Three Turns

072

Near the end of my father's career, the company for whom he had worked for over 35 years, was purchased, and, not so slowly, its assets drawn off and exploited for use by the parent company.

I remember him telling me of the day that he was on a management recruiting trip in Pennsylvania, and received a phone call that the company was not going to make payroll that week. He returned home to help usher through the closing of the company and be the last executive remaining as he handled the outstanding employee medical and benefit claims against the company. He was of an age where he could retire. It was a sad day for him. He had worked for the company his entire career. 

My dad's story is not unusual. It is symptomatic of the time we are living in. I thought of my father as I watched last year's under-appreciated film, The Company Men.  It is a story of executives and their families coping with change as their corporation goes through a series of downsizes simply to raise the share price. Like my father's experience, the film illustrates a very common experience of change. Here's a clip of a meeting where decisions are being made as to who is to be let go.

 

This has become a very normal experience for people. Even with a nice severance package, the emotional trauma of being fired is something that doesn't quickly go away. What lies behind this approach to quantifying the value of a company is a way of thinking about organizations that I believe is ultimately destructive rather than a path to sustainability.  The logical outcome from over a century of this way of thinking has been the narrowing of the value of a company to something short term and specifically related to its financial value.

Consider the executive's rationale for downsizing staff and eliminating a division of the company in this exchange between Tommy Lee Jones and Craig T. Nelson's characters from the movie. .

Nelson: "Stock is stalled and revenue is flat."

Jones: "Entire economy is flat. We are in the middle of a recession."

N: "I only closed two of the shipyards. Should have closed all three of them. Stock is in the toilet."

J: "Everybody's stock is in the toilet."

N: "Well, the stockholders would like to see their share value maximized."

J: "Heh, Heh, Heh, Well ... sell the Degas'. ... three thousand jobs?"

N: "Gene, we aren't some little shipyard any more. I'm not going to keep pouring money into a losing operation."

J: "We innovate, retool ..."

N: "American heavy manufacturing is dead. Steel, auto, shipbuilding ... the future is in healthcare infrastructure and power generation."

J: "I have to be involved in any decision that affects one of my divisions."

N: "You wouldn't have approved the cut. ... You'd go behind my back to the board again, right?"

J: "They were good people, Jim."

Both men are backed up against a wall. They are caught by a way of thinking about the value of companies that worked in times where growth was relatively assured. Now, the competition is tougher, more astute and far more flexible in their ability to adapt to changing circumstances.

Do you think they could have seen this coming? I'm not sure. It goes back to how to you determine the value of a company. I'm not talking about how Wall Street values it, but the people who are touched by the company in some manner. How do they value the company?

Can the value of a company be reduced to one thing, like the share price, or the charismatic leadership of the CEO or a design innovation? Or is the value embedded in the whole structure and context of the organization?

We are in a time of global transition in all aspects of life. Short-term, reductive, passive aggressive, reactive thinking is not going to lead us out of a recession into a new era of peace and prosperity. Instead, we need to realize that our approach is failing, and that we need a new way to think about how organizations function. It must start with the willingness to be different, to think differently, and invest in changes that provide for long term development.

The Context of Change

The ancient Greeks had a word for change which is metanoia. Literally, it means a change of mind, but it has come to mean something much larger and more comprehensive. Metanoia points to a change of orientation, perspective and direction.  There is a sense in the meaning that the change of mind is accompanied by some regret. So the change, upon reflection, is a choice to follow a different path. People choosing to turn toward different values and new ways of expressing them.  Metanoia is a change that embraces the whole person, the mind, feelings and will, and is expressed in action that is change.

This change of mind is an awareness that the path we have been on is no longer sustainable. As I wrote in my post, The End and The Beginning, this change marks an end of an era in several ways. The nature of this redirection means that the recent past is no longer an adequate guide for understanding what we must do in the future. As I began in that post,

What if our past experience instead of illuminating the future, obscures it? What if the way we have always approached a problem, or the conduct of a single day, or the organization of our work makes it more likely that we end up not accomplishing what we envision?

The continuity between the recent past and the near future has broken down. This is a turning point for us. The 20th century may provide our most immediate experiential memory, but for the purpose of understanding the future, it is now ancient history.

Reflect upon the attacks on 9/11, our response to them, and the global recession of past three years, and our response to it. Can you see how the tried-and-true methods of the last century have not worked. Neither peace nor prosperity are being restored, in fact, the world is less peaceful and prosperous than it was a decade ago. Terrorism maybe contained upon our shores, but it still festers in places of poverty throughout the world.

Fear, doubt and diminishment in the confidence in our leaders and institutions are increasing.  Greater diversity, interconnectivity, and, yes, even greater business efficiencies, are not answering the question about what it is that we must do.

We are now at a crossroads that requires metanoia, a change that is comprehensive and whole. This change of mind requires us to begin to see businesses as a whole organizations, rather than as a collection of interchangeable, discardable, transferable, value-specific parts. The company in The Company Men was dying because it too, like my father's company, was just a collection of assets to be exploited. There is no future in this way of thinking. To have a future requires us to change our minds and see things differently.

Three Turns 

To change our minds, we need to make Three Turns of perception, understanding and orientation. 

The Moral Turn  In the first clip from The Company Men, above, Tommy Lee Jones' character raises questions about the selection of people to be let go. His response, that there is an ethical question involved, is met with a legalistic answer. 

By reducing the decision to a question of share price and what is required under the law, the company is not just making a business decision, but also a moral choice.

What is a company that no longer manufactures its products?  Is it now a money machine for its share holders as long as the money holds out?

The moral turn is first and foremost about the purpose or mission of the company. 

Does a company whose actual purpose is share price encourage confidence and trust?

Does a company whose primary focus is share price understand its connection to the people who work in the business and the communities where they are physically located?

Is a company more than its financials?

Does a company have a responsibility that goes beyond i ts shareholders, and what is defined by what is strictly legal?

Every organization exists in a context that is greater than the sum of the parts of the organization. There is a culture that is physical, ideological, technological and social.

For example, what distinguishes an insurance company in London to one based in Sao Paulo or Detroit is geography and culture. Yes, they each ofter insurance plans. Yes, they each have customers. Yes, they each generate revenue. The difference is the local context that helps to define the culture of the business.

As a result ...

a company is not primarily its mission or purpose, but its values that are embedded in ideas and relationships within the context, culture and structure of the organization. 

Values permeate the whole of the business, including those persons and organizations outside of the business who are influenced by it. Values inform its purpose, its vision of impact, its relationships with all those who are touched by the company, and how the company measures its impact.

