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Archive for July, 2012

Power and Politics – Organisation Development

Organisations are made up of many different power elements; different interest groups, divisions with functional agendas, coalitions of special interests, the exercise of managerial power and various aspects of political behaviour exercised by individuals, teams and groups.

With power so inherent in the make up of an organisation it is important that the OD practitioner who is embarking on an OD programme understands what power exists, who holds the power and also the way in which power is used to influence the workings of the organisation.

OD by its nature is political.  Not because it wants to inherit the power within the organisation, but because organisation development is fundamentally about change, and change requires power to happen.  What is more OD may upset the power boundaries and political landscape of the organisation recognising and harnessing the power within the organisation prevents resistance and supports the change process.

Being skillful in our recognition and use of the power holders within the organisation will ensure that the change process is aided by those with power and supported by the political machinations rather than being used to create barriers for the OD practitioner to bump into.

The distribution of power is also useful to understand in the context of organisational diagnosis.  For instance understand how many employees feel disempowered, and don’t perceive themselves as having access to the sources of power within the organisation can inform the organisation development intervention design.   Investigating and understand who holds power, but not necessarily authority will also inform key decisions, especially over who should be included on temporary diagnostic teams, or trained as change agents.

The purpose of the OD intervention is not to eradicate power and politics within the organisation, since they are inevitable, and to do so would be to create a power vacuum which will disrupt the process of embedding the change programme.  Rather, the role of the OD practitioner is to enable power and politics to become a healthy and transformational force for good within the organisation, dedicated to creating a positive environment and healthy organisational behaviours.

Culture Change and HR’s Role

Organisational culture change has never been more relevant.  The environmental context in which organisations operate is continually changing, and therefore a culture which enables and organisation to be flexible, adaptable and changable is essential.

Fundamentally culture relates to the way we do things around it.  In regards to organisation development, the organisations culture probably has one of the biggest impacts on organisational effectiveness and the opportunity for sustainable performance than any other element of the organisations system.

The problem for organisations is that changing a culture which is damaging the organisations effectiveness is not easy.  If it was, then more change programmes would be successful.  But delving into the shared beliefs and values, the way people think and interact, and more importantly the why they believe and think and act the way they do takes time, effort and resource.  More importantly, there has to be a willingness to explore dark corners, to question everything and to show willingness to examine, without judgement, the shared patterns of behaviour within the organisation.

Culture change cannot be a one off development programme, or a box which is ticked as being done.  Culture is dynamic, and informs the way employees work and perform as well as informing the approach taken in decisions made by leadership teams.  Organisational structures, systems, rules, policies and the behaviour of people interacting with the organisation are all dictated by the organisational culture.

The job of HR and the OD practitioner is to increase awareness of the cultural phenomena within the organisation.  To metaphorically hold a mirror up and play back some of the behaviours that are present and question why these behaviours manifest and the consequences of such behaviour on organisational effectiveness.

By exploring various dimensions on the way the organisation does things, it is possible to understand liminalities within the system that prevent the organisation from being as effective as it could be.

Challenges the the balance of the culture, especially in regards to power, politics and purpose can help rebalance the organisation to ensure that the right influences are impacting decision making and behaviour and are aligned to what it is the organisation is trying to achieve.  In effect, navigating the cultural landscape to to ensure that the organisations ‘way of doing things’ doesn’t impinge on the possibility of success.

Several key HR processes impact an organisations culture including;

  • Recruitment and Selection
  • Leadership Development
  • Talent Management and Succession Planning
  • Learning and Development
  • Reward, Remuneration and Promotion criteria
  • Organisation Design and Structure
  • Organisational Policy including mission statements and values

It is very easy of HR to assume that because the systems exist that there is no requirement to examine HR practices.  But exploring HR practices from the point of view of cultural investigation helps HR to understand whether their practices reinforce unhelp cultural norms that are preventing the organisation from being flexible, adaptable and changable.

Many failures in organisation effectiveness have their root cause in the people processes and practices within the organisation.  What is said is not necessarily what happens, and as a result failure becomes inbuilt into the cultural paradigm.

HR has a powerful position in transforming the cultural climate of an organisation.  But that means that HR managers, and especially OD practitioners pay attention to the ‘way they do things’ in order to ensure that they move the culture of the organisation forward.

Attributes of The OD Practitioner – The Evaluation Phase

As organisations face greater degrees of scrutiny in regards to their efficiency and effectiveness in delivering added value, the evaluation phase is essential in demonstrating that the time and resource invested in the OD programme has added value to the organisation and delivered a Return on Investment.

