In Defense of Doers

Leadership experts make it sound easy: “Follow these simple steps and you will have amazing results!”

The typical format is somewhat formulaic. With poise and pithy quotes, we deliver our sticky stories. We boil down thousands of hours of research and experience into a set of snazzy slides and talking points. When they go well, our sessions help people make sense of the chaos around them. At our best, we provide practical tools and approaches that may make people more effective or happier at work.

I say this with some basis in experience: I could probably be perceived as one of these “leadership experts.” I run a research center with a mountain of relevant content. I teach an MBA class at a top business school. I blog regularly throughmainstream media outlets. I give dozens of external talks and workshops a year. I have written a book through a prestigious publishing house. The resume adds up to the picture of a “leadership expert.”

Yet I have also been leading teams and organizations for the last eighteen years. This allows me to say unequivocally: leading and managing people is much, much harder than talking about it.

The reality of organizational life is messy. It doesn’t fit neatly into the two-by-two frameworks, or three step processes that make for compelling 700 word blog articles. The people we work with on a day to day basis have their own baggage from previous jobs. Maybe their previous boss was a tyrant, always looking for what was being done “wrong.” The people we work with have their own lives outside of work. Maybe he or she is exhausted from working a second job, or going to evening classes, or has young children who are not yet sleeping through the night. The people we work with have diverse strengths, weaknesses, and preferences. Maybe a struggling team member could be a superstar in a slightly adjusted role or working environment. The complexity is mind-boggling.

And you know what? The same goes for me. I have my own baggage from previous jobs. I have had a controlling boss. I have experienced a sense of betrayed trust in the workplace. I too have my own life outside of work. I am spending much of my time excitedly preparing for a wedding next year, with all the new challenges and opportunities and growth that weddings and married life bring. I have my own strengths, weaknesses, and preferences. Connecting dots in strategy and networks comes naturally to me; defining and implementing consistent processes does not. I am far from perfect.

So what advice might I share with someone brave enough to show up every day, trying to build a positive organization in the messy, complex real world of work?

Be humble.

When you are wrong, or fall short of what you expect of yourself, admit it. Admit it quickly and unreservedly, to yourself and others. Apologize. Being humble will both manage expectations, and build trust. And try again.

Be gentle with yourself.

Accept, right now, that things will rarely go exactly as planned. Some things you try will not work the way you hoped. You will find some people harder to work with than others. Just do your best, and be kind to yourself about the emotional bumps and bruises along the way. These psychological knocks are simply the cost you pay for caring about your team. Being gentle with yourself will help you sustain yourself and gather up the energy needed to make your organizational change efforts successful. And try again.

Keep learning and improving.

Never fall into the trap of believing that the formulas proposed from most “leadership experts” will work perfectly in your organizations. They will require skilled adaptation. You will need to become comfortable using the tools that they recommend. Ask for feedback often. Look for subtle feedback in what you are told and not told by those around you. Continually learning and improving will make you better and inspire those around you to want to partner with you. And try again.

What is the best advice you have for someone trying to build a positive organization?

Chris White (@leadpositivelyleadpositively.com) is managing director of the Center for Positive Organizations (@PositiveOrg) at the University of Michigan’s Stephen M. Ross School of Business.

Originally appeared at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/great-work-cultures/in-defense-of-doers_b_12441314.html

Follow Great Work Cultures on Twitter: www.twitter.com/GWCLeadLink

Four co-workers having a break in the office. Standing by the colaborative board in casual chlothing and talking.

4 Ways to Build High-Quality Workplace Connections

How could you become more creative, healthier, resilient, think faster, and feel better about yourself? How could your team become more creative, trusting, and better learners? How could your organisation move faster and more effectively within its teams and across its silos? How can even the budget-constrained achieve these kind of (research-based) outcomes?

The answers are all around us. It’s not what you know, it’s not who you know, it’s how you connect with others.

High-quality connections are often short-term interactions, the micro-bits of a relationship over time. They occur when both people feel a sense of positive regard from the other, a sense of mutuality, and feel vitality or energy in the connection,” says Professor Jane Dutton from the Center for Positive Organisations at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. “They strengthen both people who experience them– leaving them stronger, both physiologically and psychologically.”

