The A to Z of OD: E is for Energy – Managing Energy

Suggested by Perry Timms, Simon Daisley and – notably – Dorothy Matthew, who suggested to me that time management is outdated, and the focus today needs to be on managing energy as opposed to time, and Russell Harvey, who reminded me leading change means checking in with others to see how they are managing their energy for change.

Managing time is out

I remember attending a training course on time management when I first started out in my career.  We were encouraged to schedule important tasks in our diaries and treat them as of similar importance to meetings, for example.  At the end of the course, the delegates paired up to check-in and support each other with our agreed actions.  I can’t remember the name of the chap I paired with.  Let’s call him Dave.  So, a couple of weeks later, I dutifully phoned Dave…

“Hi Dave, it’s Jez.  How are you getting on with managing your diary?” I asked, politely.

“I’m far too busy to start with any of that crap!” he retorted, paradoxically.

Perhaps even then, the concept of time management was outdated.  Dave was living on adrenaline, managing all the tasks he needed to, performing adequately, perhaps, surviving, just.  But for how long is such an approach sustainable?

Managing energy is in

Fast forward a couple of decades or so and I now work with groups of senior leaders who are coping with gnarly transformational changes in their organisations.  My work is concerned with how to lead change so that it sustains.  I’m struck that today’s rapidly changing world gives rise to rapidly changing pressures on leaders.

I’ve said before that leading change starts on the inside.  We all react to change when it happens to us from the outside-in.  Learning to recognise our own emotional response means we can make more active choices in how to respond, rather than react.  How we can maintain our own energy for change, so we can help others cope with it too?  How we can internalise the change, so we work with it from the inside-out?  This, I believe, makes us better change leaders.

The way we are working is not working

I am reminded of the words that describe working in different zones as articulated by Tony Schwartz in The Way We work Isn’t Working.  Schwartz suggests we tend to operate in one of four zones:

  • Performance Zone, when our energy and activity are high, and we feel optimistic
  • Survival Zone, when our energy and activity are high, but we are running around doing so much. In this Zone, our emotional state is negative, we become pessimistic about work, we retreat into silos, protecting ourselves from the outside world.  We are just about surviving
  • Burnout Zone, when our energy dips catastrophically and it all becomes too much
  • Renewal Zone, when we find time to recover from the pressures of work, energy remains low (we are recovering after all), however we regain our optimism and become ready to move back to the Performance Zone.

So, what?

When the pace of work and change becomes too much, our performance slips, we can find ourselves operating in the Survival Zone.  We might find ourselves feeling lonely or moody, we may become narcissistic and unpredictable.  We might also become apathetic, appearing to others as stubborn or intense.  These are the signs we are moving towards the Burnout Zone.

The trick is to find ways to move freely between the Performance Zone and the Renewal Zone, so that we remain optimistic and enthusiastic, while slowing our energy and activity to recover, and then using our renewed energy to keep our performance high.

And so, the question becomes: what can you do to maintain your energy for change?  To find time in your routine to recover from the pressures of work – where the pace of change is ever-increasing – and keep your performance high?

Three tips to maintain your energy for change

  1. Find your own words to describe the four Zones. Then, notice when you are feeling that way, it is probably an indication you are already in that Zone, or moving towards it
  2. Work out what renews your energy – this might be mindful meditation, sport or exercise, social activities, hobbies or clubs. At work, it might simply be finding time to leave your desk and go for a walk or have your lunch with others away from the office.  It might be finding time to #JustBe.  Outside of work it might be reading, listening to or playing music, painting or simply have a long soak in a hot bath.  This tip helps you discover your own Renewal Zone.
  3. Mindfully choose to spend time in your Renewal Zone. Schedule it in your diary if needs be.  Dave, are you listening?  I was listening, I have time blocked out in my diary entitled #JustBe.

You might find you start to spot the signs of the Survival Zone or Burnout Zone in others.  If so, you might want to encourage them to think about their own Renewal Zone.  You may also find you can spot the signs of the Performance Zone or the Renewal Zone in others and choose to appreciate them, to celebrate their achievement!

OD Thought Leader: Chester Elton, “The Apostle of Appreciation” (1958 – )

Chester Elton is one of the masters of employee engagement.

Elton and his co-author, Adrian Gostick, conducted research with 200,000 managers and literally millions of workers to evidence the thinking behind their ‘Carrot Principle’.  The research found that feeling appreciated is one of the highest ranked (top three, worldwide) workers’ motivations.

They propose, “a carrot is something used to inspire and motivate an employee. It’s something to be desired… Simply put, when employees know that their strengths and potential will be praised and recognised, they are significantly more likely to produce value.”

