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.

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.

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 signoff.

How?

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

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Reimagining our workplaces

Originally at http://www.workforce.com/articles/20410-positive-business-positive-results

Positive Business, Positive Results: An Open Invitation

The term ‘positive business’ refers to the application of this vision to the world of business — the belief that organizations can be reimagined to achieve extraordinary outcomes. Everyone has moments of greatness that stay with us for years, but why is it that those instances seem so fleeting?

Isn’t it possible to create a structure or apply processes that will allow us to have and celebrate more professional moments of greatness on a regular basis? Just think of the benefits this would not only bring to the individual workers, but also to the organization itself.

The term “positive business” refers to the application of this vision to the world of business — the belief that organizations can be reimagined to achieve extraordinary outcomes for shareholders, employees, communities and the environment. Many global businesses and innovative emerging companies have reimagined the way they organize and manage various aspects of their organizations, which entails everything from recruiting and workforce management to operations and legal to sales and marketing. These forward-thinking companies realize that, just like people, their organizations experience moments of greatness. These moments can be amplified in a virtuous cycle.

I invite you to envision positive business in your own organization and offer some ways to consider applying these practices across various functional areas and business processes.

An Invitation to Reimagine People Processes

Can you think of a particularly positive organization? Positive organizations, like beauty, are in the eye of the beholder. Maybe you are picturing a larger company like Whole Foods Market Inc., renowned for the empowering practices it employs for its “team members” (workers are not called “employees” here). Maybe you are picturing a local, “small giant,” like Zingerman’s Community of Businesses. On a recent visit to Ann Arbor, Michigan, President Barack Obama lauded the approach to management and leadership that has grown up at what Inc. magazine called the “coolest deli in America.”

What are some of the characteristics of these workplaces? Maybe it’s that leaders focus mostly on the things their people do well, rather than just correcting the things they do badly. Maybe it’s that employees connect a deep sense of meaning to their work. You probably came up with many other connotations in that mental exercise. The same thought process can be applied to the entire organization.

The industry standard recruiting process is to receive many résumés and cover letters, and then filter them to a candidate pool. Companies then conduct one or more rounds of interviews, and a reference and background check is conducted on the lucky candidates. Yet, as many of us know from painful experience, no matter how great a candidate seems through the interview process, we never really know how that person will work out in the job for weeks or even months.

By contrast, at companies like Menlo Innovations, which builds custom software, a large group is offered the chance to learn about the company through a paid trial. In multiple steps, people are paired with existing team members for a short, intense burst of collaborative work. Those who make the cut are paid to work as contractors on real projects for the company.

Beyond just technical skills, candidates Menlo are exploring whether they have a good cultural fit with each other. Eventually, once a candidate and team have had a chance to decide whether they choose each other, the new employee is selected. As Menlo’s CEO Richard Sheridan writes in his book “Joy, Inc.,” all of this is done in a way that is designed to create positive experiences for the candidates and do valuable work for the company, irrespective of whether a full-time job offer is ultimately forthcoming.

What about creating job descriptions? The industry standard is to describe in a long set of bullet points the responsibilities to be fulfilled in this role, as well as desired qualifications. While it is now almost 15 years since Gallup Inc.’s Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman showed the importance of managers adapting their approaches to each individual employeecorporate America (and the corporate world, in fact) has still not evolved past a one-size-fits-all approach to job descriptions.

A recent multiyear study, however, has shown that job crafting — processes for shaping one’s own role to align with personal values, interests and strengths — can facilitate a significant uptick in performance and engagement that remains over six months after the initial intervention.

As Brian Welle, Google Inc.’s people analytics director, said, “The job-crafting exercisehas enabled team members to more clearly define how their values, strengths and passions connect to what they do on a day-to-day basis. This insight has really helped people identify who they are and tap into what is most important to them at work, which has made a tremendous difference for us.”

This same approach can be extended to just about every organizational process, not just people development.

An Invitation to Reimagine Organizational Functions 

Another way to think of the corporation is as a collection of functions. Each of the functions can be considered individually as a way to take a closer look at how positive business practices play out in organizations.

As those of us who have undertaken a strict diet in our own lives know, lean living can be a stressful experience. Cue crankiness, fatigue, irritability — these are all symptoms that often have personal and systemic parallels in organizations put under stress.

Implementing lean production practices has been the industry standard for improving operations processes for over a generation now. The goals of reducing waste and variance in the system are systematically and rigorously pursued. Yet, implementing lean principles and practices can often be a draining experience for those involved. What if the approach to implementing lean were re-imagined to achieve its desired outcomes of reducing waste and variance, while not just maintaining the energy and engagement of those involved, but actually enhancing it?

Wallace Hopp, a business professor at the University of Michigan, has written extensively about how “managing the stress on the system” was one of the original tenets of lean production, but somehow got lost in the rush to reduce waste and variance. What adjustments might need to be made to make lean conducive to thriving, not just efficiency?

When we think of the law in organizations, we think mostly of risk mitigation, not value creation. To work optimally, though, the equation needs to be balanced.

“Efficient work systems can make jobs stressful, tedious and dehumanizing. They can also make jobs enjoyable, stimulating and rewarding,” Hopp said. “It all depends on how they are implemented. Positive lean achieves efficiency via work systems that energize and motivate workers, which in turn amplifies the productivity gains of traditional lean methods.”

Applying positivity can be effective in externally facing roles, too. Consider Sales: Procter & Gamble Co.’s chief customer officer, Bob Fregolle, has reoriented his $82 billion/year organization around principles of radical transparency, as well as relationship- and trust-building between his salespeople and their customers. The principles underlying Fregolle’s strategic bet are, on face value, consistent with research. In his book “Give and Take,” Adam Grant, a management professor at the University of Pennsylvania, cites research across a wide range of industries that shows openness and advice-seeking are much more persuasive in influencing scenarios, such as sales, than are pressuring tactics, flattery or trading favors.

But surely positive business cannot apply to support functions, right?

Wrong.

When we think of the law in organizations, we think mostly of risk mitigation, not value creation. To work optimally, though, the equation needs to be balanced. “Preventive law and positive law are two key elements in strategic planning. Unlike preventive law, which focuses on preventing or, at least, controlling legal risks, positive law emphasizes the value creation function of law,” explains George Siedel, a business professor at the University of Michigan. “In combination, these two elements offer businesses an opportunity to seize competitive advantage.”

We have seen the same principles apply to other functions — accounting, marketing, strategy and finance— to great effect. Is your department an exemplar of positive business?

Both organizational functions and their people processes can be reimagined in ways that are good for business and encourage people to thrive as human beings. No more of what Cascade Engineering founder and CEO Fred Keller calls “lazy thinking.” It is not good enough to just stop once you figure out how to meet the needs of just one stakeholder. Positive business requires you to keep going until you find integrative solutions that create great outcomes for all.

Positive business is an invitation to participate in creating something better for all. Change is not easy. Achieving this will require reimagining the functions and processes of organizations. Although referring mostly to product development, the late Steve Jobs famously said, “Everything around you was made up by people no smarter than you and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.”

So, too, with organizations. You can change them and influence them, and you can build your own business that makes a positive difference in the world.

Chris White is the managing director of the Center for Positive Organizations at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com. Follow Workforce on Twitter at @workforcenews.