Everyday Courage in Organizations

When you think about courage at work, what comes to mind? Maybe it is fire fighters going into a crumbling, burning building to rescue people. Or our armed services deployed overseas, facing the threat of injury or death every day. Or even a pilot safely landing a plane on the Hudson River in critical conditions.

For me, the first image that comes to mind is taking one of the first flights back from New York to home in San Francisco after 9/11/2001. For a few days, no flights had taken off from New York as experts raced to understand and adapt to a new threat of items in our day to day experiences being weaponized. Throughout the flight, all passengers were told to stay in their seats. This wasn’t a recommendation, as it sometimes feels today. We were being closely watched by the multiple air marshals on the flight. After the plane safely landed, the flight crew hugged each other, the tension and relief evident on their faces.

These are examples of physical courage. Although most of us do not have working conditions that place us in harm’s way on a daily basis, we can recognize and appreciate the courage of those who do.

A simple working definition of courage is “the ability to do something that frightens one”. If we are being honest (or self-aware), what scares us goes well beyond the threat of physical harm. Indeed, psychological fear is probably much more prevalent for most of us than fear for our physical safety. Let’s call managing this fear and moving ahead anyway “Everyday Courage”.

One of the ways that we have the opportunity to experience and enact Everyday Courage is in standing up for our values. Bullying is all too prevalent in our organizations, as it is too in other parts of our society. In fact, 20 years of studies by Christine Porath and others suggest that 99% of people have either experienced or witnessed incivility in the workplace. Taking a stand against toxic behaviors – whether toward ourselves or others  – is an important and inspiring form of Everyday Courage.

We also express Everyday Courage in what we stand for, not just what we stand against. When we take action to create change without authority, we can often be entering into psychologically threatening territory. It is likely that all of us have experienced being excited about an idea we have had, that we think will really help a colleague, our team or organization, or other stakeholders. It is equally likely that we have experienced our idea being rejected. In some cases, we may also have had our wrists slapped for making the effort. Stepping on invisible landmines in organizational politics can be treacherous!

It is not pleasant to experience these mini (and sometimes not-so-mini) electric shocks from the organizational system. It is tempting to internalize them as a message to stop trying to make a difference. After all, as any parent or leader knows, we humans respond to pleasure and pain as we learn behaviors. We learn to do what earns us pleasure (or praise, or a bonus, or intrinsic satisfaction), and we learn to avoid what brings us pain (or criticism, or rejection).  I believe that this cycle is a significant contributor to so many people checking out at work. Sure, they show up, but they stop trying to make a difference. Or, worse still, they ally with those knocking down the folks who are still trying. Because it is so much easier (i.e. Requires much less psychological courage) to be a Monday morning quarterback than the guy (or girl) on the field trying make plays.

So what can you do to bolster Everyday Courage in your organization?

  1. Give yourself – and others who try to make a positive difference – credit for your efforts. This is an act of Everyday Courage. By giving this behavior this label you are narrating a positive identity for yourself and others. In doing so you are bolstering the resilience needed to keep going even when you run into resistance.
  2. Prepare yourself psychologically for the interaction. The father-son team of Robert and Ryan Quinn suggest asking yourself four questions to help enter the “fundamental state of leadership”. What is the result you want to create? What do other people think about this? Who would I be in this situation if I lived up to the standards I expect of others? What are 3-5 strategies I could employ here?
  3. Build your skills at creating change without authority. When plotting how to advance your idea, my co-author Jerry Davis and I recommend you consider four factors: When to move ahead? Who are the allies I need on board? Why is this a good idea for the people (and organization) affected? How should we organize around this?

Thank you for everyday courage in making a positive difference in your organization and the world. You inspire me!

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.
Post originally appeared here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/58767913e4b0f8a72544843d?timestamp=1484162172876

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

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.

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/

 

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

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

Lead Positive Change Without Authority

What factors should you consider in order to make your next change initiative successful? Jerry Davis and I did the Positive Links session this month. Click the image above to view it!

Six Essential Ways to Build a Positive Organization

Excerpted from original article by Kathy Caprino at http://www.forbes.com/sites/kathycaprino/2013/12/13/6-essential-ways-to-build-a-positive-organization/

When you look around your office, do you see a positive organization that fosters growth, expansion, and engagement, or the opposite?

Recently, I connected with Chris White, Managing Director of the University of Michigan’s Center for Positive Organizations, and Adjunct Faculty at the Ross School of Business, for his take on how we can create positive organizations that make the utmost of their human resources.

