Posts Tagged ‘shared vision’

Who Are We Together? Listening Our Way to A Shared Identity and Strategy

Monday, May 14th, 2012

Mergers of teams, business units and whole companies often trigger questions about organizational identity.  Yet, such situations are not the only times organizations and companies question who they are, what they stand for and how they want to live that out.  New leadership, significant regulatory changes, an examination of values of sustainability or the triple bottom line, declining market share or profitability can all trigger executives to step back and ask big questions of identity and purpose. The need to strengthen brand strategy or branding campaigns can also highlight fractures in shared identity and strategy.

In a recently completed project with a non-profit organization, we asked the question: “Who are we together?” and the client reached its answer in a uniquely soulful way: by listening to each other.  I’ve led quite a few processes that help organizations find clarity of direction and a strategy for how to achieve their objectives. This situation was unique.  There was not enough social cohesion in this organization to allow leaders to chart a new course in the normal way.  There was conflict, lack of clear roles, and a history of false starts in finding a new direction.

This organization needed to build trust – trust in leadership as well as trust in their decision-making processes. In the process of finding a new identity and future direction, many organizations conduct inventories of assets or skills. This is not a bad thing to do; we did it in this case, too.  But, we went beyond merely cataloging shared values and assets. We got people talking about them. And about what mattered to them as individuals.

We designed a series of conversations to begin to build trust within small groups of individuals.  These groups reported out their conversations to the wider organization. One of the common comments from the small groups was how good it was to talk among themselves in a thoughtful and supportive way. We gradually increased the number of people in each conversation. As the groups got larger, we changed the structure of the conversation to make sure that all voices were heard equally and that groups learned how to synthesize the essence of their own talking and listening. By the time the process was complete, leaders were able to synthesize the reflections of all who participated.

We didn’t start the conversation with “What should we do together?” Instead we started with the question “Who are you?” We asked people to share their own personal perspectives in response to some distinctive questions. This personal piece was an important building block. Then we moved into the question “Who are we together?” After these two questions had been satisfied, we asked “What do we want to do together? What is our shared work?”

In his book, Community: The Structure of Belonging, author and consultant Peter Block says that the “small group is the unit of transformation.” In this instance, listening together in small groups has led to a powerful outcome that will guide one organization for some time to come.

Dialogue: The Conversational Nature of Strategy

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

“To listen is to lean in, softly, with a willingness to be changed by what we hear.”

Mark Nepo

By Kathleen Hosfeld

Increasingly strategy must be about dialogue. In a recent article about the changing nature of strategy and marketing  in the “Twenty-Tweens” (our current age),  I described three different forms of communication – information sharing, persuasion and dialogue. Information sharing and persuasion are the two forms most people associate with marketing. But the nature of business, the demands of customers and stakeholders are quickly outstripping the capacity of information sharing and persuasion alone to respond.

What do we mean by dialogue? I’ve said that it’s the type of conversation where two or more parties bring together information out of which something new is created.

Poet David Whyte has talked about this type of communication in terms of what it means to be a leader today. In a video on his website he talks about the conversational nature of reality:

“The conversational nature of reality has to do with the fact that whatever you want to happen will not happen. A *version* of it will happen. Some aspects of it will happen. You will be surprised also and quite often gladdened that what you wanted to happen in the beginning actually didn’t happen and something else occurred. Also it’s true that whatever society, or life or your partner or your children want from you will also not happen. They also will have to join the conversation.”

Whyte’s speaking engagements with companies on the conversational nature of reality have to do with what kind of leadership stance one can take in response to this dynamic. Who do we need to be as leaders to participate in the conversational nature of reality?

The same question faces organizations. What kind of stance do we need to take with our customers and partners in order to thrive in the conversational nature of reality? Many companies who have been early pioneers of collaboration and co-creation will say there’s tremendous potential return on investment from engaging in dialogue. Strategy– including communications, product innovation and more – is at its best in dynamic collaboration with customers and other stakeholders. To tap that potential we need to start from a place of strong core of identity and purpose, and then have the skills and tools to support dialogue as it scales through the organization.

The scale of dialogue takes place on a continuum of complexity. On the left side of the X axis we have dialogues one-to-one; on the right side we have dialogues one-to-thousands or even millions. On the left side of the continuum we rely on interpersonal skills and good facilitation of conversations to get to the shared creation. On the right side, we need technology platforms (crowd sourcing, social media and corporate social platforms) to support true two-way “conversation” on a mass scale.

