These form the three jewels...!
...invitation corner, email, first conversation about osonos moved into /InvitingDraft
On January 16 2002 I was sitting in the banquet room of a golf club in suburban Greater Vancouver watching 40 people struggle through an Open Space meeting that none of them seemed to want to have. The participants, most of them senior managers, were from a regional health authority and they were in the middle of a period of brutal funding cuts and leadership change at the top of the organization. The anxiety arising from the uncertainty was palpable. The grief in the room was raw and present.
I had been invited to host an Open Space gathering that was intended to introduce these senior managers to Open Space as part of a larger organizational learning program, and provide them with time and space to deal with their personal reactions to the issues of change. My notes from the day recollect an atmosphere of loss and despair and several people were worried that their sense of powerlessness in the face of the budget and service reductions would lead to a choice to leave their work.
As the day progressed and the reality of the grief became more apparent, I sat trying to consider how I would end the day. I felt like I could offer very little to this group, except to invite them to inquire as to how they organized themselves during the day in Open Space and see if they noticed something different. In searching for ideas and inspiration I found, on my hard drive, a copy of The Inviting Organization Emerges. Since I had been establishing a connection with Michael over the previous four months, I had downloaded the book but hadn't yet read it. In a desperate search to help me prepare some final remarks I opened the file and started reading.
The map immediately spoke to me, and the entire book immediately spoke to the situation I had found myself in. We were in an Open Space but there was no invitation in the organization anywhere, there was no support for the work that might get started on the day and action was such a distant possibility that very few people had expectations that anything could work. The day had been half conceived as a learning day, half designed to talk about powerful issues, but there wasn't enough juice in either of those invitations to ground anything effectively.
But in these quadrants, and in this mysterious play of interiors and exteriors, and individuals and collectives, there was something we could use. I carefully took four pieces of paper, labeled them Purpose, Story, Structure and Action and placed them around the inside of the circle of chairs, ready for the closing.
As people reconvened I told the story of the inviting organization, as I had read it just then. It was the first time all day there had been any kind of excitement present in the room. Eyes lit up, people sat forward a little in their chairs. Here were four magic words lying on the floor, and here I was talking about each quadrant and what would happen if we were to move towards spirited work in each quadrant.
There was a hum in the room, even at the end of a long and dispirited day. A few comments and questions were offered about the model, and finally one person said “This is what I need. I need my hospital to be an inviting workplace. I don't care about the cuts anymore, I just want people to feel invited to come to work.”
I was awestruck at the deep response to such a simple model. Part of it was the integrity of the quadrants themselves, focusing on all aspects of organizational life. Part of it too was that this map, like all good maps, helps us get oriented on the landscape and gives us clues about where we might go. And like big maps, the map of the inviting organization also inspires us to travel to the horizons, into the realm of spirited work and deeper being in the world.
The story itself travels well, and I found myself using it to help people figure out where they were stuck. I started noticing that the story itself flows nicely from Purpose to Story to Structure to Action. Seen in this progression, it articulated the ways ideas originate as inspiration and move through planning and implementation to become action. This use of the map helped me once when I was facilitating a strategic planning session with an environmental group in Whistler, BC. The group had been founded by environmental activists and was becoming more and more mainstream, with many people now joining from established businesses for whom instituting a recycling program was a big step forwards.
The group was meeting to plan what they might do over the next year, but our conversations about action seemed not to be getting to the core of some of the underlying issues. In order to find out where we were stuck, I walked the group through the quadrants model. The purpose was pretty clear, and no one seemed stuck on the vision. But when I asked the structure question – how to we get where we want to go? - a skirmish broke out.
“THAT is the fundamental problem,” said one group member. “Some of us want to use activist techniques, and the new people want us to be more 'respectable.' As far as I'm concerned that's a sell out.”
A new board member responded. “As far as I'm concerned this group's move to the middle in terms of tactics is responsible for me joining. I wouldn't be a board member of a radical group.”
From there the stage was set for the real conversation the group needed to have. Could we balance approaches to environmental issues in a way which invited inclusion and effectiveness?
While the quadrants themselves provide as useful tool for looking at organizational dynamics, the promise of evolution through these quadrants became an inspiring story for me as well. As I looked at how one might travel around the quadrants while moving out at the same time through the levels of matter, body, mind, soul and spirit, I realized that we could chart the evolution of almost any organization or community. And not only could we use the quadrants/levels story to trace history, but also to give us some perspective on where we might go. I took the theory of this story and, over a year or so, re wrote it into the story of the donut shop that changed the world. And briefly the story goes like this:
This is the story of the donut shop that changed the world.
It begins with a flash of inspiration and excitement. One morning when you wake up you have the idea that maybe you'd like to go into business selling donuts. It just strikes you as a calling, as the most exciting thing you might do at that moment. And unlike many ideas, it has a sense of possibility about it. You have a sense somehow that this idea could be in alignment with the market and your purpose in life to the extent that you have a sense that this might just work. It is the sweet spot of entrepreneurial inspiration and it is an idea with legs.
The first thing you do is grab hold of a friend, your partner, and you get her attention. “Hey,” you say, “it's all about the donuts. We have to do this, build the best donut store, serve people good food and coffee and have a spot where they can meet and talk. Your partner responds to the invitation and the two of you set out to make it happen. As an organization, you aren't much to begin with, just the merest hint of a cast or a taskforce – two people doing whatever it takes to get the show on the road. And that's what you make: an appearance. The shop opens, the donuts come out, looking different from the other donuts and the feel of the place looks different. It's your edge, the one that stands as an invitation strictly on the material level. New donuts, new shop, new idea.
