Achieving organizational flow with Bob Fitch

Revolutionary CEOs

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The best organizations are like living creatures that react and evolve in response to their external and internal environments. Organizations also shape the world we live in, being the driving force of a country’s economy, determining how we use our natural resources and having a profound impact on how we use our valuable time. As workers we contribute huge amounts of time to organizations and as consumers and citizens, our quality of life in many ways is determined by them.

Therefore, it is only right that we all have expectations of businesses and other organizations, to help make our world a better place to live in. Recently, we have seen these expectations growing, given evidence of increasing inequity in society, concerns about our changing climate and the challenges we all have faced in coping with the Covid-19 pandemic. This is leading to movements like the Net Positive Project as well as demands from investors that businesses look beyond mere financial results.

This demands the creation of organizations that inspire and strive to make a difference in the world, organizations that can deal with multi-faceted and complex challenges head on. This in turn requires that the people that make up organizations feel inspired and encouraged to learn and grow. The truth is however, that studies have revealed low levels of employee satisfaction and engagement in businesses throughout the world. Right now, this is manifested in the “Great Resignation”, as many people re-evaluate their priorities in light of the new experiences that Covid-19 forced on us.

We spoke to Bob Fitch, Founder and CEO, Fitch Consulting, to understand the specific challenges which organizations currently face and the steps they can take to mitigate them.

Aspioneer: Why do you think organizations must prioritize employee experience, especially now?

Bob: This pandemic has shifted priorities for employers and proven that company and HR leaders have significant work to do in order to engage, help and develop employees. Doing so will only help employers. Research has shown that organizations that create the best employee experience also achieve the greatest results (measured by profitability, returns to shareholders, levels of innovation, etc.). The best way to do that is to create workplaces that are people centred, change inspired and purpose driven. The hybrid office, intentionally designed, is probably the most people-centered organizational solution we can imagine. So now is THE time to look for new ways to create employee experience that drives breakthrough results.

Bob Fitch

Aspioneer: How important is the role of leaders when making this kind of change in their workplace?

Bob: Very! The outlook of a leader plays a critical role when creating inspiring workspaces. I believe that the best leaders build trust – in them and amongst others – and that this requires authenticity. People sense when others are not being true to themselves and will then be suspicious of their intent. The importance of authenticity means that there is no one winning formula for becoming a successful leader.

Having said this, there are some common features of effective leadership – creating and communicating a compelling vision (emphasizing the “why”), establishing psychological safety, active listening and providing constructive feedback, acting with empathy, etc. There is a whole toolbox that leaders can call on – our leadership development programs help people to practice these varying methods. Each leader should utilize these tools in a way that is true to themselves. For example, natural introverts can be great leaders without having to pretend they are extraverted – they just need to find a communication and engagement style that works for them.

Aspioneer: You raise an important point here. Some people think that natural leaders tend to be extroverts. What do you think introverted leaders can do to maximize their potential? As an introvert yourself, what methods do you use in order to be an efficient leader?

Bob:  It’s a common misconception that introverts cannot be great leaders. Introverts possess a variety of skills that can make them good business leaders, particularly in businesses that value innovation and entrepreneurship. The best way for an introverted leader to maximize their potential is by leveraging their more reflective nature, developing observational and listening skills to create a safe space in which your team can flourish. However, don’t be afraid to go against the grain and get out of your comfort zone; try to engage more interpersonally with others and be willing to bring groups together so that you can continually convey a call to action.

I am naturally introverted so being the center of attention can make me feel uncomfortable. But given the work that I do, this is something I have had to learn to cope with. I still get anxious before stepping into any spotlight – but I tell myself that I have coped before, and that other people want me to succeed. Once I get going, I get quite a buzz from facilitating or presenting. I’ve also found that I need to continually push outside of my comfort zone, to learn new things and deal with new situations, otherwise I feel stale. (But I do welcome the space to make initial progress with the benefit of a bit of privacy!)

Aspioneer: Few people would disagree that continuous growth is essential to success. Growth requires constant and honest evaluation of our strengths and weaknesses. As you have grown your business, what have you learned about yourself as a leader? What lessons would you like to share with leaders and organizations striving for continuous improvement?

