Posts Tagged ‘business development’

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.

Is “Monkey Business” a reality in real business?

One of the things that I inevitably find myself drawn to is science of any kind.  I think that’s why I fell in love with cooking; it’s simply a form of chemistry that’s edible (and for those that know me, I LOVE to eat!).  With that in mind I always seem to be reading a new article somewhere about some type of science, which then causes me to make connections and comparisons to things I already know.  In fact, I almost wrote a blog today talking about how we need to challenge what we already know in business and scrap what we thought we knew before based on an article that I read yesterday involving a string theorist who is challenging the concept of gravity(if you’re interested, you can read that article here).  That is, until I read an article that I think really speaks to why we are where we are currently in the business world, and why having an outside perspective can really help in making change.  I think as you read this, you will understand the connection quickly as well as be entertained with the test itself.

First, before you go any further, I want you to take a look at this video:

So how did you do?  It’s really interesting how something so obvious can go unnoticed.  I’m pretty sure that you can already begin to make the same connections that I did.  How often are we told what to focus on in our business life (or any aspect of life for that matter) that we miss something so big, hairy, and conspicuous?  I’m fairly certain that we can all relate to this.  In the business world I think this is where there are many mistakes made, because we’re so focused on expected outcomes, or measurements, or whatever it may be at the time that we fail to see the unexpected things that are happening or could be coming.  That stops us from being able to adjust and be agile enough to meet needs as they happen.

Wouldn’t you think that someone would notice?  This is where I think that it’s important to understand that there are those around you that can see what’s going on, but the question is whether or not you will listen.  Of course, there are also many people who you are surrounded by that are seeing exactly the same thing as you are, because they are as focused and immersed in the situation as you are.  I believe this is part of the reason for the proliferation of consulting.  It’s also the reason that leaders are saying that the number one trait that they are looking for in their senior leadership is innovation, which if we use this study can be primarily described as the ability to identify the unexpected issues as, or before, they happen and then create solutions based on that vision and understanding.  Everyone knows that there are things that they are missing, but just can’t quite seem to grasp.  (It begs the question if this is why MBA’s are beginning to be questioned as the grail of the business world.  That’s not to say that education is bad, but perhaps there needs to be some changes to the program.)

Even with all of the people who are able to see what is going on and being able to discover or create solutions, many business are mired in what they have always been doing or are concentrated on the new hot focus of the moment and miss the opportunity to identify the gorilla in the room.  Just as in the video above, it’s obvious that it doesn’t make you a bad person, or a business a bad business.  But by being so focused on only one thing, you can really lose sight of the things happening around you and the business and the related human capital will suffer because of it.

So now that you know what you’re looking for, let’s try again (don’t read ahead until you watch this!):

Okay, so I’m going to guess that this time you noticed the gorilla…but what about the curtain change and the person leaving?  i will admit, when I watched the second video, I noticed the gorilla and the person leaving, but not the curtain change!  So what does this tell us?  When we are given a suggestion of only one thing to look for or focus on, whether it be directly or indirectly, we can lose focus on other things that are changing around us.  In other words, we need to be able to keep our, and our team’s,  focus broad and be willing to listen to feedback about the changes happening when we get it.  Just because we didn’t or don’t notice it, doesn’t mean it isn’t real, and unfortunately we don’t generally get the opportunity to rewind and see it over again (or at least if we can, by that time it’s too late!).  It’s also important to note here that we need to involve multiple perspectives consistently, so that we can see all angles of a situation, and facilitate proper measures to address, embrace, and capitalize on the changes.  As Dr. Rupert Loyd often talks about in his blog Relational Leadership this is an important concept, albeit a difficult one for many leaders to genuinely accept and utilize.

In conclusion, many of the things that I talk about for change management, organizational development, human performance improvement, and performance consulting as a whole is summarized through these videos and the concept surrounding them.  Utilizing outside perspectives can certainly help, but even more important is to develop your organization and yourself to function in the same manner as a performance consultant: questioning, analyzing, evaluating, gathering input and feedback, looking at things both systemically and systematically to ensure that all pieces fit at all times, and continually looking for ways to improve what is being done.