Dutton identifies four pathways for building these high-quality connections:

1. Be here now

I was recently walking through the park when a young mother with a stroller approached in the opposite direction. “What, no phone?” she asked, laughing. A bit confused, I smiled at her and kept going. It slowly dawned on me that every single person in the park was glued to their mobile phone and was missing out on experiencing the golden sunshine, the glistening water, the luscious green trees.

Especially in this day and age, paying complete attention is the ultimate compliment. We feel heard, respected, and valued when someone gives us their full attention. “Increase attention to and presence with each other,” advises Dutton. Be present, even if only for a moment. Put down your phone. Open your door. Listen.

 2. Build trust

Trust can sometimes be elusive in the workplace. Most of the time, I have been fortunate to have incredibly energising relationships with my colleagues and collaborators. Yet over my career, there have been a few work relationships that have just felt fragile and tentative, for no reason obvious to me. Those times when I have not been successful in building authentic and positive working relationships nag at me for longer than I care to admit.

It is easy for us to forget that what we see of the other person is just a tiny fraction of the whole. All of us bring “baggage” to our work, and our relationships, that is accumulated from our past experiences. These residual perceptions and beliefs can be hard to leave behind, in order to build high-quality connections. Yet, if our motivation to build high-quality connections are sincere, all we can do is try. It is a daily process. “Help others know you have their best interests at heart”, encourages Dutton. By being open, being reliable, and being competent, you can make a great start in earning trust, and feeling more comfortable in trusting others.

 3. Offer support skillfully

What is helpful to one person may be acutely unhelpful to another. “Know and provide what other people need to be successful,” suggests Dutton. “Make others succeed. Catch them when they fall. Know what ways of helping others really work for them.”

This may sound like it is easier said than done! Implementing #1 (listening and being present) will help. Professor and bestselling author Adam Grantrecommends a practice of “five minute favours”, in which we set aside a short block of time to do helpful deeds. An additional resource to help with this is theTask Enabling Exercise (TEE). The TEE helps identify and strengthen the relationships that are most important to you in being successful at work, and the relationships in which you are equally important to others.

 4. Play more. Play often

Sometimes we can take ourselves too seriously that we may be fearful either to initiate or engage in playful behavior. We believe that people around the table may be too busy to join in, or that we may be negatively judged for suggesting such a silly idea as being playful in the workplace.

Getting past this fear of resistance of judgment in order to play more, benefits the overall team culture. Indeed, for humans and many other species, the instinct to play with others is hardwired into us from birth.

Dutton encourages us to try different, contextually appropriate, forms of playing in order to build connections in psychologically safe ways. For example, at theNeutral Zone, a youth-driven space for leadership development, teen leaders often begin meetings by asking a fun, thought-provoking question to everyone before the meeting gets underway. This enables participants to use more creative parts of their brains first before jumping into the work.  At Menlo Innovations, on the other hand, much of their coding work is done in pairs. As such, when two people are reporting out to the broader team on projects, they hold the two horns on a Viking helmet. This physical artifact strengthens the bond between the two people, and keeps an element of silliness in the room.

So often, we look for what to do, or with which company to do it in order to thrive at work. It turns out, who we do it with may be an equally important question to ask. How do you build high-quality connections as you go about your day?


Originally at http://blog.gotomeeting.co.uk/2016/09/21/build-high-quality-workplace-connections.html


Three ways to work better together

Are you looking for research-based ways to increase quality, efficiency, financial, safety, customer engagement, and worker well-being? Perhaps even enhance learning and innovation? What could be the fuel that facilitates these diverse and important outcomes?

When we think about ways to improve, we often look at what things we can do additionally. However, fewer of us take a close look at how we do it.

Jody Hoffer Gitell
has been studying how we can work better together for her whole career. Jody calls it Relational Coordination: a mutually reinforcing process of communicating and relating for the purpose of task integration. “Basically”, says Hoffer Gitell, “it’s a relational dynamic that individuals, teams and organizations use to coordinate their work to achieve desired performance outcomes.”

Many people would consider things like “relationship dynamics” to be an art rather than a science. But Hoffer Gitell is absolutely putting rigor into our understanding of these processes. At Brandeis University’s Heller School for Social Policy and Management, Professor Hoffer Gitell is Executive Director of the Relational Coordination Research Collaborative and author of Transforming Relationships for High Performance.

For leaders seeking to kickstart a higher level of relational coordination, Hoffer Gitell recommends three things:

1) Align. Seek to identify and develop shared goals where possible even when some goals are in conflict.

