Coaching others

How do you know how to choose the right executive coach for you?

How do you know how to choose the right executive coach for you?

Helpfully, we are now in a world where executive coaching is seen as an investment in organisational success. Gone are the days when you were told you needed a coach and that was not necessarily a good thing.  Unhelpfully, there are hundreds of coaching niches and thousands upon thousands of coaches out there, and there is no unified code or standard for executive coaching.  How do you know how to choose the right one for you?

Curiously, seeking guidance on this from that most ubiquitous source of information, the World Wide Web, yields a myriad of advice that seems to me to be somewhat skewed towards that particular giver of advice-who-just-so-happens-to-be-an-executive-coach themselves!

Before you read on I have something to declare: I am too an executive coach.

However my advice to you is simple: Use you head, heart and gut to make your choice.

Use your head

Your coach needs be able to work with the outcomes you are seeking. For example, it’s no use selecting a business development coach if you have writers’ block. Look for someone with proven experience in the areas you want to work on, evidenced by testimonials, who can evidence relevant successes in the real world and evidence over what timeframe that happened. Then understand how they will get to know you, your context and your challenges. This may be someone from the same industry background if that is important to you, or maybe not; sometimes a fresh perspective can be, well, refreshing.

More importantly understand their process for understanding you: for example, are you going to be inundated with psychometric questionnaires (high focus on the coach’s process), or simply listened to (low focus on the coach’s process, high focus on you)? You might also want to know your coach is in coaching themselves and that they have qualifications and/or accreditation from one of the coaching bodies such as the International Coach Federation, the Association for Coaching, the European Mentoring and Coaching Council or the Academy of Executive Coaching (other coaching bodies are available!) Such bodies have codes of ethics such as requiring coaches to be under professional supervision.

Listen to your heart

Coaches are there to help you make better choices in whatever you are seeking to change. Different coaches will do this in very different ways; they might work anywhere on a spectrum from non-directive through to directive; from purely accepting you as you are by listening deeply to you, through to confronting your challenges and helping you learn how to learn new ways of doing and being; from gently evoking change within you to robustly provoking you to do things differently.

That your needs will be matched by their process is very important. If you choose an accepting/listening coach, you are likely to have some great conversations, but they might not have much purpose. Choosing a provocative coach may be too challenging. This is a careful balance that just using your head will not resolve. You will only work though this by talking with them or having a sample coaching session from them. Look out for their ability to listen deeply and accept you as you are, go beyond listening by helping you face the challenges you have, and enable you to make better choices.

That coaches must keep your conversations confidential is a must-have. As is building trust between you. The best way to assess the relationship you seek with your coach, is to meet with them perhaps several times before committing to the contract. If you only use your head, you might miss whether the chemistry is right or not.

Go with your gut

Not all coaching relationships gel. Coaches often hear, “My last coach didn’t work out, I should have gone with my instinct.” So yes, use your head and listen to your heart.

How do you know how to choose the right executive coach for you?  Ultimately something down inside your gut will let you know you’ve picked the right coach.

Choose wisely.

10 things I wish I had known before starting my independent consulting and coaching career

Since 2014, I have had what I consider to be a successful independent career. It has been a rollercoaster and I wouldn’t change it for any alternative. I’m currently a self-employed OD consultant, executive coach and facilitator, a part-time lecturer, an occasional DJ, a volunteer Street Wizard and a trustee of a small charity. Just now, I’m also launching my new coach supervisor brand, Grow the Coach.

Setting up your own business and all that goes with it can be daunting. I did it six years ago and with Grow the Coach I’m doing it again now. Here are the 10 things I wish someone had told me as I look back over my journey so far…

Who is you target client, what do they need and what can you do for them?

  1. Be VERY clear about the skills and experience you have to offer. How can you best utilise them to solve problems for potential clients in a way that allows you to spend time doing more of the work you most enjoy?
  2. Be EVEN MORE clear about who your ideal client is – if you target everyone, you target no one. You can spend many long days, weeks and even months chasing the wrong clients.
  3. If you can match client needs with your offer, you can decide what this means for how you work: part-time, contract, interim, consultant, etc. It may be several similar roles, or a mix of different roles at the same time. This mix is likely to change over time, so be prepared to be flexible. I was staunchly a “freelance consultant” when I started. I’ve since been an associate for other firms, an employee, part-time interim, won bids with my own brand and sub-contracted work to others, taken on a zero-hours contract, volunteered, offered pro bono professional services and now I’m establishing a self-employed brand with no company. You do what is right for you and your prospective clients.

Working hours and pricing

  1. Start by calculating many hours you are committed to work and how many of these are likely to be paid. Then think about your charging rates. How much income do you need to live? Divide this by the number of paid hours you expect to work and see how the resulting hourly or day rate compares to the market. Another method is to take your headline final annualised full-time equivalent salary and knock two zeros off the end. That’s roughly your starting day rate. £50k translates to £500 per day as an independent; £80k to £800; etc.

