Sustainable Business Learning Community Conversations, Nov - Dec 2012

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December 20, 2012 Topic: Functional vs. Dysfunctional Companies

Comments from last week's conversation on Listening:

  • Listening for content, cultural inference, etc. can be difficult, especially when the language and culture are foreign to you.
  • There are layers to any given message: language, syntax, emotional context, for example. We have to try to interpret everything that's actually being communicated.
  • Sometimes the speaker is working out an idea while they are talking, that is, what they are saying is not a fully formed idea but is a concept that they are "just talking through." It can be helpful to the listener if the speaker is able to communicate this.

Mullins 3 rules of listening:

  1. Are you listening to learn something?
  2. Are you listening to solve a problem?
  3. Are you listening to someone who just needs someone to talk to (and doesn't really require a response)?

What does dysfunction in an organization look like?

Today's topic: Functional vs. Dysfunctional organizations

What does dysfunction in an organization look like? What makes an organization healthy?

  • Dysfunction will be present at some level in all companies and the question is: is the dysfunction growing or diminishing?
  • Even if we get everything right, we will still have to deal with dysfunction because it will pop up once in a while.
  • Honest conversation is useful as a way of weeding out dysfunction/problems.
  • Whenever you see bureaucracy seeping into your organization, that's a bad sign and needs to be stopped.
  • Needy people attract other needy people, and that can become the Ph factor of your organization. Everything then becomes focused around the needs of the individual rather than the whole organization.
  • Blame is unhealthy in an organization and puts people on the defensive so that problem-solving is undermined. There is no need for blame in a healthy organization because problem-solving will be part of the company's DNA: where there is organizational awareness, people will be able to recognize problems quickly and resolve them. Learning from mistakes, rather than focusing on blame and punishment, is the way a healthy organization operates.
  • Measuring success on a single performance is unhealthy and ineffective. Performance should be measured over time.
  • Internal vs external awareness - profit vs. people: Tracking sales figures, projections, stock prices, etc. is important, but you can't focus solely on profit and ignore the internal health of your company. It is important to create a positive working environment for your employees, where individuals can grow and express their ideas and have work that is fulfilling. Workers should be respected, have a sense of purpose in their work, time with family should be valued, and they should be permitted a reasonable amount of time off, for example. Although you can't take money out of the picture, it is not the most important thing: people will take less money to have more purposeful work and healthy relationships in their working lives. So for long term success, you have to have both internal and external health.

Tolerance for truth: The ability of an organization to address the truth is a measure of its health. In some companies it is culturally unacceptable to tell the truth and this causes dysfunction. If a problem occurs in an organization, you have to be able to admit it ("This project was a huge failure"); no blame, just honesty. If workers' habits become focused around untruths, if is difficult to get anything done. There must be a tolerance for truth.

Tolerance for dissent: It is important to develop decision making processes that encourage dissent/disagreement. Employees must feel comfortable speaking up when they have a dissenting opinion.

  • Agree that we will all encourage dissent, create an open space where there is enough time and honesty for dissenting opinions.
  • Establish space on the agenda for employees to voice their opinions.
  • Develop a decision making process in which, after a proposal has been clearly presented, employees are asked if there if are there any concerns. Write down all concerns so there is a written record, and evaluate them; which are most important? which will block our way forward?

December 13, 2012 Topic: Listening

Comments from last week's conversation on Feedback:

Every individual is so different - take the time to get to know people well so that you can understand the best way to respond to them and give them feedback.

Often we judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their actions and words. Consider that when you're communicating with your team. Ask the question "what were you intending to do there?"

Jess wants feedback to know both what she is doing well or should keep doing, and what she should do differently. She wants specifics: "Can you tell me 3 things I'm doing well, or not doing well?"

What is your responsibility with feedback that you receive? How do you process it or assess it? If you don't have a process in place to deal with feedback, does it really do any good? Sometimes simply listening is enough, just letting the other person know that you heard what they said.

Oh, yeah!

Today's topic: Listening

What does it mean to listen?

  • To hear what someone is telling you well enough that you understand their perspective. It doesn't mean that you have to agree with them but you accept and understand their point of view.
  • It's important to know that you were heard.
  • A large portion of conflict resolution may be accomplished by simply acknowledging what someone said.