Chris shared his thoughts, based on research from the Center:

“There are abundant resources, talents, abilities and strengths within and around you in your organization, if you are attuned to them, and know how to bring them to the forefront. Too often these powerful resources are trapped within the rigid processes, structures and systems. These resources, if tapped, can lead to vibrant, energized people contributing at the highest levels in thriving workplaces. These are assets that can generate extraordinary performance, both individually and collectively — resources like commitment, creativity, inspiration, generosity, and integrity — authentic leadership at all levels of the organization. We call those workplaces that have learned to unlock these exceptional human resources “Positive Organizations.”

Research from The Center for Positive Organizations as well as its community of scholars at other top academic institutions around the world, tells us that in following an overarching approach of drawing on and nurturing key human resources, there are specific ways to harness the power of people that is currently trapped within the matrix. Doing so can ultimately build a truly positive, thriving organization.

Here are Chris’s suggestions for six ways to get started to build a positive organization:

Focus Behavior on the Do’s, Not Just the Don’ts

University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business Professor Kim Cameron, a leading researcher in organizational effectiveness, has convincingly linked “virtuousness” in organizations – the presence of attributes like generosity, forgiveness and compassion – to enterprise performance. Similarly, Ross Professor David Mayer, a researcher in field of social and ethical issues in organizations, is helping to grow awareness of Positive Ethics: understanding how to move cultures beyond preventing unethical behavior, toward the abundance of high-integrity actions. As a leader dedicated to building a positive organization, ask yourself, “How many of our corporate policies actually encourage virtuousness vs. only mitigate the risks of unethical behavior?”

Help People Connect Positive Meaning to Their Tasks and Projects

Did your team just spend the day “doing email” or were they actually engaged in something more important and meaningful that makes a profound difference in peoples’ lives?

Studies by social science Professor Adam Grant showed that telesales teams who were exposed to short, appreciative testimonials from the beneficiaries of their work before beginning their shifts performed markedly better than control groups who did not. The kicker: both groups used exactly the same scripts. The difference was all in the meaning and positive emotions that the callers took into their work. Illustrating how teams’ tasks and responsibilities actual make a difference in people’s lives can significantly improve their effectiveness.

Offer People Structured Freedom to Shape Their Own Roles

Research by Adam Grant, organizational behavior Professor Amy Wrzesniewski, and doctoral student Justin Berg shows that giving people a way to shape their own roles in line with their values, passions and strengths leads to measurably better engagement and performance. Google GOOG -2.51%’s People Analytics Director Brian Welle credits The Job Crafting Exercise™ in helping to build performance by helping his people identify who they are authentically and tap into what is most important to them at work. The exercise is designed to help employees make their job more engaging and fulfilling by looking at it in a new way — as a flexible set of building blocks rather than a fixed list of duties.

Find the Energy in Your Organization

Every organization has energizers—those who enliven others with their positive energy. Energizers are positive influencers, effective leaders, and value creators. They are ideal champions of organizational change and innovation. Ross Professor Wayne Baker maps energy networks in groups, teams, or organizations. His energy maps help to spot the organization’s energizers, including those who are in positions of formal authority or who are quiet energizers who don’t seek the limelight. These energizers often make excellent leaders of organizational change initiatives, yet are frequently overlooked when these teams are pulled together through traditional approaches.

Build Positive Self-Identities at Work

You may well know your strengths. But who are you when you are at your best? How would your closest friends, family and colleagues describe you when you’re at your best?

Often, by eliciting stories from others about when they have seen you at your best, you gain a more complete picture of your potential as a leader. How you see yourself profoundly impacts how you behave. The Reflected Best Self Exercise™ is one example of a personal development tool that enables people to identify their unique strengths and talents. Each participant requests positive feedback from significant people in his or her life and then synthesizes it into a cumulative portrait of his or her “best self.” People more aware of who they are when they are at their unique best, are more likely to be at their best more often.

Draw Strength from High Quality Connections

It only takes a moment to make a truly human connection, a connection that can generate good will, energy, and positive bonds.

We have dozens of opportunities to do so each day. These micro-moments are what positive organizational expert, Ross Professor Jane Dutton, calls High-Quality Connections, and what social psychologist Barbara Frederickson calls Positivity Resonance. For example, in the Center for Positive Organizations, they routinely start meetings by each sharing a recent piece of good news. Empirical evidence suggests that these moments of connection can lead to great benefits in happiness, creativity, and health.

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An emphasis on building positivity and strengthening positive practices in organizations is not just a “nice to have,” empty leadership mantra, but a critical business imperative for leaders and managers who wish to ensure the long-term success, growth, stability and competitive advantage of their organizations.

Take a long, hard look at your organization and evaluate concretely its emphasis on positivity. What step can you take today as a leader to unlock the vast potential of your human resources?

(For more information, visit the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and its Center for Positive Organizations.)

(For more on accelerating individual career success and growth, visit www.elliacommunications.com and The Amazing Career Project.)