Creating an Edge: Success Through Reclaiming Adversity

Creating an Edge: Success Through Reclaiming Adversity

I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around it, but I’ve started the recruiting process for my first Real Job after I graduate. My first interview felt momentous, an entirely new experience. I currently have four jobs, so I’m no stranger to the hiring process, but most of the roles I’ve held so far have come from opportunities to work with people I already know — and, more importantly, who already know me.  

 

I worked through my interview prep, anchored by an acronym to help structure interview responses: STAR. First, you want to establish the Situation (using only the relevant details!), describe the Task (your responsibilities), explain what Actions you took to address the goal, and finally relay the Result (bonus points if you connect the dots for how this comes to bear on the company you’re interviewing for!).  

 

I’ve found a lot of comfort in having this framework to rely on for structuring my responses, but I still worried about the content of my responses — how do I get across who I am? How can I connect with these interviewers so that we can both understand each other and take the first steps to being genuinely known? 

 

Creating an Edge: 

 

I recently attended a talk in the Center for Positive Organization’s Positive Links speaker series. Laura Huang spoke about the implications of her findings from her book Edge: Turning Adversity into Advantage 

 

In my cognitive science classes, we often learn about all the ways that our brains take shortcuts, trying to cut down on the effort required to process and act on the massive amounts of information we are taking in at any given point. Being a part of an organization — or trying to become part of an organization — necessarily requires interacting with other people, usually lots of other people. Our brains often take shortcuts when it comes to appraising all of the people we meet, with Huang finding that the perceptions people have about others are about 50-60% based on stereotypes. That may seem dispiriting, but Huang reframes this statistic as an opportunity: 

 

“That’s a lot, 50-60% based on those stereotypes. But there’s a huge 40-50% that have nothing to do with those stereotypes. When you can disentangle and understand what is underlying that for you uniquely, that’s part of where you can start to gain that unique edge and how you can actually take distinct actions that will help in your own unique way.” 

 

Huang believes that we can each craft our unique edge by recognizing whatever disadvantages we may face, taking authentic action to address the perceptions of others, and empower ourselves in the process: 

 

“Having an edge is about gaining an advantage, but it goes beyond just advantage. It’s about recognizing that others will have their own perceptions about us, right or wrong. When you recognize the power in those perceptions and learn to use them in your favor, you create an edge.” 

 

Huang breaks down the concept into EDGE, offering me a new acronym to add to my interviewing frameworks: 

 

  • Enrich — First we need to be aware of the value we each uniquely bring so we can enrich the teams and organizations we’re a part of. 
  • Delight — When we can allow ourselves to be authentic and flexible, letting go of what we think people want from or expect of us, we can delight others, a positive sense of surprise that helps them see us for who we are.
  • Guide — People are going to have perceptions about us, and if we can recognize what those are, we can take actions to guide them towards a truer sense of our best self.  
  • Effort — If we allocate our effort with an eye for enriching, delighting, and guiding, we enable our effort to be more efficient, so our hard work can work harder for us.  

Huang’s work centers on the ability of each person to create their own edge as a way to circumvent and reclaim the adversity they face. This framework is a tool to help people take charge of their own experiences and gives people a sense of individual power that we can use as we as a society work towards systemic changes: 

 

“When you are in the system, you need to take charge of your own outcomes. Yes, do what you can to change systems — advocate for better hiring practices, speak up for injustice, and educate others about the reality of bias. But we can’t just wait for people to make fair decisions on our behalf, make the right decisions about our future, or do things the ideal way. Creating an edge enables you to succeed within an imperfect system.” 

 

With positive practices and DEI initiatives, we are working towards a better future for work, but we will never reach an ideal. Organizations are made up of people, and people are imperfect. But when we recognize the value we each uniquely bring and how to best communicate that to others, we are making good use of our edge.  

 

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. 

Do You Need to be a ‘Leader’ to Lead with Values?

Do You Need to be a ‘Leader’ to Lead with Values?

Now that most of my classes have shifted back to in person, I have a bit more zoom-energy to attend webinars from organizations that hope to change the world in the same ways I do. I recently learned about Conscious Capitalism, an organization that aims to change the nature of capitalism so that more businesses “have trusting, authentic, innovative and caring cultures that make working there a source of both personal growth and professional fulfillment.” They value many social causes and the holistic wellbeing of the workforce, asserting that Conscious businesses “endeavor to create financial, intellectual, social, cultural, emotional, spiritual, physical and ecological wealth for all of their stakeholders.” In these ways, Conscious businesses embody many of the theories and practices that we see in positive organizational scholarship, and that we value at Riverbank. 

