In coaching and in certain regulated professions such as clinical practice and social care, the concept of supervision is well-established. However in OD consulting, it is in its infancy.
If you are an OD practitioner employed within an organisation, maybe you have a line manager who provides this role. However, many in-house OD practitioners are lone rangers reporting to a generalist HR Director who may not have the experience or deep understanding of OD as they do themselves.
Many external OD practitioners work for larger consulting firms and may well have line managers who provide a supervisory role. As with internal OD practitioners, this may not always be the case. Perhaps you are the OD/change expert in a larger firm that has a broader offer? Who do you turn to when you need professional guidance and support?
As professional OD practitioners – internal or external – our challenges are to consult flawlessly through the five stages of the consulting cycle, respect client confidentiality and boundaries and hold an appropriate ethical attitude. Supervision is there to help us solve dilemmas, support us through emotional challenges and provide fresh perspectives so we understand ourselves and our clients better and develop into the consultants we want to be.
If you feel like a lone-agent OD practitioner, how are you getting the support you need?
There are several ways you can get the support you need. You might join an OD networking or other peer support group, seek a mentor or hire a coach, or even hire a qualified consultancy supervisor. There are a few of us* out there.
OD thought leader: Ed Schein (b. 1928)
It would be hard to overestimate Ed Schein’s contribution to the field of OD. As former professor at MIT Sloan School of Management, Schein won several awards for his work in organisational culture, individual motivation and career development and the process of consulting.
These days, it is commonly accepted that organisation’s culture is concerned with the shared meanings that members give to past and present organisational experiences. Ed Schein pioneered this thinking in the 1980s, suggesting culture is a layered model of symbolic artefacts, behavioural norms, espoused values and underlying tacit assumptions.
Motivation (‘career anchors’)
As part of his career anchors model, Schein argued there are three core factors (economic, social and self-actualising) that motivate individuals in organisations. Many OD practitioners – me included – believe organisations must make the complex assumption that motivation is a combination of economic, social and self-actualising factors. Managers’ behaviours, e.g. more participative management styles, communication, recognition/rewards and encouraging personal development, both symbolise and enact the organisational culture.
Implications for OD
OD is partly about good diagnosis of the current and desired culture and influencing the role of leaders to develop appropriate culture through symbolic means.
We can enhance organisational effectiveness whilst stimulating the self-actualising element of individual motivation by creating linkages between the organisation and the employee – a sense of belonging.
The benefit of observing organisations through their cultures is that the OD practitioner is attuned to the human side of the organisation, not just its functional subsystems. The key to successful organisation change is to view it as complementary: culture change and functional change in harmony.
Schein’s interpreted collaborative consulting as ‘process consultation’. For him, this is about helping others understand the importance of adherence to the social rules surrounding human relationships. His “ultimate dilemma … is how to produce change in the client system without people losing face”. Referring to Lewin’s ice cube theory of change, he sets out three elements that must be present during unfreezing, i.e. where motivation for change is created:
- Disconfirmation (or lack of confirmation);
- Creation of guilt or anxiety;
- Provision of psychological safety.
One of the main reasons the unfreezing stage of change fails is that people resist change and hence pervert the change effort. There are many reasons people resist change: they don’t want to lose something of value; lack trust in management; hold a belief that change doesn’t make sense for the organisation; have a low tolerance for change; or exhibit passive resistance to change by complying with the change without real commitment.
OD practitioners must find ways to value resistance to change; a healthy tension during unfreezing helps to ensure the change plan is robust. This requires the OD practitioner to recognise resistance as trapped energy, and engage the resistors in dialogue – they may be sensitive to flaws in the plan, or be able to identify unintended consequences of the change. The OD practitioner must beware of low tolerance to change and not require people to change too much too quickly.
I suggest participative change through process consultation is the most appropriate approach to ensure change targets are involved in setting the change agenda. Process consultation is also the best approach to overcome passive resistance, where people are only accepting change to save face; adopting anything other than process consultation models here “increases the risk that the client will feel humiliated and will lose face”.
Resistance can also be at play in the refreezing stage. Even when an individual has refrozen new concepts, these changes may violate the expectations of ‘significant others’ such as bosses, peers and team members. Schein suggests the initial change target may need to implement a programme of change for these others with them as targets. Ultimately a strategy for change should identify likely sources of resistance and ensure methods for dealing with it are consistent with the overall strategy.
SCHEIN, Edgar H., (1981). Coming to a New Awareness of Organizational Culture. Sloan Management Review (winter), pp3-16.
SCHEIN, Edgar H., (1988). Organizational Psychology (3rd Ed). Englewood Cliffs, NJ., Prentice Hall.
SCHEIN, Edgar H., (1987). Process Consultation Volume II: Lessons for Managers and Consultants. Reading, MA., Addison-Wesley.
*Self-interest alert: I have just graduated as a Supervisor for Coaching and Consultancy with the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations.