The A to Z of OD: S is for Supervision

In coaching and in certain regulated professions such as clinical practice and social care, the concept of supervision is well-established. However in OD consulting, it is in its infancy.

If you are an OD practitioner employed within an organisation, maybe you have a line manager who provides this role. However, many in-house OD practitioners are lone rangers reporting to a generalist HR Director who may not have the experience or deep understanding of OD as they do themselves.

Many external OD practitioners work for larger consulting firms and may well have line managers who provide a supervisory role. As with internal OD practitioners, this may not always be the case. Perhaps you are the OD/change expert in a larger firm that has a broader offer? Who do you turn to when you need professional guidance and support?

As professional OD practitioners – internal or external – our challenges are to consult flawlessly through the five stages of the consulting cycle, respect client confidentiality and boundaries and hold an appropriate ethical attitude. Supervision is there to help us solve dilemmas, support us through emotional challenges and provide fresh perspectives so we understand ourselves and our clients better and develop into the consultants we want to be.

If you feel like a lone-agent OD practitioner, how are you getting the support you need?

There are several ways you can get the support you need. You might join an OD networking or other peer support group, seek a mentor or hire a coach, or even hire a qualified consultancy supervisor. There are a few of us* out there.

OD thought leader: Ed Schein (b. 1928)

It would be hard to overestimate Ed Schein’s contribution to the field of OD. As former professor at MIT Sloan School of Management, Schein won several awards for his work in organisational culture, individual motivation and career development and the process of consulting.

Culture

These days, it is commonly accepted that organisation’s culture is concerned with the shared meanings that members give to past and present organisational experiences. Ed Schein pioneered this thinking in the 1980s, suggesting culture is a layered model of symbolic artefacts, behavioural norms, espoused values and underlying tacit assumptions.

Motivation (‘career anchors’)

As part of his career anchors model, Schein argued there are three core factors (economic, social and self-actualising) that motivate individuals in organisations. Many OD practitioners – me included – believe organisations must make the complex assumption that motivation is a combination of economic, social and self-actualising factors. Managers’ behaviours, e.g. more participative management styles, communication, recognition/rewards and encouraging personal development, both symbolise and enact the organisational culture.

Implications for OD

OD is partly about good diagnosis of the current and desired culture and influencing the role of leaders to develop appropriate culture through symbolic means.

We can enhance organisational effectiveness whilst stimulating the self-actualising element of individual motivation by creating linkages between the organisation and the employee – a sense of belonging.

The benefit of observing organisations through their cultures is that the OD practitioner is attuned to the human side of the organisation, not just its functional subsystems. The key to successful organisation change is to view it as complementary: culture change and functional change in harmony.

Process consultation

Schein’s interpreted collaborative consulting as ‘process consultation’. For him, this is about helping others understand the importance of adherence to the social rules surrounding human relationships. His “ultimate dilemma … is how to produce change in the client system without people losing face”. Referring to Lewin’s ice cube theory of change, he sets out three elements that must be present during unfreezing, i.e. where motivation for change is created:

  1. Disconfirmation (or lack of confirmation);
  2. Creation of guilt or anxiety;
  3. Provision of psychological safety.

 

One of the main reasons the unfreezing stage of change fails is that people resist change and hence pervert the change effort. There are many reasons people resist change: they don’t want to lose something of value; lack trust in management; hold a belief that change doesn’t make sense for the organisation; have a low tolerance for change; or exhibit passive resistance to change by complying with the change without real commitment.

OD practitioners must find ways to value resistance to change; a healthy tension during unfreezing helps to ensure the change plan is robust. This requires the OD practitioner to recognise resistance as trapped energy, and engage the resistors in dialogue – they may be sensitive to flaws in the plan, or be able to identify unintended consequences of the change. The OD practitioner must beware of low tolerance to change and not require people to change too much too quickly.

I suggest participative change through process consultation is the most appropriate approach to ensure change targets are involved in setting the change agenda. Process consultation is also the best approach to overcome passive resistance, where people are only accepting change to save face; adopting anything other than process consultation models here “increases the risk that the client will feel humiliated and will lose face”.

Resistance can also be at play in the refreezing stage. Even when an individual has refrozen new concepts, these changes may violate the expectations of ‘significant others’ such as bosses, peers and team members. Schein suggests the initial change target may need to implement a programme of change for these others with them as targets. Ultimately a strategy for change should identify likely sources of resistance and ensure methods for dealing with it are consistent with the overall strategy.

Recommended reading:

SCHEIN, Edgar H., (1981). Coming to a New Awareness of Organizational Culture. Sloan Management Review (winter), pp3-16.

SCHEIN, Edgar H., (1988). Organizational Psychology (3rd Ed). Englewood Cliffs, NJ., Prentice Hall.

SCHEIN, Edgar H., (1987). Process Consultation Volume II: Lessons for Managers and Consultants. Reading, MA., Addison-Wesley.

 

*Self-interest alert: I have just graduated as a Supervisor for Coaching and Consultancy with the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations.

The A to Z of OD: R is for Reflective Practitioner

In which I outline three steps to become a reflective practitioner.

In his seminal work The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Dr Stephen R. Covey uses an example of a woodcutter felling trees with a blunt saw. The workman believes he is far too busy felling trees to take time out to sharpen the saw.

There are three levels of reflection: (1) taking time out to reflect, (2) reflection-in-action and (3) becoming a reflective practitioner. Each represents a more evolved application of reflection and each level of evolution aids organisational development to a greater and greater extent.

1. Taking time out to reflect

You are a busy professional – just like the woodcutter. You have been trained in the rigour required for your own profession, whatever your profession may be. How do you go about a task? Well, you probably draw of your professional training, expertise in your subject matter and experience in the real world. You may well have particular preferences in how you go about your work; you have become a great problem solver, and yet you may become stuck in your ways; you may also find there is tension between the professional rigour you seek to apply and the relevance of your specialist knowledge in the real world.

When I run facilitated learning sessions, individual coaching and group coaching sessions, the most significant benefit managers and leaders tell me they feel is finding space and time to think; to talk and listen to others with similar challenges. They are pining for more time out to reflect so they can become more effective when they are back at work.

