The A to Z of OD (Part II): B is for Behaviours

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.

Next time: C is for Culture; C is for Change

The A to Z of OD (Part I)

This is the first part in a series of articles that will set out the A to Z of organisation development.  The series will consider the principles and practices, the tools and techniques and the past and present thought leaders that have shaped the field.  I don’t know exactly what will be included under each letter of the alphabet.  That will emerge.  If you have any thoughts on what you think should be included, get in touch and we’ll discover together where this goes!

But first, we must discover what is OD.  And to do that, we must first decide what is an organisation.

What is an organisation?

An organisation is a group of people who come together to achieve a common purpose.  They establish a collection of systems and processes that produces more together than the sum of their parts.  These components continually impact on each other, depend on each other to thrive and collectively contribute as a ‘whole system’ towards achieving the organisation’s purpose.

Different parts of any organisation perform different functions and can become highly specialised.  This specialisation creates a need for coordination at a ‘whole system’ level, i.e. the need for more and more sophisticated leadership and organisation.

What is organisation development?

Organisation development is an ongoing, systematic process of implementing sustainable change that recognises and draws on this ‘whole system’ thinking.  It also uses applied behavioural science to understand organisational and team dynamics.  After all, organisations are human systems – they only exist as a collection of people coming together to achieve a common purpose.

The goal of organisation development is to maximise the organisation’s effectiveness at serving its purpose.

A is for Action Learning

Action learning is a process whereby participants study their own actions and experiences to improve their performance.  You do it in conjunction with others in small groups called action learning sets, typically using the services of a facilitator.

Action learning propels your personal development further and faster in the real world.  This is because your peers are helping you reflect on your interactions with other people and the learning points arising.  This guides future action and develops real-world wisdom rather than traditional educational processes that focus purely on knowledge.  It is particularly suited to leadership development in organisations, where participants are working on real problems in the real world that affect real people.

OD thought leader: Chris Argyris

Chris Argyris (1923-2013) was a founding father of organisation development.  He is known for seminal work on developing learning organisations.  He pioneered Action Science – the study of how people choose their actions in difficult situations.

Action Learning and Action Science are related.  There is a risk the former may inadvertently encourage ‘single-loop’ learning: you act, you reflect on the outcome of that action and then make practical adjustments so that you revise the action you take next time.

Argyris argued that humans are overwhelmingly programmed to act based of defensive thinking.  Organisations reinforce this defensive behaviour through institutionalised routines.  Such routines prevent individuals expressing concerns, encourage avoiding behaviour and promote a lack of authenticity.  It is hard to break this vicious cycle.

Argyris proposed a double-loop of learning.  Double-loop learning means to be reflective in-the-moment, to continuously pay attention to the present to make your positive future intention a reality.  We must continue to learn, and we must continually relearn how to learn.  For me, reflective double-loop learning is one of the cornerstones of organisation development.

Recommended reading: Argyris, C. (2000). Flawed Advice and The Management Trap: How Managers Can Know When They’re Getting Good Advice and When They’re Not. New York, Oxford.

Next time: B is for Behaviours

Past performance is not necessarily a guide to future performance… but it is a good place to start

We are told that past performance is not necessarily a guide to future performance, especially when making personal financial investments.  That’s why, in organisations, we write business cases to prove to ourselves we will get a return on investment.  How does this apply to transformational change, when it’s not just finances, but relationships between people that need to change?  We are told that past performance is not necessarily a guide to future performance… but it is a good place to start.

 Past – Present – Future … where do you tend to start?

“I want to change the culture,” is something I hear a lot from potential clients.  They have an idea of what is NOT working and a vague notion that “empowerment”, more accountability” or “better collaboration” are the ways to change things.  They then immediately set about defining what the future will look like and writing their business case.  If this sounds familiar, chances are you are already on the path to failure.  That is because you have over-rationalised it and are trying to make a purely financial case for investment.

 The Future is unwritten

I’m not going to bore you with facts and figures about the failure of change programmes.  You’ll know yourself that organisations often choose to invest in tangible things that can be measured in financial terms.  Thing like restructuring, new systems and business processes.  They tend to spend less effort investing in building truly collaborative way of working, innovating and problem-solving.  Because these are hard to do.   Also, writing business cases forces you down that path.  It is often a logical place to start, but it is not the whole story.

