Business Success: Empowerment

Are you support all team members and encourage cooperation?

Paradox of Empowerment
True power is the ability to relinquish control.
—Olivia Parr Rud

One of the most challenging aspects of leading in the new model is giving up the need for control. And yet with the complexity of business today, it is impossible to micromanage from the top. Years ago, the chief executive officer (CEO) could do the job of practically every person on the company. Today, it is a totally different story.

As discussed in Chapter 4 of my book, John Chambers, CEO of Cisco, did not always entrust decision making to others. He started out as a command-and-control type. “If I said, “Turn right,” all 65,000 employees turned right.” But he soon realized that the company couldn’t grow as rapidly as was necessary under that model. So he and his top leadership team invented a new way to run the business.

business empowerment

Not only is it less effective to operate with a top-down leadership style, but it diminishes so much of the energy, wisdom, and vitality of the organization. In the article “The Paradox of Empowerment,” Wayne Baker states that “empowerment means letting go while taking control.” Often this requires leaders to transform the work environment by actively changing “the way people work, relate, think, and feel.” However, they must also allow time for the new empowerment to “take root, grow, and thrive.”

“Like any paradox, the paradox of empowerment is full of traps. It ensnares CEOs who cannot accept or live in the contradiction of taking control and letting go. Such CEOs become abdicators or meddlers. Those who thrive in the paradox become coaches who learn how to cultivate true empowerment.”

Abdicators are good at letting go. But they fail to offer guidance or make the fundamental changes necessary to cultivate emergent leadership such setting goals and establishing empowering processes. Meddlers never really give up control. They say they want self-managed teams, but they often stay too involved and tend to micromanage. This results in team members delegating upward and abdicating responsibility. “Coaches [,however,] know the difference between intervention and interference.”

If the CEO of yesterday’s command-and-control corporation was the military chieftain, then the CEO of tomorrow’s corporation is the philosopher-king. As a philosopher, the CEO develops the comprehensive theory of the corporation as a society. This theory includes an ideology or system of beliefs about human nature, superordinate goals, and shared values, and it encompasses a vision of a better society—a model of the company tomorrow. As a king, the CEO acts decisively to put theory into practice. This demands not just business but social re-engineering—all the deep interventions necessary to transform the corporation.

Empowering CEOs are experts at tapping into the natural desire of people to work in fulfilling and productive jobs. They know that people are motivated by many things besides money, such as “belonging, mastery, self-esteem, achievement, respect.” Meddlers, who generally distrust human nature, feel their employees must be coerced into doing their jobs.

Empowering CEOs create an environment of collaboration and self-direction. They create effective social mechanisms, such as high-level networks that unite and build community.

Business Success: The Learning Organization Part II

Mon, Jun 10, 2013 @ 10:52 AM

In the last post, we discussed the first two of the five disciplines.  If you missed it you can find it here.

Mental Models

Senge defines mental models “as deeply ingrained assumptions, generalizations, or even pictures or images that influence how we understand the world and how we take action.” A majority of these models are unconscious and have existed since childhood. Yet they pervade every thought, word, and action.

The first step in dealing with mental models is to look within oneself. Then the organization must create a safe place for members participate in compassionate scrutiny and influence through the process of “inquiry and advocacy.”

Building Shared Vision

sacred_imagesOne thing that all successful organizations have in common is a shared vision. Made up of shared goals and values, a shared vision has the capacity to bring “people

together around a common identity and sense of destiny,” according to Senge. It unleashes creative energy and fuels innovation by rallying diverse members in a shared vision that galvanizes the organization. It “involves the skills of unearthing shared ‘pictures of the future’ that foster genuine commitment and enrollment rather than compliance.”

Team Learning

The success of organizations to learn is based on the ability of the teams to learn. The team must connect and share through dialogue while suspending assumptions and learning to trust each other. Blocks such as fear, apathy, and defensiveness can undermine learning. Therefore, safe and open communication is essential.

