This is the second in a series of interviews asking a number of noted thought leaders for their views on a few basic but essential questions on Organizational Change.
Our second contributor is Jennifer Sertl who is a business strategist combining neuroscience + existential philosophy to foster better decisions, systems thinking & scenario planning. She is fond of saying that "this is not the age of information; this is the age of resonance." We simply could not wait to speak with her about design, trust and organizational change.
Mike: Hi Jennifer, thanks for agreeing to contribute to this series.
I know that you are deeply motivated to help organizations make profound changes, both making them more successful and more human.
Do you see major change as being inevitable and essential to organizations the world over, specifically both commercial and non-commercial?
Jennifer: I think it is urgent that individuals and organizations be clearer on how much the business landscape has changed. There is so much denial. The bottom line is that no matter how many people are on your team, be it a team of 5 or a team of 1000, you are decentralized.
Here is some historical perspective that I outline in Strategy, Leadership and the Soul:
Given access to information and technology, scale is now possible in ways never before imagined.
Feedback loops between customers and employees are now synchronous. Every employee in a company plays a significant role in the brand strategy of the organization he/she is a part of.
There has never been a more important time for organizations to be clear on strategy as each hiring decision has far more implications than before. The pace of business and the need for swift responsiveness have required organizations to reluctantly accept that for the most part, they are decentralized.
In a decentralized landscape, decision-making criteria become more pronounced. There is no way to manage all the decisions across an organization. The pace of business requires swift action. That is why having clearly articulated decision-making criteria help. If the organization names and claims a particular filter - internal execution becomes more coherent and fluid.
This is where we are.
Mike: What part do you think leaders changing their own mindset might play in this kind of change?
Jennifer: Leadership is the ability to get things done through other people.
We have four generations in the workplace now and the idea of “command and control” has completely lost traction.
Authority no longer has the leverage it once had. What this means for the leader is that she must have higher levels of emotional intelligence in order to create engagement. Engagement isn’t compliance. Engagement is when a person feels that his/her own personal cause is ignited through participation. To be this kind of leader requires a new level of surrender.
It takes surrender to value being a conduit over being a source.
It takes surrender to realize that one needs cross-pollination outside of the industry to gain market insight.
It takes surrender to have advisors who are much smarter to help navigate business strategy.
It takes surrender to truly listen to “truth” and be open to contrary evidence.
It takes surrender to be a learner.
These are fundamental leadership requirements for today’s environment. I write quite extensively about this type of leadership. I call it transleadership because one has to transcend previous definitions of leadership to really be able to lead complexity.
Here is a sliver of a sliver on that topic:
Mike: What do the terms ‘values’ and ‘higher purpose’ mean to you? I hear them being spoken about in this context quite a lot. Do you see these as being core to the development of successful and fulfilling organizations?
Jennifer: The research is in, Mike, and you know it well. Individuals and organizations that truly thrive are ones that have a sense of purpose. Because consumers have so many options, they will most likely select those where there is an emotional connection. Emotional connections are not built based on data – they are built on emotions. Our connections are made in feelings – non-verbal. Individuals who create a sense of belonging with others will be more successful. Organizations that create a sense of belonging will attract both the talent and the customers to grow.
Sense of purpose and identifying with core values is the way we communicate together. I am a huge believer in the idea that companies that create values-based behavioral models will find it easier to navigate complexity. Aligning identity and strategy is the most meaningful work I can imagine.
We cannot build, maintain, or grow a platform without real clarity on who we are serving and why. Simon Sinek does the best job I know at making this point in his TED talk on how great leaders inspire action.
We are in an era where every imprint impacts the whole system as we see in the way Twitter now has the power to shift markets and global stability.
Each interaction leaves residue. It is wise to ask both in private and collectively: What do you want to leave in your wake?
Mike: As the founder of the Agility3R, public speaker and contributor to Huffington Post, as well as a mother of three, life must be super busy, challenging, varied and fun. Would you like to give us a brief summary of what a day might hold for you?
Jennifer: My earlier consulting days were with manufacturing companies. I was creating behavioral models for both lean and theory of constraints. What was powerful was my experience in learning to treat my own personal capacity in a much more designed fashion. Energy is measured in joules. I decided to reverse engineer my schedule in 200 joules per month. This is personal-focused energy that I deploy in categories. Here is the model.
Each day is different. However, each month has a design around how much I am writing, speaking, and facilitating.
I have an 18 month calendar and design for three month blocks. It is imperfect. However, I find that designing with this model allows me to say “no’"more. I value myself higher knowing that the bulb will go out if I don’t stick to a program that has limits. Constraints actually allow me to create more value.
Although there is a high degree of variability in the type of work I do. I am a believer in ritual. In complexity, a couple of habits can make all the difference. We need some reliability to our day to gain coherence. The two rituals that I include in my work are reading two hours a day and writing weekly in a journal. The value of reading is self-evident. Not everyone feels that keeping a journal is that important.
For those who might be on the fence about keeping a journal, here are two exercises:
- The first practice is called “Plus + / Delta Δ”. The discipline of “Plus + / Delta Δ” invites you to write, once a week, a situation that you are proud of - where you describe the situation (context), the task at hand (what you were required to do), the actions you took (choices you made), and the result. You also write, once a week, a situation that you wished for a do-over. Thus the delta Δ , which is the symbol for change. You follow the same formula of describing the situation (context), the task at hand (what you were required to do), the actions you took (choices you made), and the result. In addition, you describe what you wished would have happened, and any choices that you could have made as an alternative, to create a different outcome. The premise here is that we are better, and learning, if we have a chance to celebrate and anchor what is working and why; and also build in the capacity for scenario planning of alternative outcomes. Just because we have an experience doesn’t mean we will learn from it. The discipline of “Plus + / Delta Δ” makes the learning explicit, accessible, and scalable for future preparation.
- The second practice is called “Recalibration.” Recalibration is a writing exercise that I suggest to individuals and companies when they are going through significant changes, feeling lost, or feeling overwhelmed. Like arrows in a quiver, these questions can provide wonderful guidance on how to sequence events and how to establish priorities:
- Where have you been?
- What have you learned?
- Where are you going?
- What is required?
As you can imagine, these questions can be answered on a page or may extend into a two day working strategy session within a company.
For those of you who need more structure, I offer this guidance:
- Where have you been? (7 observations about past landscape)
- What have you learned? (10 bullet point lessons/scars and what you hope to remember going forward)
- Where are you going? (7 observations about current/future landscape)
- What is required? (3 mental muscles you need to strengthen, 2 skills you must acquire, 3 resources you must engage)
Mike: If there was one piece of advice you would give to organizations wanting to move towards a new more complete kind of organization (something like but not limited to or bound by the idea of Teal), what would it be?
Jennifer: Many leaders in organizations are excited about theory and have innocent intentions. What many don’t realize is the level of modeling required to enhance a culture. You cannot take someone where you have never been. These complex models require so much introspection and willingness to learn. Learning is clumsy and takes so much vulnerability.
I invite work groups to practice modeling the way prior to talking at large about significant shifts. Change comes from the inside out. Many working with these models (that are fabulous) are trying to fix broken cultures with elegant designs.
Elegant designs cannot build trust. People build trust. Elegant designs cannot build a culture. People build culture.
Mike: Thank you, Jennifer for your comments and insights.
Jennifer: Thank you for the opportunity.