The A to Z of OD: H is for Human

Thanks to OD Practitioner Dorothy Matthew, who challenges organisations to put ‘human beings’ as opposed to ‘human doings’ at the forefront matters… and then make the shift; Human was also suggested by Perry Timms.  H is for Humanising workplaces.

“Are we human, or are we dancer?”

Human is a thought-provoking song by The Killers. In it, frontman Brandon Flowers suggests being human is to have agency.  To be a dancer is to be a puppet, controlled by others.  This is a song about emancipation from those who would seek to control us.  In a work context, this is the organisation for whom we work.  It strikes me too many organisations still choose to do dumb things to people: by over-rationalising business processes, over-engineering restrictive policies and infantilising their people.

For me, OD is about humanising workplaces.  Technology, robots – thus far the antithesis of humanity – were supposed to give us humans more leisure time.  Yet we are working more and harder than ever.  We haven’t managed to systematically humanise workplaces yet.  Perhaps what we choose to delegate to the robots will enable us to humanise the work we keep for ourselves?  Perhaps we can humanise how we choose to lead the robots?

“Take a look in the mirror and what do you see?  Do you see it clearer or are you deceived?”

Human is a thought-provoking song by Rag ‘n’ Bone Man.  The lyric is about taking responsibility for yourself and not trying to pass blame onto other people.

I use psychometrics in my OD practice to help people understand themselves and others better, so we can all play to our strengths and achieve more together by choosing to take responsibility for furthering the purpose of the organisations where we work.

We can’t go through life blaming others and we also can’t go through life using the excuse “I’m only human”.  Give yourself permission to make mistakes AND choose to take responsibility for your own behaviour.

Humanising workplaces

The results we get when know the dynamic between people and, in the future, know the dynamic between the humans and the robots – the ‘aha!’ moment I look for when working with my clients – is palpable.  It manifests as more collaboration, more empathy, more generative work practices, more humanised workplaces.  It takes time.  There is no magic potion.  There are no superheroes.  Just humans choosing to make a difference.  Practising some fundamental principles of human processes and relationships – the doings and the beings – of a humanised organisation.

American entrepreneur Jim Rohn once said, “Success is neither magical nor mysterious.  Success is the natural consequence of applying the basic fundamentals.”  Never truer than when choosing to be human, never truer than when humanising organisations.

OD Thought Leader: Jerry B. Harvey

On a hot afternoon visiting in Coleman, Texas the family is comfortably playing dominoes on a porch, until the father-in-law suggests that they take a trip to Abilene (53 miles north) for dinner. The wife says, “Sounds like a great idea.” The husband, despite having reservations because the drive is long and hot, thinks that his preferences must be out-of-step with the group and says, “Sounds good to me. I just hope your mother wants to go.” The mother-in-law then says, “Of course I want to go. I haven’t been to Abilene in a long time.”

The drive is hot, dusty, and long. When they arrive at the cafeteria, the food is as bad as the drive. They arrive back home four hours later, exhausted.

One of them dishonestly says, “It was a great trip, wasn’t it?” The mother-in-law says that she would rather have stayed home but went along since the other three were so enthusiastic. The husband says, “I wasn’t delighted to be doing what we were doing. I only went to satisfy the rest of you.” The wife says, “I just went along to keep you happy. I would have had to be crazy to want to go out in the heat like that.” The father-in-law then says that he only suggested it because he thought the others might be bored.

The group sits back, perplexed that they together decided to take a trip which none of them wanted. They each would have preferred to sit comfortably but did not admit to it when they still had time to enjoy the afternoon.

We fail to manage agreement and end up doing things nobody wants to do.  In the original anecdote above where Jerry Harvey established the Abilene Paradox, this happened at the expense of choosing to #JustBe.  Why are we programmed to find stuff to Just Do, when we often find our greatest breakthroughs come from choosing to #JustBe?

The paradoxical nature of Change: Oh, Sweet Irony!

Recommended reading: Jerry B. Harvey (1988) The Abilene Paradox and Meditations on Management, New York, Wiley.

Next time: I is for the Ice Cube theory of change

The A to Z of OD: G is for Growth Mindset

Many thanks to Francis Lake, who suggested The Tipping Point as a topic for this A to Z of OD.  I’ve included it here under G for its author, social science research debunker, Malcolm Gladwell.  But let’s start with bona fide social science researcher Carol Dweck and her best thinking about mindsets.  G is for Growth Mindset.

The Growth Mindset

Carol Dweck is Professor of Psychology at Stanford University.  Dweck has dedicated her lifelong research to mindsets, particularly in students.  She noticed some students were resilient, rebounding quickly after setbacks, whereas others appeared to be devastated by even minor hiccoughs.  She attributed this to their mindset – i.e. their belief systems – and coined the terms ‘fixed’ mindset and ‘growth’ mindset.

