June 3, 2022

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. 

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