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Communication Skills Training for High Performance

8 minute read

My intention with this post is to illustrate how solutions to many of our organizational problems to do with leadership and human relations are embedded in the organization itself.  Employees have the solutions to most problems.  What we focus on grows is the principle addressed in this post. There are examples from the corporate world to improve communications and build cultures of ownership, as well as examples from elsewhere.

There is a key principle in the organization change methodology, Appreciative Inquiry that posits powerfully, what we focus on grows.  So when your organization offers communication skills training, what does the trainer focus on, or what is the trainer asked to focus on? As a big generalization, it's most likely the focus is on the need to fix poor communications across the organization.  Or, the lack of communications, or negative communications, or stressful communications that permeate the culture, thereby impacting relationships inside and outside the organization.  When that kind of climate infiltrates the organization, productivity is impacted, customer retention and innovation decrease, and creativity and vitality start on a downward spiral. 

Existing Paradigm “if it ain't broke don't fix it”

Unfortunately, it's often not until situations get to that low level, when the pain really starts to hurt, that there's a cry for “we need communication skills training.”   That pain signals an urgency to “fix what's wrong with a training solution.”   Such a response is the classic view of traditional management: “if it ain't broke, don't fix it.”  It takes a “burning platform” to initiate any change. I contrast that with my dear grandmother's favorite saying:  “a stitch in time saves nine.”

Let me share a few stories to illustrate how communications and more broadly organizational culture is impacted by understanding this Appreciate Inquiry principle of what you focus on grows.

CEO Steps From the Dark into the Light

The CEO of a multimillion dollar, international company was in the office building elevator one day to go down to lunch from his executive suite on level 77.  Several floors down three employees stepped into the same elevator all very engaged in a conversation. They paid no attention to him – the CEO – standing in the dark at the back of the elevator.  As the elevator door closed with its three new occupants, he quickly became aware, their conversation was a series of complaints and grievances about the company of which he was CEO and founder.

This company had become a global company through a number of recent mergers, and the three employees in the elevator were complaining about impossible workloads, their unavailable bosses, slow systems, volumes of work and unhappy customers. They were focusing on their grievances and airing them in a public place without paying attention to who else might be in the elevator with them, and possibly listening.

When the elevator reached the the ground floor, the CEO stepped out from the dark into the light, expressing concern about their conversation.  It was extremely upsetting to him to hear his employees speak this way.  He wanted to hear more about their experiences.  He asked them to reach out to his assistant and get on his calendar that afternoon.

Growth Mindset or Fixed Mindset

Before I continue, two questions:

Communication Skills Training Questions

  1. From your own world view, how do you think this story might continue?  From your own experience, if this had been you in the elevator and your CEO was standing at the back, how might this story continue in your organization?
  2. If you were the CEO and you heard your people speak about the organization in this negative way in public, what actions might you have taken?

Here’s what happened. They enter his office a few hours later.  He welcomes them to his office and serves tea.  He personally serves them tea.

  • He prides himself on being a gracious host and a fair person.
  • He says how grateful he is to hear their reality – how they're making sense of the current situation
  • He listens to their experiences, and acknowledges they are very different from what he hears is going on
  • He seeks to understand their perspectives
  • He admits shock and agrees he partly owns the problem
  • He requests their and everyone’s ownership in finding new ways to address the concerns they raise
  • He says he needs them and every member of the organization to co-create the future of the organization that he believes is possible and if everyone works together and communicates openly and honestly, it will happen

Communication Skills Training to Re-focus the Corporate Culture

He acted immediately.  The CEO took full responsibility.  It was time to re-focus and align the corporate culture.  He called in the HR Manager, requesting that communication skills training focusing on professional behaviors be sourced and made mandatory for every member of the organization at every level, from C Suite executives to mail room clerks.

I was fortunate to be hired as the change consultant by the CEO and the HR Manager to design a day long communication skills training focusing on professional behaviors and lead a team of facilitators to deliver the workshops in every department across the entire organization both nationally and internationally.

AMP - communication skills trainingWhat was different about this communication skills training from conventional training is that it was designed with the principles of Appreciative Inquiry.  This training was a highly interactive, experiential, strategically-focused workshop where the participants interviewed each other about the most positive communication experiences they had experienced in their lives – in this organization or elsewhere (a benchmarking exercise).  They identified what good communications and professional behaviors look like, sound like, feel like, smell like.  The workshop design focused at first on discovering the best of what exists in the organization already, when communications are at their best, because in the quieter corners of the organization there exists exceptionality and evidence of most effective and helpful communications.  By focusing on what works, the employees were able to co-create a new narrative around communications for high performance that came from their own world.  They did not fall into the narrative of trying to dissect the causes of poor communications and who's to blame.

It certainly wasn't training where the trainer stands at the front of the room presenting to a deck of slides, talking abstractly and theoretically about communications, contrasting bad and good communications, showing checklists of does and don'ts, and facilitating role plays.  There wasn't an “expert” at the front of the room telling them what they should do, who neglected to honor all the positive attributes that existed ready.

Taking Ownership for Implementation

After the employees had discovered best communication experiences through paired interviews, they formed small groups to share all their different stories of communications at their best, thereby identifying collective strengths, best practices and helpful resources.  Next, with all this new found data, they used their imaginations to envision their organization in the near future when all their collective strengths, capabilities and assets would be put into practice.   They were animated and excited about what they knew to be real and possible.  In the final part of the workshop, the participants self-selected into working groups to plan how to implement this vision they had co-created. They came up with specific projects and identified strategies, and goals, resources, timeframes, and resources that would result in improved communications throughout the company.  Communication skills training in this participative workshop format is sustained as the working groups continue to meet post workshop to bring the projects to fruition.

