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By Billy Bennett
Failure can be a great teacher.  I prefer to call them “Do-Overs.” 

Life provides opportunities to apply lessons from one situation to another one later.  At that point, you not only become the hero, but you also appear wise. Which proves that wisdom is stupidity and ignorance that benefits from aging.  

When examining your failures, take the time to review them from three  angles: 

  1. What did we do? …
  2. How did we do it?… and
  3. Were the individuals involved ready to accept the initiative? 
The readiness factor can be many things but it always includes – Trust.  Do they trust you?  Do they trust leadership? Do they trust each other? … Do you trust them? 

The Facilitator Partner Advantage

Insiders are often just a little frustrated when third party facilitators (like us) - organization outsiders - make progress doing things insiders have tried.  Why does it work for us working alongside of leadership rather than leaders standing alone?  Usually the reason lies in angles 2 and 3: On # 2  "How did we do it..."  trained, neutral facilitators create a unique approach.   They design the approach to meet the need.  Good facilitators have a strong understanding of process and a multifaceted toolbox and draw on both to create a plan and are capable of adapting the plan as situations evolve to get peak outcome from the group.   On # 3: Facilitators asses for readiness throughout the process, never hesitating to call a "time out"  when process, progress and people are out of synch.  Both of these skills have the multiplying effect of being "trust building" skills.

A good facilitator establishes neutral space.  An atmosphere where people sense the security of ideas.  A place where they sense a fair hearing of ideas.  A place where even those who feel uncomfortable with the precision of their wording sense they will be helped in crafting the correct meaning.  In these spaces, real conversations are more likely than position speaking.  Employees feel more comfortable asking questions and offering ideas.  Leaders feel more comfortable speaking openly.  Everyone appears more “Real”.  Honest.  Safe.  Even in the middle of uncomfortable topics.  

Facilitating the Gordian Knot

Good facilitators manage this differently for many reasons but a very important reason is because they they first check readiness- the trust levels – of individuals or groups before designing an approach.  The hard-wiring I mentioned in earlier posts is what I'm talking about here.  Facilitators look at this hard-wiring and recognize that a Gordian knot of trust must be unraveled...there are consequences for getting it wrong. However, the trained facilitator's advantage is in knowing to think two steps ahead in the process and preparing options for the dangerous bits.  It is hard work analyzing group dynamics while trying to achieve a work objective or to "convert" people to your side.  That is why leaders are by definition not facilitators.  They can act facilitative but they cannot provide the neutrality people are seeking in the conversation...if it is to be a conversation.   People assess danger when leaders pose as facilitators.   The filters and guards come into action and progress slows. 

Be A Leader

I have seen many times where an inexperienced manager wants to fly solo because he wants to establish him or herself as leader.  In the end, just the opposite happens.  As a leader there are very few things you are neutral about.  You have opinions - good ones - that others need to hear and to discuss.  Leaders misstep when attempting to facilitate when they need to lead.  The misstep is that in the effort to appear open and welcoming of ideas - they soften or hold back when they need to provide more clarity and directness.  They then appear to be hiding or dancing around a hidden agenda.  That's not leadership.  That's testosterone and paranoia overcoming good sense.


When  leaders are trained in group process skills they learn how to step in and out of the facilitator role.  This is helpful.  However, if you have a big discussion event do yourself a favor - get a partner -  an external facilitator.  Your success usually increases – significantly.      

Consider this for your next change initiative or group performance intervention:

  1. Check readiness first – think about using a third party “outsider” to help you assess potential barriers you may have deal with in the upcoming change.
  2. Have your initiative leaders participate in facilitation training – separate from any specific intervention process (SAP implementation, Six Sigma, Lean…).  Consider a custom design that fits with any barriers you may have uncovered.   We have helped many clients with facilitator development workshops and coaching.  This allows them ready access to facilitation support and provides more people who have a real understanding of what makes good meetings and good decision making.
  3. Have external “outside” facilitators available to use for special times or situations where some neutrality is needed to help groups to move more quickly beyond relationship barriers.  A external facilitator is not needed in every meeting -but certainly they help when significant decisions, increased focus, or team breakthroughs are high on the outcome list.
  4. Make trust building as a goal of all work initiatives.  Design approaches that establish personal safety, healthy debate, and sharing of recognition for contribution as well as ultimate success.  When you review initiatives do a check on trust… “Was there anything that happened during the intervention where may have lost something?”   “Was there anything that happened that helped us to gain trust with anyone?”,  “After this event, when it comes to trust, are we better, worse, or no change?”   Most of the time, you want to follow a Hippocratic principle… “Do no harm” – otherwise look for opportunities to make breakthroughs in understanding and relationships. 


