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

In part five of the series, Carol Sanford discusses the key to a business that is focused and yet a great place to work is building ongoing development into work design. To grow a business you have to grow people. It is more than training; it is critical thinking skills and personal mastery.   Then you design work systems so you have people take responsibility for growing themselves.


Audio-only version



Carol Sanford:

Welcome to the fifth video blog on the subject of work design and work systems, whereby I’ll offer you some fundamental principles and the belief systems behind them, tie it to responsibility and the responsible business, and then give you a practical suggestion on how over the years I’ve been able to create work systems that are no longer strangled by the idea of supervisors and by rewards recognition that actually diminish the financial return for the company. So this particular subject is about world view and how it is that you work so that you actually shift how you hold human beings, because even in all the new work systems that I see coming, this is one of the most fundamental flaws. So let’s make it overly simple for a moment and talk about the difference between a developmental view of human beings and a fixed view of human beings.

So the fixed view is the view we have that people are as intelligent as they are going to be. They have the behaviors and the personality they are always going to have and their ability to learn is limited by some level of intelligence. Now whether or not you know this, that has been disproven for at least twenty years. People are very much evolutionary and certainly in their learning they can continue to learn, but here I want to stress something else quite differently. Moving to a developmental view means that not only can they learn knowledge and acquire it and use it, but they can actually change fundamentally who they are. They are in the midst of a growth path. It’s based on the belief that human beings are born, well what you might say is, kind of incomplete, and in their life as they move along they become wiser, they become more able, they have a deeper control and set of characteristics which gives them more power and more ability to contribute in the world.

Well we design most organizations as though people are fixed and we see them as kind of permanently that way. And you can tell it when you hear people say, well Bob is X, right? He can’t do this; he never will. Or you hear them say Sally is filled with all sorts of personality traits which just make it hard to grow her. Now once in a while people are surprised and they see people grow, but what they don’t know is just holding that idea of fixed verses developmental leaves people not developing. So one of the first things that we have to restrain – so we are back to our three forces in this one – we have to restrain the idea that people are fixed, the idea that they are as intelligent as they will ever be, that their character is what it will always be, and that who they are able to be in the world is limited. We have to move to a reconciling force of an idea we call building a developmental organization.

It’s not the same thing as a learning organization because it literally means changing who we are, how we engage, how big, how much we can hold and what we can contribute in the world. This process requires building an ongoing development process into an organization. So when I work with Seventh Generation, Jeffrey Hollender decided that what we would do is have one day a month which was working with these ideas I have about development, growing people to be more reflective. So we looked at things like, can you tell whether or not you are operating reactively in what you do? Can you tell if your ego, and particularly if it’s an arrogant version of it, or an incomplete insecure version, is driving what you are doing? Can you tell when you are purposeful and you are working to serve a purpose of something larger and contributing yourself to that?

So that’s a developmental practice just getting so you can see yourself. And the thing that’s amazing about that is people can as they see themselves, they start to change. It’s a lot, and of course you have to learn to do it non-judgmentally. And it’s not intended to have you judge others; it’s intended to have you assess yourself. There are a variety of exercises, or what I call frameworks, which help one learn to do that. Those frameworks also can be used to develop the whole of a business. Can a business tell whether it’s doing its strategy reactively based on an ego? Let’s be number one, always number one, and best of the heap. Or can we see that we are doing strategy based on purpose which includes embedding responsible choices into our strategy, and ensuring that we make customer’s lives really much more well lived.

So knowing what we’re doing, learning this reflective practice at the level of the individual at the level of the organization and it carries out into all the teams, begins to develop who human beings are. Now I want to say one more word about the word frameworks. It’s not models, it’s not introducing people and saying do this, do this, and do this. It’s really presenting a way to ask questions, to be more systemic and be more whole. So we do have a lot of models in life, and most of them are pretty linear. This against this or what’s number one, two, three, four, five; I’m talking about frameworks, like the law of three I’ve been mentioning. Can we tell what needs to be restrained, or is restraining? Can we tell what needs to be activated? And can we tell what the higher order reconciler possibility is that takes us outside of the way we are used to thinking?

So this third, or this arena, of an action plan requires building capacity regularly. In every company that I’ve ever worked in, it becomes interwoven with doing the business strategy with looking at how you do business models. With how it is you partner, it also has embedded in it frameworks like global imperatives, which means you really know whether or not you are being responsible. So the activating force here is really to put together a developmental process based on living systems thinking, which really is based not on understanding life as structures, but understanding it as guiles and nested and built together in a way that they are working in harmony to create health and vitality for the whole. If you put that in place, and you put in place the teams, you put in place the promises beyond ableness and you add to it this idea developmental work, separated out but also embedded in all the work you do. Now you are beginning to build the kind of work systems and management systems which don’t even need supervisors.

It’s not a matter of removing the supervisors, it is a matter removing the necessity of having them. And I am going to tell you in the sixth session, what happens to supervisors and why it becomes a much more exciting role and builds a much better business when they take an alternative role to the one they were hired for.