Their research has spawned an industry of formal employee recognition schemes. But it is the informal, cultural aspects that often have the most impact. A carrot does not need to be monetary. Simply being thanked or publicly recognised is enough for many.

If I may borrow from another great thought leader, Nancy Kline, “people do their best thinking in the presence of Appreciation.” I’d suggest ‘their best thinking’ translates readily into ‘their best work’. And so, managers showing their honest appreciation improves organisational performance.

Creating a climate of appreciation enables organisations to sustain what Elton calls a ‘Carrot Culture’.

And if, as I believe, Engagement is one of the engines of organisational effectiveness, this can only help to humanise the workplace in a systemic way. And that, dear readers, is what OD is all about.

Recommended reading: Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton (2009): The Carrot Principle, London, Simon and Schuster

Next time: F is for Facilitation

The A to Z of OD (Part III conclusion): C is for Change

Today, we finalise the letter C in our A to Z of OD.  We have seen C is for Culture, and C is for Creating the right Climate for Culture to Flourish.  Today, we consider the big one.  Today, we consider Change itself.  It is a huge topic and I have considered it from the perspective of OD as a humanistic, systemic approach to achieving sustainable change.

This post was in part inspired by my former colleague Francis Lake.  Francis is Head of OD at Clydesdale and Yorkshire Banking Group; he reminded me of the importance of the emotional response to change and the need to think long-term when planning change.

C is for Change

It strikes me, from my experience of facilitating transformational change in many different organisations, that change often appears to be driven from the ‘outside-in’.  Typically, this is in response to the external environment, economic considerations or technological developments.  This is clearly rational; however, it can lead to short-term changes being implemented that do not last long.

More sustainable, long-term change requires changing from the ‘inside-out’.  This requires consideration of the whole organisational system.  It starts by looking internally at how different parts of the organisation are aligned to meet its primary purpose (see the A to Z of OD Part I) against those external factors, i.e. understanding that the whole system includes the external stakeholders and operating environment.

Motivation

Earlier in Part III of the A to Z of OD, we explored culture and the importance of creating the right climate for culture to flourish.  There are three core factors that combine to motivate employees to take on change: feeling safe (adequate reward and psychological safety), social factors (working relationships and recognition) and self-actualising factors (autonomy and personal development).

As I outlined in The A to Z of OD: C is for Culture, managers’ and leaders’ behaviours – such as more participative management styles, colleague engagement, recognition and rewards and encouraging personal development – both enact and symbolise the culture by stimulating motivation so that organisations access discretionary effort from their workforce.

Past-Present-Future

That notwithstanding, people fear change.  They are apt at romantically reconstructing the past through rose-tinted spectacles, editing it to create myths of a glorious bygone age.  This is organisational nostalgia.

Organisational nostalgia is often at odds with the case for change, which is expressed optimistically, yet rationally, in formal business cases and enacted through tightly-controlled project disciplines.  This future-oriented approach explicitly hides emotions.  People get the message that emotions are bad; nostalgia is bad.  And like some movie of a dystopian future where the (emotional) humans battle against the (rational) machines, “Resistance is Futile!”

You can see how this might represent a major (psychological) problem.

By recognising both these opposing positions, I believe OD must build a case for change by taking a different perspective; revealing rather than denying the nostalgics’ stories from the emotional past, the reality of the present and the optimistic journey to the future.  This requires a process-centred approach to change, rather than a destination-focused project plan.

Outside-in vs inside-out

OD can:

  • Help individuals recognise and challenge their natural responses to change
  • Adopt a process-centred approach to change
  • Select a change strategy to promote motivation rather than tackle resistance
  • Tap into emotional nostalgia to better understand the past and how the organisation got to where it is today before visioning the future and how to get there.

This, I believe, is how long-term, sustainable change is delivered.

OD Thought Leader: Stephen R. Covey (1932 – 2012)

Based on his PhD research into world religions and other codes of practice throughout human history, Covey synthesised a list of seven habits that encourage people to live principled lives, and to choose to change from the inside-out rather than decide to change purely as a response to external influences.

The first three habits encourage people to move from being dependent to being independent: (1) be proactive, (2) begin with the end in mind and (3) put first things first.  The skills that underpin these three habits are often described in organisations as positive behaviours and offered as personal development interventions, i.e. (1) taking accountability, (2) aligning activity to an overall mission and (3) prioritising important work over work that is simply urgent.

The next three habits are about moving from independence to interdependence: (4) think ‘win-win’, (5) seek first to understand, then to be understood and (6) syergize.  These are often offered in OD as team development, e.g. (4) collaborative working, (5) coaching skills and (6) teamworking so that more can be achieved than working alone.

Habit 7, Sharpen the Saw, aims to promote the concept of continuous learning.  In OD, this aligns to the concept of the Learning Organisation.

