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Reposted from: LinkedIn

Warning: Ideas discussed here are ahead of time. And yet, better be 20 years ahead than 20 years behind.

They say ships don’t sink because of the turbulent oceans in which they find themselves. Ships sink because of cracks that let the ocean within. Cracks form due to a number of reasons (captain’s inadequate judgement, team that is misaligned, and/or ship infrastructure that is poorly maintained – all of these intimately related).

Whatever the reason, a strong ship takes you through the storm, and a weak one takes you right to the bottom.

Similarly, companies do not go out of business because of challenging and shifting economic conditions, insufficient resources due to climate change, or poor integration into cultural and social landscapes. Companies go out of business because they are not fit within themselves to adapt to changing economic, social and environmental circumstances.

Just like people, companies need to build capacity on the within in order to stay afloat of adversity.

As Credit Swisse points out in their 2015 report: ‘Aiming for Impact: Credit Swisse and the Sustainable Development Goals‘:

‘the private sector is starting to realise the benefits of contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)’, those being the agenda to transform the world from 2015 until 2016, and which can be considered as the one and only path to the sustainability of our planet and the preserving of its biodiversity.

As Credit Swisse rightly points out, the private sector has been increasingly pressured by the public and all other stakeholders to include social, environmental and governance (ESG) factors in not only the reporting on the business, but also the business strategic planning, business model and operations.

Meanwhile, the private sector is – as always – expected to grow. However,

growth needs to be rethought in the context of the SDGs!

Innovative business models need to be found, such that create shared value for all business, society and the environment. And this can be incredibly tricky. Why? Because for businesses to do so, they need to work with all stakeholders, those being the United Nations System in its appropriate bodies, civil society, indigenous peoples, governments and regulatory forces. In fact, all these parties need to reach out and collaborate for sustainable growth, one that keeps profits on the rise but also preserves and enhances the biodiversity of the planet.

If businesses want to stay ahead of the game and afloat of current climatic and social adversities, this is the one and only way for them to do so and be here in another – let’s say – 100 or more years from now. And is it not what we all want, an agile yet profitable business that stays afloat and not only leverages, but also drives sustainability for growth?

What such a business-public sector-government-civil society collaboration means, ultimately, is not just a series of agreements between stakeholder groups, public statements, philanthropic gifts, etc. Such a transformative collaboration can not be achieved by planning and tools we have been using so far. It can only be achieved by innovation.

For businesses to truly stay ahead of the game, and afloat of current economic, social and environmental challenges, by embarking on a journey of growth that is profitable and sustainable, they need to transform on the within in terms of business models, operations, culture and collaboration practices. This is what makes them fit for the long-term.

In other words, businesses need to develop an internal fitness, or resilience, that puts, takes and grounds them on a path of sustainable and profitable growth.

Sounds good. How to do this?

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Corporate sustainability reporting is the elephant in the room here. In a recent post on Corporate Sustainability Reporting: the Case for Change I explored the leveraging of corporate sustainability reporting as a change management tool that takes companies on a path of sustainable growth. And having further explored this with Albor360 (Sustainability Services for the Chemical Industry) and Meier Marketing Global (Helping Brands Stay Meaningful, Relevant, Flexible, and Happy), we can say the following:

  • Companies should do much more with their sustainability reports than what they are doing currently. Staring with a business materiality assessment based on the SDGs, engaging stakeholders and reporting on sustainability is only the first step. The real opportunity to transform on the within and get the business on a journey of sustainable growth only comes afterwards.

To leverage this opportunity, companies should leverage the sustainability reporting exercise as an innovative journey of conversation, knowledge sharing and communications on the within and without of the business with key stakeholder groups.

  • Innovative and powerful content marketing approaches and practices should be leveraged for internal communications, to ‘sell’ key messages to key stakeholder groups and achieve engagement and bottom-up action. Meanwhile, the same can be done on the outside to reach out and engage external actors and forces, not only to enhance the company brand image but also pave the way for its profitable yet sustainable transformation.

The corporate sustainability report targets and KPIs should be used to transform operations and integrate sustainability on the within of the business, that way making it fit and resilient.

  • KPIs should measure performance at different levels, including cross-unit/department/division, as well as within units/divisions/departments. This way, the very fabric of the business is innovated for sustainable growth, not just pieces of it. This makes for a healthy and well-connected business and a sturdy ship that stays afloat of current challenges.

Qualitative and quantitative measurements should both be used.