Team learning has the power to enhance capabilities for innovation and creativity. But to maximize the benefits, the learning must be shared. Many teams of brilliant individuals have produced mediocre results due to lack of interaction and integration.

Practicing team learning is not about copying a model. Many new management innovations emerge as “best practices.” But most organizations adopt and implement the ideas in a piecemeal fashion. Toyota is a great example of a company that uses a systems approach. Many companies copy Toyota’s kanban system. But they fail to see how all the parts work together in a way that is unique for Toyota.

The Fifth Discipline

Senge points out that “It is vital that the five disciplines develop as an ensemble.” This is truly a time when the total is greater than the sum of its parts.

Based on that truth, “systems thinking is the fifth discipline.” Without a systemic approach, the coherence necessary to be adaptable is lost. “For example, vision without systems thinking ends up painting lovely pictures of the future with no deep understanding of the forces that must be mastered to move from here to there.”

Organizations that embrace systems thinking must also practice “the disciplines of building shared vision, mental models, team learning, and personal mastery to realize its potential.”

Each of these disciplines plays a role in powering the system. Shared vision builds a group commitment to the future. Mental models provide the openness necessary to unveil the limitations present in the organization. Team learning improves the members’ skills to create and take action on an organizational level. And personal mastery encourages the self-reflection, healing, and personal growth necessary to fully participate in an adaptable organization.

Finally, learning organizations offer amazing potential for creating their future. Based on the new science, a learning organization is creating its future by shifting how individuals perceive themselves and their world.

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: Evolution at the Edge

Evolution at the Edge

It is important to acknowledge that the discomfort created by chaos is necessary for change to occur. It is equally important to safeguard against getting lost or frozen in the midst of the chaos. Leaders need to balance on the edge of chaos, dipping in and being comfortable there in order to move themselves and the organization to higher levels of evolution. This delicate balance includes inviting members of the organization to feel the need for change while not feeling overwhelmed by it. According to Coveney and Highfield in Frontiers of Complexity, “ Complex systems that can evolve will always be near the edge of chaos, poised for that creative step into emergent novelty that is the essence of the evolutionary process.”
The edge of chaos is the best place to observe the patterns of order available, patterns that then may be applied to the current situation. Getting stuck in one particular state of order is not effective because, sooner or later, that state will become obsolete. It is crucial for leaders to remain open to new experiences that the environment contains and show a willingness to adapt and change based on the information received from the environment.

Emotional Distance

The ability to move gracefully in and out of change and the resulting chaos requires an ability to observe what is happening. Doing so involves being able to psychologically step back and assess what is occurring on multiple levels with detachment. If participants become emotionally involved, it becomes difficult for them to be objective.

Emotional distance allows participants to observe with an open mind, thereby enhancing the likelihood that they will hear other points of view and see what is occurring in a group. This is the reason why it is often suggested that facilitators not participate in the content of a discussion. They are then more able to see what is going on and make helpful interventions, dipping in when necessary to keep the group on course or help members deal with something they are avoiding.fractals

What to Observe at the Edge

It is helpful to observe specific aspects of the group while maintaining emotional distance by asking:

• Are the goals clear?
• Are people listening to one another and communicating well?
• Are individuals involved and included?
• How are people feeling (what are their nonverbal expressions, what they are doing, how are they interacting)?

All of this information will help to identify clues regarding the health of the group, its relationships, and its interactions in the organization. If ineffective interactions are apparent, an intervention will help move the group to greater effectiveness. For example, if people are not listening, the facilitator can ask others to repeat what was just said. If goals are not clear, the facilitator can ask the group to clarify them. If the group is moving off task, the facilitator can ask if this is what the group should be doing. If someone looks angry or confused, the facilitator can ask him or her how they are doing. Another way of observing group effectiveness is to look for patterns in the organization, which is discussed in the next section.


