Medium 9781626565623

The Positive Organization

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Beholden to accepted assumptions about people and organizations, too many enterprises waste human potential. Robert Quinn shows how to defy convention and create organizations where people feel fully engaged and continually rewarded, where both individually and collectively they flourish and exceed expectations.

The problem is that leaders are following a negative and constraining “mental map” that insists organizations must be rigid, top-down hierarchies and that the people in them are driven mainly by self-interest and fear. But leaders can adopt a different mental map, one where organizations are networks of fluid, evolving relationships and where people are motivated by a desire to grow, learn, and serve a larger goal. Using dozens of memorable stories, Quinn describes specific actions leaders can take to facilitate the emergence of this organizational culture—helping people gain a sense of purpose, engage in authentic conversations, see new possibilities, and sacrifice for the common good.

The book includes the Positive Organization Generator, a tool that provides 100 real-life practices from positive organizations and helps you reinvent them to fit your specific needs. With the POG you can identify and implement the practices that will have the greatest impact on your organization.

At its heart, the book helps leaders to see new possibilities that lie within the acknowledged realities of organizational life. It provides five keys for learning to be "bilingual"--speaking the conventional language of business as well as the language of the positive organization.  When leaders can do this, they are able to make real and lasting change.

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1 The Positive Organization

ePub

One day, I was talking with a young surgeon whose academic specialties included evaluating hospital performance. He thinks very deeply about what factors increase or decrease a hospital’s effectiveness, and we were discussing how successful hospitals function. In the middle of our conversation, he paused and then surprised me with a question: “Why do people in finance so often end up as heads of organizations?”

This question caught me off guard, and I improvised some answers. I told him economics is a potent discipline, and people who master it have precise analytic tools. As they move up in their organizations, they learn to rigorously evaluate the allocation of resources in the system. By the time they reach the highest levels of the finance function, they have great skills for controlling an enterprise.

A commonly held belief in business circles is that people in economics and similar analytic disciplines know how to solve important technical problems and how to efficiently utilize resources. Therefore, they can keep things under control.

 

2 Becoming Bilingual

ePub

Before his retirement, Alberto Weisser was the CEO of Bunge, a global food company. In his eleven years as CEO, the company grew by a factor of ten. Between the time it went public in 2001 and the time of Alberto’s retirement in 2013, the stock price increased fivefold.

Alberto’s story would appear to be a saga of uninterrupted success. It was not. In fact, his first year as CEO was one of the most difficult of his life.

Alberto’s career was in the field of finance. He was a master of the conventional economic perspective, and that mastery carried him up the corporate ladder. He believed that an organization is a hierarchy of authority. The person at the top gives orders, and the people below follow them. If there is resistance, the CEO has to be tough. Alberto was tough; but he still sensed that he was failing. As he applied his conventional ideas of hierarchy, authority, and toughness, the organization did not move forward. Looking back, Alberto states, “I was overwhelmed and I was scared.”

 

3 Creating a Sense of Purpose

ePub

Gerry Anderson, the CEO of Detroit-based DTE Energy, was a guest speaker at the Center for Positive Organizations. As I listened to him, I was mesmerized. His opening statement was: “Creating organizations of excellence and energy is the most real thing you can do.”

Like Alberto, Gerry indicated that he did not always believe this. He had to learn to accept the idea that an organization could be excellent. As Gerry continued his story, I heard many of the same themes that Alberto had shared with me. He had experienced the same kind of hard-earned wisdom. His words were filled with insights about the nature of organizational purpose and how to use purpose to create an organization of excellence.

Gerry was trained in engineering and physics and later in finance. He took a job at McKinsey before going to work at DTE Energy. Gerry had an analytic mind, was a problem solver, and used numbers to confront and resolve “hard” issues. These tools served him well, and he became president and later the CEO of DTE Energy.

 

4 Nurturing Authentic Conversations

ePub

Alberto and Gerry both believed the job of a CEO is to be the expert who solves problems and gets things done. They are not alone. Most people who operate from the conventional mental map believe the leader should have all of the answers. In fact, the notion of dispensing expertise permeates the world of professional organizations.