Business structure, regulatory and legal implications

  1. Decide on the most appropriate business structure – whether to operate as a limited company or on a self- employed basis – and understand the tax implications, including IR35. Some roles might be on a PAYE basis. I’ve done them all.
  2. Professional indemnity and other insurances may be necessary. I use Hiscox, many other providers are available.

Finding work is a multi-channel approach

  1. Networking – maintain contact with your existing networks and get out there to explore new ones. Get ready to kiss a lot of toads – it really is a numbers game, especially to start with. Also leverage your social media networks: I have secured work through LinkedIn and Twitter just by getting into the right conversations. Then get your elevator pitch ready. I find asking questions is more powerful than pitching your offer. Sort your LinkedIn profile out. Do you need a website? How will you interact with social media channels, for example will you be blogging, tweeting, etc.? The key to networking is to offer something of value even if you can’t see an immediate return. You are building your profile and reputation as someone who can make a difference.
  2. For employed roles, use job boards and for contract work and interim placements only, use recruitment agents. You’ll kiss a lot of toads here too. Agents are not the people to help you find part-time work or genuine consulting work, IMHO. You can also bid for public sector contracts using portals, if you have the energy to submit to the laborious application processes. I’ve bid for several, won one and now given up even looking.
  3. Seek out associate relationships – where larger firms sell work and sub-contract it out to independents. This is still a large part of my business, although after a few years, my own work took over in terms of relative income and the work’s importance to me.

Keep on top of your game

  1. It’s even more important than ever to keep up to date with your discipline, so consider taking more memberships of industry groups and professional practice forums, get a coach, mentor or supervisor, and consider your continuing professional development. Write some articles.

And finally, three more things that are useful to know and remember…

  • You will feel lost, vulnerable and exhilarated … often all at once!
  • Don’t underestimate the amount of time you will spend on admin and unpaid business development.
  • Learn to say “No” if it the work offered is not in your sweet spot. Only when you say “No” does your “Yes” mean something.

It’s a rollercoaster. Get ready for the ride of your life!

Jeremy J Lewis

The Journey to Calm

Today, I welcome Justine Shaw, People & Culture Director at CPP Group, to reflect on the recently completed artwork – The Journey to Calm – that was created on a development programme she commissioned for her colleagues in Leeds.  To find out more about the programme, please follow @corpartworks on Instagram or Twitter,  and message us directly.

________

There is a piece of Artwork in my head office. Beautifully conceived and multi-layered in the experience, transient and thoughtful, taking the consumer on ‘The Journey to Calm’. You can interact, experience and note your reactions in the journal. This is art.

“Much is made of our modern lifestyle ‐ its fast‐paced, non‐stop, ever accessible nature. At times, we struggle to resist and to escape the constant threat of sensory overload. Through the introduction of visual prompts in the urban landscape this piece explores the need to take time out. To not be afraid of granting ourselves permission; to stop; to pause, to reflect, to fully re‐engage with the world around us”

The Project

The artwork was conceived and created by eight colleagues.

Surprised?

I think it’s fair to say, so are they. Our colleagues took part in an experimental project called Corporate Artworks, working with Jeremy Lewis (a coach) and Gary Winters (an artist) to explore art and innovation, to learn lessons for the corporate world from the artist’s creative toolbox and mindset; and to go on a journey of discovery over four modules.

At times it has been challenging, at times dramatic and at times a liberating experience. As I watched from the side-lines, I have seen transformational changes in thinking, changes in perspective, changes in the view of self and an increase in confidence.

There was no predetermined outcome or requirement for an outcome. What was produced supported by a conceptual document, is thought provoking, deep and meaningful. It is multi-layered and allows space for the individual experience.

Why Corporate Artworks?

How does this fit with the corporate world, why is this part of our culture?

  • Our culture is about open honest conversations, the ability to be your authentic self and to cut down the spaces for misunderstanding.
  • We work and collaborate together, to challenge and to understand our behaviours and the behaviours of those around us. Every interaction we have is an opportunity to have a positive impact on these around us.
  • Every time we make a request of each other is a touch point and a moment we make someone’s job mean more, make them appreciate their colleagues more and want to help more; or it can be a moment when people can feel underappreciated or not valued.
  • Our culture is about adapting not coping in a transformation business and a turbulent world. Part of this is understanding ourselves and knowing how to have a good day that brings out the best in us.

The outcomes

This journey allowed our people to develop, understand themselves and grow in ways they are just starting to understand. It has changed them and allowed them to see different perspectives, to consider innovation and creation in new ways. It has taken them on a journey. Let me share their words with you.

“It has been emotional. I have been so far out of my comfort zone … I’ve struggled, I’ve loved it, I’ve nearly quit and I’ve enjoyed it. I don’t understand my journey yet but … let go or be dragged.”

“It has stripped away layers so I could get back to me. I had lost me but this allowed me to Stop-Pause-Reflect. I’ve made big changes personally and professionally. The journey back to calm has reduced my anxiety.”

“I was listening but now I am hearing. The journey is important, it’s weird and fulfilling. We share so much and we are all not so different. It has been a leap of faith but I feel proud and connected.”

