Sunday, October 4, 2009


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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Journey of Adaptation

(photo by James Neeley)

"Sharing knowledge is not about giving people something, or getting
something from them. That is only valid for information sharing. Sharing knowledge occurs when people are genuinely interested in helping one
another develop new capacities for action; it is about creating learning processes." - Peter Senge

Peter Senge is the director of the Center for Organizational Learning at the MIT Sloan School of Management. He is known as the author of the book The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. He is a senior lecturer at the System Dynamics Group at MIT Sloan School of Management and founded the Society for Organizational Learning.

According to Senge "learning organizations are those organizations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to see the whole together." He argues that only those organizations that are able to adapt quickly and effectively will be able to excel in their field.

In order to be a learning organization there must be two conditions present at all times. One is the ability to design the organization to match the desired outcomes. To do this, the organization must quantify and specify the desired outcome, craft a vision. The second vital condition is the organization's ability to recognize when the strategic direction of the organization must shift from the initial desired outcome and adapt to the new desired outcome. An organization must be able to recognize this need and to adapt. Organizations that are able to do this are stable and excel.

Being this type of learning organization is a choice that requires intention, discipline, design, and leadership.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Mission Statement for Structure

(photo by Pondst)

The keystone is the crowning piece at the apex of an arch, locking all of the other pieces in place. The weight of all the other structural stones is supported by the keystone. Similarly, the mission statement is the structural glue to all other elements of school culture. The mission statement becomes the deciding criteria, a pivotal lens, for all decisions with one simple question: does this idea, this project, this person support the mission? The mission statement is like the keystone in an arch, the critical element of the organization's architectural structure.

The mission statement is the solemn promise that you as an organization of people make to your customers, asking for their trust in your collective performance on that promise on a day-to-day, consistent basis throughout your environment. Collective – that means everybody, top to bottom, in the system, making good on the promise, everyday, consistently. Thus, the whole organization needs to become mission-driven: dedicated and focused on fulfilling the promise laid out by the mission statement.

A good mission statement has to be purposeful, meaningful, specific, concise, and clear. A clear message means that it is understood clearly, not that it was just sent clearly. The sender is responsible for the understanding of the message. The mission statement must focus on what you will do without fail for your customers. For a school, that means answering what are you promising to do for your students and their families? For a hospital, that means answering what do you promise to do for each patient and his loved ones? For the U.S. Federal Court Clerks, which I helped craft a vision and mission statement recently, that means answering what to you intend to do to assist and serve the public?

The mission statement is action-oriented. Your promise should have action verbs – develop, instill, create, inspire, support, serve, meet, etc. The regional U.S. Federal Court Clerks make this promise: to serve the public and support the court with a commitment to excellence.

(We promise) To ____________ whom by doing what, how?

That is the basic construction. Your promise might have multiple components. Here is how you know if you have too many: can you recite it easily from memory? Can your teachers? Can your parents? Can your students? This is a must because it is essential that we all know what we come to school to accomplish every day. A good target length is no more than 20 words.

The mission statement is not a description of who you are and what you believe. The mission statement is a promise of what you will do, if given the opportunity.

Here are some examples of promises companies we are all familiar with have made:

Google To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.

3M To solve unsolved problems innovatively.

Southwest Airlines To provide the highest quality of customer service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and company spirit.

Marriott Hotel To make people who are away from home feel they are among friends and really

When you make a promise, you are expected to work to fulfill it. You have asked the permission of the person to whom you made the promise to trust you to deliver, to perform. The critical action set up by the mission statement, therefore, is performance. A mission-driven environment is one in which everyone is committed to making good each day on the stated promise. The whole culture, it follows, must be set up to encourage and support mission delivery. This is terrific news because the whole culture can be infused with a dynamic sense of purpose and intention.

As other stones extend from the keystone, other elements of the organizational culture are integrated with the mission statement. The core values statement articulates the values that you collectively rely on, hold dear, as a community. The vision statement speaks to your future, articulates what sort of environment you intend to create and what you intend it to look like.

I like to create two additional written statements to the organizational architecture that both derive from the mission statement: your mantra, which is a short phrase that encapsulates how you will fulfill your mission, like Nike’s Just do it. The mantra keeps everyone on track and motivated. I also like to craft a position statement that outlines what you do best that is unique from all other competitors in your industry.

As organizational structure, we are talking about written statements that all fit on one page, all built upon the mission statement, the promise to the customer. These statements give the culture architectural structure and guidance. This type of organizational design is worth every bit of time, money, energy, and intellectual resources to have everyone literally, emotional, and energetically on the same page in performance expectations.

For the money, for the effort, for the long term sustainable results: mission statement and performance. Making a promise and fulfilling it. Telling the story of why that mission for your organization. Painting the picture of what the world will look like as a result of your fulfilling your mission. Telling the stories of how you fulfill your promise in big and small ways with many different customers everyday. And, becoming known in your community for walking your talk, embodying your mission and relishing the integrity and pride that comes with that reality everyday for every member of the organization.

