Energize and Sustain Communities of Passion (CoPs) by Building Virtues into the Organization’s DNA
CoP's are "a group of people organized for a specific purpose around a shared set of values; who collectively care deeply about the purpose, adhere to the shared values and are selfless in their pursuit of purpose and interaction with others". Since it is trust that fosters collaboration, connectedness and cooperation, trust is fundamental to CoPs. Our brains are hard-wired to respond positively if we feel trust. Our emotions all spring from trust - or lack of it. Trust helps CoPs get through failed attempts to success faster. Trust is hard to earn and so easy to lose – especially given today’s information technology. Trust is founded on the principle of reciprocity.
Institutionalizing Aristotle’s virtues of Courage, Faith, Hope, Justice, Love, Prudence and Temperance can help sustain the foundation of trust fundamental to CoPs, thus overcoming some of the barriers and leveraging each others' diverse skills, viewpoints, talents. The virtues enable the CoP to develop a clear common language for the purpose and outcomes. Additionally, since some members may be very analytical and others very intuitive, the virtues demonstrate the benefits of integrating both these types of thinking.
Let’s quickly define the virtues we are referring to:
Courage is critical to CoPs. Most people want to fit in, be accepted, and not look stupid. It takes courage to challenge the status quo, to try something untried, to propose unprecedented solutions. Think of courageous companies and communities like Netflix, Apple, Patagonia, Doctors without Borders, and Ushahidi. Apply Courage by doing small, quick experiments, prototyping and testing, refining and doing it again and again to discover the best solutions. By doing this, the CoP mitigates risks rather than avoid them, enabling the CoP to authentically learn from failure and have the courage to try again and apply lessons learned. The more the CoP does this, the more courageous members become because they see it’s ok to fail as long as they learn and apply!
Faith comes from Latin fides and fiducia, from which we get fiduciary, ironic isn’t it? Faith and trust are synonymous; we trust in something or someone based on our experience with them, on promises kept. Faith is increased with authenticity and honesty. Faith assumes that worth and worthiness are aligned, that our view of something’s value (worth) is integrally tied to its being valuable (worth valuing, worthy). Do you check to see if your car will start? Do you wonder if the sun will rise each morning? Many of the things we have faith in we can’t ‘see’. Take the stock market for example - is Google’s market cap of $193B based on amazing computer servers and communication networks? Hardly! It’s based on Google’s algorithms, people, corporate culture and the belief, based on past experience, they will continue to produce worth, value. The Faith you put in your people inspires them to achieve.
Hope is perhaps one of the hardest virtues. It is an understatement to say that without hope we are nothing. Hope looks ahead to the future and is based on Faith (Trust). It should be rooted in facts, not fantasy, otherwise you really are just dreaming! As with Faith, Hope is based on experience, learning and application, so in order to hope, there must be freedom to fail. Learning from failure helps determine fact from fiction. Vetting the opportunities and solutions in a CoP is a way to develop Hope – it separates the fact from fiction!
Justice addresses the difference between fair and equal. This is frequently a critical component of CoPs – people contribute at different levels, so should recognition be fair or equal or both? Justice also applies triple bottom line to innovate solutions that provide meaningful and effective solutions while preserving the environmental – think of Patagonia, Toms of Maine, Whole Foods which are companies and CoPs.
Love was described by Aristotle in 3 ways: Eros (passion, devotion, drive), Philos (friendship) and Agape (sacrifice, servant leadership) - think of Voice of the Customer, Voice of the Employee, Voice of the Community. Passion is exhibited through excellent customer service (think Zappos), social capital and servant leadership. Value is created by aligning the needs of the market with the needs of the workplace and systematic, regular feedback to reinforce the positive cycle.
Prudence focuses on engaging humans. Most CoPs have members not participating for a variety of reasons. With Prudence, the community focuses on leveraging everyone's strengths, on how to develop those and integrate them into innovative solutions instead of disagreements. In turn, highly engaged communities tend to attract highly engaged, and engaging, members!
Temperance is moderation, balance. CoPs need to strengthen some traits and change others. This could mean balancing tasks focused on relationship building and tasks focused on creating better solutions. This means discipline to know when to move ahead and when to reflect.
So, how can CoPs ‘operationalize’ applying the virtues to make it a terrific habit? Well, here are some examples:
Courage – it’s all about managing risk, perhaps even how one defines risk so, practical tools include
- Look at the challenge and opportunity – identify what the real risks are, their impact and probability, consequences if the risks materialize, ways to mitigate those risks and how the CoP can do some small experiments to start creating solutions with lower risk and higher learning!
- Make sure CoP members are encouraged and supported to take risk and learn. Don’t condemn them for failing but encourage sharing what has been learned.
