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. 


Reflected Best Self: Grow By Seeing Yourself Through Everyone Else’s Eyes

Reflected Best Self: Grow By Seeing Yourself Through Everyone Else’s Eyes

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’m a very sentimental person, so I keep all the cards and letters people write to me. I also have a folder on my laptop where I’ve collected some of the kind words people have written to me over email or in comments. Some of my favorite notes I’ve saved are from my high school peer counseling retreat, where each person had a decorated box for others to drop notes in. For these notes, we were encouraged to reflect on moments we saw each other shine over the course of the retreat. When I’m facing difficult times, when I doubt myself, I often turn to these notes I’ve saved. I read them over and find comfort in being able to see myself through the eyes of my loved ones and those I’ve worked with.  


As people, we’re hardwired to fixate on the negative. As we go through our lives, we accumulate all sorts of feedback — things we’re doing well, areas we could improve on. Negativity has so much more staying power, and over time, we start to focus on the deficits and become blind to our strengths.  


Positive practices are those that can help us shift our mindset to recognize and foster everything that is good. One positive practice that can help us develop a more positive view of ourselves is the Reflected Best Self Exercise (RBSE). In this exercise created at the Center for Positive Organizations, participants are encouraged to send out a survey to their friends, family, colleagues, bosses, and direct reports. The process is similar to 360 feedback, but the emphasis here is for the respondents to share stories of when they saw the participant at their best. Once you receive your stories in aggregate, you can notice patterns of when people see you at your best. What strengths do you display? What themes are present? 


The RBSE can help you check your concept of yourself against that of everyone in your life. The creators of the RBSE encourage participants to take the patterns they saw to create a story of who they are at their best. Revisiting this conception of yourself, whether you expressed it as a story, a list of strengths, or a collage as some previous participants have done, helps you counter your negativity bias to form a truer, more positive understanding of yourself. After all, this story of your best self is based on data from trusted sources! 


I loved being able to participate in the RBSE. It felt a little awkward to specifically ask for praise in a way, but I found myself then motivated to return the favor and share stories of when I saw each person I asked at their best. I was nervous and eager to receive my results at the end of the collection period. As I reviewed my results, I saw confirmations of some strengths that I’m proud of — people repeatedly recognized my thoughtfulness, drive, and kindness. My results surprised me too. I’ve been reflecting lately and wondering whether leadership really is one of my strengths — being a leader is challenging, and sometimes I’m very aware of all I have still to learn. But out of 15 stories, 8 of them directly highlighted leadership as something they notice in me when I am at my best.  


Rereading the kind words people have shared with me, whether from the formal RBSE or my collection of notes, helps remind me of who I am at my best. I turn to these stories both when I am struggling and when I am trying to figure out how to capitalize on my strengths — what can I do to allow myself to be my best self more often? As you reflect on who you are at your best, remember to share these stories with those around you too. When we all have a better understanding of our best selves, we can be our best selves more often.  


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. 

Creating a Culture of Play

Creating a Culture of Play

Most of us are familiar with the new landscape of tech startup offices — ping pong tables, swings, slides. All of these architectural elements are physical encouragements for the employees to embrace play in the way we often think of it, as the sorts of things we used to love doing as a kid. Play has a huge role to play (pun intended) in companies today, beyond just the startup sphere. Play doesn’t stop having benefits just because we grow up. Playing together helps bring people closer; in fact, it’s one of the four pathways to jumpstart high quality connections. [1] We let our guards down, share more of ourselves more authentically, and create a safe space for taking risks. All of these elements make an organization stronger, while making the culture more enjoyable at the same time. 


What are ways we can incorporate play in the workplace? I can speak from experience about the ways I’ve seen play engage students in the classroom in many forms. Students today are familiar with the intense, yet still playful, competition that comes with jeopardy or kahoot review sessions. We can also think of play in less structured ways, like when my professor noticed that energy was low during midterm season so he asked for two students to volunteer to race in their rolly chairs. Soon we were all laughing and cheering at the silly and unexpected encouragement to play. We sustained our heightened energy for the rest of class and engaged more deeply with each other.  