Do you listen differently when you're with family? friends? business colleagues? in person vs. on the phone? Do you understand and absorb more with people with whom you are comfortable rather than people that make you nervous, or is it just the opposite?

  • When you're talking with someone you know well and whose intent you know well, you might not be as careful about listening closely. You tend to remove or let down your filters with people you're really comfortable with, both with what you say and how you listen
  • When you're talking with a new acquaintance, someone you're just getting to know, or perhaps a business colleague, you might put more effort into listening closely to what they say.
  • Much of our communication is accomplished through body language, so this requires that we listen carefully when we're on the phone and can't see the other person. Video conferencing/skyping can help here.

How closely do you really listen? Does your mind wander or do you notice yourself drifting off and thinking about something else rather than listening to what the other person is saying? How can you learn to listen more effectively?

Ideas on becoming a more effective listener:

  • Make eye contact with the other person
  • Engage in active listening:
    • Ask questions - this demonstrates that you are really listening and are respectful of the other person.
    • Frame questions to produce the response that you need or want
    • Ask questions that will move the conversation along.
    • Repeat what you heard back to the speaker; this helps to reconcile what they said with what you heard.
  • Let people know when you didn't understand them - they know you were listening
  • Write things down when appropriate to help you understand and hear what someone is saying.
  • If you have a tendency to interrupt, practice holding back your desire to respond to someone before they are done speaking. Good listening requires attention and patience.
  • Put yourself in the speaker's position - imagine the other person's situation, mood, emotions. This helps you to understand and listen to them more effectively.

Listening can be difficult:

  • Be aware that when you are stressed or preoccupied or simply tired, it might be difficult for you to listen to something someone wants to tell you. It's ok to let them know that you're not ready or in a position to listen to them right now and that you can get back with them at a later time. Being honest in these circumstances is a way of showing respect for the other person and letting them know that you care about what they have to say.
  • Know which topics are difficult for you and will require a much greater effort to stay focused and listen.
  • Be aware of people's unique communication styles and ways of expressing themselves that might require a different level of listening skills.
  • Some people can listen to music and focus on something else at the same time.
  • Sometimes we put up filters that cause us to not listen to what someone is saying. If you are well acquainted with someone and have an expectation of what they are going to say, you might not listen as closely as you should.

Suntae's insight into the difference between Koreans and Americans: Americans, in a society that is less hierarchical, are more focused on talking, less on listening. Korean society is more hierarchical so that the few (more important people) are talking and the majority of people are listening.

Helping others to listen to you in your business:

  • Having clearly established goals and values for your business helps you to communicate to your business associates; they will better hear and understand what you are telling them.
  • De-personalize your topics when you can. Take the "you/me" out, put it in the middle of the table and make it a neutral topic.

Listening well requires a lot of energy!

December 6, 2012 Topic: Feedback

Comments on last week's discussion on Setting Goals:


  • Transforming the GG into a net zero energy building is a perfect example of great goal because the intent behind the goal is clear. Intent should be well communicated to your team because if they understand the INTENT, then everyone will understand how to adapt their work to meet the goal. Goal must be guided by intent.
  • If your goals and intentions are really clear and well communicated, then your community (those who might want to participate) will self filter because people will be able to see and understand what they do or do not want to participate in.

Dreams vs. reality:

  • Understand who it is that sets the goals and who will actually deliver them. Part of effective leadership is the ability to find the balance between aspirational goals and the reality of your skills and resources. Ask yourself how many resources you have and at what skill level? What are your constraints? Prioritize your goal around the reality of those constraints.
  • Recognize the sheer number of goals (big and small) that you set for yourself everyday. How do you go about meeting those?

What's the most effective way to provide feedback?

Topic for today: Mechanisms for Delivering Feedback

What do we mean by feedback?

  • Feedback = information on progress on a goal
  • Feedback = standards of quality of work

Questions to ponder:

  • How do you get and give feedback?
  • When you're managing people, with what frequency do you give feedback? How does this affect how likely it is that feedback will be heard?
  • How do people hear feedback the best?
  • Is there a time or situation when you should refrain from offering up feedback? When should you not because it's too important?
  • How can you be more open to feedback (and not take it so personally)?
  • What do you do with the feedback? Do you have some sort of process to respond to it?
  • How do you integrate feedback into actions effectively?

