biological clock and they don't start producing melatonin (and winding down to go to sleep) until after 11:00 pm. Therefore, waking a teen at 6:00am to meet a 7:30 am school start is the equivalent of waking an adult at 4:00 am. What often results is kids consume energy drinks, so we have a tired but wired youth. Sleep deprivation also leads to substance abuse and depression, and an increased risk for obesity. Not to mention the negative impacts of driving a car!

The tweak? Start middle and high school at 8:30 am! Wait, too difficult to do, too many stakeholder groups to work with? Read on.

Wash your hands with soap: In another TED Talk, Myriam Sybide notes that 600,000 children a year die from diseases ranging from diarrhea to cholera and even Ebola. The solution? Have people wash their hands after going to the bathroom. Yes, this means also having a bar of soap available, but a relatively easy fix.

Use simple rewards: In the book “Influencer” the authors share an example of a hospital’s effort to increase the number of physicians washing their hands before seeing patients. Their data showed that while 73% of physicians said they washed their hands effectively, only 9% actually met the industry standard. They implemented two simple strategies. One was to hand doctors small bottles of hand sanitizer in the parking lot. The other was a “catch them doing it right” campaign where medical center administrators received a $10 Starbucks cards if they “caught” doctors in the act of using the disinfectant. Compliance moved from 65 to 80%. Want something even simpler?

Leave your mobile phone at your desk: In an interview about Millenials, Simon Sinek comments that besides free food and beanbags (J) Millenials want a sense of purpose and connection in the workplace. Sinek mentions a great “tweak”: Before going to a meeting people must leave their cell phones at their desk. This way, when people wait those 3-4 minutes for the meeting to start, they talk to one another!

Not getting the behaviors you need around an organizational change? We encourage you to think about what are the easy tweaks you can do that make it easier for people to do the right thing.

Book Review: Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers by Dave Gray, Sunni Brown, and James Macanufo

This isn’t a new book, it came out in 2010 (almost 10 years ago!) but it is one that should be on your shelf if it isn’t already. Gamestorming takes the many ‘activities’ (for lack of a better word) that we use as leaders and facilitators to do collaborative, creative work. What is wonderful is to have a reference with all of the ‘games’ in one place.

There are more than 80 activities – some may be well familiar to you (e.g., SWOT Analysis and Dot Voting) and others may be new to you (e.g., Staple Yourself to Something or Prune the Future). What is so helpful is the authors have provided a structure for each game:

  • Object of play
  • Number of players
  • Duration of play
  • How to play
  • Strategy

The structure makes it easy to find games that meet your team’s needs and outcomes.

The other thing we really appreciate about the book is the model shared for games which is very much in sync with our Getting to Agreement model. The authors posit that each game has three phases: Open, Explore, Close; the visual they provide is “a stubby pencil sharpened on both ends.” In Getting to Agreement these three phases are Generate/Gather Ideas, Organize/Prioritize, Evaluate/Decide. There is the same flow from a point A to point B, which is the goal or objective for that activity.

If you will be facilitating an hour-long meeting or a day-long workshop, take a browse through Gamestorming. It may provide you with some tools to add to your toolkit and add a spark and fun to the work you’re doing with teams.

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