It’s time to clean up the Internet!

2 weeks ago, I shared with the class this data and they were in shock! No one had thought about the impact of internet on the environment. Let’s have a look at this data.

Data centers today consume more than 3% of the global electricity supply and account for about 2% of total greenhouse gas emissions. This is equivalent to the carbon footprint of the airline industry.  And worse…the amount of energy consumed by the world’s data centers will be multiplied by 3 in the next decade. And this is only the tip of the iceberg because you must add to that your mobile, tablet, computer chargers, your ADSL/WIFI router…etc. In total, it is believed that the digital economy uses a tenth of the world’s electricity.

How does this happen?

Well, every day hundreds of millions of people take photos, make videos and send emails and texts. This deluge of data is growing fast and most of it is stored somewhere. Let’s have a look at some numbers.  “Every two days now we create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization up until 2003”, says Schmidt, CEO of Google in 2010.  According to a new report from IBM Marketing Cloud, “10 Key Marketing Trends For 2017,” 90% of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone.

Are we doing anything?

It seems that there is the beginning of awareness. For instance, last year Kevin Systrom, Instagram’s CEO, was at Disneyland when he decided the internet was a cesspool that he had to clean up. There is also www.webneutralproject.com, a startup to design and create carbon neutral websites. Green Peace has issued its 2017 report called “Click Clean” which identify web sites which are the cleanest. Companies like Google are running projects to use less energy in their data centers but I question their intentions. Is it to reduce their carbon footprint as they claim or simply to reduce their energy bills?

Besides the companies and environmental groups initiatives I would argue that it comes to our own behavior to reduce the Internet footprint. Do you really need to keep all those emails, texts, photos and videos in a data centers?  Do you leave your chargers connected to the plug? Although government regulations have asked manufacturers to reduce standby consumption or vampire consumption as some experts would call it, this is still significant worldwide.

What to do?

The first step would be to delete your unnecessary mails, photos, videos stored on Google Drive or other cloud storages. Make sure they are effectively deleted! Try not to download files which jam the network and consume energy, stream instead.

But there are other more creative ways such as switching to eco-search engines such as Ecosia; making your Internet connection sustainable with eco-friendly Internet Service Providers, sharing your Wi-Fi with neighbors, etc.…

It starts with you!

Author: Philippe VedelProfessor of Digital Marketing and Social Media at BSL 

#Speak-up series 4: How to prepare and conduct a speak-up conversation

Ethical problems can be complex and difficult to resolve. If we want to address an ethical issue with another person, we can easily give that person the feeling that we question their moral identity (“You are a bad person!”). Therefore, we have a tendency to avoid the topic, if we have not practiced facing them effectively before. That is why preparing, practicing and rehearing a speak-up conversation is so important. Yes, I do recommend that you rehearse your critical ethics conversation with a trusted person.

Here is a guideline on how to prepare well:

  • Research the facts:
    It is crucial to not prepare a meeting on a sensitive issue, if you are already convinced that the other side has bad motives. The other person will sense this and automatically get defensive. Thus, effective solution finding is blocked. So do look at the facts like in a documentary film and try to understand the other side without judging. No interpretations, no judgement! Imagine you are a doctor and need to come up with a diagnose. For example: Somebody cuts you off your parking spot. You assume that the person is a selfish jerk. Then this person comes up to you and apologizes: His wife is in the shopping center and needs to go to the hospital. (This process of automatic judgment of others’ behavior is called the «Ladder of Inference». You can watch this TED video clip that explains it beautifully)
  • Improve your power:
    Show your boss that you are a valuable and loyal employee not a trouble-maker and that you have a legitimate concern. We all can improve our power even in the most powerless of situations.
    This anecdote about Nelson Mandela perfectly illustrates this idea: When Nelson Mandela was in prison on Robben Island he got up every morning at 4 a.m. to do his boxing exercise. He was a trained boxer and staying fit gave him a source of strength and dignity in his unfree and humiliating prison situation. He also had studied all the rules and policies of the prison organization. He knew all his rights and privileges but also the limitations of what his guards were allowed to do. This enabled him to cite the exact numbers and wordings of these rules in situations of conflict.
  • Proper timing and place:
    We all know that there are times where we are just not receptive for critical comments. Think about the time when you wanted to talk to your patents about a bad grade…You did not do that when they were tired, in a bad mood or watching the news. Chose the right moment. Furthermore, private meetings are better than team sessions. If possible, meeting at a neutral place can help, too.
  • Problem and solution always go together:
    Try to already have ideas on potential solutions for the problem when you address an ethics and compliance issue. For this, you need to have thought through possible options, consequences and their pros and cons.
    If you do this well, addressing your boss can actually be an opportunity: You show that you care about the success and well-being of the company and want to avoid unethical decisions and prevent harm.

If you prepare your speak-up talk like this, you will already feel much more confident and professional, than if you just stumble into your boss’s office and denounce an ethical problem.

Let’s now see what is important during the speak-up situation:

  • Show up with confidence:
    Sure, voicing an ethics and compliance topic with a colleague or even your boss can be scary and challenging. That is exactly why you need to show up with confidence, because otherwise it will be much more difficult to be taken seriously and convince others of your arguments. Here are some techniques that are helpful: Speak slowly, avoid qualifiers (like actually, only, I just thought…), take breaks to think, don’t be afraid of silence, silence is your friend.
  • Understand the other side first… If you start such a sensitive conversation with an accusation, the other person will quite naturally shut down and become defensive. This is completely normal. Anybody would do that. Therefore, it is much more effective to start by asking questions like:
    • «Have you thought about…?»
    • “Can you help me understand…”
    • “Why have you decided…?”

Trying to fully understand the other side first and concentrating on a common interest is crucial, because it is possible that the other side just did not think about the ethical dimension of a situation (e.g. due to time and performance pressure). If they just overlooked the problem and you already accuse them of being an unethical person, unnecessary damage is done and the conversation is over.

  • Explain your perspective:

Only if you have completely understood the other side and you still think that there is an ethics and compliance problem, share your opinion in a non-accusative way. You could e.g. say:

  • “I want to share my perspective.
  • I’m worried /uncomfortable/feel uneasy about….”

Ideally, the other person will see your point and be open to finding a better solution and/or change her behavior.

  • Agree on next steps:

In order to make sure that your brave act of speaking- up will have the wanted consequences it is a good idea to agree on the next steps necessary.

  • Have a withdrawal strategy ready :

If the other person is not responsive, you can say things like:

  • “I just asked because I’m concerned about you and I wouldn’t want you to get in trouble” or
  • “I wanted to be sure we protect the organization’s reputation.” (see Amy Gall in the resources below)

This way you can withdraw gracefully from the conversation and decide if you need to escalate the issue to your boss, your boss’s boss, HR or Compliance.