Have the feedback as close to the event as you can. If there is a really emotional reaction to an event, take a bit more time to allow all of that emotion to be processed by the person/people, but still try to tie your response as closely as possible to the real event. Studies show that closer the feedback loop is to the event, the better.


Jess's issue at Food Lab is headers in emails. Seem like a small issue, but it is important to her because she wants everything that come out of Food Lab to have a high level of consistency. She has asked to have headers a certain way and some people aren't doing it. So how does she get people to do it her way?

  • First of all, deal with it right away. When you delay feedback loops, you end up with these long lists of things that you want them to change or work on and then they wonder why you took so long to tell them about this stuff. Bringing up issues a week or month later is much less effective.
  • Don't use correction as your form of teaching. You have to document and train. If you spend time in training, you don't have much correction or intervention to do. Spend your time communicating clearly what you want done and how, and then walk everyone else through it. Put issues to the group rather than to each individual.
  • Be sure to communicate your intent. Jess's point is not so much that she wants a header done a certain way, but that she wants people to read the emails and THAT's why the header is important.

Other things to consider:

When giving feedback, it's important to keep things open, to have a two-way street.

When people question how you're doing something or disagree with you, that opens up an opportunity for feedback.

You might ask them to put their ideas in writing. (That might actually filter out many ideas because some people don't like to write things down.)

Remember that people's personalities differ and you may have to deal with them differently. Some people are very introverted and may not be able to respond to feedback right away or in person. Give them some space.

What if you work with people who love to tell you all their ideas, but you really aren't going to use any of them. How do you deal with unwanted feedback?

Write down your goals and intentions that you can refer your team back to. You can have your opinion and it might not be perfect, but remember that, in the end, you're in the leadership position and decisions rest with you.

What about positive feedback? Jess observes that positive feedback can often be very generic ("You're doing a great job!") and not related to larger goals. She believes that, like negative feedback, it should be more specific.

A way to elicit feedback is to ask the question: How do you think we're working together?

Also, don't forget to stop talking and listen: if you let them, people will tell you what they think.

An effective leader will create common space where his team can work together to make things better. The more spaces there are to do real work together, the better. A lot of people are uncomfortable with one-on-one interactions and feel a bit threatened by them. You can create a lot of common design areas where people can feel at ease contributing their ideas and voicing their concerns, and then you can move forward.

It's much harder to manage people as individual rather than as a group. The more you can do collective conversations (where appropriate) the more success you'll have. Then, if an individual still doesn't go along with what was decided in the group, that would be an appropriate time for a one-on-one discussion. If something isn't clear at a larger level, try to address the problem first in a group. If you see a lot of people not toeing the line, that means you have a systems problem, but if it's just one person, you can deal with that person individually.

Avoid the Whack-a-Mole model!!

November 29, 2012 Topic: Setting Goals

Comments from last week:

Community exists on so many different levels: your immediate community going up through levels to our global community, planetary community.

Some discussion as to whether it is more advantageous to live in the community you in which you work. If you live in a community, your notion of that community might be very different than someone who only works there - and you have more at stake.

Why take your skills elsewhere when Detroit needs your skills? Don't complain about what Detroit doesn't have if you won't contribute to it..

Jess introduced us to the concept of Homophily: People have a natural tendency to connect to and form community with people who are similar to them and share their background/education/interests/experiences/consumption bubbles. Even if they try to seek out difference, they still tend to end up with people who are like them. Even within homogenous groups we see this tendency: women group together with women, men with men, the wealthy with the wealthy, etc.

The way space and environment play out is important. We may have very few spaces in our everyday lives where we are forced to interact with people who are different from us. How do we intentionally expose ourselves to a "shared reality"?

What do you do in the groups that you lead, to help affect community? What are you called to do?

At Food Lab their focus is to develop a good food system that's accountable to all Detroiters, so it is important to reflect the reality of the community in the way that Food Lab operates. For example, they don't just use Facebook and Twitter because not everyone has access to a computer. They offer child care so mothers can attend. The leadership of Food Lab also has to be representative of the population so they have taken steps toward establishing racial and male/female diversity within their ranks. It is important to put the intention out there and take real steps to realize that intention.