  • Examples of the former are stories and testimonials: they capture cause-effect relationships and make evident the heuristics that underlie performance, which heuristics in turn – by their engaging nature – create conditions for learning and innovation across the entire business to take place.
  • Knowledge sharing and organisational development tools such as social network analysis (of the type developed by a partner company, Innovisor) should be further leveraged to determine who the key influencers in the inside and outside of the company are, and then work with those champions to design and speed up corporate change efforts. Why? Because transformational change ultimately starts, ends, and works (or not) because of people as change agents, not because of systems, processes, or other mechanisms. In this sense:

Design thinking approaches that look to co-create strategies and forge an emotional and spiritual connection between the business and those who make it happen, as well as those who determine its relevance and those who depend on it, should also be increasingly used.

  • Last but not least, the right systems, in terms of infrastructure, IT and measurement, should be developed, co-created as appropriate and mainstreamed throughout the business in a participatory and engaging manner, leveraging content marketing and social media approaches and tools, and putting people at the centre.

With all this in place, a business is in for a journey of sustainable growth for the long term with a number of benefits: improved brand image, enhanced profitability, sustainable business models and systems, happy stakeholders, to say the least, and a lot more that can not be even projected to start with.

And, with all this in place, there is a growing and evolving conviction on the part of employees and stakeholders that this business, by growing, also develops the society and preserves the environment where it operates, in an ESG kind of a fashion.

The more the business can continually strike an ESG balance, and the more it uses the corporate sustainability reporting exercise as one key and integrative lever on this journey, the more we are convinced it is the kind of a business that is in it for the next 100 years at least which is, as you can imagine, very, very appealing to customers, consumers and investors. It is good for you now and it will be good for you tomorrow. And not only that, it makes you feel good too, no?!

Do you share these ideas? Myself, Albor360 and Meier Marketing Global would love to hear from you if you do. Do you have better ideas? Do you want to get on a sustainable growth journey? Please contact me.

We can travel with you, answer your questions and discuss opportunities for your business sustainable growth.

With you, we design and operationalise corporate social responsibility change management programs that leverage the various stages and opportunities of sustainability reporting. We empower you to get on a path of transformational discovery of what sustainable and profitable growth means for your business, and how about we do this for the 100 years from now?


I just read this really excellent article by Bill Barnett in the Harvard Business Review Blog. It is called ”When Choosing a Job, Culture Matters”. I highly recommend it not only to job seekers, but also to anyone who’s looking for herself/himself in the organisation where she/he works, especially those who are not that happy with these organisatons and how they do what they do.

Organisational culture, or organisational mindset, is something I have already explored in another post. The culture within the organisation, the team, and so on where we work, is key to whether we can be successful in it. It is a key determinant, almost as important, if not more important than what the organisation or the team actually does.

Despite this, when we look for jobs, we often look for such in organisations that do something we believe in, be it reducing poverty, feeding the hungry, saving the displaced-by-disasters, developing social businesses, driving the digital revolution, and so forth. As we do this, we rarely ask the ”culture” and ”mindset” questions.

Personally, having worked with a variety of organisations for already more than nine years, and having experienced a variety of cultures, and having struggled a number of times, I am at a point where I think culture is more important than organisation purpose.

Think this scenario:

You have high integrity. You are environmental sustainability minded. You believe in business that is both responsible and sustainable. You value and respect others and expect them to value and respect you. You are focused on doing the right thing, always, and are prepared to work hard by yourself and with others to figure out what that is and then implement it. You are open to learning and new experiences. You believe in that real, all-encompassing and overturning change is the result of many working well together, not just a few doing their own thing. You believe in working with all the stakeholders. You are competitive and like winning. You are exhilarated by the possibility of winning a contest based on nothing but your abilities and outstanding performance. You have a vigorous approach to both practice and research. You want to make a difference in this world.

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You join an oil and gas company. Doesn’t make sense, right? How will you ever contribute to a business that is socially responsible and brings environmental sustainability to the world from within there? What this company does is in stark opposition with your values. But, think again, is it?

As it turns out, the oil and gas company has a culture that greatly suits what your personality needs in order to succeed. It is transparent when it comes down to promotions, and, because of the nature of the the business, there is a deep and shared commitment to health and safety. The people there want to do good (albeit it may sound like a paradox to you initially). They don’t want any spills. They want to innovate solutions to extracting the oil and gas in the depths of the Earth, solutions that do not damage it in the long term, solutions that do not cause and precipitate earthquakes, solutions that are clean and minimal in terms of impact. Furthermore, they are investing in renewable energy and are well familiar with how challenging is to produce such sustainably. They want to tackle this as a corporation. They are looking for the answers, together. There is respect for points of view different than yours. Knowledge sharing and knowledge management catalyse good practices emerging from the bottom-up, and scale them up through corporately adopted solutions. It is all bubbling inside that company, actually. There is urgency to innovate and plenty of commitment to doing good.

And so, surprisingly, culture-wise the company is a good fit for you, which is also why you took the job. You know it will be hard and challenging at times, but the culture is there to support you and carry you on its waves. Besides, a little bit of hardship and challenge is what you welcome to make things interesting and really make it possible for you to achieve your vision and goals.

