Business Success: The Conscious Leader

To become a leader, you must first become a human being.

—Confucius

leadership speaker
A conscious leader is best described by defining what it is not. According to leadership consultant Lance Secretan, consciousness is the opposite of rationalism.
The rational mind believes that:

• Success is always measured in material terms.
• Self-worth is measured in comparison to others.
• Feelings are private and should not be expressed in the workplace.
• The singe bottom line is the main arbiter of success.
• Anything that cannot be scientifically proven is not real or valuable.
• We are each separate and must compete.
• The world is dangerous and we must always protect ourselves.
• Violence and aggression are necessary for survival and safety.
• Notions like love, eco-interdependence, spirit or soul, absolute truth, and the divine are the province of philosophers, idealists, and the naïve—not business people.

The rational mind is firmly entrenched in the Newtonian model of science, which is insufficient when it comes to thriving in a volatile economy.

As Secretan puts it:

The rational mind describes compassion and caring for people as touchy-feely soft stuff. The conscious mind sees compassion and caring for people as the juice—even the purpose and necessity of life. The rational mind reasons that an imbalance between work and life is the means that is justified by the ends.

One the other hand, the conscious mind understands that everything in the universe, including work and life, must be balanced, that there is a season for everything. The conscious mind therefore balances thinking and feeling, profit and people, wisdom and learning, ego and spirit, now and the future, rich and poor, the sacred and the secular. The fully conscious leader is an evolved being.

Organizations that strive to be highly adaptable in the turbulent times ahead will be those with conscious leaders at every level.

Business Success: The Learning Organization Part I

The technology driven enterprise demands a new leadership paradigm – one that creates a far stronger, more genuine link between the achievement of corporate objectives and the employee’s realization of his deepest, often unexpressed, intensely personal growth needs.

Thus, rather than the mere promise of greater corporate status and power, followership is borne of belief in the leader’s true understanding and caring for the employee’s holistic being and welfare, and thus flows from greater intimacy.
Kendall A. Elsom, Jr., President, CEO Genesis Consulting Partners

The_fifth_discipline_coverIn The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge introduces five new component technologies, or disciplines that “are gradually converging to innovate learning organizations.” They are systems thinking, personal mastery, mental models, building shared vision, and team learning. According to Senge, organizations that practice these disciplines are adaptable, self-organizing, and have the potential to “continually enhance their capacity to realize their highest aspirations.”

Below are two of the five disciplines.  We will cover the other three in the next blog article.

Systems Thinking
As previously described, systems thinking takes the approach that to have impact, the organization needs to be viewed in its entirety with recognition that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. While one participates in a system, it is sometimes difficult to see the overall pattern and how that pattern changes over time. Since parts of organizations are connected by numerous interactions, the effect on other parts may take years to play out.
Traditional approaches tend to view each part in isolation, often never getting to some of the deepest issues. Senge defines systems thinking as “a conceptual framework, a body of knowledge and tools that has been developed over the past fifty years, to make the full patterns clearer, and to help us see how to change them effectively.”

Personal Mastery
Senge defines personal mastery as “the discipline of continually clarifying and deepening our personal vision, of focusing our energies, of developing patience, and of seeing reality objectively.” As someone might strive for master status within a trade, mastery is a special level of proficiency or self-actualization. It is a foundational element of the learning organization since “an organization’s commitment to and capacity for learning can be no greater than that of its members.”

Unfortunately, this is where many organizations fall short, leading to vast untapped potential. Most people enter business full of optimism and energy. But after a number of years, they become disenchanted and just put in their time until retirement with minimum effort. Therefore, it is critical for management to hire and inspire toward the goal of each member striving for personal mastery.

Join us next week for the other 3 disciplines.

Business Success: Models for Adaptive Organizations

Prior articles offered complexity science, chaos theory, and evolutionary biology as models for understanding organizational dynamics in a volatile economy. Further exploration into various aspects of these models unveils concepts for improving organizational adaptability.

A Living Systems Modelchaos image

Leading an organization based on living systems requires an understanding of organizational evolution. “The focus shifts from what is to what is becoming, from structure to dynamics.”

The following steps describe the pattern of change in living systems:

1. Innovation
2. Complexification and Convergence
4. Bifurcation and Chaos

The steps originate in science but have a direct application in the corporate world. Their role and interrelation are critical to understanding adaptability in an emergent organization.

Innovation

Innovation is essential for maintaining adaptability and resilience. The combination of advances in technology and globalization put pressure on many organizations to adapt or die. Both of these are seen as irreversible. And the speed at which they occur continues to increase. The impact of a high level of innovation is felt through the next step.