In summary, we see that speak-up is not easy to do, but good preparation and a confident and respectful delivery help. It is crucial that the person who dears to speak up concentrates on a critical but respectful mind-set that focuses on common goals.

At the same time it is clear that the most skillful speak up communicator will fail if the leadership and the culture of an organization does not encourage a climate of open feedback. As we have seen in recent corporate scandals like Volkswagen or Wells Fargo, an organizational climate characterized by fear, high performance pressure, and an authoritarian leadership style is poisonous for speaking-up.

Therefore, the creation of a true speak-up culture always has to start at the leadership and corporate culture level.

Resources on Speak-up:

 Books

  • Peter T. Coleman and Robert Ferguson Simmons: Making Conflict Work: Harnessing the Power of Disagreement, 2015
  • Shari Harley: How to Say Anything to Anyone: A Guide to Building Business Relationships That Really Work, 2013
  • Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny : Crucial Conversations Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High, 2011

Articles

Prof.-Bettina-PalazzoAuthor: Dr. Bettina Palazzo
Professor at BSL

The future of education does not matter. The present does.

Yesterday I have attended yet another presentation about the future of education, and in the last 5 years I have attended probably just about twenty similar presentations, watched thirty or forty videos and read perhaps a hundred articles and blogs. Fascinating at the beginning, incredibly boring and upsetting today. While everybody seem to have something clever to say about the future of education, I hear so little or nothing about the present of education. Isn’t it easy to dream, imagine, envision and talk about the future of something? Easy and cool at the same time. “Wow, you are a visionary!”, “Yes, this is what everybody should do!”, “Finally, somebody who say it clear!” “Yes, Yes and Yes!”. These are the comments I hear or read for presentations on the topic of the future of education. And normally the contents that are strongly applauded are things like:

  • Technology is here to stay
  • Robots will take over many jobs
  • The 4th industrial revolution has started
  • Most jobs available in 5 years do not exist today
  • We need to make computing languages mainstream learning
  • We need mindfulness and empathy
  • Problem solving abilities will be very important
  • Collaboration will be central
  • Ethics are now more important than ever
  • Students must develop sensitivity to the problems of the world
  • Empathy must be encouraged
  • Reflection practices must be taught
  • In order to teach systemic thinking we need cross-curriculum topics
  • Students should learn in a flexible way and decide when, where, what and how to learn

I am sure there is more than that and apologies for forgetting one of those great applauses I should remember. Who does not like or agree with the above? Trust me, if you want to collect a good audience and a few applauses, just deliver your next talk around those topics and you will see plenty of heads nodding. Ok, so what is this article that I am writing about? I am writing to all courageous change agents in the education landscape. Stop thinking about the future, we got it. Here is the challenge for you, the present. What are the risks you are called to take if you want a better (for the world) education? Are you ready to disappoint some students? Their parents? Your Dean? Your Faculty? Do you believe in the future of education to the point that you will implement it today? How will you do it?

At Business School Lausanne in Switzerland, we are experiencing the lowest student intake in our recent history, congratulations to us! At the same time we are experiencing the most incredible and exciting transformation into the future of education, and we are doing it now! Am I worried about the student intake year? No, I am not. This place is full of courageous change agents who believe in what they are doing and are strongly pulled by a powerful purpose: educating business leaders for the good of the world. So, next year our student numbers will be good again, promised. I know you want to know more so here some scattered bullet points on what we are doing to change the present of education:

  • We have made it clear and loud what type of education we stand for. We want sustainable business and responsible leaders. If you are not interested, there are plenty of other business schools that are less interested in this.
  • We think hierarchical management belongs to the past and, approaching an incredibly powerful human age (beside the robots), will welcome new forms of organizations. We believe in self-organization principles and since 2015 we use a system called Holacracy to govern our business school. This is has generated a profound change in the way we act, make decisions, innovate and live our values. All on the positive side. Our students are learning alongside with us.
  • We have launched a new Millennial BBA where our students will take a full year outside the classroom and build a portfolio of experiences aimed at learning more about themselves and the world they live in. They also design their 3-years-experience picking up among a large number of elective courses.
  • We operate as a multi-stakeholder hub and run Collaboratories to generate business solutions for the wicked problems of the world.
  • We run every 3 months a Gap Frame Week where all our students from all our programs work together alongside the Professors to prototype businesses that tackle the 24 major issues of the world in line with the Sustainable Development Goals.
  • We have coding courses for our BBA program but they are not just coding courses, we run them through a NGO who provide such courses to refugees in Switzerland and we invite our students to merge their classes to create a truly multicultural and empathetic learning experience. Technology, business and empathy all in one room!
  • We also have a Master Degree in International Business with different specializations and capstone projects including:
    • Data analysis where students take a nanodegree from Udacity.
    • Aim2Flourish capstone project where students learn from great business stories that are changing the world in a positive way.
  • We have a MBA program where students can chose whether to do a thorough Management Report or go through a challenging 10 weeks experience in South Africa enrolled in the Emzingo program
  • We have a DAS and a DBA programs that train the most impactful change agents of the present to transform businesses in forces for good.
  • We work with great heroes and heroines Professors who today facilitate learning and moved away from the traditional teaching model. We embrace a pedagogical model that involve students in learning by exploring the I, We and All of Us dimensions.
  • We are publicly engaged in shaping business education and inspiring others to help business become an irresistible force for good.
  • We are ditching traditional economics and embracing the great work done by Kate Raworth and the Doughnut Economics

There is much more but, how is that to get started with the present of education?

The good news are that Business School Lausanne is not at all alone in building a great new present of education. There is a great network of inspired business schools coordinated by the UN PRME initiative. There is another great network of Thought Leaders coordinated by the GRLI. And there are many courageous new initiatives such as www.rita.global and OPEN among many others.

Ready to join the present of education? You are welcome and let me know how you have started!

The future of education does not matter. The present does.

Note: this article has been published by Carlo Giardinetti on Medium

Author: Carlo GiardinettiActive in Program Development, Holacracy and directing the E/MBA programs Business 

BSL – Reaching 30 and celebrating a new way of doing business

This year, BSL is 30.  Thirty is a good age for reflection: not too old to dwell overly on the past, but yet with a lot of learning under its belt upon which to build the future.  Because after all, BSL is both a learning institution and a future-thinking organization. BSL’s Aileen Ionescu-Somers reflects on new ways of doing business and the requisite leadership qualities for the future.

So many organizations, even the best minds out there, find it very difficult to predict the future. History is rife with poor predictions. The most glaring case in recent memory, though (apart from certain presidential elections!), was evidenced by a declaration by the IMF in 2007, just before the 2008 financial collapse, when the IMF declared:  “Overall risk to the (world economic) outlook seems less threatening than six months ago.” Not only did the IMF get it wrong. Most of the world’s multitude of economists, financiers, leaders and governments also did.