 Let the Future remain unwritten for a little longer

In my experience, organisations that over rely on these rational aspects of change tend to achieve limited success, smaller business benefits and alienate their people.  Those organisations that consider the softer, relationship-orientated, people aspects of change achieve better results.  Sometimes.  A major issue, even when culture is properly considered, is that those seeking the change only look forwards to envision a brighter future.

 Opportunities lie in the Past as well as the Future

This is, I fear, only half the story.  By looking at how your organisation got to where it is today, you will understand what aspects of your current culture are already working well and need preserving.  Reflect on the journey taken to get to where you are today, the successes, the failures, what has been learned (and what has not).  This will give you a better understanding of what makes your organisation tick, and what might be holding it back.

 Now is all there is

By achieving a deeper understanding of the Past, you allow yourself, collectively with your people, to let it go.  You will become more intently focused on the Present.  I believe the Present is really all that truly exists.  Looking to the Past helps us understand the Present.  Looking to the future tries to hi-Jack the Present and force it into something it is not ready to be. 

 Be right here, right now with your people and allow your Future Intention to emerge collectively from collaborative sense-making and reflecting on learnings from the Past.  Pay attention to the Present to make your Future Intention a reality.  There are a few simple, practical techniques and ways of working that can be applied every day to do this.  The result is transformational.  The result is the culture change you are seeking.

 Jeremy J Lewis, committed to making a difference in embedding sustainable change

Understanding the public service leadership challenges

The challenges

The public service leadership challenges of cuts, confusion and change have become the norm.  The basic elements needed to lead through this ever-changing landscape are: clarity over direction; adequate support to adopt change (preferably in the form of budgets for resources and development) and positive consequences for delivering the change without damaging services.

There is now a growing realisation amongst public sector leaders that each of these elements is irrevocably threatened: confusion has replaced clarity; cuts have replaced adequate support and negative consequences have replaced any semblance of positivity.

For too long, individual leaders have sought the answers unilaterally, while the pressure to retain accountability mounts daily.  They have done this while struggling to have influence that the right things get done within an evolving democratic Political process.

Individual leaders cannot be expected to have all the answers.  The solution requires whole system leadership.  This means that learning to collaborate is essential, both within organisations and between partners in other public organisations, and in the private and third sectors.

Evidence-based recommendations

Recent research supports the need for leaders to balance collective leadership and accountability with changes in the Political process:

In The 21st Century Public Servant, the University of Birmingham  asked questions around what is the range of different roles  and requirements on  those responsible for delivery 21st century public services and what are the support and training requirements for these roles.  In a 2016 report, the Institute for Government undertook a study on the impact of elected regional mayors on ministerial and local accountability, reporting that “success of local collaboration and innovation will depend on the strength of local accountability.”

The latest leadership research, Leadership: all you need to know, (Pendleton and Furnham, Palgrave, 2012), suggests that individual leaders cannot be expected to have all the answers.  Leadership requires strategic focus, operational focus and a focus on developing relationships.  Leaders are probably strong in one or two of these and very rarely all three.  The answer is of course to develop collective leadership where the top team has access to all these capabilities.

This evidence points to the need for public sector leaders to understand more deeply their own leadership strengths and development areas and consider how to build collective leadership to face the challenges of cuts, confusion and change.

Supporting leaders to rise to the challenge

In 2013, in association with the LGA and Skills for Government, Solace published Asking the right questions following consultation and a number of interviews with serving CXs to understand the key challenges they faced and the skills and behaviours they believed were required by their peers and those aspiring to such roles.

