Pondering the “Why”

Pondering the “Why”

This article is part of a series highlighting insights in the field of Positive Organizational Scholarship that come from the Center for Positive Organizations (CPO) at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business. Many of our executive consultants hold dual positions at both Riverbank and CPO. 

 

It’s a challenge to explain why I love the field of positive organizational scholarship and why I love the Center for Positive Organizations without it dripping with earnestness. I truly love this field. But I’ll try to have some tangible reasons to help with that.  

  

There are a lot of ways I could answer this, but I’ll start with the heart of it. When I was talking about my thoughts for the future, with a mix of nerves and excitement, a new friend of mine (who was also involved with the Center) surprised me with a dead-on observation of me: I need to love what I do or else I shut down. He’s exactly right, but there’s more to it. I burned out in the extreme during high school, to the point where I didn’t even want to be in the same state as those years of my life — and writing off California for college is a pretty big deal. But I started off loving everything I was involved in with a burning passion. And it was that unbridled passion that burned me in the end. So once I got to college, I focused on sustainability for myself and the way I work. 

  

I’ve maintained a healthy relationship with POS for three years now. I continue to find the field energizing, supportive, buoying… all of the uplifting images you can imagine. Trying to explain my feelings towards the field seems a bit difficult, as it’s all a little ephemeral. We’re getting into sappy territory, so I’ll try and go back to some specifics. 

  

For one thing, this field is all about making work and being part of organizations something sustainable and enlivening for everyone involved. So not only do I feel that way about the field itself, but the goal exactly aligns with my values.  

  

One of the ways I assess a field is by how comfortable I feel and how much I identify with the people in it. I definitely feel I belong with the people in this field — and that’s not to in any way suggest that we’re homogenous. This field encourages people to bring their whole selves and their complete experiences to the table. And that’s not an empty platitude. Just days after my 2.5-year relationship ended, I attended CPO’s Positive Business Consortium. I told my boss, Chris White, during breakfast, and he pulled me aside for half an hour to process with me as I needed. He left the conference early in the day, and I was then adopted by a group of wonderful women who I’d never met but treated me with such love and respect, despite me being the youngest at the conference. This is just one such moment where I’ve seen this field embrace people as they are in each moment. 

  

That’s something about POS — it’s not about ignoring the negative or pretending it doesn’t exist. When we hear all these words like thriving and flourishing, sometimes it’s easy to think that difficult times or bad experiences don’t have any place in POS. But we’re focused on a much more sustainable sense of wellbeing, in terms of the individual and the organization. And that doesn’t mean always being happy. I’m still relatively early in my studies of the field, considering that I’m hoping to embrace it for years to come, but it seems our main goal is to figure out how we can make being part of an organization something that fulfills each member in a way they couldn’t experience on their own, through connecting, sharing, supporting. And fulfillment is something much deeper, more meaningful, and more sustainable than just being happy. 

 

Alicia Haun is a content marketing intern at Riverbank Consulting Group. Alicia is a senior at the University of Michigan, where she also works with the Center for Positive Organizations at the Ross School of Business. Alicia is passionate about the field of positive organizational psychology and looks forward to helping work become a place of flourishing. 

Honoring Transitions

Honoring Transitions

I have to pack up all my things again. I calculated the exact number of addresses I’ve had at some point, but I’ve since forgotten — somewhere in the high teens. When I was growing up, my parents and I moved every year because of dad’s job, and the pandemic has made college housing even more hectic than usual. But I like moving. 

 

My parents were both military brats, so they grew up moving often too. My mom gets especially antsy when she’s in one place for too long. They’ve been in the same house since I was in 6th grade, and by the end of high school, there were days where I’d wake up to find the furniture in a different arrangement than the night before, and things would move again by the time I came home from school and again when I went downstairs for dinner. 

 

When it comes it housing, we love change. That’s not to say it’s always easy. For one thing, it always seems to rain on moving day, even when we live in the desert. And sometimes it’s downright hard. I remember being so scared when my parents told me that we were moving across the country from Florida to California. I was terrified I wouldn’t be able to make any new friends.  

 

Moving houses is just one of many big transitions most of us are bound to face over the course of our lives. In the work world, on average, people change jobs every 4.1 years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. So how can we seek to honor these inflection points and make them a positive experience for everyone involved?  

 

Being a part of the Center for Positive Organizations has taught me a lot about how to approach change, both in the classroom and out. We learned about how one company, HopeLab, approaches transitions with appreciation and acceptance of all that comes with such large changes: “Transitions are just a part of life. They can be emotional experiences for the person who’s leaving, for the people who are staying, and approaching it with some awareness and some acknowledgement that those things are — they just are. And then continuing to cultivate the kind of community, the kind of organization, the kind of team that we all want to be a part of, even in the face of change and transition.” 