Mission. Promise. Performance.

By the way, a great reputation markets itself. Focus on being your best self as an organization and you will have a myriad of authentic stories to tell of the difference you make in the neighborhood, community, and world.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

What is Shared Understanding?

Shared Understanding is knowing the rules, objectives, and boundaries of the pursuit. It is the rules of the game. It is knowing the spirit and culture and protocol of the game. Shared understanding is a state of being that is derived, not left to accidental and wishful thinking. Shared understanding is about renewal and alignment.

Creating shared understanding is not about doing what we have always done because we are not in the environment that we have always been in. Our context has and will change again and again. Our environment is fluid, unpredictable, dynamic and unavoidable. To reach our destiny, we must traverse the environment as it is, not as we would like it to be. We must be fluid, unpredictable, dynamic, ever present, and watchful. We must always be on the lookout.

The three critical pieces that create shared understanding in an organization are the vision, the mission, and the values. These three structural components must be unique to your organization, well defined and articulated, and authentic. How do you accomplish that? Different organizations accomplish it differently, but the best way is to imagine your way forward. The best way is to use the collective wisdom of your organization to imagine its full potential, its utopia. Imagining your future requires recognizing the demands of the larger context in which your organization operates, assessing the skills, knowledge, and mindset of your organization currently and asking what needs to change now to result in our making this vision a reality.

What are the specifics of imagining? The specifics of imagining are active thinking skills and active emotional reasoning: questioning, observing, pushing, probing, wondering, synthesizing, connecting, realizing, creating. The work of imagining is asking what to do we do? Why is it necessary and important? Does the world need us to do this? How does it change the world? How does the world value what we do? How do we value what we do? Are we sure? Is this exciting? Do others care? Do we care? How can we do it differently and better than anyone else? What do we need to believe in and do in order to make our dream for the future come true?

Once the organization has done the difficult yet necessary and invaluable work of imagining their future, crafting a vision and mission, and articulating their values, everything else - all decisions, actions, words, focus, etc. - derive from these guiding statements of possibility, purpose, and particular project criteria. This development work creates shared understanding because it lays out where we want to do, what we want to do, and how we will do it with integrity, in a way that reflects out fundamental beliefs and values.

These three components become the beacon that guide the way forward.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Who's "in"?

"He won't share with me." Human nature. We see it in young kids all the time. And, we see it in adults all the time. It is impossible to create a cohesive team if members of that team are not willing to share. Some people might not share because they are unskilled at sharing. That is workable. But unwillingness is not tenable and will keep the leadership team bound in various uncomfortable, ineffective, and time-wasting ways. Unwillingness is nuclear waste: toxic, dangerous, and highly destructive.

Here is how the reasoning flows: Does any member of your team display an unwillingness to be open-minded and learning new ideas, habits, ways of thinking?

If yes, is this unwillingness overt or covert? If a team member's unwillingness is overt, you are lucky. Cause and effect reasoning is pretty easy to apply to overtly counter-productive behavioral and emotional ways. If a team member's unwillingness is covert, be careful because the covert, passive aggressive actions - inspiring and manipulating the back channel conversations, feeding the grapevine, talking a happy game in the meeting and not following through - are manifestations of power. Power is little Johnny who gives his younger brother the toy to play with, but decides to give him a punch along with it while Mom is not looking. Little Johnny's and Little Susie's who do not like to share grow up and come to work.

People create a community of shared leadership by being intentional about creating a community of sharing. They intend to share the responsibility of leadership, the process of leadership, the learning of leadership, the actions of leadership, the reach of leadership. The team has to mutually commit to figuring out what our team means by "shared" - what it looks like on a day to day basis, what we understand it to mean, how it defines our thoughts and actions, how we create systems to reinforce what we want to happen in our relationships.

The process to convert a patriarchal view of leadership that is grounded in position on the organizational chart has many stages. The best place to begin is to start with the realization and intention that a team that shares the responsibility for the future of the organization will be able to accomplish and maintain more than one single individual. The first step: intention.

The second step is a question: Who's "in"?

Who's "in" is important. The people that are "in" need to be courageous. They need to risk the discomfort of being vulnerable and intimate with their team members. They need to be curious and open-minded, willing to learn as they go, sometimes in a public way. They need be willing to be wrong and to fail because learning anything new includes replacing old ideas with new, more useful ones. They must learn to reflect because only through reflecting on our own thoughts, skills, and mistakes do we learn.

Being "in" requires a lot, mostly commitment, passion for the cause, faith in the journey, and trust in your team members because they will be your fellow travelers.

Are you "in"? Know what that means, what it entails. And, know that if you are not "in", you are in the way.