REPOST — Guest Post — The Science Behind Our Yes!

With over 5,000 “listens” to this radio interview with integral rock star Maureen Metcalf from September 2021, I thought I would re-share it.

What is the science behind your Yes!?  

For those of you who prefer audio or video, Maureen and I explore this in a radio interview.  If you prefer text, Lou and I explore this in a blogpost.

We welcome your insights.

Guest Post: Mapping and Shifting Our Readiness for Change

by Joe Bienkiewicz

The Strategic SCAN framework is a structured set of concepts and associated questions that enables one to determine a group’s potential effectiveness in working together to meet a common goal. It provides directional guidance to the user as they assess their specific answers so that they can strengthen their team’s relationships, dynamics, and abilities.

I applied the Strategic SCAN framework to my primary working group, the Senior Leadership Team of a US subsidiary of an international medical-solutions company. My goal was to assess our team’s readiness for change against the backdrop of a global pandemic that has presented our team and our customers with many challenges over the past year. Our business, like thousands of others, was confronted with new challenges that required us to radically change how we make decisions to deliver products to our customers and the patients that rely on our life-saving technologies. We are experiencing change, whether we recognize it or not.

Our business success is evaluated, at the top layer, by traditional financial-performance metrics. Beneath this layer are dozens of key performance indicators (KPIs) that measure patent disclosures, product complaints, and almost everything in between. KPIs are used by many companies, factories, departments, and project groups to measure performance against standards that we think are important in contributing to our success. Meaningful KPIs are a tried-and-true tool that allow us to monitor and correct the factors that contribute to our business performance at a frequency that is greater than the frequency of required financial reporting. So, how do we effectively influence the operational factors that we care about BEFORE they negatively affect our business? Well, first, we must acknowledge that there is a layer that the first two layers, above, are built upon. This layer of business performance is our people, and the performance metric is contained in the feelings and unique perspectives of our employees, our peers, and the people we report to. 

I have to admit that this is a perspective that I did not have prior to applying the Strategic SCAN framework to my current work situation. I am a Chemical Engineer by training, and I operate within the relative certainty that science, technology, and engineering provide. While seldom absolute, the things I work on are correct, acceptable, complete, or incorrect, unacceptable, and incomplete, regardless of how I feel about them. The laws of chemistry and the principles of material science can easily be applied by another person to check my work for suitability to our technical problems. However, these principles offer little utility in increasing team engagement or addressing business and management issues that I have encountered as I continue to progress through my career. My thinking had become rigid and predictable, and thus limited in applicability to the majority of issues that I currently encounter in my management role.

I opted to apply the Strategic SCAN concept by interviewing my manager and each of my peers, using questions and concepts provided in the Strategic SCAN framework. The interviews were one on one and scheduled for 30 minutes in length. I emphasized that I was looking to explore each person’s feelings about their experience through a question-and-answer format and that there could be feelings of vulnerability that come along with such a request. The goal was to triangulate the group’s current situation by assessing what we say we do (procedures and agreements) against what we perceive that we do (interviews) against the third dimension of our results.

For example, to help identify whether our team has a deeper shared purpose to guide us in our decision making, I asked each participant the following questions: 

  • Why does our site exist, and what is our purpose?
  • Do you feel connected to that purpose?
  • Do you think the group is aligned with that purpose?

This relatively simple trio of questions proved to be quite powerful in determining alignment of the team and our perceptions of each other as we work together. We each had a similar definition of our site’s purpose, with predictable nuances that aligned to roles and responsibilities. The overwhelming majority of participants also felt a strong alignment to their stated purpose. Unexpectedly, most participants felt that others were not properly aligned to that purpose. These questions identified that my coworkers and I are passionate and that we connect to a narrative that speaks to “the why” of what we do. This process also helped to uncover an opportunity for our team to focus on improving and increasing our trust in one another as we align ourselves to a deeper shared purpose. Identifying and clarifying that narrative should be a powerful tool that we can use as a guide in our decision-making processes. 

