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How healthy is Voice within your organization?

October 28, 2011 1 comment

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My dissertation research included an investigation of how networks of stakeholders within the US Army Command & General Staff College could self-organize to improve professional curriculum using Participatory Action Research. In the course of examining over a hundred different change initiatives, our research team concluded that the concept of Voice was of central importance. It was part of every project, but proved to be difficult to pin down as concept, woth precision. That’s true of all top level vitues and qualities like Beauty, Truth and Duty as well, if you stop and think about it. We carefully circled around the concept of Voice to learn more about it as an emergent property of PAR, and  decided that by asking fundamental questions we might approach a deeper understanding of who we as members of a team and of our organization itself. We offer these ideas to the community of practice as a way of supporting the dialogue.

 

The highest level meta-theme: voice

This meta-theme, the importance of voice within the organization, incorporated insights and findings from all three research questions. While there are many studies that examine participation rates and satisfaction levels, the concept of voice took on real significance as we saw its implications engaged in every project we undertook in some manner. It found its way on to our values list near the top, even though we found it difficult to encapsulate it within a sterile word definition in the same way that we find it difficult to express our sense of Warriorship, Service and Duty in a few emotion-free words. We came to appreciate the power and importance of stakeholders and their insights to shape our thinking and recommendations, even when it was a single outlying voice speaking out against a consensus position. Voice came to represent a cluster of issues and concepts associated with the willingness of individuals to represent their views in public, but it was more than just the simple act of speaking. Viewing these acts of “speaking out” as acts of human courage, and a reflection of the trust individuals place in the organization, we evolved a series of open-ended questions to keep us mindful as we progressed through the PAR projects. These top 30 open-ended questions became critical friends to remind us of accountability and transparency. They are strongly supportive of the values of PAR

  1. How do we speak as people, teams and organizations?
  2. How do we treat those who speak, and how do we respond to their speaking?
  3.  Who has the power to speak? Why?
  4. Who is not entitled to speak? Why? What are the consequences?
  5. What do we miss by restricting speech? What is the cost? What is the risk?
  6. Who has the authority to speak and to regulate speech?
  7. What topics may be spoken on, and how do we decide?
  8. Who controls the resources that enable speaking and how are they apportioned?
  9. How do we choose to propagate the messages to a wider audience
  10. How we select which messages to favor?
  11.  Are there topics which may not be addressed? How do we communicate the boundaries of taboo?
  12. How do we respond when tacit and explicit rules are broken?
  13.  How do we view the rule-breakers?
  14.  How is authority established, enforced and applied?
  15. How are we accountable for our speech and its consequences? How do we attribute consequences to speech?
  16. When do we decide to shut down speech?
  17. Do we decide if enough has been said and by what criteria and to what end?
  18. Can we compel speech that we think must be heard?
  19. When do the needs of the profession outweigh the desire of the individual to be heard/remain silent?
  20. Do we have a duty to speak? Under what conditions?
  21. What oaths are compelling?
  22. How is our sense-making shaped by the mode, content and identity of the speechmaker?
  23. How much weight do we give to testimony?
  24. How much weight do we give to tradition and authority?
  25. How do we reconcile the tension between free speech and professional duty?
  26. What is/are the satisfying metaphor(s) for voice within this project: Are we making a symphony, a choir, a lecture hall, a manifesto, a quartet, a forum, an argument, a riot…?
  27. How do we make sense of silence? Can silence be explained or simply experienced?
  28. Is silence the opportunity for reflection and internal reconciliation granted by the speaker who doesn’t speak?
  29. How do we ensure everyone has the opportunity to be heard and to be considered within our sense-making?
  30. What is the intention of the speech? To what end is it directed? Or is it its own purpose?

There are no easy answers to these questions and depending on context there can be a range of legitimate responses. The discussions these questions prompt are timeless and they connect us to the philosophical, ethical, moral, religious, political and humanistic traditions that constitute the best of human discourse. It is fitting that these discussions are engaged by the profession of arms which values it service to the nation and the polity as its greatest duty, and that the profession’s inner workings are informed by these great traditions.

There is very clear evidence that as the curriculum process stakeholders engaged with these issues that students and faculty experienced more flexibility, initiative, self-determination and the responsibility to exercises these freedoms in the classroom and in the shaping of their educational program.