In some ways, this is a direct result of globalization. With it, the world became more complex and change accelerated. All the indicators show that the future will be even more unpredictable and uncertain than before. Yet, business does not like uncertainty. Uncertainty is associated with fear, anxiety and pessimism. Uncertainty can be the bearer of bad news. Stock markets are allergic to uncertainty. Business executives in global multinationals work so hard on cancelling out uncertainties that a senior executive told me once that “innovation does not come from big companies”, and that new ideas and “out of the box” innovations are often dead in global corporations before they are born.

Uncertainty breeds risk averse corporate cultures and risk mitigating instincts amongst managers. And the consequence is that we forget about the opportunities out there. Despite the feeling that there is a lot of bad news around, there are great things happening in the world. It is not fake news that life expectancy is still increasing. It is not fake news that income continues to go up for most of the world’s increasing population, and that illiteracy and poverty levels continue to go down.

These positive developments are actually huge opportunities for unleashing future potential for technological opportunity and development. And indeed, nowadays, much innovation is driven by technology. How accessible technology has become for ordinary citizens in my lifetime! The pace is set to increase exponentially over the course of our BSL student’s lifetimes. The future offers huge opportunities, giving future generations an unprecedented ability to do everything in new ways.

However, the down side is that with growing inequality, increasing numbers of now angry and vocal people feel left out. Indeed, they are either choosing not to participate – or are not empowered to participate – in building a better and more inclusive society. Another downside is the growing fragility of the complexity we have created in the world. When what happens in one place very rapidly affects everything else, this is what we call systemic risk.

System risks can convert into real life situations and then the system can start to break down; this is what we call systemic shock. By now, we have all either observed or experienced systemic shock first hand. We see it in financial crises, health risks such as ebola/pandemics, and in the major challenges related to migration in today’s world. Today, systemic risks and shocks are set to become much more virulent because of the interweaving of societies and sub-systems, re-enforced by technologies and accelerated by “just-in-time” management systems that push resilience and responsibility to its limits. As a result, the new realities we are living with are collapsing biodiversity, climate change, more pandemics, more financial crises…and ever more destructive systemic shocks.

Therefore, we need a new awareness of how to deal with these new realities. We need to understand how we can mobilize ourselves differently and come together as a community to manage systemic risks. We need to lessen the negative impacts of systemic shock and capture business opportunity for the greater good of society and celebrate new ways of doing business. How do we weave this complex tapestry together? How do we think about complex systems in entirely new ways? That is not only the challenge of scholars, but it is the challenge of all individuals engaged in thinking about the future. Business leaders are no exception.

Since business leaders are pragmatic, they need both frameworks and tools to guide their thinking. The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), for example, present business with a framework for understanding and mitigating future systemic risk.  Our BSL students are more than familiar with the SDGs, and what they represent. They are also familiar with the Gap Frame research, the conceptual basis for BSL’s thought leadership. The Gap-Frame is a normative framework that translates the SGDs into relevant issues and indicators for business. This BSL/University of St. Gallen research provides companies with a tool that helps translate the SDGs into workable steps to manage systemic risks around globalization more effectively and to achieve specific targets and objectives.

So the conceptual research at BSL closely relates to the SDGs, and I hope I have made the point that the SDGs relate to both systemic risk and shock mitigation. But they also relate to business opportunities. The SDGs are an underlying theme for the BSL Gap Frame Innovation Week (GFW) which we ran 4 times in the 2016/17 academic year.  Indeed, some of our students and even our faculty are far from their comfort zones during those weeks. During the GFWs, our students choose a problematic global issue linked to the SDGs and develop a start-up or innovation initiative to contribute to dealing with the problem. The GFW presents our students with a small concentrated “piece of the action” on leadership learning for the future.

And what are the key facets of leadership learning for the future? There can be no doubt that professional business acumen and expertise are as important as they ever were, if not more. But a sense of purpose directed by an ethical compass and a developed sense of both local and global responsible citizenship are also key prerequisites. The latter leads to levels of global knowledge and understanding that are also essential to, I would say, the very survival of organizations of the future.

We have recognized at BSL that much leadership learning today is reasonably strong on developing hard business acumen and expertise, but focuses too little on  multiple other essential albeit “softer” aspects of leadership learning. With this in mind, we can ask ourselves: What will be one of the most important traits of a future leader?  I would say, “curiosity”. The global business leader of today has to have a high level of global knowledge and understanding. Without curiosity, we will not have an effective or indeed knowledgeable leader. The SDGs, the BSL Gap Frame research and the BSL Gap Frame Week, provide current and future business leaders with routes or paths to satisfy curiosity, take action on what is learnt, direct ethical compasses, glean global knowledge and understanding from local and global committed citizenship and – actually – to prepare our students for their future.

For example, during our last BSL GFW on governance issues, our activities brought deeper knowledge and recognition to our students that the world’s governance systems are fossilized and cannot begin to cope with the changes that are currently happening and that will happen in the future. To celebrate new ways of doing business for the future, we simply have to develop new ways of managing the planet collaboratively, using collective wisdom. As I have pointed out at the beginning of each GFW, truly amazing things can happen when individuals come together to change their future.

Ionescu-AileenPICTURE-150x150Author: Dr. Aileen Ionescu-Somers

Active in thought leadership, consulting, applied research, teaching and supervising DBA candidates in sustainability & responsibility.

Planting Seeds for the Future of Food 2017

BSL Partner Aileen Ionescu-Somers plants a seed by moderating a workshop at Nestlé conference on 6 & 7 July, 2017

Food is important to everybody, I think we all agree. We need to eat to live – fact. Moreover, we all feel emotional about food. What is the most photographed subject on Facebook, and by far?  You got it: it’s food! Yet few of us understand the complexities of our food system and the array of dysfunctionalities that affect sustainable food access and security, affordability and appropriate use of food for optimum nutrition and health benefits. The question of food sustainability raises some tough questions, some of which were addressed at Nestlé’s recent Planting Seeds for the Future of Food conference held in the Nestlé conference center on 6 and 7 July. BSL partner and Google Food Lab participant Aileen Ionescu-Somers moderated a workshop on Proximity, Transparency and Connectivity through Technology at this highly informative and interactive event.

The conference theme – the future of our food system – was assessed through a razor-sharp questioning process with one dominant and highly relevant question on the agenda: “How can we match consumer demand for healthy and sustainable diets with the productive capacity of future sustainable farming systems?“  There is no doubt that this question is a tough and complex one, relating to the food system as a whole, so the organizers broke it down into logical individual components: Why is soil health and landscape biodiversity important for producing healthy plants, animals and food?  How can biology and technology contribute to increasing yields to feed the world population, while reducing negative social and environmental impacts? Can we define and positively influence the kind of nutrition that we wish our food system to deliver? What are the challenges to overcome in our food systems with increasing urbanization? How can we prevent the current massive food losses & food waste so as to improve our food system and overall nutritional benefits? What role should processed food have in the nutritional mix for tomorrow’s consumers? Is the idea of personalized nutrition moving from niche to mainstream? And so many more…

All in all, the conference led to some compelling conclusions on what is needed from our food system in the future. Watch out for future blogs from Aileen on these very topics.