Discovered by Benoit Mandelbrot in the 1970s, fractals provide a guide for examining complexity and patterns. They are characterized by patterns that replicate to create the whole. In a fractal, each part is autonomous. However, the pattern of each part is embedded in every part of the whole. Some common examples of fractals are the lungs, circulatory systems, leaves, and feathers. Fractals contain a certain order that allows them to be decoded with a few rules. Complexity is the result of a given structure being repeated many times.

Fractals can be seen within the social life of an organization. Each member is autonomous while it is part of the greater whole. The organization is healthiest when members’ patterns are replicated throughout the whole through effective communication.

Leaders are fractals of others in the organization. Their behavior is often mirrored throughout the organization. If the leader is collaborative, communicates openly, and attempts to learn from past mistakes, this behavior will carry through to the members.

Norms as Fractals

Norms for behaving are patterns that can be observed in the organization. Much like a fractal, an organization is seen as connected if certain norms exist throughout it. Norms are the implicit or explicit rules that guide and determine what behaviors are acceptable within a group. Although often not explicit, these are the rules by which people work on a daily basis. They determine how a group handles conflict and stress, makes decisions, listens, generates ideas, and allows certain language to prevail. In any group, norms may be effective or ineffective.
An example of an organizational norm is the way a group deals with conflict.

For example, some organizations suppress tension by pretending it is not there. Nonverbal cues, such as frowns, crossed arms, and downward glances, are ignored while the group goes on to the next agenda item. This norm keeps the group from examining what is occurring, from sharing thoughts, feelings, and disagreements. These unresolved feelings and disagreements then go underground and sabotage the group later because they have not been resolved. Avoiding conflict cuts off important sources of information that could possibly improve the team, the product, and the way things are done.

Healthy norms are patterns in the organization that can:

• Encourage continuous open feedback, both negative and positive
• Encourage people to share thoughts and feelings
• Encourage individuals and groups to deal with conflict
• Allow learning from mistakes, without blame or judgment
• Create a flow of information throughout the organization
• Encourage participation and involvement in decisions

Each of these norms facilitates the emergence of a truly adaptable organization. All of these norms must be aligned with and support the desired values to ensure that those values permeate the organization. These values are in harmony with the principles that support living systems. As they become institutionalized, healthy norms will come to characterize the organization.

Business Success: Adaptability Traditional Methods

Traditional Methods

Traditional change methodologies designed for the mechanistic model are typically “rational, top-down, expert-driven, and planned.” And even though nearly three-fourths of change initiatives, such as total quality management or reengineering, fail, most organizational change initiatives still operate under these models.


Total Quality Management 

Total quality management (TQM), for example, is defined by the International Organization for Standardization as “a management approach for an organization, centered on quality, based on the participation of all its members and aiming at long-term success through customer satisfaction, and benefits to all members of the organization and to society.” “One major aim [of TQM] is to reduce variation from every process so that greater consistency of effort is obtained.”

This approach is based primarily on the philosophy of Dr. W. Edwards Deming, pioneered in the 1930s and 1940s. However, he later abandoned the terminology of TQM “because he believed it had become a superficial label for tools and techniques.” “The real work, which he simply called the “transformation of the prevailing system of management,” lay beyond the aims of managers seeking only short-term performance improvements. This transformation…required “profound knowledge” largely untapped in contemporary institutions.”

In a letter to Peter Senge, Dr. Deming (then almost 90) wrote:
Our prevailing system of management has destroyed our people. People are born with intrinsic motivation, self-respect, dignity, curiosity to learn, joy in learning. The forces of destruction begin with toddlers—a prize for the best Halloween costume, grades in school, gold stars—and on up through university. On the job, people, teams, and divisions are ranked, reward for the top, punishment for the bottom. Management by Objectives, quotas, incentive pay, business plans, put together separately, division by division, cause further loss, unknown and unknowable.