Working with CMdeltaConsulting, Solace have now adapted the thinking from both sets of research to suit a broader leadership population and develop collective accountability for public sector leadership – the Leading in Context Framework

The framework can be accessed by individual leaders taking a free self-assessment diagnostic questionnaire, available here.  The tool works by presenting you with 30 statements relating to your experience at work.  Once you have selected the responses that most closely represent your experience or usual way of working, you are immediately presented with a brief report that shows your strengths and development areas against the Leading in Context Framework

Next steps

We can build the solution to the current challenges together.  Using the free diagnostic questionnaire and report, individual leaders can deepen their own understanding of their leadership strengths and development areas, build a shared understanding of the leadership challenges and perhaps increase their collective accountability to develop as leadership teams and across multi-agency partnerships.

 

Trudy Birtwell – Head of Leadership and Organisational Development at Solace

Jeremy Lewis – MD at CMdeltaConsulting and Solace Associate

Note for editors

Solace (Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers) is the representative body for senior strategic managers working in the public sector. We are committed to public sector excellence. We provide our members with opportunities for personal and professional development and seek to influence the debate about the future of public services to ensure that policy and legislation reflect the experience and expertise of our members.

CMdeltaConsulting is a specialist consulting, coaching and facilitation firm that focuses on whole system leadership and collaborative partnering.  We are committed to making a difference in helping senior leaders and the teams they lead thrive.  Working directly with public sector leaders, we support and challenge them to ensure the changes they need to make stick, partner and coach them throughout their change journey and build the skills they and their teams need to face tomorrow’s challenges.  We support public sector organisations in Local Government, Health and the Police.

Why do you do what you do?

First published on LinkedIn, December 21, 2016.

I wrote a post around Christmastime last year saying I believe in Father Christmas, which received a comment about aligning what we do with what we believe in, and that if we could align what we do with what we believe in, then wouldn’t the world be a better place?

Today, I had a great conversation with a colleague concerning why we do the things we do, which got me thinking about why I do the things I do, and whether it is about aligning what I want with what I believe in.  My conclusion is that there is a third dimension – what I do.  Bringing all three of these together might perhaps uncover why I do what I do.

A framework to help you align your thinking

I present this thinking here for no other purpose than to suggest it as a framework for thinking about what you believe in, what you want and what you do.  You might just uncover why you do what you do, and if not, give pause for thought as we approach a New Year and those resolutions to choose something new or different.

I believe in people; I help people be the leaders they want to be; it makes me happy and fulfilled.  These are the ‘whats’ in the Venn diagram.  The intersections are, I believe, the ‘hows’:

  • I believe in people and I help people. I do that by consulting, coaching and facilitating. That is how I align what I believe with what I do
  • I do it with a non-judgmental attitude. I accept the leader you are now, confront the challenges you have and support you to make better choices, so that you become more potent as a leader.  This how I align what I want with what I believe in
  • Being part of a larger corporate machine would not make me happy or fulfilled. So, I do it as a freelance, self-employed consultant – coach – facilitator.  This aligns what I do with what I want.

The final intersection, right in the centre of the diagram, which brings together these ‘whats’ and ‘hows’ is, of course, the ‘why’: why do I do what I do?  And for me, that is the higher purpose of making a difference.

And so, I’m curious, why do you do what you do?

Jeremy J Lewis

CMdeltaConsulting

“Committed to making a difference”

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Eco-friendly consulting?

First published on LinkedIn, December 14, 2016

According to recycling.org.uk, being eco-friendly can be confusing and it can be difficult to know whether you’re doing it right.  It suggests you improve your recycling efforts by learning which type of collection is best and why different areas recycle and collect in different ways.

Is consulting like recycling?

Consulting can be confusing and it can be difficult to know whether you’re getting good advice.  You can improve your use of consultants by learning which type of consulting is best for you and why different firms deliver their services in different ways.

Expert, pair of hands or collaborative?

For example, do you want to hire an expert because you do not have the skills yourself?  Might work in the short-term, but how is this going to build capability to solve similar issues in the future?  Or perhaps you’re just short of a pair of hands to deliver a change programme.  Arguably, this is not consulting at all, more like hiring an expensive interim manager and again, once they leave, who will pick up the reins?