 

In order to move towards the future they envision, Conscious Capitalism focuses on leaders to bring about change. In their recent webinar entitled “Engaging Emerging Leaders: Insights to Empower the Next Generation”, Conscious Capitalism hosted Harvard professor and former CEO of Medtronic Bill George to share his insights about what he calls authentic leadership.  

 

In the webinar, George emphasized that organizations across the board are undergoing massive changes in leadership as the demographics of leaders shift from primarily baby boomers to the next generations. And the workforce has been shifting for a while too, as millennials make up a good portion of it and Gen Zers like me are starting to make our way into the corporate world. Throughout his points, George often reiterated the importance of leaders and organizations to be Conscious Capitalists that value issues like DEI and the environment because many of the best and brightest of the workforce who can choose where they want to work are choosing companies that align with their values.  

 

As a Gen Z about to move from my research phase to actually applying for jobs after graduation, the values of the organizations I’m considering are factoring heavily into my choices. When I first consider a company, I start off by looking at their LinkedIn posts and the vibe of their website, trying to see the image they’re creating for themself. Are they promoting DEI efforts? Work life balance for their employees? Volunteering initiatives?  

 

George went on to say that when it comes to conveying your organization’s values, press releases and social media posts won’t sway the talent you’re looking to attract. People will be looking at what you and your company actually do. How do your actions actually work to bring about a better world? Looking at LinkedIn posts and graphics and such can give me a good sense of the image an organization wants for themself, but to get at these issues at a deeper level, I look at things like benefits structures and development programs, and I talk with actual employees to get a sense of the lived experience in each organization. 

 

Practicing authentic leadership that promotes your and your organization’s values is more than just something leaders ought to do — it makes plenty of business sense as well. In addition to helping to attract and retain talent, having a higher purpose, as is the first tenet of Conscious Capitalism, helps rally everyone together after a shared goal. Importantly, the quality of people’s engagement will be much higher if the goal is something they actually personally value. As George questioned, “If making money is the only mission, how can anyone get excited about that?” 

 

As one caveat, George clarified what he meant by authentic leadership. He doesn’t just simply mean adhering to any beliefs a person might have because that could include a lot of harmful notions he’s not condoning. Instead, he restricts his definition of values to require that they be sound values, not grounded in any evil or anger. He would not consider someone leading from a place of bigotry to be an authentic leader. 

 

When George spoke about leaders, he often referred to C-suite executives, but as he closed his talk, he advocated for leadership development to start much earlier in people’s careers. In order to develop leadership skills, George strongly believes you have to learn by doing, and you can seize opportunities to lead from anywhere in an organization: “Find a place where you can make a difference and lead now. You don’t have to have a title… Don’t wait until somebody taps you on the shoulder. Lead now. Nothing is too small to lead. So if you get the opportunity, just go do it.”  

 

If we want to realize the world that Conscious Capitalism envisions, we’ll need leaders at all levels of organizations to bring us closer to our values. Riverbank’s Leading With Values assessment identifies the gap between the values-driven leaders you say you want to be, and how you and your leadership team is actually perceived in your organization. To learn more, email info@RiverbankConsultingGroup.com. 

 

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 Benefits of Sustainable Changes

The Benefits of Sustainable Changes

I’m currently taking a marketing class about consumer behavior, and I got to reread one of the books that helped set me on the path I am now. In his book The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg combines research about the brain and how people make decisions with research about individual and organizational change. He sketches out the framework of a habit loop, where there is a cue that triggers a particular routine in hopes of a reward, with the whole process being fueled by a particular craving.  

 

As a simple example, take the habit of checking your phone. In this case, the cue might be your phone buzzing or alerting you to a notification. The routine could then be that you check your texts and send some funny gifs back and forth with your friend, resulting in a reward of a feeling of enjoyment or laughter. All of this could be fueled by a craving for distraction.  

 

When we start considering how we might approach making changes to our habit loops, there are a few options. One possibility could be to remove the cue altogether, such as putting your phone on do not disturb, but that won’t work for all habits. Unfortunately, our brains never forget our old habits, but we can create new habits that overrule the old ones. Duhigg suggests another possibility:  

 

“That’s the rule: If you use the same cue, and provide the same reward, you can shift the routine and change the habit. Almost any behavior can be transformed if the cue and reward stay the same.” 

