Monthly Archives: June 2014

How are we going to be when we gather together?

gather together“The key to creating or transforming community, then, is to see the power in the small but important elements of being with others.” – Peter Block, Community: The Structure of Belonging

In his groundbreaking book on building accountability and commitment for transforming organizations, communities, etc., Peter Block outlines the importance of how we demonstrate our care for the well-being of the whole, by how we choose to “be” with others.

When I think about the best, high-performing teams I’ve worked in over my career, they have common elements that reinforce Block’s assertions. Those teams accomplished great things, because they cared for the well-being of the whole, wanted to make a difference, demonstrated clear respect for each other and asked good questions that brought out the best in each other.

Building out those elements to teams of people who can help transform organizations, it then makes sense to focus on some good questions that Block poses:

  • How are we going to be when we gather together?
  • Whom do I choose to invite into the room?
  • What is the conversation that I engage in with people?
  • How do we create a communal structure that moves the action forward?

Transformation does not happen individually, it happens through building community in our organizations, through the strengthening of how we work together. And it starts with how we choose to be when we gather together.

Anita Rios


Being the first follower

Our Talent Management Steering Committee spent yesterday in a year-end retreat. We had the opportunity to receive a briefing on Charting the Future from Jaime Simonsen and Todd Harmening, who are providing guidance and support to the implementation teams.

Along with a great deal of useful background information, Todd shared this video.  It’s a fun, and very concise, example of how to start a social movement.  One of the key points is the importance of the first follower – that’s the person who turns someone from a “lone nut” into a leader.

dancing movement guy1

dancing movement guy2dancing movemeng guy3


We’ve been talking about leadership actions that can build accountability and commitment. Yesterday’s retreat reminded me that sometimes the best way we can lead is by being good followers. As the video says, eventually there is a tipping point where it’s more desirable to join in than to stay apart.

How can we encourage people to join into our dance?  Here’s some food for thought as we move into Charting the Future and other change efforts.

  1. How do I talk about change efforts? Am I using supportive language and expressing legitimate concerns in a tone of respect and curiosity?  Or do I model negative attitudes?
  2. Am I displaying the behaviors that we want to see in others? Do I keep myself informed about the change effort and provide support and input where appropriate?
  3. Am I honoring my commitments and holding myself accountable for what I need to do?  If not, how can I expect others to do so?
  4. Am I making it easy and fun for others to join in?

Beginning work on Charting the Future can be like trying to start a movement.  Just like the dancing guy in the video, implementation teams are taking those first steps.  But it’s up to each of us to figure out how to join the dance and become effective followers.

Dee Anne Bonebright



Plan your work, work your plan

I am often caught by surprise with the power of a simple phrase. I started working for my grandfather as a teenager.He was an independent interior painting and wallpaper contractor and we met each morning for breakfast at 6:30 a.m. and started work by 7:30. This was a very different schedule than most of my friends and I was usually sleepy and crabby at that early hour. I still remember how he would greet me, “he who hoots with the owls at night can’t soar with the eagles in the morning.” night-owl

As a teen I just groaned when grandpa, with great delight and cheer, repeated his message but it did help me get to bed earlier and more importantly it has helped me change my behavior to this day. I am a night owl but to be successful at work and as a triathlete in training I need to get to bed so I can soar early each morning!

“Work your plan” is also a simple, but powerful, statement that leaders can use to build accountability into change efforts. All organizations are facing complex challenges that create a myriad of day to day distractions for each of us. Working with the people on your team to create a clear work plan for a change effort makes it much easier to focus on the actual behaviors that will lead to successful change.

There are many templates and examples of work plans but three key pieces to include are:

  1. What – a clear description of the task, activity or behavior
  2. When – what is the deadline or timeline
  3. Who – what individual or groups must take action

A clear work plan will provide milestones and allow individuals to track their own progress and the overall progress of the change. Having a plan to work builds individual and organizational accountabilty.

