Appreciative Inquiry

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One of the later topics we covered in Leadership is called “Appreciative Inquiry.” I had noted that I really liked this topic, and that when I had time I wanted to post my thoughts about it. In the mean time, we had a week off of classes and I worked on some other topics of interest. One thing I did during my time off, is that I took the Gallup Strength Finders assessment, which I will do an entire post on later.  One thing this assessment revealed about me (for those who know me this will come as no surprise) is that one of my strengths is my positivity. I just don’t think it is worth my energy to be negative about things. It certainly has never improved a situation I’ve encountered. And so back to this Appreciative Inquiry. As I sat down to write out my thoughts on this technique, I re-read the definition. “Appreciative Inquiry engages individuals, teams, or the entire organization in creating change by reinforcing positive messages and focusing on learning from success.” The passage goes on to explain that this technique is not about focusing on what is wrong or who is to blame, but to consider the possible. Of course positive Joelle like this.

People often scoff at positive people calling them Pollyana and claiming that they are unaware of, and therefore at risk from, potential problems. But I argue that, at least in my case, I am aware of the possible issues and I deal with them when necessary, I just don’t feel the need to focus on them and give them energy when I don’t have to. I think of it like smiling and frowning, anatomists tell us that frowning takes more energy than smiling, so why waste my energy?

Back to Appreciative Inquiry. The technique uses four steps. The first step, discovery, is about identifying what is good, what works, what makes you proud. The next step is about dreaming, how would thing look if they were even better, what is the vision? To get to the vision, the next step is to design a plan to achieve that state. Finally, this change must be sustained. Sustaining takes effort. The universe is full of examples that demonstrate that you must grow or you will shrink. Getting to this “could be” state will take effort getting there and effort to maintain, but wouldn’t we all like to reach the potential we dream of?

If you find yourself thinking that AI is a great method for “someone else” and that a company can be successful without it, I’ll mention another study I was reading today. Collins and Porras, in 1996, wrote a paper based on their study of the most successful companies in the world. The paper, Building your Company’s Vision, discusses how each of these companies have a few things in common. One is a core ideology and a clear vision of a future where they are successful, but not just generally successful, audaciously successful. The difference between generally successful companies and the highest success companies was this ability to envision a grand goal and to believe in their ability to reach it. Sounds a lot like the future vision one might form if you used the positive techniques in Appreciative Inquiry. Just my thought…

Leading Change

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We read about leading change for our leadership class this week. We studied a framework for change developed by John Kotter. The framework has eight steps and two of them stood out strongly for me. The fist was in step 4 “communicate the vision and the strategy.” Kotter says: “[The leader] must communicate about the change at least 10 times more than they think necessary.” This is an idea I first heard in an IIBA lunch meeting about leading change and it resonated with me even then.  At work, as we talk about issues and changing our culture, I have brought this up many times. I never feel like anyone hears me. Maybe I need to say this 10 more times than I think is necessary.

The other point that really struck me was part of step 7 “keep up the urgency.” One of the points he makes is that you have to make “sure employees have the time, resources, and authority they need to pursue the vision.” I think this is often the mistake made by management. Especially in these economic times the control on resources is tight so that seems to be the source of not getting resources. But I feel that overwhelmingly, the problem with NOT following through with this advice is that you tell your employees that you don’t trust them. Give them the information about a budget, give them the vision and allow them to act. Trust that they will take the right actions. That they will honor your trust and stay within or even under budget, or if they want to pursue something bigger, they will trust you to  hear them out and request a new budget. Give people the information, give them your trust, and they will repay you with a job well done.

Okay, I’m not blind, some people will not live up to this, but wouldn’t you rather let them show you that right away so that you can let them find another job rather than nursing them along until they can do real damage?

On Vision

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We have gotten to the point in our leadership class where we are talking about leaders having vision and strategy. Throughout the book there have been these little quizes where we can evaluate ourselves in terms of our leadership skills and I have always done fairly well on the quizes. I scored a bit lower in the areas I know that I struggle, such as active listening. But overall I feel than I have a high emotional IQ, that I am good with people and that I generally have what it takes to be a good leader. Until now.

I took the quiz entitled “My Personal Vision” and out of a possible 10 points, I scored myself as being a 2!!! Todd says that this is completely to be expected as I’m a member of “generation X” and we are a generation with no personal vision. But I wonder if that is all it is. During this class, we all read various leadership books, and I read The Soul of Leadership by Deepak Chopra. This book contained exercises for “Finding Your True Purpose,” which I did… mostly. I’m looking back at the section on “Your Personal Vision,” and I did that part. So why do I not feel attached to that vision? I worry that my vision and my job are not closely related enough.

So here is my vision as per The Soul of Leadership:

I want to living a world in which there is fairness for everyone, and people live and let live.

I would be inspired to work in an organization that inspires people, encourages learning, reaches out to the world, and values people of all cultures.

I would be proud to lead a team that is diverse and self-motivated.

A transformed world would be one in which everyone knows they are valued, has opportunities and is full of joy.

And finally, the last exercise which I didn’t do before:

The mission behind everything I do is to encourage those around me to pursue knowledge and live up to their greatest potential.

Modes of Management

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I’m reading the article, “Managing Transitions in the Growing Enterprise,” HBS 9-393-107, February 12, 1993, and I’m struck by the section on Modes of Management. The discussion outlines four levels of managing from doing the work yourself through various levels of specification from specifying behavior to only specifying the organization.
At the highest level, the expectation is that the manager need only manage “the people, the mission, values and culture of the firm” and they can expect their subordinates to “figure out what needs to be done and how to do it.” Business leaders today love this paradigm and when they don’t get the results they were expecting, they start looking for what went wrong. When this happens, I have often observed that the conclusion is that employees weren’t ready for the responsibility.
I think this misses the point. Managers think that managing employees to work independently is going to be easier than managing them closely. What Roberts shows in this article is that the more you step back from direct supervision, the more support framework has to be erected to support your independent employees. When you only need to define the worker’s behavior, you can define the content and the behavior. If you need your sales force to make so many sales, you can provide a list of numbers to call and require so many calls per day. This assumes that you, as the manager, know how many call and to what sorts of potential clients will lead to the required sales. If you want an independent sales force, they need to know the expected results, sales of so many of which products. And for them to be completely independent they need the context to know what products are most likely to sell to what type of clients so that they can choose the best clients to call on. Without this context, your sales force will be calling on the wrong clients and will be unable to provide the desired results.
The sales example is the easiest to see, but this same issue of providing all four levels of support is critical if your goal is to develop independent employees. If you want to “depend on them to figure out what needs to be done and how to do it,” you have to clearly provide expectations for content (what), behavior (how), results (what, when) and most importantly context (why).

Trying this out

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I’ve just started business school. Me, yes me. If you don’t know me very well, you might think this is no big deal, but the thing is, I HATE business. I think it has no soul. So am I selling my soul by attending business school? I guess that could still happen, but so far, it appears that I can attend business school, learn valuable ideas in the world of business… And somehow retain my soul.
So why the blog? Well, every time I read an assignment for my classes I find all sorts of interesting insights come to mind. Some apply to my current work life, and others to the world at large. And I dont want to lose these thoughts. So this blog is mainly for me, but I’ll share it with a few friends and family and maybe some lively discussions will be spawned. 🙂
So here goes!
Appologies for any typos… I’m still learning my way around this program and so far editing is a challenge.