- Work with another CoP of a similar or complementary purpose so you can share the risk and perhaps learn faster (e.g., Open Innovation)
- Be willing to look at opportunities differently so the CoP could create a solution that solves multiple problems instead of just the one before you (e.g., InBev in Russia needed clean water for brewing beer so they build a water treatment facility near their plant that gave them clean water and also just happened to provide clean water for the community while also creating jobs)
- Encourage differing points of view from all levels of the organization.
- Imagine the ideal solution – how the CoP would really like to see things be and work back from there. Do this by really understanding who will benefit from the solution (e.g., Voice of the Customer). So, when you reach for the electric drill do you want a drill? No! You want a hole! That’s the real goal – so what are the best ways, given whatever the circumstances are, to create a hole? Could you have dreamed up the iPad 4 years ago?
- Faith is based on experience. Sometimes, if there isn’t a ‘track record’ of positive experience you may have to take a leap of faith. To a degree, that’s what CoP members do with each other if they don’t know each other. For most people, if someone has Faith in them, they want to do well, confirm that Faith was wisely placed. This reinforces Faith which reinforces passion and engagement which reinforces the chances for success!
- Hope is based on reality, not fantasy, on knowing that failure happens, that success isn’t guaranteed. It’s not that miracles or amazing discoveries don’t happen, but usually, the laws of physics don’t change.
- Hope is related to Courage as well – to allow CoPs the freedom to try, to fail, to try again, iteratively. Hope encourages and sustains a CoP to keep persevering towards a solution while also knowing when it’s hit a brick wall and it’s time to take an alternative path
- If you look at many reward and compensation programs, they are based more on equality than on fairness – on really holding people accountable. Within your CoP, members are probably at different levels of engagement, commitment and passion. How does the group recognize this?
- Triple bottom line gets to the heart of Justice as well. As the CoP looks at various solutions to the challenges facing them, can they create a solution that provides significant value to the ‘customer’ while being a steward of the earth’s resources (including its inhabitants) and create profits that allow the CoP to be sustained to keep delivering value?
- This is the foundation of passion. So, as a CoP, what is the focus of the passion? Perhaps it’s all 3 types – Eros, Philos and Agape.
- Apply Eros (passion, devotion, drive) to really delight the customer! Understand what their needs really are – watch them, observe them, put yourself in their shoes, see their world from their perspective, see and hear their challenges and obstacles and figure out how you can create a truly valuable solution that will make it easier and more convenient for them and perhaps free up their time for other things as well! Think of Zappos’s customer service
- Apply Philos (friendship) to how to treat employees – to create an environment that encourages innovation, supports risks, is honest and open, listens, is respectful of each other regardless of hierarchy, and is also just plain fun!
- Apply Agape (sacrifice, servant leadership) to the CoP itself as well as the communities in which it interacts – involving all stakeholders.
- It’s always about people – no matter what the issue facing a CoP, at some point it always boils down to human beings. Most of a company’s total expenses are related to compensation, yet study after study reveals that fewer than one-third of employees are actively engaged (work with passion and feel a profound connection to their company) (See reference #2 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Employee_engagement …that’s leaving a lot of money on the table. Developing your people – training them, encouraging learning, serious professional development plans – can help your people become more engaged, more empowered.
- Within your CoP, identify the barriers that are holding people back and remove them. Some of these can be plain old ‘office politics’ – apply these virtues to get rid of that harmful distraction.
- Apply Prudence to play up members’ strengths with each other instead of their weaknesses. Create teams with complementary strengths and talents. Provide mentors within the CoP to grow and develop each other and create trust and Faith. Provide people with challenges that stretch them, teach them new things and provide new experiences.
- Temperance is Greek for the ‘middle way’ – for moderation – for balance. Apply Temperance to balance competing interests within the CoP. Balance can help get the most from different perspectives by giving them time to be heard and adapted. Temperance will help the CoP know when to act and when to reflect.
- Balanced Scorecard is a mindset for applying Temperance, not just a tool. It is a framework for viewing all the aspects together and making sure they are taken into account.
- Moderation is how the CoP keeps things in perspective, keeps one viewpoint from dominating.
- Identify members of the CoP that are more likely to embrace this and be willing to give it a chance
- Identify a specific project or task involving people in #1 above where you can apply just a few virtues to specific parts of the project.
- Discuss the virtues and select the ones that are most important to the project at hand and then, given the roles of the individuals, how to apply that virtue specifically & actionably – identify the barriers, such as denial, blind spots, rationalization, pride, experience, education, etc. and how these will be overcome.
- For each virtue, clearly specify how it applies to that project/task, how it will help, expected outcomes and specific actions with clear dates and ownership and an agreed upon definition of success and deliverables.
- Go for it!