“I found a space for myself, I can rest, I can sit with uncertainty and if you look reinvention is everywhere.”

“I feel confident to be me, an introvert in workplaces that don’t work for introverts. I take time to think, to immerse and concentrate. I’m not scared to daydream because it’s productive. The personal impact is I now take time for myself.”

“I enjoyed it, working with different people. It’s been emotional, it’s been scary as you need to be vulnerable, and you are no longer the expert. I view things differently and I’m still moving forward and finding out about me. I now ask myself, what is the message?”

“Collaboration works, but it can be really hard to truly collaborate. You can’t control how somebody reacts to something. You have to give your all, be authentic and genuine in your intention and put it out there and not worry about the reaction. We helped each other. We worked through our uncomfortableness and practiced our creativity. We are all artists.”

“I thought I was the wrong person to be here because I don’t have a creative bone in my body. Then I thought about art and I thought. This is something that will follow you home, this is something that we can share, this is something that will never be the same, and this is something that will evolve. This is something.  This has changed my thinking; art has got so many possibilities and I can see me in a lot of them. At work I look at things in a different way, through a different lens, through a different window. This journey really has been … something.”

Finally I asked what advice they would give their former selves just joining the programme:

  • Trust the process
  • You don’t know yet, how or when, but it will change you and help you at work
  • Let go or be dragged!

Justine Shaw, People & Culture Director, CPP Group

The A to Z of OD: Z is for Zeitgeist

Some say OD is prone to the latest management fads. As such, it is fickle and cannot be trusted. At times, it does seem that whatever OD practitioners happen to be doing defines OD. But what if OD is merely reflecting the times in which it is practised? What if the spirit of the age – the Zeitgeist – defines OD practice?

In this final post in the A to Z of OD, I will canter through the history of OD and show how it captured the Zeitgeist. And consider what this might mean for OD in the 2020s…

From founding ideas to becoming discredited– 1950s to the 1980s

OD emerged after the Second World War in the US (Lewin et al) and the UK (Tavistock Institute). From its initial ideas in the 1950s of open systems theory coupled with psychoanalytic understanding of group dynamics, through the social change of the 1960s and 1970s, OD mirrored the times.

The 1960s represents a time of technological advancement, individual freedoms and the birth of popular culture. OD focused on deeper understanding of individuals and their contribution to the systems in which they worked and lived.

The 1970s was a decade of huge change. OD reflected this through a deepening of its understanding of itself as a planned approach to change.  It also focused on self-development reflecting the growing sense of self within society, particularly within burgeoning youth cultures, and on team development, reflecting perhaps the growth in union power.

This all came to a head in the 1980s. Margaret Thatcher crushed the unions; In OD, the concept of a leader’s vision rose to prominence. New electronic gadgetry flooded our homes – from kitchen appliances to personal computers – aimed at making life more efficient. OD focused on efficiency too, by  adopting total quality management and other approaches to business process re-engineering.

During the eighties, quite probably because of focusing too narrowly on process efficiency, comentators discredited OD. They saw the focus on individual enlightenment and teamwork of the 60s and 70s as naïve and so OD practice began to focus more on process and less on humanising workplaces. This tore away at OD’s founding ideals. It was time to grow up…

A pivotal moment in time – the 1990s

The 1990s represents a growing up of society – taking all that had gone before and melding it in a postmodernist way to create something new and vibrant. This decade gave birth to the internet and mobile phones took off. People began to understand how they could access what they needed 24/7. They understood their own values more deeply and began to be choosier about where they worked. What had been radical in the 1980s in our culture became mainstream and the mainstream had to downsize.

Organisations reflected this too: they embraced what is meant to be a learning organisation and became more values-driven. They also downsized, on an enormous scale. OD began to polarise – some practitioners worked on enabling the gnarly, corporatist change of cutting jobs, while others focused on enabling individuals to thrive through learning and living their values.

This left OD practice in a dilemma. How can OD be both these extremes of practice?

Current OD practice – 2000s to present

The past 20 years or so has seen OD attempt to reconcile itself to these two positions. In society in the 2000s, the technology explosion intensified – from mobile tech to YouTube – and anyone could become a star through reality TV. OD encouraged distributed leadership (we’re all TV stars now … we’re all leaders now!) and focused on employee engagement, collaboration skills and the behaviours that demonstrate corporate values. OD practitioners justified their approach of developing people and laying them off: if everyone can embrace the ‘new’ culture, become a ‘designer’ employee, then it’s okay to cope with less people…right?

In the 2010s, the world tilted again. Digital tech and social media has taken over our lives and has helped to promote social change and individuals’ rights (#metoo, Arab Spring, LGBT,…). The global economic crisis of the late noughties has refused to go away. Against this backdrop, OD coined the term VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) to reflect the complexity of the world and adopted Agile Change methods to effect organisational change incrementally, collaboratively and speedily.

It seems in the past 20 years, OD has ‘modernised’ by accepting its role to be both an emancipation for individuals and a corporatist tool.

The future?

What will OD in the Twenty-Twenties look like? Well, your guess is as good as mine in terms of what the spirit of the age will be.