 

When the people at HopeLab celebrated one of their team’s transition to a new career, they embraced the full range of emotions that people were feeling: “In any farewell, you have both the sadness of leaving and the joy of reflecting on the good times. You don’t want to ignore either.”  

 

When we think of ways to positively frame transitions, we often think of the excitement of the new. I look forward to the challenge of experimenting to see which art pieces will go best on which wall in my new apartment. Figuring out how to arrange things is one of my favorite parts of being in a new place.  

 

But there are other ways to appreciate change. One option is to implement rituals during moments of change that help you feel more grounded in familiarity. Whenever we moved, I knew to expect that my dad would carry my mom across the threshold of our new place on the first night, and we’d order a pizza as we sat on the floor, watching a movie downloaded on the laptop.  

 

But my favorite part of moving might be the opportunity to reflect on the time I’ve spent in the place I’m leaving. I enjoy the process of sifting through memories as I pack up my belongings. It’s almost always a bittersweet process as I realize all the ways things have changed and I’ve grown.  

 

For an experience to be positive in the way we mean when we’re talking about positive organizational scholarship, it doesn’t need to be happy. We’re looking to create organizations where people can bring their whole selves, and as the team member who left HopeLab says, “Being vulnerable is being willing to feel and express the whole range of emotions, be it joy and laughter to tears and sadness.” The flourishing and thriving we’re aiming for isn’t superficial — positive experiences and positive organizations are ones that are fulfilling and enlivening, with all the complexity that carries. 

 

Alicia Haun is a content marketing intern at Riverbank Consulting Group. Alicia is a senior at the University of Michigan, where she also works with the Center for Positive Organizations at the Ross School of Business. Alicia is passionate about the field of positive organizational psychology and looks forward to helping work become a place of flourishing. 

Finding Creativity on the Chopping Block

Finding Creativity on the Chopping Block

I’m on the phone with my mom right now, which she says is procrastinating. I asked her, “Why is writing so hard?” Her answer: “Because it’s a creative effort.”  

 

When you’re tasked with conjuring up something innovative, something new, you might think it’s best to open up all the options you can. But think of this scenario from the TED talk “The Power of Creative Constraints”: 

 

“Imagine you’re asked to invent something new. It could be whatever you want made from anything you choose in any shape or size. That kind of creative freedom sounds so liberating, doesn’t it? Or does it? If you’re like most people, you’d probably be paralyzed by this task. Without more guidance, where would you even begin? As it turns out, boundless freedom isn’t always helpful.” 

 

So, too much creative freedom could be cementing your writer’s block (or whatever block applies to your creative domain). But go to the other end of the spectrum, and you’re not heading for much creativity either. Step by step instructions are great when you’re looking for reliability, and a lot of the time, we are. My mom has a blue binder full of stained recipes in plastic page protectors. Most of the time when she cooks, she follows the recipes pretty exactly, maybe making one or two adjustments after trying it out a few times. But once a year, our kitchen becomes a wild playground for creative experimentation: the annual Haun family Chopped. 

 

Each year, I go out to different grocery stores to gather supplies to model the Food Network show Chopped. I pick out four secret ingredients for each round of the competition: a 20-minute appetizer round, 30-minute entrée, and 30-minute dessert. After I do my shopping, I prep the kitchen by preheating the oven, boiling water, and setting up the induction burner. Then my parents are ready to open the baskets and compete to make a cohesive, creative dish using all of the secret basket ingredients for that round in that time allotted — no recipes allowed. 

 

But of course, by the nature of the game, there are plenty of restrictions, and pretty challenging ones at that — think having to make an appetizer featuring guava paste, yellow rice, spam, and bell peppers. Introducing creative constraints to the innovation process can help provide focus and spur new ideas. I imagine if I were to give my parents free reign over the pantry, endless time, access to any resource, and the simple challenge to create a new meal, we probably would have ended up with some safer bets than what has come out of the Chopped kitchen so far because “when there are no constraints on the creative process, complacency sets in, and people follow what psychologists call the path-of-least-resistance”. [1] And I bet it would have been a less energizing process too.  

 

Through our annual competition, we’ve created a safe space for radical experimentation. We expect and tease each other about the failures, and we’re generous with our praise for everything that somehow turns out edible. Our goal is less about the food and more about having fun together and playing with culinary skills we hesitate to try otherwise (turns out a rolled cake is more difficult to make than you’d think!). We’ve created “a strong innovation climate — one that is characterized by support for innovation, shared vision and objectives, shared commitment to excel, and sense of security”. Okay, maybe we’re a little lax on the excel part. 