Complification and Convergence

As advanced technologies inject new information into the system, complexity increases. However, there are limits to the complexity an organization can handle. To accommodate increased complexity, new levels of organization must be created to control and coordinate the existing levels. As a result, an organization “always converges progressively toward more embracing and coordinated multilevel structures.”

Convergence is seen across the globe as many corporations are partnering, forming alliances, merging, and diversifying into multiple lines of business. Global business standards and regulations are a result of this phenomenon.

What happens when a global company reaches its limit of complexity is unknown. Based on the new science, the next step in the sequence may be chaos.

Bifurcation and Chaos

Scientists have known for decades that as complex systems evolve, chaos and uncertainty increase. Today, computer models are able to simulate the evolutionary path with mathematical precision. The models show the attractors that form the pattern of the evolutionary trajectory.

The evolutionary trajectory can be plotted to show a graphical pattern providing a visual depiction of an attractor. There are several types of attractors. A system that evolves toward a fixed point over time is defined by stable-point attractors; a cyclically recurring state is characterized by period attractors; and an emergent system of order is defined by strange or chaotic attractors. As chaotic attractors are plotted, a shape emerges that has definite boundaries and patterns. The beautiful shapes of the plots prove that chaotic attractors are neither arbitrary nor disorderly.

Bifurcation occurs when a complex system changes trajectory. It is characterized by a change in pattern and a shift from one set of attractors to another. In the real world, complex systems evolve out of a specific initial state until a pattern emerges. If the evolution comes to rest, the process is ruled by static attractors. If the patterns are cyclical, the system is regulated by periodic attractors. If neither of these occurs, the system is controlled by strange or chaotic attractors.

Strange or chaotic attractors are pervasive in our global economy. The recent collapse of the world’s financial markets and its domino effect around the world demonstrates this pattern. Catastrophic bifurcations are occurring as many large financial institutions seek equilibrium amid the chaos.

Chaotic attractors do not operate with total randomness. Scientific analysis has unveiled a subtle order that emerges. Complex systems self-organize through a natural phenomenon known as cross-catalytic cycles. Following periods of instability and chaos, these cycles allow complex systems to return to dynamic stability where they can grow and prosper.

Business Success: Adaptability

We must remain open to change by building flexibility into our organizational structures and interactions. The more rigid we become, the less access we have to the reality of the system, and thus, the less able we are to shift as the environment demands. 

—Julie Roberts Ph.D., Principal of ChangeWorks

For the last several decades, organizations have dealt with economic shifts using change management. Based on the new science, there are two major flaws with this approach. First, the word change implies an event with an ending. Second, it implies that change can be managed. In a world of economic volatility, this approach is no longer viable. The continuous climate of uncertainty and volatility demands another view, one that supports adaptability and resilience.

The Shifting Paradigm

Risk management’s inability to adapt to the changing business landscape played a large role in the global financial meltdown.
—Daniel Tu, PricewaterhouseCoopers
An adaptable organization is one that self-organizes. Most organizations appear to have order. But order is not the same as organization. Organization involves differentiation and specialization.

changeTo understand the basic reasons for the resistance to evolve, it is instructive to trace the roots of our traditional business models. The organizational model that serves as the foundation for most companies has its origins in Newtonian physics, which states that all “individual or system behavior is knowable, predictable, and controllable.” It operates like a machine “with each part acting on the other part with precise linear laws of cause and effect.”

This structure brings with it many aspects of mechanistic thinking, some of which are useful. But in a highly volatile economy, most aspects of this model are inefficient. For example, most companies have rigid organizational structures with centralized command and control. Their business intelligence systems are linear and unidirectional. They utilize rigorous analysis and measurement to limit variation and drive efficiency, and, in the event of an unpredicted outcome, they search for root causes.

They tend to be highly mechanized companies with highly specialized workers who receive extensive instructions. This model is useful in stable environments, such as operating rooms or highly specialized factories, where systems are closed, change is slow, and variability is low.

Over the next few weeks we will examine adaptability,comparing the traditional methods with a shift in paradigm.

Business Success: Activities by Brain Function

Considering the complexity of today’s volatile global economy, the role of the right brain is increasingly vital. With computers becoming more and more adept at handling the linear processes, the competitive advantage for humans is in the ability to access the power of the right hemisphere. And the skills needed to participate in an adaptive organization are also dominantly right-brained. In fact, research suggests that our right hemisphere is the only area that deals effectively with change.