So, be a Leader, get the best facilitation support available.. 



 
 
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BY BILLY BENNETT

Dean, a good friend and long time colleague told me recently about a series of “2fer” conversations he’s had with his team. Are you using the 2fer principle?  If not, you may be missing a crucial tool for building a Great Workplace culture. 

A “2fer” is short for “two for the price of one.”  A 2fer addresses a current challenge and also builds greater capability for the next step toward the end goal.   Dean’s ongoing conversations are a good example.   "2fer"s are how high performance leaders keep performance improving year after year.

Dean's company  is introducing a major breakthrough technology.  The potential is huge.  That’s the problem… I mean the challenge.  His team sees a big picture, but not always the BIGGEST picture.   The potential of this new breakthrough is bigger than most can see and in this case progress will grow in direct proportion to the comprehension of how "BIG" big can be.  Dean’s frustration comes when he brings change requests to modify a design feature in a new product…it could be the one “little thing” that turns a good idea into a great one.   Someone typically responds with “Oooh, that’s a problem”.  Now, Dean is British and his team members are not all native English speakers. They are technical geniuses, however they may not understand - Dean is hearing something else.  He hears “that’s not possible”.   With each suggestion the words come back “That’s a problem.”   His brain hears, “Can’t do it”

Dean role is more than working a technical challenge – it’s also to create a common vision about the end goal and what is at stake.   Aiming small is death. 

To keep his composure, he asks the team to use a different English word.  He asks them to replace the word “problem” with “challenge”.   When this happens each technical conversation is now about more than any specific feature, it is also a learning point:  while limitations can be a natural occurrence, acceptance of limitations is a choice.   When looked at as a challenge rather than a problem (or “impossibility”), each limitation, each roadblock becomes an opportunity to learn something new… to pioneer a new method… and to make the complex more elegant in its simplicity.  So the “2fer” is both a better product and better vision.  A Grand Bargain, all for the price of one conversation.

Leaders, especially technical leaders, need to master the art of the 2fer.  It is so easy to get wrapped up in the conversation about devices and technology – or processes and data – that you lose sight of the big picture.  You lose sight of the purpose:  doing the right thing – delivering products and services which overcome the challenges experienced by customers, investors and societies.  The leader who does not appreciate the art of the 2fer fails to see an unfolding future and as a result makes decisions based on short term pain relief.  In other words, the future is sacrificed for the pressure of the day. 

When you appreciate the 2fer, you expand the principle beyond the conversation – it becomes the guiding principle of people and organization development.  The things we do build capacity for the next step.  Each step we take becomes a foundation for the next, or it is just walking in place.    

 So, that conversation you had a little while ago… just what was the “2fer”?


 
 
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By Billy Bennett

There is an interesting discussion going on at the Harvard Business Review on this topic "THE FUTURE OF TALENT IS CLUSTERS".  The idea posed is that we should hire "clusters" (aka teams) instead of individuals.  Or at least considering it.  To me it is an "everything old is new again" conversation.  ...And that is a very good thing. 

In the 90's we gained much from an intense period of study on teams.  When I say "we" I mean those of us fascinated about advancing knowledge about group work and dynamics.  However, we lost the way a bit. 

We lost momentum when other forms of collaboration were seen as equal to the power of the autonomous and self managing team as perhaps one of the most important units of work design.  I'm not sure that's the case. In fact, I am certain of it.   However, the HBR article is an example where the opportunity to learn is again coming to the forefront.

If you think this is unusual - hiring a "cluster" or team as an intact unit - I have seen it. We worked with a client who designed one of the most successful  autonomous team workplaces to date.  They were written about in journals and feted at three national conferences.  However, when the client decided to build a new,  more automated facility too far away for team members to relocate, the company worked with local businesses to find the team members new employment.  Here is where I witnessed a first for me (and I think maybe a first in modern era business)... the reputation of the teams were so great and impressive in the region that some of the teams were hired as "intact" teams.  They were asked by their new employers to bring the skills and capabilities to the new job.  I lost track of what happened to the team members, but they certainly learned team skills at the most advanced level I had seen before - or since.   They had developed an ability to go into any situation and begin assessing how they could make things work better and how they could be successful doing the work.  What business could not use that?