And then there is true collaborative consulting, where a whole-system and people-centred approach is taken to jointly understanding your issues, shaping and delivering solutions together and building your capability to solve similar problems for yourself in the future.  This requires consistently applying fundamental, robust principles and practices to achieve sustainable change.  You can think of this as Eco-friendly consulting because it makes best use of what you already have.  It does this by following that maxim of managing waste: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

Reduce your use of consultants that use management fads

Wherever you look, there are fads: celebrities waxing on about the latest crash diet, ‘experts’ explaining how to use live snails or bird poo for skincare, and ‘tweet mirrors’ in the clothing section of department stores to name a few recent ones I’ve spotted.

The world of management and change can also sometimes appear full of fads: total quality management, lean thinking, six sigma, I could go on and on.

You can even have a go at inventing our own management fad: pick three numbers from 1-10 and have a go, for instance 3-6-9 will generate ‘Authentic Customer-focused Partnering’, doesn’t that sound good?

Management fad generator

Extract from the Management Fad Generator, courtesy of Sheffield Business School 

Add a few more words of your own and generate your very own management fad!

How do you know which of the ‘latest thinking’ is real and grounded in robust change theory and which are just fads that have been hijacked by firms looking to get hold of your money, with no real insight into the processes of sustainable change?

Thankfully for every fad, there is an antidote: perhaps listen to a dietician rather than a celebrity for slimming advice, try a value and common sense product for skincare such as NO AD (a company that does not advertise and has no brand and no superfluous packaging and hence is half the price of other ‘brands’, and wins awards for best sun care products), or even shop at Springfield’s traditional department store Costington’s, whose slogan is “100 years without a slogan!”  Okay that last one is from the Simpsons, but you get my point.

Ironically (nay, satirically) Costington’s does indicate that becoming fad-free can itself become a gimmick.

Reuse old theories that work

I believe deeply in tried and trusted processes of change; I believe there are three things you need to do well to effect change: (1) be clear on what needs to change; (2) invest in the support people need to make the change; (3) provide (positive) consequences for those who embrace the change and (negative) consequences for those who resist it.  Consistently applying this theory will save you time and money, and build a reliable approach you can reuse again and again.

Recycle those theories into practice

“Nothing is so practical as a good theory”, as one sage once said (it was Kurt Lewin, btw, in 1941).   And he was right.  Re-badging old theory as new techniques might even be desirable, modernizing ideas that work in today’s reality.  A bit like upcycling, really.  However, I’d recommend you check the theory that underpins your consultant’s techniques is robust, tested in the real world and not just another management fad, otherwise you might just be buying cheap tat that will fall apart when you try to put it to good use.

Jeremy J Lewis

#eco-friendly consulting from @growthepig

Look after your shiny pennies

First published on LinkedIn, November 14, 2016

Everybody seems to be talking about talent management and succession planning.  Mostly, they’re criticising the dreaded nine-box grid.  I’ve noticed this dread some up in conversation last month at the Northern Organisational Development Network and recently in client meetings.  The issue is neatly summarised in this excellent article by Lucy Adams https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/9-box-grid-fatigue-lucy-adams .

*Metaphor alert*

I think of talent as the shiny pennies you sometimes get in your small change, gleaming with potential to be different to their weather-worn contempories.  We are told if we look after the pennies, the pounds will look after themselves.  Do we nurture these new pennies, or do we toss them into a piggy bank or oversized whisky bottle to dull alongside their tarnished brethren?

If you treat your talent this way – in other words, the same way you treat all your small change – you will lose sight of their shininess, their potential.  And, of course, you don’t ever see them again unless you shake out the piggy bank and rifle through your change.  Worse still, you must smash the bottle to release the potential since expecting talent to rise to the top automatically and find its way through the bottleneck is clearly nonsense (and it’s no accident the bottleneck is always at the top of the bottle!)

A possible solution

Perhaps it would be better to drop your change into an open-necked jar.  That way, you might still see your shiny pennies and can reach in and grab a few, you know, if you want to.  But you don’t.

Talent management and succession planning are processes that were created to address this issue.  Liken them if you will to an automatic coin sorter.  My kids were given automatic coin sorters when they opened their ‘LittleSaver’ (or some such thing) bank accounts; you pop your coin in a slot at the top and it slides into a different holder dependent on the size of the coin.  Doesn’t work with 50 pence pieces though and it doesn’t encourage you to do anything with your savings.  Even electric coins sorters that can deal with huge volumes and tally up the coins into baggable denominations don’t do that.  They just sort it, bag it, bank it.