To determine whether the intended recipients of our work want and are able to receive what we offer, I asked each person the following question: Does our group understand who we serve, and do we communicate with them frequently enough to know what they want? I did not expect that we would develop a high level of insight into our ecosystem from this process, and that while we all identified our customers and their beloved patients, many of us serve unique internal and external customers that were not universally understood by the rest of the team. This revealed that we do not share a common understanding of our ecosystem, nor do we fully understand how to reach our customers and their patients in the work we do every day. In addition, nearly all of us agree that we do not communicate with those customers often enough to know what they want. These personal perspectives are powerful in aligning the team to a meaningful mission to reach those we serve, but they are somewhat lost in the day-to day completion of our individual job functions. 

I also underestimated the openness that I encountered in the interview process and the resulting feelings of connection that developed in just 30 minutes. We are simply humans, and these are humans that I have spent thousands of hours with, solving problems and making decisions. We have agreed, disagreed, argued, and celebrated together over the years, but, I had never asked them how they felt, what they were experiencing in our interactions, in what we do for our clients. This simple act of asking about feelings, combined with the direction provided by the Strategic SCAN, resulted in a treasure trove of useful information about our perceptions of purpose, our connection to our customers, and how we work together. This has enormous utility for the group, and it has served as a foundation for our team to continue to work on the factors that contribute to our effectiveness and readiness for the inevitable changes that we will experience together. 

The unexpected result is that this simple, but powerful exercise has shifted my perspective towards recognizing the importance of shared experiences, and it has given me an additional set of tools to apply to what I previously considered intangible problems. 

Not Being Human-centered Destroys Value, for Everyone: Recommended Reading

Hamel, G. and M. Zanini (2020). Humanocracy: Creating Organizations As Amazing As The People Inside Them. Boston, Harvard Business Review Press. [Read chapter 1 for free here.]

The logic is simple. And so is the math. Treat people as less than what they are, and they produce less. Treat people like the creative beings they are, and they creatively generate. Start with a No! towards people, and your results will be net-negative: the system is worse off, with more energy extracted than added. Start with a Yes! towards people, and your results will be net-positive: the system is better off, with more energy added than extracted. Always.

The numbers are now showing this. Everywhere. On the leading edge of showing this, Hamel and Zanini provide the numbers with the whats and the hows to do it. What drives the numbers towards net-negative or towards net-positive. Most of the findings aren’t surprising: it is more surprising that they are findings. And, the findings are very timely, as leaders everywhere struggle to figure out how to manage big changes from a human-centered approach.

In Humanocracy, Hamel and Zanini start by busting the myth that people are resistant to change. “Fact is, we’re change addicts. We have an insatiable appetite for the new. All those changes that are roiling in the work, they’re our doing. We are the agents of upheaval” (p.8). It is not the people who are resistant to change, it is the organizations. Throughout their book, they describe why they think institutional inertia keeps organizations resistant to change and the huge costs that come with that resistance. At the core of their findings, “our organizations are less than fully human, because they were designed to be so” (p.17). “In bureaucracy, human beings are instruments, employed by an organization to create products and services. In a humanocracy, the organization is the instrument–it’s the vehicle human beings use to better their lives and the lives of those they serve. The question at the core of bureaucracy is , ‘How do we get human beings to better serve the organization?’ The question at the heart of humanocracy is, ‘What sort of organization elicits and merits the best that human beings can give?'” (p.20).

Numbers from their book. “We estimate there are 13.45 million managers and the equivalent of 9.5 million employees in the US economy who are producing little to no economic value…Excising bureaucratic deadweight would raise US GDP per employed person from $127,000 (the figure for 2018) to $148,000…If each of these individuals contributed $148,000 to the economy, rather than zero, GDP would increase by roughly $3.4 trillion” (p.59). A big number. Independent of whether GDP is a good measure of human creativity, the point is that treating people as creative beings would unlock huge potential.