 

Sure, we’ve had plenty of iffy bites come out of these Chopped meals. Try as you might, you can’t fry things in coconut milk. Most of it is passable, but not something we’d ever order off a menu. But every now and then, the circumstances of Chopped come together to make some real winners that earn a spot in the regular dinner rotation. My personal favorite is when Dad whipped up canned tuna in the style of crab cakes. I’ve made those more than a few times since (much easier for a college budget).  

 

So maybe the next time you’re feeling stuck on a creative challenge, lean into the challenge part by adding more constraints. I eventually got going on this article by pulling out my hourglass and self-imposing a deadline to get the first few paragraphs in place. Organizationally, there are plenty of ways to impose creative constraints. Some tactics are to “limit inputs” (such as the time limits in Chopped), “enforce specific processes”, or “set specific output requirements”. Just be sure to leave some creative room to breathe. 

 

[1] “Why Constraints are Good for Innovation

 

Alicia Haun is a content marketing intern at Riverbank Consulting Group. Alicia is a senior at the University of Michigan, where she also works with the Center for Positive Organizations at the Ross School of Business. Alicia is passionate about the field of positive organizational psychology and looks forward to helping work become a place of flourishing. 

Framing Positive Practices for Buy-In

Framing Positive Practices for Buy-In

I’m a firm believer in the power of positive practices to improve the culture in organizations. But I know not everybody shares this conviction. Some people think it’s “soft, light-weight and even naive.” The word pollyannaish gets tossed around, thinking positive organizational scholarship is just blindly optimistic. But I also know that this perception of positive practices as having no place in the real business world is missing the basis for important opportunities for growth. I’ve seen time and time again in research, field data, and case studies that positive practices provide improvement in many hard business metrics people are looking for, including higher productivity, higher creativity, and lower turnover, just to name a few. Working toward creating a positive organization where people can thrive can make a huge difference in engagement of the people working in the organization.   

 

I’m committed to the importance of positive practices. What I am learning, though, is how to be realistic about how we accomplish these outcomes for people in the organization and how we define success. I recently spoke with executive consultant Ron May, and we focused on how to frame positive practices to strive to create the most buy-in among people at all levels of the organization. In our previous interview, Ron emphasized that what is paramount to him is knowing that all of these practices are data-driven. I’ve also heard from Rich Smalling the importance of presenting the data in a sensible manner to create buy-in from his organization comprised of engineers. So, I was surprised when Ron said that sometimes you might not want to exclusively use the academic terminology I’ve been learning in my classes.  

 

Having the academic terminology — such as strength spotting, job crafting, high quality connections, among others — can be helpful when it functions as a shared vernacular. But Ron explained that when you’re trying to introduce change into an organization, which is always a challenging process, initially using what might be unfamiliar jargon could alienate the teams you’re working with, putting an extra roadblock in the path to flourishing. 

 

Instead, we could embrace curiosity and seek an understanding of where the organization is in their current state. What problems are they experiencing? What have they already tried? What have the responses been? Only after getting to know this specific organization, understanding its values and processes, can we start to pull on the research and practical concepts in a way to effectively bring about change.  

 

One of my biggest learnings as I’ve moved from the classroom to Riverbank is how to really think about ways to apply positive organizational concepts in ways that are customized to specific teams and organizations. Positive practices shouldn’t be cookie cutter tools that you introduce the same way to every organization, as it will miss some of the intentionality and power of these concepts.  

 

One common positive practice is thinking about how to be intentional about celebrations. I’ve mainly heard about this in case studies, where I’ve seen this concept applied as a way to frame beginnings, endings, and transitions, usually at a large scale. Ron gave an example of the way an individual in a team can implement these ideas without being a formal leader in order to bring a positive change. For example, perhaps you notice that your team typically seems really unhappy on Monday mornings, and the week begins with an early meeting in the conference room. Why not change it up? You could inject a bit of positivity to start off the week by sharing coffee and donuts, as a sort of micro celebration to set the tone. Or maybe you all have a walking meeting outside to get ideas flowing. These are small, individual and team level changes that can start to have big impacts.  

 

We all know that there’s no one size fits all solution for individuals, and, whether we embrace it or not, organizations are fundamentally made up of individuals. And it follows, then, that there won’t be a one size fits all solution for how to employ positive practices in an organization. But by deciding to make flourishing a priority, you can focus on making the most of your business’s most important resource: people. 

 

Alicia Haun is a content marketing intern at Riverbank Consulting Group. Alicia is a senior at the University of Michigan, where she also works with the Center for Positive Organizations at the Ross School of Business. Alicia is passionate about the field of positive organizational psychology and looks forward to helping work become a place of flourishing. 