Collaborative Outcomes

What happened in that day long process and was repeated across the entire organization went beyond communication skills training.  Designing training with the Appreciative Inquiry approach, you can expect all of the following outcomes in addition to finding solutions for the “presenting problem”:

  • Highly engaged participants inspired by their own and their colleagues personal, and professional and organizational stories
  • Deepened appreciation of the collective strengths across the organization, with specific examples of golden innovations that already exist, perhaps in quiet unknown corners, or in other departments
  • Shared understanding about what more is possible and what success could and should look like in their department or organization
  • Seeds of ideas that can develop to become more widely integrated across the organization and with clients and vendors
  • A variety of initiatives and projects the participants come up with themselves during the workshop because they want them to happen and will safeguard them because they are invested
  • New knowledge networks and relationships
  • A work product that spreads the story possibly in multimedia format – video, digital, print – to communicate to those who were not physically present – to customers, vendors in newsletters or on the website
  • The potential for a truly transformational change
  • By osmosis, training in interviewing skills, listening skills, assertiveness skills, leadership, visioning, strategic planning are all experienced in one “communications skills training” workshop.
  • Based on all of the above, a sustained contagion effect that positively reinforces a culture where people can say, “we did it ourselves.”

In a nutshell, this collaborative way of communication skills training enables employees to find resources within themselves to bring to the situation.   Furthermore, when they feel supported by others, including coworkers and bosses, it leads to creating a nurturing and inviting environment where they feel safe at work resulting in greater quantity and quality of service.  Teamwork is enhanced, communication is improved, as people truly listen to one another and respect each other. They experience moments of care from others.  As a result, the focus shifts to more open conversation, where shared values get brought into the open and developing individual and organizational strengths becomes a focus which ultimately moves the organization towards resilience and a more empowered workplace.

One of my areas of specialization to is build custom training programs framed with the Appreciative Inquiry worldview.  My book, Appreciative inquiry for Collaborative Solutions, (2010) John Wiley has 21 such workshops.

What you Focus on Grows

I digress briefly to further illustrate this Appreciative Inquiry principle, what you focus on grows  with some examples not only at work, but more broadly in life, at home and at play.  communication skills training - meditating woman

Are you aware of what you enjoy focusing on?  What are the pleasures and treasures you experience when you invest your full energy – your emotions, your thoughts and actions on activities and with people that matter to you that bring you happiness AND meaning.  When you experience these meaningful and totally absorbing activities, you’re in the zone.  You’re so engrossed or absorbed that you lose track of time.  You are in the flow state that is a luscious state of feeling at one with the activity.

Musicians, writers, photographers, painters, poets and dancers know this experience, as do scientists, inventors, entrepreneurs, athletes,  students, and lovers.  In fact, we all know it.  It’s the great gift of being fully present and in the moment with the activity.  It implies you have a degree of competence or a aptitude for the activity and at the same time there’s a degree of challenge that keeps you engaged.  Because it it were too easy, you’d be bored and move on to focus on something different.  If it were too hard, you'd be stressed out and you'd feel de-energized.

How would it be if we could get into that zone more consciously?  Imagine being able to communicate with greater consciousness because you know to focus on what you want Vs what you don't want. What if you could create that sense of heightened and engaged performance in the workplace a high percentage of the time?

Celebrate What's Right

A side story to further illustrate what you focus on grows:  Dewitt Jones, a photographer and motivational speaker, formerly with the National Geographic Magazine, created a beautiful video, Celebrate with What’s Right with the World.  I use it in my Appreciative Inquiry trainings. The entire video speaks to this topic of what you focus on grows among other fabulous messages.  I’d like to highlight two specific stories in Dewitt’s video.

puff balls communication skills trainingOn one particular photo shoot, he bookmarks a scene he wants to come back to to photograph.  It’s a wide open field as far as the eye can see of yellow dandelions.  They are so densely packed it looks like a yellow blanket.  When he finally returns to it a few days later, all the yellow flowers have gone.  It now looks like a drab green field of weeds.  Dewitt chooses not to focus on the loss of the yellow flowers.  He focuses on the new image nature has provided him.  His focus turns to transparent “puff balls” that are laid out before him.  His vision of the photo he had in mind was gone.  Did he get annoyed with the scene, himself or nature?  No, he didn’t focus on what went wrong, or what lost or what had gone.  He focused on what he now had. Glorious puff balls that when the sun rays shone through them they offered him beautiful images to photograph that he had previously could not not have imagined.  He focussed on what was to be celebrated in this new situation, not on what he had lost.

Another memorable scene took place in a tiny Irish village – Dewitt was on assignment to photograph an elderly woman who was a legendary weaver.  He was in awe of her craft and her generosity in allowing him to wander around and take as many photos as he wanted on whatever subjects took his fancy.  He tells the story that he thought he’d be smart and asked her what she thought about when she was weaving.  She looked at him, and, in a very humble way replied:  “I don’t think of anything.  When I weave, I weave.”  Such a beautiful example of being graciously in the moment, in the zone and focusing on what she was best at doing.

The Craving to be Appreciated

sunflowers - communication skills trainingTalking about a field of yellow flowers, I am reminded of traveling in Tuscany in Italy and being awestruck by fields of Sunflowers.   If you’ve ever gazed across a field of sunflowers, you know how breathtaking it is.  You feel like jumping for joy.  Their big, bright yellow heads all face the same direction to form a bright yellow blanket of sunny faces. That’s what’s so special about sunflowers, They actually turn their heads to face the sun.  They follow the sun from dawn to dusk.  They  grow in the direction of light and warmth, just as we humans.  As sunflowers turn to the sun for light and energy, so too, do we humans grow and light up with great energy in a field of abundant, sunny appreciation and positivity.  We literally light up when basked with appreciation.  I am reminded of the quote by American Psychologist William James:

The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.

So if we focus on what serves us well and is energizing to us, we flourish.  With more positivity in our lives, we are likely to create a life that enables us to flourish rather than languish.

Communication Skills Training

Recently,I had the privilege to work with a very large, global corporation, who wanted to bring greater diversity and inclusion into their workplace culture. To make that a reality, we did some fabulous work to identify what topic would focus the conversations and gather the best stories of diversity and inclusion that were  already being lived out  in the organization.  Through an appreciative inquiry process,  we worked out the best topic to focus on was “Freedom to step outside of our comfort zones.”  Why?  Because what they had already found out from the conversations they’d had during the research, data gathering phase is that when people in the organization were free to be themselves, they felt included and their diversity was accepted and celebrated.  So by shining the light and focusing on the best stories of diversity and inclusion enabled acts of diversity and inclusion, which then facilitated greater acts of diversity and inclusion and it began to  grow more diversity and inclusion, because, as I mentioned earlier – this Appreciative Inquiry Principle of what you focus on grows states that the topics or subjects we choose to put our attention to, or study, are fateful in the sense that  they not only determine what we learn, but they actually create it.