Business Process Reengineering

Business process reengineering (BPR) is based on a theory by Frederick Winslow Taylor that variation is waste. It actually makes sense for areas within a business that are highly linear and measured. Originally conceived as a way to reshape processes, it became the rationale for the massive layoffs in the 1990s that had such a disastrous effect on the economy. “Its bias toward static, written rules means it cannot handle the abstract, dynamic thinking and actions of humans in a knowledge based economy.” By imposing actions from outside, it ignores the knowledge of the people within the system and undermines their value in the process of realignment.

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Making Creativity Your New Competitive Advantage

In today’s digital economy, if it’s linear, it’s usually automated or outsourced! Think about it: What were you doing 10 years ago that’s now accomplishable at the push of a button? Campaign management? Performance analytics? Data management and storage? Do you see a trend? So where are we headed?


Technology forecasters predict hundreds, if not thousands, of new products will enter the market over the next decade to handle routine activities. In data mining alone, we have seen incredible changes. Years ago, we spent weeks building predictive models by hand. Today, predictive modeling software delivers more powerful models through streamlined, menu-driven processes that take minutes!
So what does that mean to us? If our competitive edge is based on linear processes, our competition may be able to buy software that accomplishes the same thing within a few years. What can we do to stay competitive? Quit using half our brains!
In today’s highly complex, competitive economy, our challenge is to create an environment that encourages “whole brain” thinking. To emphasize the importance, let’s look at a simplified model of how the brain works. To understand its function, the brain is divided into quadrants: The left cerebral mode handles the logical, analytic, and quantitative functions; the left limbic mode handles sequences (remember linear?), planned and detailed functions; the right cerebral mode handles the intuitive, integrative, synthesizing functions; and the right limbic mode handles the emotional, kinesthetic, feeling-based functions.

brain-sectionsMost problem-solving occurs in the brain’s left hemispheres. We begin in the left cerebral mode, where we memorize the correct answer. Then we move to the left limbic mode, where we make plans based on memorized rules and norms. This works well for many routine data-mining tasks, such as finding the average income of your customer base or calculating the response rate of a campaign. But if you are facing a new challenge like unexpected account attrition or a spike in insurance claims — events for which you have no rules — the left side of the brain can’t provide a solution. We completely miss the right-brain functions of intuition, integration, and synthesis, and so are unable to incorporate our emotions or feelings into solving a problem. By skipping the right side of the brain, we diminish our ability to think creatively.

In whole-brain problem solving, we begin in the left cerebral mode with the memorized answer. But we then move to the right cerebral mode and create a mental picture or image. This gives us a nonlinear view of the problem. When we move the problem into the right limbic mode, we may think of some atypical solutions or even have an “aha” experience. From there, we move back into the left limbic mode to formulate a solution.
So why is it so difficult to use creativity? First, creativity produces variance and decreases predictability. So if management has a high need for control, encouraging creative thinking is difficult. Another reason is that tapping into our creativity takes concentration. If our work environment is noisy and distracting, accessing the right side of the brain is difficult. And, finally, creative thinking requires some “downtime” to get the juices flowing. Did you ever notice how you get great ideas in the shower or while exercising? You might argue that you do not have the time or it is not cost-effective. But creative ideas that lead to small improvements to a marketing campaign can save or make millions.
How can we encourage whole-brain thinking? This can be difficult if it requires a drastic change in the company culture. But we can take several steps to facilitate it for ourselves and our staff:
Encourage group discussions where ideas are embraced. Brainstorming is an excellent way to get the creative juices flowing.
Change old habits: Use your non-dominant hand for routine tasks; take a different route to work.
Create a workspace that helps you stay balanced: Play music; fill your office with objects d’art; spend a few minutes in silent contemplation each day. It’s not a waste of time. It’s incubation time for the next million-dollar idea!
Webster’s defines genius as “Great mental capacity and inventive ability; esp., great and original creative ability in some art, science, etc.” So the next time you effectively use your whole brain, they might call you a genius!
Come back for more business intelligence and change management focused blogs by The OLIVIAGroup! Feel free to comment with questions, insights, or additions to this post. To receive alerts when the next blog is published, click on the RSS feed at the right of the page to subscribe.
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Business Success: Fostering Creativity

Innovation is fostered by information gathered from new connections; from insights gathered from new connections; from insights gained by journeys into other disciplines or places; from active, collegial networks and fluid, open boundaries. Innovation arises from ongoing circles of exchange, where information is not just accumulated or stored, but created. Knowledge is generated anew from connections that weren’t there before. When this information self-organizes, innovations occur, the progeny of information-rich, ambiguous environments.