Anna Cohn (Detroit Synagogue) asks: How do you balance diversity with credentials so as to best represent and serve the group. What are you trying to get from your leaders or board of directors? Do you need guidance? Diversity of perspective?

How much do you imagine what people have to offer vs. actually exploring what they have to offer? Do you end up choosing people with whom you have the most in common and are comfortable?

Setting goals can be a challenge!

Topic: Setting Goals (Goal Fatigue):

One of the things that management tends to be worst at is goal setting. This is because it's just not well understood. Many entrepreneurs are very strong in their trade, but not strong in business, so understanding goal setting and how to run a business is vital. The likelihood of failure is greater if they don't understand goal setting and the processes involved.

W. Edwards Deming: If you set a goal on top of a process that is not under control, there is an 85% chance that you're just making the matter worse. You will be doing more harm than good.

  • Setting a date: It's not effective or useful to say: "This job has to be done by this date." Have you identified yet what it is that has to be done? Quality? Effort? Cost? What are we talking about setting a goal on? What is it that you're actually talking about? Outcome or process?
  • Start with measurements on the process before you start with measurements on the outcome. You have to let the process get a little formed first before you can put measurements on it. Know and understand what it is that you are measuring.
  • You have to have a goal setting process, a strategic process, a measurement process and then a process for change. So when someone just sets a goal without having processes in place, it just doesn't mean anything.

See: Carnegie-Mellon Capability Maturity Model relating to the degree of formality and optimization of processes. What maturity level are processes at before you put measurements to them?

Questions to consider:

  • Can you start with an end goal from which you can work backwards in order to develop the necessary processes to get there? If your goal and processes can be adjusted and refined as you go forward, would this work? In this case you are drawing line in sand, not carving it in stone - the line or goal can be adjusted. Goals can be a catalyst to encourage action. If there is not understanding or a learning process incorporated into a change of goal, then you can't get people on board.
  • How do you make the evolution from the large, truly unattainable goal, to a smaller more realistic goal? How can you determine if the kind of goals you're setting are attainable or not? Setting unreasonable or impossible goals can lead to goal fatigue.
  • How do you avoid goal fatigue?
    • Goals have to be achievable
    • Goals have to be related to your larger vision
    • Even if you don't succeed, remember that if you have learned something you haven't really failed. The process is "the thing" rather than the result. Then you have to restructure where you have to go. The learning cycle then takes the burn out of the goal fatigue. Focus on learning instead of goals. See email on failure. Recognize that some organizations won't operate on the learning vs. achieving goals premise, and some will. Be aware of this at the outset.
  • Are you in a space where people are asking, "what is our collective strategy/strategies, vs. what are our collective goals"? Are you able to articulate your vision and your processes clearly enough to share with others in your organization? Is all of this written down somewhere? When you bring in someone new, it is helpful to have your goals and processes written down for them to understand and catch up with everyone else.
  • Can I get there from here? : The Green Garage leadership set the goal of transforming this building into a Net Zero Energy building. This had a real effect on the processes and systems and decisions that were made, and they were much different than if they had set the goal of just doing 10% better than a conventional building. You have to have an initial balancing between what you have and where you need to go, and ask yourself, "can I even get there from here?" There may be physical limits to the goal you have set so you have to recognize whether or not you are schooled in the skill levels necessary to achieve the goal.
  • Democratic sharing of information:
    • Important to make sure there is a democratic sharing of information to ensure that changes can be made within your organization in a healthy way.
    • But does goal setting always have to be democratic? Can an organization be too big for this? In large corporations, goals come from the top, but you still have the employees to buy into it and want to do it. You have to let them know that this is something that we're doing for the good of everyone in the organization. How do you make other people share your goal/passion?
    • Trust in leadership: If your employees trust in your leadership, you can get them to believe in the goal. Be sure to revisit the "road" that your on. You can say to your team, "Look where we've gotten to, what do you think?"
    • It's important that the hierarchy be in place. Those working on the lower levels of the hierarchy can still have a voice, but the leadership is responsible for making final decisions.