2. Reflection-in-action

Taking time out to reflect, think and plan is great; it can really help you get perspective. However, a lot can happen during the time you are taking out, meaning you go back to work with even more to do – even more trees to fell, if you will. You have taken time out to sharpen your saw, however it can blunt again very quickly when there is so much to do.

Reflection-in-action represents the next level. This is reflecting on your actions in-the-moment. It is like being a fly on the wall, watching you at work. You are doing and reflecting simultaneously. This takes practice. That said, it is the route to mastery of applying your professional discipline in the workplace because it helps you become aware of your implicit knowledge and to learn from your experience as it happens. It resolves the rigour versus relevance paradox.

3. The reflective practitioner

Professional mastery goes beyond rigorous problem solving using the science of your discipline. It requires what Donald Schon (author of The Reflective Practitioner) calls a “reflective conversation with the situation”. It enables thinking and doing to feed each other so that every action gives pause for reflection. Doing this requires practice and the benefits are enormous. For the professional in business, it equates to wisdom and influence and calmness. You not only act with discipline, mindfulness and mastery, you are also aware at every moment why you have acted that way and are more likely to get the outcomes you intend.

Mastery of OD practice, where you are intervening in organisational systems to effect change, requires this level of reflection.

Summary

You do not need to do leave the office for a day’s workshop to reflect; you can build time into your daily or weekly routine to do it, right at your desk, in a break-out area, over lunch, going for a walk, whatever suits you; you are not too busy to look after yourself.

Practise reflection-in-action; be the fly on the wall observing you in action, sense the dynamic between you and others. When you can do this, you are on your way to becoming a reflective practitioner.

OD thought leader: George Ritzer (b. 1940)

Not strictly an OD thought leader, American social theorist George Ritzer examined the rationalization of society and coined the term McDonaldization. His thinking has profound implications for organisational development.

Following Henry Ford and McDonalds Restaurants lead, many organisations have reengineered their processes for efficiency. McDonaldization is rationalisation taken to its logical conclusion. Efficient, logical sequences of business processes produce results that are predictable in quality, calculable in quantity and controlled. These are the hallmarks of McDonaldization: efficiency, predictability, calculability and control.

However, over-rationalizing processes has unintended consequences: in McDonalds, the term fast food is literally a misnomer: the over-rationalized process requires customers to order via self-serve terminals and wait in long queues to be served relatively unhealthy, unappetizing food.

In our desire for the components of rational organisational systems, we have allowed unintended consequences that do not serve our human interests:

  • Efficiency does not allow for individuality and sneakily turns customers into workers. This has now happened in supermarkets too, where we are expected to self-check out
  • Predictability means uniformity. You only need look at the typical high street to see the same rows of brand names, limiting both our choice and the expression of creativity
  • Calculability favours quantity over quality. Two-for the price of one on all-but-rotting fruit, anyone?
  • Control means deskilling the workforce, automation and loss of jobs.

We have inadvertently dehumanised our workplaces and our society.

Back in 1993, Ritzer saw the move to over-rationalized systems as inexorable. We have somehow found a way to cope with all this rationalization – nay crave it – as it reduces risk to us as individuals in society. Why risk an independent coffee shop when you can guarantee a certain quality from Starbucks?

Some 25 years later and the robots are coming. Is this simply the next step in over-rationalizing our organisations and society? Or perhaps we might find a way deploy digital solutions to deal with the rationalized elements of organisational life without dehumanising our workplaces and free human potential by inviting creativity and innovation into our working lives?

In the digital age, I believe OD can help systematically create workplaces that are more human. Stop tinkering with processes for efficiency and control and start working on the whole system; put customers at heart of what we do and enable and empower staff to be creative.

Suggested reading: Ritzer, G. (1993) The McDonaldization of Society, Thousand Oaks, CA., Pine Forge.

Next time: S is for Supervision

The A to Z of OD: Q is for Questions

Is consulting about offering your own solutions, or working collaboratively with clients to generate solutions jointly? The former involves telling, advising, recommending. The latter involves asking, diagnosing, exploring possibilities. I guess the answer depends on what sort of consulting you are offering. Perhaps you are an IT expert and there really is one best way of implementing a solution. More likely, you are engaged in collaborative consulting. OD is collaborative consulting. The A to Z of OD continues. Q is for Questions.

The Paradoxical nature of change

The paradox of change is that if you push too hard, it resists. If you let go, often it comes more easily. It’s the same with OD. If you seek tightly-defined solutions, elegant models, rigorous frameworks or SMART outcomes, people can become sceptical and resist.

OD is the planned approach to change, and yet it is equally invested in the process-centred journey as it is in the destination-focused goal. “What we need is better practice,” muses management guru Henry Mintzberg. “Not neater theory.” What he is saying is, “What we need is better questions, not neater solutions.”

Self as instrument of change

The practice of OD is the practice of asking questions. And it seems we’re in fashion: mansplaining is out, humble inquiry is in. It requires offering our vulnerability that we do not know the answers and that we might just find a path toward change by working together.

And by asking a question, the OD practitioner is intervening in the system – he is using himself as an instrument of change. OD scholar Ed Schein offers suggestions for some opening questions in his 2013 book Humble Inquiry:

“So…” (with an expectant look)

“What’s happening?”

“How are things going for you?”
(Note: not “Hi, how are you?”, which is likely to elicit a closed response, “Fine.”

“What brings you here?”

“Go on…” (or my personal favourite version of it, “Can you say more about that?”)

“Can you give me an example?”

The critical point here is to remain curious. To “seek first and then to be understood” as Dr Stephen Covey would have it. Yes, have an opinion, and yet at the same time hold it lightly. Explore everybody’s ideas equally, sincerely and with humility.

Some types of questions

There are good uses for open questions to explore issues, “What is keeping you awake at night?”, closed questions to focus, “So you are saying…, is that right?”, and choice questions, “on a scale from 1-10, how would you rate the current situation?”

There are several useful facilitative questions, used by people chairing or facilitating meetings to generate accountability in the other people present and move the conversation on, from, “What happened?”, to exploring root causes (why?) and possibilities, “How can we improve?”