The Fixed Mindset: Many people view their own potential, talent or intellect as innate and fixed; “either you have it or you don’t.”  They assume outcomes are fixed.

The Growth Mindset: Dweck’s research suggests that people who view their ability to grow, learn and develop through hard work, practice or progressive improvement tend to succeed more.  They believe their ability is just a starting point that can grow.  Growth can be nurtured, and outcomes are open-ended.

Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t – you’re right.”  Carol Dweck might say, “If you believe you can, and then are prepared to put in the effort, then you can succeed.”

To put this in practical terms, people with a growth mindset choose lifelong learning.  They make choices rather than decisions, they try things out, they fail, they learn from their mistakes, they do it again, they get it right, they grow, they practise until they make new habits, they succeed, they develop mastery of their chosen subject, they never stop learning.

Recent advances in neuroscience support the claim that practice makes permanent; our neural networks grow, strengthen and speed up our cognition.  We become masters of what we repeatedly do and learn from.

Model I / Model II

Dweck’s research was with students.  Chris Argyris proposed another mindset model, more directly appropriate for the workplace.

In Model I mindset, people try to seek unilateral control of situations, they try to win, and if they can’t win, they make sure they don’t lose; they try to act rationally and suppress negative feelings.  It is a “win, don’t lose” mindset; the pie is fixed.

In Model II mindset, people seek to learn, seek to find win/win solutions with others by seeking valid information and joint commitment to action.  It is a collaborative mindset; the pie can be bigger; the pie can grow.

I’m struck by the similarity of these two mindset concepts: (1) the fixed pie: “try to win, but if I can’t, then try to save face, it’s probably something I’m not good at anyway.” (2) the growth pie: “let’s work together to see what’s possible, we can achieve more together than working independently, we can learn”.  (2) is an organisational learning model; it is a generative model; it is a model of true collaboration.

Noughts and Crosses

Here’s a gift for you – a group exercise / collaborative mindset icebreaker – that I have been using with groups for several years.

  1. Pair up all participants
  2. Invite each pair to play five games of noughts and crosses (that’s tic-tac-toe, if you’re Transatlanticly-inclined)
  3. Rules: take turns to go first; three points for a win, one point each for a draw
  4. Goal: maximise your points
  5. Once everyone has completed five games, ask them to add up their points, and then add the two players’ points together to obtain a score for each pair
  6. How many points did each pair of players achieve?
  7. If it was not 15, what happened?

In my experience – I’ve asked hundreds of people to take part in this game – almost all pairs of players fail to get the maximum 15 points. This quick game demonstrates how locked into a “win, don’t lose” mindset we all are; how locked into a fixed mindset we all are.

In the training room, we can then explore the merits, strategies, skills and behaviours and, most crucially IMHO, the mindset needed to become more collaborative at work.  Collaboration is one of the typical goals of many organisation development programmes.  Collaboration is my speciality.

OD Thought leader: Malcolm Gladwell (1963 – )

“Ideas and products and messages and behaviours spread like viruses.”  Gladwell looked how epidemics spread an applied the thinking to social epidemics.  To exemplify his ideas, he cites significantly reducing crime rates in New York, a huge uplift in sales of Hush Puppies and the number of teen suicides in Micronesia, among several others.

The Tipping Point is that point when critical mass is achieved in a social movement and it then starts to spread significantly more quickly than it did before.

Gladwell suggests there are three things needed to harness The Tipping Point.  Get all three right and you can generate a tipping point for your social movement:

  1. Law of the few (20% of people will do 80% of the work needed to gain momentum – the trick is about recognising who are the connectors, the mavens (information specialists) and the salesmen who will entice others to follow their lead)
  2. Stickiness factor (how easy and sticky is the new idea?)
  3. Context (if the environment is right, then more people will take on the idea).

In organisations, this social movement is – of course – the case for change.  And so, generating a tipping point has become something of an ambition for many change agents and change leaders.  The advice on how to do this usually surrounds making the new world more appealing, enticing early adopters and changing organisational systems and processes to make it harder not to change.

Gladwell went on to write Blink about the adaptive unconscious, and Outliers about the odd factors that come together to create success.

Recommended reading: Malcolm Gladwell (2000), The Tipping Point: How Little Things can make a Big Difference, Boston, Little Brown.

Next time: H is for Human

 

The A to Z of OD: F is for Facilitation

Many a jobbing OD consultant will tell you that there are three strands to what they offer: OD or change consulting, coaching and facilitation.  Today, I will explore facilitation: what it is and isn’t, a simple checklist of things to consider when facilitating and the tricky question of managing your own and others’ anxiety.

What is facilitation?

Webster’s (1913) dictionary defines to facilitate as:

“To make easy or less difficult; to free from difficulty or impediment; to lessen the labour of; as, to facilitate the execution of a task.”

