Organizational Vibrancy and the Agreements that Drive It

Vibrancy This post is written by Dani Robbins, guest blogger and co-author of the Innovative Leadership Workbook for Nonprofit Executives.

Many nonprofits operate on a model of scarcity. There’s often not enough money, staff or stuff and many decisions get made through the lens of cost. What if there was another way?

Maureen Metcalf, leadership expert and co-author of the Innovative Leadership Fieldbook and workbook series, which includes our book the Innovative Leadership Workbook for Nonprofit Executives, recently invited me to a Vibrancy Workshop facilitated by Jim Ritchie-Dunham from the Institute for Strategic Clarity. Maureen only invites me to transformational trainings so I was delighted to accept!

Jim started out talking about environments that are difficult, which the group defined as situations in which we don’t feel valued, in workplaces that don’t allow us to be our full selves, working for or with people that don’t allow us to thrive, or even think for ourselves. He contrasted (I just had a flash back to my HS English class) that with environments that do; workplaces where we’re excited to be, doing work that we find meaningful, surrounded by people who value our input.

How do you feel when thinking about those two environments?

Put your hands out. Using your hands as a scale, I want you to consider your left hand the difficult situations and your right hands to be the supportive environments. Raise the hand that reflects how you spend much of your time.

Is your left hand higher that your right? Jim would tell you that is because of agreements you, consciously or unconsciously, made.  If you change the agreements, you change the experience, which changes the outcome.

I can hear you out there shaking your head and saying, “I didn’t agree to that.” Some of us agree with our feet, which stay firmly planted where they are, despite our unhappiness. Some of us agree with our words. Some of us with our work, that is disengaged and below what we could do, if we were only supported the way we should. And some of us take our marbles and find another, more vibrant place to be.

Jim said that places in which we can thrive and people with whom we do thrive are described in words of light: Vibrant. Brilliant. Sunny. Bright.

Lack of Vibrancy is the price of not bringing out the best in everyone. When we do that, everyone loses. Vibrant is a long way away from the situation you were thinking about when you raised your left hand. How do we get to vibrant from darkness?

First question: Is the situation you’re in what you believe is the best situation for you?

No?

What does the next level look like?

First stop: find people and situations that are positive deviants. It means exactly what you think: people who are succeeding (positive) despite not following the rules (deviants).

None of us want to be average, right? We know someone in some organization somewhere who is breaking all the rules and, somehow, still excelling at everything they do.

Jim then said something that I loved. He said if you can see it – figuratively or actually – you can become it.  You have to step into the potential.

Abundance is the idea that if: they can, you can, and we all can. It’s creative collaboration. Change the agreement; change the experience; change the outcome.

Life doesn’t have to be a zero sum game. I don’t have to lose for you to win. You’re not competing against me anyway. You’re competing against yourself, or you should be.

We are all responsible for our own work. If we agree to that, hold people to those agreements and set up our organizations accordingly, we would be vibrant and our organizations and our world would be abundant!

This description is just a taste of a comprehensive framework to help us evaluate our agreements and create more vibrant organizations for ourselves, our colleagues, teams and clients. Vibrant organizations have happier people who produce significantly better results.

I found this material fascinating and am using it regularly as I notice what agreements are driving my actions. I am also using it with my clients. Because I now understand that I can change the agreement; change the experience; change the outcome.  And so can you.

It is simple, obvious even – and also very powerful.

If you are interested in learning more about what this can look like, take a look at this 20 minute video about Thorlo, a vibrant company. Who would guess that one of our positive deviants is a sock company that does all of its manufacturing in the US, pays its staff well above average for similar work in the same field  and is also highly profitable? Thorlo deviates from the expectation that producing off shore is required. They have a work environment that is different than most people get to experience. They are an example of positive deviants and they are thriving!

If you are interested in learning more, please visit www.harmonicvibrancy.com or contact us.

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible,  iHeartRADIO, and NPR One.  Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

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Photo credit: www.flickr.com – Bruce McKay

Is My Company Vibrant? A Case Study

Metcalf Survey ResultsI 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 that evaluated the vibrancy of my company. Terri is one of those people who is always involved in something interesting so I responded quickly. 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. Jim is the President of the Institute for Strategic Clarity and an Adjunct Researcher at Harvard University.

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.

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 tagline 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 of working with a client.

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible,  iHeartRADIO, and NPR One.  Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

 

How Vibrant Is Your Organization?

Organizational VibrancyIn this post, we invite you to experience greater organizational vibrancy and business results. We define organizational vibrancy and invite you to get involved by taking a vibrancy assessment. An understanding of vibrancy along with your assessment scores will support you in choosing agreements that allow you to flourish.