Todd Thorsgaard

Use powerful questions to build commitment

question marks“Powerful questions are those that, in the answering, evoke a choice for accountability and commitment.” – Peter Block

If you’ve followed our blog for any length of time, you’ll note that we’ve devoted more than a few posts to the leader’s role in asking good questions. In his book Community: The Structure of Belonging, Peter Block aptly discusses how questions are central to building accountability and commitment in any change effort. He describes powerful questions as the essential tools of engagement, because they create space for something new to emerge. They engage people and invite them to co-create a future possibility.  Most importantly, powerful questions have the capacity to transform organizations.

But how do we as leaders recognize or craft powerful questions? Block helps us by distinguishing between questions with little power to create an alternative future and those questions with great power to make a difference.

Questions with little power are those that you may have heard many times or that you may have asked in the past, but they have little power to transform an organization. They include questions, like:

  • How do we get to people to show up and be committed?
  • How do we get others to buy in to our vision?
  • How do we get those people to change?
  • How much will it cost and where do we get the money?
  • How do we negotiate for something better?
  • How do we find and develop better leaders?

Block says that questions that are designed to change other people are the wrong questions, because they reinforce a problem-solving model that will create a predictable future. Questions with little power focus on negotiating, mandating, engineering, controlling, or just trying harder at what we’ve already been doing.

Powerful questions, on the other hand, take the focus off of problem solving and open up thinking and discussion for a different future. Block states that there are three important characteristics of powerful question. They should be 1) ambiguous (not precisely defined), 2) personal, and 3) should evoke anxiety. Yes, he did say, anxiety! He explains that all that matters makes us anxious….hmmm. Here are some powerful questions that Block proposes:

  • What is the commitment you hold that brought you into this room?
  • What is the price you or others pay for being here today?
  • How valuable do you plan for this effort to be?
  • What is the crossroads you face at this stage of the game?
  • What is the story you keep telling about the problems of this community?
  • What is your contribution to the very thing you complain about?

Note how different these questions are from the ones we usually ask as leaders.  Imagine how the dialogue would shift when asking questions like this with a group of employees, students, or community members. The act of answering these questions requires personal responses that are not easy, but that build commitment and accountability.

What powerful questions have you used to help people build accountability and commitment for a new future?

Anita Rios


More on actions and words

“Unless it is reflected in the actions of an organization, it is not the organization’s strategy. A company’s strategy is what the company’s people are actually doing, not the slogan their bosses intone.”
— Roger Martin

After enjoying Todd’s last post, I read a closely related blog from Harvard Business Review.  Just as a leader’s actions speak louder than words, the same thing is true of organizations: “strategy isn’t what you say, it’s what you do.”

While organizations often have ambitious mission statements that are well-crafted and inspirational, people may not be living them out day-to-day.  We in MnSCU are facing this challenge as we begin to implement Charting the Future.  It’s easier to theoretically agree with the conclusions of the report than it is to change my behaviors in ways that help us become more collaborative as a system.

Let’s be more collaborative.
You go first.

So how can we as leaders build the commitment and accountability we need to ensure that our new strategy and goals are actually reflected in what everyone does?

One critical piece is to ensure that strategic decision-making carries through all levels of the organization. Based on Roger Martin’s blog, here are four important questions MnSCU leaders can ask themselves.

  1. What is the strategic intent of the leaders at the level above mine? How does it relate to my institution’s strategy? To the system overall?
  2. What are the key choices that I make that are within my scope of control?
  3. How can I strategically align those choices with institution and system goals?
  4. How can I clearly communicate my strategy choices, and the logic behind them, to those who report to me?

The first three questions can help us as leaders clarify actions we should be taking to support the system’s new directions. The final one will go a long way towards building commitment among the teams and individuals that we lead.

Dee Anne Bonebright

Actions speak louder than words

My daughter turned 16 this spring and will be taking her driver’s license test next week. I am not sure if the past 9 months of practice driving has been harder for her or me! Driving-test-jpg_173810

One thing I know for sure is that she now watches how I drive like a hawk. Describing the importance of complete stops, checking your blind spot, or putting your phone away while driving is not as powerful as actually DOING those things while I drive.