Here at the Center for Positive Organizations, we have recently started implementing a Kick Off protocol for our projects. In this, the project manager leads all those who will be involved in making a project successful through a conversation to get alignment on several important dimensions. Firstly, purpose and goals. What is the purpose of our Center? What is the purpose of this particular project, as relates to this overarching purpose? What do we want to learn? What is our shared vision of greatness? Secondly, roles. Who will contribute what to the success of the project? Thirdly, process. How will we check in with each other to make sure that we stay on track? The answers are developed together in conversation, and written up as a shared charter for the team.

2) Listen. Seek to understand the expertise and perspective of other roles, and help them to understand yours.

At Menlo Innovations, a member of the Consortium of Positive Organizations, software programmers work in pairs on coding projects. Pairing combinations are rotated often, so people are compelled to learn from others on a daily basis. Pairs share out their learning points and challenges daily – as a pair – at a morning stand up meeting. They incorporate a bit of fun and symbolism into the process by using a Viking helmet to physically join the two team members! This way of working means that team members cannot help but learn from each other. Failing to learn from each other would mean being unable to deliver on a project, given the highly institutionalized relational coordination at Menlo.


3) Respect. Find a way to feel and show respect for other roles, and expect respect for your own.

At Zingerman’s, teams end meetings with appreciations. “Appreciations can be of anything or anyone; in the room or not in the room; work-related or not; past, present or future. No one is required to say anything, but most people usually do. This one small systemic change has made a huge impact over the years,” writes co-founder Ari Weinzweig. “Think of it like ending a meal with a good cup of coffee; because every meeting ends with them, people almost always return to the organizational world with positive feelings. Its regularity disciplines us to devote time and mental energy to positive recognition.”

Align, listen, respect. Build relational coordination and build a positive organization. What else are you doing to help your team work better together?


Chris White (@leadpositively, leadpositively.com) is managing director of the Center for Positive Organizations (@PositiveOrg) at the University of Michigan’s Stephen M. Ross School of Business.


How to motivate people? Don’t do it yourself.

How do you motivate employees to greater levels of engagement and productivity? Maybe you shouldn’t try to do it yourself.

For many people, the popular TV show The Office strikes just a little too close to the reality of their day-to-day experience. It is funny because it is true. Consider this example: manager Michael Scott often gives “motivational” pep talks to his team. Just about every time, the effort backfires. Michael’s efforts to pump up his colleagues are greeted with rolled eyes and cynicism. Whether sincere or not, his words and deeds are viewed as inauthentic and superficial. By contrast: seldom if ever do we actually see or hear from fictional company Dunder Mifflin’s customers in the show.

There are specific, research-based steps toward an alternative possibility: a world of engaged workers who are happier, healthier, and more productive. Employees are more likely to be motivated and engaged when they feel their work is meaningful (which researchers Brent Rosso, Katherine Dekas, and Amy Wrzesniewski define as “significant, challenging, and complete”). It seems logical: people who feel that their work is “making a difference” are more likely to engage in it. Usually, when we think of “meaningful work,” we think of teachers, nurses, physicians, social workers: people whose jobs directly impact the lives of others. However, many employees in other kinds of roles are doing work that indirectly impacts the lives of others but are unable to see the effects of their work. These employees may hear about how their work affects others, but are otherwise unaware of their impact and therefore remain unmotivated and unengaged.

Take telefund callers, for instance. Many of us receive calls regularly from our alma maters, asking for donations. These calls are often placed by young students, paying their way through school by making fundraising calls to alumni. The work is repetitive, and the callers have to stay motivated and persistent even in the face of frequent (and not always very polite) rejection. Not necessarily a job that comes to mind when we think “meaningful work.” However, in How To Be A Positive Leader, Adam Grant shares a study of how outsourcing inspiration contributed to a more engaged workplace.

In 2007, University of Michigan Telefund experimented with inviting a scholarship recipient to help motivate its employees. Telefund callers are often students without much work experience, and face frequent rejection as they try to raise money for the university. In the experiment (since widely replicated), a scholarship recipient shared her story with some of the callers before their phone shift—how her scholarship helped ease a financial burden. In the month after hearing her story, those callers obtained on average 215 more pledges and $1670 more in donations per week than a control group that didn’t receive a motivational talk from a scholarship student. The kicker? Both groups of callers used the exact same script.