Makes sense?

While this example is entirely fictitious, it helps to illustrate the point.

Culture, and not organisation purpose per se, is what creates conditions for us to succeed, to show and put to work what we are capable of, and to achieve our personal visions. The right culture is what brings it all out, connects us deeply with our colleagues and stakeholders, and makes it possible for us to run fast yet never be tired.

In a similar way, the people we work with, how they are, their aspirations and ways of working, their motivations and integrity are almost as important if not more important that what we actually do together with these people. And, this is because, if there is chemistry inherent to how we work together, we are willing to listen, learn together, change the course of action and even re-examine and change our values. If the culture is good, we are genuinely putting ourselves at work and positive growth can emerge. This is why culture, and that chemistry that imbues our teamwork with others, is by the far the most important prerequisite for us being successful, happy and satisfied at the workplace.

If you are reading this and are not happy with your work, think why that might be. Think what it is about it that is stopping you. Think of how to overcome it. If the only way of doing this is by joining another organisation (and leaving your current one), do that, don’t be complacent. It is all about growth in the end. Making yourself a success is the one most important thing you want to achieve in your life.

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I had a small operation the other day. Here is the story:

One of my wisdom teeth had been growing at a right angle with respect to the one next to it. It had just started breaking into that other tooth. (Despite that, I had no pain, which was fantastic.) They recommended it to be taken out. I thought that is a good idea, considering it could cause problems and discomfort at some point in the future. And so we (I and my mom) chose a day, called the doctors and made all necessary arrangements.

The day came. I was quite nervous the night before, even though I knew all was going to be fine. I mean, I am healthy, all is ok with me, why do I have to go through this? I had to trust the doctors. At the end of the day, sometimes that is all we can do: trust and love our fellow people.

The operation went very well. The doctors were brilliant. They gave me local anesthetic and started working. They first cut into the gum, and then into the bone. They did not cut out any pieces, which was great I was told (and I am sure very happy about it!). It was hard work for them (two of them, working on me!) and hard work also for me. Although I did not feel any pain, there was quite some pressure being put on my jaw. They said I have a delicate jaw, and so were careful.

The tooth would not come out at first, but in the end they pulled it out. Wonderfully shaped thing, just growing the wrong way. Then they put a couple of stitches, and the operation was over. They said it went very well and that there was going to be no swelling (and there hasn’t been). Knowing their job well, they could foresee how the case was going to develop.

I could not feel my mouth and jaw for a while afterwards, off course. Then when I could, I was crying because of the pain. Then, my mom made me a painkiller cocktail and I was fine. I am still not able to open my mouth fully, but after a few days, that will be gone, too.

So why am I telling you all this? Throughout the operation, the doctors were talking, and asking me questions. One of them was: ”What do you do? What is your job?”. ”I do organisational development.” I said. ”I work with the UN and International Organisations.”. ”You have a complicated job.”, they said. They knew nothing about it, just as I knew nothing about dentistry, and pulling out (very difficult!) wisdom teeth.

And so there I was, totally vulnerable and relying on their skill and expertise. I know exactly how (I’d like to think) to go about most sustainable development and/or knowledge management puzzles, but I know nothing about wisdom teeth puzzles. I am very happy they knew, because in that moment, all I knew wasn’t worth a penny. They were in charge. They were working on my system and solving the wisdom tooth puzzle. I could not do that. I solve different kinds of puzzles.

In a way, what the doctors knew made possible what I know, and vice versa. They look after me, and I look after them, by working with my clients, and helping them look after the world. We all have a role to play, are related to one another, and depend on each other. I would not be here unless they were too, and vice versa. In the ”developed world”, people would not exist unless the ”developing” world also existed. There would not be consumption unless people had things to consume. There would not be justice unless there was also lack there of.

Our values with respect to and attitudes towards the elements that make our systems define the nature of the relationships among these elements, and from there on, how the systems behave. First, I and my mom chose the best doctors who could pull out difficult teeth. We also chose a good day for the operation (i.e., moon was in the right sign, and waning – medicine astrology knowledge worth considering, and yet another system that is – I tend to think – operating on us). Then, despite I was scared, I managed my fear, I trusted the doctors, and they appreciated that. And all went well and for this I am super happy and grateful.

Systems are beautiful in that they hold us, and keep us together.They give us life, and we give them life. They make us be, and we make them be. System dynamics are something we can give a direction to, in the very least, if we know the system elements and the relationships between these elements, and if we know what we want out of these systems.

We are always in a system, and we should all know about systems. Knowing about systems gives us the power to transform them and do better at the next level (or iteration). It has got to be easy to see, feel and understand systems, because they are all in and around us. All it takes is to look into something as small (although it felt big, I tell you!) as a wisdom tooth and feel the connections between it, us, and everything else.