Actions also speak louder than words for leaders when building accountability and commitment for successful change at your higher education institution or other organization. In your role as a leader, you are being watched like a hawk and people will make decisions about how committed they believe you and your organization actually are to any change by what they see you doing. Your behaviors will directly influence how committed they feel to the change!

In my Code Blue post I described a C-P-R model that can help you build greater accountability and commitment to change by defining what you need to communicate, practice and reinforce for a successful change. Adding behavioral anchors, or clearly defined “actions,” for yourself and all stakeholders involved in the change to the C-P-R model makes it stronger and increases the likelihood of implementing a successful change. The “actions” you demonstrate and hold others accountable to speak louder than the words in your vision statement!

I recently used the attached matrix – click here to download – Change Behavioral Anchors chart – to work with a group of HR leaders to identify the specific behaviors that campus presidents, leadership cabinet members, supervisors and employees need to demonstrate for us to successfully change to a practice of 100% on-time and up-to-date performance reviews for all staff. The sight of the president and senior leaders scheduling and holding their performance evaluations, on-time, will build accountability faster than any set of talking points or memos on the importance of performance reviews or a restatement of the policy on annual reviews!

Wish my daughter luck on her drivers test!

Todd Thorsgaard


No is the beginning of commitment


“…if we cannot say no, then our yes has no meaning.” – Peter Block

block2In his book, Community: The Structure of Belonging, Peter Block helps leaders understand how to build accountability and commitment for transforming our organizations and communities through six important conversations with stakeholders. One of those conversations focuses on dissent, which can seem counter-intuitive in our American culture. Dissent can be perceived as being disloyal or negative. And those who voice dissent can be branded as someone who is not a team player.

However, Block makes a good point that each of us needs the chance to express our doubts and reservations when we are part of a large collective effort to transform an organization. And he aptly points out: “creating space for dissent is the way diversity gets valued in the world.” It is the role of leaders to allow space for people to say no.

In working with leaders over the years, I’ve observed that many find it scary to allow space for dissent. It can feel messy. Leaders may also worry that allowing for dissent can send the organization’s members into a negative spiral. That’s where it is helpful to construct questions and facilitated conversations that allow for stakeholders to voice their doubts. Block suggests some of the following questions:

  • What doubts and reservations do you have?
  • What is the no, or refusal, that you keep postponing?
  • What have you said yes to, that you no longer really mean?
  • What is a commitment or decision that you have changed your mind about?
  • What resentment do you hold that no one knows about?

Allowing organizational members and stakeholders space to express their doubts and reservations can be powerful, especially as a leader listens deeply and with curiosity. Block also states that “the key for the leader is not to take the dissent personally or to argue in any way with the doubts that get expressed.” If a concern can be addressed, a leader should do that. If it is too complex to be addressed, which many doubts are, it is enough for a leader to just listen.

Allowing public space for dissent takes those conversations out of the hallway and restrooms and makes it safe for people to say no, so that when they move on to conversations about possibilities, their yes has true meaning and builds commitment towards a shared and desired future.

Anita Rios


Empowerment: mechanistic or organic?

hands reaching free to useAs Todd mentioned last week, accountability and commitment are becoming buzzwords that can be hard to define.  I’d like to add one more to the mix: empowerment. We’ve all heard that empowering people is important for building accountability and commitment, but it’s harder to know what that actually looks like.

In his book, Deep Change, Robert Quinn discussed four dimensions of empowerment:

  1. People have a sense of meaning in their work.
  2. People feel confident about their ability to do the work.
  3. People believe they are free to choose how to do the work.
  4. People believe they have the ability to impact the context in which the work is accomplished.

Given these dimensions, Quinn proposed two views of empowerment. First, a mechanistic view approaches empowerment as a leader-driven activity. Leaders are encouraged to develop clear visions and plans; to provide required information and resources; to enable decision-making at the right level of the organization; and to encourage continual improvement of processes.  He says this version of empowerment is about “clarity, delegation, control, and accountability.”