It strikes me we are dealing with our small change like we deal with our talent in the darned nine-box grid.  Sort it, bag it, bank it.  Let it fester.

Why?

HR professionals have good intentions when designing talent management processes, however they are processes.  They have over-rationalised an emotive subject to pretend it is not emotive.  They are colluding with managers to avoid the real work of managing talent and planning succession.

The antidote?
  1. Reconnect with the reason you are managing talent.  To plan succession, use those shiny pennies.
  2. Scrap the process-centred thinking.  I suggest root cause analysis of what works and what does not. Talent management is not working.  Start with culture, not process.  Your (talent) culture eats your (talent) strategy for breakfast, and goes on to polish off your (talent) processes for lunch.  Use a culture web analysis to uncover what’s going on
  3. DO SOMETHING with talented people to nurture and develop them. In the words of Marie Kondo (from the awesome Life changing magic of tidying), to “see these coins, stripped of their dignity as money, is heartrending.  I beg you to rescue these forgotten coins wasting away in your home by adopting the motto, ‘into my wallet’!”

It’s heartrending to to me to see these talented people, stripped of their dignity as human beings, populating a nine-box grid as initials in a succession plan that will never be fulfilled.  I beg you to rescue these forgotten people wasting away in your organisation by adopting the motto, [complete the sentence in not more than 10 words].

Jeremy J Lewis

@growthepig

Does your organisation pay attention to its heart, mind, body and soul?

First posted on LinkedIn June 16, 2016

A whole person is made up of heart, mind, body and soul.  Okay it’s a metaphor, I know a whole person comprises blood, organs, flesh and bones, but go with me for a moment.  I believe an organisation (which is a human system after all) has a heart, a mind, a body and a soul too.  People need to attend to their hearts, minds, bodies and souls to stay healthy and to thrive, especially in times of change.  So, why don’t organisations do the same?  Making changes stick requires you pay attention to your organisation’s heart, mind, body and soul.

The power to organise defines the organisational mind

Let’s start with the mind, the appeal to logic (or logos as the Greek philosophers would have it) so prevalent in how organisations are designed.  Why is paying attention to the organisational mind important?  People are rational and need security and recognition for their work.  Paying attention to the organisational mind connects your business processes to your strategy and it demonstrates a thought through design for efficiency and effectiveness.  The power to organise defines the organisational mind.  It is attended to through org structures, planning processes and performance management.

Organisations demonstrate heart through engagement

Then there’s the heart of the organisation, the appeal to emotions (or pathos).  Pathos is important in decision making (as now evidenced through neuroscience).  It connects people to your strategy and demonstrates a developmental approach to help people fulfil their potential.  Organisations demonstrate heart by how well they engage their people.  This requires clarity of communication, offering support and nurturing people to develop their careers in pursuit of their aspirations.

Actions speak louder than words

The body of an organisation is its people.  It is how they undertake your business processes to deliver the strategy.  It is, as Herb Kelleher, Chairman of Southwest Airlines puts it, “what people do when no one is looking”.  More than anything else, this defines your organisation’s culture.  It’s what connects people to your business processes.  Attending to culture demonstrates you value the real life internal workings of your organisation.  Developing this enables you to keep it simple, get it right first time and truly create a customer-focused culture.

You need soul to turns ideas into actions

The organisational soul is what holds all the other parts together.  It balances the needs of the organisational heart, mind and body.  It connects strategy, process and people, and it demonstrates the ability to turn ideas into actions to deliver the strategy.  The organisational soul is leadership; leadership that gives clarity of direction, support to develop skills and behaviours and reinforce those behaviours day-to-day, and ensures there are consequences for success or failure to deliver.

I work with clients who know they need to develop their organisations, but who are frustrated by the change they want to make not sticking.  I believe to make change stick you need to attend to the heart, mind body and soul of your organisation.  How does your organisation fair?  Does it pay attention to its heart, mind, body and soul?

Jeremy J Lewis

@growthepig