If you want a few predictions: populism will finally break politics and new forms of governance will emerge, with a significant emphasis on decentralisation. The global economic crisis will be less significant than the global environmental crisis we face, and these new forms of government will finally invest in climate change reversal. Individuals will outpace governments and organisations in which they work by taking more personal responsibility for their actions and make more active choices in how they live their lives.

OD can reflect this imminent Zeitgeist by focusing on creativity, empowerment and flexibility. I foresee a return to OD fundamentals – whole systems and psychodynamics – and techniques such as large scale event facilitation, and individual and group coaching. I see OD as being less overtly corporatist and more focused on individuals. We will help the individual choose wisely. They then choose how (or even if) they show up at work. This will require organisations to be more attuned to the needs of their workers in order to survive and thrive.

In many ways, this goes right back to the approach of the 1950s and 1960s, but with a postmodern twist that recognises more power within individuals to effect change at work and in society. I still believe that OD has a role to play in the emancipation of human beings within society.

OD thought leader: Zappos

Zappos is a company (now owned by Amazon), rather than an individual. However, it demonstrates a key principle of OD thinking: embedding your core values into everything you do.

Formed in 1999 by a few entrepreneurs – notably Tony Hsieh – who started the organisation as “a service company that happens to sell shoes”, Zappos puts customer experience at the heart of everything it does. This core value is embedded in every part of the organisation – from hiring primarily for fit with the service culture, skills and team building, recognition and the role of the manager as enabler of people. Most importantly, staff are unambiguously empowered to serve the customer. For example, if they do not have the size of a shoe a customer wants in stock, they will direct them to a competitor who does. Compare that to a call centre measured on efficiency rather than service!

This empowerment extends to being creative and having fun and writing the “Culture Book” that is published annually, sharing stories of their staff’s experience of the Zappos culture.

In 2013, Zappos formally removed its traditional hierarchies and embraced a management system based on the principles of holacracy with self-organising teams. This move has helped to embed the culture even more firmly.

Recommended reading: check out some of the Zappos employee stories on https://www.zappos.com/about/culture.

 

 

The A to Z of OD: X is for eXistential; Y is for Ybema

OK, I cheated. But if iNtuition can begin with an N in Myers-Briggs terminology, then eXistential can begin with a X, ok? Also, thanks go to the inimitable Perry Timms for suggesting eXistential for the A to Z of Organisation Development.

eXistential philosohpy

Existentialism is a philosophy of thinking and being that puts the experience of human beings as individuals as its primary consideration. As conscious beings, independently acting, individuals have freedom to choose how to be. Rather than following some doctrine (e.g. religious) or prescribed, pre-determined path (e.g. parental injunction, “you should become a doctor”), people have the freedom to exist how they choose. This reveals their true essence, which they can codify for themselves as they go along as their own set of beliefs and values.

It follows that people are defined by their past and how they choose to be in the present. The future is unwritten. This tension between the past/present and the unknown future creates anxiety (aka ‘existential angst’). Imagine you are standing at the edge of a cliff. There is nothing to stop you throwing yourself off. You could just lean forward, and let go …

Existentialism suggest this anxiety is due to the world being absurd – anything might happen to anyone at any time. It follows there is no deeper meaning to life and as such existentialism is somewhat anti-religious, perhaps even anti-science (it is certainly anti-deterministic and anti-positivist). The tension between freedom to act and anxiety that anything might happen is what defines the existential being. It follows that people are not rational beings. You might just choose to throw yourself off that cliff, metaphorically at least.

For example, if you are working somewhere you don’t like because you need the money, you might choose to do something career-limiting and get yourself fired, or walk out. Rationally, you need the money. You’ve metaphorically thrown yourself off the cliff. Why? Because you are acting authentically. You have freedom to choose, to act as yourself, to create your own values. Your freedom to choose takes precedence over the anxiety it might cause. You are responsible for your own actions. Living life authentically is a core theme of existentialism.

Implications for OD

Organisations are human systems – people coming together to achieve some defined purpose. They are just like individuals, in that they exist first and define their essence later, they act authentically according to that emerging essence (in theory at least), and they are responsible for their actions and are anxious about achieving their future vision.

  1. OD is neither a science nor a religion

If individuals have freedom to act, then the organisations they form do too. Do not try to make OD a science or a religion. It is a process to help organisations become more effective at authentically pursuing their purpose. The organisations must choose their own path through that process.

  1. Align values

People exist by living their lives and in so doing, reveal their own values. Organisations exist through their actions and by so doing, reveal their values. As we saw in V is for Vision and Values, this means organisational values are real, not designed. It also means the OD practitioner can help individuals and organisations by helping people see the alignment between their personal values with those of their organisation. If people are not aligned with their organisations, they might as well throw themselves of that metaphorical cliff; arguably, it would be better for the individual and the organisation.