Bob: I believe one of my strengths (which has been affirmed by others) is my ability to see the big picture and visualize a way ahead. This is why I tend to focus on our strategy work. But as is often the case, our strengths can become our weaknesses. I continually struggle with not assuming that something that is clear to me is known and understood by others that also need to know and understand. I have to remind myself to spend time continually sharing my vision and the frequently changing ideas I have on how to realize it so that I really do empower others to thrive. As the saying goes, if we want to travel far, best to travel together! And this demands shared clarity.

Another aspect of my behavioral profile is my independence of thought and confidence in my own solutions. I have to temper this because I certainly do not have all the answers. When I was younger, if somebody took a position that was different to mine, I would work hard to find any evidence that justified my point of view. Now, I push myself to ask what it is that I am missing and what evidence or experiences might be driving alternative viewpoints. This leaves me much more open to new ideas.

Without this increased openness, I seriously doubt that I would have my passion for people-centered organizational design. Personal growth demands that we question our own biases and be willing to be challenged. If leaders want people to have a growth mindset, then they must be willing to demonstrate this openness, to confront their weaknesses and become the change that they want to see.

Aspioneer: Change is the bane of many leaders. How can organizations and leaders deal with the burdens of an uncertain world?

Bob: Increasingly, dealing with uncertainty is a major part of everyday life. The work we do sits at the intersection of many fundamental trends – societal, technological, political, economic, etc. – and we work hard to interpret these trends so that we don’t get caught flat footed. It is in the intersections that the unknowns often lie. We also look for anomalies in trends as these also can provide clues to the unknown or unexpected.

But in today’s world – as amply demonstrated by the Covid-19 pandemic – it is impossible to eliminate all risks so our aim should be to get better at mitigating them. This is fundamental to changing organizations for good – we need to create workplaces that are resilient and where people embrace change. Established approaches to efficiency optimization can undermine such efforts so building resilience often requires a re-thinking of organizational design.

After years of research and practice, the Fitch team has identified the qualities and conditions that are essential to creating workplaces where people thrive on change and deliver sustained success. By creating organizations that are driven by a shared purpose, then structuring those organizations to keep all resources aligned to this purpose, and with dynamic, quick thinking and adaptive leadership teams at the helm, not only can we empower establishments to deal with immediate change and challenges, but also help them flourish by systematically enabling employees to confidentially handle any future uncertainty and change.

At Fitch, we work at the intersection of various megatrends. Climate change and health matters are transforming what organizations do and how. And technology has the power to greatly augment or potentially substitute for much of the expertise we provide. Changing organizations for good is about being on the right side of change – contributing to the greater good – so organizations should seek to understand stakeholder needs and find ways of making a positive impact.

“In today’s world – as amply demonstrated by the Covid-19 pandemic – it is impossible to eliminate all risks so our aim should be to get better at mitigating them.”

Aspioneer: As a company what is your take on corporate social responsibility? Why do you think that giving back should be an intrinsic aspect of all organizations?

Bob: The fundamental corporate social responsibility of all organizations is to treat people with dignity and to create workplaces where people can grow and experience fulfilment. There is simply no reason why any organization should not commit to meeting this responsibility – especially as it is in their own best interest! It is the discretionary effort of people that leads to the achievement of outstanding results.

We are hesitant to trumpet the idea of giving back – after all, as Ricardo Semler observed, if you need to give back, you probably took too much!  If we – individually and collectively -commit to making a positive impact, we shouldn’t see our efforts as giving back. Organizations should be designed to deliver impact in various ways and should measure their success against those objectives.

“The fundamental corporate social responsibility of all organizations is to treat people with dignity and to create workplaces where people can grow and experience fulfilment.”

Aspioneer: If you had to summarise key takeaways for an organization that is looking for meaningful change and success, what would those be?

Bob: While achieving meaningful change can be scary, the use of design focused frameworks like our very own OnFlow™ can help change organizations for good. The goal of any organization should be to use a holistic approach that explicitly connects business and people strategy to help create organizations that are truly purpose driven and

propelled by dynamic leadership and teams. This allows organizations to become generative, in which everybody is engaged in creating the future and finding the best ways to deliver it.

Individually, ‘flow’ describes a cognitive state in which we become completely immersed in an activity, involving intense focus and creative engagement. OnFlow – or organizational flow – has been conceived to help groups achieve equivalent optimal experience. The benefits can be profound.

Aspioneer: Bob, thank you very much.

*This interview has been edited and paraphrased for brevity and clarity.

** Fitch Consulting has been providing advisory and learning and development services to clients for the past 10 years. They are based in New Jersey with a virtual business model that pre-dates Covid-19.

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