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This article appeared in a recent edition of Travelers Tribune (circ. 35,000 internationally)

In October of 1991, ISD President Larry Bacon and his staff posed a challenge to the entire ISD team. Their newly published Vision and Mission Statement called for a radically different approach to achieving world-class information technology. It called for developing a culture of high-performance teamwork, effective responses to managing change, and constant innovation and risk-taking. Said Larry to his team of 3,500, the challenge will require "each and every one of you to become a bit of a visionary to make this Vision a reality."

Nobody took him more seriously than ISD Second Vice-President Suzanne Mamet and her visionary Data Administration team.

Within a few months, Suzanne and her team had designed and launched the "ISD Vision Project", an innovative and pioneering change management project that has already has captured the interest of other Travelers divisions, national change management authors, and graduate schools of business. But what the Vision Project has done for her team of 108 has been extraordinary. Said team member Ron Roberts, "We've transformed the work place and ourselves. DA has to be the best place in all of Travelers to work."

Barriers and Fears

Comments like these help Suzanne recognize just how far her team has come in less than one year. "Our management team knew last year that meeting the challenge of the ISD Vision would not happen without some calculated risk-taking and experimentation. We needed to create a far better model for how we should live and work as people and Travelers employees. Like most areas, our people are under tremendous pressures. These pressures have been calling forth from us very different responses, different skill-sets, new values and attitudes. We also needed to find ways to create a work environment that supports us in taking much better care of ourselves and each other."

Adds Jean Downing, one of Suzanne's managers: "We have been and are experiencing constant change. We had real barriers and fears that needed to be broken down if our productivity and quality was going to improve. Technically, we were pretty strong. The issue was: How do you find ways to develop much higher levels of trust, communication, honesty and support?"

Said DA manager Art Files: "The transformation required was nothing less than going from being a group of technical experts to becoming a real team of learners being able to both respond quickly to change and make effective change happen. We needed to rewrite the book."

An Accelerated Learning Project

And rewrite the book they did. In the latter part of 1991, Suzanne and her team co-developed a pilot project in concert with InnerWork Technologies, Inc., a U.S. change management consulting firm that has worked with scores of large business organizations, and such clients as the U.S. Army Green Berets, NASA, and several Olympic athletes.

The DA management and the InnerWork team configured a comprehensive range of accelerated learning technologies to achieve the necessary levels of knowledge and mastery their people would need to be successful to "live the Vision". They focused on building capabilities in the personal, team, and organizational domains of human performance. These technologies, they also reasoned, would be best learned in intact work groups comprising the manager, his or her team leaders, and the work team members.

Said DA manager Bob Caneschi: "By late 1991, we had already reorganized into a work-team structure, but that didn't mean we had created empowered, self-directing teams. If we were serious at all about self-direction, it was time to put the oars in the water. We saw this project as a way to breakthrough and build the commitment to the new structure."

The curriculum they designed was rigorous. All 108 of Suzanne's team would learn concepts that one participant would later describe as getting an "M.B.S.-- Masters of Business Soul." In the personal development domain, they would learn concepts like Stress Mastery, Personal Visioning, Awareness, Choice, Risk-Taking, Optimum Nutrition and Fitness, and Personal Energy Management.

In the team domain, they would undergo interactive exercises that would focus on concepts like Accountability, Honesty and Integrity, Trust, Coaching, Empowerment, Support, Conflict Resolution, and Team Visioning.

From an organizational perspective, they would examine the elements of creating a Learning Organization, how to reconfigure the PMAS system to support continuous learning and teamwork, how to view human and technical problems for a "Systems-thinking" perspective, how to build a corporate (or work group) "culture", and learn processes to apply their new ideas to resolve actual on-job issues.

The basic concepts would be learned through a high impact five day off-site experiential session off-site attended by managers and their work teams. This would be followed by periodic InnerWork follow-on sessions to integrate the new skills, deepen the learning, and keep it focused on real-time organizational issues and needs.

Adds Suzanne: "It was also important to us to find ways to measure our progress, both internally and externally with the customer." To this end, Suzanne and her team planned on-going focus sessions with customers as well as contracting with the University of Wisconsin's Graduate School of Business to measure over 17 indicators of changes in her DA team, things like increased levels of trust, risk-taking, team cohesion, stress mastery, honesty, and commitment to the ISD organization (see chart).

Says Wisconsin's Dr. Richard Wagner, a nationally known expert in independently measuring corporate change efforts, "The DA project was unique from the start. First of all, few management teams even bother to measure their change efforts. Secondly, I've never seen a project seek to make such fundamental improvements in both people and the work environment. The depth of the DA project had the earmarks of a pioneering effort, not only for Travelers, but for American business. We were glad they asked us to be involved."