—Margaret Wheatley, Leadership and the New Science
Creativity cannot be forced. It can only be allowed. However, much can be done to increase the flow of creativity.

Actions for Stimulating Creativitycreativity

While most leaders are highly creative, many of the best ideas bubble up through the rank and file. They are the ones closest to the processes or customers where innovation has the biggest impact. Everyone loves to share ideas. So innovation is a resource that is easy to tap. One can take several actions to encourage ideas.

Offer Incentives

Most people love to share their ideas, but some may be fearful of criticism or rejection. So it is best to set rules that no idea will be judged negatively. However, the best ideas, especially those that translate into profits, should be rewarded. An organizational-level program that offers incentives and rewards for good ideas goes a long way toward fostering creativity.

Ask Inspiring Questions

Continually questioning every process is a great way to generate new ideas. Asking “what if” and questions based on curiosity can stimulate thinking. And inspiring individuals to dream or create their own department, process, or even company is a great way to get the juices flowing. Also, challenging a group to solve an impossible problem can lead to amazing breakthroughs.

Create Time and Space to Think

Most people feel so much pressure that just having time to think is a luxury. But this is exactly what is needed to nurture creativity. Some companies are creating relaxing spaces just for daydreaming. Others are allocating time and telling their workers to go for a walk in the woods or visit an art gallery to get out of their thinking rut. A change of scenery is one of the best ways to tap into the right side of the brain.

Design a Creative Workspace

There is so much that can be done to enhance the simplest workspace. Artwork and plants give a cubicle or office a more organic feel. Soft, inspiring music enhances brain function. A view of the outdoors is an ever-changing landscape of color and light.

Enhance Diversity

Creativity can be stimulated by bringing together people of different talents, backgrounds, cultures, and viewpoints. The more varied the experience of the participants, the more each person’s own ideas will be enhanced.

Encourage Mistakes

Mistakes are the portals of discovery. 
—James Joyce

Organizations that encourage individuals to make decisions at their own level will most likely see an increase in errors. This is natural because it is expected that the organization is changing and evolving at a much faster rate. So while there may be a concern about the increase, more mistakes may mean that more new ideas are reaching the experimentation stage. A common theme is “managers must decrease the fear of failure and that the goal should be to experiment constantly, fail early and often, and learn as much as possible in the process.”

Free-form Conferences

In 1985, the organizers of the International Symposium on Organizational Transformation noticed that the best part of the conference was during the coffee break. It turned out that this time of mingling and freestyle interaction also was the part the participants liked the most. So the organizers decided to design the entire conference as a coffee break. In other words, they decided to use open space methodology to design the entire program. “The result is a conference with no agenda, no organizing committee and, surprisingly, almost no stress.”

In the book Open Space Technology: A User’s Guide, Harrison Owen offers ideas for running all types of programs with minimal structure. He suggests that gathering in an open space that is outside of the day-to-day experience allows ideas to emerge. “If the aim is creativity and innovation, knocking out the stultifying drudgery is step one. Step two is removing expectations, developing trust and getting back to a sense of play, according to Professor Lizbeth Goodman, director of the SMARTlab Digital Media Institute at the University of East London. She uses theater games and voice work: shouting, singing, and laughing. “People remember some previous version of themselves that hadn’t yet been taught to think in boxes. When you free up someone’s body movement, you free up their mind.”

One company builds a conference by bringing in top experts in their field. The attendees hear each expert in a morning plenary session. Then small teams book time with the experts for a few days. “It’s this combination of structure and absolute freedom to brainstorm, along with up-close access to successful mentors, that feeds the ‘anything is possible’ atmosphere.”