The original article from which these videos were pulled can be found here.

There are many opinions, but when does it change?

As I sit in front of my computer and begin to type out another blog entry, I think back to a few months ago to when I first started writing.  I believe that I have always been a better verbal communicator than written, but I wanted to take the chance in doing something different and see what happened.  I figured at best, I would get followers who wanted to hear what I had to say about the art and science that I love so much and the business that I am building around that and would enjoy it, and at worst I would end up essentially talking to myself and getting an opportunity to work on my written communication skills.  I believe that I have struck a chord somewhere in the middle, and I look at this as a developmental tool for myself and my readers.  However, I think I missed one very important point: You have to write about things that people want to hear about.  That’s not to say that I don’t think that what I am writing about is interesting or necessary, but I think I need to put some of my own commentary in here a bit.  So, this will hopefully be the beginning of what I believe will be much more interesting reading, involving both my opinions as well as some of the more specific information in to the subjects that I have been writing about up till now.

To start this new journey, I felt like I should talk about something that evokes quite a bit of emotion from me and that seems to be a “hot button” topic for others as well.  In fact, I just read someone elses blog about this topic this morning.  You can see the same entry at  I generally enjoy the articles from Steve, even if I think he is a bit too harsh on the Harvard Business Review.  He makes a lot of sense as he talks about what he calls “Radical Management”.  Essentially the concept is exactly what every consumer and worker sees, hears, and believes about the business world: in general, it is broken.

The old ways of management are not applicable anymore, and yet we continue to make the same mistakes over and over again.  I can’t help but to think back to the last organization that I was an employee of, and the debacle that was, is, and will more than likely continue to be there.  Every time I read a blog entry or other article that speaks the way that Steve does about the multiple mistakes being made in the corporate world it makes me wonder how many times the same message has to be heard again before changes are made.

One of the most poignant points that Steve Denning talks about is how there is an “iron triangle” that is composed of employees, customers, and management.  He states that many business improvements will affect only one side of the triangle in a positive manner while sacrificing satisfaction in the other two, or affect only two sides positively while the other side suffers.  Sad to think about, but it makes sense.

I want to address this for just a moment.  It is my belief that you must have ALL of your Human Capital working towards the same goal, and therefore any improvement solutions that you attempt to put in place must connect all of these in pursuit of the same goal.  As I have said before, the strategy of the organization is where it starts and if everyone in the organization is not working to achieve the same strategy then the organization will not succeed.  With that being said, I can completely agree that if you implement an improvement initiative for only one population of your organization (meaning only for front-line employees, or only for middle managers, etc.) it will not succeed.  It must be supported by all stakeholders in an organization, and it must be in support of the overall organizational strategy.

When you talk about customers ending up receiving the short end of the stick, you have to ask yourself  one very important question: Are the activities in the organization being done to meet the needs and desires of the customers from the beginning, including all of the performance improvement initiatives along the way?  I think that sometimes it becomes very easy to get so wrapped up in our internal business world that we forget that we are in business to serve our customers.  When it becomes all about making money, then you are going to lose sight of why you do what you do and for whom.  This isn’t to say that it isn’t important to make money, but it shouldn’t change your morals and values to accomplish it.  How many businesses built themselves from the trust and service that they provided to customers, only to fall like Goliath to David as they became a bit too big for their britches and began to do things that would never have been thought about only 15-20 years earlier?  I think many names in the financial sector could come to mind, among others.

Another thing that I want to touch on is how organizations are so quick to get rid of training, performance improvement, organizational development, knowledge management, or other initiatives when things begin to get tough.  We’ve all seen it and experienced it I’m sure.  Financially it’s seen as a drain on the organization, when the money could supposedly be utilized elsewhere to create more money.  How’s that working out for you so far?  Not too good?  Sorry to hear that, but not surprised.  This goes back to the beginning of this article: the old ways of management are not applicable any more.  As the generations change and people continue to evolve, so does the business world.  Those that are continuing to succeed and grow are those that are able to adjust to the changing market place and needs of both customers and employees!  But there are still plenty of businesses that are not faring as well and instead are choosing to stay with the command and control way of thinking as Steve Denning explains.  Something has to change.  You can’t continue to cut the components of the organization that are in place to help you and your organization to grow and develop and prepare for the future of business and expect that there will be no repercussions.