The Vision Project Launch

The pilot program kicked off in February for Suzanne and 44 DA'ers at the Cliff House, and included an inspiring speech on the last day by the project's sponsor, Julian Coolidge, Vice-President of ISD's new Host Environment Division. Her team's response: Delight!

Said Beth Larsen: "This program was the most incredible week of my life. My team and my relationship with management will never be the same." Added Gary Tilton, "Our team was in breakdown. Now, we've achieved several breakthroughs." Rick Smith said, "I learned that I am capable of learning and doing so much more than I ever thought possible. My customers, my team, and my family will the greatest beneficiaries". Added Kathy Garrity: "This is the best gift this organization could ever give me and my team. I know Travelers and my management supports me now and I am really committed to helping this organization succeed. May this experience continue."

Continue it did. In March and June, the remainder of Suzanne's team attended two additional off-site sessions, and the follow-on learning sessions took place on-site. Suzanne and the DA management team were amazed at how the transformation of her team unfolded. Says Suzanne: "We started to build a better higher performing, healthy kind of work culture. Old interpersonal conflicts were healed. People began to trust each other to a very high degree and relationships and communication improved dramatically. We started seeing lots of risk-taking and pro-active behavior with our customers." Team leader Don Amato remarks: "Even with the increased workload and stress, people were managing it much better. We're learning to be more kind with each other, and ourselves. It's amazing that we are able to experience twenty to forty percent increases in productivity in this way".

Suzanne was also quite pleased about her team's heightened focus on the quality of the unit's systems and processes for service delivery. "Because of the commitment and team cohesion we've created, people started coming forward with ideas and action plans for many process improvements. To date, we have organized and are addressing nearly fifteen significant quality concerns. What's very interesting about this effort is we have not instituted a formal Quality Program. Rather, we've developed an attitude and energy for continuous improvement". Adds team leader Bob Crowley, who heads up many of these initiatives: "We simply want to work smarter, not harder. We've known these improvements have been necessary for some time, but the Vision Project has convinced our team members that they have the authority to tackle them. And believe me, they are!"

Wisconsin's Dick Wagner also witnessed some interesting things. "The post-test measurements we took as the DA project evolved are like nothing we've seen in looking at over 20,000 change program participants. Nearly ever measure went up in statistically significant ways. What's even more impressive is that these measures remain as high or higher, even after six months." Wagner also noted that two indicators, Risk-Taking and Locus of Control ("I control my own success at work") both went up quite significantly. In this database, these measures had never shown any change in post-program surveys in change projects at many large organizations. Says Wagner: "We've invited Suzanne to be a keynote speaker at a national business conference next year on Managing Change in Organizations. People need to know the range of what's possible."

The Fun Index

DA team member Ann Quinn thinks the most interesting result of the Vision Project is the amount of fun everybody's having. "The DA Fun Index is way up! You won't believe this but so far this year we've instituted Peer Awards, Best Customer Awards, group outings on boats, a team hiking expedition, a Habitat for Humanity project is underway, and we are constantly doing things like conducting mini-stress relief breaks, preparing veggie and fruit trays to promote fitness and nutrition, organizing a full team puzzle board event, and writing up daily inspirational messages and posting them around the shop."

Adds foreign-born Sulzer Vareed: "I think all of DA management and my team came down to the U.S. Immigration Office with me when I was sworn in as a U.S. citizen this summer. I was the only one there with an entire cheering section!"

Concludes team member Ann Marie Rolfe: "A recent testimony on the DA Fun Index came from the company's United Way volunteers. They noticed that the DA'ers gave away the most roses of any group. To who? To each other and our favorite customers!"

Building Self and Community At Work

How do you explain this outbreak of team spirit? Bill Carroll, a former Catholic priest who has started an advanced "innerwork" study group for DA team members, has an explanation: "The principles we are applying, when understood and taken together, give us a picture of a new way we can live and work. It's an inside-out approach to change. If managers ask: How do you get our work done more efficiently with a better end product, I'd tell them that, along with improving the work process, go out and build trust, communicate honestly, support each team member, and find ways to drive out the fear and relearn the idea that it's important for everyone to seek balance and wholeness in and through our work. When this catches fire, an epidemic of sanity — even love — can spread."

Says manager Bob Caneschi: "I think what's really exciting is that we are building a community as we serve our customers. It's a feeling of belonging, and our people are unwilling to think, speak, and act like victims anymore. I think each of us is discovering how much power and control we really do have to make a difference."

We've made some big strides towards making the Vision a reality this year," says Suzanne. "But DA people know this is really a journey of self-discovery that we are on, and that it never really ends. Our work here is about constantly renewing ourselves, our team, and renewing Travelers — one day at a time.

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