  1. The past is unwritten

Look to the past to get a deeper understanding of the present, before defining the future. Until everyone has a common understanding of why things are the way they are today, then defining any future vision is only half the story. This approach balances past, present and future. Not only is the future unwritten, but until it has been explored and understood, the past is unwritten too. Use it to help define the essence of the organisation through how it has chosen to be and what it has learnt about itself along the way. See also OD thought leader Sierk Ybema below.

  1. Organisations are anxious too

If people are battling with freedom in the face of an absurd world, then so are organisations. Anything might happen at any time – competitor response to a commercial organisation, Government regulation, economic meltdown, political unrest, etc. The OD practitioner’s goal is to help organisations first survive and then thrive in an uncertain world.

  1. Organisations are not rational human systems

If people are not rational beings, it follows organisations (as human systems) are not rational either. You will already know this if you’ve ever come up against a highly-charged political atmosphere in an organisation with personal agendas, for example. Organisations are well-advised to allow emotions into their everyday routines. The OD practitioner must be able to work with power and politics and allow emotions in. One OD goal is to improve the emotional capability of organisations.

  1. Let people be responsible

As OD practitioners, we cannot impose decisions onto our clients. We are there to allow others to take responsibility, to define their own path and to live it authentically. We must allow managers to manage, leaders to lead and people to be responsible.

Conclusion

OD practitioners are existential beings. We act authentically, according to our self-defined values. These values have emerged through our practice. We are responsible for our actions (not our clients’ actions) and we too are anxious about the future.

We face that cliff edge every time we are with a client. Anything might happen at any time. We must be prepared to risk the relationship so we can take our client to the edge of their best thinking about who they are, where they have come from, what they have learnt, where they are going and how to get there.

OD thought leader: Sierk Ybema

Sierk Ybema is Associate Professor for Organisation Sciences at Vrije University, Amsterdam. He researches and authors articles on citizenship, organisational change and cultural identity.

One particular aspect of his thinking surrounds past, present and future and aligns very closely with my philosophy of OD: to espouse a brighter future, I believe the OD practitioner must have a good understanding of the present situation. Inherently this involves understanding the past, how the organisation got to where it is today and what is has learnt about itself along the way.

One aspect of the (cultural) past is to consider organisational nostalgia. Ybema suggests organisational nostalgia is both psychologically and politically motivated to oppose change. This is in stark contrast to what he terms managerial ‘postalgia’, a “burning desire … to go forward, inspired by discomfort with the present”, typically espoused by managers proposing change.

“Nostalgia is mythmaking aimed at romantically reconstructing the past, edited with hindsight.” Conversely managerial postalgia is typically expressed rationally; emotions are hidden, the implication being that emotions are bad, hence nostalgia must be bad. The ‘nostalgics’ and ‘postalgics’ are both attempting to “appropriate the present”.

By recognising both these opposing positions, the OD practitioner can build a case for change by taking a different perspective; revealing rather than denying the nostalgics’ emotions, and hence managerial postalgia can be transformed into mythmaking that portrays change as a “heroic adventure”.

Rather than taking the postalgics view that the present is bad and we must only look forwards, I believe the best approach to OD is to link past, present and future. By reviewing the past to get a better understanding of the present before envisioning a future vision and facilitating organisations to make the journey towards achieving it.

Recommended reading: Ybema, S. B. (2004). Managerial postalgia: projecting a golden future. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 19(8), 825-841.

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

The A to Z of OD: V is for Vision & Values; W is for Weisbord

In 1994, Jim Collins and Jerry Porras published Built to Last, an enduring business text – it was in its day the best-selling business book of all time – based on a long-running study of successful businesses. This book set out a framework that kickstarted a revolution for OD practitioners, CEOs, COOs, and HR folks in particular to attempt to emulate within their own workplaces what Collins and Porras called the ‘visionary organisation’.

And so we now have the all-pervading organisational culture of having ‘vision and values’. If your organisation doesn’t have a snappy vision and a set of three or five values plastered on posters in the staff canteen and on the back of toilet cubicle doors, then it’s really behind the times, right?

<Groan>

The problem has been – as is so often the case with management theory – the solutions pedalled by OD consultants et al have been watered down, over-simplified and reduced to exactly what I describe above: snappy vision statements and a set of three or five values plastered on posters in the staff canteen and the back of toilet cubicle doors.

They have been forcibly created. They are not real. The organisational values are not necessarily the values shared by staff in their personal lives. Cynicism is rife.

Let’s go back to some of Collins and Porras’s ideas, which (when implemented well) do stand the test of time:

Core ideology

Core ideology defines a company’s timeless character. It’s the glue that holds the enterprise together even when everything else is up for grabs … a consistent identity that transcends product or market life cycles, technological breakthroughs, management fads, and individual leaders.”

Core ideology comprises core values and core purpose.

Core values are the handful of beliefs, guiding principles or tenets that are absolutely non-negotiable within an organisation. Crucially, they must be discovered, not created. They are not aspirational, they are real; they are lived day-to-day. This is where many organisations have failed by implementing the idea of core values poorly because they created an aspirational list.