 

We can all think of our individual habits, or hey, maybe they’re so automatic at this point that we can’t even think of them consciously — quick, which leg do you put your pants on first? — but habits play a big role in our organizations too. Not only do you have every individual in the organization with their own habits, and it turns out that “more than 40 percent of the actions people performed each day weren’t actual decisions, but habits,” but we also have organizational habits in the form of norms, which influence and reflect things like company culture.  

 

Oftentimes, organizational norms and how they affect culture aren’t at the forefront when an organization is starting and growing. I spoke to Riverbank executive consultant Rick Haller about the change management process, and he said that there are so many things going through an entrepreneur’s mind that they have to prioritize in order to launch their business that thinking about organizational habits is something to come later: “You don’t think about that — what kind of culture am I going to build my company on? Because it’s just you! It’s just you, your values.” 

 

As the company grows, habits and norms start to form:  

 

“What happens is you have an organization, and it’s like it’s on a freight train. It’s a locomotive moving down the tracks. All of a sudden, you want to introduce something to that locomotive that’s got its direction. It’s puffing along and you can’t stop it. So you’ve got to start interjecting within it.” 

 

Like Duhigg, Rick realizes that change likely won’t be effective if you try to completely overhaul the habits currently in place. And beyond just considering effectiveness, Rick acknowledges the human element of the apprehension people often have to change: 

 

“Let’s say you wanted to bring in a new design leader with a new approach to design and you know that you’re already doing design and you have a strategy for this new process. This new designer coming in has this really magnificent process, and you want him or her to see your existing process and start inserting change within it, as opposed to saying, ‘We’re going to throw out everything you’re doing here, and we’re going to start fresh.’ People don’t like to hear that. That’s the fear of change. That’s what I’ve learned in our organization, and I think I’ve seen it more and more even as we try to implement change. Understand what they do and understand how they can tweak what they do so it isn’t so dramatic like ripping off a band aid, or something that’s not painful. And you can generally bring other people into it a lot easier that way.” 

 

In order to enact change in organizations, we must first come from a place of understanding — understand the habit loop and appreciate what is motivating the habit. When change starts with this foundation, it can be more effective and more welcome in the organization. 

 

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. 

Redefining the ‘Right’ Career Path

Redefining the ‘Right’ Career Path

When I was growing up, my parents told me that I had to choose either a sport or an instrument. I cycled through a bunch, and none of them really stuck, but in middle school, it was climbing. Dad and I would go to the climbing gym a few times a week, and gradually we started to spend most of our time bouldering. We’d obsess over problems on the wall, hoping we could figure out how to top out before the gym changed up the routes. 

 

It’s been a while since I’ve been to the climbing gym, but I still think about the process of strategizing about my next maneuvers. Right now, the crux of the puzzle is making the leap to life after college. I’ve fallen in love with the field of positive organizational scholarship, so I’m trying to figure out ways to keep it in the forefront.  

 

I’ve managed to get it into my head that whatever job I choose after college, it won’t determine the rest of my life. And believe me, it took me quite a while to get there. But the next thing that I’m trying to believe in with some conviction is that whatever I end up doing, I don’t need to worry about putting myself on some proverbial wrong path.  

 

Sometimes I can get stuck thinking about the career models of the previous generations, where most people stay in one role or with one company for most of their lives — but the norm is changing as people move about to craft careers to best suit their individual needs and interests. As Sarah Ellis and Helen Tupper argue in their TED talk “The Best Career Path Isn’t Always a Straight Line”, the rigidity of the classic corporate ladder can be severely limiting in some cases. They advocate instead for what they call the squiggly career: 

 

“A squiggly career is both full of uncertainty and full of possibility. Change is happening all of the time. Some of it is in our control, and some of it’s not. Success isn’t one-size-fits-all. Our squiggles are as individual as we are.” 

 

Climbing through a squiggly career. Illustration by Monica Haun.

 

At our climbing gym, there was a huge boulder in the center of the gym with routes of all different difficulties mapped onto it. Dad and I would clip on our chalk bags and try our best to figure out how to move from one hold to the next one with the same color tape. Sometimes we’d gravitate towards the same problem on the wall, but even then, our processes looked very different — I could make better use of the tiny toe holds, but he had the strength to hoist himself up on slopers.  