In ecosynomic terms, humanocracy shows how to move an organization FROM focusing only on extracting value from others to achieve its own outcomes TO an organization that recognizes the capacities its people contribute and focuses on unlocking their learning and connection to generate far greater value, for everyone. While this blog describes many examples of organizations that are highly developed in engaging the best of humanity towards deep systems transformation, evolving mission-driven impacts, Humanocracy goes for the jugular of the vast majority of organizations that still disengage most of their people, showing how to take the critical and necessary first steps, with lots of examples of practices, with the numbers to back it up. This is a huge first step. I highly recommend this book.

Lopsided Value Generation: Who Is Better Off?

Look, she’s doing well. She made lots of money. Look, they are doing well. We helped them. Are they better off? How do you know?

One way to assess whether someone is better off is to see how much is flowing into their lives. These are inflows. Another way is by looking at what they are able to do, which you can assess through how much is flowing out of their accounts for products and services, for experiences. These are outflows. Whether they are better off can also be looked at by the wealth they accumulate, how much is in the stock of money, things, or experiences they have. This stock goes up when the net flow (inflows minus outflows) is positive–more inflows than outflows–and goes down when the net flow is negative–more outflows than inflows.

While the three ways of looking at better off might all be valid, they tell different stories. Based on what story you want to tell, you would use a different one of these three. They are better off because we gave them inflows. Inflows sound good. More is better. And, to know if someone is better off from the inflow, you need to know their outflow as well. For example, we helped them get 1,000 calories of food. Good. More is better than none. We can also see that these 1,000 calories are to feed 4 people for a day. They need to consume 8,000 calories (4 people times 2,000 calories/day/person). The net flow is still very negative–1,000 in and 8,000 out. They are better off with the inflow, but not enough to cover the outflow. Likewise, we can focus on the outflow narrative. They purchased 8,000 calories of food. Good. Did they have the inflows to cover that, or did they deplete their reserves to do that?

While both the inflow and outflow narratives seem powerful, they are usually partial narratives, often to the benefit of the storyteller. A fuller narrative looks at the stock with the inflows and outflows. They are better off when the stock stabilizes or increases, improving their resiliency, their reserves for a future day, and when their access to inflows is greater than their outflows. To summarize, the stock increases when the net flow increases. You are worse off, now and going forward, when that stock decreases. You are better off, now and going forward, when that stock stabilizes or increases.

That is a focus on the individual. Expanding the view to include multiple individuals, a different question arises. When these individuals interact, who is better off? We can look at their stocks, their accumulations of inflows and outflows.

Most better-off narratives focus on the inflows, outflows, or stocks of one of the individuals in the mix. Rarely do they focus on the net effect of the interaction on all of the individuals in the mix. They avoid telling the fuller story. Look at the massive amount of press on the accumulated wealth of the rich. Or how they helped the poor. All of these narratives focus on one of the inflows or outflows or stocks, not on the whole mix.

To know if people are better off because of someone’s actions, a simple thing to ask is whether all of the individuals in the mix are better off. At time zero, this was what was in each person’s stock. After the action taken, at time one, this is what is in each person’s stock. If all of the stocks have increased, everyone is better off. If one or more of the stocks have increased, and others have decreased, then that value was taken from one and given to another. It was redistributed. The total amount of value in all of the stocks stayed the same, moving some from one person to another. This is extraction. People don’t like extractive narratives, so they tell the story of how one person’s stock increased. They don’t tell you where it came from. Did it come from an overall increase in everyone’s stock or by extracting it from one person’s stock?

A straightforward calculation of the total amount in everyone’s stock is to look at the Total Value Generated for those involved in the ecosystem of the interaction. Sum up the stocks of all those involved at time zero. Sum up all of the stocks at time one. Is the value generated in each person’s greater? Is the total sum of the value generated greater? If yes, then everyone involved in the interaction is better off. If no, then someone gained at the other’s expense.