There are also some very special types of questions, such as Nancy Kline’s incisive question, “If you know that you are [positive assumption, e.g. highly regarded by your client], what will you do differently?”, or the agreement frame from NLP, “I appreciate you want to [insert other person’s desire], how can we do that and [insert your own desire]?”, e.g. “I appreciate you want to dramatically increase sales; how can we do that through influence rather than pushing our clients too hard?”

Of course OD practitioners need to have insight too. There is a time to inquire and a time to advocate your opinion. Usually in that order.

OD thought leader: Robert E Quinn (b. 1946)

Robert E Quinn is a professor at the University of Michigan School of Business, specialising in HR management and organisational behaviour.

He believes organisational change cannot happen without deep individual change. He believes everyone in an organisation has the power to change the organisation. These ideas are set out in Deep Change, in which Quinn articulates a set of principles for personal transformation.

He suggests too many people are living their lives out as a version of ‘slow death’ for fear of rocking the boat. He suggest you choose deep change over slow death. This requires courage, sacrifice and hard work. It requires reflection and self-inquiry, looking inwards to ask yourself what you really, really want, what you believe, and how you will find the strength to begin to change. You might well need the support of a coach yourself. It is worth it. Avoid slow, creeping death and discover the new you through deep change. The new you can change your world.

Recommended reading: Quinn, Robert E., (1996) Deep Change: discovering the leader within, Wiley, NY.

Next time: R is for Reflective Practice.

The A to Z of OD: P is for Psychoanalysis

In inventing the practice of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud had some original ideas that have shaped our understanding of the unconscious mind. He posited that as we grow through childhood, we develop our Ego as a conscious mental structure that protects us from our unconscious impulses. These unconscious impulses are located in the Id (which seeks unbridled pleasure – what we would really like to do) and the Superego (which holds our morals – what we ‘know’ is the right thing to do). The Ego attempts to hold these impulses in check with whatever we experience in reality and therefore seeks pleasure based on a rational response to the real world.

This psychic process causes anxiety and we develop defence mechanisms – denying, distorting and manipulating reality – in order to cope with that anxiety.

Organisations have anxiety too

Organisations are human systems directed toward a primary purpose and have developed sophisticated whole systems directed towards the primary purpose. They have also developed sophisticated unconscious defence mechanisms.

These defence mechanisms are most readily seen when people in organisations struggle to take accountability for pursuing the organisation’s primary purpose and instead focus on protecting themselves within what they perceive as an increasingly dysfunctional organisation. For example:

  • They deny knowledge of issues and their own part in being able to solve them.
  • They blame and complain about other people at work. This is an example of Splitting. Splitting is either/or thinking. For example someone is either a hero or a villain. It is a defence mechanism that fails to integrate into one whole both positive and negative qualities in others.
  • They make excuses for not taking action. This is an example of Rationalisation, i.e. justification that unacceptable behaviour is logical.
  • They wait and hope someone else will fix the problem. This might be an example of Repression, which is when unconscious impulses are blocked from consciousness (“I’ve tried to make a difference before and I got burnt”), or Phantasy, the unconscious fantasy that something will come true in a certain way (i.e. without their input).

Only when people become aware of these defence mechanisms as examples of powerless behaviours, can they choose to overcome them and take accountability for pursuing the organisation’s primary purpose. As such, OD can be seen as restoring organisational health.

OD needs balance between systems thinking and psychoanalytic philosophy

Under J is for Joint Diagnosis, I explored systems thinking and the importance of considering the whole system when diagnosing organisational issues. OD is also grounded in group dynamics from psychoanalysis. Systems thinking and psychoanalytic perspectives must be deployed together if real change is to be sustained.

If system thinking dominates, OD tends to be more closely aligned to power in the organisation, however it runs the risk of becoming a corporatist tool. Think of the all-too-common approach to business process reengineering or restructuring without attending to the people/cultural side of change.

On the other hand, if psychoanalytic philosophy dominates, OD can become marginalised and ends up as a technique used by coaches, facilitators and leadership trainers. Potentially useful for individuals and perhaps teams, but not typically useful for the whole organisation.

Neither situation is optimal. OD consultants must balance the two – deploying their expertise in systems thinking and undertaking diagnosis that is grounded in psychoanalytic interpretation. If they can do this, then they can implement humanistic OD interventions that impact the whole system. For me at least, anything less than this is not OD.

OD Thought Leader: David Pendleton

A duck can fly, swim and walk, but does not excel at all three.

Pendleton is a psychologist and Professor in Leadership at Henley Business School. Along with Adrian Furnham, in 2012 he wrote Leadership: All You Need to Know.

In this extraordinary work, Pendleton and Furnham liken leaders to ducks. Leaders must attend to strategy, operations and relationships. It is rare any one leader excels at all three leadership dimensions. So why do leadership guides often assume there is such a thing as an all round leader who can excel at all aspects of leadership?

The book has lofty claims… “all you need to know”. Really? Well, actually yes. I do believe there is little value in looking elsewhere if you want to begin to understand leadership.

The book summarises all the best bits of leadership theory that preceded it, and then synthesises a remarkable leadership model aligned to personality traits that provides a blueprint for assessing leadership strengths that I believe will stand the test of time in the burgeoning digital age.

They also bust the myth of the rounded leader. Instead, they advocate building, developing and sustaining a rounded leadership team that has strengths in all three leadership domains.

Recommended reading: Pendleton, D and Furnham A (2012), Leadership: All you Need to Know, Palgrave, London

Next time in the A to Z of OD: Q is for Questions

The A to Z of OD: O is for Open Space

According to Guy Browning in his wonderful book Office Politics: How work Really Works, “Conferences are the business equivalent of going for a curry, in that everyone thinks having one is a great idea, but you always end up drinking too much, talking rubbish and feeling sick for days afterwards. The biggest fear in the business world is having to make a speech at a conference. This is because generally you have nothing of interest to say and no one in the audience has the slightest interest in anything you have to say anyway. For example, when you are the IT director, it’s your job to make sure the IT works. If it does work, they know that already and if it doesn’t, they don’t want to hear your pathetic excuses.”