At a two-day corporate meeting, I was scheduled to be the last speaker following many recognized experts. As usual, they did a polished job of presenting important facts relevant to the audience. The first few presentations were well received. As the presentations continued throughout the event they were still excellent but the enthusiasm of the participants began to wane.

When it was finally my turn, the people were saturated and glassy-eyed. It was as if they were each holding up a sign that said, “Please, no more information, just let us go home.”

Instead of pouring information on them, I started asking questions. It was the first time in the two days that there was a conversation between the person in the front of the room and the participants. I listened deeply to their comments and then, based on what I learned from them, I asked more questions.

 

5 Seeing Possibility

ePub

Once a finance officer told me, “My job is supposed to be negative. I have to look for what is wrong. My job is to say ‘no.’ I expect people to hate me. I do not expect to be friends with the people who work for me, either. I find my friendships outside of work.”

The image is dismal but prevalent. I have talked to hundreds of professionals—just like the woman I’ve quoted—who make similar assumptions. They accept their fate because they believe that what they experience is a reflection of the reality of business and of organizational life. They live in the reality of constraint; an invitation to a better future is met with great suspicion.

Beneath that suspicion, though, there is often is a hidden orientation to possibility, a hope that things might be better. I was impressed by the authenticity of this seemingly “negative” woman. She made her statement after asking me what my keynote address was on. I indicated that the topic was creating positive organizations. It was then that she expressed her negative assumptions. The interesting thing, however, is what happened after the keynote. She cared enough to attend the follow-up workshop. This meant, despite what she had said, that there was a small germ of belief in possibility and a small spark of hope—enough to motivate her to be present.

 

6 Embracing the Common Good

ePub

“Did you know that organizations are political?”

When this question is posed to a class of executives, the typical response is a low laugh. The laugh signifies that the answer is so obvious, it borders on being silly. “Everyone knows that organizations are political; if you did not know this, you would not survive.”

There is a follow-on question. “Have you ever had a boss who chose his or her personal good over the collective good?”

Usually, every hand goes up. I then ask, “How did you react when the boss made the self-interested decision?”

The most typical answer is, “I lost respect, I stopped caring, and I withdrew.”

The conventional mental map assumes that people are self-interested. The positive mental map assumes that people can be enticed to pursue the collective interest. When the latter assumption is realized, the organization turns positive. My desire is to move people from the natural pursuit of self-interest to the unnatural pursuit of the collective good. Given this desire, I teach an elusive concept: an organization is not only a political system but also a moral system.

 

7 Trusting the Emergent Process

ePub

In the first chapter we read about a hospital with a conventional culture. I mentioned that within that hospital there were many people trying to make improvements. The Chair of Surgery was one of the people who wanted a more positive culture.

Working with leaders of the department, we designed a change program, and then I taught the first day of the educational effort. The entire program went well, so the second year they decided to take more surgeons through the process. I was again invited to lead the first day.

In the introduction, the chair of surgery did something that impressed me deeply. He began by reviewing what had happened the previous year. He shared a number of qualitative incidents that were attributable to the program. Then, he listed a number of impressive innovations and positive practices that were direct outcomes of the program. Because the participants had actually seen and benefited from these outcomes, the efficacy of the program was clear.

The chairperson then put up his final slide. It showed an infection. He reminded the surgeons of something they all understood. An infection is a complex system that adapts and grows. It develops as a result of dynamic interactions within the system and without.

 

8 Using the Positive Organization Generator

ePub

I met with the top 200 people of a large corporation. Their industry was turning upside down, and they were facing a rapidly evolving external world. They had spent the previous day conceptualizing their strategic future, and now they wanted me to help them think about their culture and how to insure the implementation of their new strategy.

I opened by telling them I believed that, within two hours, we could actually initiate culture change in their company. I said this with complete confidence; they, of course, “knew” that it was impossible. An outsider cannot initiate culture change—especially not in two hours.

In the first hour, we had an unusually honest discussion about leadership and the nature of organizational change. We explored the fact that instead of moving toward an ever more positive culture where people sacrifice for the common good, most organizations maintain conventional cultures full of self-interested people. The people continually splinter, and the organization moves toward a slow death.

 

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