Through our Appreciative Inquiry and positivity lens , we consciously seek out that which we want more of, not less—hence what we focus on are the solutions and outcomes we wish to create. There are many examples of this principle in all walks of life, from raising children, to evaluating employee performance, to attending to health and wellness.

Do we place our attention and energy on the behaviors and outcomes we want in our children, co-workers, and diet and exercise regimes in order to create that which we desire, or do we place our attention on the things we want less of?

When we place sincere effort on the attributes we want to see, and can let go of those that no longer serve or support, we have greater chance of success in achieving our desired outcomes.

Greater Harmony in Relationships

Heres’ another example: If you wanted to reduce conflict in a team, and you invested effort into inquiring about their conflicts, the causes, the situations and how often they arose, the conversation would be all about the conflicts.  The team members would be replaying scenes of conflict in their minds.  Would you be helping them to move beyond the analysis of their conflict towards envisioning the possibility of building relationships with greater harmony when conflict was absent? Unlikely.

Teamwork Communication Skills TrainingIf the focus of the inquiry were to shift to  times when the members truly listened to each other, when they were respectful and supportive of each other, when they were present to each other with compassion, their minds would replay very different scenes.  They would be reconnecting with times when they were there for each other with interest and care.

So, when you inquire into deficient situations, you learn more about the causes the deficit – in this case causes of “conflict,” and it doesn’t help anyone learn anything about what it’s like when conflict is absent. When you study someone’s conflict, what opportunity do you have to learn about their “respectful, compassionate relationships?”

Similarly, if you studied “fear,” what would you learn about “connection”?

How deeply programmed are we to focus on the problem side of life Vs the developmental side of life?  In our workplaces, how do we see our employees and our leaders? It is all embedded in the beliefs we have which are reinforced through our language. The language we use shapes our narrative and therefore our reality.

Let me leave you with a question to ponder:  what are you growing in your organization – where is your focus?

I hope I have inspired you with some ideas and strategies about how you can increase greater participation and ownership in your investment in training in  your workplace through paying attention to where you focus your attention.  The more your focus on what you want to create in the world and what you value, the more you will create it.  When we seek to look for the best in ourselves and others, we are likely to find it. Appreciative Inquiry searches for the best in people, their organizations, and the world around them.

My Gift To You:

How to Enliven Communication Skills Training

A highly participatory, interactive way to improve communications

Communications-Skills-Training-Workshop-3D-Cover

As a result of this free training workshop template, you (and your participants) will be able to:​

  • Describe excellent communication from many different perspectives
  • Identify the behaviors that demonstrate excellent communication skills
  • Demonstrate communication skills for high performance
  • Commit to activities that will continue develop skills
  • Contribute ideas for projects to improve communications across the organization

This free communication skills training is a workshop design that establishes what communication looks like when it’s at its best by tapping into individual and collective strengths and entrusting participants with positive results. It’s a benchmarking exercise that discovers what is already working well in your organization and other organizations, and what else needs to happen (or change) to deliver high performance.

Why Relationships are Key in Marketing Consulting Services – PS62

Episode Introduction – Marketing Consulting Services

In this episode, I switch roles.

I enjoyed being interviewed by Amanda Lankart, a masters student at the University of Pennsylvania in the Organization Development & Change Program, where she also learned about Appreciative Inquiry (AI).  The topic of the interview was “marketing consulting services.”  After the interview, Amanda kindly sent me the transcript and also the MP3 file. As Amanda's intention in conducting this interview was to share it with her classmates, I thought it could be a helpful story for other consultants starting out in the organization development and change field.  Amanda graciously gave me permission to publish it as a podcast episode.  Toward the end of her interview, we speak  in general about Appreciative Inquiry, as that’s my area of specialization.   

Episode Background

My interviewer, Amanda Lankart, is a former Marine Corps officer.  Currently, Amanda works as a supervisor for a government agency.  When Amanda first first contacted me for an interview,  she was studying Appreciative Inquiry  in the Masters Program.  Marketing Consulting Services - Amanda Lankart PictureShe had become intrigued by AI  and saw the value in the approach as a change method, and the topic of appreciative leadership. Even at that early stage, Appreciative Inquiry had become more than an assignment to her, as the more Amanda learned about AI,  the more eager she was to get the opportunity to talk to me to learn about my personal experience as an AI practitioner and about AI in general.

Unfortunately, due to schedule constraints, the timing didn’t work for that first interview, but I was very willing to be interviewed for Amanda’s next course, Marketing Organization Development.

Marketing Consulting Services – What Works Best

In today’s global marketplace, having a great digital coach has taken me as an Appreciative Inquiry Consultant and Practitioner to page one on Google, meaning that's where my brand, Positivity Strategist, shows up when people search for my area of service: Appreciative Inquiry.  By having a strong presence on the web through content creation- blog posts, podcast shows, speaking and training videos –  I’ve been able to position myself as a leader in my field by marketing consulting services as an Appreciative Inquiry practitioner, trainer and coach.  My marketing strategy has been to produce high quality content that people can find when they search for “appreciative Inquiry.”  

Valuing Relationships

The common thread throughout the interview is that as consultants we are in the business of growing and strengthening relationships.   I tell the story that when I came to the US from Australia, I had to start from zero in marketing my consulting services..  As I knew no one, other than my boyfriend at the time,  I attended networking meetings to meet people. I found associate work that way.  I also attended courses to align myself with thought leaders in my field and volunteered to work with them.  That is how I came to develop my reputation as a thought leader in Appreciative Inquiry.

Sample Questions in this Interview

Listen in to the interview to find out my responses to questions such as:

  • How do you market your services and–so where do you get most of your business?
  • How would you say your marketing strategy has changed since you first started?
  • What approaches to marketing your services have proven to be most effective and why do you think that is?
  • Would you say any of the approaches that you’ve tried have not been effective?
  • What unique challenges have you faced in marketing your services based on that kind of consulting that you do, and how have you met those challenges?
  • So, what trends exist, if any, that might be changing the way consulting services are marketed?
  • So based on your experience, do you have any other advice for prospective consultants regarding marketing, anything we haven’t discussed yet?