Ionescu-AileenPICTURE-150x150Author: Dr. Aileen Ionescu-Somers

Active in thought leadership, consulting, applied research, teaching and supervising DBA candidates in sustainability & responsibility.

#Speak-up series 3 – Why coworkers do not speak up on ethical issues

Speaking up on topics of ethics and compliance is hard to do. Already speaking up when you disagree or have bad news can be difficult in organizations. It is even more difficult to speak up on sensitive ethics and compliance issues. Usually, we have not learned to say the unpleasant truth.

Already as children, we learn that aunt Betty gets hurt, if you tell her frankly that her new hairstyle is a disaster. You certainly do not tell cousin Mark that you think he is a cheat when he boasts about his clever «tax saving» strategies.

We have learned to lie. We have learned that candor about the unethical behavior of others (especially if they are more powerful as us) might ruin the relationship.

Furthermore, ethical problems are often not black or white, but grey. This makes it difficult to draw the line, which can make us more insecure.

Finally, people hesitate to rock the boat if they have the impression that nobody else seems to notice. This is known as the bystander effect – a social-psychological phenomenon that refers to the fact that if there are many bystanders in an emergency situation, the likelihood of one person intervening and taking action goes down. This is because everybody is expecting the others to react first (diffusion of responsibility) and nobody wants to stand out in the crowd. The effect is amplified if the situation is ambiguous and bystanders are unsure if an intervention is socially adequate. This is exactly what is often the case in situations where ethical judgments play a role. (For a great illustration and explanation of the bystander effect, watch this video with Philip Zimbardo and the Heroic Imagination Project).

Consequently, silence is contagious. You observe that nobody else is speaking up, so you do not do it yourself. That is why it is so important to create a corporate culture where speaking up is normal and where employees have seen others speak up without negative consequences.

Because it often does feel unpleasant to speak up, we come up with all kinds of rationalizations, why it is ok not to do it:

  • “It’s not a big deal.”
  • “I don’t have all the information.”
  • “This is someone else’s responsibility.”
  • “This must be the way these things are done (at our company, in this region, in our industry, etc.)”

In reality, this a sure sign that you should actually speak up.

A survey among European companies showed that only half of the people that observed ethics or compliance violations spoke up (Source: Daniel Johnson : Ethics at Work: 2015 Survey of Employees – Continental Europe)

We all know these fears are real and still there are often people who dare to speak up.

What do you think? Who are these people? What is different about them? Do they not have these fears? Are they maybe very brave heroes? Are they maybe in a more powerful position?

No.

People who do speak up on important concerns do this because they have spoken up before. The degree of fear, power or bravery play no important role. It is the practice that makes the difference!

Speaking up is an ability that can be trained like a muscle that gets bigger with exercise. Addressing sensitive issues is not something that comes natural to most of us. However, there are effective ways to do this without jeopardizing our career or our relationship with our boss.

How to prepare and conduct a speak-up conversation with confidence and courage will be the topic of the next and final part of this blog post series on speak-up.

Stay tuned and watch for the next episode of the speak-up series!
Prof.-Bettina-PalazzoAuthor: Dr. Bettina Palazzo
Professor at BSL

Are you interested in having your community of learners fully engaged?

Three dimensional learning — I, WE and ALL OF US, pedagogy for Sustainability and Responsibility.

Are you interested in having your community of learners fully engaged? A good start could be to spell out the purpose of the education you want to be part of.

For us at Business School Lausanne (BSL) the purpose of education is to support and foster responsible leadership and sustainable business. Responsibility and sustainability are in no way similar to the typical functional business and management education areas such as finance, marketing, human resources, strategy, operations or others. In fact they add a layer of learning, even more than a layer, you can think of it as part of the DNA of the learning. How can you learn about business and management if you want responsibility and sustainability to be in the DNA of the learning you design?

I think most of us have experienced some great learning in our life. If such learning has stayed with you for long and has somehow helped your transformation, evolution, development, it may well have been what I call a three dimensional learning. The three dimensions I am talking about are the I, WE and ALL OF US. What does this mean?

It means that the transformational learning can only happen when we discover how what we are learning is connected to the three dimensions:

The I — How is this relevant to me? What are my own struggles with the topic? What is my emotional connection to it? Do I have personal experiences?

The WE — What are the main stakeholders related to the topic? What is their perspective? What do they know and how do they use their knowledge? Are there competing or collaborating views, or both? How do I work with them so that there is not them but only we?

The ALL OF US — What is the systemic use and impact of the topic? What scenarios does the topic create? How does it impact our world in some or all four dimensions — planet, society, economy and governance?

Learners that are taken through the three dimensions develop a comprehensive understanding of the topic from the systemic level (ALL OF US) down to the personal relevance (I), through the application in the relevant communities (WE).

Learning through the I dimension ensures that the learner explores and uncovers the areas of personal relevance of the topic. Here some suggestions for learning designers/facilitators who want to ensure a good dive into the I space:

  • Using blocks of 3 or more hours of learning experience ensure the right variety of activities can take place including reflective spaces.
  • Being a role model in the “I” space and finding the balance with neutral facilitating energy
  • Organizing regular self-awareness gathering for Faculty and Students (breakfasts, lunches, apero’, walks, etc.)
  • Circle sharing of personal check-in into the session/lecture/course with questions like:” What do I expect from this session?” (1 minute per person)
  • Trio-walks where 1 person in the middle has 5 minutes to share his/her personal reflections around the topic and 2 persons on the side are listening and providing 2 minutes feedback each (total 10 minutes)
  • Pair talks around deep questions where strangers get to know something very meaningful about the other (15 mins each). Each will then present the other in front of the audience (up to 90 minutes)
  • Speed dating with a few personal questions with 1 minute per exchange (30 mins)
  • Journaling activities to support acknowledgment of learning and walk-aways (ongoing)
  • Storytelling where a person stands in front of a semi-circle and share an insightful personal story around the topic (10 minutes per story + 10 minutes Q&A)
  • Group brainstorming using post-it to gather what each individual expect to learn and then cluster learning macro-areas
  • MANY OTHERS!!!

Learning through the WE dimension ensures that the learner understand the complexity of the topic by exploring the different interest and perspective of the multiple stakeholders relevant to the topic. The learner also understand the optimal ways to interact in the community. Here some suggestions:

  • Role play where each group of three learners must impersonate the role of one different stakeholder. 1 hour is dedicated to researching key information to understand the crucial points of this stakeholder perspective. The facilitator uses the following hour to host and moderate a debate around key targeted questions among the stakeholders. Finally an additional hour is dedicated to reflection activities and harvesting the complexity of the topic. (3 hours)
  • World cafe with different tables for different stakeholder perspective and teams rotating to ensure maximum contribution and learning from the different perspectives
  • Running Collaboratory dialogues inviting different representatives from all the various stakeholders
  • Certainly this is the space where business is learnt from a customer perspective, service provider, product manufacturer and so on. Most of more “traditional” learning happens in this space
  • Business simulation, gamification, etc.
  • MANY OTHERS!!!