🙂


My great great friend Jono sent me the below poem sometime back. I find it speaks true and from within the depths of my heart. I love it (and Jono does too). I wanted to share it with you.

Merry Christmas! 🙂

The Invitation – Oriah Mountain Dreamer

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for, and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon. I want to know if you have touched the center of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain! I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it or fade it, or fix it.

I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own, if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, to be realistic, to remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself; if you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul; if you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see beauty even when it’s not pretty, every day, and if you can source your own life from its presence.

I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand on the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, “Yes!”

It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up, after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the center of the fire with me and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you, from the inside, when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.


Recently, I had the privilege to listen to a talk by Dave Snowden. Dave is the Founder and Chief Scientific Officer of the Cognitive Edge. He is the creator of the Cynefin Framework which is revolutionising current thinking about and understanding of the nature of reality, learning and evolution.

I first listened to Dave ten years ago while he was still working with the IBM Institute of Knowledge Management. (There, he led a programme on complexity and narrative.) He was invited as the main speaker to an event co-organised by the British Countryside Agency (currently part of Natural England) with whom I was working on a Learning Networks dissertation project. Then, he spoke about the nature of communities of practice and effective collaboration supported by the use of information and communication tools and frameworks.

Dave’s talk I had the pleasure to recently listen to was on ”Linear versus Complexity, New Thinking Paradigm for the Development World”. It took place at the International Fund for Agricultural Development.  As Roxy Samii at the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) said, it was a truly humbling experience! The IFAD blog post and webcast of the lecture is here.

Dave Snowden as Speaker

With Dave being such a good speaker, it is good to note a thing or two about his style. He may come across as slightly (if not more) opinionated, but his points are good, speak truth, and quickly relate to you being so personal. Being a great story teller, he oscillates between deeply personal and fairly abstract. I find it interesting that he has a background in both Philosphy and Physics, which I think makes for an approach that is rigourous yet effectively tackles the abstract, i.e. what we often find so difficult to define. He takes a natural science approach to social science. A well-rehearsed speaker, Dave throws pearls of wisdom at you as he speaks, and mixes these with satire which may taste bitter but being so true is refreshing. Sounds good, right? It is a pleasure listening to and learning from him.

Below are some of Dave’s talk points. These are not meant to be a comprehensive account of what he talked about. For a comprehensive account, please watch the webcast.

Cynefin Framework – Four Different Kinds of System

The Cynefin Framework is a sense making model in which data precedes frameworking (as opposed to categorization models in which frameworking precedes data). The framework is there to help define the system we are having to deal with and therefore define our optimum approaches to it. It is a decision-making framework that has been used for knowledge management, project management, IT Design, strategy making and so forth. Its purpose is to help us assess a situation and then apply a most appropriate approach of addressing and learning from it.

There are four different kinds of system that are there to frame our experience. What is complex and chaotic to one can be merely simple to another. Part to defining the type of system we are dealing with lies with its nature, part with our experience and expertise. These two can be quite hard if not impossible to distinguish though.

  • Simple Systems (cause and effect relationships are simple and predictable). Here, we sense, categorise and respond. Applying best practice (i.e., established  examples of what works in a particular context) works well in simple systems.
  • Complicated Systems (cause and effect relationships exist but they are not self-evident). Here, we sense, analyse and respond. Applying good practice (i.e., a range of examples of what works well in a given context) works well in complicated systems provided we have the right expertise.
  • Complex Systems (cause and effect relationships are only obvious in hindsight, learning by doing). Here, we probe, sense, and respond. Here we apply emergent practice (i.e., new practice, some combination of best practice and good practice, or not, which is different and unique). When the system is complex we apply emergent practice in order to adequately ”work” it.
  • Chaotic Systems (no cause and effect relationships can be determined). Here we act, sense, and respond. In order to effectively understand and function in a chaotic system we must act very quickly to either innovate or stabilise it and therefore learn from it. In complex systems we apply novel practice.

Depending on the ontology that applies to the situation, we should think and analyse accordingly. One size does not fit all!

The Catch behind Disorder

The central space on the above diagram is key. It is Disorder, i.e., the space where we dont know which space or system we are in. The danger is that when we are in Disorder we would interpret the situation according with our preference.

Complacency Zone

Furthermore, Dave points out that whereas the boundaries between:

simple <-> complicated

complicated <-> complex

complex <-> chaotic

are there for transitions, the

simple -> chaotic boundary is a complacency zone.