Lifelong Student

I have a strong value around learning, and that has also driven my marketing philosophy.  Staying open and curious and respecting all different perspectives keeps me growing.  I learn from what works and what doesn't. I chose to to focus on what works to develop my capacity to be of service.

Impact on my Interviewer

Amanda states that our discussion was not only relevant to marketing, but also helpful to her as she continues to explore AI and strive to change her mindset to focus on the good, the strengths, and build upon that in her  life and career to influence others to do the same.

Impact on You

I'd love to know your your thoughts after listening to Amanda's interview.  What have you found works for you as you grow your consulting practice?  Why not contribute to the conversation by leaving your comment below?

Connect with Us

Amanda on LinkedIn  

Robyn on LinkedIn

Peacock Image by Michael Hacker

Let's Stay Connected

It's always great to hear from you. Please connect with me to ask questions or leave comments about this episode or the podcast in general, and there are several good ways to do this:

  • Share your questions and ideas on the Podcast Feedback page
  • Leave a voice message here, and we may feature your question on an upcoming episode
  • Leave a comment on the show notes below

Help Spread the Message of Positivity!

I would be extremely appreciative if you would subscribe, rate or review our Positivity Strategist podcast. Your ratings and comments will help a lot to spread the message! Here is a guide to writing a quick review, click on iTunes and Stitcher.

 

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If this episode was helpful or enjoyable to you,

  • I invite you to share it using the social media buttons on the bottom of this page.
  • I'd love it if you can leave a quick review, on iTunes and Stitcher.

 

Students and Business Leaders Hook up to be a Force for Good, with Roberta Baskin – PS58

Episode Introduction

Award winning journalist, Roberta Baskin is a most distinguished guest on Positivity Strategist podcast.  Roberta has had a stellar career in investigative journalism with more than 75 journalism awards both print and TV, including prestigious Peabodys, duPont Columbia Awards, and multiple Emmys.  During this time of global reporting, there was a stirring within: a shift that has brought Roberta to where she is today, Executive Director of AIM2Flourish.

Episode Overview – Business as a Force for Good

Roberta Baskin on Force for GoodAIM2Flourish is a non-profit organization, founded at Case Western Reserve University, whose mission is to accelerate the shift to a Business for Good mindset by recognizing the positive impact of today’s business leaders, and changing the way tomorrow’s leaders are taught.  What is so exciting about AIM2Flourish is that these future business leaders get out of the classroom into businesses that are doing good and positively working towards achieving any one of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals with a target date of 2030.

It’s as if Roberta had been preparing for this new role during her entire journalistic career.  Her investigations, during her time as a journalist, resulted in making beer healthier, exposing sweatshops in the shoe and soccer industries, uncovering pediatric dental abuses, and succeeding in banning dangerous products.

Did You Discover Appreciative Inquiry or Did Appreciative Inquiry Discover you?

Whenever my guests come from the world of Appreciative Inquiry (AI), I invite this question: Did you discover Appreciative Inquiry, or did Appreciative Inquiry discover you.  You’ll love Roberta’s quirky answer. (She’s very playful by nature, having enjoyed her company at a number of Appreciative Inquiry gatherings).  As a recovering journalist, Roberta offers that she needed to do the AI Certification twice, because she was programmed to focus on the bad stuff in the world.  Her default mindset was conditioned to find out “what’s wrong?” in situations rather than “What’s possible?” What a 360 turn!  When she met Appreciative Inquiry thought leader, David Cooperrider, her worldview flipped, as does most people’s when they discover AI, and/or meet with Professor Cooperrider.

Restorative Narratives

It's very encouraging to hear Roberta offer examples of media organizations that are focusing on the best of humanity even in the worst of times.  Journalists who report on tragic circumstances in ways that restore hope, resilience and possibilities that lift up the human spirit to inspire us all.   Restorative narratives shine the light on how even in pain and suffering, there are beautiful stories of hope and resilience and possibility.

Examples of generative journalism can be found in Images and Voice of Hope, Constructive Journalism Project, Solutions Journalism Network, Axiom News and Huffington Post has a What's Working Section.

Changing Business Education by Changing the Story of Business

If we hold the belief that business can be a force for good, how might we change the way colleges and universities teach business skills?  Instead of the same old traditional curriculum, we might inquire into the biggest global issues facing businesses today and create innovative partnerships and experiences for students to learn actively from personal experience rather than passively through books and the internet.

Organizations who value innovation, longevity and human flourishing as strategic imperatives,  demonstrate that their financial bottom line is so interconnected with our planet’s and people’s well-being.

Developing Leaders for 21st Century

AIM2Flourish partners with professors in business schools around the world with materials to help their students research, and engage in conversations with innovative business leaders, and begin to conceive potential solutions that will not only advance business goals, but also address the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals.

The 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals provide such an opportunity for business students to work on real issues such as ending poverty and hunger, shifting to clean energy, controlling climate change and working for peace.  All this is possible.  Our collective conscious has awakened to our global oneness.  We are all in this together.

Being a Force for Good Benefits all Stakeholders

AIM2Flourish is the world’s first global action-learning platform showcasing business innovation that tackle some of our biggest challenges. Founded at Case Western Reserve University, business students across the globe use Appreciative Inquiry framed questions (AIM = Appreciative Inquiry Method) to search out and report on golden innovations that address the 17 UN Global Goals.

As a participating business, the benefits are many:  brand reputation; being aligned with purpose-driven students; aligning with other leaders in the social responsibility space;  recognition as a positive change agent in the world and providing solutions to some of the world’s greatest challenges.

AIM2Flourish Stories and Ways to Participate

As you listen to Roberta, you will be inspired by students’ stories.  I encourage you to go to AIM2Flourish.com,  join up and participate in being a force for good.  The students and the companies that are being showcased will appreciate it and you’ll feel great about your contribution.

AIM2Flourish logo Force for GoodIf you wish to participate more actively, please reach out to Roberta. Her links are provided below.