Have you ever seen a work group so impressive that others wanted to hire them away - intact?  That was the ultimate praise.

 
 
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By Billy Bennett

Some leaders are not leaders at all.  They are "Mis-Leaders."     HR leaders often know about managers who defy gravity... they are abusive and they suck the life out of people around them.  However, they often manage to appear productive.  The complaints do not always carry enough weight to overcome this false sense of effectiveness.  Now science adds more to the argument that such social "Jerks"  create even more problems just by their presence!   An article I first saw in the Boston Globe reports on a new study suggesting their presence actually may be contaminating co-workers much more than we previously thought.

Researchers presented subjects with a profile and picture of one person described as a "fair leader" and another person described as an "unfair leader". Then they were given a task and subliminally exposed to either the image of  the fair or unfair leader. They then gave the same people another task.  The result: Those exposed - just exposed - to the unfair leader performed significantly worse... more abusive and unfair... themselves.

So, accepting "Jerk" behavior puts performance in jeopardy.  The risk is greater than you think. 

So what can you do?

1.   Get intensive feedback for the "Mis-Leader."   If you are a human resources professional you may have difficulty convincing his/her boss that the situation is dire enough.  However, it should be easier to convince the boss to support coaching...or at least increase the feedback given to the individual.  It is often that such individuals have a very large blind spot - an inability to comprehend the impact their behaviors have on others.  A very large and very clear mirror is required.

2.  Provide an opportunity for change.   Coaching, when supported by good data often helps.   We have seen many Mis-leading managers... even the real Jerks... make changes that changed their toxicity to the people around them.   We have used 360 degree assessments but those gathering emotional intelligence traits and asking for specific feedback on words and actions they have seen from the individual.  I remember one such assessment where several respondents mentioned the manager's characteristics of waving his arms when he was upset during conversations which made him appear more aggressive than he really was.  He was totally unaware until he received the feedback and a few days afterwards he caught himself in the very act of arm waving.  That was all it took to make a change.  The urge to arm wave became his signal to take a breath and think about his actions and responses to others.

3.  Inoculate the team. Find ways to develop the coping skills of  team members around the Jerk.  Providing basic communication skills training for the team - including the manager is one example.  While only half measures - these skills can often defuse a situation before it escalates.  If there is simultaneous work with the manager then the situation often recovers.

4.  When efforts fail - remove the contagion.   Toxic leaders create much more damage than any benefit they bring.  If the toxic behaviors cannot be remedied then there are many places for the manager to go... as long as it is outside of your organization.

Have you had an experience with a "toxic jerk" in the workplace ?



 
 
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We help a number of non-profits (charities in the UK) but helping organizations that help people facing significant challenges are at the top of our list.   Tomorrow Billy Bennett our CEO will be at the Grand Hyatt Atlanta leading workshops  for 12th National Conference for Family Promise 

Family Promise is 25 years old.  Founded by Karen Olson a former Marketing Executive for a major consumer products company.  Her story is inspiring... and one that could help some of you thinking about life transitions. 

We have worked with Karin and her affiliate organizations for a number of years.  We are very proud to be speaking at this years conference in Atlanta.  If you are interested we can send you copies of the slides

Our topics:

"The Art of Influence" - a workshop to help leaders understand how to assess their current influence impact and how to create a game plan for expanding that influence to achieve important goals.

"Connecting in a Connected World: Who You Know, What You Know, and Where to Share It"  - This is a influence part II... How to create the skill of platforming - building a social media base to support your purposes and causes.

What's the connection of these two workshops?  The world has changed.  Relationships are now four dimensional - face to face AND digital.  This also adds to the complexities and opportunities of influencing in work life.

Do you see it that way?





    Want a copy of the slides?