I like this definition because it implies facilitation is helpful when there is difficulty in executing a task.  Clearly this will always involve following some sort of process, and there needs to be a task (content) and difficulty in completing it.  If tasks are not difficult to complete, then surely managers would complete them without needing a facilitator?

The facilitator’s role

So far, so good.  We have identified the need for process, content and management.  Facilitators can choose their role to control combinations of these three aspects; however, it is clear to me that they must control process.  I also find it useful to separate content from management, so the facilitator avoids taking on the role of the manager.  Unless of course, he is the manager.  In which case, I’d urge caution.

That said, the facilitator has a choice of three roles:

  • Process only – and the opportunity to provide observation and commentary on group dynamics
  • Content & Process– a typical role for hired experts who have something to offer on content. Paradoxically, it is oftentimes easier to facilitate when you do not know much about the content.  This I because you are uninhibited from becoming drawn into technical discussions
  • Management & Process – IMHO, best reserved for internal OD practitioners, or managers.

The process of facilitation

Let’s keep this simple.  (1) Make sure you understand the exam question; (2) Get the right people together[1]; (3) Control everything you possibly can before you start – plan your process, timings, agenda, breaks, materials, refreshments, meeting space, whatever else you can think of; (4) Let go of control on everything you possibly can once you start!

The process of facilitation is quite simple to describe; however, it is not so easy to do.  Your job is to facilitate the process.  Control that.  Control yourself.  Do no try to control other people.  Work with them as you find them.  Give them control, do not infantilise them by stepping in or taking over.  Do less yourself, so that they do more work.

Control yourself

The facilitator’s role ‘in the room’ is to encourage participants to follow the process, and to intervene as little as possible.  This is so that the participants do as much of the work as possible.  She will hold the space on behalf of the group, so they can focus on helping each other to answer the exam question.  She will ensure ground rules are observed and she will manage the processual flow of the session.

Arguably, she is totally irrelevant to the group, who are quite capable of being responsible for themselves.  Equally, she is essential… her presence will create the right conditions for the group to maximise their chance of finding a solution.  She will surface her observations of how the group is working and what might be holding it back.  Not only does facilitation help solve the immediate problem, but it also helps to build capability to solve similar problems in the future.  She does this by role modelling process.

To succeed, the facilitator must pay attention to what’s going on in the meeting and be reflectively aware of her responses to it, whilst remaining relatively objective.  She will feel anxious and will pick up on others’ anxiety.  That is natural and inevitable.

She must be utterly dependable.  That means, when the inevitable anxiety is projected onto her, she must be able to take it.

If she does her job well, they will hardly notice her, they will feel confident they could have run the session themselves, and then her continued presence may well become be totally irrelevant…

She will, however, know her presence was totally essential.

So, what?

I believe that better facilitative outcomes come from managing the conditions under which people interact.  Content should come primarily from the participants and the only behaviour the facilitator should seek to manage is his own.

As organisational issues become more complex, the players become highly specialised in what they do, and yet the whole organisational system – when working effectively – can produce more than the sum of its parts.  Our job as facilitators is to structure meetings so that people can accept their differences and find common ground by harnessing their capabilities for the greater good.  Facilitation is a core organisational development skill.

OD Thought Leader: Wendell L. French (1923 – 2009)

We have focused on the practice of OD is this blog series, so let us not forget that OD is an academic discipline.  French, and co-author Cecil Bell, are two of the godfathers of the study of organisation development.

They define OD as the “applied behavioural science discipline that seeks to improve organisations through planned, systematic, long range efforts focused on the organisation’s culture and its human and social process.”

First published in 1972, their classic text is a superb, if a little dated, academic discourse on the history, founding principles and practice of OD.  You can trace many contemporary OD authors’ work back to what French & Bell outlined all those years ago, with a little twist here and there to suit niches or to apply in certain situations.

If you are serious about studying OD, this is a great place to start.  And it is not all impenetrable academia, for example they neatly reframe their definition of OD: “organisation development is really about people helping each other to unleash the human spirit and human capability in the workplace.”  Sounds like a good idea to me, and as relevant today as it was nearly 50 years ago.

Recommended reading: Wendell French and Cecil Bell (2000) Organization Development: Behavioral Science Interventions for Organization Improvement 6th Ed.  London, Pearson.

Next time: G is for Growth Mindset

[1] Follow the RACI principle and determine who: Is Responsible (or has the Resources needed under their control) for completing the task?  Is Accountable for completing the task? Can provide Consultative input (i.e. the specialist subject matter (content) experts)? Can provide the Information you will need and who needs to be Informed of the outcome?