Accept Roberta’s invitation to create your own profile on AIM2Flourish.

Contribute to the Sightings page.  Here's an opportunity to write up an innovation you are aware of that may help students explore more.

You, your family, community or organization  can become part of the global improvement movement to achieve the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 – only 14 years away.

AIM2Flourish is housed at the Fowler Center for Business as an Agent of World Benefit in Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management.

Links Mentioned

Website:  AIM2Flourish

Twitter: AIM2Flourish

LinkedIn: Roberta Baskin

Facebook: AIM2Flourish

Roberta on Wikipedia

Fowler Center for Business as an Agent of World Benefit

Recent Articles by Roberta

1) Huffington Post blog: Business 101: AIM2Flourish 

2) Kosmos Journal: AIM2Flourish

3) AIM2Flourish Blog 

Let's Stay Connected

It's always great to hear from you. Please connect with me to ask questions or leave comments about this episode or the podcast in general, and there are several good ways to do this:

  • Share your questions and ideas on the Podcast Feedback page
  • Leave a voice message here, and we may feature your question on an upcoming episode
  • Leave a comment on the show notes below

Help Spread the Message of Positivity!

I would be extremely appreciative if you would subscribe, rate or review our Positivity Strategist podcast. Your ratings and comments will help a lot to spread the message! Here is a guide to writing a quick review, click on iTunes and Stitcher.

 

Listen to Stitcher

Subscribe-iTunes-180x120

Listen on Google Play Music

Subscribe Via RSS

If this episode was helpful or enjoyable to you,

  • I invite you to share it using the social media buttons on the bottom of this page.
  • I'd love it if you can leave a quick review, on iTunes and Stitcher.

Why Strengths Based Coaching Helps Overcome Weaknesses

I bet a number of you have been coached.  If so, it is likely you are into your own development.  It's also likely you are aware of coaching to strengths is very beneficial.

Coaching is about improvement, going to the next level, achieving aspirations, identifying ways to  live to your fullest capacity and potential.  Yet, a dominant, and perhaps traditional model of coaching, has been to start from a place of lack, or deficient that focuses on eliminating weaknesses.  There is this strongly held view that we need to fix the problem before we can move into the areas of development.

The Energizing Force of Strengths Based Coaching

Strengths based coaching comes from the worldview that in every system (human and otherwise) there are also many things that already work right.  Starting from what one does well already – one's strengths – is a far more energizing way to improve quickly.  You actually go from strength to strength which helps to mitigate weaknesses.  It's not to say you don't address or deal with weaknesses.  I am saying that starting from what you do well, what gives you best outcomes personally, or amplifies your organizational capabilities offers greater leverage and takes less time than investing heavily in and struggling with weaknesses.  You also have greater willingness to deal with the weaknesses once you have elevated your best assets.

Strengthen Existing Talents

Strengths based coaching starts with what’s working well already and seeks to discover your natural strengths, talents, and preferences.  You recognize there are choice points and you tend to focus on what consumes you.  Said another way: “Where the attention goes, the energy flows.”

If you’re a leader, a parent, an educator, isn’t it your responsibility to encourage the development of others in life-nurturing ways to help them find the fullest and most satisfying ways possible and strengthen their existing talents?

I'd like to illustrate with a business story that illustrates how strengths based coaching is an extremely effective way of developing people.

Develop your Strengths to Mitigate your Weaknesses

A few years ago, I was brought in to a large professional services firm to coach seven young women who were deemed “high potential”. They were in their early 30s. This firm wanted to groom more young women to be promoted to director level and possibility partner. The business reason for this investment in coaching was to stop the high attrition rate of these young, talented women leaving the firm because they saw no real career path there. Most of the senior jobs continued to be given to men.

Each of the seven young women came to her first coaching session with her “report card” (360 performance review) from her manager, ready to point out what her weaknesses were and what her manager recommended she work on.

Respectfully, I listened and looked at the document. After what I thought was an appropriate amount of time, I put the document down, looked at her, and asked one very simple, straightforward question:

“Tell me what you’re best at?”

The response I got every time was: silence.

Experience Flow

It didn't take too long for the young woman’s demeanor to change with a physiological shift, a softening in the face, a change in eye focus and gaze, and then a smile, followed by a gentle, embarrassed laugh.  Together, we began to explore what gave her greatest joy and satisfaction.  She was able to identify when she experienced a sense of flow – when time was lost – when she experienced a sense of intrinsic reward even though the situation was challenging.  What she found most rewarding was to discover that when she experienced this sense of time just passing so fluidly, she experienced her work to be far more energizing and engaging.

Increase Productivity and Joy

In the six months' coaching that followed, each young woman went through a transformation. They all completed the VIA Character Strengths survey and put their strengths work.

They reported relationships that had been challenging become easier. They felt less stressed because they invested their efforts in their strengths and found ways to manage weaknesses, meaning they become more productive and experienced more joy in their work.

They were so happy that with this new knowledge they found they were also able begin to notice the strengths of their colleagues, bosses and staff who reported to them, so they could optimize their productivity as well by assigning tasks and responsibilities that best fit their strength profiles.

Believe me, when you really know your own strengths and integrate the words and behaviors, you become far more effective in all your relationships, your own productivity and life takes on a whole new meaning.

20 Positive Outcomes from a Strength-based Approach to Change

Change is Popular

Strength-based approach to changeThe topic of change doesn't go away.  Google the phrase books on ‘change‘ and 1,570,000,000 results come up.  Change methods results in 928,000,000 searches;  change management 474,000,000;  change leadership 493,000,000; strength-based change 51,200,000; strength-based leadership  4,150,000.  You get my point.

There are countless ways to approach change. Your values, mindset and experience will determine what fits for you.  We talk about winners and losers in change.  There is money to be made in change, especially if you are brought in to design or facilitate it.

Responding to Change

With regard to organizational change, where you sit in an organization is likely to determine how you might view it.  You could adopt any of the following perspectives and actions. You could:

  • Deal with it
  • Force it
  • Mandate it
  • Institutionalize it
  • Defend it
  • Implore it
  • Ignore it
  • Create it artificially – from a place of fear, threats, organizational weaknesses, fire and brim stone and forcing compliance
  • Invite it
  • Embrace it
  • Request it
  • Play with it
  • Recommend it
  • Create it transparently – from a place of possibility, opportunities, strengths, aspirations and foster commitment

Strength-based Approach to Change

When you take the perspective that every system – human or otherwise – has something that works already – it opens up the opportunity and the possibility to begin to address change from those perspectives.