Learning through the ALL OF US dimension ensures the learner can see the systemic dynamics that the topic triggers. Dimensions like planet, society, economy and governance are explored in their interconnections and relevance to the topic. Typical activities that a facilitator can run include:

  • Watching documentaries that beautifully show the complexity and interconnections of our world
  • Working with interactive scenario simulations
  • Connecting via Skype or other platforms with other learners from very different areas of the world where the topic is experienced in radically different ways and exchange experiences in forms of reciproc questions
  • Using Issue Centered Learning where the starting topic is always a major issue of the world that can be picked for instance on www.gapframe.org a very useful, tool we have developed at BSL. Learners are then invited to explore their personal connection with the issue. Business is then looked at as being part of the solution and/or part of the problem. Functions of business and management are then identified as instrumental to drive the shift from being part of the problem to being part of the solution. Business is then understood and appreciated for what it is, an incredible generator of solutions and — unfortunately too often, problems
  • MANY OTHERS!!!

Clearly all the above introduced dimensions and activities can be complemented with other forms of active and passive learning. Expert views and lectures can and should still happen but should be well integrated in the three dimensions and serve the broader purpose of each dimension. When designing learning spaces you can start thinking of different roles that should be present in the space. For instance:

  • The Expert. These can be faculty, researchers, entrepreneurs, citizens, students that have a deep expertise relevant to the topic.
  • The Facilitator. These are skilled facilitators who can ensure learning continue to evolve from activity to activity in the best possible self-organized way. Facilitators refrain from interfering with opinions and expertise, it is not their role.
  • The Coach. Learning happens so differently within all of us and often encounters any sort of barriers on its way. Coaches can be peer learners that simply have earned some skills to support others in their individual learning journeys. Coaching is about asking the right questions in these cases and also offering a listening partner.
  • The Participant. You can think of this category as the one closer to the typical student. Yet, there is no way a participant would be engaged in passive learning. Learning is participative and contribution is expected. The great opportunity is that participant can switch to coach, to facilitator or to expert at any given opportune time.

Hey, how are you after reading this? Did it move something inside you? Do you also think it is time and it is possible to redesign modern learning spaces that can help us taking care of ourselves and our dear world? If you are curious to know more and join a vision for a new business and management education, go and visit www.50plus20.org.

Let me know what you think and I would love to engage in conversations around reinventing education together.

Let a new purposeful market grow around jobs and competencies that count and will make the world a better place!

Note: this article has been published by Carlo Giardinetti on Medium

Author: Carlo GiardinettiActive in Program Development, Holacracy and directing the E/MBA programs Business 

A quick plunge into top global trends

The newly elected President of France, Emmanuel Macron, has been telling those working on climate change and related innovation in the United States to move to Europe, in particular to France (here), stating “We want innovative people, we want people working on climate change, energy, renewables and new technology.”

In spite of dramatic and highly disappointing indicators of climate change policy change in the United States, opportunities for companies to help solve this global challenge and the other 23 issues identified by the BSL Gap Frame research have never been so diverse, or even so compelling.  But it is not easy to break down the complexity of our volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world into manageable chunks. Let’s look at some of the main trends currently emerging from that complexity and their relevance for business, and also for business students: a quick round up of things to note:

1.The globalization pressure valve: Always controversial, globalization is under pressure as never before. The dream of a liberal, multicultural shiny new world with no trade barriers and unparalleled social equity has simply not materialized. And it will not so long as the top 10% wealthiest on the planet own 90% of global wealth. This has led to severe social inequity pushing a new wave of populism and protectionism with looming trade lockdowns and even xenophobia. As with every new development, there are opportunities for some companies, whilst for others, it may spell impending disaster. On the plus side, what seems certain is that days may be over of companies charging into a community, building it up with the usual positive externalities such as jobs and infrastructure etc., only to switch locations at the drop of a hat…leaving serious negative social and environmental externalities in their wake. Companies are moving from seeking License to Operate (LTO) from local communities to seeking License to Grow (LTG). Strategy-makers in companies should take heed.

2.The SDG fanfare: The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have entered the scene with aplomb yet corporate awareness has not moved substantially beyond senior executive level and, of course, Sustainability Departments. Widespread concrete and tangible commitment to the SDGs is still very far from a tipping point. Because of this, most companies are not yet actually building strategies around the SDGs, setting goals and objectives or building in SDG-friendly targets or metrics to their activities. For companies reading this, think about setting up a corporate learning program so that your executives can start identifying solutions and innovative ways of acting and reporting on your progress towards the SDGs. The opportunity is to start with the SDGs most material to your business.  Then, join key discussions and relevant fora to communicate your company’s contributions, gradually moving to position your company as a pioneer on the forefront of SDG action.

3.The 2 degree tipping point: Climate change is a highly mature sustainability issue – despite the hubris of deniers in the United States. This means that the urgency of addressing it is generally accepted. The question is ….how and how quickly can we go? According to the World Economic Forum, leaders of the world’s most high profile companies recognize climate change as the top global risk in terms of potential and substantial impact. Climate change is also a prominent undercurrent of the SDGs.   For companies, carbon disclosure is increasing rapidly. COP21 produced the hope of a tighter policy environment, long terms goals for global decarburization, and more investor interest in the issue. Participant governments recognized that they had to tackle it together. And then along came the US election. What a massive climate leadership shift in the last year! We are still seeing the new reality play out but who would have thought even two years ago that China would fashion itself as the new climate leader on the world stage?

4.The news is dead; long live the news: “Fake news” proliferation – with the most high profile being around the US election and the Trump administration – is swaying elections and public opinion as never before. Today, personal, institutional, and corporate reputations can be lost in a matter of minutes, even seconds. With billions of $US dollars tied up in their brands, concerned companies have started to put pressure on high tech companies to scrutinize the boundaries of their responsibility for content on sites such as Facebook. I remember school debates back in the day around whether, in must-win battles, “the pen is mightier than the sword”. Today, it appears that “social media is mightier than the bomb”.