The mission of a company is a product of its values.

When the purpose of the company is more than its financial value to shareholders, it is no longer, just a reservoir of assets to be exploited, but a context in which to create the future.  

Recently I heard a presenter during in an organizational development  workshop describe organizations that are mission driven as organizations on the rise. He used a diagram similar to this one that I use to describe organizations in transition.

Transition Point - without Title
When a company reaches a point of maturity or stabilization or equilibrium, the importance of its mission as a guide often fades. What follows is an increasing focus on its financial assets as its primary purpose. The presenter was convinced that once an organization shifts from a mission focus to a financial focus, it has entered a stage of decline.  In effect, they no longer see how a company can grow, but rather be sold. 

The moral turn that a company needs to make is to reaffirm its values and reestablish its mission as the driving force of the company as a whole.

The Social Turn  When the value of a company is reduced to its share price, the company loses the value that exists within its social structure. Not every member of the organization benefits from a rise in the share price. As a result, the company fragments into internally competitive parts to see who will survive the company's disintegration.

For example, as a Boston Red Sox fan for over 45 years, I was particularly disappointed in their collapse this year. It was not that old patterns of attitudes and behaviors that had hampered the team in the past had returned. Rather, it was the squandering of the talent and potential that existed on paper, at least, at the beginning of the season.

By all appearances, the social environment of the team is the core reason for their decline. At the beginning of the season, they were the odds on favorite to win the World Series. Great pitching, the acquisition of two all-star hitters, and a coaching staff that had produced two World Series championships held great promise for the upcoming season. Yet all that collapsed into a mess in what appears to be based in a collective selfishness and lack of accountability for the team's social environment and on field performance.

The Social Turn is the recovery of the human dimension in organizations. As human beings we are social beings through which our individuality develops. Much of the fragmentation of modern business organizations isolates individuals and business units into individualized roles that make collaborative team work more difficult. As a result, the connections that exist between people in the workplace are treated as having marginal value. 

Structural Hole 2

In The Company Men, when Ben Affleck is fired, the stated reason is that his position is redundant. In effect, the company was recouping a cost that it viewed was exceptional rather than necessary.  The company also loses in this kind of fragmenting of the social structure of the business. Affleck's character was not just a person in a cubicle, but was a connection point in a network of relationships that provided information and influence beyond the company. The value may be redundant, but it is a redundancy that creates strength and resilience, not weakness.

Social fragmentation is not just found in businesses, but in global society at large. Its destructiveness finds its way into companies and organizations, weakening their ability to marshal the talent that exists. The Social Turn is one that values relationships of honor, respect, humility, trust and mutual reciprocity. These values function to create a social fabric that allows for diversity and interconnectivity that creates the sustainability that businesses and communities need.

The Structural Turn The industrial model of business was conceptualized around the idea that a business is filled with a few smart people and a lot of laborers. The world has changed, yet the structures of organizations have not. Still the structure is a hierarchy of decision-makers "leading" a larger number of decision-implementers.

This approach does not work as well as it once did. Here are just a few reasons.

1. Technology levels the information playing field.

2. Advances in public education, and the expansion of higher education has created a society of workers who are much better informed and equipped to do decision-making type work.

3. The complexity of working in a global environment of diverse cultures makes it more difficult for a few people to know everything they need to know about the issues that confront their business.

4. The skills required for leadership and management of business are much more accessible to far more people than every before.

5. Hierarchical structures are organized for control through compartmentalization and standardization.

The Structure Turn that is taking place elevates personal initiative, network collaboration, and adaptive learning as the keys to the organization and leadership of businesses.

Instead of a structure organized around compartmentalized roles and defined areas of responsibility, the emerging structure is an open environment where the skills and resources needed for the work of the business is acquired through a network relationship structure.

In this structure each person is responsible for the whole of the project, not just their segment. Each person can function in the role of leader, while not having a title as one.

In this networked structure, the premium skills are placed upon thinking skills that are both analytical and intuitive.

As I recently commented to Dana Leman of RandomKid,

"Imagine Proctor & Gamble without bosses and managers, and everyone is a leader."

Leadership ceases to be a title, and becomes a set of behaviors and attitudes that all share. For the character of this kind of leadership to take root, it requires changing the structure.

Structure - Collaborative into Hierarchy
The Structural Turn is towards an organizational culture where people are free to create and contribute, to communicate, to initiate and to pitch in where they see a need.  Instead of being doers of assigned responsibilities, they are facilitators and problem solvers.
In many companies, this kind of structure is developing. However, it must happen at the senior level for the turn to be successful.

How would the company in The Company Men function differently if they operated under a network structure?

1. More people would be engaged in meaningful reflection about the challenges facing the company because they knew that had an actual stake in its success.

2. Innovation would be more prevalent as employees practiced a higher level of leadership initiative and problem solving.

3. New business applications through employee ingenuity would expand the number and range of revenue streams the company has.

4. The company would be unified behind its shared values and mission.

5. The company would be a more attractive place for the top talent to work.

6. The company could more easily adapt to financial downturns.

7. Communities would be vying for the opportunity for the company to create a local operation.

The central message of the Three Turns is for your mission to drive change in the company, centered around values that unite people to create a shared company culture of trust, personal initiative, and a desire to contribute to the company's success. When this happens, the turn from hierarchical structure to a network one can take place as a natural evolution of the company.


Organizational Obsolescence

IMG_1161

Walk into most book stores, and look at the books on leadership that line the shelves, and you'll see very few that address the actual organizational structure of a business. If there are, the focus is primarily about measuring performance, not about how the business is structured.  As valuable as quality programs are, as change mechanisms, they are incremental at best if the real need is a reinvention of the culture and purpose of the business.

The chief problem affecting organizational performance today is not the ability of people to perform, but the structure within which they do so. 

This video is a snap shot of a conversation between two military officers. We have two cultures clashing in this conversation. One is the culture of the careerist who is a slave to the structure of the system. The other culture is of the leader who understands the organization's mission (which is not the perpetuation of the structure) and the leadership of the people who serve to achieve that mission.

If you are familiar with the HBO mini-series Generation Kill ( I highly recommend it.) you'll see these same two cultures colliding. You see the officer corps who are concerned about the unit's mission (which is in effect is reduced to their concerns about their own career advancement and longevity) and the NCO culture, where the concern is for the men who are charged with the dangerous mission that combat soldiers have.

The bureaucratic structure that constrains many large, complex organizations requires dramatic levels of change in order to function well in the future.