Want Your Organization to Thrive? Create a Culture of Trust

Want Your Organization to Thrive? Create a Culture of Trust

By now, I’ve published a bunch of articles on Riverbank’s blogs, and I’m genuinely proud of them. But I was a bit nervous to start working here at Riverbank. I had my first run-in with imposter syndrome when I thought about how I’d be the one creating much of Riverbank’s content, when many of the people I’m working with are the ones writing the books I’m learning from. I put off writing any articles for a while, doing an excessive amount of research to try and bolster my confidence in my ability to add value. So how did I make the jump? I could tell everyone at Riverbank trusted me.  

 

Even just in my first weeks, it became clear to me that Riverbank has a strong culture of trust. Chris often tells me that he trusts my judgment on different decisions, which initially surprised me as the newest and youngest Bankie. In our recent strategy meeting, he also expressed deep appreciation for all of our executive consultants, since he knows he can trust them to follow through on their commitments. He doesn’t have to worry and can instead devote that energy to moving forward. 

 

Trust is crucial if you want your organization to thrive. According to neuroscientist Paul Zak 

 

Employees in high-trust organizations are more productive, have more energy at work, collaborate better with their colleagues, and stay with their employers longer than people working at low-trust companies. They also suffer less chronic stress and are happier with their lives, and these factors fuel stronger performance.” 

 

But sometimes creating a culture of trust can be hard. Chieh Huang, CEO of Boxed.com, learned this through some trial and error. In his hilarious TED talk “Confessions of a Recovering Micromanager,” Huang describes how difficult it was for him to let go of control as he went from a one-man company to being a CEO a few steps removed from the shipping floor. At first, he sought the control he was used to by micromanaging, telling his employees exactly how to write personalized notes to customers:  

 

I’m going to tell these folks how to write these notes. What pen to use, what color to use, what you should write, what font you should use, don’t mess up the margins, this has to be this big, this has to be that big. And pretty soon this goal of raising morale by breaking up the monotony in the fulfillment center actually became micromanagement, and people started complaining to HR.” 

 

After this feedback, Huang changed tactics: 

 

“So it was at that point in time, we said, “OK, you know? We hired these great, wonderful people, let’s give them the mission that’s ‘delight the customer,’ let’s give them the tool to do so, and that’s these notes — have at it.” 

 

Because Huang wasn’t dictating what each note should look like, they started to change — in great ways, like when some people brought their artistic talents to the task, drawing beautiful “minimurals” on the cards. Of course, there were some missteps, but Huang reflected and realized that failure is inevitable to some degree when you’re trusting people to develop their own ways of accomplishing goals. But he sees failure as “a milestone along that mission towards success,” where each misstep helps the organization learn and recalibrate. 

 

Huang recounts the ways Boxed.com has grown in ways that he never could have expected or would have been possible if he hadn’t decided to stop micromanaging and start trusting his people. When there’s a culture of trust, people are able to bring their passions, talents, and creativity to work and help the organization to flourish beyond the sum of its parts, and way beyond what any one person could direct.  

 

As I’ve spent more time with Riverbank, I’ve noticed that we follow all of Paul Zak’s strategies to manage for trust. In addition to explicitly saying that we trust each other, we have a culture that encourages us to get to know each other as whole people — because it’s a lot easier to trust someone you know. And the trust is genuine. I’ve had a bunch of latitude to job craft my role into exactly what energizes me — from seeking out learning opportunities to having a large amount of creative freedom to deciding when I want to write (I’m a night owl, so it’s midnight right now). So sometimes I still feel a twinge of nervousness, but knowing that everyone at Riverbank trusts me helps me trust myself. 

 

Alicia Haun is a content marketing intern at Riverbank Consulting Group. Alicia is a senior at the University of Michigan, where she also works with the Center for Positive Organizations at the Ross School of Business. Alicia is passionate about the field of positive organizational psychology and looks forward to helping work become a place of flourishing. 

Perspectives on Positive Organizations: An Interview with Executive Consultant Robin Klein

Perspectives on Positive Organizations: An Interview with Executive Consultant Robin Klein

As a student of the relatively new field of positive organizational scholarship, I’ve been wondering about what I should do and where I should go after graduation. What are my priorities? What work do I want to be doing? What organizational culture do I want to be a part of? Because I’m just starting out on the long journey of my career, I don’t have a lot of answers yet. But lately, I’ve been speaking to a lot of our executive consultants here at Riverbank and getting a sense of how they’ve approached their career transitions into Riverbank. 

 

Recently I spoke with Robin Klein, one of our executive consultants and former Head of HR at Root Inc. She enjoyed a very successful and rewarding career at Root, and as she became more senior in the company, more of her role became devoted to winning business for the company. Eventually, Robin got to a point where she wanted to shift her priorities to be able to spend more time with her daughters who were in high school at the time, instead of traveling at least three nights a week on work: “After 35 years of working, I knew I needed to make a change.” 