Invite more of what works already so we can do more of THAT!

You know what?  People respond to that.  When a community discovers together what it does well already and openly celebrates, and acknowledges assets, successes, and its collective capabilities, it creates upwards spirals of energy and interest that fuel a spirit of WE can do this, Vs. IT can't be done.

The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated ~ William James

There are a number of ways to invite people to be active participants in their own change. Appreciative Inquiry, Open Space Technology, World Cafe, Search Conferencing are such examples.  Creating a safe space for people to share the best of their past and co-create their dreams and pathways for a bright future speaks to creating change from a transparent place.  It requires trusting open, collaborative, generative and generous perspectives and practices.

20 Positive Outcomes

When you invite people to discover the high points of a past change experience where they focus on what works Vs do a post mortem on the weakness and failures, this is what can be unleashed:

1 stories of best performance

2 celebration of past successes

3 growing positive metrics

4 sharing most favorable feedback

5 energized activities

6 engaged communication

7 willingness to jump in

8 go that extra mile

9 volunteer mindset

10 abundance of ideas

11 increased support for each other

12 greater sharing of ideas

13 openness to customer feedback

14 greater collaboration around initiatives

15 more communication across the organization

16 increased transparency

17 greater acceptance of risk

18 sharing resources

19 leadership shows up where least expected

20 joy and play become part of work

The list is a just a start.  What else have you discovered?  Let's build the evidence for strength-based change to develop our communities and places of work.

Appreciative Inquiry – Overview of Method, Principles and Applications

10 minute read

My intention with this resource is to provide an overview of Appreciative Inquiry for people who are new to this strength-based, transformational, positive change methodology.

My Intention for this Resource

This resource is an overview of the change methodology Appreciative Inquiry. Topics covered:

  • What it is
  • How it is a strength-based, positive framework
  • What it can achieve through collaborative conversations
  • The 4-D process of Appreciative Inquiry
  • How it can be applied personally and professionally
  • The guiding principles
  • The importance of affirmative questions
  • The value of story-telling in Appreciative Inquiry

My wish is that you will be more curious and excited about the possibilities of this life-centric, positive approach to change after reading it.  And, there are many more posts and stories throughout Positivity Strategist if your interest has been piqued.

 What is Appreciative Inquiry?

Seeing with Appreciative Eyes

What is Appreciative Inquiry?

Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is a change methodology grounded in theories from the disciplines of organization behavior and the sciences of sociology and psychology, with a good dose of metaphyics. Those of us who practice AI refer to it as both a way of being and doing.

Appreciative Inquiry is a perspective on the world that invites us to see ourselves and the world through an appreciative or valuing eye.  We are made aware that how we use language, how we ask questions, and what stories we tell shape our own and collective destinies.

Appreciative Inquiry CertificateEarning my certification in Positive Business and Society Change Program at Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University in 2004 with Professors David Cooperrider and Ron Fry has been a high point of my personal and professional life.  It has enabled me to meet extraordinary people and contribute in ways I had never dreamed possible, adding to the body of work in this field.

Definition of Appreciative Inquiry

From the Handbook of Appreciative Inquiry, (link here) here’s a comprehensive definition:

Appreciative Inquiry is the co-evolutionary, co-operative search for the best in people, their organizations, and the relevant world around them … AI involves the art and practice of asking questions that strengthen a system’s capacity to apprehend, anticipate and heighten positive potential … AI practice focuses on the speed of the imagination and innovation.  Instead of negative, critical, and spiraling diagnoses commonly used in our organizations … there is discovery, dream, design and destiny.”

Organizational Change

Appreciative Inquiry Summit

Organizational Change

Appreciative Inquiry is an affirming way to embrace human, institutional and organizational change.  As a change methodology, AI offers a life-centric structured approach to energize people in organizations to move in the direction of what they most desire.  Its framework focuses organizational members on their existing core capacities, strengths and successes; it invites them to to envision a desired future; it initiates collaborations to design projects and activities the members are willingly commit to.

This change methodology has the perspective that every system, human and otherwise, has something that works right already —things that contribute to its aliveness, effectiveness, and success, connecting it in healthy ways to its stakeholders and the wider community.   With the Appreciative Inquiry perspective, we can create positive change that can be sustainable, thereby expanding capacity for wellbeing and flourishing. Read more

The Source Of Great Leadership Qualities With Susan Mazza – PS020

Episode Overview

Susan Mazza, creator of the highly acclaimed blog, “Random Acts of Leadership” shares insights and stories on the topic of leadership with Positivity Strategist host, Robyn Stratton-Berkessel.  This episode is a personal conversation between two friends as they share experiences and exchange ideas about leadership. It's an example of a truly generative conversation.

Episode Introduction

Susan Mazza on Leadership QualitiesSusan Mazza is a force in the leadership space with her extremely popular blog, “Random Acts of Leadership“.  It has been named as one of the top leadership blogs, and Susan has also been recognized as one of America’s most trusted voices in this space.

Susan Mazza and I first met on Twitter in 2009 – it was actually my partner, Juergen Berkessel of Polymash who suggested I follow Susan on Twitter, since she was tweeting about leadership – a subject which is also in my professional portfolio, and within a couple of months, we three had a tweet-up in NYC.

Over these last five years our relationship has grown and strengthened. We’ve worked together, visited each other and what’s most rewarding to me is that we’ve become trusted friends.

Please enjoy a summary of our conversation and our collective insights below.

Distinct Voice on Leadership

The success of Susan's blog, “Random Acts of Leadership” has allowed Susan to discover her own voice and her distinctive perspective on the subject of leadership.  As a successful blogger, she speaks to people all over the world, who have chosen to engage with her.  Susan states that blogging has enabled her to become a better communicator and writer.

Aligned to that, Susan's blog increases the number of people she reaches and thereby it amplifies the difference she can make in the world by touching the number of people she does. That is important to her.  Susan is about making a difference.