Network-Hierarchy Image
This image is one I've used before as a way to visualize a collaborative team working within a traditional hierarchical structure. Hierarchy does not necessarily exclude collaboration. Rather, when the system has turned in on itself to the point that the organization's mission is now the perpetuation the its structure, then you end up having the clash of cultures that is seen in the video.

The longer I work with issues affecting leaders the more convinced I am that structure is the last frontier of organizational development. There are three things to say about this.

1. The structure of an organization exists to serve the mission and the people who are employed to bring to fulfillment. 

It is a tool. Nothing more. To make it more brings it into conflict with the organization's mission. Yet, what I see is structure dictating what the mission should be, and how people are to function with in it. The structure of a business exists to facilitate the leadership of each individual member of the organization. By leadership, I mean the personal initiative that each person takes in collaboration with others to fulfill the mission of the organization. 

2. Structure is ultimately determined by leadership.

If a structure functions as it does in the animation above, then it is because the leadership of the system has allowed it to degenerate to that point. The relation between executive leadership and structure is a moral one. As a tool, structure serves a purpose. Just as a hammer can drive a nail into a board to build a house, it can also break a window to steal a briefcase from a car. The hammer remains what it is. It is the human use of that tool that determines its moral value.

3. Structures, not aligned with the organization's mission, and not open to the individual leadership of its members, will ultimately fail.

There is no such reality that a structure is too big to fail. They are failing all around us. Evidenced by the disparities in compensation, high unemployment rates, and the inability of many organizations to adapt to a changing economic environment.

The Leadership Question for 2011.

As we begin a new year, I want to raise some questions that we all reflect upon during the coming year.

Is your business structure obsolete?

Are your employees reflecting enthusiasm, independent initiative, collaborative decision-making and a passion for mission?

As the senior leader of your business, are you a liberating force for change or a careerist seeking to maximize your own personal benefit from a broken, declining system?

If any of these are true, then you need to take some time to consider what your alternatives are.

Every structure is just a tool. Resolve, then, to develop the very best structure to serve your business.

The challenge is before us all. The time to address these issues is now.


The Common Ground of Shared Responsibility

Creating an effective business structure is a very difficult proposition. I am not talking about a business or marketing plan. I referring to how a business is structured so that it functions well. 3Cs of Alignment - image

As you know, I look at this challenge through the lens of the Circle of Impact. My sense is that we need to foster alignment between the three dimensions of leadership - Ideas, Relationships and Structure. We do this by focusing on the conditions that create effective Communication, Collaboration and Coordination.

For me this is a baseline from which all organizations need to begin. What happens beyond that is a change in the function of each of the dimensions.

Communication ceases to be a major problem; your message gets out; and work related issues seemed to be less intractable.

Collaboration grows, new ideas emerge from the improvement of relationships, and the organization needs to change to accomodate a higher level of engagement and initiative by people.

Coordination, though, lags in improvement across departments, remote sites, and programs. The reason is that the system of organizaiton is always the last to change. It has the highest resistance to adapting to changing circumstances.  As a result, the optimism that initially rose as communication and collaboration grew also begins to lag. 

After a few months or years, a growing impression of either being at a plateau or in Transition Pointdecline begins to be discussed openly.  Whether rightly or wrongly, the perception that the organization has reached a Transition Point begins to take hold.

In reflection, we can see that the easiest things to change, did.  New, fresh, inspiring ideas infused new confidence and motivation in people, impacting how they communicated and collaborated together. This is what is happening in many organizations.

The jump from one inspiring idea to the next ends up artificially propping up the emotional commitment of people to the company and their relationships together.This is not sustainable.

The resistance of the organization's structure to change remains the primary obstacle to a well functioning, fully aligned organization.

The distance and disconnect that employees have from the mission and outcome of the business is the most basic identifying mark of a structure out of alignment. Indifference that people have to their workplace grows.  The desire to be left alone to do their job so they can get on to what really matters in their life becomes the defacto attitude of the workforce. In effect, there is no emotional access point for them to invest their whole selves in the work they do.

When this scenario is widely experienced in a company, inspiring ideas and motivational team building programs don't have a lasting impact. The problem is a structural or systems one. Issues of communication and collaboration are symptoms of the problem. 

Assumptions about the Product of an Effective Organizational Structure

As I analyze organizations during various projects, I'm looking for various intangilbes that matter. Let's call them assumptions about what an organizational system should produce.

1.  Initiative by employees measured by higher rates of engagement and contribution. 

2. Interaction by employees that is open and collaborative and that transcends organizational barriers to achieve higher levels of efficiency and impact.

3. Impact awareness by employees who can express their own contribution to the organization's impact as a change that is a difference that matters.

These assumptions are difficult to measure, yet relatively easy to see.

Their performance is more evident when they are missing. People not taking initiative. When there is little interaction between people from different parts of the organization. When employees show little appreciation for the organization's mission and impact. 

The question that many of us then have is how to do we redesign our organizational structures so that we realize a higher level of initiative, interaction and impact.

One way to address this issue is through strategic organizational redesign to creates an environment of Shared Responsibility.

Shared Responsibility

Every organization has a responsibility or accountability structure. In older, traditional hierarchical systems, Responsibility resides in varying degrees throughout the organization, but not accountability, which is top down. Shared Responsibility
A shared responsibility structure creates a shared space of mutual, collaborative, coordinated accountability. This illustration shows an organization where management, staff and the board of directors have a common ground of shared responsibility.  The shared space is common ground because the expectation is that each person engaged in this space has an opportunity to contribute out of their own talent, knowledge and expertise within the strictures of their position and role in the organization.

For example, while some members of the management team would not ordinarily work along side of members of the Board of Directors, in this scheme they would because the structure is is organized to provide a shared space of contribution for impact. This approach lowers the organizational barriers that typically make it hard to create a common ground for work.

The purpose of this structure is not order or standardization, but alignment of the functions of communication, collaboration and coordination for the purpose of impact. It is the mission of the organization, not the structure, which drives the change in structure. RK- Org Design

This approach is currently being developed for an international non-profit organization whose constituents are in all 50 states and 20 countries globally.  The board is small in number; is highly active in collaboration with the staff; and works with a large number of advisors and supporters from around the world who contribute  according to their ability.

This organization's aim to create an environment where participation is not boring or disconnected from its mission, but is marked by personal initiative, collaborative interaction, and an organization environment each person has the opportunity to make a difference.

The way an organizational design of this sort works is when the Connecting Ideas of purpose, mission, values, vision and impact are well defined and aligned within the structure, and the leadership of the organization serves as a faciliator of interaction and contribution. Because the organizational structure is a shared space for collaboration, the barriers for constituents to lead through their talent and abilities are low, producing a more highly engagement staff and board.