Prasad (2005) views these kinds of questions (and their answers) as environmental inquiries which constitute the preparation work required for developing dramaturgic understandings of an environment when approaching complexity from a socially constructed perspective.  Garfinkel’s ethnomethodological tradition would take these questions as the start point for developing the understanding of the organizations routine processes of making meaning and order and thereby creating the social context at a phenomenological level (Garfinkel, l967)

References

Garfinkel, H, (1967) Studies in ethnomethodology. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, Ltd.

Prasad, P. (2005). Crafting qualitative research: Working in the post-positivist traditions. Armonk, New York, M. E. Sharpe.

 

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Definitions of Terms

The following terms were used throughout many projects that were studied in my examination of Participatory Action Research (PAR) at the US Army Command & General Staff College from 2008-2011.

I was researching how PAR curriculum projects can change how we design and deliver curriculum within the military profession. A large part of the change we generated concerned the preparation of leaders to engage with uncertainty in the world. Along the way we began to develop an understanding of the language used in both the practical and theoretical literature.  I provide here our “terms of art”, with working definitions, and references to the source literature that informed our evolving judgment in hopes that it may speed your own search.

These terms became part of the common professional language used by stakeholders, project managers, leaders, faculty and students as they discussed their insights. The dialogue shaped the language they used and the language shaped the discussions because of the connection to the worlds of theory and practice. This summary reflects a broad set of common topics and themes found throughout the research.  Unless otherwise specifically noted, the general sense of the words and their definitions as noted below will apply:

chaos, complexity, uncertainty, risk: a collection of terms that Army vision documents and curriculum developers use interchangeably to describe various aspects of the operational environment that are beyond pure rationality; these have technical and detailed definitions within their respective professional domains that go beyond the scope of this research and in the way they are used within the profession. (Pascale, 1999; Strogatz, 2003; Miller & Page, 2007)

concept maps: a visual representation of concepts, constructs, people and organizations, theory and practice that reflects the connections between the elements in a dynamic way. (Novak, et. al., 2006)

decision-criteria: (suitable, feasible, acceptable): the Army’s doctrinal evaluation criteria for evaluating all proposed change (US Army FM 3.0, 2011; HTAR, 2011).

design vs. planning: military design thinking reflects a holistic, systematic, open-ended inquiry into root causes, theories of action and problem framing in finding, whereas planning reflects a rational choice theory of structured decision making. (Dawes, 1988; Mintzberg, 1993; Dorner, 1996; Gigerenzer, 2005; US Army FM 3.0, 2011; Paparone & Tenant, 2011; McConnell, et.al, 2011)

doctrine: authoritative theoretical guidance, reflecting the accumulated wisdom and best generalized reflective practices of the military profession. (US Army FM 1-02, 2011).

emergence: a property of complex systems that describes features and qualities of systems that cannot be found neither in the individual components nor separately in the surrounding environment, and yet can be experienced as a holistic quality that is more than the sum of the parts. An example is the emergent quality of “wetness” of rain, which is found at the intersection on humidity, atmospheric conditions, the sensory organs of human skin and a consciousness that becomes aware of the sensation in that context. A more complex example is the self-organizing formations of Canadian geese in flight, who, without conscious design nor explicit direction adopt flight formations that improve the efficiency and effectiveness of group flying, resulting in sustained speeds of flight that cannot be achieved and sustained by even the strongest member of the flight as an individual (Klein, 2001; Strogatz, 2003; Scott & Wagner, 2003)

learning organizations: organizations that explicitly seek to manage knowledge, resources and processes in an informed way to improve operations. (Senge, et.al., 2000)

lines of  action: a military term of art that describes a particular approach and supporting processes along a logical line of development and is usually considered to be part of a campaign plan of long duration (US Army FM 1-02, 2011).