One important aspect of play is imagination. Martin Reeves, chairman of the BCG Henderson Institute, explores the role of imagination at work in his TED talk “Why Play Is Essential for Business” and in an interview with HBR. Given how quickly everything moves now, Reeves grounds the business case for imagination and play in the fact that “competitive advantage fades away faster than any time in recent memory,” meaning that companies need to continually reimagine their work in order to maintain success. But how can we facilitate the imagination process? Reeves proposes imagination games that emphasize taking perspectives other than your own and trying to make the best business you can for them to see what insights that sparks. As an example, he discusses his “Anti-Company” game, where you think about everything that has allowed you to be successful in your company so far and then try to imagine a case where you do the exact opposite of everything on your list. He talks about imagining that you are a hotel owner playing this game. One of your core assumptions is that you own a hotel, if you flip that and think through the possibilities for the best business case, you might arrive at something close to the idea for Air BnB. Reeves highlights the point of this exercise as helping us explore “the difference between ridiculous and the merely unfamiliar, untried, and uncomfortable.” For Reeves, play is “de-risked accelerated learning.” Creating a culture that values play helps organizations explore new ideas and tap into underused relational resources because it encourages employees to feel comfortable authentically sharing their perspective: “But when executives create playgrounds — spaces for the safe exploration of alternatives and alternative scenarios — then you get to tap into your employees’ considerable experience about the vulnerabilities and the weak spots and the blind spots of your company.” 


Humor is another important aspect of play. In their TED talk “Why Great Leaders Take Humor Seriously,” Stanford professors Jennifer Aaker and Naomi Bagdonas share how humor helps bond people and teams and how a culture of levity can help people do their jobs better. They reassure us that we don’t need to try to become a comedian in order to reap these benefits — the important thing is to change our mindset to look for the humor and lightness in our lives:  


“There’s a psychological principle called the priming effect that says our brains are wired to see what we’ve been set up to expect. In essence, we find what we choose to look for. So when we live our lives on the precipice of a smile, we shift how we interact with the world, and in turn, how it interacts back.” 

Aaker and Naomi gave a practical example of how to infuse humor into your work with just one small adjustment: play around with your email sign-off. Instead of mindlessly writing “Best,” (as I admit I am apt to do), consider if there’s a way that you might give your recipient a little smile or chuckle. Like maybe, they say, “When you’ve been up all night: Yours heavily caffeinated.” In order to make this shift to using humor fulfill its goal of feeling like play rather than feeling like an awkward task, Aaker and Naomi remind us, “Start by recognizing it’s not about you. So don’t ask ‘Will this make me sound funny?’ Instead, ask: ‘How will this make other people feel?’” 


Creating a culture of play can foster deeper connections, more creative solutions, and increased engagement — plus it’s fun!  


Writing to you in my daytime pajamas, 




[1] Dutton, Jane. “Build High Quality Connections” in How to Be a Positive Leader, 2014.


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 Self-Intervention for Flourishing

A Self-Intervention for Flourishing

Ever since I heard about the Center for Positive Organizations my freshman year, I couldn’t wait to join their +LAB, a group of undergraduates and MBA’s who study positive organizational scholarship. This semester, I was lucky enough to learn about flourishing at work from Jane Dutton in her last class before fully retiring. A practitioner of action learning, Jane assigned us each a capstone project where we had to perform a self-intervention on some element of our wellbeing that was motivated by the POS principles we were engaging with.  


For my intervention, I focused on financial wellbeing, one of the five dimensions of wellbeing Gallup proposes. They define wellbeing as “effectively managing your economic life to reduce stress and increase security.” Importantly, financial wellbeing doesn’t equate to income or net worth; instead, we need to look at people’s subjective perspective on their finances and what they personally would like to be able to do with their money. When I reflected on the roadblocks I face in terms of my financial wellbeing, I struggled with feeling like I lacked financial knowledge and feeling guilt and anxiety about spending money, as though I should be saving all my money for some future date for some perfectly justified purchase.  


I decided to utilize a strengths-based approach for my intervention particularly because of the rationale that one of the most effective ways to approach your problems is to “manage around your weaknesses by capitalizing on your strengths.” [1] For my intervention, I decided to focus on two of my signature strengths: kindness and curiosity. The VIA institute characterizes kindness as “generosity, nurturance, care, compassion, altruism, doing for others” and curiosity as “interest, novelty-seeking, exploration, openness to experience.” Strengths often function in tandem, so the actions I took definitely speak to multiple character strengths, but I chose them because of how they utilized kindness or curiosity in particular.  [2]


Originally, I was thinking I’d use each strength in a novel way each day to improve my financial wellbeing, but by day 4, I was already “catching up” on day 3, so that wasn’t going to be sustainable. I ended up pivoting to restructure my intervention with Jane’s concept of the Flourishing Triangle. According to Jane’s framework, the three main conditions that foster flourishing at work are positive emotions, positive meanings, and positive connections.


Positive Emotion:

The main positive emotions I sought to cultivate through my intervention were confidence, which I built by educating myself on financial basics, and self-compassion, where I treated myself with kindness by recognizing the anxieties money can trigger.  