So I pose the question: When do companies start to listen, and take the chance to change in truly amazing and beneficial ways?  I’ll be looking forward to that time, and will continue to work towards that with those that I come in contact with.  Take care, until next time!

Taking Strategy to Reality!

The title of this blog is the new focus for Provative when it comes to our customers.  You could call it our catch phrase, or motto, or value statement…whatever you want to call it, this is what we will be telling our clients we will do, and what we will be utilizing our entire bank of knowledge and experience to accomplish.  It’s an evolution of the company (not a revolution, but we will talk about those in the future), and I think it’s a great step towards becoming the ultimate value partner for our clients.

So what does this really mean, and how does this apply to Organizational Development and Performance Improvement?  First, let’s define strategy.  Ask yourself for just a second, what is strategy?  Is it the end goal?  Is it the way that you achieve it?  Is it the thing that makes you different from your competition?  Is it a plan to achieve all of these things?  Well, don’t feel bad if the definition escapes you.  The same can be said for academics the world over.  The truth is, it is a combination of all of these.  A strategy should be an end goal or goals and the components that help you to achieve them, and that differentiate you from your competition.  Now, this is really a condensed definition of my own creation, but to me this is what makes sense.

So how do you define your strategy?  One of the most important components is to understand your business.  When we say business, that does NOT mean just how to do whatever it is that you do well.  You have to know the market, customers, and the industry.  You may have a great product or service but if you don’t know how it meets your customers needs, and how you do it better than your competition then it really doesn’t matter.  One way that you can find out much of this is through market research.  This allows you to get a feel for what current customers like, and what they don’t like quite so much.  It can also be utilized to find out what potential clients or customers would like to see that would make them use one place of business over another.  Once you have this information you can really begin to, as I discussed in a previous blog, reverse engineer the organization.

It is the leader’s responsibility to be the initiator and supporter of this process!  This includes being prepared to have the tough questions asked.  Unfortunately, more than not the uncomfortable questions are the ones that produce the best solutions, because they strike at the heart of what an organization, all the way from the top down, is doing (or not doing for that matter).  This is where creating a strategy or challenging what is thought to be a strategy comes in to play.  When you combine the results from the market research, with the right questions to the right people, you uncover the infrastructure that makes an organization tick and ultimately succeed or fail.

As I have said before, and will continue to say, people touch every single aspect of your business and your Human Capital is the most important asset your organization has.  Even with this knowledge, in many companies Organizational Development and Performance Improvement departments are seen as a cost center (as opposed toa profit/revenue center).  This is in large part because many of the activities surrounding OD and PI are intangible, and therefore difficult to measure.  Difficult, but not impossible.  It is the responsibility of the OD/PI practitioner to know how to, and to functionally, measure results.  At Provative we have a proprietary way of measuring not only results, but also the expectations.  This allows for both quantitative and qualitative measurement that keeps the improvement process continuous.

Another key point is that in the Performance Improvement world, especially for those that follow the Human Performance Technology model from ISPI, you should be looking at the performance of an organization both systemically and systematically.  This falls directly in line with creating or altering an organizations strategy.

Ultimately, when you think about your company strategy you should be thinking about Organizational Development and Performance Improvement.  These are keys to the succesful creation and implementation of your strategy, and includes utilizing your Human Capital, as well as analysis of the organization to make sure all of the pieces fit, and creation of solutions if they don’t.

It’s what everyone wants, but few want to take the chance.