Although the format has been used primarily in the media arts industry, the model works for all types of companies. One event brought together “top-level professionals from across the biopharmaceutical, FMCG [Fast Moving Consumer Goods], petrochemical and chemical industries.” The invitation-only event allowed the participants to design “their own agenda of interactive-workshops, personal meetings, networking sessions and keynote presentations.”

Several companies offer these conferences in different formats, but the overarching concept is simple: Reduce the structure and let the ideas flow.

Leadership Skills: Four Phases of Appreciative Inquiry

By asking positive questions, members of the organization begin to build a collective vision of what is possible. The future is designed through a self-organizing process that solicits the best from every member of the organization. The process generally consists of four phases.

appreciative inquiry
Discovery Phase

The discovery phase is based on the theory that “human systems are drawn towards their deepest and most frequent explorations.” This phase is characterized by interviews that are designed to determine the optimal capacity of the organization. In contrast to many discovery interviews that bring in outside consultants to uncover problems, the discovery phase is usually done in house with most members of the organization participating. It really becomes a “system-wide analysis of the positive core by its members.” As members of the organization are exposed to the possibilities expressed by other members, their level of appreciation and hope increases. The result is the discovery of themes and patterns.

Dream Phase

The dream phase guides participants into a transformational state by asking them to imagine what is possible for the organization. By tapping into the creative energy of the group, an imaginary future emerges for the organization. The dream usually contains “three elements: a vision of a better world, a powerful purpose, and a compelling statement of strategic intent.” As a result, participants feel a deeper connection and sense of shared purpose for their organization.

Design Phase

The power of the dream fuels the design phase. In a typical change process, the directive is top down and often met with great resistance. The design and strategy necessary to bring the dream into reality emerges out of the new system of cooperation, mutual respect, and shared vision. In most cases, participants enter the design phase with a desire to change.

Destiny Phase

Initially, the fourth phase was known as delivery because it was considered a more traditional stage of planning and implementation. However, after several years of working with the process, practitioners discovered that it felt more like a major transformation. Participants were realizing that their interpretation of the world has an effect on the process. As discussed in Chapter 2, their intention was creating their reality. So rather than focusing on planning and implementation, practitioners just let the participants guide the process. They completely gave up control. What seemed like a recipe for chaos turned into a perfect container for dynamic transformation and organization. Cooperrider and Whitney describe the Destiny Phase as follows:
Appreciative Inquiry accelerates the nonlinear interaction of organization breakthroughs, putting them together with historic, positive traditions and strengths to create a “convergence zone” facilitating the collective re-patterning of human systems. At some point, apparently minor positive discoveries connect in accelerating manner and quantum change, a jump from one state to the next that cannot be achieved through incremental change alone, becomes possible. What is needed, as the “Destiny Phase” of AI (Appreciated Inquiry) suggests, are the network-like structures that liberate not only the daily search into qualities and elements of an organization’s positive core but the establishment of a convergence zone for people to empower one another, to connect, cooperate, and co-create. Changes never thought possible are suddenly and democratically mobilized when people constructively appropriate the power of the positive core and…let go of accounts of the negative.
Appreciative Inquiry is successful because every member of the organization has an equal voice. This has the effect of breaking down common communication barriers and inspiring full participation. It does not require any exceptional knowledge. Each member is asked to share his or her view of past and present organizational competencies. “The focus is on achievements, assets, potentials, innovations, strengths, elevated thoughts, opportunities, benchmarks, high-point moments, lived values, traditions, strategic competencies, memorable stories, and expressions of wisdom.” The sharing of positive aspects brings the members into a sense of wholeness from which the insights, visions, and future dreams can emerge. Appreciative inquiry is based on the concept that every member has value in the process.