Core purpose is “like a guiding star on the horizon – forever pursued but never reached.” It is the deeply-held and unchanging raison d’être of an organisation. Like core values, it must be discovered, not formulated. It is likely (but not necessarily) the reason the organisation was formed in the first place. What is an organisation if not a group of people coming together to pursue an aim? It is that aim. Do you share your organisation’s core purpose? Ask yourself, “When telling your children and/or other loved ones what you do for a living, would you feel proud in describing your work in terms of this purpose?”

Envisioned future (aka “vision”)

A core ideology “resides in the background, ever-present and ‘in the woodwork’”. To bring it to the forefront of people’s minds, an envisioned future is “in the foreground, focusing people’s attention on a specific goal … [it] is bold, exciting and emotionally charged.”

There are two elements: the BHAG and a vivid description.

The BHAG (“Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal”) is the 10-30 year ambition, which should be tangible, and yet stretching and challenging. The ambition should be almost unreasonable, and yet inspiring. It should be punchy – no more than a phrase or sentence, and “… so exciting in its own right that it would continue to keep the organisation motivated even if the leaders who set the goal disappeared.”

A vivid description is a variety of ways to describe what achieving the BHAG would feel like. A common approach is to write a press release or news article that tells the story of how the BHAG was reached as if it had already been achieved. It inherently accesses the emotional connection to the vision as well as the rational connection. As such, it is aspirational: an exercise in storytelling, a rich description of a possible future, and inspiring and engaging link to the core purpose and values. Notice, it engages the heart as well as the head.

People within the organisation must truly believe that by pursuing the core purpose, living the core values and stretching their aim and performance to achieve the BHAG, then that vivid description is attainable. If the only statement of your envisioned future is your vision statement (i.e. BHAG) and your values are aspirational rather than real, then you’ve missed the point.

How can OD practitioners breathe some life back into these ideas and move on from the posters on the back of toilet cubicle doors? Joint diagnostic work can uncover the core purpose and values, as can other OD techniques such as the noble art of organisational loitering[1]. The BHAG is an exercise in vision and strategy formulation. The vivid description is an excellent opportunity to adopt some of the ideas within Future Search (read on…).

OD thought leader: Marvin Weisbord

Weisbord was an early OD consultant, heavily influenced by Kurt Lewin, working in partnership with Peter Block. He is most famous for basing his consultancy practice on action research, his ‘six-box’ approach to organisational diagnosis and the Future Search methodology and global practitioner network. I have discussed action research and joint diagnosis elsewhere in this series of articles, so I will focus here on Future Search.

Future Search is an approach to helping large groups of diverse people come together to envision a future and plan the changes needed to achieve it. It is based on achieving a common understanding of the issues and making a personal commitment to action. Future Search is run by Weisbord and his partner Sandra Janoff with a global network of volunteer facilitators, although the techniques are available to anyone who seeks to effect change.

“Future Search … has become a global learning laboratory to refine techniques, strategies, group methods, and theories of action responsive to the extreme speed-up of life nearly everywhere. It evolved as a means for getting everybody improving whole systems and grew from our conviction that people have widely shared values for mutual respect, dignity, community, cooperation, and effective action.”

There are two key components: principle-based meeting design and a facilitation philosophy.

Meeting design is all about getting the ‘whole system’ in the room, exploring all the different perspectives present before seeking common ground, focusing on the future rather than arguing over the past, and utilising self-managing subgroups.

The facilitation philosophy surrounds doing as little as possible so that the participants do more! The facilitator’s job is to manage the process and create the conditions for people to participate. I also outlined some of the future search facilitation philosophy here.

The results of Future Search have been spectacular with ripple effects throughout the world: “Work on water quality in Bangladesh, for example, inspires conferences to improve the lot of battered women and street children in Iran, and leads eventually to the demobilization of child soldiers in the Southern Sudan. A participant in a future search on the strategic direction for the Women’s Sector in Northern Ireland follows by sponsoring one on integrated economic development in County Fermanagh. This leads to a future search for Northern Ireland’s Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure that stimulates work in other government departments and in arts communities in other countries. Reports of future searches in communities such as the Helmholtzplatz Neighborhood in Inner City Berlin sparks community conferences in Nobosibirsk, Siberia and the Altai Region and the Russian Far East. Future searches have been run with the Aboriginal peoples of Australia, Native Americans in the US and the Inuit in Canada. They have been run in business firms, cities, towns and provinces, schools and hospitals. From each future search flows a stream of actions once thought unattainable, such as widely-supported strategic plans, cooperation between public and private sectors, creating new avenues for funding, community health initiatives, parental involvement in schools, and so on.” (source: futuresearch.net).

Future Search principle-based meeting design and facilitation philosophy can be implemented in any meeting in any organisation and help make that meeting matter. The recommended reading below is an indispensable reference for the required facilitation skills and change approach for OD practitioners and, alongside Block’s Flawless Consulting, is the most thumbed book on my business bookshelf.

Recommended reading: Weisbord M and Janoff S, 2007, Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There!: Ten Principles for Leading Meetings that Matter, San Francisco, Berrett-Koehler.