 

Robin told me she was excited for the shift into retirement: 

 

“I did not want to work. It was really important to me to get at least a year off. I never wanted to go back to a job that was super demanding or would impact my ability to do what I wanted with my life. I had been retired for like 2 months…” 

 

We both laughed here, knowing that her plan for a year off wasn’t going to work out how she had expected. Rich Berens, the CEO of Root, told Robin that he thought she would be a perfect fit for a short-term project his friend needed help with. After some convincing, Robin agreed to help, and the rest is history:  

 

“Chris and I hit it off. I signed on for the first 3-5 hours a week for 4 weeks, and 18 months later, I’m still there.” 

 

Obviously, Robin and I are at very different stages in our careers. As a rising senior just figuring out the (somewhat scary) prospect of entering the workforce full time for the first time, I don’t have the same latitude to have as much discretion in deciding where I want to work and what I want to do. That said, I’m studying cognitive science on our decision-making track, and I’m a firm believer in positive organizational scholarship. Plus, I’m young. All this combines to mean that I have a certain amount of hope and conviction that I can make decisions that will help me pursue a career and join organizations that will foster my thriving.  

 

My curiosity in talking to Robin, then, was wondering how she decided to work with Riverbank. It seems to me that her situation transitioning out of retirement represents the ideal model of choosing work for the work’s sake — so what drew her to Riverbank? One important aspect for Robin is the people at Riverbank, who she values for their kindness, genuine care, and years of expertise. On top of that, she really enjoys the work she’s able to do at Riverbank: 

 

“I love the client work, but I also love that I don’t have a big number on my head that I have to hit. I don’t have to manage a big team. For me, Riverbank is a way that I can use my expertise, I can work with good people, it’s very low pressure for me… and I really enjoy what we do and what I’m doing. That’s how I got hooked.” 

 

I’m still figuring out what sort of work I want to be doing, but Robin’s emphasis on the people echoes a lot of what I’ve been hearing about the main test for culture fit: if you were at the airport after a long business trip and you found out your flight was delayed by hours and hours, would you want to spend that time sitting next to the people you work with? I don’t know what my future holds, but I know that I would love whiling away a layover with any of our Bankies.  

 

Alicia Haun is a content marketing intern at Riverbank Consulting Group. Alicia is a senior at the University of Michigan, where she also works with the Center for Positive Organizations at the Ross School of Business. Alicia is passionate about the field of positive organizational psychology and looks forward to helping work become a place of flourishing. 

The Power of Asking

The Power of Asking

I admit, I have some weird aspirations. When I was little, my biggest bucket list item was to order something from a TV commercial (I never did because by the time I was old enough, TV commercials weren’t really a thing anymore). But this weekend, I lived out my most recent odd obsession. I spontaneously power washed my neighbor’s house.  

 

Now, using a power washer is definitely a weird goal, but I achieved it! And I did so by asking. In a perfect coincidence of timing, I just finished reading Wayne Baker’s All You Have to Do Is Ask: How to Master the Most Important Skill for Success. Baker’s main message throughout the book is about the importance of creating a culture of giving and receiving at work. Baker goes on about all the myriad benefits of such a culture for the entirety of his book, but here are some of the studied effects: “higher job performance and satisfaction; new hire success; finding jobs — or talent for job openings; learning and professional development; creativity and innovation; managing stress; team performance; cost reduction; productivity and profitability.” 

 

This culture of “generalized reciprocity” — where people give and receive freely, as opposed to tracking favors as a “tit-for-tat exchange” — seems wonderful, and it turns out, the biggest barrier to unlocking this potential isn’t convincing people to give, like Baker initially assumed, instead it’s getting people to ask:  

 

“I learned that most people are in fact willing to help — if they are asked. But most people don’t ask, and as a result, all those answers, solutions, and resources were being left untouched, unused, and wasted — for no good reason.” 

 

Making clear requests is key. People aren’t mind readers, and being clear about what you need help with allows people to provide help in the most efficient and effective way:  

 

“It’s critical to understand that help rarely arrives unasked for. In fact, studies show that as much as 90 percent of the help that is provided in the workplace occurs only after requests for help have been made.” 

 

Granted, most people probably don’t share my desire to power wash, but I found a lot of similarities between my experience achieving this goal and Baker’s messages about the benefits of asking. To let you know just how closely I held this goal, this wasn’t the first time I’d made a request to power wash. In the last month, I did a bit of research and reached out to the University of Michigan Facilities & Operations department as well as the Ann Arbor government’s volunteer coordinators, asking if there were any opportunities for me to help out with power washing.  

