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If you are not that happy in your job, you are part of a large group of people. Recent studies show that over 85% of people don’t like their job. And, this is largely due to a dysfunctional workforce. And, what workforce, family or any system doesn’t have some elements of dysfunction? Life and organization systems are messy. Accept it. Make peace with it. And, change it!

You can change it with a process I have been practicing and created called Designed Open Communication (DOC). DOC is working well in diverse organizations including financial services, healthcare, manufacturing, natural resources, and more. It promotes collaborative, self-designed dialog as a policy, process, and purpose. Designed open communication is a process by which employees create their own meetings and conversations via a structured agenda. These sessions can take place over an hour, half-day, 1-day or up to three and a half days. In this article, we will go through the critical success factors that are required to create, run, and facilitate an effective DOC session.

It proceeds from an understanding that co-created dialog, by definition, is a mutual experience, a reciprocal exchange. DOC seeks to restore this personal connection in organizations where it seems to have weakened or disappeared.  DOC also provides a conceptual approach to executive management where it is struggling.

Some history –

Understanding DOC must start with some definition. A look at its roots should start a conversation on our use of DOC.

·  Case Western’s David Cooperrider has developed a theory of Appreciative Inquiry. His work offers a guideline for building discussions around key questions that invite and encourage contributions.

·  Peter Block’s work on Flawless Consulting offers a practical guide on building leadership capacity to collaborate as trusted and strategic advisors.

·  Edgar Schein of MIT developed a model of organizational culture defined by employee artifacts, values, and assumed values.

·  Harvard’s Chris Argyris developed his Theory-in-Use with its loop theories on how humans design the way they act in challenging contexts.

Their thinking and consulting work is largely – and importantly – analytic. Owing much to this history, DOC differs in being an active and effective practice that involves participants in the creation and facilitation of the session or conversations itself.

Some need –

DOC offers a future forward experience that aligns executive thinking and execution with purposeful organizational goals. As with much of our work, collaboration, accountability, and happiness inform the coherence of executive performance.

Designed Open Communication reimagines communication. Over the years, the once powerful emphasis on collaboration has been reduced to brainstorming events. However, my research for In Great Company (McGraw-Hill, 2019) recommended making collaboration “a part of the company’s operational infrastructure.” The best way to make collaboration a part of the system is by giving people tools to design their own most effective conversation.

Such organizations “create systemic collaboration where team-based decision-making, cocreation, and balanced conversation become the hallmark of successful working relationships.” And, DOC can make this happen at entrepreneurial ventures, established but growing organizations, and businesses with troubled leadership.

Where collaboration has focused on the mechanics of consensus, DOC masters the collaboration that aligns interests, catalyzes innovation, and enables people to increase productivity and creativity. Businesses wrestle with short- and long-term internal and external challenges best addressed with strategies and tactics aligned with organizational goals and values.

They have learned much value lies in diverse contributions. When well executed, the deliverables integrate those inputs. Regardless of the company’s organization chart, collaborative teams deliver more quality results.

Louis Carter facilitating a Designed Open Communication Class on Zoom

Some assumptions –

Today’s talented workforce has been acclimated to a culture of collaboration since their youth. They are used to being heard; they have strong voices and expect recognition. But they work best in an enabling and transparent environment where collaboration is much more than “a meeting of minds.” DOC proceeds on key assumptions:

1. Trust is the foundation of strong collaboration. Talent performs best in an environment where they feel secure from threats and reprisal. Only a firm base of psychological safety ensures the social comfort to contribute fully and openly.

2. Strong leadership must model the collaborative behavior they expect from peers, management, and teams. They must commit to its values throughout the organization providing structure for teams, meetings, and decision making.

3. Mutual respect must be the organization’s common currency. There must be zero tolerance for bullying, harassment, and discrimination. Like Jeff Bezos’ leadership principles and the amazon success model. C-level executives must establish, communicate, and practice models that balance the structure and flexibility allowing people to achieve – and to learn from their mistakes.

So, while there is much research and many practical guides on team building and behavior among those on the work floor and in mid-management, DOC provides a focus on senior executives and high-potential talent.

Some goals –

DOC inspires executive modeling and behavior. Working with the most senior executives (and Board of Directors, for that matter) takes some special experience and ability to craft practices customized to the organization’s needs and aligned with its purpose.

C-level executives are often the source of an organization’s problems – individually or as a group. Many dismiss collaboration and team work as delegated work, and many resist changes  in general. Ambitious people often envision a career path as a steady trajectory powered by their own knowledge, skills, and abilities. They are quick to mark achievements in dollars, percentages, and awards. Assembling an executive team driven by self-image and self-interest proves unproductive and destructive.

DOC is an innovative and proven way to correct ineffective leadership, resolve internal issues, and direct executive alignment with the organization’s future. An increasing number of companies in diverse industry sectors have sought and sustained this value-added approach to create more accountability, cohesion, collaboration, and, yes, happiness.

The process follows an evolving leadership philosophy framework that is driven by the CEO and oftentimes an internal change agent. 