November 15, 2012 Topic: Forms of Community

How do we form communities?

Comments from last week's conversation on Consistency:

It is a constant question in some businesses: Is there a better way? How do you get employees to look for a better way to do their jobs?

  • At Food Lab people are taking increasing ownership in their collective. But Jess is finding it hard to figure out if investing in the "better" way is really worth the investment. They get a lot of suggestions, but it's hard to evaluate the worth in investment.
  • What is the capacity of change in the organization you are working with? How much change can it take and still maintain its consistency and value? This isn't often well understood by people because it's an organic question. Change and the ripple effects caused by change are hard to get a grasp of.
  • Also, there is a big difference between people wanting change and those committed to making the change happen.

Topic today: Forms of community

How does a community form? What brings it together and gives it cohesion? Caring? Interests? Proximity?

  • Electronic community has increased vs. physical communities
  • Communities can be place-based (proximity) or based on sharing of interests, values, and/or ideals.
  • When communities are based on interests, values, etc., this can promote diversity. Ex: churches bring together diverse people who might not otherwise come together.
  • Even more than simply sharing interests/values/ideals, is the emotional attachment that we have to those things that bring us together.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs: Strength of community ties might depend on where the community connects in Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. The deeper the need (that is, the more fundamental to one's survival), the more easily people will really come together. It's the importance of the shared interest to your life that matters; football may bring you together on a more superficial level than health issues.

People choose to live in Detroit because they value life in the city and only in living there can they share and understand the challenges that the people who live there must deal with. Hannah observed that if you don't live in a community but you work there, you might not even be aware of some of the positive things in that community that you might want to preserve. You need to be part of a community to really understand.

Problems in communities:

  • How do you identify the real motives that cause a community to fracture? Do we understand what motivates people to do harm in a community? Is it need? Peer pressure?
  • Do communities come together when they are threatened by a crisis? Do we really only understand our deeper connection to our community when we are personally affected by a crisis (e.g., hurricane victims in NY/NJ)? At what levels are communities stronger or weaker?

Which communities are we actually talking about?

  • Your neighborhood?
  • Your natural community? Are we aware of which watershed we live and work in?
  • Which global communities are we connected to?
  • How do all these communities connect to each other?
  • All communities need to be healthy in order for them to function properly.
  • The individual vs. the whole: am I just taking care of my self? Am I connected to the whole? Am I aware of the whole?
  • Am I making decisions that affect only myself or affect the health of the whole?

Working vs. Living in a Community:

What motivates some people to work in a community, but not live there? Are they still part of the community?

  • It might be that office space is cheaper, so it makes good economic sense to do business there.
  • Whatever ones reasons for being there, they are still part of the community.
  • Care is not measurable. People have different experiences, priorities, perspectives, accountability, etc. We can't really say that one person "cares" more or less than another.

How is someone who lives inside the city different from someone who lives outside? How do their relationships within the community differ? People within a community interact on many different levels.

Community and trust:

  • Trust is vital to a healthy community.
  • The more you know people, the less afraid or distrustful you are of them.
  • Detachment from other people breaks down community and can even lead us to harm one another.

We design cities and structures that either foster community or cause it to break down. How you design a neighborhood, your business, products, etc. can make a difference in fostering community. Homes can be built close together rather than farther apart, with sidewalks and front porches; a product can be designed to be used collaboratively; your community may encourage train vs. car travel.

Other thoughts on the nature of community:

  • Josh remarks that it is hardwired in all humans to create community, but perhaps we need to focus less on what creates a community, but on how you engage people in community in order to move forward.
  • Individuals have varied levels of tolerance when it comes to proximity with members of a community, that is, some people need more personal space than others. However, you have to be ready and willing to give some of yourself to your community in order to become a part of it. It's up to you to find your own level of comfort.
  • Belonging to a community is important because it helps us to form our own identity; the community/communities to which we belong help to define us.
  • There is value both in communities that are durable and long-lasting, and communities that are temporary.
  • Community means that you will have people there to help you if you can't help yourself one day. Just as you give a bit of yourself to your community, someone else will be there for you one day when you are in need.
  • Suntae's observation: On a national level, Koreans have a really strong sense of community, but less so on the city level (esp. in Seoul, which is an enormous city). He wonders if the opposite is true here in Detroit, that people seem to identify more with being part of the city of Detroit, and less with being Americans?