When we get used to believing that ”simple” paradigms underlie everything then we get to see all problems as a failure of process. In reality, this is often not the case. In other words, simple is highly vulnerable to rapid change, whereas complicated and complex are not. If we have learnt to function in primarily simple, i.e., very bureaucratic environments, we would apply best practice approaches even when the situation calls for good practice, emergent practice, or even novel practice.  And, as Dave says, this is a recipe for disaster.

Pearls of Wisdom

Some pearls of wisdom Dave threw at us as he spoke:

  • Partial fragmented stories of failure create more learning than documented examples of good practice.
  • Failure can have more learning potential than success.
  • Delegation is not distributed decision-making/distributed cognition.
  • Micro-management is a deadly enemy of understanding complexity and complex systems.
  • It is important to not confuse measures with targets, i.e., focus too much on measuring and forget the thing to measure! (British National Health Service) It is important to manage the evolutionary potential of the present rather than measures and targets.
  • Computer Science and Economics graduates are often partially autistic (Asperger’s syndrome). However, this means they will often detect patterns other people will not. This is very valuable and can be highly adaptive to the human species.
  • Computers will always only mimic people’s intelligence. They won’t replace it.
  • We evolve to make decisions based on limited data. We like ”messy coherence”. Deep inside, we perceive order as threatening.
  • Different cultures are defined by patterns we tend to experience in that culture. These patterns define our brain function and get us to go about things in some ways and not others.
  • Tacit knowledge is at the heart of deep expertise. Tacit knowledge can not be made explicit! (Polanyi is right, Nonaka and Takeuchi have not read Polanyi)
  • Explicit knowledge without tacit knowledge makes no sense!
  • Knowledge Management often assumes knowledge can be codified whereas it can not!
  • Communities of Practice are often too structured and therefore we do not need them.  What we do need are more adaptive social computing structures. Peer-to-peer knowledge is better than focusing on achieving targets. Blogs can build communities very fast.
  • Technology is so pervasive these days that Twitter can be more effective than Google.
  • Important to no longer design applications but rather design architectures in which applications can emerge.
  • Architectures for resilience are better off than architectures for effect.
  • Development projects are almost never planned for resilience which is on the other hand much more effective. If they are planned for resilience they currently will find it hard to be funded.
  • Adduction is the ability to make connections among things not normally connected. (I see, so this is how it was called…) It is a source of innovation and has a lot of adaptation potential. It is however often discouraged, why?
  • History of Science goes through three stages: 1. Management Science (simple, all about targets), 2. Systems Dynamics (complicated, Senge’s learning organization framework, learning objectives, imposing ready models on reality) and 3. complex dynamics (complex systems change at every level, not just at system level).

Applications

At his lecture, Dave pointed out the Cynefin Framework has been used to frame challenges experienced by businesses and foundations, such as Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Rockefeller Foundation. The point is to enable donors to fund projects and programmes without having a clear idea of the objective. I wonder how it could be used to transform the corporate sector and enable socially responsible and environmentally sustainable businesses around the world.

I love complicated and complex. Even chaotic can be exhilarating!



This is cross-posted from an internal Food and Agriculure Organization of the United Nations (FAO) blog. The post is created by Elena Di Paola. Elena is my colleague and Knowledge and Information Management Specialist in FAO’s Office of Knowledge Exchange, Research and Extension.

”In Kabuki theatre, there is a gesture which indicates ‘looking at the moon’, where the actor points into the sky with his index finger. One actor, who was very talented, performed this gesture with grace and elegance. The audience thought, ‘Oh his movement is so beautiful!’ They enjoyed the beauty of his performance, and the technical mastery he displayed. Another actor made the same gesture, pointing at the moon. The audience didn’t notice whether or not he moved elegantly; they simply saw the moon.”

This passage is taken from the book “The Invisible Actor” by the Japanese Master Performer Yoshi Oida. In his work the author expresses preference for the actor who shows the moon to the audience; the one who is able to become invisible. According to him, an actor’s role is not to display how well he performs but, through his performance, to enable the stage to come alive. In this way the audience is carried along and becomes part of the story.

Management experts drew inspiration from Yoshi Oida’s lines to describe the features of an effective leadership style, typical of some Asian countries: Invisible Leadership.

As Professor Tojo Thatchenkery, Director of  M.S. in Organization Development & Knowledge Management School of Public Policy at George Mason University says, in most Western countries …: 

“Leadership is closely connected to charisma and visibility. If you are not visible, you are not a leader. In many other parts of the world, especially in Asian cultures, leadership is not about being visible. It is the opposite: quietly doing your work and assuming that rewards will come. […] they practice a form of quiet or invisible leadership because of an unconscious, deep rooted cultural assumption that leadership is about enabling and empowering, not about bringing attention to oneself and shining”.

The behavior of invisible leaders exercises a relevant influence on knowledge sharing dynamics. Research by Fritjof Capra concluded that:

“The most powerful organizational learning and collective knowledge sharing grows through informal relationships and personal networks via working conversations in communities of practice.” 