milWiki & Army Knowledge online: Army wide knowledge management resources that are the centerpiece of the Army’s knowledge management strategy (Long, 2009; Richardson, 2010)

mindfulness: a multi-temporal conscious awareness of the moment and its dynamics within the context of an environment that acknowledges the influence of the past and the consequences of the future (Weick & Putnam, 2006)

network learning: an educational and learning theory and framework that explicitly considers the connections between agents and the various media by which knowledge can be created, disseminated, applied and adapted and in which various learning communities, both virtual and physical can be created (Siemens, 2005; Downes, 2007; Taylor & Lamoreaux, 2008; Richardson, 2010)

personal learning environment: the totality of the technology, environment, attitude of a learner in a digital and social learning context (Siemens, 2005; Downes, 2007, Richardson, 2010)

praxis: reflectively generated best practices from specific circumstances that favor a pragmatic assessment of utility. (Schon, 1990; Weick, 1993; Simon, 1997)

satisficing & bounded rationality: an approach to decision-making that acknowledges the limits of computability and the constraints of time, resources and forecasting on human decision-making based on the work of Herb Simon. (Simon, 1997; Henrich, et.al. 2001)

self-as-instrument: an emerging concept that explicitly includes the researchers actions, perspectives and paradigm as part of the research, including the effects of the research upon the researcher (Jamieson & Livingston, 2010)

sense-making: a cognitive function of creating satisfying narratives and meaning from a variety of data and knowledge (Weick, 1993; Klein, et.al. 2006; Boje, 2008; Watson, 2009).

small worlds management games: a broad category of experiential learning games that propose to model an operational environment to a certain degree of fidelity to provide students an opportunity to explore the dynamics in a direct action and feedback mode (Thole, et. al,1997; Macedonia, 2001; Rice, 2007; Long, 2010)

social media channels: (blog, wiki, vlog, Tweet): a collection of emerging digital communications technologies, and frameworks that support and extend the development of connected list network learning environments (Richardson, 2010)

stakeholders: people and organizations that have direct and indirect interests or are affected by the outcomes of policy decisions taken at CGSC (Bradbury, 2008; Jamieson & Livingston, 2010)

transformational change: change that goes beyond routine evolutionary adaptation to include major restructuring and changes of mindset; approaches and can include a change of paradigm in the Kuhnian sense. (French & Bell, 1999; Cooperider & Whitney, 2005; Cummings & Worley, 2009)

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Weick, K. (2008). “Issues of Consequence: Lessons for Educating Tomorrow’s Business Leaders From Philosopher William James.” Academy of Management Learning & Education 7(1): 88-98

Weick, K., & Sutcliffe, K. (2001). Managing the unexpected: Assuring high performance in an age of complexity.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2001

Whitehead, J. (1993). The growth of educational knowledge: Creating your own living educational theories.  Bournemouth: Hyde.

Whitney, D., Trosten-Bloom, A., Cherney, J. & Fry, R. (2004) Appreciative team building: Positive questions to bring out the best of your team. Lincoln NE, iUniverse, Inc.

Whitney, D., Trosten-Bloom, A., & Rader, K. (2010) Appreciative leadership: Get results with appreciative inquiry and positive power. New York: McGraw Hill.

Weifling, K. (2007). Scrappy project management: 12 predictable and avoidable pitfalls every project faces. Cupertino, CA: Happy About publishing.

US Army and Department of Defense Referenced Documents:

 

US Army (2011). Field Manual 1-02: Operational terms and graphics.. Ft Leavenworth, KS.

US Army (2011). Field Manual 3.0: Operations. Ft Leavenworth, KS.

US Army (2011). How the Army runs (HTAR). Ft Belvoir, VA.

US Army (2009).TF-120 report of collective lessons learned from 7 years of combat. Ft Leavenworth, KS

US Army Training and Doctrine Command (2008). The United States Army commander’s appreciation and campaign design (ver 1.0) (TRADOC Pam 525-5-500). Fort Monroe, VA: US Army publications.

US Army Training and Doctrine Command (2009). The United States Army leaders development strategy. Fort Monroe, VA: US Army publications.

US Army Training and Doctrine Command (2010). The United States Army learning concept  for 2015 (ver 0.9) (TRADOC Pam 525-8-2). Fort Monroe, VA: US Army publications.

Joint Chiefs of Staff, US Department of Defense (2010). Joint Professional Military Education (JPME) Special areas of emphasis (SAE). Washington, D.C.: Department of Defense publications.

Preparing for the career after the military

October 26, 2011 Leave a comment

Family Portrait - Montreal 1963

Image by Mikey G Ottawa via Flickr

spent time in class today with  the officers discussing how to be prepared fro life after the Army, and why taking a holistic look at your life and career will make you a better officer.  We settled in on the idea that   1 of 3  organizing principles tends to dominate the average officer’s thinking about what happens on the day when you salute for the last time in uniform.  These are Location, Career, and Family.