Once we get this established on the level of what matters, our enterprise starts taking shape. Our purpose, although still exciting at the core, now extends to keeping things going. There is loyalty to one another, to the enterprise itself and to the initial commitment. Perhaps we start wearing uniforms at the shop so that people recognize where we belong and the brand takes shape. Rules and values in the service of stability then become the order of the day. Sometimes these are posted as monologues, as commandments, or as agreements between all about how we will do things. The team takes shape, staff come on board and take responsibility for different roles. We have shift managers, bakers and servers and the body of the organization looks like a hierarchy. We pay people differently too, to support their connection to one another and the work they are doing. Soon we're creating expectations about how we are in the organization and the kind of product we put into the world and we are focused on meeting those expectations with quality deliveries.
Once we are solid and stable as a body and we're offering our product to a world that expects better, our purpose becomes more refined. We begin thinking about other ways we might keep ourselves coming to work and improving our enterprise. We get excited about maybe receiving awards for customer service, for product quality, perhaps even for community contribution. We start seeing these as strategic opportunities as well, linking them to the work we do. We're motivated extrinsically now too, and all of our employees feel it. We have employees of the month, and our front line staff start taking pride and pleasure in the feedback they get from customers. Our plan becomes more solid now, and with a larger and more stable organization, we look for opportunities to expand and move into the world. Perhaps we feel we can finally compete in the market with the established brands and so we plan for that. Our structure becomes looser as our attention moves away from our core product. Perhaps the founders are now focused on attracting new investment, promoting the product elsewhere or looking for better suppliers. Where we once got our hands covered in flour and oil, we are now dressed in suits and leaving the shop to those we can trust, who can use their brains to make it work. Our organizational structure becomes a network and we start keeping track of things on spreadsheets and matrices. We are still making good donuts, and we are still setting expectations, but we are also making investments an seeking buy-in. Our relationship with the world becomes about gauging the importance of every opportunity.
After the shop becomes realy established and our plan starts showing success, our purpose refines itself yet again. You can only win so many awards before they lose their significance. We suddenly start caring about what matters in the world, about passion and well-being. We might even introduce more healthy foods at the shop because we start to see the customers as more than a source of revenue. Making money is assured, but actually caring for our people is a new focus. In this sense we start inviting, and our story becomes one of asking “what else can we do?” We start looking for new directions to make contributions in the world and we look to the community for answers. Organizationally the marketplace takes over. Once we invite the community to join us ideas come from everywhere. We set up a weblog online and connect with folks who feel just as passionate about food. We join a network of local food shops and restaurants and invite everyone to be bigger, maybe even branding our neighbourhood or community as a place for good eating. At this point we are making contributions and connections in the world, leveraging what we have built to lift everyone around us, and seeing that our success is interdependent with the people around us. We donate to causes, we make sure that when our customers get married, they have donuts at the wedding. We improve the lives of people around us, and share that success with everyone.
The customers start picking up on this too, and soon the donut shop becomes a place of business, a place of conversation a “third place” in the community. The bulletin board is an important source of information and spontaneoous encounters lead to productive work. There is a powerful role in the act of holding space, for connections and contoirbutions to emerge.
Now this is the level of soul, and it's a place many businesses aspire to. It is still very much on the ground and very much devoted to the core product. But it arises when we notice the little effects we have, how happy we make customers for example, and we start asking ourselves how we can grow more of that. At the next stage, the stage of spirited organization, we move into a place where our work in the world becomes truly transformational.
This stage begins when compassion arises and we truly love what we do. We are motivated by that above all else, by affection and care for the people we serve, the people we work with and the community in which we live. Our compassion is motivated by dreams, by the truth that Havel's greengrocer knows, that we are active parts of the world around us. When we are acting out of present vision, and compassion we organize ourselves in flow. There is no discussion about who does what or why. Flow is the highest performance state, and its the only way to keep on top of things when everything is moving. Structures emerge and dissolve as needed and personal agency and the capacity to create important working relationships in the moment is the key capacity.
And when all of that aligns and comes together, what is made is not just appearences, not just donuts or contributions or connections, but good. And that good ripples outward into the world, having an impact we can neither predict nor control. Things seems to happen around the shop. People talk about lively atmosphere, a good feeling in the air, a positive change in the community. And the business itself and the people in it make good in the world, donating time and energy and money to causes that improve the lives of people around them.
The important thing to note is that the organization evolves through these quadrants an levels and at the same time, the four practices show up in various ways. Opening to purpose means appreciating what we have and who we are. We invite choice around this positive core at all levels and use the structural tools available to us to support connections, between staff, customers, suppliers, product and ultimately the larger world from the neighbourhood on out. And ultimately, everything we do, at every level is towards good: making a good impression, making a better product, creating a more quality community, making a better world.
These practices become containers in which this evolution can take place. The practices hold open the possibility for evolution into the most spirited forms of being in each quadrant. Cultivating them means never having to reinvent the architecture that allows for evolution and deepening of purpose, story, structure and action in organizations and communities.
It’s hard to get enough of Ricardo Semler, the CEO of Brazil’s Semco. In a new article from Strategy+Business he talks about participatory management:
Asked why true participative management is still such a rarity, Mr. Semler cites two elements that he says are in sadly short supply: “One, the people in charge wanting to give up control. This tends to eliminate some 80 percent of business people. Two, a profound belief that humankind will work toward its best version, given freedom; that would eliminate the other 20 percent,” he says.
The only reason there aren’t more people like Ricardo Semler is simply that it takes overwhelming courage to buck the experts and prove them wrong. But for those of us that believe, like Semler, “that humankind will work towards its best version, given freedom,” he continues to be an inspiration.