 

When I’m climbing, it’s not really about getting to the top. If I were to flash every route and get to the top on my first try, I’m sure that’d take a bit of the fun out of it. But that’s not to say that there’s not value in the prescribed routes as well — at our gym, when you topped out on the boulder, you crossed a bridge to the second floor. After a while of not being able to make my way up through any of the climbing routes, I decided to take the stairs because I just had to see what was up there. 

 

Taking the career ladder can be the right choice too. Illustration by Monica Haun.

 

I’ve tried to follow other people’s paths, asking at the Center for Positive Organizations’ conferences about what early career options in this field might look like, but I didn’t quite get the responses I was hoping for. Instead, many told me how they stumbled across this new field one way or another later on in their careers, and their first jobs out of college were so far removed from the work they love now. 

 

I was a bit disappointed each time this happened — it didn’t really answer my question — but I’m starting to realize that there’s some wisdom in these responses. I’ve already waxed poetic about my love for this field, but when I talk about my struggles with trying to determine my next step forward (grasping for some elusive perfect step), my mentors are always sure to gently remind me that the important thing is to figure out what feels right as the next step for right now. That it’s okay if what I love changes over time.  

 

Sometimes it’s hard to believe that I could ever want to pursue a different field (I know — I’m young and naïve). But what if I stumble on to some other wonderful field that meshes with who I am at that point in time? I mean, I started off wanting to be a teacher like my mother, then a theoretical mathematician, and then I found my place with cognitive science, and now I’ve narrowed my focus to applying positive psychology to organizations. Given how much I believe in work’s ability to be positive and fulfilling, I hope I allow myself to explore the opportunities that excite me. 

 

Our goals and our abilities change as we move through life and our careers. I’m starting to learn how to hold things loosely — to appreciate my relationship with them as it is in this moment, instead of trying to chart this strict path forward. We often hear about job crafting, where we figure out the ways to creatively align our values and talents with a particular role, and I think we can approach crafting careers in much the same way. The corporate ladder might be akin to the job description we get on paper, but in many ways, we have so much agency to shape our experiences, and it’s worth considering how each of us might take advantage of that. 

 

Sometimes I would never make my way through a particular problem on the wall, but maybe I was able to add a new maneuver to my tool belt that helped me crack other routes, or maybe I just had fun trying it and flopping back onto the crash pad. By being open to the mess and play of a squiggly career, we can grow towards our goals and embrace a spirit of exploration: 

 

“Exploring our career possibilities increases our resilience. It gives us more options, and you create more connections. We see how we can use our strengths in new ways and spot the skills that might be useful for our future. We can all start exploring our career possibilities.” 

 

Even if I do find myself being drawn to some other field in the future, I’m grateful for the tools that I’m learning from positive organizational scholarship. While we accumulate knowledge and wisdom in everything we do, the learnings from this field are uniquely applicable to any career shift I might gravitate towards, by virtue of this field’s emphasis on improving the culture and dynamics of any organization. I’m not sure what my career will look like, but I’m looking forward to the climb. 

 

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 Real Value of Checking In

The Real Value of Checking In

I’m starting my senior year at the University of Michigan, so I’m well versed in how most introductions go these first few months. In classes, in clubs, in meetings, we go around the room and we each have one sentence that tells everyone the basics but also nothing about us all at the same time: “I’m Alicia, I’m majoring in cognitive science and minoring in English, and I’m from San Diego.”  

 

Like most people, I’ve grown tired of these overdone intros, plus I forget almost all the information immediately anyways. But because I’m a student of positive organizational scholarship, I know the importance of beginnings and first impressions and some ways to use your first moments with another person or a group to set the tone for the rest of the interaction or relationship. This semester, I’ve consciously made a slight shift away from the classic question of, “What are you studying?” or “What’s your major?” to a question that highlights a positive emotion: “What class are you most excited for this semester?” I usually still find out what major they are, but now we’ve tapped into another layer of connection through this new positive framing.  

 

I first learned about this positive practice taking the form of the Center for Positive Organizations’s 30-second celebrations that kick off almost every class or meeting. Riverbank has adopted a similar focus on the importance of beginnings in the form of check-ins. We devote a good chunk of each meeting to getting to know each other. When I first joined, the other Bankies told me that during check-ins, we try to bring our whole selves to the meeting, acknowledging any good or bad thing that may be happening in our lives and affecting how we are entering into the meeting. 