Positive Connection:

In terms of positive connections, I primarily focused on my father, who has a great store of financial knowledge and experience. I initiated conversations about money where I approached them with kindness and curiosity.  


Positive Meaning:

I realized upon reflection how important gift-giving is for me and how the ability to be generous with my money is one of my indicators of financial wellbeing. As it turns out, buying things for others is the one way you can in essence “buy happiness”! 


This intervention has given me the basis for long lasting positive effects on my financial wellbeing. I’m more confident in my ability to seek out resources and be able to make prudent financial decisions. More importantly to me, though, I have a clearer understanding of what money means to me, as something that I am able to spend in ways that increase my wellbeing. After performing this intervention, I was able to make a personal decision that posed a significant cost, but offered me a profound increase in my overall wellbeing — and feel confident in and proud of my decision to do so!


[1] McQuaid, Michelle & Lawn, Erin. Your Strengths Blueprint: How to be Engaged, Energized, and Happy at Work, 2014.


[2] Niemiec, Ryan. Character Strengths Interventions: A Field Guide for Practitioners. Hogrefe Publishing, 2018.


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 Are You”…Really? Creating Space To Answer Honestly

“How Are You”…Really? Creating Space To Answer Honestly

Fueled by my never-ending pursuit to keep learning more – or maybe my incessant hyperactivity –, I have taken up the challenge to try to learn Hebrew. As with most languages, you start with the basics: your manners, greetings, and basic questions.


Learning the phrase “How are you?,” caused me to pause. In Hebrew, there is no question that directly translates to “How are you?” Instead, a common way you ask, mah sh’lom’khem, literally translates to “what is your internal peace?” The stark difference between this wording and our simple “how are you” made me reflect on the difference between a surface level “how are you?” versus a deeper “how are you.”


What’s more, I learned from a podcast that common Hebrew responses to this check-in question include “Lo MaShehHoo–” not so great – or even “Kakha KaKha–” so-so. Again, a big difference from the cultural norm I’ve come to know, which is to always answer the question “How are you?” with “good,” or “doing well.” While this is sometimes the best for efficiency, it may miss an important opportunity for compassion and fail to get to what’s truly going on with a person. When I started working with Riverbank, I noticed an effort to lead with compassion by starting meetings with a “check-in” where people share something real that’s going on in their life – good or bad. Colleagues share with each other their true feelings. This reverberates into work with our clients where collecting genuine information is essential for true positive culture change.

Rasmus Hougaard, Jacqueline Carter, and Nick Hobson in HBR, Compassionate Leadership Is Necessary — but Not Sufficient, cites:


“[Leading with compassion] improves collaboration, raises levels of trust, and enhances loyalty. In addition, studies find that compassionate leaders are perceived as stronger and more competent.”


While the rest of their article elaborates on the connection between compassion and wisdom, the authors importantly point out the benefits leading with compassion brings. Albeit, they note, along with Cater, Hobson, and Marissa Afton’s article, too much empathy can inhibit your ability to work, by taking on too much of a colleague’s emotions or impairing your ability, as they coin, to make decisions.


This caveat relates to using non-positive emotions regularly to honestly answer “how are you?” I would hypothesize leaders will have less of a reaction, less of an “added weight” feeling, if people continue to normalize using these more honest responses, relating to Hougaard, Carter, and Hobson’s suggestion to “remember the power of non-action.” They remind us that people do not always need “solutions;” sometimes they are simply airing things. In the context of a “how are you,” this means simply creating space for honest responses, and not prying for further details, or assuming the person needs your help to go from that not-so positive feeling to a positive feeling. Hougaard, Carter, and Hobson frame this as “check[ing] your intention.” Rather than jumping in, think about how you can best be beneficial to that person – it may be as simple as giving the space for others to share and thanking them when they do share honestly.


Leading with compassion could be more than a blog article; it could be an entire book. Hopefully, this article leaves you with a tidbit of Hebrew knowledge – but more importantly, the courage to not always answer “how are you?” with good or okay and to create space for others to do the same.

Shaping the Riverbanks: A Metaphor for Sustained Change 

Shaping the Riverbanks: A Metaphor for Sustained Change 

Written by Chris White 


Imagine you want to change the course of the river. You wade in, trying to redirect the water’s flow with your hands. For a moment, it works. But quickly, the water flows around your hands and back to the existing current. Simply moving the water will not create your desired result. Instead, you must commit to the arduous process of reshaping the riverbanks. Once flowing along the reengineered riverbanks, the water will constantly reinforce the new structure, sustaining the river on its new path for years to come.  