Whilst written from the perspective of personal development, there is much to learn in Seven Habits from an organisation development perspective.  I particularly like the way Covey draws from fundamental principles of what is to be human as taught be elders throughout history, across the world, and makes it relevant to today’s organisational context.

Recommended reading: Covey, S. (2004). The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. London, Simon & Schuster.

Next time: D is for Design

The A to Z of OD (Part III continued): C is for Climate

Earlier in the week, I covered C is for Culture.  Continuing the letter C, this beautiful blog post about organisational climate is contributed by freelance OD practitioner Lucy ThompsonLucy is a creative OD Specialist, Changemaker and Coach.  She typically leads the people aspects on major transformational change programmes, focusing on delivering organisational effectiveness and team performance.

Creating the right Climate for Culture to Flourish

I was reminded today of the simplicity of a flower in nature – when you see a flower growing beautifully and thriving, the last thing you do is pick it.  You leave it to be nurtured by nature-  safe in the knowledge that this flower had found its place in the world and the climate it was growing in was enabling it to be the best version of itself it can be.

A climate in an organisation is often referred to as its culture.  You only need Google ‘culture’ and ‘organisation’ to find a raft of insight, models and diagnostics that can help put labels on what is happening at any one time in the organisation and its system.

Many an OD practitioner will tell you that culture is a direct descendant of the team at the top.  Leadership shapes culture.  It’s the way leaders walk, the way they talk, the messages they send and the way they bounce back when things might not have gone as planned. 

Creating high performing leadership teams

Taking this a step further, the leaders in an organisation are a team in their own right – they might be members of several teams but their ‘first’ team is their peer group and the purpose of their roles is to work together to steer their ship to success (whatever that might look like for them).  Therefore, if this team shapes culture, then creating high performing teams must start with the top team.  This creates the right climate for OD – simple enough? Yet why do many organisations struggle with this concept?

Patrick Lencioni is a true hero of mine.  He really puts out in to the ether a simple construct of a high performing team and its characteristics.  No long-complicated words or theory, no model that requires you to follow a tube map of arrows to understand the end goal.  Quite simply the five behaviours of a cohesive team are Trust, Conflict, Commitment, Accountability and Results – simple when you know how, right?

 For OD to flourish in organisations, the culture needs to be right: it needs to enable OD practitioners and their practice to be the very best version they can be, and this means the work starts at the top.  Enabling the cohesive team can be the gamechanger for the success of organisation development and its interventions.

Next time: C is for Change

The A to Z of OD (Part III): Cis for Culture; C is for Change

This is the third 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.

In fact, this part is itself in three parts.  Today, I’ll cover Culture.  The second part to follow is a beautiful blog post by freelance OD practitioner Lucy Thompson, who will reflect on creating the right climate for culture to flourish.  Finally, later in the week, I’ll turn to change, which was in part inspired by my former colleague Francis Lake.  Francis is Head of OD at Clydesdale and Yorkshire Banking Group; he reminded me of the importance of the emotional response to change and the need to think long-term when planning change.

Many other people have commented via LinkedIn or by contacting me directly on what they would like to see included in the A to Z of OD.  Big thanks to all – just like Lucy and Francis today, you’ll get a namecheck when your ideas come up in the alphabet!  And if you want to guest blog a topic or thought leader, then let me know.  You’re more than welcome to get involved in the conversation.

C is for Culture

“Is this the real life; is this just fantasy?” so a certain Mr Mercury asked the world in 1975.  At some point in the Eighties, organisations started asking themselves the same question about their own existence, their own cultures.  Academics argued that organisations could have their own distinct cultures, their own shared values, beliefs and norms, and that there would be competitive advantage from aligning these with the needs of their stakeholders.  What followed is a global change consulting industry now worth in the region on US$250bn per annum.

A fair chunk of the consulting industry is about changing organisational culture.  I shouldn’t really complain as I am a very small part of this industry myself. Changing the culture is only possible if culture is real, or in other words that you believe the way people live, work, interact with each other and come together to achieve something jointly creates and re-creates the “ever-changing world in which we’re living” (McCartney… apologies, I seem to be stuck in some sort of 70s pop music frame today).

If we believe that is the case, then culture is real and if it is real, it can be managed.

How do you change culture?

Like any other change, a common approach to managing culture is to diagnose the current state (using tools such as the Culture Web), envisage a desired state and plan to move from the current reality to the new, future reality.  Much of a culture change plan tends to surround influencing the role of leaders to develop the culture through symbolic means, most notably through their behaviours (see: B is for Behaviours).

And so, many OD practitioners encourage organisations to set standards of behaviours through scripting them (“this is what we are looking for”; “this is what we are not looking for”; that sort of thing) and embedding them into individual objective setting, performance review and personal development planning.  Managers’ and leaders’ behaviours – such as more participative management styles, colleague engagement, recognition and rewards and encouraging personal development – both enact and symbolise the culture.