Why are conferences so bad?

Joking aside, a lot of conferences are bad. They are expensive to arrange and take people away from work. The benefits are often questionable as you get either expert content presented inexpertly – think of that dreaded feeling when the first slide containing too many bullet points appears – or entertaining presentations with little valuable content.

Delegates become distracted by their phones and pay little attention to the presenters, dipping in and out and kidding themselves they will read the material later. The most value is generally from the networking opportunities and side conversations in the bar.

Great conferences require delegate involvement and interesting content.

Open Space is an OD technique

Open Space technology was created by Harrison Owen in 1985 as a way of engaging a large group of people in discussing content related to a theme or issue. The technique is used by industry groups, communities of interest or for finding solutions to issues. Such conferences are particularly useful when you want to engage a large cross-section of people impacted by an issue by drawing out different views on the topic. These happenings might be referred to as Whole Systems Events.

These days, organisers of Open Space events often call them Unconferences – a term introduced in Silicon Valley in the late 1990s. Open Space and Unconferences are essentially the same thing. You may also come across them in different contexts labelled Accelerated Solutions Events, Design Sprints or Design Thinking Workshops.

What is Open space?

The crucial aspect of an Open Space event is that there is no agenda until the attendees turn up. This approach overcomes some of the issues with a traditional conference as it reduces costs, minimises centralised administration and often lowers or even removes fees for attending!

How does it work?

Self-organisation is key. You will need: a large conference area; several smaller meeting areas; a large blank agenda visible and accessible to everyone; and delegates with something to say!

The event starts with a facilitator inviting delegates to propose discussion topics. That person steps up and pitches their idea. The delegates demonstrate their approval, sometimes with a vote (show of hands or more often these days with a polling app such as Sli.do) or sometimes the facilitator will take on this role on the delegates’ behalf. If agreed, the presenter writes their topic on the agenda, scheduling it in one of the smaller meeting spaces and time slots available.

This continues until you have a full agenda with multiple sessions now scheduled to run concurrently… just like a regular conference, but with no fees paid to the speakers and a guarantee that the topics are of interest.

And then you can begin. Typically, delegates are invited to go wherever they feel they have something to learn or to contribute to a discussion. And they are invited to use the “Law of Two Feet”. This means they are free to wander in and out of sessions at will – should they feel they are neither learning nor contributing, then they obey the law and go somewhere else where they will.

At the end of each session, reflections, conclusions and actions are captured and shared back with all the delegates.

Good conference organisation often means doing less so your delegates do more. The result is a creative, collaborative conference with engaged and empowered delegates. This is no jolly out of the office to get your ticket punched!

And as Guy Browning reminds us, “[Well-organised meetings] are meetings for which you have to prepare, in which you have to work and after which you have to take action. Fortunately, these meetings are as rare as a sense of gay abandon in the finance department.”

OD Thought Leader: Eddie Obeng (b. 1959)

Eddie Obeng is a Professor at Henley Business School and the founder of his own virtual business school, Pentacle.

Obeng believes that somebody changed the rules of the world. At midnight about 20 years ago. He believes the real 21st Century (the ‘New World’) operates to a whole new set of rules and that we are responding to a fantasy version of the world that we learnt in the 20th Century (the ‘Old World’).

The argument goes something like this: the pace of change is ever-increasing. The amount of information available to us has increased exponentially. It is, for example, estimated that 50% of the information on the Internet was created in the last two years. By being connected to the Internet, we are effectively at the centre of a global corporation that we no longer understand.

In comparison to this explosive pace of change, the pace of learning is effectively flat. Consider the usefulness of a business plan covering the next five years against that context. It is worthless the instant it is approved, if not before.

The moment the pace of change exceeded the pace of learning is the moment we lost our grip on the reality of the New World. This happened at midnight about 20 years ago. And nobody noticed.

To combat this, Obeng believes we must exponentially accelerate our learning. Many organisations now say to their managers, “Innovate, be creative!” Yet they mean, “Do something quirky and fail and you’re fired.” He believes we must be allowed to fail faster – he calls it Smart Failure­ – and be rewarded for it.

Sure, if you know what to do and how to do it then you can’t afford to fail, and you should be fired! It’s like painting by numbers – not much opportunity for failure unless you’re incompetent.

However, change these days is about achieving things when you know neither what you’re doing nor how you’re going to do it. How could you know these things when you do not understand the New World? He calls this ‘foggy change’. It requires innovation, collaboration and Design Thinking. It requires organisations protect people by encouraging smart failure.

Or you could continue to respond as if it is still the 20th Century. Continue painting by numbers. It will keep you occupied for a while longer, but it will not create anything new or innovative.

Recommended reading: Obeng, Eddie (1995): All Change!: The Project Leader’s Secret Handbook, London, Pitman/Financial Times

Next time in the A to Z o OD: P is for Psychoanalysis

The A to Z of OD: N is for Nudge Theory

What is Nudge Theory?

Let’s suppose your organisation is trying to recycle more of its waste. You might write a new policy and lay down some rules for employees to use recycling bins. Then, you might inform them of this policy through briefings that explain why you are introducing recycling bins. You might even engage your employees in deciding where the bins will be located, what to do about confidential waste, and other matters they may be concerned about.

Or you could simply ‘nudge’ your employees into doing what you want them to do.

According to Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein (‘Nudge’, 2008), most people choose the default option. They walk down the stairs but take the escalator up; they stick with the same energy provider; they us the bins provided.

A branch of behavioural economics, a nudge is a friendly push in the right direction. Footsteps stencilled up the stairs encourage people to walk; including average annual costs for a typical family on an energy statement encourages people to consider switching supplier; providing a range of bins encourages people to recycle appropriately.

How can Nudge Theory help with OD?

The right nudge in the right context can help employees choose a new default option that supports the organisation’s goals. And this can be done without policies, rules, briefings and staff engagement. In other words, it can be done more cheaply and more effectively than traditional approaches to introducing change.