Leadership Skills: Building Collaboration through Appreciative Inquiry

Traditionally, organizations look to change behavior by focusing on detecting errors, performing gap analyses, and fixing problems. This deficit-based theory of change may work for the top-down, hierarchical organization. But for dynamic organizations with a continual need to adapt, these models are not sufficient. With their focus on problems and crises, they may even be deleterious to the change process. In 2000 David Cooperrider, a pioneer of Appreciative Inquiry proposed that “While researchers have demonstrated the potential for increased organizational understanding when members focus on opportunity rather than threat,…deficient inquiry continues to guide many in their quest for change.”question_mark

Conversely, the new science suggests that when the focus and intention are directed toward that which is positive, a creative power is unleashed that facilitates adaptation with unprecedented ease and efficiency. Appreciative Inquiry, a technique that focuses on positive outcomes, is based on the premise that humans are naturally drawn toward that which is positive. The practice of Appreciative Inquiry suggests that by searching within an organization for what works, what motivates, and what evokes positive energy, the organization will evolve in a positive direction. “Appreciative Inquiry involves the co-evolutionary search for the best in people, organizations, and the world around them. It involves systematic discovery of what forces are at work when a system is its most effective, compassionate, and capable in economic, ecological, and human terms.”

The practice of Appreciative Inquiry has unveiled a new theoretical framework for viewing change. Its protocol has an inherent ability to tap into the positive energy that is created by the relationship of the group. The resulting change is often spontaneous, natural, and successful beyond all expectations. “Conspicuously absent from this process are the vocabularies of deficit-based change (e.g., gap analysis, root causes of failure, unfreezing, defensive routines, variances, diagnosis, resistance, and flaming platforms).” The theoretical framework offers a deeper understanding of the power of this approach.

The next article will focus on the 4 Phases of Appreciative Inquiry.  If you found this material helpful, please forward it to a friend or co-worker and encourage them to subscribe.

Seven Realities that Jeopardize Business Survival: Part II

In Information Revolution, Jim Davis, Gloria J. Miller, and Allan Russell discuss the

message-in-a-bottle “Seven Realities that Jeopardize Business Survival.” Each reality illuminates the need for new business models as well as styles of leadership. Here is Part II.

Business Reality 4: The Only Constant Is Permanent Volatility

This is a common theme but bears repeating: The company that is most agile and adaptable will gain and maintain a competitive advantage. Instead of just relying on past results to predict the future, companies need to tap into current trends through social networking, Web analysis, and employee feedback.

Business Reality 5: Globalization Helps and Hurts

Globalization presents many advantages, especially to small companies seeking a worldwide presence. Any company that is connected to the Web can strategically partner, outsource, or insource with relative ease. The downside is increased complexity when dealing with international languages, standards, and cultures. Strong communication skills are essential for navigating this terrain.

Business Reality 6: The Penalties of Not Knowing Are Harsher than Ever

In the new era of billion-dollar corporate scandals, personal accountability at the highest levels is not only prudent, it is now legally mandated. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act was designed to systematize ethical behavior. In addition to the need for strong, honest leadership, information systems to handle this complex business data are essential.

Business Reality 7: Information Is Not a By-Product of Business; It Is the Lifeblood of Business

The seventh business reality is a direct result of the first six. Due to shrinking business cycles, level playing fields, changing rules, volatility, globalization, and the cost of ignorance, information has become the lifeblood of many businesses. Today, accurate, accessible, actionable information is necessary to compete in the global economy. There are strong pressures to achieve more results while spending less time and money. Companies need up-to-the-minute information about their customers, suppliers, competitors, and markets.

These realities also point to the need for new business models as well as for visionary leadership. With the complexity of business today, decisioning throughout the entire organization has to operate like a well-oiled machine. The sections to come expand on optimal organizational structures as well as the core competencies, or success factors, necessary to operate at this level.

Come back for more business intelligence and change management focused blogs by The OLIVIAGroup! Feel free to comment with questions, insights, or additions to this post. To receive alerts when the next blog is published, click on the RSS feed to subscribe.
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