Thriving Organizations Deserving Of People's Commitment

28 October 2020
Feature

Organizations that flourish are those that take a whole systems approach to attend to the needs of stakeholders from customers, to employees and the communities in which they operate. The organizations’s ability to sustain success depends not just on business results, but first and foremost, need to be worthy employees’ commitment. This is where organizations like Sequoia Group come in. We met with the founder of Sequoia, Jacqueline Wong, to hear her story of the firm, founded on the principles of positive organizational development and change. Sequoia  Group is socially-missioned boutique consultancy firm based in Singapore that provides solutions in the domains of strategic planning, innovation, change management, stakeholder engagement, leadership development and organizational learning. Established since 2001, Sequoia’s services include consulting, small and large group facilitation, customized capacity-building programs, executive coaching and action-learning. Jacqueline Wong says that the mission of the company is to ‘create organizations that are truly worthy of people’s commitment’ and their long-term goal is to transform workplaces and communities into flourishing ecosystems that enable people to thrive and live fulfilling, meaningful lives.

“The setup of Sequoia on March 27th, 2001 was with the reflection that organizations are living systems and interconnected in a community in which we are part. Their success and sustainability depend on no less than employees, stakeholders and shareholders, but also on the community, customers and suppliers who can either make or break an organization. Hence in what ways are organizations worthy of all these people’s commitment?” Jacqueline said. “Our proposition is that organizations that succeed are those that create more positive outcomes and give to their stakeholders more than they take” She said further. Sequoia’s founder says that the motivation behind the setup of her company comes from the story of the Sequoia tree. “The amazing thing is not the size of the tree, but rather the story behind the success and long life of the sequoia tree. I learnt that the roots are interconnected with others and provide support for one another, and this is essentially what we as Sequoia seeks to achieve. The tree and the forest is inextricably linked.”

Organisational Learning and Engaging Leadership

Through the company’s Living Organizational Development framework, Sequoia brings expertise in the domains of Plan, Change, Lead, Learn to help organisations become more successful and effective. “The “tap root” of our methodology is systems leadership and organisational learning disciplines. As we emerge from a world that is increasingly volatile, uncertain complex and ambiguous, the only assurance is your ability to constantly learn and relearn, and the ability of the organisation to regenerate itself, in turn, depends on the quality of leadership that demands and creates a culture where new ideas and welcomed and expected. Learning organisations are positive institutions that haven an inherent faith and relentless commitment to developing their people’s ability to learn their way through challenges and build a brighter future.”

This approach to leadership that attends to the whole-system’s sustainability. Systems leaders understand that deep transformation requires an open-ended way of leading that involves and engages people in an ongoing effort to build a truly shared vision, what Sequoia calls this model of leadership the Engaging Transformational Leadership approach, citing their partner in the UK, The Real World Group, which Sequoia works closely with to cascade this philosophy and approach to leaders in the three sectors. Systems leaders inspire followers and stakeholders to transcend self-interest for the good of the organisation and society.   Jacqueline shared “I would like to say that our work transcends boundaries – we help to create organizations whereby people and their communities are highly engaged and feel they are growing, thriving and living into their highest purpose, rather than merely surviving.”

When asked for some examples of this, she shared Sequoia’s recent journey with the central healthcare cluster, the National Healthcare Group or NHG. “The vision that NHG had was to become a relationship-based healthcare system that is truly seamless and sustainable. “Applying Appreciative Inquiry and Design Thinking, we chartered a process that involved 150 nurses and doctors over a period of 18 months in a discovery journey to enable the system to see and sense itself”, Jacqueline recounted. “We are glad to have played a small part to pave the way for a healthcare transformation journey that will enable NHG to better serve its patients. One of the key principles guiding Sequoia’s work is that “people commit to what they help create”. “We see clients as partners, and our job is to listen deeply to the results they care most about creating and help remove the barriers to accelerate their ability to fulfill the results they truly desire”.

When asked about any challenges Sequoia has encountered up to date, Jacqueline admitted that she has not seen a crisis that is comparable to the Covid-19 pandemic that brought many organisations down to “ground zero”. Organisations have to fundamentally question their current modus operandi and wake up from “business as usual”. “I don’t think people will return to work the same as they were before this crisis.” Jacqueline says the challenge is how to enable organizations to leverage on this crisis to transform what they do and how they serve, and to help the people become more resilient. “Our company is on the ground and committed to helping organizations adapt to the current crisis so that they can emerge stronger. We have been asking ourselves how we can deliver our “high touch” boutique consultancy service into also a high-tech one, so as to reach out to even more organizations, without losing the human connection. It will be a challenge but also a very exciting opportunity to question our long-held assumptions about how management consultancy is practiced.” Because the pandemic has compelled many organizations to go virtual, many find that they are lacking the skills and capabilities to make the leap. Jacqueline says that the problem may not necessarily be a technological gap, but rather a mindset gap. To that effect, she shared that organisations need to ask themselves “What can we let go of, in order to let come?”

Appreciative Inquiry - Nurturing Positive Culture and Leadership in Schools

One of the programmes offered by Sequoia that the SPEN community might be keen to find out more about is the Appreciative Inquiry Certificate Programme for Educators. “We refer to Appreciative Inquiry as an approach to whole-system change. Appreciative Inquiry (AI) begins with a discovery of what gives life to systems when it is at its best and further downstream, to design ways to embed these factors of success into the DNA of the organisation.” AI is the art and science crafting an inquiry protocol that brings about change the moment the first question is asked. It is also equally about the practice of bringing people together to share stories of these transformational moments so as to strengthen the system’s capacity to comprehend, expect and elevate positive potential. The quality of relationships is therefore strengthened through the appreciative inquiry process. The “4-D” cycle or stages of AI are Discovery, Dream, Design and Destiny, with an affirmative topic as the focal point. “Coming up with unconditional positive questions is the key. The other steps are a natural follow-through of the Discovery phase.”

Speaking of the connection between AI and Positive Education, Jacqueline says that Appreciative Inquiry creates ideal conditions for positive education to flourish. Schools and organizations can use AI to accelerate the building of a positive culture, and to help schools specifically to shift from a problem-solving mindset to generative, solutions-focused, strengths-based mindset.

Sequoia is in partnership with the David Cooperrider Center for Appreciative Inquiry, Champlain College, the official center of expertise for the Appreciative Inquiry methodology, to bring the Appreciative Inquiry Certificate for OD Practitioners to Singapore and the region. This is the first formal partnership with the CCAI to build deep capacity for AI practitioners’ who are keen to become independent practitioners of AI within organizations that they serve.

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