Does it work for more substantive change than introducing recycling bins? You betcha! In one example, using positive feedback, targets and small charitable donations, an airline saved over £3m in fuel costs by nudging employees to use it more efficiently.

Why would I choose to use Nudge Theory?

Some say nudges are manipulative. However, a crucial aspect of being influenced by a nudge is that it is voluntary. The choice to be nudged rests with the individual. However, social norms can significantly help to lock in the new nudged behaviour. For example, a sign above the new recycling bins that says something along the lines of “Join 70% of your colleagues in recycling office waste!” will have significantly more success than “Help us recycle our waste.” In behavioural economics, this category of nudge is called ‘social proof’.

Another category is ‘status quo bias’. People stay with what is already in place. Therefore, the UK Government moved from employees having to opt in to a workplace pension to automatically enrolling all employees into workplace pensions, so they must elect to opt out if they do not want to be enrolled. This was a deliberate use of nudge theory and has resulted in only around 10% of workers opting out and an estimated £17bn more money per annum invested in pensions in the UK. And they are at it again with opting everyone into organ donorship.

So, next time you’re planning to change something in the workplace, think about how nudging behaviour might help you achieve that change and make it stick.

OD thought leader: Edwin Nevis (1926 – 2011)

Ed Nevis was a Gestalt therapist who worked with clients in an experiential way, not just from a therapeutic perspective. He was faculty member at MI Sloan School of Management and co-founded the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland.

His major contribution to OD consulting was in applying the use of the Gestalt Cycle of Experience to the role of consultant.

What is the Gestalt Cycle of Experience?

The Gestalt Cycle of Experience was formulated by Fritz Perls in the 1940s. It describes the intrapsychic experience of an object, from initial sensation and awareness, through to full contact, resolution (closure) and withdrawal of attention. The full cycle is sensation; awareness; energy mobilisation; action; contact; resolution; withdrawal of attention.  The object move from being part of the background noise of our lives (in Gestalt, this is called the Ground), to being in uncosciously in the forefront of our minds; we become uncosciously pre-occupied with the object.  Gestalt calls this ‘Figure’.

As a very simple example, it explains why I now know what a Skoda Roomster looks like. My wife was thinking about buying a replacement car. “I quite like the Skoda Roomster,” she noted one morning over breakfast. I had no awareness of this vehicle. Later that day, she pointed one out on the road. It was then in my awareness. They suddenly appeared everywhere! I had (unconsciously) put energy and action into spotting them on the road.

I (consciously) made full contact when we visited a showroom and explored the features of this car. I achieved resolution when she decided it was not the model for her and I could then withdraw my attention. Oddly enough, I hardly ever see these cars anymore, although I know they must be out there, just like I know they were out there before I became aware of them.  In Gestalt language, they had moved from ‘Figure’ back to ‘Ground’.

Too many open loops

This intrapsychic process happens whenever we mobilise our energy into making contact with any object. You have probably heard people say they have ‘too many open loops’. They are referring – probably unconsciously – to the Gestalt Cycle of Experience. If we have an incomplete cycle, we are unable to be fully present with others in-the-moment. This is because we are psychologically distracted by something other than the person present that we need to make full contact with in order to get closure and withdraw our attention. It is why we feel a sense of satisfaction when we put a significant piece of work ‘to bed’.

How does this apply to organisational change?

Nevis applied the thinking to organisations, associating the stages of the cycle to consulting interventions.  See also J is for Joint DiagnosisHis seminal work details how the consultant uses himself as an instrument to effect change: “using the cycle as orientation, the [Gestalt consultant] acts as an instrument that observes and monitors the decision-making process of the client system to see that each phase is carried out well.” In this way, the consultant educates the client system “in how to improve its awareness of its functioning.”

Recommended reading: Nevis, Edwin, C. (1987), Organizational Consulting: A Gestalt Approach, The Gestalt Institute of Cleveland Press, Cambridge, MA.

Next time: O is for Open Space

 

The A to Z of OD: M is for Metaphor

Our language is littered with metaphor.  Oftentimes, we do not notice metaphor unless it is used poetically.  Had I said, “We walk through streets of literature littered with metaphor”, you are more likely to have spotted ‘littered’ as a metaphor for the ubiquity of metaphor.  ‘Littered’ suggests metaphor contaminates our language, just like litter contaminates the street.  Perhaps, I’m even suggesting we are so accustomed to seeing litter on the street we have stopped noticing the street is cluttered, dishevelled, even unhealthy.  I’m clearly suggesting metaphor is a bad thing, and we’ve stopped noticing it is bad.

Our language is rich with metaphor.  A different connotation entirely.  Metaphor is a good thing, perhaps even having monetary value.  Money: that thing that symbolises success in our culture, that enables us to feed and protect ourselves, that gives us choice, freedom and agency over our lives.

The use of metaphor is very helpful to the reader as it describes what you’re trying to say in a few words.  The reader’s mind ‘conjures’ up her own interpretation from her own experience; an experience that is rich with her own metaphor.  She can see the ‘whole picture’ you were ‘painting’.  The problem is that the use of one metaphor – is it magic or is it art? – restricts other interpretations.  This is how others’ words can manipulate us.

Organisational metaphor

Our language defines our culture.  We create the word around us though how we talk and write about it.  As such, it also defines the organisations we create.  The organisations that is, where we work, rest and play; where we live our lives.

And so, the words we use to describe those organisation matter.  We tell stories about those organisations and the metaphors we use are very much a part of that narrative.

I’ve just looked back at the A to Z of OD articles I’ve written in this series to review the metaphor I’ve been using to describe organisations and OD.  I counted nearly 100 examples.  Many of these are consciously deployed – OD is a journey for example – however several were unconscious.

The most frequent positive metaphor I use is one that describes organisations as organisms: I provide the right ‘climate’ for people to ‘flourish’,  I put leaders at the ‘heart’ of organisations, I encourage ideas to ‘spread like viruses’, I ‘diagnose’ issues with them when the organisation  ‘hiccoughs’ and I provide ‘antidotes’ to what I must perceive to be poisonous practices.