 

I spoke with executive consultant Rick Haller about his understanding of how positive practices like check-ins bring value to organizations, and his view is that “Positive practices are not just tools to improve the communication between people, but they’re tools to add value to that communication between you and I.” Repeated check-ins can give you insight into your team members — how they approach challenges, how they communicate, how they live their lives. Rick says, “If you listen to enough check-ins, you begin to understand the person that’s giving you the check-ins. And when you understand that person, you have a different connection, a much different connection. And that creates a powerful resource.” 

 

As an example of the value of check-ins, Rick talked about his experience working on a team with a woman in her 30s whose role was to handle a special software system used throughout the organization. For many of her check-ins, she’d talk about her life on a ranch in Arizona. When he asked, Rick realized the ranch was “almost a third of the size of Yellowstone.” Through listening to her stories each meeting, Rick’s perception of her changed as he really got to understand her: 

 

“I thought, must be hard for a young woman to work with all these crusty kinds of cowboys. Hell, she was a cowgirl herself. She was a wrangler. One day she said, ‘Oh, I had my coffee this morning and I walked out in my flip flops and there was a coyote out there.’ Coyotes are a bad thing. She said, ‘Well, I’m walking and I put my coffee down, walk in the house, and get my rifle.’ So, she got her rifle, shot the coyote, and went to work. My point is that that gave me great insight into what kind of person this woman was. She was calm, cool and courageous. She was tough. These guys, they couldn’t push her around!” 

 

Rick realized that he’d been making assumptions about how the dynamics of the team would function, but engaging in the positive practice of check-ins helped him move past these assumptions to get a better understanding of who the woman really was and the role she could take on the team: 

 

“So, I knew that if we had an issue that we wanted to work on, she’d be great to do that because she’s got these qualities of toughness and focus. It was great. That’s what check-ins do for you. They help you understand the people you’re dealing with in a deep way. And you share your check-ins with them so they understand what you’re like.” 

 

In addition to helping to foster a strong sense of belonging, positive practices that help you understand your team can have serious benefits to organizations’ bottom lines as well. In his book All You Have to Do Is Ask: How to Master the Most Important Skill for Success, Wayne Baker tells the story of Kent Power, an organization that was struggling with “communication across the executive-superintendent boundary.” A consultant organized an intervention where the leaders of the company all had initiate one, two, then four calls per month, for at least ten minutes each, to every other leader, but “The key rule, however, had to do with the topic of conversation: they could not talk about work. All other topics — hobbies, current events, books and movies, football, the weather — were on the table. Just not work.” The leaders then each had to upload notes on the calls to a shared drive, “so that everyone could learn about one another.”  

 

The leaders questioned the sense of spending “hundreds of hours on the phone with one another,” where they were “never talking about work.” But the benefits were clear: “‘The end result of the game,’ says Dave Scholten, ‘was the breaking down of silos, and getting them to understand each other.’” By getting to know each other as people, the leaders were able to achieve significant results for the organization: “Asking and collaborating across such boundaries can reap measurable benefits for individuals, such as improved access to knowledge, ideas, opportunities, and other resources, which in turn elevate productivity and performance; for companies, bridging boundaries yields higher revenues and profits, more innovation, stronger client and customer loyalty, and even greater ability to attract and retain talent.” 

 

So how well do you know the people you work with? How well do they know you? And how can you get to know each other better?  

 

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. 

How Organizational Changes Can Cross the Finish Line

How Organizational Changes Can Cross the Finish Line

Depending on what field you’re in, there are certain metaphors that pop up again and again. For my dad, who works in the defense industry, everything is an analogy for battle: fire for effect, steal the march, out-flank the competition. In Positive Organizational Scholarship (POS), most of the imagery we use has to do with nature. In my class with Jane Dutton, she put on the first day’s slides, “Beware: serious love of gardening metaphors.” 

 

But in my conversations with Bankies, another metaphor has been coming into play: running a marathon. When I first joined Riverbank, I asked executive consultant Robin Klein about a topic we often talked about in class but that I was still trying to get a grasp of: How do you go about taking these positive practices and concepts and institute them in organizations in a way that doesn’t put the burden on the individual? I wanted to know how Riverbank approached systematic change in ways that weren’t just teaching people about positive practices and expecting people to start doing them on their own.  

