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Can You Create Change From the Bottom Up?

An interview with the awesome Michelle McQuaid. Originally at http://www.michellemcquaid.com

 

Do you lack the authority to create the kind of positive changes you’d love to see in your workplace? Have you tried to get leaders on board and had no luck? What if there was a formula that helped you fly under-the-radar and create the kind of changes that would really help people flourish?

Be it helping our organizations to become more responsive to customers’ experiences, supportive of the needs of employees, environmentally sustainable, or community minded, it is clear that businesses can truly benefit from the social and environmental passions of their employees.  But let’s be honest, convincing business leaders that this is the case is easier in some workplaces than others.

So how do you get leaders on board with these approaches?

“Trying to create positive changes in an organization when you don’t have authority, is like trying to create change in society so there is a lot we can learn from social movement activists and apply it workplaces,”explained Chris White the Managing Director of the Center for Positive Organizations at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, and the co-author of Changing Your Company from the Inside Out, when I interviewed him recently. “For example, successful social activitists look for the right opportunities at the right time to harness and mobilize support to get the traction they need to push from the bottom up and turn their radical ideas into action.”

Chris suggests that social intrapreneurs – those who create positive change in organizations even when they don’t have formal authority – are most successful when they follow the social activists formula of when, why, who and how in workplaces. It is how employees at IBM created the corporate Peace Corps, how a team at eBay developed a fair trade marketplace, and how people convinced Ford to embrace an ambitious global human rights code.

“Like a martial arts master, intrapreneurs are able to achieve their objectives by aligning their movements with the momentum of their organization, and acting without causing serious harm to the system,” Chris explained.

But do organizations really want social intrapreneurs?

Chris suggests that by tapping into the ideas, passions and energy of social intrapreneurs, organizations not only foster more innovation, but in the process they also can increase the engagement and retention of talented employees, improve their bottom line, and help advance social and environmental solutions.

For example, the UK-based Barclays Bank regards social innovation as about ‘doing good’, and at the same time representing real business opportunities. As a result of some persistent intrapreneurial work they have established an innovation fund to address social challenges, and are fostering more initiatives by encouraging their intrapreneurs to apply for financial support, coaching or mentoring.

So what does it take to be a social intrapreneur?

Chris has found there are four levers from the social action moment that are vital to selling ideas within an organization:

  • When? – 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.
  • Why? 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.
  • Who? 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 sign off.
  • How? Look for 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. How can you use technology to connect and scale your idea? Your goal is to make this an easy idea to grasp as rollout begins.

Chris suggests that many of us to hold back from originating radical change due to fears our leaders will not be supportive of bottom-up change created without authority. However, in reality he has found senior leaders are often very supportive and welcome their social intrapreneur’s initiatives.

What positive changes could you initiate in your workplace?

This interview was produced in partnership with the Positive Business Conference held each year at the University of Michigan. For more on the conference please visit http://www.positivebusinessconference.com.

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Creating a Healthy Relationship with Technology

Walking down the street is a hazardous experience these days. People have their heads down, eyes glued to their smartphones, while walking full speed ahead (or unconsciously zigzagging), oblivious to people walking in the other direction. From time to time, collisions occur and people and gadgets come crashing down in a heap. Other times, those without a device in their hands are forced to adjust their path to avoid the oblivious human-meteor coming toward them.

Collisions happen in organizations too. Sometimes they happen physically, in the corridor as they would happen in the New York street scene described above. Other times, they are psychological collisions. The collisions take different and more subtle forms, but are real nonetheless. For example, studies show that the mere presence of a cell phone on the table is enough to reduce the extent to which we experience empathy for those around us. It doesn’t matter if it is turned on. It doesn’t matter if it belongs to anyone around the table, or whether it rings or not. Because we are now primed to check our devices so much, their mere presence is enough to cause a collective empathy-reducing psychological collision. Yikes.

Choosing to give your attention to your device over the person in front of you can be experienced as a values-based decision. Many of us have prioritized our gadget ahead of the person in front of us, me included. In fact, doing so is so widespread that we have come to accept it as normal and okay. It is not. It is a small example of the psychological collision described above. It takes a de-energizing toll on the workplace and the individuals in it.