 

Like Baker recommends, I shared my motivation for the request: “When others know why you are making the request, they are more motivated to respond.” When I want to relax or calm down, I’ll often watch industrial carpet cleaning videos, which then turned into power washing videos (trust me, it’s a niche). It’s so satisfying to watch the process of people being able to clean something so thoroughly, and I wanted to have that experience. I also prefaced my request by saying, “I have a bit of a silly question.” As Jia Jiang found in his TED talk “100 Days of Rejection,” acknowledging people’s judgments upfront can make your request more effective:  

 

“But then I found I could do this because I mentioned, “Is that weird?” I mentioned the doubt that he was having. And because I mentioned, ‘Is that weird?’, that means I wasn’t weird. That means I was actually thinking just like him, seeing this as a weird thing. And again, and again, I learned that if I mention some doubt people might have before I ask the question, I gained their trust. People were more likely to say yes to me.” 

 

Even with these tools, I still experienced rejection. The University said no because of liability issues, but they said I could come watch them remove graffiti if I wanted. I thanked them and declined because I didn’t want to make people feel uncomfortable with me just watching them do their work. The Ann Arbor government responded by saying that it was definitely an interesting question, so they’d check and get back to me, but I didn’t get another email. 

 

But if you look at both of these responses, neither group shut me down. The University tried to offer me an alternative that their policy would allow, and the Ann Arbor government never ended up actually saying no — it probably got lost since a request like this isn’t a priority. Oftentimes, rejection isn’t as straightforward as we might perceive it to be. Baker summarizes Jang’s lessons about the nature of rejection:

 

“Jia also learned that rejection isn’t personal. It’s an opinion, not the objective truth about the merit of an idea. In fact, a rejection may say more about the rejector than the requester or request, and you generally don’t know the reason behind the ‘no’ you get: maybe the person wishes to help but is unable, the timing isn’t right, or they are just having a bad day.” 

 

While I probably could have followed up with the Ann Arbor government, I decided to shelve the idea for another time. And then imagine my surprise when I’m working at my dining room table, and I hear what I thought was my neighbor revving up a lawn mower, but when I look up, it’s a power washer! I sprinted outside of the house (in my regular, non-power washing clothes) and introduced myself, saying that I’m his neighbor Alicia and I have a very silly question. I explained my love of power washing videos and asked if I could help him power wash his patio. He paused, said that it was definitely the weirdest request he’d ever gotten. I spent the next hour getting soaked and splattered in mud, and I loved every second. 

 

Alicia Haun is a content marketing intern at Riverbank Consulting Group. Alicia is a senior at the University of Michigan, where she also works with the Center for Positive Organizations at the Ross School of Business. Alicia is passionate about the field of positive organizational psychology and looks forward to helping work become a place of flourishing. 

Perspectives on Positive Organizations: An Interview with Ron May

Perspectives on Positive Organizations: An Interview with Ron May

As I’ve mentioned before, Riverbank’s model draws on the expertise and experience of our executive consultants, many of whom have transitioned into retirement to work both as Riverbank executive consultants and as Executives in Residence at the Center for Positive Organizations at the Ross School of Business. Ron May, former Executive Vice President at DTE Energy, looked to his long-time friend Rick Haller, another of our executive consultants, for advice on what to do as he transitioned out of his career: 

 

“I truly respect Rick — his intellect, his ability, and character is just unimpeachable. I asked him this question, you know, what do you do when you’re retired? And he says, ‘First of all, don’t take on anything that you don’t want to.’ That was really good advice.”

 

Ron is now working with both Riverbank and CPO, so we know that he has a strong intrinsic drive to be involved with the field of positive organizational scholarship. When I asked him about how he came to be involved with the field, he said it really started with how DTE decided to handle the economic crisis of 2008. First, he told me about what would have been typical for a company to do in such a downturn: 

 

“We had a culture that typically would go in a room with the few deep thinkers and basically say, well this is what we’re going to do, and we’d pull the levers that are the easiest. Layoffs would have been a really good idea, cutting service to customers would have been a natural reaction, slowing down work would have been a natural reaction. We didn’t do any of that.”

 

Instead, the leadership at DTE tried almost the opposite approach, leaning into the resources they had in the form of their relationships and human capital: 

 

“What we did is we said, ‘Look, why don’t we harness the power of all the employees? Let’s harness the power of our regulators and our governmental officials. Let’s harness the power of our vendors and companies that support us and see if we can’t weather this storm and make it through.’ The interesting thing is we began to do all that without a deep knowledge of exactly why, but we came to be aware through some good insight of CPO. We became aware that the practices actually had names and titles and figures and research. We were doing things before we knew why, but we certainly took the time to investigate and make sure that we were not just doing something and got lucky, but that we were focused correctly. You can tick off all the things that happened — employee engagement went way up. We not only exceeded expectations from Wall Street, but we did it with improving vendor relations and customer satisfaction, and all that other stuff.”