In our experience, one of these 3  considerations will dominate the decision about where to live and what to do.  For me, the decision was easy: I wanted to raise my children in Kansas and having established our base camp there, I was prepared to work at whatever opportunity I could find locally tFamily Portrait

Image by Gideon Tsang via Flickr

o supplement my retirement income.  For others, they may have professional career interests that will dictate where they will settle. For still others, there may be specific family related issues that drive the decision.

These are family decisions that can and should be worked out at least five years before the envisioned retirement decision, in my view, in order for the family to prepare for the transition to life after the military career

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What? Steve Jobs was just another nut who lucked into a broad market trend at the right time?!

October 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Child labor, can't we try to stop it?

Image via Wikipedia

Steve Jobs:  So, he’s a lunatic, who exploited child labor in emerging markets to make over-priced consumerist products, who ignored scientific evidence to choose his self treatment for cancer, exhibited the same kind of piratish bullying capitalist behavior that Gates is routinely crucified for,  and was a jerk to people around him.

is that the kind of lifestyle he proposes to recommend to everyone else in his Stanford commencement speech? no thanks, fan boys

Frogs, Dragons and Panda’s oh my!

October 17, 2011 Leave a comment

Developing new ideas about short term market trading using a combination of the Frog (statistics based range analysis) and the Dragon (short term oscillation and momentum analysis).  had some new ideas and interest  in a specialty workshop that trades exclusively the “pattern-free” Frog style

Panda’s are “lazy W” entries that extend the original success that comes out of a frog entry

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Public words of thanks to Dr David Boje for all he does

October 10, 2011 Leave a comment

Dr Boje: I wanted to thank you for the important part you played in my doctoral  journey.

Dr Alana James, Dr Tojo Thatchenkery and Dr Ken Wall approved my dissertation and defense at Colorado Tech on Oct 6, 2011and have booted me out onto the road to begin the next phase of my journey: applying  whatever it is i know and find in service to others.

As I was preparing for the defense I took some time to reflect on all the important ways in which you have stretched me by asking really good questions, listening carefully, and providing me  enough of a nudge to keep me moving. I will strive to follow your most excellent example, because you have made a very important difference in my life that i want to share with others.

Although I have never taken a class with you nor had you on my committee, I count you as a mentor without portfolio, from a distance. I am still reading your works carefully, in small pieces, because you put so much into each sentence.

I examined how my military college (US Army Command & General Staff College, Ft Leavenworth) was adapting  to an increasingly uncertain world, and through your offered lenses,  saw the power of sense-making, story-making, story-telling influenced everything the organization and its it people believed, avowed, asserted and became.

Your work influenced me so much that fully a third of my dissertation became what I humbly called Critical Narrative Inquiry: and it constituted my systematic examination of every sense-making session, from the baseline participatory action research projects and meetings where the work gets done, to the councils of senior leaders who receive reports and certify our next steps based on their preferred storylines. I became aware for the first time of just how fragile  these webs of meaning are that we co-create each day by choosing how and when we speak, and for what purpose.

I am thinking hard about what you have said about materialty in AR, and am reminded that our humanity is part of that materialty in the same unspoken yet knowing way your horses offer their horse-sense to our reality

Best wishes, and thank you for the opportunity to work with you, and for all the good you do for others. I am always amazed at CTU residencies at the vsheer number of people who have your name on their lips. You have a gentle way of telling powerful stories from the heart and you are making an important difference in the world.

Keep going!
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Awesome cloudbank last night coming home from Denver

October 8, 2011 1 comment

wish i’d have had a camera on the plane last night coming back from Denver
the pilot says “we are going to go around this large weather front just east of Denver
he wasnt kidding. it was early evening so we had evening lighting of a storm front that was 200 miles long from north to south. there was a wall of thunderheads from about 5,000 feet to about 40,000 ft. we were cruising at 38,000 and could see the massive wall of white. throughout the cloudfront there was a mix of heat lightning and regular lightning
as we came around the southern end and banked east to head to KC, there were 2 pairs of F16s flying west that were right on the edge of the cloudfront hauling ass. looked like space ships
we had about 30 min of wonder as we banked around the clouds and could see it stretching hundreds of miles northward, creeping east to wards KC like a glacier.
in the words of the philosopher, Larry the cable guy, “I dont care who you are, that’s awesome right there”