Outsourcing inspiration can and will look different in each organization. Here are three helpful strategies from Grant’s study that organizations can use to get started:

1. Make the face-to-face connection. Hearing first-hand from the beneficiaries of their work is the most direct (and most effective) way to connect employees to the impact of their work. In the case of Michigan Telefund, a 5-minute story from a scholarship student measurably boosted employee engagement.

2. Encourage employees to swap stories. It might be the case at an organization that some employees are very connected to their impact, while others are not. When employees are given the opportunity to share their contributions with each other, they can make connections about impact that they may not have been able to make otherwise.

3. Become a linking pin. What good is an inspiring story if not connected to the mission of the organization? Connecting employees’ contributions with the mission or vision of the organization can be even more engaging for employees than simply hearing the story of an end-user.

With these ideas as a starting point, you can start outsourcing inspiration quickly. Today at lunch, encourage employees to share stories of contributions they’ve made toward your mission. Reach out to one of your team’s beneficiaries to see if they would be willing to share the impact your organization had on them. Make your mission known and connect it to the day-to-day work of your employees. Perhaps an added bonus will be a boost to your own motivation, as well as that of your team!


Chris White (@leadpositively, leadpositively.com) is managing director of theCenter for Positive Organizations (@PositiveOrg) at the University of Michigan’sStephen M. Ross School of Business. The Center is the convener of the Positive Organizations Consortium, a catalytic co-learning community of leaders actively building high-performing organizations where people thrive.

Interview with David Burkus

In this interview, we talk about how to make even large, established companies a force for good through social intrapreneurship.

Originally at http://davidburkus.com/2015/04/0608-chris-white/



Could your calling be all around you?

Today, students and professionals are hungering for purpose. Rarely a day goes by without experiencing some manifestation of the great search for meaning in work that is currently underway. Sometimes it appears in the frustration of a loved one about her boredom at work; she wants to contribute more — and more meaningfully. Other times it shows up in the emptiness that our best friend feels when he has found himself going through the motions at work, rather than being fully present and engaged; he wants to do things that stretch him and applies his strengths, values and passions in the pursuit of something worthwhile. Often, it can be seen in the relentless job hopping that seems to be so prevalent nowadays in just about every organization; sometimes we just think that the occupational grass here is bland, and it will be greener and tastier elsewhere.


Michigan Ross management professor Andy Hoffman thinks that the solution — the biggest calling of our generation — is all around us. “The sustainability challenges we face today are of a completely different order than those of the past”, says Hoffman in his new book. “Business must be the source of the solutions to those issues. The market is the most powerful institution on Earth and business is the most powerful entity within it. If they are not solving these problems, they won’t be solved.” And it appears that many students are heeding the call. Hoffman notes that “students that wanted to make a difference in the world twenty years ago went to graduate schools of government or non-profit management. Today, more and more of them are going into schools of business.”

I will be the first to admit that I am far from perfect. Indeed, I feel more than a twinge of hypocrisy as I write this article. I drive a gas guzzling car! I enjoy a nice steak all too often!

But Hoffman’s point is that none of us are. But that shouldn’t stop us. There are myriad ways that individuals or organizations can make a difference starting today. Some yield small and immediate results. Others will be the work of many people over decades or longer. We do not all need to be Elon Musk and lead the reinvention of the auto sector, but we can aspire to create products and services differently. At the recent Ross Positive Business Conference,Cascade Engineering CEO Mark Miller told us how his company took an environmental challenge to their business and turned it into an extraordinary commercial opportunity. (See the story here, starting at 49.08). He was driven to do this by a deep sense of purpose about both building his business and serving society.


Having a calling changes our subjective day-to-day experience of work. Some may not feel the compulsion to make environmental stewardship their calling. They may feel drawn more toward helping their communities or their families, perhaps. One of my colleagues says that her calling is simply “to make each room better than how she found it”. Everyone who experiences the events that she produces knows that this is something that she takes seriously. Her calling energizes her actions on a daily basis.


For many people, the challenge is where to begin. Here are two concrete steps to get the ball rolling:


1. “Start small”, suggests Hoffman. “Begin to explore what your passions are and where you want to devote your life’s energies”. In order to do this, you may choose to find a mentor or keep an energy journal. For two weeks, simply note down the times when you feel excited and energized by situations you come across. Over time, as you reflect on your notes, you will find common themes across the people you interact with, the issues you consider, and the tasks you do when you find yourself being energized.