Mike runs a highly successful organization that has made significant progress against its strategic goals over the past 18 months. Now, the leadership team is looking forward to determining what they need to put in place organizationally (and what barriers they need to remove) to accomplish some very aggressive goals. To support this process, Mike asked the leadership team to take the organizational vibrancy assessment. Each leader provided an individual response and the data were synthesized to create an organizational picture from which he determined recommended organizational changes. These results are part of the next leadership off-site to plan for the upcoming year. The information gathered was very helpful in identifying very specific actions and will also help leaders revise how they look at organizational change. One of the most valuable elements of the vibrancy assessment is helping leaders change their paradigm about leading change to be more comprehensive.

Organizational Vibrancy. We know the positive feeling we experience in places we love to go, homes we enjoy visiting, conversations we relish. We call this experience of vitality “exuberance and flourishing community vibrancy.” People feel it and seek greater vibrancy, whether consciously or subconsciously, to guide their interactions with others. To enable organizations to attract and retain the best talent, and engage in the most effective business practices, Jim Ritchie-Dunham, President and researcher at the Institute for Strategic Clarity and an adjunct researcher at Harvard, created a study to identify key factors that could help us improve our overall organizational vibrancy and outcomes. You can use the survey findings to guide your actions in improving your organizational vibrancy. This study is part of Dr. Ritchie-Dunham’s ongoing research—with his very talented research team— and is being offered at no cost to you, your organization, or participants in your organization.

Why Care? By understanding where your organization excels and where it falls short, you will be able to address challenges and build on your strengths to create more vibrancy and greater success. Our goal is to support vibrant, sustainable organizations that will attract and retain the best talent, and continue to build a sustainable community that will renew itself for the next 100 years and beyond.

Questions. If people care about the vibrancy they experience in an organization, and it is an attractor for business and talent, what are its characteristics? Can people discern higher and lower levels of it? What is the role of leadership in the experience of vibrancy in a group? Do all groups within an organization have access to this higher vibrancy or does it depend on the resources the group has?  Does this higher vibrancy lead to stronger, more sustainable outcomes?

What We See. Jim Ritchie-Dunham and the research team from the Institute for Strategic Clarity, including leaders from diverse disciplines, have surveyed over 1,400 individuals about the groups in which they participate. The survey participants and the data told an interesting story. In some of the groups, the survey participants experienced total scarcity, in others some scarcity and some vibrancy, and in still others, they experienced deep vibrancy. They told us that in the groups where they experienced greater vibrancy, they also experienced a higher quality in the group’s leadership. They also shared that where they experienced greater overall vibrancy, they experienced a greater connection to five key elements:

  1. self
  2. others
  3. the group
  4. process of innovation
  5. source of creativity

The interesting and counter-intuitive finding is that these relationships are experienced at similar levels of health: when any relationship is strong, the others are also relatively strong, and when any relationship is weak, the other relationships are also relatively weak.

Implications. These findings fly directly in the face of prevailing theories of economics, where one relationship (e.g., the self, the other, the group, nature, spirit) prevails over all relationships. If there are, indeed, groups where people experience a deeper vibrancy, and these groups seem to have similar characteristics, what does this mean for how we engage in groups together? Can we, as an organization, identify these characteristics and the organizations that have them? How do we share best practices with other groups within the community to raise the overall community vibrancy measure? How do we create tools to help organizations within our community increase their vibrancy, as the drive to improved vibrancy will happen with one organization at a time?

How Will We Do This in the Long Term? We are just undertaking the data-gathering phase of this plan. After we have a comprehensive picture of our organizational vibrancy across seven key dimensions, we will create a more concrete action plan with our clients. Our initial plan includes the following:

  • Gather data using the vibrancy assessment
  • Identify top performing organizations across multiple sectors (city and state government, business and nonprofit)
  • Create an approach for top-performing organizations to share their best practices, and continue to share best practices and tools
  • Create tools for medium and lower-performing organizations that will allow them to become high-performing organizations (the nature of the tools and method of sharing will depend on the survey results and interest among participants). We will ask for your input to

Next Steps.  Invest 10 to 15 minutes to take the free survey. If you are unable to click the link from this document, please cut and paste http://instituteforstrategicclarity.org/take-the-survey/ into your browser.

What You Get Back Personally.  For everyone who takes the online assessment, you will receive an online response that contains a spider chart of seven key dimensions (relationship to self, other, group, process of innovation, source of creativity, leadership quality, and group well-being)

Follow-up Actions upon Study Completion. Jim Ritchie-Dunham has agreed to do the initial data collection and feedback at no charge to the participants. He will use this data to build his research database. Should you choose to take action after the data collection, we will formulate a proposal for the next steps based on the survey findings and report feedback. There is no obligation to engage in follow-up work.

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible,  iHeartRADIO, and NPR One.  Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.