Guest post — Is My Company Vibrant? A Case Study

Guest post by Maureen Metcalf

I met Jim Ritchie-Dunham and learned about Harmonic Vibrancy research when a highly regarded colleague, Terri O’Fallon, asked me to participate in a study. Terri is one of those people who is always involved in something interesting so I responded. Additionally, the request came as part of a research study Jim was doing on vibrancy and I personally love to participate in leading research to contribute to and learn about the latest thinking in organizational effectiveness.

Taking the Assessment

I took an individual assessment with Metcalf & Associates as the company I was evaluating. I found the assessment and results interesting, and because of our scores I had the opportunity to be interviewed by Jim, the lead researcher. After our conversation, I was committed to learning more—and support his research— as it seemed as if he was making a unique and important contribution to the field of organizational effectiveness and organizational leadership.

Creating a Vibrant MBA Class

My next step was to require that my graduate students take the assessment for multiple organizations to both build the database and to help them begin to get a feel for which organizations are most effective and which are least. We also tried an experiment in which students evaluated the class environment at the end of the semester (after grades were finalized). My personal research question was: Could we create a vibrant organization in an MBA class in the relatively limited length of a semester? Interestingly, the answer was yes. While we needed to refine a few of the questions, overall, we could all participate in a process to build a vibrant organization in a short period of time. I love the idea that the class could not learn only the theory; they could also have the actual experience of being in a vibrant organization during the class. Then the question was what they could do to create this for themselves. We asked some students with particularly high scores to participate in the research.

Improving Our Organizational Vibrancy

My next challenge was to see if I had created a vibrant organization within my own company. I certainly thought it was vibrant—but what did others think? Again, we were a company that did not perfectly fit the profile, but I decided to test us before going out to our clients. I have committed us to being a learning lab, a company that tests new ideas on ourselves, and proves them valid and useful before going to our clients. As the owner of the company this was intriguing because while the feedback was about the company it was also very personal—it was about the company I had created and about me as a leader.

So, the moment of truth; I selected my key team members and invited them to complete the survey. Like those in most organizations, some people responded immediately and others required several reminders. The end result was seven responses from our core team.

Metcalf Survey Results

Our scores were high in six of the seven categories. In the seventh, “process of innovation” we scored a four on a scale of one to five. This would not seem terrible except that our company tag line is Inspiring Leadership Innovation. What were we doing wrong? What was I doing wrong? I thought we were very innovative. We had published a very well-received book about innovative leadership that won an International Book Award in 2012 for Best Business Reference Book and we were in the process of writing several workbooks that also won multiple awards. How could we possibly be lacking innovation? What I learned was that we balanced innovation with meeting client goals. We are both innovative and focused on client results. As a company with limited resources, we were balancing the very real limitations of our resources including the time we had to commit to innovating versus the time we had to deliver impeccable results every day to our clients.

This helped me see that we were on the right track—and while I will still strive for a higher score, I understand our results and envision our opportunities to grow. One of the best outcomes of this assessment was the very candid conversation I had with this group. I learned that I held some assumptions about how we were working that were not true; specifically, I assumed people did not want to get together regularly because of their busy schedules. I learned that they did want to spend more time together as a group (which we have now done). Some of our gatherings are social in nature and allow for people to informally incubate ideas that will move us forward. Additionally, the team is deepening their relationships with one another.

I have appreciated the insight from this assessment. We have implemented changes and in other areas it validated that we are on the right track. Each participant had the opportunity to express an individual perspective as well as hear perspectives from others, building our shared sense of what we want from our organization. Round two of the assessment is in the plan for 2014. For now, we are using this assessment with our clients and getting great results. In an upcoming blog, I’ll share the results working with a client.

Maureen Metcalf, the CEO of Metcalf & Associates, is author of Innovative Leadership Fieldbookan award-winner in the 2012 International Book Awards for Business: Reference Book.  Partnering with the Institute for Strategic Clarity, she brings the work of organizational vibrancy to groups in Ohio.

2 thoughts on “Guest post — Is My Company Vibrant? A Case Study

  1. Dear Maureen, thank you for this very exciting sharing. I love what you did with the students. I am doing similar with a a class I am teaching here in Germany. Did your students develop any specific practices or agreements? I am intrigued by this process since I am convinced that vibrant learning environments can make a huge change for the students, professors as well as for the whole department or university.

    I would love to read more on your experiences you make with your students. Very exciting!




  2. Dear Christoph,

    What a great question. I wish I could say we developed explicit agreements but we did not. I will try that approach with the next class this summer and see how it impacts scores. That said, I set a tone in the class about how we operate so there are agreements, just no choice on their part. Here are a few off the top of my head:
    · Everyone is to be treated with respect
    · What happens in class is treated with confidentiality
    · We will all have moments of vulnerability if we are really growing – it is one of the unique times in life where everyone in the room is committed to the same thing and we can all share more openly here than we can or should at work
    · No one is required to share more than they are comfortable sharing

    I think the other thing is not only do I say these things – I live them. The students write weekly journals and in those journals they share their growth process. Most of them will face something that stretches them during the semester and I make every effort to act with authenticity and compassion. This is relatively easy to do since they are usually working so hard to make progress and I really do care about their success. They also do some exercises (like the Kegan/Lahey competing commitment exercise) that requires deep self-examination. I think this level of exploration and sharing along with the ability to create boundaries does set the agreements I expect. It usually takes a bit of time before they get comfortable with me and this approach and for some it will not be their preferred style.

    What I think is beautiful about using this framework with grad students is they will have the felt experience of a mostly vibrant organization. While some may not be able to go out and create it, they can discern the difference. One of my favorite reactions to this was one student created a 360 assessment for himself to see if he was taking the right steps as a leader.

    I welcome the opportunity to share more if you would like. This exchange also makes me think I should write a post about the class experience.



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