 

Robin reframed my question for me: “What you’re talking about, to me, is how do you embed change? How do you take something that’s not working or not happening and introduce and sustain a change in a way where it naturally occurs at work on an ongoing basis? It does become, I wouldn’t say a burden, but it does become the responsibility of everyone. It’s not like you can wave a magic wand and suddenly everyone is doing it.” 

 

She then illustrated her point with an analogy: “Are you a runner? No? Ok, me neither, so let’s use that.” 

 

She set the scene: “Let’s decide that you and I have come to the conclusion that running is great for our health, and neither one of us wants to do it. We’re very happy with whatever exercise we have, and running just sounds gross to us, just not that appealing.” I have to say, she was pretty spot on with my attitude towards running. The mile was always the worst day in high school PE, except maybe for the dive test.  

 

People often have the same strong feelings about the way they work: “It’s the same way in business. If all of a sudden we want to improve relationships in the workplace by encouraging more high quality connections, people don’t really want to be told how to build better relationships — they think their relationships are fine. They don’t want Big Brother coming in and saying, please do it like this from now on.” 

 

In order to effectively implement change, Robin said that you have to approach the problem from all angles, starting with support from senior leadership. When someone whose opinion you care about starts encouraging you to try something, it’s bound to have some sway: “Because even though I don’t run, if everybody in my family ran and thought I should run, then you know, it’s like, ok, maybe I could try an occasional jog.” 

 

But just encouraging you to do something isn’t enough: “I don’t know. It hurts my back, and I’ve still got all of my excuses.” So the senior leadership needs to go further: “But the one thing you need is a system around you modeled from the top that isn’t just telling the lower levels to have high quality connections — they’re actually giving a testament to the change that it’s made in their life. For example, in your personal life if your best friend says, ‘It’s been so amazing for me. Just a short run every day makes me feel so much better” And my husband is like, ‘You’re going to sleep so much better. I’ll do it with you.’ You know, you’re going to feel like, ‘Ugh, you know, maybe I should give it a chance — still don’t want to do it. But maybe I should give it a chance.’” 

 

Once people have a bit more of an open mindset, you can start to support the change from other avenues, like sharing other employees’ peer testimonials or offering rewards: “What if my husband says, ‘You know, if we could just do a 5K, there are these 5Ks in Europe where we could go, and we could just do three 5Ks in three weeks, each in a different country, and it would be such an amazing experience together.’ So I start thinking, ok! I really want to go to Europe! There has to be rewards and encouragement.” I do admit, a proposal like that might tempt me to lace up my sneakers.  

 

Building excitement and buy-in for new positive practices or change isn’t enough though: “You have to make sure that existing practices aren’t standing in the way.” For high quality connections the organization could have a culture where the type of behaviors that would build higher quality connections are actually punished in the culture – like being open and authentic could come back to bite employees and used against them. This would create a lack of trust that stands in the way of positive change.  So, you must study the existing system and see if there are key things to stop doing as well.   

 

In order for the strategies of demonstrated leadership support, peer testimonials, and reward systems to work, you often have to dig deeper into the underlying culture of the organization. To really mix my metaphors and return to the idea of gardening, your plot won’t be very successful if you just scatter some seeds without taking the time to weed the soil or think about how a specific plant will fare in your climate. And that makes sense here because positive practices aren’t superficial tasks you add to a meeting agenda — used well, they are tools to tap into the human capital resources that are so abundant but underutilized in organizations. Positive practices are designed and proven to help foster cultures where people can work together to accomplish more than they could alone and find fulfillment in the process. 

 

Robin’s conclusion of her analogy surprised me. As a young person in this blossoming field, I know my hopes for what positive organizations could look like are often a bit idealistic. But Robin’s vision of success in change management resonated with me: “That’s how you launch it, and then you have to work on sustaining it until it becomes something where you and I still might not love doing it, but we go out and run a mile every week on a Saturday with our friends because we have been convinced it has benefits that matter. And that’s the amount of running we do. It doesn’t mean you have to become a high quality connection savant. It just means you need to participate.” 

 

When change is not sustained, the launch will become a distant memory and the organization won’t realize the true benefits of the change. Many will view it as just a “flavor of the month” effort. Some people hardened to seeing changes come and go in the workplace look at new change as “something that will pass” and they don’t give any discretionary effort to the change because they have seen so many changes fail. Riverbank helps organization diagnose and launch change. But we don’t stop there. We help organizations sustain change through a series of practices and efforts that embed the change into existing systems.  Refreshing meetings, policies, procedures, and aspects of operations in the sustainment phase are critical to ensure the change sticks. We also provide coaching to ensure leaders have the support and give the appropriate attention to sustaining the changes they put in motion.   