I also quite often use negative connotations, suggesting organisations and organisation development are instruments of domination and coercive control: OD ‘drives’ the culture (as if driving a team of horses, perhaps?) and ‘spurs’ people on, it has change ‘targets’, I talk of humans being treated as ‘puppets’, manager and employee as ‘servant and master’ and that managers deploy ‘tricks’ to get things done.

And sometimes I refer to organisations as if they were machines: employee engagement is one of the ‘engines’ of organisational effectiveness, leaders pull ‘levers’ to ‘lock in’ changes and are themselves the ‘lubrication’ that ensures the organisation operates smoothly.

That is not to say organisations literally are organisms, instruments of coercion or machines.  But they can exhibit characteristics that are like those things.  Next time you are describing your organisation or OD approach, what metaphor are you using?  What metaphor do others use, particularly influential people like the CEO?  And how might these metaphors be denying other possible interpretations?

OD thought leader: Gareth Morgan

Gareth Morgan wrote the definitive guide to organisational metaphor, categorising and exemplifying eight archetypal metaphors for organisations:

Archetype Words used include
Machine Efficiency, waste, order, clockwork, operations, re-engineering
Organism Living systems, life cycles, evolution, fitness, health, adaption, malaise
Brain Learning, mindset, feedback, knowledge, networks
Culture Values, beliefs, rituals, diversity, tradition, history, vision, family
Political system Power, hidden agendas, authority, toe the line, gatekeepers, Star Chamber
Psychic prison Regression, denial, Parent/Child, ego, defence mechanism, dysfunction, coping, pain
Flux and transformation Change, flow, self-organisation, emergent, paradox, complexity, VUCA
Instrument of domination Compliance, charisma, coercion, corporate interest, alienation

He suggests metaphor is a simple tool that can help leaders and OD practitioners effect change and solve seemingly intractable problems that require adaptive thinking from people right across and down the organisation. 

Recommended reading: Morgan, Gareth (2006), Images of Organization (Updated Ed.), Sage, Thousand Oaks, CA.

Next time: N is for Nudge Theory.

The A to Z of OD: L is for Leadership

People get awfully confused about leadership.  What is it?  How is it different from Management? Can anybody be a Leader?

At the risk of adding to the confusion, here’s my deceptively simple definition:

“Leadership is the power to organise ideas into action.”

Leadership is not the same as Management

Let’s start by contrasting Leadership with Management.  Management is the act of overseeing a process.  In an organisational context, the processes managers oversee are often referred to as business processes.  In manufacturing, business processes turn inputs into outputs.  This concept can be extended to business processes in other sectors – there will always be some form of inputs (data, designs, resources) and business processes turn these into outputs that customers want (information, products, services).

Leadership, on the other hand, is the power to organise ideas into action; the power to change.  World-renowned wellbeing guru Deepak Chopra argues the power to change derives from a combination of creativity – the seed of an idea for the future – and the desire to enact it.  The desire to enact it requires organisation.  Such organisation requires you pay attention to the present to make your intention a future reality.  This is the essence of organisation, the essence of leadership.

Anybody can be a Leader

I believe everybody can be thought of as a leader.

The desire to enact a future intention, coupled with the capability to make it happen is all you need to be considered a leader.  You do not need a job title.  In an organisational context, the future intention is sometimes called a vision.

I believe there are really only three levels of hierarchy in any organisation: strategic leaders, operational (or service) leaders and individuals (who to some degree lead themselves).  Everything else is ‘fluff’ to justify job titles, pay grades and HR functions.

  • At the individual contribution level, you are a leader if you choose to do something that aligns to the vision, then make it happen
  • At the operational/service leader level, you are a leader if you organise others to deliver the activities that deliver the vision.  You probably have ‘supervisor’ or ‘manager’ in your job title, or perhaps ‘head of…’
  • At the strategic leader level, you are a leader when you – collectively with others – organise the whole system to deliver the vision (the whole system comprises things like strategy, operations, people, structures, planning and performance mechanisms, engagement and team culture – see The A to Z of OD: J is for Joint Diagnosis).

Leadership development at any level is about developing the Four Cs of Leadership

The skills and experience you need at each level are different, and depend on the organisation, the nature of its activities and the scale of the activities in which you are involved.

However, the leadership behaviours are uncannily similar across organisations, industries and sectors.  And they relate to the power to organise ideas into action.  Four elements must be present:

  • Commitment to the idea itself – the commitment to a vision
  • Competence, i.e. the ability to act – the leader must be good at some aspect of the activity in which they are engaged, and must be able to organise themselves to make progress towards that vision
  • Communication – the vision and the steps needed to move towards it must be articulated to influence and mobilise others.  Even at the individual level, turning thoughts into actions involves saying what you are going to do (even if you only say it to yourself inside your own head)
  • Change orientation – whereas management is about overseeing a defined process, which is fundamentally about stability, the leader must embrace change to make the vision a reality.

These are the Four Cs of Leadership.  You can build your leadership capability by considering the extent to which each of these is fundamentally embedded and working effectively within your organisation.

OD Thought Leader: Kurt Lewin (1890 – 1947)

Through conducting field experiments in social science, Lewin proposed many models and techniques that formed the bedrock of early OD practice and endure today.  He created an action-oriented approach to his research into everyday social problems and drew from Gestaltism and psycho-analytics to create the new academic (perhaps ‘pracademic’? i.e. both practical and academic) field of Social Psychology.

On individual behaviour and group dynamics: Lewin’s equation

Lewin proposed that how individuals interact with each other create the world in which we’re living.  In turn, the world we have created shapes individual behaviours.  This proposition strikes at the heart of the nature/nurture debate, demonstrating that both nature and nurture interact to shape who we are as individuals.

He coined the term ‘group dynamics’, meaning how groups of people interact to survive and thrive in changing circumstances.  He suggested that groups unify as a whole system and cannot be understood by only studying individuals.  The whole is different (and greater) than the sum of its parts.

On Organisational Learning: Field Theory and Action Research

He excelled at turning everyday problems into psychological experiments, which he termed Field Theory.  An early observation revealed, “intention to carry out a specific task builds a psychological tension, which is released when the intended task is completed.”  This was the foundation of social psychology.