 

Not only did DTE survive the economic crisis, but they were able to thrive due to the practices they put in place. Oftentimes working in the field of positive organizational scholarship, we encounter people who think positive practices are simply nice to have and don’t think of them as tools to advance an organization’s business interests. But when we look at the research, we find that organizations that design for thriving experience higher productivity, higher citizenship behaviors, lower medical expenses, and lower turnover, not to mention the benefits to each employee’s lived experience with the organization. 

 

Having experienced the benefits of positive practices firsthand in DTE’s experimental approach, Ron is now drawn to the research, determined to learn and teach the ways in which these positive practices are scientifically backed. As he created his Leadership — Positive Engagement course, he ensured that he was grounding his lessons in verifiable fact: 

 

“But again, it was research based, and without that, it didn’t make any sense to me. Without that, we were just telling stories — this worked, this didn’t work.”

 

Through his dual roles with Riverbank and CPO, Ron gets to take his experiential and research-based knowledge and share it with students and organizations alike. He shared his guiding principle for all of his work: 

 

“Let’s see if we can make the world better. Let’s see if we can help others become better leaders. Let’s see if positive practices can be deployed in a variety of forms.”

 

I’m grateful to be able to work with both Riverbank and CPO, just like Ron and many of our other executive consultants. I sometimes worry that, as a student and an intern with both organizations, my visions for the possibilities in the workplace might be a bit idealistic. But as I continue learning from and working with people like Ron, I find again and again that these hopes for more positive organizations that care about the thriving of their people are realities — realities that our executive consultants have lived and studied and work to achieve with our clients.  

 

Alicia Haun is a content marketing intern at Riverbank Consulting Group. Alicia is a senior at the University of Michigan, where she also works with the Center for Positive Organizations at the Ross School of Business. Alicia is passionate about the field of positive organizational psychology and looks forward to helping work become a place of flourishing. 

Perspectives on Positive Organizations: An Interview with Executive Consultant, Rick Haller

Perspectives on Positive Organizations: An Interview with Executive Consultant, Rick Haller

This summer, I’m lucky enough to have two internships that steep me in the field of positive organizational scholarship. Because I’m writing this article here, you know that one of my roles is as the Content Creation Intern at Riverbank Consulting Group. And fittingly, my other role is with the Center for Positive Organizations at Ross as a Program Design Intern, where we’re designing an accreditation program for students in the field. Many of Riverbank’s executive consultants have dual roles with the Center for Positive Organizations, from Chris White as CPO’s former Managing Director, and Ron May, Rick Haller, and Rich Smalling as Executives in Residence at CPO.  

 

Riverbank’s model for executive consultants who bring impressive industry experience means that most of our consultants are “semi-retired,” where they decided it was time for them to transition out of their fulfilling, successful careers. But they were each drawn almost immediately out of retirement by the possibility of positive organizations through both Riverbank and CPO. It’s such a common sentiment to idealize doing work simply for the love of it — our consultants live this ideal. The question is: what draws them to work for both Riverbank and CPO? 

 

For Rick Haller, former President and COO of Walbridge for almost 25 years, the draw for him is in the implementation of positive organizational scholarship. As a CPO executive in residence, there are three main focuses: the students, the academics, and the consortium. The consortium, a group of business leaders committed to bringing positive practices into their companies, represents for Rick the implementation arm of his role, along with the work he does consulting with Riverbank.  

 

The field of positive organizational scholarship is a relatively new one, and Rick talked about stumbling onto it, in a way: 

 

“Ron and I kind of grew up in organizations where we adopted practices that felt good to us, and now we know the language involved, based on CPO and the fundamental research that goes on there.” 

 

Because positive organizational scholarship is such a new field, Rick’s experience is pretty common for many of the business leaders implementing positive practices today. A few days after our interview, I was able to attend the consortium where these leaders can come together to engage with some of the research behind specific practices and brainstorm ways they can adapt the research to their specific organizations. 

 

At Walbridge, Rick was able to experiment in his company, discovering things like the power of modeling to effect change even when you didn’t intend it: 

 

“I’ll give you one anecdote. The construction business is a pretty crude business. It can be crude. I like to think we were more sophisticated than that, but when you’re out in the field, the language is…”  

 

Zoom cut out here, so we were spared some of the colorful details. When he reconnected, Rick continued by telling us about how he decided to change his language for the sake of his young sons at home. He was surprised by how his coworkers reacted: 

 

“After a while, people started to apologize to me if they let something out that was crude. I didn’t tell anybody I was doing that. I didn’t ask them to do anything. But somehow, they began to sense that I’d changed and they didn’t want to disrupt my change, and it actually helped other people to change too. That was my first indication of how important modeling what you’re doing is. Even if you have power and influence, I think modeling is a very important aspect of changing what people are doing, changing your culture of how you react and respond. It’s a small test that I did and it worked.” 

