Zingerman’s: Spreading the Vision

If someone aspires to create a positive organization they almost immediately confront a problem – their colleagues.  The people they work with cannot imagine a positive organization or how to create it. The image violates the assumptions they have acquired through conventional experience. Telling people about positive organizing seldom meets with success.   Changing people’s beliefs is often easier done by showing than telling.  A wise leader might create experiences that allow people to learn their way into a new mindset. Consider an example.

A CEO attended The Positive Business Conference at the Ross School of Business. He went home determined to create a positive culture. His direct reports wanted to be supportive but had great difficulty grasping the message. After much talking and little success, the CEO took another path. He flew some of his people to Ann Arbor, Michigan and spent two days visiting a company called Zingerman’s. Zingerman’s is a nationally recognized business considered by many to be the epitome of a positive organization.

The company was founded in 1982 by Ari Weinzweig and Paul Saginaw. They started with a deli and a passion for producing great food. They organized around a genuine commitment to the community, to customers, and to employees, and intensely pursued the commitment at all three levels. In a relatively short time, Zingerman’s became recognized as one of the best small businesses in the United States.

Based on their success, outsiders encouraged Weinzweig and Saginaw to franchise the deli. Instead, they invented in a new business model. Seeking to preserve their purpose, vision, and values, they began new but related businesses in the Ann Arbor area. Today, they have the deli, a bake house, a creamery, a training company, a mail-order business, and other kinds of restaurants.

In terms of leadership, they go to extraordinary lengths to make a difference. Their stories of employee, customer, and community engagement are legendary. The people at Zingerman’s love what they are doing.

After the visit to Zingerman’s, the CEO and his people were scheduled to visit me. I assumed that I would need to overcome resistance. I was wrong. I did not need to explain anything about positive organizing because the people were “on fire” with their own ideas.

Telling is less persuasive than seeing and doing. The CEO was unable to “talk” his executives into understanding and pursuing the creation of a positive organization.  Given their assumptions of reality, what he was calling for did not make sense. It was a foolhardy dream.  His people were locked into the constraints of the conventional mental map. Seeing an example of a positive organization allowed them to open up to new possibilities.

Reflection

Where do conventional assumptions come from?

Where do assumptions of excellence come from?

How could we use this positive passage to get better?

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