Next time in the A to Z of OD: X is for eXistential; Y is for Ybema

[1] I’m not sure where this phrase came from. It refers to the practice of hanging around organisations to understand their culture, and is indeed a noble art for OD practitioners.

The A to Z of OD: U is for Unifying Theory of OD (there isn’t one!)

Or, “Why can’t OD practitioners agree on what is OD?”

Or even, “If OD is defined by whatever OD practitioners happen to be working on, is it any surprise that there is no unifying theory of OD?”

In reading this series of articles, you may well have gained a sense of what OD is to me, and you probably have your own views on the subject. For example, is OD an HR function, predominantly focused on training and development, facilitation and coaching? Is it a strategic function or an operational function, perhaps currently focused on digitisation of customer strategy or business processes? Maybe is it a change function that is modernising archaic project management disciplines by embracing Agile and Design Thinking? Are all of these examples of OD? Are any of these examples OD at all?

Where is OD located in your organisation?

OD is many things to many people and there is no unifying theory. Perhaps this is why OD practice is so divergent – nebulous even – and hence opens itself up to criticism? For example, locate OD within HR and it is more likely to be seen as people-orientated and have less power, whereas it is more likely to be seen as commercially focused and is probably more powerful if it is located in Strategy or Operations where it can demonstrate its impact more directly onto the bottom line. Unfortunately, the former is often seen as too soft and may even result in a lack of focus on the organisation’s primary purpose; the latter is too hard, perhaps even dehumanising organisations in cases where over-rationalised business processes take precedence over the people employed to work them.

Getting the balance right

I believe core to OD’s philosophy is a balance between psychoanalysis (see: P is for Psychoanalysis) and systems-thinking (see: J is for Joint Diagnosis). The dilemma OD faces is when one of these aspects dominates. Taking a systems-thinking perspective requires the OD practitioner to be at the table of power so she can influence strategic change. Taking a psychoanalytic perspective requires marginality, independence from the corporate agenda, so that she can challenge over-rationalised thinking that might dehumanise organisations. Achieving both simultaneously is hard to do… If OD has power – signified by a close relationship to leaders, a corporatist agenda and aligned to strategic or operational change – then its ability to challenge the group dynamics at play may be inhibited. On the other hand, if OD has marginality – perhaps traditionally located within HR and focused on challenging and developing management values and behaviours – then it is difficult to have true positive impact across the whole system. The traditional OD model weakens OD’s power; whereas the strategic model weakens OD’s philosophy.

Where should OD be located in an organisation?

However there may be an organisation design for OD that preserves its philosophy whilst offering it the power to achieve real sustainable change. I have seen this model work very well and endure. It involves an OD generalist located within HR and yet with an independent dual reporting line to the CEO. In large, decentralised organisations, OD generalists can be located in each division (again, within local HR and yet with independent reporting lines to divisional CEOs), influencing change locally and coming together under the stewardship of the central OD lead for coordination and as a community of practice. Such a model is best supported by external OD consultants for specific initiatives, enabling internal OD practitioners to be effective generalists and not overly-narrow specialists. Over-specialisation of internal OD practitioners (e.g. into coaching and facilitation, or projects and change) can undermine OD’s philosophy.

A possible unifying approach

I believe OD should go back to its roots. To do this, OD practitioners must focus on three praxes in relation to delivering sustainable change:

  • Diagnosis must be grounded in psychoanalytic interpretation;
  • Facilitation should be in structure and not content;
  • Interventions must be humanistic.

The first praxis ensures OD is not subsumed totally into the corporate agenda and retains its ability to challenge organisational norms, routines and behaviours.

The second praxis ensures that OD is applicable to transformational change, where the consultant helps to establish structures and processes that consciously enable organisational members to operate using different perspectives. This aligns with process consultancy: the only expertise the consultant sells is psychodynamics and whole systems-thinking, whereas organisational members provide the content.

The third praxis guards against over rationalised systems-thinking dehumanising organisations.

For me, OD must reconnect with its psychoanalytic roots, its structuralist processes and its humanist values. I honestly believe unless all three are present, then it’s just not OD.

OD Thought Leader: Dave Ulrich (b. 1953)

Ulrich is an author, university professor and management consultant. He is the creator of the HR model currently favoured by the vast majority of large corporate HR departments, which he set out in his 1997 work Human Resource Campions.

In this model, he argues there are four roles for HR to fulfil (administration, employee champion, change agent and strategic partner). This has been interpreted and implemented by many through centralising and automating HR administration into shared service centres with manager self-service solutions for processing HR transactions (leavers, absence, etc), centres of excellence for employee relations, etc, OD functions (more or less like I described above) and HR Business Partners to act as the strategic interface between organisational managers and HR specialists.

Whilst predominantly in the ‘corporatist’ mould (i.e. the whole structure and philosophy is aimed at creating and organisation fit to meet the corporate agenda efficiently and effectively), the structure clearly puts human beings at the centre of its thinking, and creates a home for OD.