All along the continuum, we need to be able to relax our grip on our own ideas and be open to what we can “create together.” In his video, Whyte takes issue with what he calls the “strategic” approach, by which I think he means predetermining a set of actions and getting too attached to them in ways that ignore the conversational nature of reality. I would say that the type of strategy – marketing and organizational — that actually works today is one that takes the conversational nature of reality into account. It is not static. It is not a fixed plan. Rather it’s a framework that includes a strong purpose and identity and that creates a container – much like a greenhouse – where the seeds sown in dialogue can take root and grow.

New Strategy: Three Questions That Connect Us To The “Great Story”

Sunday, March 27th, 2005

By Kathleen M. Hosfeld, President

Three questions can help organizations connect their strategies and brands to The Great Story, the important work of our time. I first realized the value of the “great story” more than a decade ago, in listening to my retired father and a colleague reminisce about their days in the aluminum industry. At a dinner together I heard the two former executives wax nostalgic.

“It’s not the same as when we were there, Bob,” his friend Clay said. “All these young guys care about is their careers. You and I, what we cared about was aluminum.”

The reverence with which he said the word aluminum went beyond the value of excellence, beyond the pride of creating quality. Mass production of aluminum changed everything – from airplanes (once made of wood and fabric), to rail cars, to building construction materials, to medical tools, to food storage. Aluminum was the metal that would carry us to the moon.

The power of aluminum to create a better world was the kind of purpose that called for service beyond self-interest. It was clear in the way Clay said the word aluminum that to him it meant a brighter future for his children and grandchildren. That future was worth his dedication and creativity.

Whether we work in a for-profit or a non-profit, for government or private enterprise, the larger story of our work makes it worth the best we have to give.

The Three Questions

In strategy work with clients, I’ve found that defining the organization’s purpose around something compelling to people both inside and outside the organization depends on answering three questions:

  • What is the change we want to see in the world because of our work (shared vision)?
  • What are the means we will use to create this change (shared means)?
  • How do we want to be together as we do this work (shared values)?

Seeing the Change

When we ask the question, “What is the change we want to see in the world because of our work?” we assume that we have a degree (if small) of influence over a vast system. The question implies we’re looking for a point of leverage in the system. Another way to ask the question is “Why make a change at all? What is the need?” Sometimes, we already know the change we want to create in the world – more home ownership, greater fuel efficiency, healthier kids, engaged citizens. We can look around us and see that others care about this same change because they too are working in their own way to address this need. This gives us a sense of who our partners, collaborators or competitors might be. Most of us are unaccustomed to thinking about our work in terms of our impact on the world. Some entrepreneurs respond to this question by realizing they’ve lost track of their original goals for their business.

Creating the Change

The next question, “What are the means we will use to create this change” defines the day-to-day tasks and methods you use to achieve your goal. A technology support division of a local city government might have a goal to become an essential resource to the entire city system. But there might be many roads to get to this shared destination. Is it through superior help-desk solutions? Is it through catalyzing technology upgrades? Defining shared means is an agreement about strategy.  Clarifying “shared means” results in focus, and thus creates greater return on investment of learning and capital. It often requires sifting through what others (competitors or collaborators) are already doing, what your organization does best or most successfully. It also means listening to what customers or other constituents validate as meaningful. This validation can be purchases and customer loyalty in a for-profit venture. In a non-profit it can be expressed through grants and donations that support the work.

Being The Change

How we create the change is very often influenced by asking “How do we want to be together as we do this work?” This speaks to something very different than the values statements senior managers post on bulletin boards for everyone’s compliance.  This question gets at the underlying values that reflect how we want to be treated or how we (the people) agree to treat each other in the workplace even when there’s no external reward. Creating alignment between the goals and organizational culture creates integrity; it says “we walk our talk.”  For many employees, agreements about how we want to be together can be as important as the change we want to see in the world. Positive social networks, being a valued member of a productive team, and the ability to take pride in their work create meaning for many employees that brings out their best contribution. These agreements can create stability at times when the larger strategic vision is shifting.

Answering these three questions benefits an organization in several ways. It:

  • Creates efficiency through clear focus and alignment resulting in faster progress and fewer wasted resources;
  • Articulates a compelling foundation for brands and other marketing messages;
  • Fosters productive social connections among employees who then share the same goals; and
  • Establishes a positive purpose for the organization in the context of a larger, dynamic system.

These questions and their answers lead us back to that place of the great story of our work. We’re not just telling a good story about our company and work as many corporate storytellers do. Rather we are seeing the Great Story of our time, finding our place in a story that is bigger than us, bigger than the place we work, and committing ourselves to work that is worthy of our passion and service. This is living a great story.

(This article was originally published in March of 2005.  My father, Bob Hosfeld, an Alcoa executive, contributed significantly to the original version. Its continued publication is dedicated to his memory and his legacy as a “spiritual advisor” to his colleagues.)