5.Grow ’til you pop: The “shop ‘til you drop” mindset of the new millennium continues but on the web! Just how counterintuitive is it that economies are still so bent on growth when resources are so finite? Denying limits to growth is the “emperor’s new clothes” equivalent of modern times.  Everyone knows it is truly madness but no one wants to say it. Virtually no mainstream business leaders are questioning the growth paradigm for now. Hugely growing consumption, facilitated and enabled by emerging E-commerce opportunities, are great news for the Amazons and E-Bays of this world…..but they are also leading to vast environmental damage, with substantial social issues raising their ugly heads too. This is particularly so in emerging economies that lack infrastructure to absorb the massive waste (particularly plastics and Styrofoam) resulting from said consumption. These countries simply cannot keep up with the pace of their own waste.  Meanwhile social pressure has increased on companies to show that they can minimize their impacts everywhere. In this context, innovation hubs are emerging across the spectrum of business and industry to encourage more collaboration amongst technology start-ups, businesses, NGOs, governments, and academia. Why? To find creative and effective solutions to resource challenges and to tackle negative consequences of rapid growth.

6…and grow ’til you drop: Obesity, diabetes and other related medical risks have finally surpassed hunger as a global health crisis and issue. Furthermore, as emerging economies increasingly adopt meat-based diets, animal protein is under scrutiny for both its negative health impacts and the devastatingly huge carbon footprint of livestock rearing (a full 18%, and rising, of global greenhouse gas emissions). There is an opportunity for companies to focus on the inevitable fact that in the future we will all be eating much less meat, more vegetables, less sugar and less salt. Time to get creative with diets! Discussions around health care in the US show us that access to medicine is increasingly a developed world issue also, not just a developing world conundrum (where already some 2 billion people still lack access to medicine). These facts present opportunities for plenty of disruption. We will see the emergence of new business models to serve these massive markets.

7.The global transparency fishbowl: Despite pending deregulation in the US, financial disclosure expectations and regulations have actually increased substantially globally, and with this, transparency. And it is really good news is that investors are taking environmental and social criteria much more seriously than before.  Stock exchanges which long avoided public scrutiny on environmental and social risk are now under the investor spotlight to review disclosure requirements. In 2016, who knew that more than one out of 5 dollars under professional management in the US – yes the US, and that’s almost $9 trillion – was invested according to some kind of sustainability screening? Companies are under pressure to disclose sustainability risk data to shareholders and increasingly undergo stress tests.

8.The big shrink: Finally, as a message to business students, what is happening out there as your local supermarket store replaces people with machines (it happened me the other day, to my chagrin), is a worldwide phenomenon going “from farm to fork” (production to retail). As artificial intelligence and robotics irreversibly move into the mainstream across industries and sectors, we can say goodbye to the world of work, as we once know it! With the social consequences of these massive shifts is in mind, Finland is currently pilot testing the idea of providing universal baseline income (unconditional) in the expectation that automation will massively do away with jobs.  Other countries – such as Canada and Italy – are also testing the waters. Switzerland held a tentative referendum in 2016 but people were not yet ready to vote “yes”; too much of a mind bending change for conservative Switzerland. So what kind of job will YOU do in the future, students?  Make sure a robot cannot easily replicate it. Note that many initially risk averse firms are boldly outlining digital strategies and fostering the right skills and capabilities in their managers to embrace the business world of tomorrow. Soft and subtle human skills, ethics, values, imagination and conceptual intelligence re-enter the picture again as the greatest benefit humans can contribute to business of the future. This may be good news for sustainability.

Ionescu-AileenPICTURE-150x150Author: Dr. Aileen Ionescu-Somers

Active in thought leadership, consulting, applied research, teaching and supervising DBA candidates in sustainability & responsibility.

#Speak-up series 2 – How can leaders conduct effective speak-up conversations?

Scandals like Volkswagen or Fells Fargo made it clear again: Before a scandal erupts, many, many people in the company knew about the ongoing ethics problems for quite a long time. According to research about one year! So why did most of them not speak up?

In the first part of this series, Bettina Palazzo explored how leaders discourage that their team members address uncomfortable truths and what they can do about it. Now she will look at how leaders need to conduct speak up conversations that make it safe and worthwhile for employees to speak up.

Coming up in the next parts of this blog series on speaking up:

  • Speak-up post no. 3: Why employees do not speak up and who are the courageous people that do dare to speak up.
  • Speak-up post no. 4: How employees can prepare an effective speak-up conversation and how they can conduct this difficult talk with courage and confidence.

In part one of this series on speak-up we saw that leaders need to encourage their team members to speak up long before there is a critical thing to say : They need to create a culture of constructive feedback, where saying uncomfortable truths and keeping each other accountable for ethical behavior is normal. Speaking up is most of all a communication and relationship problem. If you have good communications and a good relationship with your coworkers, if they trust you, if you share responsibilities with them, speaking up is much easier.

Sounds easy and logical? Of course, but in practice it is not so easy to do. As with most leadership topics we often observe a knowing-doing gap: In theory we know what would be the right thing to do, but in practice there are many obstacles that keep us from doing them. It is a bit like living a healthy life: We all know what to do (no sugar, alcohol, cigarettes, lots of exercise, enough sleep etc.), but actually doing it in a consistent way can be so hard. It is like Chip and Dan Heath say in their bestselling book « Switch » : Your rational mind is just the tiny rider on the big elephant of our irrational behavior, desires and emotions. Our rational mind might decide that it is the right thing to do to go jogging every morning at 6 a.m., but the irrational elephant of our deepest emotions and desires throws the alarm clock in the corner, when we need to stand up to go running.

To overcome the inertia of our own inner elephant, we need a lot of practice, reflection and feedback. That is why good leaders need to invest in self-development work. If they find ways to effectively deal with their inner irrational elephant, they can also go ahead and create an environment that makes it easier for their followers to become better leaders themselves. Leaders’ influence on their followers’ elephant is always limited, but they can influence the path of their followers’ elephants.

In the case of speak-up, leaders need to work on their own intuitively defensive reaction to unpleasant feedback (elephant) and they need to create structures that make speak-up normal.

In my fist blog post I already spoke about the structures that can turn speak-up into a normal practice (e.g. integration in team meetings).

Now I will explore how leaders need to react to a team member’s voicing of ethical concerns.

Let’s imagine the following scene :

Your coworker Claire, an engineer, comes to see you and tells you that she thinks that the new promising product your team has been working on since one year will need an expensive safety check. She also thinks that without this safety check this product could create a lot of damage and might even endanger lives. You are infuriated: In your opinion, Claire has the tendency to over-engineer and is not enough business oriented. Furthermore, you are under a lot of pressure from your boss to finally push this product to market. It would be very difficult for you to explain another delay because of the – in your opinion – unlikely possibility of safety risks.

How should you react?

You natural tendency could be defensive. You really want to market this product soon and you are uncomfortable to explain this to your boss. After all, no product is without risk…and we need to earn money here. Consequently, chances are that you tell Claire that she should think business and stop over-engineering. This, of course, would discourage and demotivate Claire. She will maybe share her experience with colleagues who will conclude that speaking up about sensitive issues is not worth it and might harm your relationship with you as a boss.