The invisible leaders are those who belong to and promote networks of conversation within the organization that go from bottom to top and top to bottom and, back again, in a continuous flow of feedback exchange. The use of these networks provides them a more complete overview on the organization’s resources and needs, and helps them make informed decisions.

Invisible leaders’ core values, privileging the collective over the individual, are beneficial to a knowledge-sharing culture.

If you are interested in more practical details, here is my personal vade-mecum for those who want to practice invisible leadership.

The invisible leader promotes:

  • Open door policy
  • Team work
  • Facilitation versus direction
  • Informal relationships through networks of conversation.

The invisible leader involves the team in:

  • Setting goals and visions
  • Decision making
  • Consensus reaching.

The invisible leader increases sense of inclusiveness, responsibility and gratification by:

  • Confidently delegating
  • Sharing successes with team mates
  • Giving voice to all (even to the silent that tend to hold back valuable input when overcome by predominant personalities)
  • Making feel everyone equally important.  

To go to heart of the matter, the key to invisible leadership is mainly about doing the best things in the best way for a common objective. This attitude leads to quicker and more successful results than when power is exercised as dictated by hierarchical differences.

On that note, find the invisible leader within you and let them express what you want to see happening in your team, in a way that is subtle, delicate and yet determined. This is what will make you effective in leading your team.


This is cross-posted from an internal Food and Agriculure Organization of the United Nations (FAO) blog. The post is created together with Gauri Salokhe. Gauri is my colleague and Knowledge and Information Management Specialist in FAO’s Office of Knowledge Exchange, Research and Extension.

One of the characteristics of a learning, or a knowledge organization is, of course, learning from experience. In other words, we do something, we evaluate what we have done, we draw lessons learned, good practices and recommendations, and then we apply them in our work. Clearly, this process should not only be circular but also on-going.

My colleague Gauri Salokhe and I recently completed one such learning loop with regards to our work in supporting and sustaining FAO knowledge-sharing networks and communities. In particular, we were both part of the 2008 FAO Thematic Knowledge Networks Review process (described in detail in an internal to FAO Knowledge Café blog post). The Review process yielded nine recommendations (which we later came to call Nine Keys to Cultivating Knowledge Networks at FAO) for enabling and cultivating knowledge-sharing networks and communities, and indeed knowledge sharing initiatives, in the organization. These recommendations are, as follows:

Nine Keys to Cultivating Knowledge Sharing Networks and Communities at FAO

  1. Sponsor from top – Ensure that sufficient resources are available to create and sustain knowledge networks.
  2. Support demand – Create networks as a response to a real need, rather than in a top-down way.
  3. Ensure right blend of membership – Where possible, membership should be at least partly external.
  4. Develop a business case – Organize consultations with potential network members to establish an appropriate business case for the network.
  5. Select appropriate methodologies and technologies – One size does not fit all. Different types of networks need different methodologies and technologies.
  6. Facilitate continuously – Provide continuous facilitation for helping and supporting network members to work together and achieve their goals.
  7. Recognize staff­ time – Staff members should be recognized for their contribution to knowledge networks.
  8. Promote – Sponsors and facilitators should share their experiences and promote knowledge networks.
  9. Monitor and evaluate – There should be on-going monitoring and evaluation of knowledge networks.

The Result: FAO Knowledge Network and Community Purpose Checklist

Gauri and I then took to develop a FAO Knowledge Network and Community Purpose Checklist based on the above recommendations. Our idea was to develop a tool through which use to embed the lessons learned that had emerged from the Knowledge Networks Review. In order to achieve it, we took material from two other checklists: Nancy White’s online community checklist and another checklist provided to us by Lucie Lamoureux. To this we added our own thinking, knowledge and understanding of the FAO context.

The result is a network and community purpose checklist that has been created to cater specifically for the context of FAO. It has nine sets of questions, one for each of the above recommendations. By going through these questions, networks and communities sponsors and coordinators are able to ensure all aspects of the initiative (sponsorship, membership, demand, business case, facilitation, methodologies and technologies, time, promotion and monitoring and evaluation) are examined, understood and provided for. Doing this equips the owners and coordinators of the network or community with important understanding about the nature of knowledge sharing, and therefore enables them to succeed regarding time, resources and effort invested in the initiative.

You can download the FAO Knowledge Network and Community Purpose Checklist here.

In our minds, this is a fine example of learning from experience and integrating what has been learned in the workings of the organisation! The checklist can be extended to other types of initiatives such as web sites, portals and databases. Now it remains to put the checklist to work and evaluate its use and impact!