Riverbanks have been a metaphor for one of my most deeply held beliefs about changing cultures since long before I worked in an office on the bank of the Huron River in Ann Arbor. Whether personal or organizational, culture change is hard. All too often, we just wade in, trying to move the water, missing an opportunity for sustained change.  


We can all think of times we’ve done this. In our personal lives – we feel we’ve been overeating or not exercising as we’d like. We adopt the latest fad diet with great gusto and lose a few pounds, only to lose our environmental support structures and find ourselves back at square one within a few months. In our leadership roles – one of our reports has received some negative feedback on his people skills. Deep down, he is a good guy, but he can come across as harsh to some people. As engaged leaders, we choose not to avoid the issue and set up a meeting to provide feedback and support a behavior change. Shaken and a bit embarrassed by the feedback, our colleague tries hard to change, but eventually, his workload piles up, and the old behaviors creep back in. The change didn’t last.   

When it comes to lasting change, willpower is not enough. To increase the chances of making change stick, you must change the whole system. As James Clear puts it in his book Atomic Habits, “If you want better results, then forget about setting goals. Focus on your system instead.” If you really want to change your eating habits – remove the problem food groups from the places you would typically eat them – the house, the car, the office. Replenish these storage places with healthier, tasty options like nuts or fruits.  


If you want to support your colleague in changing his problematic people skills – help him refresh how he manages his people. For example, if he’s blending project-related feedback and personal development feedback too often for his direct reports, encourage him to schedule regular 1:1 development time with each of them. Instead of addressing issues with his people as they come up, he can track positive and negative observations throughout the month and focus their 1:1 time on coaching, providing feedback with themes and highquality examples. His people may be more likely to embrace his commitment to their growth if they are prepared to receive feedback. As an added benefit, other meetings can then focus on achieving the collective goals of the projects.   


In the context of broader organizational change, reshaping the riverbanks can take the shape (pun intended) of reflecting on how leaders are chosen, taught to lead, and rewarded. What is the way of leading that is special to your company? How can you make this type of leadership consistent throughout your organization? How does communication really happen? Is your theory (traditionally newsletters, emails, town halls) different from reality (likely a dynamic network of information sharing and sense-making)? How do you recruit, hire, onboard, and set people up for success? How do you off-board people with dignity, grace, pride, joy, and gratitude? What signals do people pick up from what they experience and see happening to others? These questions point to the processes that shape how your organization’s water flows. Otherwise, once your investment of resources, attention, and effort move elsewhere, the culture will revert to the path of least resistance: the preexisting status quo. If your organization requires a change, these are the riverbanks you must shift.  

Organizational Culture and Anthropology

Organizational Culture and Anthropology

Cultures come in all different flavors.  


As a student at the University of Michigan, organizational culture has been a part of my personal curriculum. I took a course in the Ross Business School which highlighted Boris Groysberg, Jeremiah Lee, Jessie Price, and J. Yo-Jud Cheng’s The Leader’s Guide to Corporate Culture. Variation in workplace cultures have always existed, but what made their book so compelling was their creation of eight culture profiles: Purpose, Caring, Order, Safety, Authority, Results, Enjoyment, and Learning. Their classification quickly became the popular model for assessing diversity in culture – and rightfully so. I found their account is nuanced, concise, and digestible all at the same time. But for those of us out there who lean into ambiguity, the gray area, what if there are more than eight profiles? 


Interestingly enough, anthropological studies have addressed a similar phenomenon: how many cultures are? How would we classify them? What leads to their divergence? While hard to calculate and likely an underestimate, studies have shown there are about 3814 distinct cultures and 6909 different languages among humans.  In the world, there are about 216MM businesses. To assume they all operate with drastically different cultures would be naïve given the sheer number. However, each business’ culture is unique in some way, just as each human culture is unique in some way.  


So what varies in a culture to create something unique? The anthropologists in this study explain cultures diversify by 1) the resources, ecology, and environment and 2) the life history. While this may be seemingly unrelated to organizations or your organization, this scientific take offers a metaphorical perspective. It helps to explain why cultures are unique, and the importance of understanding the underlying factors that make them unique.  


At first, this may seem confusing or irreverent to organizations. When you break their concepts down, their merit in the business context becomes apparent. To the first point that cultures evolve as a result of their resources, ecology, and environment: organizations are likely to adapt from the same circumstances. A company pressed financially, – i.e. the resources – one with a complicated chain of command or contentious workplace relationships, – i.e. the ecology –, and/or one dealing with the shift to a virtual world – i.e. the environment– is destined to be facing challenges that require organizational change.  


This framework illustrates how specific aspects in a company contribute to the overall culture. Using this framework, parsing apart the nuances in each aspect of a culture, may help to better identify the issues facing an organization.