For further reading on cities and community, see: Death and Life of American Cities by Jane Jacobs

November 8, 2012 Topic: Consistency

Thoughts from last week's conversation on Leading Change:

  • Cory, who works in a your entrepreneurship program in Ypsilanti, used the change curve in one of his classes.
  • Hanna has been applying the change curve chart in developing an awareness of her life and its direction.
  • Allow a period of self reflection after you recognize something that needs to be changed.
  • Nested changes: One change can lead to change on a higher level.
  • How does one change affect another change?
  • Small changes can be a big deal for a lot of people in their daily lives. Small changes can have surprisingly big ramifications.
  • UM triple bottom line students are discovering that small changes in a small organization can have ripple effects. Sustainability shows us that all things are connected so small changes can produce a big effect.
  • Important to communicate values of your organization even before you identify areas of change. For example, at the Social Club they can say, "Water bottles were eliminated because we value the environment and are trying to achieve no waste".
  • You need to be able to focus on a higher purpose with your work/business. These values should be identified under the "awareness" phase of the change curve. Your business's values shouldn't change (find your "north").

Consistency is key

Today's Topic: Consistency

A tension exists between consistency and change. How can they be effectively balanced?

Cory's story:

  • In their entrepreneurship program, they teach kids that they are a "brand" and that the strongest "brand" has consistency.
  • Through consistency we can have a dependable relationship/interaction between people, businesses, etc.
  • Consistency in personal relationships is necessary. Otherwise all you have is a transactional relationship. Consistency is required to maintain a relationship over time between businesses.
  • Hannah's business: Different people require consistency in different areas. Clients should have their experience be exceptional each time. Why is that important to Hannah? Because she believes that this is what the clients deserve (one of Hannah's values) She offers the therapists consistent and reliable support - she has their back. If they get a bad client, that client won't be able to come back. They know that they will always have what they need, support, clean sheets, products, etc.

Consistency and Change:

  • Because we live and work in an ever-changing environment, your business may have to adapt in order to maintain its consistency, whether that be consistency in product quality, customer service, etc.
  • In an organization with an over-arching, high level of consistency, employees may feel more comfortable adapting to changes that occur because they feel secure - they understand the values of the business.
  • You have to be able to discern which small changes in your business's environment need to be dealt with and which do not. How do you recognize when there has been a big enough change that it will require a systemic change in your business? Consistency and change are like a yin yang thing - there has to be a balance.
  • Change requires a reason. It is not good leadership to tell your people that they have to change simply because things are always changing. People adapt more easily to change if they know and understand why the change is happening. Visual reminders (poster on wall) can be helpful, reminding them of your values, making clear why some changes will be necessary.
  • Realize that people often have an emotional attachment to their jobs and their working environment which means that change can be difficult for many of us.

Consistency can refer to stability over time as well as internal integrity.

Consistency of focus:

  • If everyone in your organization knows where "north" is, if you can clearly define where the finish line is, then you can work through the "how's", and "who's."
  • Everyone will be more comfortable with change when they know that these changes are helping get to the "finish line."
  • You have to get people to believe in the "authenticity" of your vision - they need to buy into your vision in some way, or at some level, in order to be successful.
  • If the finish line keeps changing, or there is inconsistency in leadership (i.e., making people work on things that are not getting you to the finish line), that is when the things become messed up.
  • If you have consistency in direction, your business ecosystem will work with you. If there is no consistency in direction, the ecosystem will create "noise" which you will absorb creating problems.
  • Loss of focus/vision will create fatigue among your team members - they'll get frustrated.
  • Let people own the change: if people are able to work out how to effect change on their own, they're more likely to do it enthusiastically.

Goal fatigue: If you set an unrealistic goals and consistently stick to them, you will fail and lose people. You need to be able to change to reflect the changing reality of a goal (if conditions alter). Jeff Bezos (CEO Amazon) says that the smartest people he knows are people who are willing to recognize when things aren't working and are willing to change what they are doing.