The negative effect of this single incident of unsuccessful speak-up goes far beyond this single event. Responsible leaders have to be aware that their behavior is under constant observation and interpretation by their coworkers. That is why just saying, «My door is always open» or “Please tell me your honest opinion.” without constantly acting accordingly will not create an open speak-up culture.

You really need to be serious about your openness to critical voices from your coworkers. It has to be authentic and credible.

Consequently, when a coworker comes to you with unpleasant or critical feedback and you feel the urge inside of you to defend yourself, always mentally press the pause bottom before saying anything and follow this guideline:

  • When a coworker speaks up, always treat them with respect and openness.
  • Thank them for speaking up.
  • Watch out for your tone of voice and body language: Don’t look at your phone or computer, no aggressive or condescending tone of voice. No grim face. Be open and friendly.
  • Get to the heart of the matter, ask questions, be curious. Useful sentences could be:
    • “I have the feeling you are not telling me everything…”
    • “It is important to me to have your critical uncensored opinion…”
    • “Is there anything else I need to know?”
    • “What are your thoughts about this…?”
  • Do not judge or try to fix it, before you have understood the whole story. Practice active listening techniques: “If I have understood your right, you are thinking…”)
  • Do not get defensive. Feedback is always a gift.
  • Follow-up: agree on what should happen next.
  • Update you coworker in time.

Agreeing on what should happen next and update you coworker in time is key.

If your coworker took the energy and courage to speak up, it is crucial that you keep her updated. Otherwise, you enforce the message that speaking up is not worthwhile. And this is one of the main reasons people do not speak up. Why put yourself on the line, if nothing changes?

The importance of the leader’s role in speak up cannot be over-estimated.

Now we know that managers need to do, in order to encourage speak-up and how they need to react to coworkers who actually do speak up.

It is time to look at the other side: Coming up in the last two parts of my speak-up series:

  • Why employees do not speak up
  • How to prepare an effective speak-up conversation and how to communicate professionally during a speak conversation with a superior.

Stay tuned and watch for the next episode of the speak-up series!
Prof.-Bettina-PalazzoAuthor: Dr. Bettina Palazzo
Professor at BSL

The Myth of Organizational Culture

Note: this article is part of The Transatlantic Debate Blog series, which forms a conversation between Dr. Katrin Muff and Dr. Kathy Miller Perkins on business sustainability. Read  more posts from The Transatlantic Debate Blog here

There is no such thing as organizational culture, there is only people culture. 

I am curious to explore the difference between a role and a person, an organization and its people. This difference can be illustrated by considering a familiar scenario: What is the culture of the White House? I am suggesting here that it is not the White House that has a culture – the White House is an institution that has a purpose. Those who live and work at the White House represent the people of the White House and these people, how they work together and how they are together define the culture of the White House as an institution. A different set of people will result in a different culture, even if the institution remains the same in its purpose. Individuals may have an influence on the appearance of an institution or organization and depending on the governance structure, also have an influence on the purpose. And yet, the culture is an attribute defined by a group of people, not an institution or an organization. This insight may influence our understanding of how a culture may be changed. Could it be that cultural change is much more about changes that take place at the individual level, rather than those that can be master-minded at the organizational level? Let me attempt to reflect this by considering our lessons learned through the cultural change at Business School Lausanne.

There is a seemingly small but possibly substantial difference between what Organizational Development experts call an “Organizational Culture” and what is really going on. I have become aware of this difference in a reflective talk with BSL’s Holacracy implementation coach Christiane Seuhs-Schoeller of evolutionatwork. We reflected on Business School Lausanne’s (BSL) biggest difficulty and darkest hour in the transformation from a hierarchical to a self-organizing organization that somehow relates to the people space.

As you may recall, Holacracy is a highly sophisticated operating system for self-organization that explicitly takes care of organizing decisions around the “work” that relates to the purpose of the organization and how it very clearly does not organize how people work with each other. Despite hearing and reading everything we could about this, we entered into this transformation and felt entirely unprepared for what was waiting for us.

As we focused on organizing work-related decisions in a power-distributed, non-hierarchical way, learning the complex and sophisticated Holacracy rules that provoked and forced a behavioral change in every single person taking part, we did not pay attention to something crucial: what do we do with our personal relationships above and beyond strictly work-related discussions. In our darkest months, busy negotiating the shadows cast by difficult change, we entirely neglected these personal relationships, trusting that all we needed was work-talk.

In hindsight, we now know that there is a huge need to deal with and find solutions for personal relationships. This is not something a “tribe meeting” can fix as Holacracy may suggest. It is one-on-one work, not something that can be masterminded and implemented across the board. Personal relationships are apparent in every single moment that people work together – in the same space or around a common purpose; rather than being an occasional moment around the coffee machine, they dominate all interactions. Purely work-related decisions form the exception in such exchanges, something we have become able to distinguish thanks to Holacracy, which forces a particular and awkward talk-protocol when work is concerned. As such we would start work-talk with a sentence that sounds like, “In my role of ….., I would like to talk to you in your role of … about …”. And this is where the conversation shifts from a personal talk to a work-talk where the two people share specific accountabilities they can expect within their cooperation.

Such a situation is in stark contrast with the more typical situation where a person with a superior position casually strolls into an office of one of her or his subordinates, leans against the doorpost and in a collegial tone starts a friendly conversation that, depending on personal affinity, is either relaxed, hearty or a bit tense. Typically, somewhere towards the end of that nice chat, the boss comes up with some new expectation, deadline reminder, urgent action to be embraced or a long-term project to ponder. Depending on the managerial style of the supervisor, she or he either checks back about the feasibility of this requests or just strolls out of the office, fully expecting the subordinate to take her/his request as an order. This is a normal mix of personal and work relationship that all of us who work in a normal hierarchy are used to and know by experience in all of its wonderful – and less wonderful – shades of conscious or unconscious manipulation.

Self-organization crushes such situations by rendering them inacceptable in one way or another. It is impossible for any individual to walk into the office of anybody else and expect them to do something just because his/her seniority dictates that their “great idea” becomes an action on someone else’s to-do list. Anybody who has not lived self-organization has no means of truly understanding the implication of this. It makes no sense and any straight-thinking person wonders how anything that needs to get done, does get done. This is where Holacracy and other self-organizing operating systems tend to fail. A leader cannot fathom giving up her or his power and truly trusting that other individuals will not only step up into the space created by defining clear accountabilities in roles, but will have so many more ideas in these roles than could ever have been imagined by one supervisor alone. This trust is a leap of faith that seems to be a big ask for leaders.

At BSL, we were lucky that this was not a problem. As a leader, I was very keen to let go of the implicit power my position held and to focus on activities I could not spend enough time on but where I felt I could add true value to the organization. Given that letting-go was not our main issue (although, despite my wish to let go, I had to check my instincts for a good year!), a deeper issue emerged as a potential deal-breaker in transforming organizations. This is what I am fascinated by: the distinction between what an organization is and what a group of people is.