It is often challenging to know which scenario is playing out in a story you are being told. More value generated for all or extracted from some for others. Often this is because they are telling you about specific inflows or outflows or stocks, and not about the net effect on all involved. An easy way to do this is to talk about outputs instead of outcomes or impacts. This is what we did, our output. It hides what happened, the outcome, what that did, the impact of the net effect on everyone involved in the interaction.

Northwestern professor Gillespie and Harvard professor Bazerman formulate this as parasitic integration, where a win-win agreement contains losers. The net effect of the interaction is lopsided. Someone gains from the others. It might be a win-win for some, but not for all.

By asking the question of the Total Value Generated, you are providing a principle that suggests that a person’s actions within any ecosystem can leave the whole ecosystem better off. Instead of accepting the narrative of how someone is better off because she made lots of money, you can ask the question of whether she is better off because what she did increased the value for everyone involved.

This could change your understanding of what actually happened. Did you buy the food because it was cheap, or was the food cheap because the people doing the work were underpaid and the quality of the food was very low? Or was the food cheap because the company figured out how to profitably pay the workers well for high quality food, in a way that was less expensive to you. Were you and the company lopsidedly better off, while the workers were not, or was everyone better off?

By measuring the Total Value Generated, you can look at the Value Generated for each person (the net effect on their stock of their inflows and outflows) and for the whole of those people involved in the ecosystem. If the Value Generated for each increases, they are all better off because of what you did. A more efficient interaction.

Flourishing from Work: Good or Bad for Business? For You?: Recommended Readings

Clifton, J. and J. Harter (2021). Wellbeing at Work: How to Build Resilient and Thriving Teams. New York, Gallup Press. Dig in a little deeper here.

Pirson, M. (2017). Humanistic Management : Protecting Dignity and Promoting Well-being. New York, Cambridge University Press.

Pope Francis (2015). Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’ of The Holy Father Francis on Care for Our Common Home. Città del Vaticano, Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

Sisodia, R. and M. J. Gelb (2019). The Healing Organization: Awakening the Conscience of Business to Help Save the World. New York, HarperCollins Leadership.

Wiener, N. (1954). The Human Use of Human Beings. Cambridge, MA, Da Capo Press.

Can you flourish from work? Because of work? Is flourishing from work good for business? Or is it bad for business? What about for you?

While a lot of people are talking about flourishing at work today, there is no consensus. Many people think it is either (1) inefficient to bring feelings and vulnerability into the rational process of efficiently converting inputs into outputs someone will value, or (2) it is just plain dangerous to do so. And, there is growing evidence that flourishing at work leads to flourishing in life. So, what is flourishing at work, and how does that flourishing impact business results? These five books address these questions, providing many case studies and lots of data, from across the globe on what flourishing is, how high-performing organizations are evolving their capacity for flourishing at work, and why this is required to address some of humanity’s large-scale issues. Let’s explore the five books, briefly, by alphabetical order of the authors.

Clifton and Harter synthesize lots of data gathered recently by the Gallup organization, looking at their five elements of wellbeing (career, social, financial, physical, community), with chapters dedicated to lots of data and examples about what healthier and higher performance looks like. They also frame four risks of NOT creating a net-thriving culture, as well as provide a roadmap for you to take on your own net thriving. Very accessible.

Pirson interweaves scholarly research in business with classic philosophy to build a framework for thinking about a more humanistic management, putting human dignity and well-being at the core of business practice and research. For those seeking to frame why and how they are proposing more humanistic ways to manage their business, Pirson provides an entry way to that logic, peppered with references to robust thinking about why and how a humanistic approach is more powerful.

Pope Francis’s 2015 encyclical Lauato Si’ puts the flourishing human being, in community, at the center of the process for dealing with massive issues in our common home, our living earth. Our current choices are damaging this common home, which is causing a decline in the quality of human life and the breakdown of society. There is another path, of creativity, collaboration, and dialog. The consequences of flourishing from our organizations might be our capacity to creatively collaborate on addressing these massive challenges to our common home.