Jess's (Food Lab) uses dashboard to chart changes : Changes come up every week that she and Anna have to implement. So they started putting all these changes on the "dashboard" that they created. They are able to look at them all in one place, figuring out which tasks fit together, then scoping and bundling them so they can actually fit them into their schedule in an efficient way. This is an example of a balancing mechanism between change and consistency .

Mind mapping softwares (tools used to map out ideas, brainstorm, problem solve): Xmind and Freemind

However, software can only do so much. Leadership, discipline and competency are about 90% of the real work. There's nothing like face to face interaction to really communicate your ideas to others.

November 1, 2012 Topic: Leading Change: Fostering & Encouraging Sustainable Change, cont'd.

Pointing the direction toward change!

What does a working environment that is conducive to change actually look like?

Two examples given:

  • Quest tech - manufactured robotics for the auto industry, then, as the industry began running into trouble, they shifted to building training models for sustainable energy
  • Motor City Denim - made covers for machinery, but now manufacture jeans
  • A Rouge River canoe outing company (name?): As this company became more involved in Friends of the Rouge river clean up projects, they moved their tours further into Dearborn and began focusing on environmentalism, tying sustainability into their core business.

What qualities do these businesses have:

  • Open-mindedness
  • Efficient decision process making
  • Knowing how changes will impact bottom line - how much will you save by using a more sustainable model? Having real numbers helps to encourage people to accept change.
  • Ability to define the creative space: Communicate, at the very beginning, the scope of creativity, what's up for grabs and what isn't - are you open to all ideas or are there limits? The creative person needs to understand the scope within which they can be creative. There are real practical limits: What are we interested in being creative about? Where is the focus?

Some thoughts on change:

  • If you want to implement some kind of change in your business, you must be able to define "why" of the change or you won't be successful.
  • Sometimes a change that an organization makes will mean that some people won't fit anymore
  • Some change happens accidentally; encouraging creativity and imagination can help foster positive change.
  • Trusting employees to take responsibility for their work or a project allows for more creative thinking and makes it easier to effect change.
  • Communicate where your vision is and where your employee(s) vision is. Ask yourself, is this really good for me? Good for them?
  • Stay focused: "If you chase two rabbits, you'll lose them both." (Adrienne's grandma)

Effective ways of building awareness:

  • Starting earlier and small is better than late and large. Let people know that change is coming.
  • Be clear on the context: where does change fit in? How does it fit in to your business - is it about social responsibility? Environment? etc. Open up the dialogue and bring it out in conversation.
  • Keep out all negativity: people have emotional attachments to their habits - focus on positive aspects of a change.
  • Ownership of change: How would it benefit a business to move ownership of change (the "why" of the change, the approach, implementation and sustaining of the change) closer to those people who are actually doing the work?
  • Dialogue - communicate and get feedback about an issue that may require change in a nonhierarchical way. If you're trying to create change, what does change landscape look like? Listening is more important than sending a message.
  • State the "because" - "We're going to do this because…", you'll have a better chance of convincing them.
  • Use "we", be inclusive. In invitation to enter into the "we" and be legitimate, meaning you will value and listen to others opinions.
  • Scope of Change: The scope of change must be determined, but don't do this too early; you want to get feedback first because you might get the scope completely wrong if you don't.
  • Measurement: Look at expected results vs. actual results and trends. This helps you to gain perspective and to learn and understand.
  • Be aware that change is always happening anyway - the world around you is changing and your business will have to respond to it eventually.
  • Be honest about the change you really want to make. Establish basic goals and let your employees work toward them. Don't encourage people to change if you aren't truly going to stick with it - it will just discourage them in adopting change in the future. There should be a balance between adapting to change and trying to effect too much change, too often.
  • Be a good listener. You have to have dialogue first so that you know where people are coming from and what they think about it. You should understand where people are if you are going to introduce change.
  • When the pain of change is less than the pain of staying the same, you will move forward.

Earlier Conversations:

Sustainable Business Learning Community Conversations, continued Sept - Oct 2012

Sustainable Business Learning Community Conversations, cont'd. Aug - Sept 2012

Sustainable Business - Learning Community Conversations June - Aug 2012

Sustainable Business Learning Community Conversations Feb - May 2012