I’m a huge fan of the Harvard Business Review, and strongly recommend that anyone that is serious about their business utilize it (I even follow them on Twitter …great resource!).  Today I read an article that really struck a chord for me called Innovation: Who else is doing it? by Rosabeth Moss Kanter.  It brings an important point to light, and one that is certainly near and dear to my heart.  To give a quick synopsis of the article (but I still strongly suggest reading it yourself), it talks about the desire of senior leaders for more innovation in their organizations, and how they believe that without it their organizations will fall behind, but even with this understanding  they still ask questions like “Who else is doing it?”  Doesn’t that defeat the whole purpose of innovation if someone else is doing it?!

Innovation is at the top of lists for most senior leaders in any organization.  Just do a Google search for innovation, or business leaders want innovation, or business innovation.  You will literally get MILLIONS of results.  That should tell you something!  NASA is facing challenges based on some changes to their budget and requirements from President Obama ( that according to a statement recently from NASA’s Administrator Charles Bolden, Jr will require getting back to basic research to create new inventions and innovation.  In T+D Magazine in 2007 there was an article written that talks about a study from BlessingWhite that found that many business leaders desire innovation and find it necessary, but are scared to encourage it because of the inevitable failures.  Another article by Rosabeth Moss Kanter, also on the Harvard Business Review, called “Column: Block-by-Blockbuster Innovation” talks about how innovation bust be equal parts incremental innovation as well as blockbuster innovations.  The environment must be right in an organization for there to be new ideas and new paths created, and there will certainly be risks associated at times; it is just that simple.  However, innovation is certainly necessary as Bill Buxton, Principal Scientist at Microsoft, talks about in his article “The Problem with Great Ideas” in Bloomberg Businessweek.

So what is stopping us, what are the results, and how do we get past it? 

I am a firm believer in utilizing the people who are in an organization to find answers to issues and to create new products, ideas, services, pathways, and whatever else you can imagine!  It’s all about fostering the correct environment for and trusting your people to be engaged in the organization, believe in it, and be committed to it and what it does.  This is something that I preach about more than just about anything else, and to be quite honest, this is why I do what I do!  Organizational leaders need to understand that good ideas and innovation can come from all levels and all people and should not be restricted by level or title.  Organizational Development, Performance Consulting, Human Performance Technology…these are all about helping to make sure that your organization has the right people and the right environment in which they, and in turn you, can succeed.  

This isn’t something that happens overnight, and in most cases doesn’t happen without some help.  Most organizations need support and can utilize an external perspective to assist in making this transition and change in the culture of the organization.  It is something that must be not only understood at all levels, but supported as an organization.  Jeneanne Rae talks about organizational support, and the absolute necessity of it, in her article “Innovation’s Dirty Little Secret“.  The process that she describes used by Kaiser Permanente in identifying the “O-Gap” is essentially what a Performance Consultant can help with in any organization.  No matter what title you give it, the methodologies are essentially the same. 

So what about the potential for failure?  The truth is that while you can mitigate failures you can not, nor should you, stop them.  Nilofer Merchant talks about this in her article “There’s More to Innovation Than Good Ideas“.  As she acknowledges, there is a tendency to make huge commitments that have a plausible, but not probable, chance of succeeding.  Then when the commitments fail, everyone starts to point fingers to explain why it didn’t work.  Employees at all levels should be comfortable saying “Hey, I really don’t think this is reasonable, and here’s why” with no fear of retaliation, and with a clear and true knowledge that they will be heard and listened to (which are definitely two different things!).  Again, this is an opportunity to have a Performance Consultant whether internal or external work with your organization to make sure that this type of environment exists so that you can create and drive strategies appropriately and successfully.  Employees who care enough to say that something isn’t going to work and give reasons care about whether or not the organization succeeds, and that is a true test of engagement and “ownership” (meaning in their hearts and minds) of the business.  You truly can’t ask for more than that.  Not to mention that the business results will certainly show the fruits of this engagement.

What is the environment right now in your organization?  What could new innovations do for your business?  Are you truly utilizing all of your people, and do they really want to be a part of the business?  Take just a minute to reflect on that.  I hope that you enjoyed my blog this week, and the associated articles.  I look forward to seeing you back again next week, and as always please feel free to leave comments, or otherwise contact me with ideas, questions, or feedback!