Not all OD practitioners would have had the advantage of coming from a background where evaluation practices and techniques are used regularly, however building skills, knowledge and experience for use in this phase is important if OD practitioners are to demonstrate the value fo the work they do.

  • Process and structured approach
  • Political Sensitivity and inclusiveness
  • Grounded understanding of the role of evaluation
  • Evaluation techniques and methodology
  • Coordination and tracking of data for key measures
  • Calculation of ROI
  • Leadership and ownership of evaluation process
  • Guiding hand
  • Relational
  • Theoretical founding in evaluation metrics and measures
  • Feedback Planning
  • Collaboration
  • Facilitator
  • Trainer
  • Developer
  • Create learning opportunities
  • Ongoing progress evaluation
  • Flexibility and Adaptability
  • Calming presence
  • Tough and supportive
  • Safe pair of hands
  • Shared responsibility
  • Strategic

In the OD process, the evaluation phase may come at the end of the programme, but the planning for the evaluation starts at the beginning of the project, when the OD practitioner agrees with the Client organisation what it is they are being contracted to deliver.

Although a robust evaluation process will occur at the end of the intervention phase, evaluation is a ongoing process throughout each phase of the OD programme, its purpose to provide an opportunity to stop and check that the action taken and decisions made for next steps are keeping the programme on track to achieve the agreed deliverables.

The OD practitioner must be able to align the intended OD programme outcomes  with the strategic priorities of the client organisation, and in doing so align the metrics and measures used with those metrics and measures that are useful and used by the organisation.

Performance outcomes are the bread and butter of the OD practitioner.  If they are to continue to remain credible then they must be able to deliver performance improvements, and prove it.

Attributes of The OD Practitioner – The Intervention Phase

OD practitioners, like OD interventions come in many shapes and sizes.  Unlike many other organisation roles, the OD practitioner role is multi-faceted and is hard to define in regards to the work they do.

However, despite the difficulty in describing what it is an OD practitioner does the skills they need are much easier to define.

The following is a list of attributes which the OD practitioner should possess if they are to successfully navigate the intervention phase of an OD programme.

  • Methodical approach
  • Leadership and ownership of interventions
  • Guiding hand
  • Relational
  • Theoretical founding in intervention design
  • Resource planning
  • Collaboration
  • Facilitater
  • Trainer
  • Developer
  • Create learning opportunities
  • Ongoing progress evaluation
  • Flexibility and Adaptability
  • Calming presence
  • Tough and supportive
  • Discerning
  • Tolerant of Ambiguity
  • Safe pair of hands
  • Shared responsibility
  • Enabling the Client to be independent once intervention phase is done

At every stage of the OD intervention phase, the OD practitioner must remind themselves that they are their to help improve the client organisation and each individual participant to grow, learn and develop in a positive way.

By their very presence the OD practitioner will be moving the organisation system forward, consciously or unconsciously.  The ability of the OD practitioner in design, developing and delivering interventions will come to nothing is the OD practitioner is unaware of the impact they are having on the client system.

Further more they should be a hub around which participants will generate ideas and positively seek change, all the while providing insight, building trusting relationships and staying true to their own values and beliefs.

Attributes of The OD Practitioner – The Diagnostic Phase

OD practitioners approach the diagnostic phase as much as an opportunity to begin the change journey and shake up the status quo as it’s importance as a data gathering process.

The diagnostic stage requires the OD practitioner to focus on how people are reacting to the process, the level of engagement and involvement of key stakeholders and the support available for the project.

The following is a list of attributes that the OD practitioner should possess if they are to successfully navigate the Diagnostic phase of an OD programme.

  • Methodical and structured approach
  • Diagnostic skills
  • Political sensitivity
  • Guiding hand
  • Relational
  • Theoretical founding in diagnostic design
  • Analytical
  • Managing Diversity
  • Seeking out common ground
  • Juggling multiple stakeholder groups
  • Action Planning
  • Collaboration
  • Facilitator
  • Trainer
  • Developer
  • Create learning opportunities
  • Ongoing progress evaluation
  • Flexibility and Adaptability
  • Calming presence
  • Tough and supportive
  • Discerning
  • Tolerant of Ambiguity
  • Safe pair of hands
  • Shared responsibility

As well as collecting valid and robust data to support the case for change, the primary role of the OD practitioner in the diagnostic phase is to understand and analyse the political landscape.  Although not always overt, all organisations have a political system upon which the change process will succeed or fail.

Although the political system will often be aligned to the power system in regards to hierarchy, very often there is a separate system operating which deserves attention.

Understanding who needs to be involved, informed and engaged and identifying possible ‘terrorists’ who will seek to disrupt the OD programme is a key skills of the OD practitioner, and one that is often underestimated or ignored.