If you find the checklist useful or use it in any way, please do let us know! Thank you! 🙂


Happy New Year! 🙂

United Nations Development System Futures Project

I came across the FUNDS project, a project that has set to explore the future of the United Nations Development System (from here onwards also called United Nations System, UN System, and UN) and examine it in the context of the rapidly changing global environment. The purpose of the project is to catalyze hearts, minds and other resources towards a best possible evolution of the United Nations Development System as it serves humanity in the current critical phase of human existence. More on the aims of the project are here.

Future of the United Nations Development System Conference

Recently, the FUNDS project had a conference. It was reported that the conference, which took place over four days from 18-21 November 2010, was attended by over 60 representatives of Governments, UN agencies, academia, NGOs, international think-tanks and private sector companies. The Conference full report is here. More broadly, the conference concluded:

  1. The main reason behind the difficulty of positively reforming the United Nations System lies in its fragmentation and lack of overall control of any one body over all organizations and programs.
  2. Absence of central governance is the single largest obstacle to reforming the System.
  3. In the current situation, the Delivering as One Framework holds the most hope for transforming the System from the bottom up.

The Real Obstacles Behind Transforming the UN System

I admit I haven’t read the full report, therefore what I am about to say may be the result of mis-interpretation or over-interpretation of the above.  Still, having worked with United Nations System organizations for more than four years and as a result well knowing them, their culture and often challenging reality, I have the following comments on the above:

  1. The main reason behind positively reforming the United Nations System does NOT lie in its fragmentation and lack of overall control of any one body over different organizations and programs. Rather, the one single reason behind the difficulty to positively reform the System lies in that there is no visionary leadership transcending current values, cultures and mentalities, to listen, inspire and transform. This is despite that other important aspects of change, such as teamwork, information and expertise are often even abundantly present. That there is fragmentation is only the result of there being no visionary and transcendant  leadership.
  2. Is absence of central governance really the actual obstacle? As in the above, absence of central governance is only the consequence of the actual cause, actual cause being lack of political will for change. The state of contemporary politics is unfortunately still ruled by lack of trust and personal ambition where actors compete rather than collaborate. How could thus the United Nations System be relevant and effective?
  3. My 1 and 2 comments above show one of two (or indeed both) things: one is lack of understanding about the real obstacles hindering the positive transformation of the UN System; second is, provided such an understanding exists, lack of hope in that these obstacles can be overcome.
    Still, another prerequisite for the positive transformation of the UN System is for Delivering as One to suceed. But how could it do this without the help and support of organisational headquarters and partners? And if there is persistent lack of leadership and political will, how could organisational headquarters and partners provide needed support?

Doing Same vs Doing Different

And so, what is the moral? It is impossible to change and transform unless we see and are willing to operate the real drivers of that transformation. Unless we do this, we will, always, be trapped in the same cycle of doing the same in different ways, rather than doing something fundamentally different and therefore better adapted to evolving reality. And, doing something fundamentally different is what, at least in my mind, the United Nations System and we as its stakeholders need to do.

 


Somebody the Food and Agriculture Organization recently asked about the difference between moderation and facilitation of meetings, events and knowledge sharing networks and communities. She also asked when to opt for one and when for another. Here is what I responded to her:

The difference between moderation and facilitation is often either over-looked or unintentionally blurred despite being quite substantial.

Moderation:

In my view, moderation of meetings, events, networks and communities, focuses on keeping the information and communication flow clear and accessible to all who participate, at all times. In this sense, the moderator is at least in some ways an information manager. In an online environment, s/he monitors the communication flow, makes summaries and digests, approves participants’ requests and posts, and even maintains the online environment. The moderator is often quite invisible for those who participate in meetings, events and communities, but nevertheless indispensable!

Facilitation:

To the contrary, the facilitator of meetings, events, networks and communities is much more visible and active. S/he steers the communication flow and keeps it on track. In this way, facilitation focuses on including all participants in the discussion, even the ones who are less comfortable with speaking and contributing, ensuring all voices are heard and discussion is vibrant, interesting and useful to those who participate. The facilitator makes it clear to all when milestones as part of the meeting, event, or network/community activity, have been achieved and then moves on to the next milestone. Having good people skills, the facilitator enables a comfortable and inclusive environment of openness and trust for those who participate.

When to opt for moderation and when for facilitation? I would say you mostly need both in effective interplay. Understanding the differences though is important as each requires a different set of skills.