This kind of structure and leadership must be intentionally designed and developed.  This is not a radical departure from the past, but at the same time, it is also not a logical step forward for most of the legacy structures that exist today.

This approach fosters a shared leadership of responsibility. Leadership from this perspetive is the impact or influence that is the result of the personal initiative take to create impact. When the senior leadership of an organization understands that this is where the future of organizations lays, it requires a change in their own leadership approach.

The Ultimate Question

Can legacy organizational structures change to this model of shared responsibility? 

I believe it can. The pathway to this approach is in appreciating the importance of the relationship dimension for the creation of the strength and impact of an organization.  From that perspective barriers to interaction and collaboration lower or are removed, enabling people to become more engaged with the purpose and mission of the organization, and to do so in relationship with other members of their organizational community.


Creativity for creating impact

Balancing Rock

The changes that confront us require us to think in new ways. We need to think creatively about the development of our businesses, as if we are starting over.

Even if our business is a staple of every other business, we need to begin thinking differently. Regardless of what we do, the demand for us to be creative in approaching every aspect of our organizations is growing with greater urgency. 

How to be creative in a time of great change.

It will be helpful to have my Circle of Impact Leadership Guides as a reference.

The Circle of Impact -3D-SimpleThe image here is a simplified version of my Circle of Impact. The focus is on creating impact, which means making a difference or creating change. In order to understand the true results of your company, you must ask what is the impact of all three of these areas.

What is the Impact of our Ideas?

What is the Impact of our Relationships?


What is the Impact of our Organizational Structure?

These Three Dimensions of Leadership, shown here, are the three areas where leaders must take initiative in order to be effective in creating impact. The aim is to bring them into alignment.

Many people I know think their business primarily functions within the Organizational Structure dimension. This is where all their energy is focused. The Ideas and Relationships dimensions are ancillary ones, drawn upon when needed, but not as essential as the structure of the business.

I've found that organizations are not just the activities of a business. The Ideas and Relationships dimensions are important as centers of creative initiative.

 

Being creative within the Organizational Structure dimension? 

The following questions are a good starting point for discovering perspective.

Write down your thoughts as we go through this little exercise.

What is your purpose for creating impact?

Can you describe this purpose in one sentence? If not, then the Idea of what your purpose is needs clarification. If you can't state simply what the purpose of the impact of your business is - what difference it makes - how can you organize your business to achieve it?

 

Purpose Connection

Now ask this question,

What is our purpose as a business?

In what way does this purpose make a difference?

How is our business structured to fulfill this purpose? Are they compatible?

Write something down so you capture what you are thinking right now. There are no perfect answers, only the perception of your business as it exists at this moment.

How to distinguish between measuring results by numbers and by impact.

We make assumptions about what a business is based on past experience. We assume that a business is a set of activities that we repeat to produce results. And the easiest way to determine results is with numbers. It is much harder to measure our business' results by determining the impact of our business. Even with these simple guides that I've given you, it is hard. Being creative is hard work.

You go on vacation. When you return, you don't talk numbers, you talk about the experiences you had. You show your pictures of beautiful scenery and happy times with family and friends. You don't show your receipts from the hotel or gas card. You know how much your vacation cost. The numbers matter, but they don't tell what is most important. Your experiences are the measure of whether your vacation's purpose (mission) has achieved its impact.  A great vacation impacts you and the relationships you have with the people who went with you. That difference matters and is why you will go on vacation again.

The experiences you had on vacation were personal taking place in Relationships. The measure of impact is partially determined by the values that you share.

For example, if you all are rock climbers, then you share the values of physical challenge, and if your vacation doesn't include rock climbing, your experience is probably less than what it could have been. Values matter in determining the difference being achieved.

Values Connection - Simple

What are the values that matter to you and to the people connected to your business?

 How do those values impact how you have organized your business?

Write this down.

For example, if you want to put people first in your business, which many businesses say is a core value, then how do you organize to insure that this value is living in your business?

Let's take this to a deeper level of consideration.

The Organizational Structure dimension consists of four categories of activity.
Governance consists policy making, strategic development for the future and oversight of the chief executive. Products/Services/Programs includes what you are providing to clients and customers. Operations/Administration is the support function of the busienss. Resources are financial, human and organizational. 

What are the policies, procedures, practices and behaviors that demonstrate how each of these areas are putting people first?

What does it mean for the Board of your company to put people first? Would your employees agree? How about your customers?

How about the support function of product fulfillment? Do your customers think you put people first when they must return an item or get a corrected bill?

The experience that people have with the Organizational Structure of businesses is how they measure the impact of the company's values. If there is a discrepancy between the stated values, and their experience, then the company has a problem creating the difference that matters.  

Creating Impact isn't simply saying we value people, it is operationalizing those values into the structure of your business.

Being creative is hard work, but it is the work that elevates your business to a new level. The impact of this hard work is greater impact, better results, and change that matters for the long term. And if you are not presently involved in a developmental process that is creating these changes, then you are behind the curve, and harder times await.

There is more here that I haven't touched on. We really haven't looked at the Ideas dimension or the place of visioning in creating impact. We haven't looked at the Relationship dimension with any depth either. There is still much to explore.

What is the benefit of this kind of approach to business development?

1. The tangible impact of your business grows.
If you are willing to work hard at it, you could change your industry by following through on the questions raised by this approach.

2. You create an environment of continuity in the midst of change.
The continuity is found in your values, not in your structure. As a result, you are able to build strength for the future.

3. You gain a new level of situational awareness, so that you understand what is happening before others do.

4. You find hope, joy and satisfaction in going to work every day.
Your life is changed for the better, not just your employees or customers.

5. You create a legacy of impact that you can pass along to future generations.

I feel a tremendous urgency about the time we are living in. We need skills for creating impact in the midst of radical, disruptive change. We must learn how to create the conditions for growing sustainable businesses. If you are thinking that business is going to be the same when this recession is over, I'm sorry, it won't be, already isn't, and will only be more so five years from now.

If you want to take the next step, let me know. I'll work with you to begin the process of change that makes sense and creates the difference you identify. This is what I do every day, and I welcome the opportunity to work with you who read my blog.  Thank you.

Cc_logo2Flickr #2445428627_06c7b7d940


The Community of Leadership

First Posted December 5, 2005, updated for today.

Circle of Impact- simple

There are very few people I know who self-consciously identify themselves as leaders.  Even people who are the senior managers of their organizations often do not see themselves in this light.  This is unfortunate because many if not most of these people function in a leadership capacity everyday.  The problem is conceptual on two levels.