2. Connect to something bigger than just your immediate needs and wants. This will give you a purpose beyond yourself and a community with which to connect; both will fuel your energy and excitement for the long run. Many workplaces have Green Teams (grassroots networks to help with environmental initiatives), or diversity councils, or other such groups that fit your energy that welcome new contributors. Outside of work, many attend Green Drinks events or volunteer in environmental work.

Do you feel you have a calling? What is it? How did you find it? Share in the comments!

Chris White (@leadpositively, leadpositively.com) is managing director of theCenter for Positive Organizations (@PositiveOrg) at the University of Michigan’sStephen M. Ross School of Business. Andy Hoffman (@HoffmanAndy) is a professor at the Ross School and his new book Finding Purpose: Environmental Stewardship as Personal Calling is available here.

Originally at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/great-work-cultures/could-your-calling-be-all_b_10839066.html


Four Vital Levers to Sell Your Ideas Internally

There is a huge opportunity cost embedded in our highly bureaucratic organizations. Consider a story that Milan Samani, founder of the Intrapreneur Lab, shared with me recently:

A group of senior employees at a big pharmaceutical company saw an alternative use for a drug normally used for cosmetic surgery (it also worked as type of local anesthetic). Management were not interested in exploring these alternate uses so the team left, started their own company, received VC backing, and became very successful. The only loser was the original company — who lost a potential business-line, some high performing talent, and use of a technology that was ‘on their doorstep.’

Is there an alternative to hemorrhaging innovation out of the company? Short answer: yes.

By supporting the intrapreneurs — those who navigate organizations to create positive change, even when they do not have formal authority — companies can foster innovation, both advancing their bottom line objectives and, often, having desirable social or environmental impacts. Furthermore, this unlocking of ideas and energy reflects higher employee engagement, and can translate to retention of top talent.

In an intrapreneur-friendly environment, all kinds of people get involved. A new product development manager artfully navigating the ‘corporate immune system’ in pursuit of a ‘better user experience’ for the customer (i.e. selling more product). The sustainability executive works with scrap, grit, and dedication on a social impact project, unsure of its future viability. The team manager develops new ways of working to bring unprecedented levels of dignity, excitement, and performance to the workplace. In positive organizations such as these, innovation bubbles up from all angles.

“The right mindset, skillset, and toolset are the starting points to actually create viable, profitable ventures that create social value in overlooked and unimagined ways,” says Samani. “Some of these are the same as an entrepreneur, but many are quite unique. Processes and structures can be developed that actively foster this capability.”

So what can you do to get started in selling your ideas internally? In Changing Your Company From the Inside Out, Jerry Davis and I highlighted four levers to pull when trying to create positive change without authority.


A great idea pushed at the wrong time is unlikely to get traction. Conversely, a counterintuitive idea can be successful if the timing is right. Look for shifts in leadership priorities, which create an urgent need for new solutions. Your goal, like a skilled dancer, is to position your idea to be carried along by the momentum of the system — not swim against the tide.


Make the case for your idea using the language and strategic priorities of your company. In many corporate cultures, making the ideas sound like a natural evolution rather than a radical departure, can reduce resistance to adoption. Your goal is to create a mental image that activates the support of important allies, but does not trigger alarm bells for potential resistors.


Take time to map the decision makers for your idea, and the influence system around them. What are their priorities? How will you need to adapt your case to each of them in order to be effective? Your goal is to build support along the way, making the eventual decision a straightforward signoff.


Look for what Center for Positive Organizations Faculty Associate Sue Ashforddescribes as “sensible solutions” to organize your initiative. Maybe it is a smaller pilot program to manage risk smartly. Maybe there is a previously successful program that can be largely replicated. Your goal is to make this an easy idea to grasp as rollout begins.

What other levers do you pull to get your ideas heard — and adopted — in your company?

Chris White (@leadpositively, leadpositively.com) is managing director of the Center for Positive Organizations (@PositiveOrg) at the University of Michigan’s Stephen M. Ross School of Business.

This post was originally at http://new.www.huffingtonpost.com/great-work-cultures/the-four-vital-levers-to_b_10449248.html

Follow Great Work Cultures on Twitter: www.twitter.com/GWCLeadLink