Susan's distinct voice on leadership is about the everyday leader in each of us. Her purpose is to love people into their greatness to support and inspire them in becoming the most powerful and joyful expression of who they are.

POSITIVITY LENS for this EpisodePositivity Lens Notebook

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Connecting with Your Own Leadership

It was a personal situation that enabled Susan to connect to her own leadership.  She discovered that after a series of unsuccessful relationships with doctors, she finally took the stand to articulate the kind of relationship she wanted with a particular doctor by making a deal with the doctor.  She requested that he treat her as a whole and healthy person, and if he realized he would be unable to treat her, he was to let her know so she could make an informed decision.  He agreed.  They co-create a partnership and she was healed.

Valuing Leadership Qualities

When you listen into Susan's episode, you'll learn that leadership for her is not about a role or position, but it's about the everyday leader that shows up when you take responsibility to lead yourself.  The leadership qualities that Susan identifies and values within herself when she tells her story include the courage to speak up and ask what she wants in order to create her own story and carve her own journey of wellness.  She was no longer willing to buy into someone else's story or the world's story – which is what most of us do.  It's so easy to buy into the world's story about yourself and others.

Our Power Comes from Creating our own Story

When you're really clear about who you are and what you bring to a situtation at any given moment in time, as well as being clear about who you are choosing to be, you are standing in your power and creating your own story. We are ever evolving, so knowing who you are and who you want to become gives you a solid place from which to stand and you can make choices that are congruent with your being.

Coaches and mentors are pivotal in development.  Having a thinking partner and supporter to help gain clarity around your purpose and what matters to you are key to finding your own power and hence developing your own leadership qualities and capabilities.

Power today is based less on hierarchy, position and role, and more on connection and self-generative capacities. We lead alongside our co-workers, our vendors and our clients. Partnerships, strategic alliances and collaborations are business relationships which are more likely to lead to flourishing and prospering.  When you lead from the core of who you are, you're authentic and what matters to you and clarity of purpose remain your overarching guides.

Generative Development

Self-generation is a leadership quality.  You can generate your own power from within and you can generate power in others.  We show our leadership when generate development conversations that grow and empower others and strengthen relationships.

Adversity or negative situations also generate development.  When we are struggling, or when we feel we are not making a difference, or things are not going as planned or the feedback we want is not forthcoming, we need to go deep and generate that leadership from within so that we grow the capabilities we need to make a difference.

The Power of Aspiration

Underpinning our conversation on leadership qualities, power, experts and generative development was the concept of ‘aspiration', or said another way, the pinnacle of self-leadership is aspiration.  If something isn't working, or we're not attaining what we believe we are truly capable of, or deserving of, we have a choice.  We can let it go and more on, or we hang on to it and hold the dream, meaning we tap into our aspirations that propel plus even higher to the point of achievement.

Susan shares two particular stories in this episode: a personal one and a community story.  What underscores these two very different stories is the desire for a better state, if not an ideal state.  It was the aspiration to achieve that ideal state that empowered Susan in one story, and a community in the other, to not give in but to strive to make the desired state a reality.

By way of conclusion, we could say that a key leadership quality is aspiration – a dream, a vision, a desired future state.  When that aspiration stirs in us, what follows is the generative capacity to find the power and the resources – internal and external to bring the aspiration to fruition.

leading made simple, the source of great leadership qualitiesLeading Made Simple

Download Susan Mazza’s free report and unlock the secret of great leadership qualities! Request your FREE e-book, Leading Made Simple:  3 Ways Anyone Can Lead Every Day, and discover the key to increasing your impact, improving performance and cultivating leadership in others.

Links Mentioned In This Episode

Let's Stay Connected

It's always great to hear from you. Please connect with me to ask questions or leave comments about this episode or the podcast in general, and there are several good ways to do this:

  • Share your questions and ideas on the Podcast Feedback page
  • Leave a voice message here, and we may feature your question on an upcoming episode
  • Leave a comment on the show notes below

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Innovation for Positive Sustainable Development, with Nadya Zhexembayeva – PS018

Episode Overview

Nadya ZhexembayevaBusiness owner, author, speaker, international consultant on innovation, leadership and sustainable development, Nadya Zhexembayeva talks about her experiences working in the field of  innovative, intelligent resource development.  Nadya has written about her findings in her latest book, Overfished Ocean Strategy: Powering up Innovation for a Resource Deprived World.  

 An appreciative inquiry practitioner, she collaborates with business leaders to help them redesign their businesses to thrive in a world that values all resources. Nadya shares five design principles that will delight you and challenge your thinking.


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Events and Choice Shape our Destiny

Nadya Zhexembayeva is an internationally acclaimed author, speaker and subject matter specialist on the topics of innovation. leadership and sustainable growth.  As a young adult, she experienced dramatic change and hardship in her native country of Kazakhstan.  The country, as it struggled to adapt to its new state of independence after the collapse of the Communist block in 1991 was a story survivability.  What makes a country sustainable or survivable were questions Nadya pondered.

Even though Nadya lived with questions around national sustainability, her own path to become a global consultant and business owner with a mission of sustainability was never in her professional plans.  She earned a scholarship to study in the USA and was strongly encouraged to pursue a Ph.D. commencing in 2001.

Appreciative Inquiry

In common with a number of other Positivity Strategist Podcast guests, Nadya’s professional trajectory was influenced by the teachings of Professor David Cooperrider once she began her Doctorate Degree in Organizational Behavior at Case Western Reserve University. Professor Cooperrider is the thought leader of the organizational change methodology,  Appreciative inquiry.

Listen to the episode to learn how Nadya became a founding members of the forum Business as an Agent of World Benefit (BAWB), and continues on the Advisory Board today.  This forum began as a global inquiry into the positive role that business can play in bringing about peace and prosperity in the world.  In 2001, BAWB’s inception year, Nadya says they could barely find three positive examples that showed sustainable alternatives to prosperity and growth without resulting in a negative impact on the environment.

Changing the Language

Since 2001, Nadya celebrates that we have made tremendous strides in sustainable product development, practices and policies.  Back then, they could barely uncover three success stories in one year.  Today, she tells us, tens of success stories come to her attention daily. And while there are tremendous innovations happening in businesses today, what will speed up progress even more is to shift the language around sustainability.  We need language and stories that inspire people in business to want to invest in more of the innovations that are making a difference in our lives and in our world.