 
 
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Valentine’s Day.  A day when you will think about hearts.  Candy hearts.  Plastic hearts.  Neon sign hearts.  Big paper hearts inscribed with the declaration of devotion, “from your Valentine…”    

Not many know the story of Valentine’s traditional origin.   You have heard about Saint Valentine. However, you may not know there were several Saints named Valentine  Each one met fates that would cause a caring parent to think twice before naming a child Valentine.  The one most credit as the namesake of the day was Valentinus of Rome a Christian priest living around 270 CE.

But first Claudius

Claudius II – also known as Marcus Aurelius Valerius Claudius Augustus (too much to say at a party so he was commonly known as Claudius Gothicus) was emperor for a grand total of two years.  During that time he defeated the Goths in battle, contracted smallpox and died.  Not the stuff of corporate legend.

I learned of Claudius when I acquired an ancient Roman coin in a deal from a shopkeeper.  He tossed it in for free because neither of us knew the image - yet, another sign of Claudius’ success as a leader.  To discover the origin of my prize, I learned as much about the short-serving emperor as I could.  His position and his respect came from being ambitious, devious, and cruel…very cruel

This is where Valentinus of Rome re-enters the story…

According to legend, Claudius hated two things which sealed the fate of Valentinus:  Married soldiers and   Christians.  So, when Valentinus was caught performing marriage ceremonies for soldiers and providing medical care for Christians he was imprisoned and eventually beheaded.   During his imprisonment, he is said to have healed the daughter of his jailer.  It was this young lady who received the first “Valentine” when Valentinus gave his jailer a heart shaped note with the message “from your Valentine”.  

Today we associate Valentine’s Day with romance.  However, for more than 1000 years, Valentine’s Day was known as a celebration of service and sacrifice

Claudius put his life on the line leading with ruthless power and ambition.   Valentinus put his life on the line with service.  Claudius believed his soldiers to be expendable and undeserving of a life outside of work.   Valentinus took risks and made personal sacrifice to make the lives around him more complete.

In work, few are asked to make life and death sacrifices – but employees know when you have your interests at heart or theirs.   On February 14, when you see a heart, take a moment to remember the story of Valentinus and Claudius and evaluate your leadership.  Are you the self-serving Claudius or Valentinus the servant leader?  

Engagement is fast becoming the workplace theme for 2013.  You will be more successful if you evaluate yourself on the Claudius-Valentinus scale and start your engagement efforts by first committing to be a Valentine.

"From your Valentines"


 
 
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My wife recently lost her Ipad and the experience was the perfect example of real engagement.  Within moments I learned two things: first, my former anti-technology wife had clearly shifted to the dark side, and two, Mr. Jobs was a genius of engagement.  

It's frustrating that somewhere over the last 20 years, there has been a gradual erosion of the concept of engagement.  In some cases it has become a complete re-branding of employee "engagement" into a synonym for employee satisfaction.  While satisfaction was one of the typical “extras” associated with engagement – it was never understood as the cause or effect of real engagement.  I have known plenty of disengaged employees who are very satisfied.  The reverse is also true.  I also have known dissatisfied employees who were very engaged.  

Satisfaction is a great characteristic to measure and understand but as a predictor or replacement for engagement, it's problematic.  Satisfaction is neither the subject nor aim of engagement.  Engagement is – well, engagement.  My favorite is the definition of engagement as “the state of being in gear”.   On my Ipad I have few games.  One bordering on addiction is CSR Racing.  The skill in playing the game is shifting or engaging the gears at the optimum time.  In order to do that I myself must engage – be in gear – with the game.  It is so obvious that the more engaged (focused, concentrating, driving for better scores, etc.) I am – the better I do.  Even when I fail, I work to find out what I need to do better.  I set up my own learning and skill development.  I try to advance.  There are times I may be engaged… and terribly dissatisfied.

Back to my wife’s Ipad.

My wife is seriously engaged with her Ipad.  It now appears to be an obsession.  At the point that she can have the device surgically attached we will have to sell something to pay for the surgery.  Why?  Because it allows her to do the things she wants to do.  It adapts to her needs.  It helps her to get things done.  It makes her life easier.  Shouldn’t that be the metaphor for everyone’s relationship with work?

Watch your co-workers with their Apple or Android devices.  Imagine what you would see if you suddenly removed it from them.  If you lived to tell about it, you would be describing total engagement.  There is a lesson in alignment here for us.