  1. Gather input from bosses, peers, direct reports, and yourself around these questions: a. What am I doing well? B. What can I do better? And C. What is one thing I should stop, start or do more/less of?
  2. Do a cost/benefit analysis of which of this advice you should start changing to become a more effective leader
  3. Seek out help to get there and consistently and periodically follow-up to show perceived change. 
  4. Make equal airtime management a priority because it pushes team politics aside. Enforcing equal time for all participants effectively equalizes their roles and influence so everyone contributes on a level playing field.
  5. Secure a clear statement of vision and priority goals. With that as a benchmark, we interview others to see if they are aligned with the CEO’s goals and what role they play in realizing that vision.
  6. Create a strategic design team to co-create a DOC session for the CEO’s top team (typically no more than eight-ten people).
  7. Steer DOC sessions to center on their respective accountability toward alignment with the CEO’s vision and goals.
  8. Create a strict minute-by-minute agenda that combines many different kinds of interaction including partner activities (known as “dyads”), group work (usually in groups of 3-4), and large group shares. Large group shares typically occur after dyad and small group work have been completed.
  9. Monitor executive alignment in designed open communication through formal SaaS tracking tools. I designed a simple google sheets template, however there are 100s of other tools available.
  10. Follow-up on all action items with task oriented leadership. Ensure that the team follows-through. Without execution and follow-up, there will be no change. 

As the DOC director, I show respect with active listening. Respect requires empathy, so the active feelings, needs, and purposes of others is important. For instance, individuals have different ideas of what constitutes respect. They differ on what marks achievement and on how consensus forms. So, I must identify and integrate these various mental modes and models before we can pursue practices that ensure alignment.

DOC seeks to establish a clear plan for an aligned movement forward, one marked by the agility to continuously adapt. The plan holds each participant accountable for making it happen and determines the metrics for demonstrated accountability, quality impacts, and organization-wide respect.

Louis Carter co-creates the positive future-forward vision with a CFO and CEO

Some process –

Successful culture transformations establish a baseline at the top of the organization. DOC works closely with its Executive Sponsor to clarify and co-create a positive future-forward vision. That means framing a vision that includes agreement on business strategy, desired results, conversation norms, individual, team and company goals and behaviors. 

DOC designs and facilitates co-creation sessions within this context. the process of designing open dialog creates stakeholder agreements and coaching relationships leading to elevated levels of trust, understanding, and shared purpose.

Teams then push the process throughout the organization with co-creation sessions on the optimal goals, promises, and practices. Leaders and teams hold each other accountable with follow-up on a consistent and regular basis. The more leaders and teams monitor their results, the greater the chance of significant change.

This tracking uses agile and adjustable tools that deliver continuous evaluation and evolution. Continuous and careful monitoring reveals the gaps in leadership effectiveness and team performance that need attention and correction.

DOC brings certain skills to the organization’s needs:

·  Profound and positive listening. DOC encourages and facilitates dialog, a free exchange among the talented people who helm an organization. Dialog differs from conversation; it is a structured, directed, and reciprocal social event where knowledge and information debunk misunderstandings and perceptions. People and teams share and shape the information that produces innovation. And it takes the attentive silence wrought by actively listening to adsorb, accept, and adapt the exchange.

·  Recognition and respect. DOC launches dialog in open circumstances. Participants are expected to show the grace of understanding the position, mental model, and viewpoint of others. Respect does not necessarily embrace and utilize the inputs. But it accepts that other perceptions exist enough to reconsider the rightness, correctness, or primacy of one’s mental model.

·  Suspension and spacing. DOC cultivates team conduct that sets certainties aside. Participants welcome conversation – within an established context. By discouraging preconceptions, it avoids defensive and knee jerk responses often associated with overconfident leadership. Leaders and participants suspend the “rightness” of their stance to reduce constraints and widen the exploration. Agendas, preparation, and follow-up allow are spaced to enable and facilitate focus and equal airtime.

·  Authenticity and availability. DOC must honor the confidentiality of the C-level executive contributions – information gained from individual or team sessions. Participants expect a felt honesty and trust in our consulting. Scripted approaches and tools neither engage nor motivate. They must develop confidence in a non-judgmental, optimistic, and sincere interest in the dialog – its purpose and outcomes. And, it profits everyone when the counsel is available and accessible.

Some afterthoughts –

DOC helps executives and organizations in transition to move toward positive transformation. The struggle may exist on several planes. Entrepreneurs are wise to value dialog as a founding and sustaining principle. Managers and C-suite executives may lose connectedness among their peers and/or with those under their direction. And, Boards of Directors may lose a cohesive vision or strain their relationship with the organization’s executive leadership.

Because it is a holistic approach to alignment, DOC has micro and macro effects. It becomes an effective tool for individual and team behavior, and to succeed at that level, it must become an informing culture. And, as it fosters open communication, co-creation, and systemic collaboration, DOC realigns leaders and their organizations, increases creativity and productivity, and attracts and retains talent. Results-based, continuously adaptive, flexibly fluid, and institutionally agile, DOC is a method, mindset, and model for envisioning a future of work where everyone wins.