See you at the Academy of Management’s 2020 Annual Meeting

The 80th annual Meeting of the Academy of Management is happening virtually this year, from August 7th to 11th. Ilene Wasserman will be presenting as part of two different sessions, and we’d love to see you for either or both. Register for the meeting and explore the whole program here.

Find us at the following sessions:

From Founders to the Future: A 20/20 Look at Organization Development | Friday August 7th | 10am-12pm EST

In the mid-2000s, scholars were concerned that organization development may have become a dying field. Since then, others have studied a number of developments associated with OD, including discourse analysis, agility, coaching, appreciative inquiry, complexity theory, and dialogic OD, to name a few that surfaced in the late 2000s and 2010s. The emergence of these practices created for practitioners a tension between the legacy of the founders of OD focused on interpersonal relationships, groups and teams, and internal organization relationships, and the requests of clients for assistance in these new areas. Further, practices once part of OD work, such as organization design, coaching, project management, and change management, became the purview of other professionals. Last, the role of human resource professionals was changing from transactional to more strategic engagements in organizations that at times closely resembled OD work.

Both the extension of practices within the field of OD and the wide array of historic OD work now performed by HR and other professionals led to a sense of fragmentation in the OD field. This PDW presents the results of work by OD scholars and professionals during the Founders to the Future Project to both honor the past and recommend a coherent future for the field of OD. In an interactive setting, participants will provide feedback on reports in four areas provided to registrants prior to the conference: vision for the OD field, values for the future, competencies that will be needed, and a dynamic definition of OD.

Bridging Positive Organizational Scholarship and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion | Friday August 7th | 4pm-6pm EST

This session is targeted to scholars interested in the study of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) from strengths-based approaches. The aim of this innovative PDW is to provide a forum for researchers to discover new forms of inquiry that will advance research on DEI within positive organizational scholarship (POS). Part of the workshop will include empirical research puzzles presented by DEI experts known for their work in this area. We will feature current empirical and theoretical work that explores positive processes and outcomes associated with diversity in organizations. We will then encourage participation from participants through roundtable discussions and report-outs.

Ideally, participants will be required to pre-register for the session and provide a brief summary on their interests at the nexus of DEI and POS, so that the organizers can assign them to an initial table based on the similarity of their interests of other participants and our facilitators. Participants will be asked to rotate to a new table following each panel presentation to allow cross-fertilization of ideas during the session. We will provide discussion questions for participants to reflect on theoretical, methodological, and practical puzzles they face in their own research and practice in DEI. Further, they will focus on collaboratively brainstorming how adopting a POS lens enhances their study of DEI topics, and how DEI research expands the study of POS. Participants will also consider the implications of empirical research on POS and DEI for individuals and organizations. The session will conclude with a report out on from each table and a summary of future directions presented by the organizing committee.

When does a critical moment become an inflection point?

One significant way we make sense of our worlds is through the structure of stories. And our stories are understood through our frames of reference from family, community, and history. These stories influence what we hear and what we don’t hear, what we tell or don’t tell, and what we chose to edit. Stories are constituted by episodes. And we find grounding in those episodes having a beginning, middle, and end.

We find ourselves now in the middle of a number of powerful episodes that contain critical moments and how we chose to respond is especially consequential to the future we are creating. One of these episodes is the global pandemic and how different geographic regions are dealing with it. Another episode has been ignited by the outrage in response to the murder of George Floyd. How we frame the beginning, middle and end of the episodes that constitute each of these stories continues to shift as the beginnings or roots continue to unfold and the future we are creating is uncertain…

Read the rest of Ilene Wasserman’s post on the CMM Institute blog here

What might we learn from primary discourse instead of primary debates?

Like many of my peers, I struggled to watch the latest Democratic debate. I admire each of the remaining candidates, but watching them constantly interrupt each other only to share nearly identical visions for the future provides little context to effectively evaluate each candidate’s potential to govern. As an organizational consultant who coaches leaders around communicating vision and shaping the culture of their organizations, I can’t help but wonder whether there could be a better format to help Americans make informed decisions in the voting booth.

What we know from our research and practice is the structure of a conversation dictates its outcome. So what outcomes does the current structure produce? It sews discord between candidates (and their supporters) despite the fact that there is agreement on most of the issues that concern the electorate. And this discord is undermining the very coalition that the Democrats will need in November to realize their shared vision. The format of the debates also creates an illusion that presidents govern by dictate and that a candidate who speaks the loudest and interrupts the most is best equipped to lead. And in so doing, it provides little opportunity for candidates to showcase the qualities that true leaders possess: an ability to analyze complex problems, to engage in conversation with trusted advisors, to make educated decisions, and to bring people together across divides.

