This is the second part in a series of articles that will set out the A to Z of organisation development: the principles and practices, the tools and techniques and the past and present thought leaders that have shaped the field. Today, we look at B. B is for Behaviours: Organisational behaviours.
I still don’t know exactly what will be included under each letter. That is starting to emerge. If you have any thoughts on what you would like to see included, get in touch and we’ll discover where this goes!
Many people have already commented via LinkedIn or by contacting me directly on what they would like to see included. Big thanks to all – you’ll get a namecheck when your ideas come up in the alphabet! In fact, if you want to guest blog a topic or thought leader, then let me know.
First namecheck goes to Inji Duducu, for suggesting Assumptions, as in, “What assumptions drive the culture?” Good question Inji. The assumptions manifest as a set of behaviours that in turn define the culture, as we will see when we explore B. B is for Behaviours.
B is for Behaviours
The way an organisation operates can be seen by people inside (staff, managers, etc.) and outside (customers, commentators and other stakeholders). The way the organisation behaves represents an unwritten set of assumptions that are tacitly and commonly understood by those people. The behaviours represent their collective experience: past, present and, without intervention, future. These behaviours, good and bad, define the culture of the organisation.
Oftentimes, organisations write down their values and discuss them in external publications such as financial statements and investor briefings. They may also be discussed internally in objective-setting, performance appraisals and personal development planning. In an ideal world, the behaviours and the values marry up! In the real world, there are usually gaps between what is espoused in vague, aspirational values statements on posters around the workplace and what happens day-to-day in work routines, meetings and customer interactions.
Surfacing implicit, often undiscussable assumptions that inhibit performance is a key goal of organisation development. We do that to encourage discussion, reformulation and articulation of behaviours that bring the values to life day-to-day. If you think this sounds hard, well it is. Institutionalised defensive thinking and behaviour (see OD thought leader: Chris Argyris) mean that not only are unhelpful assumptions undiscussable, but the fact they are undiscussable is itself undiscussable.
A word of caution though: OD practitioners are not trying to change people. Rather, our goal is to invite people to choose their own more positive behaviours that align with the values of the organisations with which they choose to associate themselves.
OD thought leader: Peter Block
Peter Block (b. 1940) is an author and consultant whose focus is on empowerment, accountability and collaboration. He believes that people working within organisations who are trying to change or improve a situation, but who do not have direct control over that situation, are acting as consultants. Let’s face it, that is pretty much everybody working in any organisation. The problem is that many people working in organisations behave as if they believe they need to control other people to get things done. The paradox is that you can achieve the results you want without having to control other people around you. You do this by focusing on relationships as well as tasks, agreeing (or ‘contracting’) to do things jointly and always being authentic. This approach establishes collaborative working relationships, solves problems so that they stay solved and ensures your expertise (whatever subject that expertise is in) gets used.
Block’s best-selling book, Flawless Consulting, sets out practical tips on how to complete each stage of influencing others to get your expertise used, pay attention to the relationship as well as the task at each stage, and hence ‘consult’ flawlessly. It is, without any exaggeration, the bible of consulting. And that applies whether you consider yourself a consultant or not.
Don’t take my word for it, Barry Posner, Professor of Leadership at the Levey School of Business in Santa Clara, California puts it succinctly, “The first question to ask any consultants: Have you read Peter Block’s Flawless Consulting? If they say no, don’t hire them.”
Recommended reading: Block, P. (2011). Flawless Consulting (3rd Ed.): A Guide to Getting Your Expertise Used. San Francisco, Wiley.