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Appreciative Leaders Must Support The Change and Improvement


Sometimes I get the urge to go back and re-read publications, journals, and books and I often find things that I may have forgotten reading or a concept that really sticks out to me.  Over the last few days I have finally found some time to get back in to my Performance Improvement Journal from the International Society for Performance Improvement, and came across a couple of articles that I felt really speak to the current times, and the needs of organizations today.

With the current climate of business, change is inevitable.  We are living in one of the most dynamic environments that has ever existed.  Just look at BP, the fall of AIG, the challenge to GlaxoSmithCline’s diabetes drug Avandia, the new regulations for the financial industry about to be signed in to law, the constant change and advancement of technology such as mobile phones and services, or cable and satellite television services.  In all of these scenarios change is happening in a rapid and radical manner and the success of these companies relies on the ability of each of these organizations, and the many systemic components of each, to be agile and be able to adjust.  At the very least they must be able to adjust adequately and adeptly, at the best they must be innovative and revolutionary. 

Imagine for a moment the impact that these changes has on each one in the organization!  You’ll probably notice the weird structure of that last sentence; the use of “each one”.  In “The Power of One” (Roger Kaufman, Performance Improvement, vol. 49, no. 3, March 2010), Dr. Kaufman talks about how “all change, or lack of change, starts with one.  That one might be an individual, a small group, an organization, or society.”  Think about how many “ones” exist in most (use your own for a moment) organizations, and as I said before, think of the tremendous impact to each of those ones from these radical and incremental changes.  Every business unit, division, team, and individual person…every one of them will be impacted differently by the dynamic environment and must adjust in their own ways.  The key is that each of them must also be aware that they can and should be the catalyst for change.  But how do they get there?  It is up to the leaders in an organization to make this happen.

As a practitioner of Human Performance Technology (HPT), I find myself questioning why more leaders aren’t looking at their organizations from the systemic and systematic perspective that is at the root of HPT.  This means looking at it as a whole system made up of parts that must fit together properly, and understanding that ALL of the parts will impact all of the others.  How many managers, supervisors, executives, and even the front-line employees in many cases understand this?  It has to start with the leadership.  Many people believe that a system’s perspective must be very rigid and static, which is completely counter to the dynamic environment as described above.  However, as described by Jennifer Rosenzweig in “An Enlightened Look At A System View” (Jennifer Rosenzweig, Performance Improvement, vol.49, no. 3, March 2010), “A  complex adaptive system can be characterized as being dynamic and constantly changing.  When it is vibrantly humming along, the people within it are adjusting smoothly and efficiently to change on a continual basis.”  Based on this, we can say that in fact it is possible to have a dynamic system that can meet these ever-changing needs of business, and can be done without getting stuck in “analysis paralysis”.  Rosenzweig goes on to say “Although plans, processes, and strategies are in place, new decisions are made when new input arrives.  And these are not decisions imposed by senior leaders but instead are made in the moment by people embedded in the system.”  In other words, it truly must be adaptive and dynamic and involve all ones, and it has to be the leadership of the organization that supports, fosters, and facilitates this environment!  This is not an impossible task, and can be achieved through the utilization and support of HPT at all levels of an organization.  Individuals must come to realize and know “his or her role and ties his or her efforts to a larger purpose to do what is needed to accomplish the tasks at hand, as well as the end goal.” (Jennifer Rosenzweig, Performance Improvement, vol.49, no. 3, March 2010)

One of the important pieces of this is helping people to go from being “brick layers” to “cathedral builders”.  For those that have never heard the story, I’ll choose to use the one from “Transitioning from Brick Layer to Cathedral Builder: Performance Consulting and the Power of One” (Darlene Van Tiem and Jeffrey McElyea, Performance Improvement, vol. 49, no. 3, March 2010). 