Positive Change

Making sustainable development an exciting, desirable objective, where middle managers encourage and seek out conversations on the topic of sustainability, is what contributes to positive change.  Nadya explains, however, that the way most business talk about sustainability today is generally de-energizing as they see the issues as struggles:  any efforts to change for the good are perceived as punitive, costly, and appear at the periphery of core business.

Them Vs Us

On this issue of sustainability, once we accept that we can no longer point the finger at them – “they” who are causing this, but recognize that it’s all of us –  “we” who are consumers and voters, we’ll wake up to the reality that sustainability is a beautiful thing.  If “sustainability” is an ideal, then we can be strategic about how we live into such an ideal.

What is Sustainability?

Sustainability has many definitions.  At its core, it is the ability to sustain, to exist, to be here today and tomorrow.  Over and over, we know that people are inspired by what’s working, not what’s broken.  There are so many amazing companies today that are making it happen and making lots of money at the same time.

Financial Sustainability

Sustainability has many dimensions.  Financial sustainability is a crucial dimension of sustainability.  If a business is not financially sustainable, it will not last. The leadership of organizations that put sustainability on their strategic agenda are innovating to ensure their products and services work to respect all resources across the entire value chain.   So we live in a beautiful time of amazing possibilities for innovative solutions.

A business can only be sustainable if its clients, vendors, partners are all of the same mindset, meaning they share a similar mindset on waste or pollution, for example.  Sustainability is systems driven – a whole systems view is required, because everything is interconnected. What used to be considered external to a business is not longer so.  All externalities have a direct impact on our ability to survive. Listen in to learn why a particular bank needs to be worried about bees disappearing.

Overfished Ocean Strategy

In her latest book, Overfished Ocean Strategy: Powering Up Innovation for a Resource-Deprived World, Nadya shows us an alternative to our throwaway-economy, which has no future anymore.  The book is  a reflection on the progress sustainability has made, and clearly outlines why we need a new language and different set of tools around sustainability.  Fresh, innovative ideas, such as the concept of a sustainable economic system is exactly what our resource-deprived world needs right now. The book shows how far we have come and how heaps of money has been earned in changing the business model to one that respects intelligent resource development.  Nadya points out that business is forced to be honest – it’s binary system – it’s either making money or losing money.

Listen in as Nadya describes why the ‘Red Ocean Strategy’ and the ‘Blue Ocean Strategy’ are no longer relevant.  Trying to kill off the competition in an existing market (Red Ocean) or create a brand new market place (Blue Ocean) is no longer possible if our resources are diminishing. The oceans are already overfished, hence the ‘Overfished Ocean Strategy.’

Intelligent Resource Development

This books is chock full of fabulous stories, innovations, leadership examples, products and services that focus on intelligent resource development.  It asks every business leader and manager to ask themselves if they have the resource base to develop the strategies to support what they do.  These resource bases include everything:  raw materials, human resources,  stable climate and social stability, are some examples.  Without resources there can be no strategy. Nadya talks about some of her current favorite businesses (they change often she says, because she learns about new exciting innovations every day) – Rolls Royce, Mudd Jeans and Knauf Insulation.

Listen in to what these organizations are doing currently that are exemplary models of intelligent resource development.

Five Redesign Principles to Sustainable Development and  Innovation

Listen to this episode to hear Nadya eloquently and fluently explain the five redesign principles she outlines in her book.  These five principles have been identified through her research into what leading, innovative companies are successfully embracing in this world of diminishing resources.  These five principles are helping them thrive economically in this new world while living up to the ideal of sustainability.  You will be delighted and your thinking will be challenged.

The Future

By way of conclusion, Nadya is hopeful that she will look back in twenty years to see how much progress we have made.  Young people all over the world today, where possible, are active in designing how they want their futures to to be.  One such movement that she helped found is Challenge Future a community where youth across the world are connecting virtually, coming together in meetings, collaborating and co-creating ways they want the world to be.

Links Mentioned In This Episode:

Articles:

Books Mentioned In This Episode

Holistic Leadership

shutterstock_30406333-300x200The call of our time now is for a holistic leadership vision that will guide us into the future, a vision based on equity, justice, prosperity, compassion, and the recognition of our interdependence. The role businesses and professions can play is critical and essential. There are increasing numbers of organizations that are proactively positioning themselves through their visions and strategies as key players in the world willing to demonstrate that the business bottom line and humanity’s bottom line are not mutually exclusive. Anecdotally, research findings show that responsible business leaders are responsible community leaders.

The majority of leadership development and change models and methods emphasize the cognitive dimensions and linear approaches to development. A cognitive shift is important, but an intuitive leap or a heartfelt shift is transformational. So one single heartfelt experience, when you intuit an idea, discover a latent talent, a potential strength, a gesture of caring, those can be transformative. In fact, the very first question we ask, and the way in which we ask it, begins the change process.

Read more

The New Paradigm Life

shutterstock_13468741-300x200The response to the following question Michelle James put to Annalie Killian, resonates loudly.

(Link to the full interview below)

Q: What do you see as the New Paradigm of Work?

Killian: The new paradigm is about Life. One life, and work is part of that life and increasingly these two blend like fluids. Much of this is driven by the exponential rate of technological advances, automation by machines of routine tasks and the unstable and unpredictable business climate (and in part, planetary climate conditions!) The technologies we use for work and for socializing blend; the devices we use at home and at work blend; our networks blend; our hours of work and home-time blend in a ubiquitously connected global economy; our work spaces blend and even the boundaries between our professional personas and our personal reputations blend. Increasingly, our employers blend as many people become self-employed or work on contract terms for multiple organizations, over time our careers will blend from one life stage to another, much like seasonal workers or the way in which actors work.

In this new paradigm of work, where work and life are inseparable, happiness will only be possible if work blends with play, if passion blends with purpose, and if creativity is as vigorously cultivated as profitability.

What about this interview so resonated with me? Annalie offers stories and insights for creating environments where people show up fully so their radiance shines.

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