 

In order for a change to be worthwhile, it doesn’t have to be earth-shattering. Riverbank doesn’t go into our clients’ companies with the intention of overhauling the entire culture into some mythical paragon of positivity. Our approach to organizational changes is much gentler, helping people and organizations step into a new trajectory where work is better and giving them the tools so that it can continue to become better over time. I think that definition of success is much more attainable, sustainable, and fulfilling. 

 

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. 

A Lesson in Joyful Attention

A Lesson in Joyful Attention

Like many kids of my generation, my water bottle is covered in stickers that give some at-a-glance insight into who I am. One of the first ones I put on there is a symbol that would be familiar to most Michigan students, but you couldn’t guess what it means just by looking. It’s a beautiful jewel-toned flower whose 8 petals represent the University’s 8-dimensional framework for wellbeing 

 

When talking about positive organizational scholarship, some of the dimensions of wellbeing come up often, especially occupational, social, and intellectual wellbeing. Financial and emotional wellbeing are regulars to the conversation too. And while they sometimes come up, physical, spiritual, and environmental wellbeing don’t take center stage as much when we’re talking about work.  

 

I first learned about this wellbeing framework when I went to wellness coaching my freshman year. After burning out in high school, I made the decision to approach my college years with the intention to take better care of myself and seek balance. In my sessions, we talked about strategies for resilience, including what my coach called a “joyful attention to nature.”  

 

 

There’s plenty of research out there attesting to the positive effects of being in nature: “Scientists are beginning to find evidence that being in nature has a profound impact on our brains and our behavior, helping us to reduce anxiety, brooding, and stress, and increase our attention capacity, creativity, and our ability to connect with other people.” 

 

While sometimes I make it out to the arboretum on the other side of town or I step off the sidewalk to observe the lives of the campus squirrels, I’ve found that I can experience “joyful attention” to plenty of things in daily life, not just the natural. I walk almost everywhere since I don’t have a car in Ann Arbor, and I usually try to let my walks be exercises in mindfulness. Some of my favorite things to notice are the graffiti and stickers that pop up in new places around town.  

 

 

I also enjoy turning my attention to the people around me. At the last conference I attended, I felt myself getting overwhelmed. I gave myself the grace to shift my attention from the presentations to noticing the things around me. In my notepad, I started sketching the people around me, putting my full attention into their gestures, the way their hair parted around their masks, the design of their dress shirts. When you engage in mindfulness practices like these, you build up some of “the tools you need to weather life’s ups and downs,” as is so important to emotional wellbeing.  

 

When the mindful attention is mutual, people can form deep connections. In her TED talk “The Art of Paying Attention,” artist Wendy MacNaughton starts off by encouraging the audience to do a drawing exercise where they are instructed to draw the face of the person next to them, but they can’t lift the pencil or look down at the paper. With these guidelines, people can’t rely on the “visual shorthand” of the typical smiley face drawing that lets us get away without giving our full attention and really looking. Visually, “we have so much information coming at us all the time, that our brains literally can’t process it, and we fill in the world with patterns. Much of what we see is our own expectations.” But in this exercise, something else happens: 

 

“You just made intimate eye-to-eye, face-to-face contact with someone without shying away for almost a minute. Through drawing, you slowed down, you paid attention, you looked closely at someone and you let them look closely at you. Good job. I have found that drawing like this creates an immediate connection like nothing else.” 

 

MacNaughton uses drawing to channel people’s attention, but connecting in this way works just by simply holding eye contact for an extended period of time as well. Inspired by his time at a meditation retreat where pairs of strangers held eye contact for 10 minutes, Chris Murchison adapted the practice for his team, as he writes about in his article “Viewing Each Other as Works of Art”. He also found “a profound connection” surface between pairs, and that it created “a palpable joyful and loving energy in the room.”  

 

 

By fully immersing yourself in your surroundings and approaching the world around you with openness and curiosity, you allow yourself to replenish your reserves and build deeper connections. When you attend to your wellbeing, you and the organizations you’re a part of take a step towards flourishing. 

 

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. 

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.