” A performance consultant was conducting an analysis of brick layers.  The performance consultant approached the first of three workers and asked, ‘What are you doing?’  The first man, not wanting to participate in the analysis, answered, ‘What does it look like I’m doing?  I’m laying bricks!’  undaunted, the performance consultant walked over to the second bricklayer and asked the same question.  The second man responded, ‘I’m making a living.’  The performance consultant was intrigued by the different perspective.  Finally, the performance consultant asked the third bricklayer the same question: ‘What are you doing?’  The third looked up, smiled, and said ‘I’m building a cathedral.’  The performance consultant thought, ‘Now, that’s what everybody should be doing!'”

This has such a powerful message!  How many people in an organization, including the organization itself, know what the big picture is other than making the business money?  Making money should be a given and expected to happen.  But what does the organization hope to accomplish in the process?  How is it defined?  What is in place to drive the decisions of all stakeholders involved?  It is the leaders in the organization that must make sure that these questions are answered and supported throughout the organization, and that is what drives success and creates a “complex adaptive system”. 

In “Leading Positive Performance: A Conversation About Appreciative Leadership” (Diana Whitney, Amanda Trosten-Bloom, and Kae Rader, Performance Improvement, vol. 49, no. 3, March 2010) all three authors are discussing a book that they have written talking about appreciative leadership.  I think the concept of appreciative leaders is an important one in creating the environment that we have been talking about, and to supporting the growth and development of HPT in the workplace.  Appreciative leadership, as defined by Dr. Whitney, “refers to a set of practices that turn human potential into positive performance.  It is a positive, strengths-based approach to human performance, collaboration, and change management.  It represents a shift from individualistic and deficit-based leadership processes to relational and dialogical leadership processes.”  This is a concept that can be supported by Dr. Rupert Loyd as he talks about much of the same topic in his blog “Relational Leadership“; relational leadership is truly the way of the future.  It means involvement and communication (two-way, not one) and is absolutely imperative if organizations want to have a team full of “cathedral builders” and not just “brick layers”.  This is accomplished by studying “the times when the organization is performing at exemplary levels and the quality is flawless.  From this process, we can learn specifically what it takes to support high performance in all areas all the time.” (Diana Whitney, Amanda Trosten-Bloom, and Kae Rader, Performance Improvement, vol. 49, no. 3, March 2010)  Once we discover what we want to happen we need to “Frame them as statements of what we want more of rather than statements of what we do not want,”  (Diana Whitney, Amanda Trosten-Bloom, and Kae Rader, Performance Improvement, vol. 49, no. 3, March 2010) and this must be done in conversation with the other stakeholders of an organization, not just at them or to them.  As Dr. Whitney states, “Nothing stimulates creativity and innovation more than inclusion of different people, different perspectives, and different ideas.  Inclusion enables people to exchange knowledge and ideas.  It fosters engagement, commitment to a shared future, and collaborative action.  It is generative.”  (Diana Whitney, Amanda Trosten-Bloom, and Kae Rader, Performance Improvement, vol. 49, no. 3, March 2010)  

What better way is there to create a complex, dynamic, adaptive system than this?  In order for the changes that organizations want, and need, to take place there needs to be a shift in the leadership and management style in place today.  Otherwise the other systemic components, and thus the overall system, will fail to have the desired impact and any change associated with them will be weakened if they don’t fail all together.  Until these factors are realized I’m afraid we will continue to see the types of failures and destruction described at the beginning of this entry.

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  1. July 17, 2010 at 12:33 AM

    hello –
    greetings from the island of Bali…
    i love this article..
    i could learn so many things from your Blog..
    i have bookmarked this Blog..
    see you later…

    http://andrysianipar.com

    • July 17, 2010 at 8:50 AM

      Thanks so much Andry! I hope to see you back here, and please feel free to leave your thoughts whenever you visit!

  2. July 17, 2010 at 10:15 AM

    Hey Christopher,
    Another fine article. And thanks too for the references! I know many think such things are “too academic” but I appreciate your desire to be forthcoming with your sources. They also serve as evidence that you take this leadership stuff seriously enough to study it, not simply offer opinions! Thanks again, my friend.

    • July 19, 2010 at 8:27 PM

      Thanks Dr. Loyd! I love what I do, and as with anything, you have to study your art. Without the objective academic side of things, sometimes the opinion side can get lost in the mire of subjectivity. I choose to balance the two!

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