This approach has become pervasive across all sectors.  It uses culture management as a tool to advance organisational effectiveness, to stimulate motivation and to create linkages between the organisation and the employee – a sense of belonging, often referred to as a sense of family.

And when used purposively, it seems to work; it benefits both the employee and the organisation; and hence the customer and other stakeholders; and hence the primary purpose of the organisation.

What could go wrong?

If culture can be managed, it can be manipulated too.  I’m not sure organisations are like families. Organisations still tend to favour tasks over relationships, they still discourage emotional expression.  And membership of organisations is less permanent than in real families, particularly during periods of organisational change.  Power and leadership differ significantly, and family members are less likely to mistrust each other.  Also, families are predicated on Parent/Child relationships.  Many organisations work like that too, whereas the culture we seek in organisations is Adult.  Oftentimes, ‘Family’ is a poor metaphor for the organisational culture we seek.

To make things worse, employees who believe in the team-family metaphor can become colonised by their organisations.  The very same organisations who may then have to announce redundancy programmes in pursuit of benefiting one stakeholder group (shareholders/governors) over another (employees).

In the face of these conflicting messages, employees become ambivalent: on the one hand believing the organisation is adding value to their lives beyond their salary, whilst harbouring fantasies of autonomy and other forms of escape from the psychic prison in which they have become trapped. This manifests as worsening performance, lower motivation, and a desire for Work-Life Balance.  Work-Life Balance has become a socially acceptable form of dissent.  Organisations that espouse Work-Life balance can inadvertently make employees anxious.  I suspect Work-Life Integration is the antidote to anxiety.

The only way to avoid this risk is to ensure the espoused culture is real, which means it must be lived day-to-day.  You must favour relationships as well as tasks, encourage emotional expression, flatten power hierarchies to become more democratic, build trust through Adult relationships and encourage Work-Life integration.  This creates the right climate for culture to flourish.

Next time: C is for Creating the right Climate for Culture to Flourish

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

What do we mean by “New Ways of Working”

This blog is contributed by Shirley Wakelin, Wisework Partner. It is based on a discussion amongst the Partners on new ways of working held in December 2017.

The past decade has seen increasing noise around new ways of working. Concepts such as agile, flexible, activity-based working, employee engagement, company culture, etc. are ever more commonplace.

It’s a big topic.

As a group of consultants sharing an interest in supporting organizations through transformational change, the Wisework partners network reflected on what we mean by ‘New Ways of Working’, and what’s driving companies to invest in making these changes.

The following summarizes highlights emerging from an initial round table in December 2017.

New ways of working, by definition, are not the old ways of working. Much of what we see in organizations today grew out of the industrial age, and many companies are still operating in ways echoing the 19th century. New ways of working is about designing systems fit for the 21st century and beyond.

Time, place and contract are all important

The concept of time is a key shift. Going to a place of work 9 to 5, or for set shifts, and time being a measurement, has changed considerably. Now the focus is more on output, with the emphasis moving toward the individual choosing how and when they deliver on expectations.

Another difference is place of work. With technological advances, people no longer need to be in the office to deliver their work. The introduction of flexible working practices appears to be growing trend. That said, the group observed that the effectiveness of these policies varies significantly, all too often ‘flexibility’ is, in reality, extremely limited.

The contractual relationship is also evolving. The conventional way has been a fixed job, full-time, permanent, whereas the new way is seeing an emergence of a looser contractual relationship, the ‘gig economy’, where people own their time, and are paid for the product, services or outputs they deliver.

Subtle changes to management and leadership

So time, place and contract were noted as three major shifts, and there are other perhaps more subtle changes emerging; the nature of management and leadership for example.

Management historically has been about overseeing the work. This ‘taskmaster’ mindset is about knowing what needs to be done and directing employees to deliver. The word control emerged; controlling time, controlling what, controlling when, controlling where.

A different mindset is emerging now: it’s about helping people to do what they need to do, where they need to do it, and when. It’s about facilitating performance excellence, learning and growth. It’s about enabling employees to adapt. And it’s about bringing the best out of people.

The group acknowledged that this shift in mindset is creating challenges for some; the fear that without control, chaos will ensue. In many ways, the new way of working is asking managers to become leaders; to engage people in a shared vision and guide them along the way.

Importantly, the group recognized that there’s no ‘one size fits all’. A new way of working will be informed by multiple facets; the heritage and history of a company, the people employed, the infrastructure and resources available, the customers, competitive environment etc. Each of these has a role to play in defining the way a company needs to operate to thrive in the future. It’s an evolutionary process.

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