Action research (another Lewin-coined term) involves participating in resolving a social problem, whilst simultaneously conducting research into that problem and how it is solved.  It is inherently reflexive.  It is related to Action Learning (see the A to Z of OD: A is for Action Learning).

On Change: Force Field Analysis and the Ice Cube Theory of Change

Lewin found that people, teams and organisations tend to become frozen by a combination of driving forces that are propelling them forwards towards their goals and restraining forces that are holding them back.  By analysing these forces, individuals, teams and organisations can prioritise the actions to remove restraining forces and encourage driving forces so that they unfreeze and then can move forwards towards their goal.  See also The A to Z of OD: I is for the Ice Cube Theory of Change.

Recommended reading: Jay Marrow (1977), The Practical Theorist: the Life and Works of Kurt Lewin, New York, Teachers Press.

Next time: M is for Metaphor

The A to Z of OD: K is for Kindness

The level of our success is limited only by our imagination and no act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted. (Aesop)

The definition of organisational change can vary from ruthless mergers, downsizing and outsourcing that can and has adversely affected millions of workers’ lives, to fluffy learning conferences that amount to nothing more than getting your ticket punched on a jolly out of the office.

Do either of these extremes define or produce organisational success?  Well that depends on what you define as success – be it short-term profit focus or commissioning corporate entertainment to reward high-flyers.  Long-term organisational success?  I suspect not.

OD is neither of these extremes.  It is relentlessly focused on the change goal, considers the impact on the whole organisational system and is necessarily humanistic.  A colleague of mine often says you must be, “tough on the issues and gentle on the people.”  I think this defines what I mean by kindness in an OD context.

Believing in Kindness in OD (as I do), requires we pay deep attention to our clients’ wants and needs, enter equal partnerships with our clients, encourage them to go to the edge of their imagination, access their feelings, dig to uncover the information that will enable change and appreciate them when they make progress.  And that applies at the individual, team and organisational levels.  Attention, Equality, Encouragement, Feelings, Appreciation.  Curiously, these just happen to be five key components of another framework – a coaching framework based on Gestalt psychotherapy.  I wonder if there are things to be learned in our OD practice from that framework?  See OD Thought Leader: Nancy Kline.

OD Thought Leader: Nancy Kline

Nancy Kline’s Thinking Environment is a Gestalt framework and method to help coaches act as their client’s thinking partner.  She outlines ten components that make for a good thinking environment.  I believe many of these are relevant to OD, so I shall introduce them here in that context.  What do you think?

Attention

Kline outlines that paying attention means listening without interruption, being interested in what your client says next in order to ignite their thinking.  As a thinking partner, “You understand that, as the catalyst for this fine thinking, you are both essential and irrelevant”.

Equality

The OD consultant simply must have an equal relationship with their client.  For external OD consultants, this is achieved by contracting well so that the boundaries of both the task and the relationship are well defined.  See OD Thought Leader: Peter Block, Flawless Consulting.  For internal OD practitioners, this can be harder to achieve, as it can be for any internal partnering relationship (e.g. Finance, HR).  The roles of servant and master are all too readily established.  Such relationships lead to a suboptimal delivery, a lack of fulfilment and often – in my experience – the closing down of internal change functions.

Ease

This is linked the paradoxical nature of change: if you try too hard to force it, it will not happen.  Our role as OD practitioners is to do less so that our clients do more.  To be the spark that ignites their thinking.  This can only happen if we are paying attention and in an equal partnering relationship. If not, then – for me at least – it’s not OD!

Appreciation

Kline asserts “people do their best thinking in the presence of Appreciation.  And they stop thinking in the presence of criticism”.  And I agree.  She also suggests Appreciation should be succinct, sincere and specific.  I do not believe in criticism.  I believe in appropriate challenge, which is done by discomforting the client’s worldview, checking for anxiety and offering psychological support (see The A to Z of OD: I is for Ice Cube Theory of Change).

Encouragement

There is Encouragement in the form of appreciating.  And then there is Encouragement in the form of emboldening, to spur others onto be more courageous.  Our role is to build courage to “go to the unexplored edge of ideas”.  “Courageous thinking needs freedom from pre-occupation with what others are thinking of our thinking.  It needs trust.  It needs Ease”.

Feelings

Kline believes fear constricts thinking and allowing appropriate emotional release restores thinking.  This means change agents must tap into Feelings and I believe this is a core part of OD.  The act of making change work necessarily unlocks emotional, mental, physical and creative energy: the heart, mind, body and soul of our clients.

Information

OD often surrounds generating a new understanding of our client’s situation.  The role of the helper is to balance challenge and support to jointly uncover this information, acting as a mirror to reflect information back to the client.

Kline suggests this information may include data such as facts and figures, but also includes the dismantling of denial, because “facing what you have been denying frees you to think clearly”.

I’m also reminded of Claes Janssen’s Four Rooms of Change (see OD Thought Leader Claes Janssen).  In the Denial room, the helper’s role is to give information and help the client into the Confusion Room.  Confusion is good because it generates choice, and choice liberates people.

Diversity

Kline suggests the mind works best in the presence of reality and that reality is diverse.  She encourages thinking partners to encourage divergent thinking.  Important for successful OD.  People are diverse.  OD is humanistic.  if you believe in people, you’ll be just fine.

Incisive questions

Kline has a formulaic approach to constructing powerful questions to help people unlock their thinking.  Considered more generally, it is important for OD practitioners to consider the words they use carefully avoiding value-laden words and words that infer one has more (or indeed less) power then one’s client.  Remaining open and curious, assuming the ‘beginner’s mind’ and adopting the ’and’ stance (as in “and, what more is there to this?”) are good tips.

Place

Kline recommends creating a physical environment that says to people, “You matter.”  When the physical environment affirms their importance, people think at their best.

Suggested reading: Nancy Kline (2015), More Time to Think, 2nd Ed., London, Octopus.