Most of what we hear and read about leadership is about styles and techniques.  In this sense, leadership is a subset of management.  However, to echo Peter Drucker's famous statement, "Leaders lead people, not organizations." I agree, and would like to suggest that leadership and management are different things.  One needs the other as you will see.  But they are not the same. 

So, the first conceptual shift we need to make is to see that leadership is about leading people, not primariy about organization of activities, tasks, the alocation of resources and the establishment of goals and priorities.

The second conceputual shift that we must make is that leadership is not primarily a positional thing.  It is clear that organizations need their senior people to lead.  But, I'd like to suggest that at every level, from every individual, that leadership is expected and needed.  It all depends on what leadership is. 

Here is how I understand leadership.

The Path of Leadership: Excellence, Initiative and Impact

The Path of Leadership: Excellence
Leadership is first and foremost a quality of an individual.  In ancient times, this quality was described as arete or excellence.  It was a quality of life lived.  It was exhibited in what has come to be known as the cardinal virtues of practical wisdom, justice, courage and moderation.  It was realized in the individual as eudaimonia, which is happiness or fulfillment.  When the individual leader is functioning at this high level of human experience, it positively affects their ability to lead.

The first step along the path to leadership is to recognize that leadership is a product of character, not just skills and techniques of style.

The Path of Leadership: Initiative
The second path of leadership is focused upon the action of the leader.   Leadership  requires actions.  Without action there is no leadership, and yet to often the "leader" does not act, and his or her passivity stands in contrast to the other members of the organization.

Leadership action is most clearly defined in the personal initiative that a leader must make. This action takes place in three areas - with people, through ideas, in organizational structures.

With People:

A leader initiates toward people to establish collaborative relationships that allow for the same leadership initiative to develop in the other.  The character of the relationship is marked by honesty, respect and trust.  This is the fundamental basis for communication.  The collaborative nature of the relationship develops when both individuals recognize that there is a mutuality or sharedness to their relationship.  In other words, when people see that not only do they have common beliefs, values and goals, but that there is a mutual benefit to be realized from the relationship, then the relationship goes to a more significant depth of relating.  The ultimate level is when the relationship transcends trust and mutuality, and each individual commits to acting in such a way to honor the other person.  Ordinarily, this is what happens when one person memorializes another who has died.  The highest level of relationship is when one person willingly sacrifices their own benefit in order to honor or secure the benefit of the other.  This type of relationship is rare, and is a mark of the highest character of excellence.

Through Ideas: 

A leader initiates toward people using ideas as a tool for not only communicating, but for establishing purpose, focus and a vision for the relationships. Individual and organizational purpose are traditionally found in mission statements or visionary plans.  These statements are intended to conceptualize the focus of action.  A vision describes the impact of a mission statement.  A plan conceptualizes how a vision moves from ideas to action.  It is the leader's responsibility to initiate the conversation that establishes a common understanding of what the purpose and goals of the organization are.  And it is the leader's responsibility to act as a interpreter of the vision.  Ideas without communication are dead, and communication that does not lead to action is self-indulgent.  As a result, the initiative that a leader takes is to constantly move from the abstract to the concrete, from the conceptual to the practice, from the idea to action.

In Organizational Structures: 

A leader initiates within an organizational structure or setting.  The purpose of this structure is not organizational perpetuation, though sustainability is a by-product. Organizational structures exist as a vehicle for enhancement and fulfillment of the collaborative nature of human relationships.  The structure serves the relationships, not the other way around.  Whatever the mission or purpose of an organization, the structure exists as a system for translating the talent and commitment of individuals into action that produces a desired outcome. It is the leader's responsibility to initiate the process that formulates a goverance structure, establishes a strategic plan and manages the outcome of the collaborative work of its members.

In essence, the leader is the person who takes initiative to move forward relationships, vision and the work that follows.

The Path of Leadership: Impact
The focal point of leadership is impact.  In other words, leaders focus on creating change so that individual and organizational purpose can be fulfilled.  However, if that impact is not clearly understood, then the organization turns in on itself, and exists to perpetual its existence.

Just as the character and competence of the leader determines the quality of the individual in the role, so also the organization. Organizations are a reflection of their people.  If they lack the character of excellence, so will the organization.  Therefore, a clear and compelling vision for impact is essential for establishing the relationships of shared purpose and individual initiative needed to achieve it.

The Circle of Impact image above provides a way to see the interaction of people, ideas and structure that is required to work in alignment in order to create impact. My Circle of Impact Leadership Guides provide a set of conversation tools for helping leaders and their organizations work together towards making the difference that matters.

A Company of Leaders, A Community of Leadership

I hope you can see that this conception of leadership is much more than the management of processes and resources.  At the most basic level, it is the formation of a team of people who do not wait passively to be told what to do.  They are a team of quality people who take initiative who do what must be done to acheive excellence as a team and as an organization.  In this sense they are a Company of Leaders.

At a more profound level, they are more than a team, more than a company, but a community of people whose relationships serve to provide a stronger motivation to live lives of excellence.  It is in this sense that leadership is fulfilled in becoming a Community of Leadership.


Real Life Leadership: Personal initiative for impact is Leadership

My latest Real Life Leadership column - Personal initiative sets apart leaders - is online.

What brought me to this conclusion?  What do I mean by this?

Over twenty years ago, I took my first leadership seminar.  Seventeen years ago I began a collegiate student leaders program.  Ten years ago I started my leadership consulting practice.  In much of this I have followed the experts.  I've read more books that I can recall. 

I've led workshops, conducted vision processes, developed strategic plans, mediated conflict resolution, helped form new organizations, and led a variety of efforts and organizations.  I've looked for ideas, models, methods, and systems for leading organizations.  I've talked with all kinds of leaders about their experience, their ideas, what works and doesn't. 

The current thinking about leadership can be classified in two ways, and then those can be distinguished in two ways as well.

Most leadership writing is either about working with people or about managing organizational structure and systems. 

Most of the writing about working with people is about how to develop teams, how to communicate, etc.  Most of it is excellent material, but it does not distinguish leaders from followers.  It is purely about how to work with people.  It is worth reading, but in my estimation it is not primarily about leadership, but about the people side of management.  The material is valuable whether you are in a leadership position or not.

Writing about management focuses on the mechanics of organizations.  Again, the ideas are valuable, but not necessarily about leadership.  The ideas are valid whether you are in a leadership position or not.