The lesson tips

1.       Assume people want to be engaged.   It isn’t about having more money (although being financially respected is important).  It isn’t about being satisfied, although dissatisfiers can disengage.  People want to fulfill a purpose and if you are a leader they want you to know it intuitively. They want you to help as much as you can so that they fulfill that purpose. 

2.      Clarify, Clarify, Clarify purpose and the definition of winning.  Another way of saying this is make it crystal clear what must be achieved and give each person every opportunity to judge for themselves what they need to do to get better at achieving that.  During this year’s HR Directors Business Summit in Birmingham UK I heard a wonderful presentation from Baroness Eliza-Manningham Buller DCB former Director General of MI5 during the period immediately following 9/11.  She described a period of unprecedented change and engagement from the MI5 staff primarily because “they understood their purpose clearly – ‘Protect the United Kingdom’.” How clearly do your employees see their role and purpose in delivering to your customers?

  

3.      Make it your life’s work mission to make it easy for the people around you to accomplish and achieve purpose.  Redesign processes and structures to make it easy for people to get in gear. To focus. To win.  The challenge for most leaders lies in wanting the benefits of engagement while denying that it requires a total makeover.

4.      Look at work and organization design as engagement design. It is likely that your organization was designed to prevent risk, not achieve purpose.  That means that it was also not designed to create or even allow engagement.  Create a workplace that allows easy engagement. Aim at inventing the ultimate engagement work system. Constantly look for things that “disengage” and work to eliminate or at least reduce them.   Is it a stupid rule? Kill it.  Is it old or broken equipment? Fix it.  Is it an external problem? Help them deal with it.  Is it access? Provide it.  Is it a ridiculous waiting time? Cut it.

5.       Allow people to work when and where they work best in the best balance with your customers needs.  This means you must provide technology, workspaces and time flexibility that can facilitate achieving work. 

6.      Constantly question people about the dissatisfiers – the disengagers.   Challenges change all of the time.  Whatever you repair today will break over time.  New challenges will appear.  As a leader you are always and forever seeking ways to fend off the distracters – so that the people around you can create and deliver ultimate customer satisfaction, with an ultimate engagement.

When you create your own clear picture of engagement and think of your organization as an engagement design opportunity you will be on your way to big wins.  Good Luck.

Billy Bennett




 
 
By Billy BennettYesterday, I took time to do some mandatory holiday shopping with my family.  The weather is warm here.  World news has been anything but joyous.  So, the holiday spirit is still something that had not yet arrived in full.  And yet, fate had a different plan for my day.  It was my job to find a table for us in the food court at the mall.  The place was packed and I don't like feeling like I am back in junior high school looking for a place to sit among the crowd. 

So, I looked for a place with some quality personal space. 

I found it at a table with a group of youth who seemed to be having a little too much fun.  It could be that's why they had space around them.  We are taught to be suspicious of excessive happiness.  They were suspicious.   However, after hearing lots of laughter and a few attempts by one or two of them to sing a few bars, my wife leaned toward them and said "Go ahead sing us a song".   Wow.  They huddled around the table, made a couple of quick decisions and let loose.  I captured this video on the second song they sang... I was in shock during the first one.  It is a mixture of Jingle Bells and Rudolph.  Great harmony and pure joy.  In a few minutes they shared that joy - no infected their joy into the lives of hundreds of people around them.  It was amazing to watch the transformation of noise into jaw dropping attention.

It turns out they were students from our local university who had completed exams and were out relaxing and just having fun with each other.  They are members of Creative Impressions a student performing choir.  

My lessons

I think life is most fun when it gives me unexpected gifts.  How about you?  Here are my lessons from this little encounter.

  1. Taking a risk to make a relationship - no matter how small - can result in great gifts.  Had I not chosen to sit where no one else wanted to sit we never would have been entertained.
  2. There are people doing great things.  In spite of the news there are youth who make me believe that there is hope for a future - and it is a good one.
  3. Life takes courage - but the biggest hurdle is the first step... after that everything gets easier.  Had my wife not been willing to stick her head into a group of strangers and asked the question we never would have known.  Had the group declined the request because they did not have the right acoustics or all of their members - we never would have heard.   
So, my gift to you for this season is the wish that you open yourself to the possibility that when bad news is all around you seek and find something better...the good news.  I also wish that you find the courage to explore the unusual or to take the lead when the situation is less than ideal --- and that you find the wonderful gifts awaiting you because you were willing to take a risk..