While these activities are all necessary parts of leadership, he contrasts them with an organic view of empowerment.  In this view leaders start with the needs of the people involved; model integrity by taking risks and exposing difficult issues; encourage initiative; and foster teamwork. Empowerment is about “risk, growth, trust, and teamwork.”

This view of empowerment can feel threatening. Risk and trust are complex and challenging aspects of leadership. It also implies a loss of control – as Quinn notes, empowerment is not something leaders can do for people. We can only create an environment where people are willing and able to empower themselves.

Quinn states that “whereas nearly everyone wants to be empowered by their boss, fewer people are comfortable with the idea of empowering their subordinates”?  Do you agree?  How have you created an empowering environment?

Dee Anne Bonebright



Code blue – save that change!

aedEach morning I notice the AED defibrillator when I exit the stairwell on my way to my office. If I am running late I may be slightly out of breath from running up the stairs but I have never needed the defibrillator, thank goodness! Yet, I am glad that the leaders in our organization don’t just talk about healthy employees but take accountability and are committed to the health of their people. They purchased and put AED devices on each floor and provided training on how to use them. I am trained and it is a good feeling to know that we have resources available and I know what to do in the event of a health emergency.

Change leaders have a similar responsibility to align their own behaviors and take accountability for their role in building accountability for change in the overall institution. The Implementation Institute uses the acronym CPR to help leaders build accountability for actual behavior change and execution in change initiatives.

C – Communicate: Clearly define, articulate and share the specific behaviors, performance and actions that are a part of the change.

P – Practice: Clearly determine what behaviors you need to personally demonstrate to show your commitment to the change. “Practice what you preach”

R– Reinforce: Create an infrastructure, policies and practices that reinforce the desired behaviors, successful and initially unsuccessful attempts at the new behaviors, and other activities that support the change.

Leaders who understand the importance of change CPR and actively communicate, practice and reinforce the desired behaviors necessary for a change to succeed will build accountability and commitment through their higher education institutions or any type of organization.

Todd Thorsgaard

Make it meaningful!

A common phrase I have heard in one way or another is, “you can delegate responsibility but you can’t delegate accountability.”

Or as blogger Lydia Snider says with a little humor, “Holding someone else accountable is like trying to eat their lunch for them.”

Those phrases remind me of an annual program my YMCA runs to help us make it through the long and dreary winter. It creates almost crazed levels of accountability and motivation using basic psychological principles. Members are asked to simply record how much they work out and we receive one point for each hour we exercise. Each month they tally our points and list the number of hours for each participant. There is no grand prize, we don’t get a discount on our membership and our health insurance benefits don’t change. In fact, everyone who signs up gets the same tee-shirt for participating. Yet, this simple program increases commitment and personal accountability for healthy change. It leads to a measurable increase in the number of visits to the Y, an increase in fitness class attendance and I know I pay more attention to how many days a week I go out in the cold and dark after work to get to the Y! We are motivated to change our behavior.

In a similar way the individual commitment and accountability needed to change behaviors, performance and organizations at work must come from within your people. Leaders can’t “mandate” or “administrate” successful, long-term change. Taking accountability for making changes and committing to follow through, even when it is hard, requires motivation. For this reason, your change strategy needs to include tactics that increase motivation related to the desired change behaviors.

Richard Ryan and Edward Deci, leading researchers in human motivation, recommend that leaders take actions, provide rewards or design consequences for behaviors aligned with the desired change that increase employee’s feelings of competence, autonomy or relatedness.

  1. Competence – the feeling of being effective or valued for your skills and contributions.
  2. Autonomy – the feeling of having choices or the ability to influence how things are done.
  3. Relatedness – the feeling of being connected to others or of being a member of a group.

Leaders have the opportunity to create a climate that motivates employees to take accountability for behaviors that lead to successful change. Providing feedback, rewards, recognition and consequences for desired behaviors that help employees feel more competent, autonomous and connected will help you and your institution power through seasons of change.

Todd Thorsgaard