I make this distinction because what I don't find in virtually all this literature is an emphasis on personal initiative. I do see this in ways in texts about entrepreneurialism and in descriptions of historical and contemporary military leadership.  Why? Because both organizational ventures are obsessessively focused on outcomes or impact. 

Did I have a bias toward this when I began?  I don't think so.  Twenty years ago I had no interest in business or military subjects. I was a associate minister in a large downtown church primarily concerned with serving poor families and homeless people. 

So, over the past two decades what has emerged in my own thinking is more of a classical understanding of leadership with a contemporary twist.  Reading Aristotle and the Stoics, and more recently Plato and Xenophon has clarified for me what I've seen missing in most leadership literature.  The importance of leaders taking the initiative to build trust and commitment in those that follow them.  The twist is that in the past, there was always a hard distinction between leader and follower.  Today, I believe that distinction is blurred. Today, organizations need to fill their employee ranks with leaders who practice take personal responsibility to take initiative to create a positive impact for the organization.

My Real Life Leadership column today gets at some of this in looking at the nature of personal initiative.  But it is not simply personal initiative, but the focus of that initiative.  I divide it four categories of initiative.  I'll be brief here, and write more on this later.

 The first category for personal initiative is the Self.  Taking initiative concerning the Self entails developing a clear understanding of human purpose.  That purpose is tied to the nature of the impact we are to have as people, and is determined by the character of the lives we live.  As a person whose perspective is formed within the context of the Christian tradition, I view that purpose as divinely imparted in who we are as individuals.  That each person is a unique being whose gifts,talents, background and life context provide insight as to the  purpose of our lives that is realized in a specific kind of impact.

The second category for personal initiative is People.
No one lives in total isolation.  Leaders lead people, not organizations as Peter Drucker says.  So we initiate toward people.  It begins with our own honesty about our selves, and respect toward other people. We don't use honesty as a weapon, but as a tool for creating a relationships of openness and mutural respect, trust and participation.   Part of a leader's focus in developing these relationships is to foster the same kind of personal initiative by others in their organization. 

The third category for personal initiative is with Ideas.  There are two levels to this area of initiative.  The first is realizing a clarity and coherence of thought that ultimately is a vision for the impact that is desired.  The second level is the ability to articulate this vision or these ideas so that others will share your perspective.  Involved at this level are the tradition skills of communication.  And I include within that the ability to market ideas for impact.

The final category for personal initiative is organizational structure. I view the structure of organizations as that which enable people in relationship with one another to acheived a desired impact.  In this instance, leaders focus on organizational design to enables a wider spectrum of the organization to practice personal initiative for fulfilling the organizations purpose.  By widening the leadership base of the organization, a greater scope of impact is possible.

Leadership initiative is the will of the individual in action to achieve a specific impact. Without initiative, there is no impact, only a passivity that waits for other to do it.  I'll say more about this in future posting.


A Conversation about Strategic Planning

First Posted May 20, 2005, updated for today.

Circle of Impact- simple

One morning in a business office.

THE LEADER – We need a plan.

THE ASSISTANT - Why?

THE LEADER – We are being overwhelmed by issues and problems that seem to come from nowhere. … It isn't clear what step we need to take to resolve some of the challenges..

THE ASSISTANT - Yeah! It does seem that we’ve been floundering for the past few months. Any ideas?

THE LEADER – Uh, huh. THE FRIEND recommended I talk with THE GUIDE. He led a retreat for THE FRIEND's nonprofit board. Thought he might be able to help. Here’s his phone number.

THE ASSISTANT - Ok. I’ll set up the appointment.

Next week, at a local coffee shop.

THE GUIDE - Tell me what's going on.

THE LEADER – Well…I came to talk about our need for a strategic plan. We have some problems.  Here’s a list I started the other day.

<THE LEADER - hands THE GUIDE a list>

THE GUIDE – So you think a plan will help you solve all these problems?

THE LEADER -- Yes. I hope so because I am not sure what else we can do. We are caught between processes that no longer work as well as they used to, and things that are successful without our really putting much effort into them. We know those things aren't sustainable in the long run. They really aren’t our core business either, but they bring in revenue now. We need some clarity, perspective and direction.

THE GUIDE – OK. But here’s what you need to know before embarking upon a strategic planning process with me. 

There is more to a plan than producing a document. We are talking about a change process. Unless you are prepared to do things differently, don’t begin. It will only make your situation more difficult because you are going to raise everyone’s expectations, and not be able to meet them.

The reason?  They will see through the process as simply an avoidance of reality. Your people know what is true. They may not know the whole truth, but they know it for their piece of the puzzle which is your company. If you want them to trust the process, then you have to see this as a change process that requires honesty, transparency and integrity.

THE LEADER – Oh. I thought a plan was to help me know what I am to do.

THE GUIDE – It is. But what you have been doing may be counter productive to what is in your best interest, and the best interest of your company.

THE LEADERReally?

THE GUIDE – Yes.

THE LEADER – So what should I do? This isn’t what I thought strategic planning was about.

THE GUIDE – Yeah. That’s the normal reaction.

THE LEADER – So, tell me this. Why do I need a strategic plan?

THE GUIDE – A plan is simply a tool - nothing more or nothing less - that helps you as the leader of your organization to focus the goodwill, energies and commitment of people upon a clearly conceived vision of impact.

Most organizations and leaders get trapped into thinking that their business is managing activities. It’s not. It’s producing results. Those activities are important because they help produce the impact you want. But they aren’t the impact. Can you tell me what the impact of your business should be?

THE LEADER – Yeah. We want to provide our clients with the best products and services in our market.

THE GUIDE – Ok. What’s the impact? What is the change you are creating?

THE LEADER – What do you mean? We want to do the best job we can serving our customers.

THE GUIDE – Serving your customers. Providing products and services are just things you do. They are activities. And you are spending your time focused on managing the activities of all your people. Right?

THE LEADER - - Yes and No. We have goals, sales projections, that we look at, in some cases on a daily basis. That’s how we measure how well we are doing. And we are a market leader here in town, so we are doing pretty well.

THE GUIDE – Uh Huh. So what’s the problem? Why did you come to me if you are goal oriented and results focused?

THE LEADER – Well … we have these prob…I’m not sure now that you mention it … There’s something missing in our business. I can’t put my finger on it. Some things are doing well and others … I guess I sense that we are not reaching our potential.

THE GUIDE – If you were to reach your potential, would you know it?

THE LEADER – Uh…that’s a good question.

THE GUIDE – Here’s the problem. You are a smart guy. You would not be the leader of your organization if you weren’t. You have the right degrees. You read books on leadership and management. You attend conferences. You stay up to date on trends in your industry. And as a result you have become very comfortable with the language of leadership and management.