If the outcome we want is to learn which candidate is best prepared to lead in such a perilous time, let’s try a new format. Consider what we might learn—and the strong coalitions we might build—if we foster constructive discourse between the candidates and the supporters they hope to gain. Think about how refreshing it could be to replace a line with a circle and to bring audience members who ask questions directly joining the conversation. Imagine if we formulate the “debate stage” in a manner that emulates the environment in which an elected candidate will govern while allowing voters to experience and even engage with the very leadership qualities that best prepare presidents for the cabinet meetings and other meetings they will need to lead, in which important decisions are made.

Thanksgiving Reflections

In order to build a bridge, we need strong footings.

This Thanksgiving, I find myself thinking about how we can create a table (literally and figuratively) where we can have the ideas and commitments we feel strongly about, and yet stay connected to each other.  How can we set the table that holds a shared commitment to curiosity and inquiry – together — to understand how we can care deeply for each other — and also understand what it is that may be hard to understand. 

It is no wonder.  My passions have always been coherency and coordination.  I did not know those were the terms until I met Barnett Pierce in 1998, but essentially those two things are   what I yearn for. Maybe these yearnings relate to the degree of confusion and dissonance in my home growing up.  Maybe I was socialized early to confusion and lack of coherence. I grew up feeling safe in a community that had a drum beat of “never again”. Yet  we stressed embracing a less fortunate “stranger” out loud while we whispered that you can never full trust a powerful and unnamed “them” . 

Last week I was in a conversation with a client about inclusion..  When we talk about inclusion we inevitably create a sense of exclusion for some – for anyone who doesn’t include themselves in that conversation.  Sometimes, that person is someone who is not used to being labeled with a social identity– be it race, gender, no binary re race gender culture etc.   I shared a metaphor that has been my go to recently– that of a bridge. In order to build a bridge, we need strong footings. We need to be rooted in a structure from which to bridge.  Identity is that structure. And yet, identity is complex.  

As I anticipate Thanksgiving, I have much to be thankful for.  I have an amazing family My children are not just people I love dearly. They are my first choice of people I would like to spend time with; I like them; I respect them; and I learn from them continuously. I love my extended family and am enjoying the ever-expanding list of second and third  cousins that are showing up thanks to And I have friends who are my chevre – a Hebrew term that cannot be translated when it comes to a package of qualities – friends, confidants, and people who show up for each other. In many ways, the foundations of my bridge are strong. 

And yet, as I anticipate Thanksgiving, I know that there are some conversations we will have quietly on the side so as not to offend.  I had an insight in the past year regarding social engagements with others who may have different political views. I have come to conclude that the very agreements and commitments I facilitate with my clients to prepare for deep and potentially challenging conversations are becoming important for our social spaces.  You know – those familiar agreements that include: 

  • Listen listen listen
  • Notice where you are uncomfortable – and explore that for yourself
  • Be curious 
  • Notice your judgements and hold them lightly as you seek to understand
  • Pause and breath

I came to this conclusion after an unanticipated conversation last year brunch I co-hosted with a group of friends. Some guests took for granted homogeneity of views among those present.  When difference surfaced, the conversation took on a quality of debating who was right and who was wrong; who was being vilified and who was justified.  People were frustrated with each other.  The conversation went from debate and fact checking to superficial chatter.  After people left, there was a flurry of phone calls — mostly expressing frustration with what had transpired. Nothing felt resolved; people were more set in their own stories than ever.

Following that day, I thought long and hard about what I could have done.  Here is the very work I do with clients every day, and I failed when it came to hosting a brunch.  And then, I thought about what it is that supports creating the bridge when working with challenging conversations. In order to have the bridge, you have to have the foundation, your own grounding in your identity. But you also need something to support the bridge as it reaches out over open water, and it needs to be flexible. 

The forces of the public discourse have become such that reaching out over that empty space feels more perilous than ever. We have to intentionally remind ourselves of our values and of the conditions for creating a feeling of safety– even in an informal setting, and setting conversational norms helps us do that. At first glance that could feel like  shifting from a social space to a workshop, but in my experience it helps support the structure of the bridge even in informal conversation. And I am not the only one who recognizes this. In some families, they have made a rule that politics is not to be part of the Thanksgiving table conversation. I have been in a cab where the driver informs me that he has a “no politics” rule.  If we can say what we do not talk about, let’s begin to be more explicit about what IS important to us–respect, listening, love– and make that the highest context.  

And we do that– we do that when we welcome those we love; when we open with a prayer of gratitude– and that is what I will do when I host this week.

2019 Sustainability Forum

We are excited and proud to announce that Ilene will be speaking at the 2019 Global Sustainability Forum in Athens, Greece.

The forum will take place on October 4th and will cover a variety of topics and perspectives related to sustainability issues, based on the needs of business community. The specialized plenary sessions will share hands-on experiences, practical knowledge and professional skills from several different industries.

Learn more about the forum here.

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