The Advice Process in Practice: A Marriage of Purpose and Opportunity
Frederic Laloux, author of Reinventing Organizations, says the question most asked of him is: “How can I transform my existing organization?” (p127 of the Illustrated Edition). His answer? “Follow the energy; listen to aspirations.”
But, what does this mean? A story from a surprising source helped me to understand. The surprising source is the Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation in Hanoi, Vietnam. The aspiration comes from their compelling mission.
The energy comes from an urgent need to house at-risk children.
I call it A Marriage of Purpose and Opportunity.
Michael Brosowski is an Australian educator. While working in Hanoi in 2003, he helped street kids, informally. One, a shoeshine boy called Ban, was technically under the wing of an international aid agency. But when Michael discovered Ban was actually neglected, he was moved by a mixture of injustice and anger to found Blue Dragon. Read that story here.
A year later, Michael met the hero of this story—another shoeshine boy—14-year-old Vi (pron.Vee). Blue Dragon gave Vi schooling, job training and work experience. He got work at a 5-star restaurant; and all within 2 years. With his sunny manner and high energy, a career beckoned.
But Vi had other ideas. He asked Michael if he could join Blue to help other street kids. After all, he knew from personal experience which bridges they slept under!
Today, things are different. Blue Dragon is 14 years old. Vi is 25, married and a father. He leads the Blue Dragon Crisis Care Team. Each night, from 8 pm to 2 am, they go where the kids hang out. The West Lake in Hanoi is popular. It’s also popular with those who prey on the vulnerable: notably, pimps and pederasts.
Vi’s team offers them alternatives: a meal, advice, or safety at a Blue Dragon shelter. But the kids are wary. They’ve been seduced by such stories before. It can take months to earn their trust. But once earned, Blue stays with them for the long haul. Their mission is not only to Rescue kids in danger but also to Stay with them until they establish a new life. If you read Ban’s story, you’ll know why.
It’s September 2016. Vi is troubled. Blue’s shelters are full and a new one is urgently needed. He has a place in mind.
Until recently, he would have convinced his manager, Giang, of the need, gone with her to the CEO to press their case, and finally consulted Michael (now in the role of Founder). But there are three problems:
- The CEO has left (and not been replaced).
- Giang is on extended leave.
- Michael is in Australia raising funds.
Then Vi recalls some wild ideas aired by Michael in recent team meetings: ideas like self-management, agile teams, and something called the advice process.
Aha! Why not try the latter and see what happens? The best thing is, it doesn’t rely on managers (who are notably absent right now!). He recalls the rules. Before you act, check your proposal with those affected, and all who have expertise to offer.
First stop? Check with Finance: Do funds exist? Yes! Second? Consult others likely to be affected. So he asks the Psychological Services Team what facilities they will require at the shelter for counseling damaged kids. And so on…
By now, Michael is back. Vi seeks his views. No obstacles there! Vi negotiates the lease, assembles furniture, and moves in with his family to supervise the opening.
Giang (Vi’s manager) now returns to discover they have a new shelter—one that was unplanned when she left. Moreover, while she was away, her department of 4 teams and 45 people has survived well. This is due to an arrangement she set up in advance that was inspired by GE’s Durham NC Jet Engine plant. Each team appoints a coordinator, and the 4 coordinators meet regularly to, well, coordinate! For example, more rescues by Vi’s team mean more demand on the counseling and schooling teams. This is now all managed via the coordinators!
Giang thinks: “Why change something that’s working so well?” So, leaving her old job vacant, she focuses on the new role she covets: sharing her vast experience with new social workers. They can extend Blue’s reach even further.
The bottom line? The bottom line at Blue Dragon is not $$ of profit. It’s using limited $$ to rescue the most kids, because the need is still huge. Take the rescue of trafficked girls. Young girls, tricked into cross-border travel for ‘good jobs’, discover to their horror they’ve been sold into forced marriages or prostitution. Blue has rescued over 300 such girls, including 87 in 2016! This involves lots of money.
It’s a simple equation: Less money spent on ‘management’ means more spent on the rescue of girls and street kids. More rescues mean more people healed, educated, and set up for fulfilling lives. That’s one hell of a bottom line!
Fred says, to start a transformation, ‘Follow the energy; listen to aspirations’.
Michael opens the door by endorsing the advice process.
Giang sets up her department to run without her.
Vi, erstwhile street kid, feels empowered to act.
The bottom line is more rescues.
I call it A Marriage of Purpose and Opportunity.
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How are work outcomes affected by the treatment of those who do it? I have been exploring this question for ~50 years. In that time, one comment stuck with me more than any other. It was made in 1998 when I interviewed a group of men in Indianapolis who had redesigned most of the US city’s waste collection and disposal operations. “We are no longer expected to park our brains at the door when we come to work.”