The problem is – and you are like me in this way – we know more than we have experienced or have practiced. Ideas are important for helping us focus, clarify, motivate and articulate our perspective. But knowing an idea conceptually, even visualizing how it might work is not the same as having tested it to see if it does. And like most ambitious leaders you absorb new ideas all the time, but never give them the opportunity to see if they work. Let me ask you this …in the past six months, how many audio books have you listened to and how many books have you started on your Kindle?

THE LEADER – Gee, …I don’t know … maybe a dozen?

THE GUIDE – Yeah. And every time you pass through an airport, you look at the bookstand, and you buy a book because it has a compelling title and a fresh set of ideas. What was the last business book you finished?

THE LEADER – Uh…The One Minute Manager?

THE GUIDE – Yeah, exactly. Here’s what I’m driving at.  Ninety Nine percent of business leaders are doing what you are doing. They focus on activity results and the collection of ideas. And their budget serves as the only strategic plan they have.

What you should measure is change, impact, the difference you are making. And all those ideas you are collecting become a mental load. We read books to learn and grow. And we should measure their impact by the change we make.

THE LEADER – Ok. Tell me more.

THE GUIDE – Ever read any philosophy?

THE LEADER – Yeah, in college. Don’t remember much of it.

THE GUIDE – My favorite philosopher is Aristotle. Want to know why?

THE LEADER – Sure.

THE GUIDE – Because he understood how to establish the link between the idea of something and the experience or practice of it. What he said is that we should think of ourselves as artisans, craftsmen, who learn an art by practicing it. We learn by doing. And we learn by doing it over and over and over again. The same is true with leading. Reading books, listening to tapes, attending conferences, even getting advanced degrees have value, but they are not a substitute for practicing leadership skills in the real world.

THE LEADER – Ok. Let me sort this through. What you are saying is that for most leaders they are focused on the wrong things. They don’t really see it that way, but their gut tells them this is true. They do the best they can. But there is always something missing. They don’t know what it is, so they read books, go to conferences, attend lectures, and listen to tapes. They get ideas that seem helpful, get inspired to do better, but fall back into the same rut and routine because nothing has changed.

THE GUIDE – You’ve got it.

THE LEADER – So the trick is what? …practicing? That I don’t understand.

THE GUIDE – It is not the practicing. It is the process of turning ideas into experience that produces the kind of impact you desire. It comes back to impact and change.

THE LEADER – OK. So what does this have to do with my need for a strategic plan? After all, all you’ve given me are your ideas and nothing has changed.

THE GUIDE – It isn’t that nothing has changed. Your perception has changed. And if that matters then your actions can too.

THE LEADER – I do see your point. But still I am not clear about how this concerns a strategic plan for my business.

THE GUIDE – Many strategic plans are written to be documents that are checked off the activity list. They are perfunctory and for the most part merely project current reality into the future. At least that is the way many of the ones that I’ve encountered over the years. The shift in business is to a more results focus that has broader categories of measurement than just bottomline numbers. This shift affects how planning is done. And this is where we began. Let me ask you a question. Can you describe for me what you want your business to be like in 5 years?

THE LEADER - - Sure. I want to expand to include two other cities in our region.

THE GUIDE – Ok. That’s a goal. Now imagine that you have accomplished this goal. You are now in three cities. Describe for me what you see going on. Imagine you have put together a music video that celebrates the achievement of your goal. Tell me what you see. What music would be playing?

THE LEADER – I see my role has changed. Instead of managing my one office here, across the street there ( pointing out the window), I have a manager for each location.

THE GUIDE – So what are you doing? How does this change your activity schedule?

THE LEADER – Hmmm. I haven’t thought about that. Not sure.

THE GUIDE – This is a problem that many leaders in growing businesses face. They want to grow. And they think that what changes is that their life and work will be the same, only just at a higher activity level. What is hard to calculate are the number of changes required. Managing managers is different than managing a staff. Being the leader of a regional group of offices is different than being the manager of a single local office. The change is both professional and personal. It is more dramatic and demanding than you can imagine. You are not adding responsibilities, you are taking a quantum leap in the number and complexity of the responsibilities that you will have. It requires you to learn new skills, behaviors and approaches to leading. You and your business cannot continue to do things the same way. You will have to change.

THE LEADER – How do I know what I’ll need to know? This is bigger than I thought.

THE GUIDE – Don’t get overwhelmed . You don’t have to compress five years into 20 minutes. You have time. And you’ll be amazed at how short a time it will take, that is if you have a plan, are focused and are totally prepared to follow this path where it leads. Ok?

THE LEADER – Ok. Where do I start?

THE GUIDE – With a plan.

THE LEADER – Back to square one…

THE GUIDE – But on a different game board. You see we aren’t planning for a single local office, but for a regional group of three offices in three cities. We begin at the fulfillment of your plan.

THE LEADER – Yeah. This is different. Can we start now while this fresh?

THE GUIDE – Sure, I have another hour. We can talk project scope, process and cost later. Let’s begin by asking five questions. I want you to start writing a journal so that we have an historical record of your progress and of our interaction.

THE LEADER – OK. Can borrow some paper?

THE GUIDE – Sure. Here’s a pad. 

THE LEADER – Thanks.

THE GUIDE – OK. Now before I give the questions and get another cup of coffee, I want to say one more thing. While the success of your organization is a team effort led by you, the success of a planning / change process is totally up to you. You have to lead the effort by modeling the change. While others may have the desire for changes to be made, none are thinking like you are in terms of the development of the business. It is your role to lead them to a vision of the future that you all share and work to achieve. This becomes one of your primary responsibilities. The planning processes that I have worked on over the years that have been less than successful have ultimately been because the senior leader has not become the champion of the process or the resulting plan. You have to be your business’ champion if you want to reach your goal in five years. Ok?

THE LEADER – Yeah! Makes sense. Because I rose up through the ranks, I’ve always felt a little reticent to be too forceful in leading. You are giving me a picture of how I have to be different in the future. Wow! This is amazing.

THE GUIDE – Yes it is. Very exciting. Now let’s begin this adventure. I’d like you to write down the following questions, and while I go get us both some fresh coffee, give me your immediate response to them. They don’t have to be complete sentences or even phrases. But they have to make sense. The questions are:

1. Over the past 12 to 18 months, what has changed? How is the business in transition

2. What has been our impact? What difference have we made that matters?

3. Who have we impacted?

4. What opportunities do I have now that I didn’t a year ago?

5. What obstacles must we address? What problems have we created?

 < 10 minutes later>

THE LEADER - - Here are my responses.