Sisodia and Gelb find that not only can people flourish at work, how we come together can actually be healing. Healing individually and as groups. Across companies and communities. They provide many examples of groups that are thriving and having huge impact, through their healing processes at work.

In his classic piece, Wiener shows how understanding humans as living feedback systems emboldens how organizations and society might engage them. People are more “patterns that perpetuate themselves” than “stuff that abides,” capable of extending themselves through their attention and intention into greater-than-self purposes. While quite technical and theoretical, at the founding of cybernetics, Wiener provides solid and simple frameworks to remember that people are amazing, evolving beings, and using them as cogs in a machine is a huge waste.

From the very practical to the very theoretical, from the very grounded to the very spiritual, these five books suggest that we humans can indeed flourish from work, and that human flourishing is good for business and good for you.

Leadership for Flourishing

Reimagine leadership as empowering human flourishing. A group of us have come together, from across the globe, to work on this. Human flourishing, leadership, character, and actual impact.

How do these elements fit together? Do people who figure this out and practice this every day do better? These are the questions we are asking. Find out more about how by visiting us at https://www.leadershipforflourishing.com.

You can also see an overview of this emerging thinking in the free online “Leadership for Flourishing” course offered by our colleagues at the Oxford Character Project and the Harvard Human Flourishing Program.

Guest Post — The Science Behind Our Yes!

What is the science behind your Yes!?  

For those of you who prefer audio or video, Maureen and I explore this in a radio interview.  If you prefer text, Lou and I explore this in a blogpost.

We welcome your insights.

Measuring Success 2.0: Recommended Readings

Keller, S. and B. Schaninger (2019). Beyond Performance 2.0: A Proven Approach to Leading Large-Scale Change. Hoboken, NJ, Wiley.

Phelps, E. (2013). Mass Flourishing: How Grass Roots Innovation Created Jobs, Challenge, and Change. Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press.

Stiglitz, J. E., et al. (2019). Measuring What Counts: The Global Movement for Well-being. New York, The New Press.

Nobel laureates in economics, economists, and strategy consultants. They have spent many years thinking about how society today measures success. They all suggest that today’s “obvious” measures of success miss huge amounts of value. They leave most of the value on the table. They even plain miss the mark. Basically, we are measuring the wrong things, in that the things we measure don’t tell us what we want to know.

We want to know both how well something has done and its capacity to keep doing this. Its performance and its health. Our current measures of performance focus mostly on performance–how well we did. We made money, we scored a goal, we got a 10/10 on the exam, we were promoted. This performance data only tells how we did. It doesn’t tell us anything about how we got the resources we used, how well we used them, or whether we can continue to get them. In other words, these performance measures don’t tell us whether we extracted all of the value out of the system to get our past results, or we have nourished an even richer system from which we can continue to produce great results. Did we extract value from the future to get results in the past, or did we generate a rich future while performing well in the past?

A common measure of sustainability looks at the net value an ecosystem generates today and its capacity to continue to do that in the future. In simple evaluation, this is called the net present value. The value generated now plus the potential values generated in the future, discounted by the risk of getting to that future. The performance these authors look at measures what we have done. The health they look at measures what we will be able to do. To know whether we are better off, now, we need to our performance and health. These authors plow through massive amounts of data, from the very macro to the very micro, to show how measuring performance and health leads to far better outcomes and far higher well-being.

McKinsey consultants Keller and Schaninger show that a robust, comprehensive organizational health index guides an organization towards strategies and actions that generate greater performance over time. This provides a way for aligning the organization internally, with higher quality execution and constant renewal. The practices that support organizational health also lead to greater awareness of one’s environment and the capacity to respond to changes in it, leading to more probable and greater performance.

Economists Stiglitz, Fitoussi, and Durand show that macro-economic initiatives guided by well-being are far more successful than GDP-only designs. They use data to show why we need to move beyond GDP, compiling many examples of how different countries are integrating well-being into their measurement systems.