 

I always appreciate hearing stories of how people have been able to implement positive change in their organizations. Through my classes, I’ve learned about a lot of different positive practices, and it’s so encouraging to hear testimonials of how positive changes have actually played out in different organizational settings. 

 

Now, Rick adds to his experiential knowledge by working with CPO and the research the center produces. His fascination is with how organizations can adopt positive organizational practices: 

 

“I’m more interested in how you take research and start to put together implementable steps in order to make that a part of an organization. That’s why I’m a part of these organizations. That’s why I want to be close to what’s happening at CPO because I think that’s kind of like the test bed of great ideas coming out of young people like yourselves… And Riverbank gives me an opportunity to see how it fits into the real world and how organizations can adopt it.” 

 

While I appreciate Rick saying that great ideas are coming from “young people” like me, I value all that I can learn from Rick and all of our executive consultants at Riverbank. They combine full careers of experiential knowledge with their understanding of the emerging research coming out of the Center for Positive Organizations — a unique combination of knowledge that truly helps the organizations we work with become more positive places to be.  

 

Alicia Haun is a content marketing intern at Riverbank Consulting Group. Alicia is a senior at the University of Michigan, where she also works with the Center for Positive Organizations at the Ross School of Business. Alicia is passionate about the field of positive organizational psychology and looks forward to helping work become a place of flourishing. 

Job Crafting: How Being Intentional About How You Do Your Work Increases Flourishing

Job Crafting: How Being Intentional About How You Do Your Work Increases Flourishing

This article is part of a series highlighting insights in the field of Positive Organizational Scholarship that come from the Center for Positive Organizations (CPO) at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business. Many of our executive consultants hold dual positions at both Riverbank and CPO.  

 

I’ve always excelled as a student according to formal, objective measures, such as my grades, my attendance, and my test scores. But in the last couple of years, I’ve been trying to reframe the way I approach my studies to prioritize my mental health and the meaning I get out of being a student, instead of just the things that show up on my transcript and resume. The strategies I use have given me practice in the skill of job crafting, which is when someone reconfigures their formal role — in my case that of a student — in ways that promote meaning and flourishing, which we see in increased “job satisfaction, motivation, and performance.”

 

There are three primary categories of changes people can make to the way they carry out their roles: task crafting, where you change what you do in some way; relational crafting, where you change your interactions with others; and cognitive crafting, where you change the way you think about your role. In order to best craft your role to promote wellbeing, you should think about making these changes in accordance with your motives, strengths, and passions, as these are all rich sources of potential meaning. 

 

One way I’ve engaged in task crafting is by adding a task to my studies. After seeing how energizing letter writing was for me in my letter writing class last semester — likely because it allows me to express some of my signature strengths of love, kindness, and curiosity — I’ve decided to continue the practice into this semester, even though it’s no longer an assigned task. I’m also incredibly passionate about positive organizational scholarship, and one of my primary goals for the last year or so is to strengthen my friendships. One task I’ve added to my role as a student is to write letters and postcards to my friends walking them through the things we learn in class, explaining the theory behind it and giving them the opportunity to engage in some of the practical applications themselves. I recently sent out 5 letters walking people through the GIVE model, which has strengthened my understanding of the concept, in addition to serving my motives, strengths, and passions. 

 

Part of my role as a student includes my role as a Peer Writing Consultant at the Sweetland Writing Center. I’ve been able to engage in cognitive crafting by expanding my perceptions of the role and thinking about the impact of my work so that I can experience more meaningfulness. The way I’ve helped myself see the impact of my work is by becoming an “end user” myself of the services we offer at Sweetland, signing up with other Peer Writing Consultants to work on essays for my classes. The benefits I get from this are twofold, as I get to directly improve my writing, and I always leave feeling reinvigorated about the work that I get to do when I’m in the role of consultant. Plus, when I am the writer, my strengths of gratitude and love of learning really get to shine, and I bring that energy back to my writers. 

 

Granted, many people don’t have the latitude to be able to wholly craft their job and responsibilities, but taking the time to reflect and be intentional about how we go about our work improves both personal and organizational flourishing. In order to help more people shape their work, CPO has created many tools for job crafting.     

 

Alicia Haun is a content marketing intern at Riverbank Consulting Group. Alicia is a senior at the University of Michigan, where she also works with the Center for Positive Organizations at the Ross School of Business. Alicia is passionate about the field of positive organizational psychology and looks forward to helping work become a place of flourishing.