THE GUIDE – Ok. No, just hang on to them. As we talk about the questions, write down other thoughts you have. The purpose behind this is help you think concretely about the changes that need to happen in order for your goal to be realized. When we are finished, your goal will have been transformed into a vision for impact. Once we have that clarified, developing your plan will be easy.

< 45 minutes later >

THE GUIDE – You have a beginning idea for what your life, work and business will be like in 5 years. I’m going to need to go, however, I want to quickly sketch out what my strategic plan looks like. Before I describe that do you have any questions?

THE LEADER – If we to follow through on this, how long will it take?

THE GUIDE – There is no waiting for the plan to be completed before you begin to implement. We have already begun to implement your plan. The skills you need you will learn and practice as we work together. You build commitment and support for your plan by the way you put your plan together. This way you learn to become a master craftsman of leadership arts. And your staff join you from the start in the adventure of growing into a regional market leader. Our teacher Aristotle would be so proud.

THE LEADER – OK. Never thought of myself as an artist. That will take some getting use to.

THE GUIDE – A typical plan consists of four parts.

There is a Vision statement. We’ve discussed that already. However, it is important to understand that it needs to be simple, concise and impact focused. From that statement are derived a few – two or three – Goals that are a restatement of the Vision. If we took your five year goal of having offices in three cities, one of the goals could be something like “to be a regional leader serving in …”.

Then we develop Strategies to fulfill each goal. Strategies are not simple action steps. Rather they are collaborative efforts that focus the work of the organization. In this case, a strategy could be establishing rapport with lenders, business leaders and potential customers to determine the right location for your business in their community. Each strategy then is divided out into specific Action Steps with an estimation of time and cost and assignment of responsibility for the initiative. The usefulness of this approach is that it helps you manage your activities so that you can maintain your focus on results. This will become clearer as we work through the process. Is this clear enough for now?

THE LEADER – Yeah. What I like about it is that it is all integrated, linked together. I have my dream and I see how I can achieve it. Wow! I didn’t expect this to come out of this meeting. Ok, what’s next?

THE GUIDE – I’m going to prepare a set of questions that I want you, your staff and some of your clients to answer. I’m going to ask for some documents that describe how you are organized. Because with growth comes the need to address organizational structure. I need to know whether your operation is based on clear policy choices, or, are you primarily operating on the strength of your personality and character. To grow like you wish, your operating structure will have to grow as well. I’ll have those questions to you by the end of the week, along with a project proposal that will include process, timeframe and costs. Does that sound okay to you?

THE LEADER – Yes it does. Thank you very much. This is going to be great.

THE GUIDE – Yes, it is. Remember this day. It is the beginning of what could be a life-long adventure of pursuing a vision for impact that still forming in your mind. Thank you for letting me join you in this journey.

< conversation ends >

Afterword:

I've had many of these conversations over the past two decades. There are two sets of lessons that I've learned.

Lesson Set #1:

Strategic planning is a conversation. It takes place in relationships. It is a personal process that takes place in a business context. It is so because strategic planning is a change process. You can’t change an organization without changing the people and the relationships in it.

Strategic planning is an analytical process focused on enhancing the impact that you wish to achieve. If there is no vision, there is no reason to change or to improve. If there is no plan and no way to change, then the vision is a fantasy that is soon recalled with regret, maybe even bitterness.

Strategic planning is a tool for building an organizational community focused on individual performance experienced as the impact which is a shared vision for the future.You can not do it alone. The clearer the plan, the better the conversation, the more trusting the relationships, the more likely your vision of impact will be realized.

Lesson Set #2:

Strategic planning is less and less about long term planning, and more about providing a platform for adaptive leadership. This primarily means that a plan is a daily change process.

The Leader of an organization is now more of a facilitator of other's leadership than the sole leader who delegates. One of the major shifts in the operation of the organization is in the encouragement and equipping of individual leadership at all levels of the organization. Leadership in this sense is initiative taken to create impact. For the majority of the organization's employees this means that they become problem solvers and system adapters to change.

Measuring impact or change is more critical now than ever.  One way to get at this is look at what is called the Triple / Quadruple Bottom LIne

It is important also to understand that how we measure results is influenced by our experience of the acceleration of time. Now, a minute, an hour, a day are still the same length, but our experience has changed. We are now forcing more tasks, decisions and encounters into the same space of time as we have always had. The benefit / liability of technology is that we can do more with fewer resources, in less time for greater results. We need to recognize that measuring performance requires us to be much clearer and specific about what matters. We need to be clear about what results from our life and work actually matter. Impact or creating change or difference is how I've come to understand what we must do.

Lastly, we need more conversation that creates the conditions of collaboration. My Circle of Impact Leadership Guides are designed to foster conversation built around the Five Questions. Do this with everyone in your organization, and everyone will begin to see the big picture, within the context of their specific place within the organization. This is essential for leading change in the 21st. Century.


Micro-blogging, WOM and Organizational Development

Today the Fill The Seats project at UNC-Asheville reaches it conclusion.  This project was cooked up by me to promote a presentation that I will give on servant leadership this afternoon at the university.

The project though has a two-fold purpose. 
1.  Help student leaders understand the power of their influence through the use of Word-of-Mouth marketing techniques.

2.  To demonstrate how a weblog can be used as an organizational development tool.

The University of Word of Mouth weblog was described by Seth Godin as a Micro-blog.  This is apt description as it suggests a more focus, time-limited purpose.

As I approach the culmination of this project, my gut suggests that what we will have shown is that there is a use, and that use needs constant attention in order to affect a change in the communication behavior patterns of people.  While a number of people from the university have visited the site, and a couple have emailed me, none have commented. 

Fostering a conversation is essential if a micro-blog is to move an organization forward.
Unlike an instant messenger format, blogging is a better platform for presenting content, with a follow up discussion. 

Every organization that I have served, in whatever capacity, needs to improve its communication.  In most there is a  Word-of-Mouth function happening, but it is haphazard, perjorative and not progressive.  There is not way to retain the knowledge and insight that comes from conversations in the parking lot, unless you record the conversation.  Most people are not interested in that much complexity in their casual interactions.

However, a Micro-blog provides a simple platform for short, concise postings and comments that can progress a decision-making process along.  Verbal communication is essential, but often it is not efficient.  The weblog format provides a nice happy medium that can accomodate so many needs and expectations.

Organizations are human institutions, and they function when the communication system works.  Utilizing Micro-blogs focused on specific projects is the way to go.