I recently had a chat with a small organisation (the name of which I am not going to mention) about the nature of leadership and how servant/facilitatory/transcendant leadership helps to cultivate a learning organisaiton.  Here are some of the points that we mentioned:

Participatory/servant/facilitatory/transcendant leadership:

  • not a ”standard” top-down sort of leadership
  • key components are facilitation, collaboration and sense-making
  • sense-making is framing what is happening in a context that binds it and accords it well with the mission and purpose of the organisation
  • sense-making is important as it keeps the whole team aligned and motivated and makes it clear how all team members have an important and valued role in the process
  • sense-making would normally rest on the organisation’s vision, in fact more so on how people see this and identify with it
  • sense-making is also about harmonising tensions and viewpoints -> if you can do that, you are a good sense-maker and leader
  • important not to assume sense is always clear to people who are part of the team … sometimes we think it all makes sense but only to us. … servant leadership in this sense seeks to empower all to lead by continually making sense for them and facilitating a process of on-going learning
  • in servant leadership, everyone is a leader and the challenge is to find a way of cultivating that sort of a mindset within the team
  • servant leadership has loose boundaries -> everyone one leads just not all team members at the same time, based on expertise and skill and other circumstances
  • in servant leadership, there is an on-going appreciative inquiry going on in the group
  • servant leadership is about listening and coaching each other based on skills and strengths
  • facilitation is essential in leadership to ensure all team members buy into what the organisation is doing by contributing in the way in which they want and can do best
  • facilitation in leadership creates conditions for a learning organisation by the leader/leaders being sensitive to what people think and how they want to work
  • facilitation in leadership is both about people and the team (two different types of organism)
  • you need individuals in order to have good teams, meanwhile people usually want to identify with groups and teams that help them bring out the best of themselves -> this is what a facilitator does (bringing out the best in people) and this is what servant leadership is about
  • facilitation as part of servant leadership is about being comfortable with ambiguity – if we are not, we can not lead!
  • true and genuine and the most productive collaboration is based on interest and motivation. servant leadership cultivates people’s interests and encourages people to follow their gut provided that it makes sense for the group/team to do so (here link with sense-making)
  • servant leadership is also about humility
  • to be there, servant leadership is cultivated (facilitated, brought-in, encouraged) in a team, group, organisation
  • good leaders are those who know themselves well, know exactly what their strengths and weaknesses are and understand how others in the team help them optimise the strengths and work on the weaknesses -> they see how they and all others are essential for the group/team and therefore also them to exist -> they see things as part of a complex system with many cross-cutting layers to it: technical, personal, emotional, etc. …

Emotional aspects of leadership:

  • for all of the above to be taking place effectively, it is important to understand and accept effective leadership is about leveraging and steering our emotions
  • effective leadership actually rests in our emotions and how well it works is based on how well we know ourselves as individuals
  • if we know ourselves well we can well leverage ourselves to serve others -> servant leadership
  • based on all that, every single servant leader is different because s/he is a different individual -> what is important is that they are bringing out the best in themselves in order to serve the group and wider collective
  • emotional support is part of leadership and essential for building trust
  • good leaders can give support to others when they need it

Group think:

  • group state where all team members do alike even if they do not necessarily think alike
  • good to have but only to an extent -> a learning organisation is not a group think organisation
  • group think may feel quite comfortable but could well be stinting our learning
  • a certain dose of group think is necessary and good for any team and organisation though
  • servant leadership has the role of cultivating a dance between group think and individual think, a nice mix of keeping things comfortable and keeping things on the edge

Maximum size organisation:

  • size of organisation and number of people is important as it defines the skeleton of the organisation/organism
  • leadership and related approaches are essential to giving life to this skeleton and actually making it work – > just skeleton is not enough (obviously)
  • focusing too much on the skeleton but perhaps not so much on what would go around it in terms of flesh and blood to give it life such as leadership, motivation, learning, cultivation of interests etc., is not good enough
  • need to make the skeleton and organisation work well for the people who are part of it -> start cultivating an appreciative inquiry mindset amongst the members of the team … see above notes on servant leadership

Remote working:

  • working remotely is different from working in the same office
  • for example, it is much easier to come across as rude and insult people online than face to face
  • remote working takes away some important aspects of the communication process (i.e., visual, face expression, overall state of mind and being, and lots of other tacit cues) which, when they are not there, can make communication (much) more difficult
  • important not to assume others understand us online in the same way as they do when they have us face to face -> usually, even the most intuitive and sensitive and sensible of people may not
  • it can be particularly difficult to do sense-making and serve-lead remotely, unless the group is aware of the challenges and figures out some solutions, such as skype chat windows, skype calls, and other ways of keeping synchrony and motivation present
  • remote working, in order for it to work well, is about a certain shift of mindset, both individually and collectively
  • remote working process works well if facilitated
  • team/group members can take turns to facilitate remote working

Delegation:

  • in order to be comfortable in delegating, there needs to be trust within the group, as well as openness to experience
  • when we delegate, we accept the output/outcome may not be as what we originally envisage -> could actually be better -> if not, we intervene to make is as what we originally envisaged
  • delegation is key in cultivating trust, developing capacity and pushing team forward

Hope this helps! 🙂

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