 

Next time: The A to Z of OD: L is for Leadership

The A to Z of OD: J is for Joint Diagnosis

Introduction

I’d like to thank David D’Souza for suggesting Diagnosis, Perry Timms for suggesting Analysis, Russell Harvey for suggesting Collaboration (“You have to do OD with others”, he says.  “OD can’t be done alone!”), Inji Duducu and Francis Lake for suggesting Systems Thinking and Simon Daisley for suggesting Uniqueness as topics for the A to Z of OD.  I have attempted to draw these seemingly disparate topics together, along with my own musings on Consulting, Contracting and Whole-system events under the auspice of conducting robust diagnosis before enacting change.  J is for Joint diagnosis.

OD by another name

We have already seen that the terms OD, Change and Consulting are somewhat interchangeable.  I have at time acted as an OD consultant, change agent, change manager and OD manager.  Peter Block suggests consulting flawlessly requires the consultant complete the work of a five-stage consulting cycle.  These stages are: (1) Contracting; (2) Discovery and data collection; (3) Feedback and the decision to act; (4) Engagement and implementation and (5) Results.  At each stage, he recommends the work is done jointly between the consultant and client.

Joint diagnosis

Joint diagnosis is undertaken in stages 1-3.  Meeting a prospective client or internal change sponsor and contracting for what OD can achieve is an act of joint diagnosis and discovery.  It is also the moment the OD practitioner can acknowledge the uniqueness of the situation, whilst seeking commonalities with other systems and hence suggesting she is able to help.  Specifying and then collecting the data required is also a joint diagnosis exercise, which can be undertaken as a series of whole-system events.  Such events engage representatives from right across and up and down the organisation.

Feeding back the findings so client and consultant can both decide what to do is best undertaken as a joint decision.  In this way, the OD practitioner role models working in collaboration and establishes a ‘partnering of equals’ working relationship.  I go so far as to say, “If it ain’t collaborative, then it ain’t OD.”

Diagnose the whole system

Furthermore, I am firmly of the opinion that you are undertaking OD only if the scope of your diagnosis considers the whole client system.  And that means diagnosing the current system and likely impact of the change on the overall organisational system.  Anything else is just tinkering and is likely to have unforeseen impacts on other areas of the system.

There are many whole system thinking models out there.  Allow me to outline the thinking behind below my version – the Whole System Leadership Model – in the diagram below:

  • Firstly, there are three main levers leaders can pull to make change happen: Strategy; Business process and People
  • These are interconnected by three further systemic elements: (1) Organisation (things like structures, policies and planning and performance management routines) links your Business Processes to your Strategy; (2) Engagement links your People to your Strategy; and (3) Team culture links your People to your Business Processes
  • Leadership is right at the heart of the model. Leaders must hold all the other elements together in some sort of alignment.  They are the both glue and the lubrication that allow the whole system to function effectively.
Whole System Leadership

© CMdeltaConsulting 2018

You might also spot that the top half of the model is outward-facing (towards customers and other stakeholders) and the bottom half faces inwards (staff and internal workings), so the leaders must balance the tension between the two.  Equally, the left of the model represents rational, design-led thinking (the organisation led by the ‘Head’), whereas the right of the model represents the emotional connection to the organisation (the organisation led by the ‘Heart’).  For a system to be effective, leaders must find a way to balance the head and the heart.

Joint diagnosis at this depth of systemic understanding can yield insights into the mindset and emotional capability of the whole system, and the overall culture, and yields a joined-up OD plan. The plan is fed into the following phases: decision to act and implementation.  The results that follow positively impact the whole system and lead to the change sticking.

While we are here, it is worth mentioning the implementation phase can also be enacted as a series of whole-system events.

OD thought leader: Claes Janssen

I’d like to share a story.  Recently, I was driving home from Bristol after a long day delivering a facilitated learning session (incidentally, the topic was ‘leading change’).  This was some 225-mile trip.  I had just stopped about halfway home to get something to eat, fill up with fuel and grab a takeaway coffee to keep me going, after which I returned to the motorway, filled with a sense of Contentment.

A few miles up the road and unexpectedly, an amber warning light illuminated my dashboard against the rapidly-darkening evening sky.  This warning light was shaped like an engine!  “I wonder what that means?” I mused.  “Well, I’m not stopping again…I’m sure I’ll get home okay.”  And on I went, in Denial as to the possible ramificationsAs I drove on, uncertainty and Confusion entered my head.  “What if the engine suddenly packs in, or if I do more damage to it by driving on?”  I thought.  “Perhaps I should stop and look up in the manual what it means?”

And so I bargained with myself, oscillating from the childish denial of “it will be okay… press on… I wanna get home” to the more grown-up response of stopping and at least knowing what the problem might be and perhaps even following the manual’s recommended course of action.

I did not stop.

I drove home in this state of somewhere-in-between Denial and Confusion.

Thankfully, I made it home.

It was only the next morning, when I referred to the manual to seek guidance, “Stop immediately.  Seek diagnostics from your dealer.” it said. Or something like that.  “NOTE: you may experience significant loss of power if you continue to drive; your vehicle may enter ‘limp home’ mode.”  This made me chuckle as I imagined a cartoonish version of my car limping home like a scene from Roger Rabbit.  Anyway, I set myself on the path to Renewal by phoning the garage and booking the car in for diagnostics.  It was a fault on a sensor with the engine, by the way.  Nothing serious, but it did need fixing.

These are Swedish psychologist Claes Janseen’s Four Rooms of Change: Contentment, Denial, Confusion and Renewal.  He suggests we all live in one of these rooms at any one time, and there really is only one path from contentment (before change happens) to renewal (when we have found the way to internalise and survive/thrive following the change).  And that path goes through Denial and Confusion.  How long we spend in each room is about our energy for change, our resilience and our experience of coping with and leading change.  It is also worth noting there are many doors out of the Confusion room, and many of them lead back to denial.

It is a simple model – much simpler than a detailed change curve – and it is one that has many practical uses.  These include monitoring your own state and spotting the signs in others, so you can help them through change.  Curiously, I had referred to this model in the learning workshop in Bristol earlier that day.  Oh, sweet irony!

Recommended reading: Four Rooms is a copy of chapter 1 of his book The Four Rooms of Change, Förändringens fyra rum (Wahlström & Widstrand, 1996)