Economist Phelps finds that prosperity is best measured by flourishing, the ability of people to engage their fullest capacities in a a task, as well as their ability to express themselves creatively, growing into their greater potential. While these factors are critical to understanding what has driven past growth and technological development, they are not usually included today in economic thinking. They need to be.

To measure our success, from the very micro level of individuals to the very macro level of whole societies, we are better off when we understand and evolve the systems we have that drive our performance, managing them in ways that continuously increase the health of these very systems. Performance and health are not tradeoffs, extracting the value from one for the other, rather they are indicators of the generativity of the system, and indicative of the underlying agreements than support that performance and health. These are great reads, full of data, with clear frameworks for what we can measure going forward.

Your Grit (perseverance and passion): 4 Levels

In this podcast, Freakonomics UChicago economist Steven Levitt explores “grit” with Grit UPenn psychologist Angela Duckworth. Characterizing grit as perseverance and passion, they explore different ways people think of their own grit. Listening to this podcast, having reading Duckworth’s book, I realized that you could think of grit from an ecosynomic perspective from four different levels.

Noun level, where I focus on agreements based in what is already finished. At the noun level, grit (nGrit) is about my own node, the immediate space around my own self. I have an executable goal that I can achieve with my existing capacities. I have enough grit to read a book today, or climb that mountain this week.

Verb-noun level, where I pay attention to agreements based on what I am developing in relationships and capacities (verbs), as well as the outcomes (nouns). At the verb-noun level, grit (vnGrit) is about my own node and its links to other nodes. I have an intermediate-level, developmental goal, that I achieve as I grow. I have enough grit to strengthen my capacity to read more and more deeply, or climb that mountain, coming out stronger than I started.

Light-verb-noun level, where I focus on agreements based in my beingness, my potential, what I am becoming as I develop relationships and capacities, and the outcomes of that tangibilizing process. At the light-verb-noun level, grit (lvnGrit) is about my node, links to other nodes, and the centers of the circles of linked nodes. I have what Duckworth refers to as a top-level goal, often a deeper shared purpose to which I have the grit to contribute, that is in my potential to grow into being able to achieve. I can see that I will be able to read ever-more challenging books, and even begin to write books. I can see that I could climb ever-more challenging mountains, and maybe in different ways.

Ecosystems-of-sacred-hospitality level, where I focus on agreements based in the deeper purpose I feel called to serve. At the ecosystems-of-sacred-hospitality level, grit (eshGrit) is about the liminal space generated by the double pull of transcendence away from herenow and immanence completely in herenow. In my grit, I have an existential-master goal, which defines and guides every aspect of who I am and what I do. I am in service to reading or climbing, continuously in the process of cotangibilizing my service to that purpose, evolving what I understand is in my potential to realize along the way.

Grit. Perseverance and passion. What that means to me depends on what I see as my reality. Nouns only. Nouns and verbs. Nouns, verbs, and light. Ecosystems of sacred hospitality. Each level of reality engages orders of magnitude more grit, all which is inside of me to choose.

Purpose Is Now Mainstream-Obvious

Our colleagues on the mainstream’s leading edge have now taken up “purpose” in a serious way. Purpose is no longer a nice-to-have, leading-fringe thing. It is not just for the systems thinkers and esoterically-oriented leaders out there. Connecting to the motivating reason that organizes everyone’s efforts in an efficient, effective way generates much greater value. People who do not know why they do what they do are now proven to be far less efficient and effective. Not good.

Finding your deeper shared purpose is straightforward to do. Mostly it takes you asking. Why do we actually do what we do? What gets us up in the morning, really? What gets our creative juices flowing?

The data-driven folks, with access to a large percentage of the organizations in the world, are now proving that purpose has come mainstream.  The benefits far outstrip the costs.  Leading thinkers at McKinsey have shown that if you do not help your employees find purpose, they will leave. The global survey folks at Gallup show that you need to start with purpose to get your people’s best performance.  The global consultancy Deloitte suggests that purpose-driven companies are built to flourish.  Even the medical establishment is getting on board, showing that people who do not connect to their purpose die earlier.