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: D is for Design

I asked people to suggest topics for the series, and this topic was suggested by top HR influencer, Perry Timms.  Thanks Perry.  In earlier posts in this series, I outlined the importance of engaging hearts as well as minds when it comes to organisational change.  This is the D is for Development angle of OD.  While difficult to do, some might call it the softer edge of OD.  But OD has a harder edge too.  Today, D is for Design; organisational design.  And that means we need to take a hard look at the dreaded restructure.

Three things they don’t tell you about restructuring your team

There is a well-trodden path of advice about planning your organisational restructure.  Specialist organisation design consultants will advise you to consider:

  • The purpose of your restructure: to realign to the organisational vision perhaps, to become more flexible or simply to save money (see also: change from the inside-out)
  • The context against which you are restructuring: mergers or acquisitions, changes to the product or service offered or simply to save money (see also: change from the outside-in)
  • Organisation design principles: to ensure efficiency and effectiveness of the structure.

This is all sensible stuff and only the principles might really need further specialist input.

These principles usually surround seemingly technical concepts including strategic alignment, accountability and empowerment, and the trade-off between coordination and specialisation.  Don’t get me wrong, they can be very useful – I use them myself when consulting on restructuring – but they can over-complicate your approach, confuse you and run the risk of tying you up in knots.

What some specialists don’t tell you is that:

  1. A successful restructure is an act of storytelling
  2. It’s okay to sketch out your new structure on the back of a fag packet
  3. Restructuring is only half the story.

LESSON 1: A successful restructure is an act of storytelling

Stories have a beginning, a middle and an end.

Beginnings

The purpose of the beginning is to see the possibilities you have in restructuring.  These possibilities are varied and nuanced, so sketch a few out and see how they feel.  You might just want to remove or add a couple of posts, or you may prefer to start with a blank sheet of paper and reimagine your purpose, or you might only have a vague notion about things being different, a matrix structure perhaps, or even a whole new operating model.

LESSON 2: It’s okay to sketch out your new structure on the back of a fag packet

Middles

The next step is to engage people in your thinking.  This is about testing out the sketches you have made.  Talk to your peers, boss, HR team, and (if you can) the teams that will be affected.

If you need any specialist advice, it is likely to be now, but remember a few key principles can be achieved by making a simple checklist against which to test your ideas.  For example, ask yourself:

  • Does every strategic goal have an owner (this ensures alignment to the vision or strategy)?
  • Will the structure ease workflow between departments (to ensure coordination of key organisational activities)?
  • Does any post report to more than one manager (removing this helps to ensure accountability)?
  • Etc.

Even more important is to hone the story at this point: what is the compelling reason for the restructure? Can you articulate your assumptions, are you prepared to open them to scrutiny and can you explain your thinking?

Endings

This stage is about implementing your chosen structure.  You may notice that thus far we have attempted to keep it simple:  your story is compelling; your structure has been sketched out and tested.  The final hurdle is implementation.  This often fails because the structure will not sustain itself in isolation.

LESSON 3: Restructuring is only half the story

Organisation development must go together with organisation design.  Development without design runs the risk of becoming soft: the structure does not support the development efforts, which is a waste of money.  Design without development however is a hard, empty vessel waiting to be filled with meaning.  Organisation development completes the act of restructuring by turning ideas into actions that will fulfil the vision the design set out to achieve.  It does this by locking in the changes.  It does this by shifting the culture.  You simply must have both organisation design and organisation development to succeed.

See also: The messy job of restructuring

OD thought leader: Robert Dilts (1955 – )

Dilts developed an understanding of neurological levels at play when change is underway.  These levels form a hierarchy from bottom to top: Environment at the bottom; Behaviour; Capability; Belief; and Identity at the top.  Sometimes, there is a sixth level – Spirituality– added to the top of the hierarchy.  This indicates there is a higher purpose than Identity, although for many this is a moot point.

The basic idea is that each level affects those below it, and not the other way around.  Also, people often operate from only one level, which blocks their ability to change.  You can tell at which level people are operating by the language they use.

The phrase “I can’t do that here” neatly encapsulates the hierarchy from top to bottom: I = Identity; Can’t = (limiting) Belief; Do = Capability; That = Behaviour; Here = Environment.  Think of a change where you are blocked, then say, “I can’t do that here” to yourself.  Which word creates a tug internally?  That is the level you are operating from; that is the level where something needs to change.

Dilts’ levels are often used by coaches to help people in this way, or to move up the hierarchy and consider deeper, more meaningful reasons for change.  It is a core part of the principles and practice of Neuro-Linguistic Programming: reprogramming our language can help us change.  The model is particularly useful in reframing individual mindsets and hence aligning individual change with a higher purpose.

As such it is a very useful technique for organisation development practitioners too.

Recommended Reading: David Molden and Pat Hutchinson (2014) Brilliant NLP, London, Pearson Education

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

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