An organization is indeed NOT a group of people that work together. An organization, and this distinction is crucial, is a “thing”, a legal entity with a very specific purpose that subsequently serves as a vehicle to employ people and resources to realize that purpose. A group of people consists of individuals who, together, form the group. An organization possesses a “culture”, no more than my teacup can possess a culture. My teacup may look a certain way by having a certain shape and color and material, but it has no culture. In the same way, an organization may house its employees in a certain type of building, paint its walls a certain color or serve food of a given quality in its canteen; however, these attributes do not constitute culture. The only aspect of an organization that can have a culture is the people. There is people culture, not organizational culture. If you want to look at what it takes to change culture, you need to look at what it takes to change the individuals who, together, are the people. This is an insight that is not fully embraced in organizational change theory or organizational development. Organizational change in this sense would imply a change of the organization’s purpose or structure, activities or locations, but not of its people. Organizational development cannot mean that its people develop but that the organization grows through new products and services, locations, contracts, partnerships etc.

The reason I feel this distinction is important is that I have a hunch that, by peeling back this layer called “organization” when we talk about changing the culture, we may discover true levers of change to enable cultural shifts in organizations. I am fascinated by this as I still don’t know how our own cultural change came about at BSL. And I was there closely observing it! What happened in these dark months and what came out and into the light after it? When trying to answer this question, examples of individual human actions come to mind. Acts of courage, love and care. All of which are entirely unrelated to any role or accountability. These acts of humanity are what have touched me and possibly others – as individuals, not in a role or a responsibility. Alex sharing his new Chinese tea leaves and showing me how to pour a cup of tea as I walk in tired from a long outside meeting. Denitsa standing up and giving me a big hug as I walk in to say hi. Yasmina cracking a joke as I walk by that makes me stop and see how she is doing, as a person not as a colleague delivering her to-do list. It is Aurea that closes her work notebook and shares how her friend is doing.

These moments which are entirely and totally disconnected from any follow-on comment that says, “and hey, would you mind printing me x and quickly running me this or that report?” or, “hey, since we are chatting, have you heard back from x on y?”. We don’t do that anymore. We were forced to separate these kinds of conversations by learning how to have power-free conversations among roles in a journey to replace our hierarchy. Awkward, coded language that has nothing human or fun in it. But it does its job, it provides a safe space for anybody with a certain responsibility to do the very best she can to embrace this responsibility with all the passion and knowledge and freedom to innovate that she can put into it, given other priorities of other responsibilities she may also have. What happened in these dark hours is that we reduced all of our conversations to such coded, awkward language, and next to that each of us dealt with the pain and the frustration that such cold exchanges created in our own ways. To all the varying degrees of incapacity that humans possess. Some started gossiping, others started to moan and complain, some formed small groups that tried to super-analyze it all and solve it for the team, some retreated in their caves, feeling alone and rejected by a system that was inhuman. All of us, in one way or another, felt alone, helpless and overwhelmed, and all of us reacted to it through the large variety of dark shadows that are a part of our human characters.

Until the human light started to shine through and some started to reach out in caring conversations, daring to question endless complaints by asking, “do you want help or do you just want to complain?”; some started to share their pains and how they went about dealing with them with their coach or in therapy. Somebody organized tea for everybody. Somebody else brought in a homemade cake. Some people started to have really honest and painful conversations with each other. In these early days, everything felt raw and we were all exhausted. Emotionally affected. Small groups of individuals formed who felt more affinity for each other and much energy was spent discussing a problem that nobody could name. Pockets of resistance against the transformation became loud and forceful and the pain was in front of all of us, all the time. The atmosphere was dim, and some people fell ill. They could not understand the coldness of Holacracy and the inhumanity it seemed to require. People who didn’t perform were suddenly very exposed and position power didn’t protect anymore. Difficult talks requiring courage were needed to end long working relationships that probably could have been addressed long before but were hidden due to an overlap with personal relationships. More and more we learned to separate these relationships and slowly, very slowly, too slowly, the benefits started to emerge.

We had focused on identifying work benefits – and we reported many of these, experiencing them with increasing rapidity. The degree and extent of self-initiative is simply mind-blowing. We have moved from a group of people who each felt overwhelmed with the amount of work we needed to do to a group of people open to listen to new ideas, suggestions and opportunities, and ourselves coming up with innovative new, additional things we can do. Where did this space suddenly come from? Our plates were full before – I had long stopped daring to bring in new projects as I feared the reaction of a team that was clearly already overstretched. How come these same people now had ideas far beyond what I had ever dreamt of bringing in? How come, solutions for problems nobody even acknowledged before suddenly were implemented without anybody even knowing? How come costs were reduced where before there was no alternative? How come a suggestion for improvement was suddenly met with “tell me more” rather than “I have no time”? These are all “just” work-related benefits that brought tremendous benefit to the organization and these deserve being studied to be better understood.

What we didn’t focus on was what would happen to our relationships. And this is where more miracles happened. Our human relations have deepened; we know today more about each other than we ever did before and we are forming more of a family in a true sense than ever before. It is wrong to use “we” and “us” as a term. This phenomenon is an individual one and builds on the individual care for somebody else. Massimo and I are sharing the difficult moments we both experience right now seeing our parents with health issues. Carlo and Branko share their worries about their kids during our upcoming company ski-weekend. Denitsa inspired us with daily emails in the holiday months sharing insights about positive psychology from her current Master’s studies. As I present a key note at a big business event, I see the faces of my colleagues in the audience whose smiles encourage me to say what I want to say in clear language. We are all signed up for a course in non-violent communication. Our stakeholders (students and faculty) tell us that it is easier to engage with us, that we listen better and have more time and space for them as human beings, not just as transactional problems. I notice myself that I am careful in responding with a personal comment to emails that I receive. I am friendlier, warmer and more open, and I like that very much.

In our team, a feeling has spread that says “we are cool” and we are proud to belong together. Strength-spotting has become a past-time. Laughter is easier, humor more present and even after a long, tough day at work, I walk out feeling much better in my body and certainly in my heart and soul. Denitsa had asked me midday, “how is your day going” and I was profoundly touched. What a nice question and rather than complaining about all the things that I had going on, I took a quiet breath and I realized, I was having a really good day!

There is a miracle that has happened in front of my eyes and I don’t understand it quite yet. I remain curious and do want to understand it better. For if I can describe it better, others can benefit from such “organizational change” that really is “people change”, and that would be just great! My hunch is that the differentiation between the organization and the group of individuals that make up the people is key. When I worked for Alcoa, it was not the organization I admired and adored as much as its people. It was not “being the best aluminum company in the world” that made my soul sing, it was the positive opportunities I was given, and the leader’s interest in hearing a twenty-four-year old’s opinion on strategy.

Author: Katrin Muff, PhD

Active in thought leadership, consulting & applied research in sustainability & responsibility, and directing the DAS & DBA programs