The Regenerative Organization: Guidelines to Design Work and Manage People for Innovation, Growth and Responsibility – Part IV

In this vblog Carol Sanford explores how you get and keep focused and innovating when there are no traditional supervisors.

How do you avoid the so-called problem of  “the inmates running the asylum?” How you keep everyone on the same page? How you get self-initiated work that fits where the business is going?


Audio-only version



Carol Sanford:

In my last video blog, I talked about something called external considering, and overcoming the internal considering where I make it all about me. Instead I’m able to see the connection in the world. And of course that’s a big part of responsibility, is getting people to do that. But there’s another piece of internal, external where you want the opposite, which is internal locus of control and external locus of control. Those are physiology terms, but when I describe to you what they are you’ll recognize them immediately. As we grow up we are often programmed to either feel like we are in charge of our own future, our own choices, our own decisions, or we are programmed to feel like we must follow someone else’s path and we are dictated to by others. It’s made even more ingrained by making sure there are rewards that stimulate parts of our brain that really like that kind of gratification.

But it’s not very good for work systems to have people externally stimulated and externally rewarded. Nor is it good for children or society because we have democracies where people don’t take responsibility and they blame someone else continuously. So this particular blog is about moving toward internal locus of control and away from external locus of control. So I am going to look at the law of three as I am doing in each of these to look at what do we need to restrain bringing forward, what do we have to reconcile to and what is it that we really want to activate that’s different than traditional work systems. I would argue that most of those we are seeing right now. We are back to our lab rats on the restraint side. So on the restraint side, we need to stop everything that fosters external locus of control, stops people from feeling like they are being controlled by the other.

Stop feeling like they are being rewarded and framed by, which again includes some of the things I said on the last one which is rating and ranking, but particularly I want to add here performance reviews. Because performance reviews have so many problems in them they shouldn’t exist. They have never done what people thought they did, and I do a little critique on them in “The Responsible Business”, but I am through this discussion going to give you a great deal more -.anything that does authority over where you have supervisors who supposedly have supervision. Here I’m going to be talking about how you move to helping people have a strong sense that they can make decisions in self to self-conversations. Now that’s different than role to role, parent to child, teacher to student, supervisor to employee. Those are role to role and decisions are made based on the higher over the lower.

In the organizations that I have built, we move to self to self-conversations. In fact I tell several stories in the book about how when people walk into an organization on a tour that I had taken them on. Particularly I took a DuPont group out of a very high powered titanium dioxide group into a Kingsford Charcoal Plant which of course had TiO2, which is powdery, a white powder, and there was black charcoal on everything in the charcoal plant. They were quite convinced that they were much highfalutin, but when they left the Kingsford Charcoal Plant they complained to me about they couldn’t tell. Well first they complained that the boss wasn’t there. I said oh no, he was in the room. They said well you couldn’t tell who was in the room. I said yeah, they work self to self. People who need to be doing something at the time do it.

Decisions that need to be made are made by people with their wisdom, with their conversation and with frameworks that help them think more systemically. So that was a big surprise. We actually were able to clear that up by taking quite a few of the Kingsford folks down to the DuPont Titanium Dioxide plant and have them talk about how they make decisions without authority figures, all reconciled and based on the impact that it has on the stakeholders, starting with the customer. That’s the biggest reconciler there is, so that’s what you need to reconcile with here. We need democracy to work and it needs self to self-relationships where people take that kind of responsibility and work on developing themselves. The design characteristic I want to give you here, the design process for the activating forces, creates something very unique; I’ve never seen any other organization that does this.

But it has to come after the thing I gave you in the last guideline for the last blog, which you’ve already been doing, teams that are wrapped around the customer. You’ve moved the organization over a year, year and a half, into this external considering mode where they are caring for what actually happens to stakeholders. When you’ve done that and you’ve had some successes with teams moving things forward, I introduce an idea I call promises beyond ableness. I figured it out a lot from looking at myself originally. One of the first jobs that I was ever offered, I knew that I didn’t know how to do everything in it. In fact I knew I didn’t know how to do a lot of stuff in it, but it seemed so important and I had the reference, the CEO who was referring me to another company, say I told them that you will figure it out, that you don’t know it all, but once you promise to do it, you will figure out how to do it and deliver it.

So after a few years I realized, well, why isn’t everybody doing that? So we started moving in Colgate, in DuPont, in the Kingsford Charcoal Group and eventually many others, including Seventh Generation, to the idea of making a promise beyond your ableness. That sounds crazy, but the promise is to a stakeholder, to a customer, and in fact, ideally to all of them, where you have a customer you make a promise to make their life well lived. You look at how it will change all of the work that is happening within the company you are in and the effect on the workers, improving their lives and their creative source. Part of that promise includes how you are going to be more ecologically contributing – you will be doing less damage – but how you’re going to create a healthier, more vital ecosystem, how you are going to improve the communities, and how it’s going to return to the shareholder.

So this promise beyond ableness is complicated because it has to also present the idea of financial effectiveness with earnings, margins, and cash flow. So that means I have everybody in every organization working on and understanding how their specific work affects the top line I say. There is the bottom line, but the top line of earnings, margins and cash flow means you can grow a business. So people, as they work and understand earnings, margins, and cash flow, they understand their customers. They start to look at how they can improve their customer’s financial effectiveness and the amazing thing is once you do that, you change the ability to have different margins. You build confidence over time to keep your earnings high.

And the promise beyond ableness I have found to be one of the most powerful ways to grow people, to grow a business, and to create a society and democracy that can be fully responsible based on the actions that people take every day in their life. So the second thing, we do teams the first one, the second one that we are going to do is we are going to put together promises beyond ableness. Again, you can learn a little more about that in “The Responsible Business.”  Join me next time and we’ll do number five and give you another idea about how you can make your system work.