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strategy and business
 / Spring 2011 / Issue 62(originally published by Booz & Company)


“That’s the Way We (Used to) Do Things Around Here”

In this organizational step, you conduct a similar reframing of the collective impulses that don’t work well. “The way we do things around here” may have been unquestioned for years, but now you communicate an accurate assessment about why it no longer works. Cargill’s articulation of its “future state” and Ameriprise’s stated intent to do a better job helping clients were both good examples of reframing.

Step 3: Reflect on Your Expectations and Values

In this step, you set out the nature of the new conditions you believe you can create. You replace old expectations with a new image of the desired state you are trying to achieve. In management circles, this is known as a vision. But unlike some corporate vision exercises, the reflection in this step must result in something specific, tangible, and desirable enough to capture people’s attention.

At Cargill, there is an evolving idea of what the “heart of leadership” means in practice. Recently retired executive vice president Dave Larson points out, “Our good leaders are those who focus on others, give undivided attention, and build trust. Leaders can either give energy to people or drain energy from people.” Many leaders within the company instinctively know how to translate this into their own day-to-day behavior. For others, including some who have been at the company for 15 years or more, this concept requires a major shift.

Your new expectations and values could reflect aspirations for your company as the leader of a shift in your larger industry. Don Froude, president of the Personal Advisors Group (which includes coordinating franchisees at Ameriprise), raised the stakes for the firm in 2009 when he said: “The [financial-services] industry needs to consolidate to regain client trust. We can’t pretend the financial crisis, the problems with derivatives, and the TARP bailout haven’t happened. We have to be proactive — to take advantage of the dislocation in the industry to bring more advisors and more clients to Ameriprise. We believe we can do [financial advising] better than others, and better than we’ve ever done it before.”

Both Cargill and Ameriprise offer internal sessions on the skill of collective reflection. Participants talk about the type of company they are trying to create and the leadership behavior that will foster it, as well as the needs and values of their clients and customers (individual investors for Ameriprise, and food manufacturers and other customers at Cargill).

In this reflection, the company uses the expectation of better conditions as an effective tool for reinforcing productive neural patterns. The power of expectations has been demonstrated in neuroscience, notably by Donald Price at the University of Florida. Price set up a carefully executed series of experiments with volunteers who had a medical condition that made them particularly sensitive to certain kinds of pain. He gave some subjects a placebo along with a specific suggestion that led them to expect a reasonable chance of pain relief. This expectation, in itself, was enough to relieve pain as effectively as real medicine would. It also calmed down the brain’s pain and visceral centers — the thalamus and insula.

For neuroscientists, this is a fascinating finding because the thalamus is a primitive part of the brain, and both it and the insula are often considered centers of “automatic” sensation, beyond conscious control or thought. But Price’s experiments — and those of other researchers, such as Robert Coghill of Wake Forest University — suggest that effectively communicating that “things will feel better if we change” can produce a powerful range of assuaging reactions. (In fact, expectations of relief can have a calming effect akin to a 6 milligram dose of morphine.)

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  1. Douglas Lennick, Financial Intelligence: How to Make Smart, Values-Based Decisions with Your Money and Your Life (FPA Press, 2010): Similar reframing principles applied to personal finance.
  2. Jeffrey Schwartz and Sharon Begley, The Mind and the Brain:Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force (Regan Books/HarperCollins, 2002): Explains how human thinking and behavior changes through processes like this one.
  3. Jeffrey Schwartz and David Rock, “The Neuroscience of Leadership,” s+b, Summer 2006: How to develop far more effective leadership practices by taking the nature of the human brain into account.
  4. Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759): Smith’s masterwork (as he considered it) explicates the development of morality through the “impartial spectator”; people building awareness of themselves in the context of a larger community.
  5. For more thought leadership on this subject, visit the s+b website at:
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