However, in A to Z of OD: U is for unifying Theory of OD (there isn’t one) above, we saw that when corporatist thinking prevails, the OD agenda can become marginalised. In his seminal work on how to organise the HR function, Ulrich outlines how the HR agenda can build employee engagement through balancing demands and resources to avoid over- and underutilisation of human resources, demonstrating that underutilisation leads to apathy and over-utilisation leads to burnout. For me this provides further evidence for the need to increase focus on the psychoanalytic and human-centred agenda.

Ulrich recommends HR professionals focus on reducing demands on people, increasing resources and turning demands into resources. He suggests these goals can be achieved through OD practice by:

  • Emancipatory diagnostic interventions to help people prioritise what is important to them and focus their energies on the shared goals and values they have with the organisation
  • Working with the organisation to provide employees challenging work, fun culture, shared goals and shared control of work processes
  • Encouraging organisations to become more human, involve employees in key decisions that affect them and recognise the impact of decisions on employees’ non-work lives/families.

These days, Ulrich sometimes gets bad press for his HR model, usually surrounding the lack of capability within HR to facilitate system-wide change, or bottlenecks created because HR business partners are working beyond their capacity. However, I note that his three OD recommendations align with my suggested three OD praxes and suggest his model is indeed a good one. Perhaps it is more of a failure in implementation and investment in OD skills that is the real issue?

Recommended reading: Ulrich, D (1997), Human Resource Champions, Harvard Business School Press, Boston MA.

Next time in the A to Z of OD: V is for Vision and Values; W is for Weisbord

 

The A to Z of OD: T is for Trust

“Culture is what people do when no one is looking,” said Herb Kelleher, CEO Southwest Airlines.

T is for Trust in the A to Z of OD.

The issue

Moving to new ways of working – leveraging new tech and embracing flexible hours and locations – is the single most important shift in organisational life in generations. From an OD perspective, you simply cannot afford to have managers who say, “I can’t trust my team are getting on with their work when I can’t see them in the office.”

Now, you may have some sympathy with this manager’s position: our attention spans are falling and we have access to distractions on portable and wearable tech that is growing exponentially. However this “new” tech gives us choice and freedom to access information and entertainment when it suits us, when it fits around our other commitments, whether they relate to work or leisure time, family life, exercise or hobbies. It enables us to be more productive, to research any topic in moments, to broaden our knowledge base and connect with people across the globe instantly.

I suggest any manager who can’t trust their team either has the wrong people or is locked into a 20th century management mindset that belongs in the past. Either way, it is a failure that is down to weak and insecure managers.

The facts

Recent research by Virgin Media Business found 1.6m UK workers already regularly work from home and 66% of employees say collaborative relationships make them feel more focused and productive.

It’s time to reappraise these archaic management assumptions

What happens if we assume people respond positively to being trusted and are more productive if they are encouraged to collaborate? The evidence suggests we can step back from those unfounded worries of the weak and insecure manager. You hired your people to do a job. Presumably, you have discussed and agreed objectives with them and are measuring the outcomes they produce? Presumably there are consequences for them delivering or not delivering those objectives? And presumably there are standards for their behaviour at work and support for them to develop their skills and be the best they can be? If not, you have work to do on your culture. That said, you can’t afford to let managers off the hook. When these things are in place, good management allows people to thrive, embeds the culture you seek and improves organisational effectiveness.

As OD practitioners, we believe in people. We believe individuals and teams can be trusted to choose how they work. Get the enabling infrastructure right (tech, office space and management practices) and educate your managers how to trust and be trusted by their people. “I empower and trust my people to get on with their work and choose how best to get the job done together. I’m here to help them get unstuck if they run into problems.” Now that’s more like it!

 “When the culture is strong, you can trust everyone to do the right thing.” Brian Chesky, CEO Airbnb.

OD thought leader: Peter Thomson (b. 1946)

Peter has spent the majority of his professional life observing changes in working patterns.   Working in industry well before the age of the Internet, he could see that the rigid work practices of the 20th Century were outdated and mobile technology was about to revolutionise the way work would be performed.

He set up the Future Work Forum at Henley Business School where he continued to study emerging patterns of work. Whilst there was a massive potential for change, driven by a new generation of worker and aided by technology, change was happening slowly and many organisations were sticking to their outdated management cultures.

His action research built up a unique insight into the business impacts of flexible working practices. He studied the management of virtual teams and the leadership qualities needed in the new world of work. He recognised that traditional ‘command and control’ cultures were stopping progress and that a new ‘trust and empower’ management style was needed to bring major benefits to employers and employees.

Peter has written, contributed to and edited several books on the subject of the future of work. He regularly presents challenging ideas to business leaders and conference audiences, stimulating debate about the changing role of work in society, the expectations of employees, effective organisation cultures and motivational management. His thinking has inspired audiences to prepare for a future of work that is radically different from conventional employment.

Recommended reading: Maitland, A and Thomson, P (2014) Future Work, Palgrave McMillan, London.

You might also be interested in Peter’s upcoming workshop on creating a plan for a more productive workforce, to be held in London on 4th September 2019.

Next time in the A to Z of OD: U is for the Unifying theory of OD (there isn’t one!)

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