Happy Holidays.

 
 
 
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By Billy Bennett

Failure can be a great teacher.  I prefer to call them “Do-Overs.”  A good review of initiatives always asks three questions: 
1.  What did we do? …
2.  How did we do it?… and
3.  How ready were individuals to accept the initiative? 

If you want to try “do-over”, improve your chances of success by considering #s 2 and 3.  Especially #3: readiness.  The readiness factor can be many things but it always includes – Trust.  Do they trust you?  Do they trust leadership? Do they trust each other? … Do you trust them?  You may get the answers on your own or you may need help from a third party – an independent observer. 

Insiders are often just a little frustrated when third party facilitators (like us) - organization outsiders - make progress doing things insiders have tried.  Why does it work for us… working alongside of leadership… rather than leaders standing alone? Usually the reason lies in questions #2 and 3.  A good facilitator establishes neutral space.   Places where conversations happen more than position speaking.  Employees feel more comfortable asking questions and offering ideas.  Leaders feel more comfortable speaking openly.  Everyone appears more “real”.  Honest. 

Good facilitators manage this differently because they know what to do, and how to approach it because they first checked the readiness- the trust levels – of individuals or groups before designing an approach. 

Consider this for your next change initiative or group performance intervention:

  1. Check readiness first – think about using a third party “outsider” to help you assess potential barriers which you could face in the upcoming change.
  2. Have your initiative leaders participate in facilitation education – When initiative leaders are trained in group process skills, success increases – significantly.   Do the facilitation education separate from any specific intervention process (SAP implementation, Six Sigma, Lean…).  Think of it this way – there is the process – then there is the skill.  Facilitation is the skill.  If you are launching or re-launching  (remember “do-over”) consider requesting a custom design that fits with any barriers you may have uncovered.
  3. Have external “outside” facilitators available to use for special times or situations where some neutrality is needed to help groups to move more quickly beyond relationship barriers.
  4. Make trust building as a goal of all work initiatives.  Design approaches that establish personal safety, healthy debate, and sharing of recognition for contribution as well as ultimate success.
  5. When you review initiatives do a check on trust… “Was there anything that happened during the intervention where may have lost something?”   “Was there anything that happened that helped us to gain trust with anyone?”, “After this event, when it comes to trust, are we better, worse, or no change?”  
 Remember: Asking for help is not a sin.  Not asking for help is.




Remember: Asking for help is not a sin.  Not asking for help is.
 
 
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How are you approaching organization design?  How much of org design is about "org charts"?  How much of it is about moving boxes and changing layers?  How boring.  And how wrong.

I just read an interesting post by Eugene Borukhovich entitled  The Future of Healthcare Design is Already Here.  Design - especially organization design - is a passion of mine.  I have a bias.  I believe most organizations are designed by evolution - by happenstance - rather then purposeful design.  Eugene's article triggered a memory of the wonderful organization design work done when people purposefully create something that delivers a totally new and special experience for customers and users alike.  No place can use that kind of thinking more than in healthcare. 

I hope you use Eugene's article to you make you think about more than the  dashboard he shows.  I think Eugene would be disappointed if you did.  While Eugene's article is about visual design for us all as we engage with the healthcare system... it is also about the system.  Therefore it is also about the design of the organization within the system. 

The problem with most organization design processes is they often focus only on positions, boxes and layers.  This is often separate from thinking of how the customer of the system, and the people connecting with the system should experience the system.  In this case how should patients and professionals experience the #bigdata information in healthcare? 

Do you use tools to spark imagination?

The dashboard tool (created using Memolane)is just that a tool.  However, Eugene uses it to open up a three dimensional view of what the healthcare experience should be --could be like.  The System.  It allows dreaming.

I've participated in organization design processes where something less cool than this sparked a vision of systems working in a different way.  I will never forget the sugar cubes... or the beer glasses... or the single piece of data that were all used to redesign organization systems and therefore the structure and how people worked.  

If you are going to create organization designs that last and produce exceptional results - then you must re-think systems...you must re-think the experience...you must re-think results.

What are you using to spark imagination in your organization design?  Are you just shifting boxes and writing job descriptions?  Or are you sparking dreams of a new way of working?

I would love to hear...