Do not get me wrong: I do not believe the solution is tech abstinence. Technology can offer many benefits. It is about constructing a healthy relationship to technology in our lives and our families and our organizations. How can we get the benefits our gadgets offer us, while mitigating the downside to ourselves and those around us. An example of this paradox in action is down the street from me in Ann Arbor, Michigan, at Menlo Innovations. Menlo is an excellent software company; their job is to create technology. (Disclosure: Menlo is a member of the Consortium of Positive Organizations at the Center for Positive Organizations. I am an unapologetic fan). They do so in very thoughtful and innovative ways. One such way is by having project boards made from pen and paper rather than sophisticated project management software. At Menlo, they believe this gives a better way to visualize work in progress, and allow team members to connect with each other around the work in meaningful ways. Founders Rich Sheridan and James Goebel are making deliberate choices about when to get technology out of the way.

In recent months I have found myself running some small experiments. My goal has been to increase my overall presence, wellbeing, and effectiveness by making deliberate choices about my use of technology. In some cases, this has involved using more technology. In others, this has involved using less technology. So, yes, I keep my cell phone off the table. And here are four other such experiments that might be of interest:

1. Removing email and social media from my smart phone.

I have been trying to follow the widely-offered advice to batch email and social media time into two-to-three 30-minute chunks a day. I have been failing. However, I made significant progress recently when I removed all email and social media apps from my phone. I have found myself able to take what I call “micro-sabbaticals” while in the elevator, or walking along the street, instead of taking out my device in every spare moment. It has also been enlightening through this process to realize how strong my connectivity addiction is at present. When I first removed email and social media from my phone, I noticed my hand would still twitch toward my pocket when walking along the street, conditioned to check for new messages or updates. When I would get home at night, I would open my laptop on the kitchen counter, insanely rationalizing to myself that this little workaround was somehow okay, because I sticking to my resolution to remove email and social media from my phone. The behaviors of an addict, for sure. Over time, my overall addiction is waning. I notice my mind – and schedule – feeling less busy. And yet I am still operating at an almost-zero inbox, with a response rate to most messages of 24 hours or less. Progress indeed.

2. The JOOL app has helped me stay focused on the right things. 

Living life in alignment to a purpose that is meaningful to you has many benefits.Similarly, paying due attention to sleep, presence, activity, creativity, and eating (S.P.A.C.E., per Professor Vic Strecher), pays dividends in energy and wellbeing. The JOOL app encourages daily reflection and tracking of these factors, and then offers insightful analytics about the elements that lead to you being at your best. Recording this daily is a good daily reminder for me to pay attention to the things that lead to sustainable performance in all parts of my life.

3. Using a Fitbit (for me the Charge 2, specifically) has had unexpected benefits. 

It is nice to track how many steps I have taken per day, and to be reminded to get up and move. It is also helpful to get some information about the length and depth of my sleep cycles. I expected these benefits. The unexpected boost has been that my Fitbit buzzes on my wrist when I get a text or phone call. This builds on the progress made by removing email and social media from my smart phone. Now, I have no reason at all to check my smart phone “just in case I have received a text or missed a call”. The compulsive checking of my phone is fading into the distance.

4. Evernote to notebook for tracking agenda topics

I have found Evernote to be my preferred digital notebook. It is simple, searchable, and synchronizes across all my devices easily. Wherever I am, I can pull up an article I clipped, or a note I made. One way I use Evernote is to keep track of topics I would like to discuss in recurring one-on-one meetings with my team. Increasingly, I am getting into the habit of transposing the items to my written notebook immediately before the meeting. This serves a double purpose. Firstly, it enables me to review the agenda before getting into the room, which helps me make a running start on getting the outcomes we are working toward. Secondly, it allows me to extend the principle of “no cellphones on the table” to “no laptops between us.” Of the changes I have listed here, this is the one that is the most “in progress” for me. Like everyone, I too am a work in progress!

I am still very much in the experimental phase in seeking a healthy relationship with technology. I would love to hear how you have changed your own technology individually or organizationally to enhance your presence, wellbeing, and effectiveness!

 

Originally at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/great-work-cultures/creating-a-healthy-relati_b_12864974.html

How to Make Your Company a Force For Good

A fun interview with Marty Wolff. How can business make a positive difference in the world?

Originally at http://martywolffbusinesssolutions.com/chris-white-can-make-company-force-good/

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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

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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

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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.

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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.