Brain

In general, the two halves of the brain work together to orchestrate every human activity. However, neuroscientists suggest that the two hemispheres approach every situation slightly differently. Understanding and enhancing the use of one side or the other can enhance creative endeavors.

The differences in the hemispheres can be characterized in four major ways:

1. The left hemisphere controls the right side of the body; the right hemisphere controls the left side of the body. This fact is well known. But it is interesting to note that the written word goes from left to right, a movement controlled by the left hemisphere. Therefore, reading and writing are controlled by the linear, logical, sequential part of the brain. Until recently, this was the source of almost all knowledge. Only since the twentieth century has information been conveyed in pictures, encouraging right hemisphere or even whole-brain synthesis.

2. The left hemisphere is sequential; the right hemisphere is simultaneous. As described, reading is sequential. The left hemisphere also manages other sequential processes, such as talking and interpreting speech. By contrast, the right hemisphere has the ability to interpret information simultaneously. This enables people to make sense of very complex situations. To illustrate, consider a comparison to computer software. SAS software can perform statistical calculations faster than humans can. But the most powerful software cannot recognize a human face as fast as the average person. “Think of the sequential/simultaneous difference like this: the right hemisphere is the picture; the left hemisphere is the thousand words.” As the flow of complex information accelerates, frequent and proficient use of the right hemisphere becomes increasingly important.

3. The left hemisphere specializes in text; the right hemisphere specializes in context. In most people, both left- and right-handed, the left hemisphere is the source of language. However, the ability to comprehend language is a bit more nuanced and requires both hemispheres. Chapter 3 described the mechanics of both verbal and nonverbal communication. Within the brain, the left hemisphere interprets the words. The right hemisphere processes all of the nonverbal parts of the communication, such as tone, pace, facial expressions, and body language. In addition, the right hemisphere’s ability to consider context gives it responsibility for filling in blanks, translating nuance, and interpreting metaphor.

4. The left hemisphere analyzes the details; the right hemisphere synthesizes the big picture. Basically, the left brain analyzes information in a linear fashion. The right brain synthesizes information to create a whole. The left brain can find problems, identify parts, and grasp details. The right brain focuses on interactions and relationships. And “only the right brain can see the big picture.”

Ned Herrmann, a well-known brain researcher, created a list of common business functions and mapped them to the quadrant of the brain that primarily handles each one.

Left Cerebral Cortex
• Gather facts.
• Analyze issues.
• Solve problems logically.
• Argue rationally.
• Measure precisely.
• Understand technical elements.
• Consider financial aspects.

Right Cerebral Cortex
• Read signs of coming change.
• See the “big picture.”
• Recognize new possibilities.
• Tolerate ambiguity.
• Integrate ideas and concepts.
• Bend or challenge established policies.
• Synthesize unlike elements into a new whole.
• Problem solve in intuitive ways.

Left Limbic System
• Find overlooked flaws.
• Approach problems practically.
• Stand firm on issues.
• Maintain a standard of consistency.
• Provide stable leadership and supervision.
• Read fine print in documents and/or contracts.
• Organize and keep track of essential data.
• Develop detailed plans and procedures.
• Implement projects in a timely manner.
• Articulate plans in an orderly way.
• Keep financial records straight.

Right Limbic System
• Recognize interpersonal difficulties.
• Anticipate how others will feel.
• Intuitively understand how others feel.
• Pick up nonverbal cues of interpersonal stress.
• Relate to others in empathetic ways.
• Engender enthusiasm.
• Persuade.
• Teach.
• Conciliate.
• Understand emotional elements.
• Consider values.

Come back next week for an article about fostering creativing.  We welcome your comments and feedback and love it when you share our blog with your co-workers and friends.

Business Success: Cultural Elements of Collaboration

For collaboration to flourish, the organization must take steps to create a collaborative culture. Evan Rosen (author of The Culture of Collaboration) suggests that there are 10 cultural elements of collaboration. Many of these elements are inherent qualities of an adaptive company:

Collaboration - Joined Hands1. Trust. Trust is a foundational feature of any team. Members who trust each other feel safe in sharing ideas. If people are afraid their ideas will be stolen or they will be criticized for mistakes, collaboration is difficult. Look for more discussion of trust later in the chapter.

2. Sharing. Some individuals resist sharing because they fear they will lose their value. It is important to demonstrate that by sharing, everyone’s value is increased.

3. Goals. Commonly created and shared goals are essential for vital collaboration.

4. Innovation. Collaboration stimulates innovation, which then fuels more collaboration.

5. Environment. The physical and virtual environment represents the nonverbal language of the company. Spaces that facilitate informal congregation lead to the natural sharing of ideas and issues. Virtual collaborative environments through technology advances are as important as real environments and are discussed in a later section.

6. Collaborative chaos. Chaos energizes the system. By facilitating the unstructured exchange of ideas, innovation flourishes.

7. Constructive confrontation. Respectful disagreement fuels the system to generate new ideas. When individuals feel safe to challenge each other’s ideas, innovation is unleashed.

8. Communication. Effective communication skills are fundamental to collaboration. Communication is the channel that builds trust while it facilitates inquiry and sharing.

9. Community. A sense of community is a natural outcome of collaboration. Shared goals, invigorating idea exchanges, and group problem solving build trust and community.

10. Value. Value from collaboration is realized in numerous ways. Companies have experienced business benefits, such as reduced processing times, shortened product development cycles, new markets identification, and more. There are also considerable cost savings realized through human benefits. When individuals feel engaged and valued as part of something larger than themselves, they have a more positive attitude about work. This leads to increased productivity, lower absenteeism, and more.

Stay tuned for more about implementing a culture of collaboration in your workplace.

Business Success: Economic Impact on Communication

The highly technical and global nature of business today presents specific communication challenges. Many companies are hiring top technical and business talent from around the globe and equipping them to work virtually to save on travel. This section discusses some of the challenges confronted by the style of communication and the changing nature of the workforce.

business_success_Computer-Enabled Communication

In today’s global economy, many companies are using technology to hold virtual meetings and trainings. Computer-mediated communication (CMC) is the term for using computers to interact through the Internet. CMC comes in many forms, including electronic mail (e-mail), chat rooms, instant messaging, electronic bulletin boards, list-servs, as well as audio and videoconferencing.

A net conference is a conference that is “electronically mediated by networked computers.” Teleconferences are very common applications in companies using Business Intelligence. Video capabilities to share documents are common.

There are some challenges to virtual meetings for obvious reasons. It is not possible for participants to read others’ facial expressions and body language. This fact may limit communication or make some participants less comfortable.  Ease with virtual meetings develops over time. A well-trained moderator can greatly enhance the experience.

Communication Challenges for the Technical Professional

In an organization that is Business Intelligence intensive, the largest or fastest-growing sector of the workforce tends to be technical professionals. For a majority of technical professionals, communication in general and with nontechnical people in particular can be difficult, given their specialized education and linear style of thinking. In addition, the influx of persons from other cultures has added to the challenges of effective communication.
The technical skills of a professional are very important to the organization. But the skills to communicate results, explain concepts and concerns, and engage in dialogue with nontechnical workers are equally important. Therefore, it is useful to have a balance of both the technical skills and interpersonal skills.

Technical professionals tend to be task oriented than people oriented. If their focus is on precision and solution, with little concern for dealing with various perceptions or emotional reactions, the true value of their research or analysis may never generate value. At some point, the information must be sold to the business decision makers.

Another challenge is the potential complexity of findings, which may be hard to translate into everyday business language. The ramifications of this complexity of findings on the functioning of a team, department, or organization may be significant, resulting in the loss of the value of the work and the worker.

There may be a desire to overanalyze, seeking higher complexity or perfection. The best analysis may be the one that is simpler and easier to communicate and therefore implement.
Liz Haggerty, program manager for business and manufacturing-process improvements for the Carrier Corporation in Hartford, Connecticut, commented on the importance of communication for scientific and technical professionals:

Scientific and technical professionals need to understand business. We all need to be cognizant of the fact that there are many aspects of business, finance, and marketing that have an impact on what we are doing in our chosen field. We must understand that many people think differently than we do, and we must expose ourselves to different types of training that will help us to communicate more effectively, do a better job of accepting and receiving criticism, and giving feedback to others. We must help scientific and technical professionals see how they fit into the big picture. Training on understanding other and increasing communication effectiveness can be very helpful in broadening the skills of those of us in these professional areas. This is especially critical for those who have ambitions to move up in the organization.

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Business Success: High Quality Communications

High-quality communication comes in many forms, all of which play an important role.business leadership

Frequent Communication

Effective communication is necessary to exchange information in highly interdependent organizations. Frequent communications are important for building familiarity and trust, which leads to increased sensitivity and responsiveness.

Timely Communication

Organizations that thrive on turning information into knowledge understand that timing is everything. As speed to respond has grown in importance, delays can lead to waste and increased costs. Timely communication facilitates the smooth transition of information in highly interdependent organizations.

Accurate Communication

In an information-driven economy, accurate communication is essential. However, as an integral part of relational coordination, accuracy often suffers when organizations become more complex and greater speed is encouraged. Business Intelligence systems provide a solid framework to ensure accuracy.

Problem-Solving Communication

Highly interdependent organizational processes can run flawlessly until a problem arises. However, when members of these complex organizations face problems and are not skilled in dealing with them, conflict often arises, leading to blame and loss of communication. Organizations that focus on developing communication skills will benefit from the increased contacts and depth of connection.

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Modeling Innovation With Business Intelligence

In today’s global, digital economy, companies that excel at innovation and speed to market unquestionably have competitive edges. Small companies have an inherent advantage. The challenge is for larger companies, especially those that have been around for a while. Think Google or Apple vs. IBM or HP. It’s not that IBM and HP aren’t innovative at times, but Google and Apple are known for their innovation. So what makes them different?

For companies to be innovative, they must be highly adaptable. This may sound simple, but several characteristics of an adaptable company can be modeled. One characteristic is a well designed enterprise business intelligence solution.data_mining

I really like the model put forth by Jim Davis, Gloria Miller, and Allan Russell in Information Revolution: Using the Information Revolution Model to Grow Your Business. In this book, they propose four dimensions to consider when evaluating your organization’s ability to leverage information:

  1. Infrastructure. This dimension addresses all the software, hardware, and networking tools and technologies that support every phase of the information process. The assessment, purchase, implementation, and use of these components must be part of the overall business intelligence strategy. This requires an effective communications process to ensure that everyone’s needs are considered, and that all decisions are optimized at the organizational level.
  2. Knowledge process. This focuses on the strategic as well as specific uses of the information infrastructure. This includes the policies, best-practices, standards, and governance of all aspects of the information cycle, as well as the performance metrics, reward systems, and commitment to strategic use of information at the highest levels of the organization. For this dimension to operate smoothly, a cohesive, collaborative leadership team is essential.
  3. Human capital. This focuses on the importance of assessing and developing all team members to their highest potential. An inherent organizational wisdom is unveiled and leveraged for maximum innovation and adaptability through the skill development and nurturing of employees.
  4. Culture. This focuses on how your organization positions information as a long-term strategic asset. Specifically, it addresses the interaction between organizational and human influences as it relates to information flow. This includes the moral, social, and behavioral norms of corporate culture as evidenced by the attitudes, belief, and priorities of its members. This requires effective communication skills and an ethos of trust.

Evaluating an organization on these four dimensions highlights a shift in our view of business intelligence. Until very recently, organizations thought of BI strictly as a technology issue. This is the underlying reason for most BI failures. The power of the model proposed by Davis, Miller, and Russell is its holistic focus on the impact and relevance of these important dimensions on all aspects of an organization.

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A Dynamic Organization Principle #8

Fluidify the Organizational Structure

The flow and accessibility of information is critical in complex organizations, especially those with global reach. The best structures are those that avoid rigidity. Community-based organizations are structured to optimize collaboration between horizontal units while requiring minimal input vertically. Their network structure facilitates the flow of information and task allocations diagonally, leading to maximum adaptability.management_of_change

The level of localization or decentralization depends on the conditions necessary for self-learning. The goal is to allow a structure to emerge that optimizes the ability to make rapid and relevant decisions. These structures will evolve over time as the organization grows and diversifies. Decision making is delegating to the front line with a mechanism for self-learning. Management does not set the goals and means. Rather, it sets the overall aim and allows each organizational unit to determine its own path through communication and collaborative decision making.

These tactics facilitate the development of a fluid structure with in a learning organization:

  • The creation of multilevel project teams supports a community-based structure. Senior management should delegate resources and objectives to the lowest possible level. Performance should be measured on both a team and an individual level.
  • Continually changing demands can lead to unclear reporting relationships. To facilitate learning, the organization should clearly define accountabilities while tolerating some lack of clarity. This becomes more natural as companies experience the value of community-based structures. Specific objectives and defined responsibilities lead the process while maximizing flexibility and learning.
  • Horizontal information flow and communication is very important. Within community-based organizations, information flows freely. Interconnectedness is facilitated by a plethora of communication devices. Therefore, the challenge is moving from information availability to discretion and relevance.

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Christopher Laszlo and Jean-François Laugel, Large-Scale Organizational Change (Boston: Butterworth Heinemann, 2000).