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Archive for November, 2012

Sticky Back Plastic and Blu Tac – Organization Development Tools

When it comes to change interventions some popular tools and techniques that are used with workshop environments or project meetings include brainstorming, writing up sophisticated flow charts, developing cause and effect diagrams, Force Field Analysis, SWOT, PESTLE, graphs, quality circles and the development of quality circles.  None of these techniques are necessarily bad in and of themselves.  But their use in business is linked to strategic systems and processes.  They focus on information and data, sophistication and alignment with rational linear thinking.  Most importantly these techniques are focused on efficiency.  Funnelling large amount of data through a process that will transform the data into information that can be used for decision making.

The tools offered by business analysis are useful, and this blog isn’t about discarding them.  But I would suggest that they are useful at the end of a process, not at the beginning.  Organization Development is unique in its treatment of change, because it focuses not on systems and business process but instead on people processes.  It deliberately disrupts linear thinking, in order to ‘jump start’ ideation through a number of seemingly irrational and unsophisticated tools.  But don’t mistake the lack of a formal flow diagrams for a lack of effectiveness, or the use of sticky back plastic for a lack of theoretical underpinning.

In my role as OD practitioner, I very often utilise lego, geomag, paint, modelling clay, glue, card, pipe cleaners and glitter.  I invite participants to lie on the floor and do visioning exercises, ask them to draw animals, food or come up with opposites of statements that they have put on a brainstorming board.  I get participants to tell stories to each other, take a walk and keep a diary.  I have even been known to play a game of Ready, Steady, Cook, where the participants are given ingredients in a bag and have to cook their own lunch.

One executive even said that he never imagined that in his forties he’d be spending a day at a kitchen table playing lego as part of leadership development.  But the ‘fun’ and ‘play’ elements that I utilise in some of the interventions are deadly serious.  Each activity is carefully designed to take the participants on a safe, although sometimes uncomfortable, journey of discovery to open up their potential, creativity and innovation.  Each tool used is part of a technique which draws the participants towards a stated end point, where a strategy and action plan is developed.

The difference?  The ideas are based on fresh thinking, the individuals themselves have developed personally rather gone through the motions, and each and every participant is bought into the plan or strategy created at a behavioural level, avoiding resistance and developing commitment and engagement to see things through.  Furthermore the techniques used trains each individual how to approach problems in a more meaningful way, developing an adaptability and flexibility that is difficult with linear processes.

It doesn’t mean that the fishbone diagram, Force Field Analysis, graphs or statistics are never used.  But they are completed as an outcome of the people processes.  They are easier to complete and they completed with more depth of thought, often pulling together disperate strands of thinking to form a unified whole.

Although the tools used, may appear less controlled, they enable the facilitation of group dynamics, and the output is not only efficient, especially in the long term but effective in drawing out locked up creativity and talent potential lying dormant in an organizations most valuable asset, its people.



Organization Development – The Humanistic Approach to Change

Human resource theory, which is the foundation of organization development and behaviour dates back to the 1927 Hawthorne experiments.  The experiments set out to investigate methods in which organizational efficiency could be improved through the use of scientific principles to redesign the organizational environment.

Using a mixture of technology, work flow rational, and work performance applications the experiments developed an early foray into open-systems theory and organization design, but also led to further work in the area of socio-psychological factors that contribute to effectiveness in performance.  As the social sciences became more sophisticated a greater understanding of factors such as leadership style, attitudes, situational and group dynamics and motivational relationships contributed to a growing body of work regarding the alignment of individual and organizational needs and the impact on resulting performance.

OD emerged from the 1950s as a distinctive discipline of change management which focused on the human elements of the planned change process that progress from problem identification, intervention and evaluation.  The process demands the application of a variety of techniques designed to deal with the organizational problem through utilising the power of the individual employee.

Profoundly research exposed that it was not enough for organizational leaders to give orders, and assume that change starts from a place of stability and consensus.  Rather, that people are active agents within an organizational environment which is characterized by conflict, fluidity and change.  Therefore the capturing creativity through social means is a key to driving organizational change.

The unique ability of the human mind to create new out of old, through dialogue, interaction and activity is central to the concept of creativity.  The characterisation of a great idea being the result of a light bulb moment, dismisses the level of interaction and subsequent ruminating that leads to the connections being made.

Making assumptions that any change is as a result of a neat linear set of processes and interactions, dominated by a strategic plan managed by senior leadership cleanses the truly holistic and messy nature of change as a social phenomenon.

OD therefore can be summarised as a synthesis of systems thinking, founded and entrenched in behavioural research and dedicated to humanistic principles.  The OD process is informed and enlivened by a number of methods, including; Organizational Diagnosis, Action Research, Group Dynamics, Process Consultation and Change Theory. Central to the OD intervention is the idea of planned change through people, focusing on consensus building and participative methods of management.


Systems Thinking – Organization Development

It is very easy when embarking on the subject of systems thinking to begin the discussing with a metaphor about ecology or the human body.  We are familiar with the requirement to keep ecologies in balance to ensure that life is sustained.  But how often do we really think about the wider impact of our actions?

Certainly in most households in the UK, citizens now recycle because local councils have been set targets in regards to the percentage of waste that is recycles.  So we dutifully sort our waste into paper, plastics, metals, garden waste, food waste and finally general waste and hope that we have sorted it correctly so that we don’t end up with our refuse sitting on the pavement outside our house when we return from work.  But do we ever think about what happens to the recycling once it is collected?  When choosing an energy company we might opt to choose a provider who generates green electricity, and over the last ten years, with rising energy prices we have bought into energy saving devices, and yet we still put the heating on to warm the whole house, even though we are occupying only one room, possibly for the whole day.  When we eat, we may choose organic foods and even be aware of the country of origin but do we consider the lives of the people who produced the food we eat.

In reality, we know about systems, and we do change behaviours where it suits our self-interest and lifestyle to do so, but we rarely think deeply about the system in which we live.  Organizations are no different.  They may recycle their paper, and have energy saving systems throughout the building, they may even be aware of their carbon footprint, but they rarely act in a manner that shows true awareness of the holistic nature of their dealings, including the impact the organization is having on the lives of those who are employed by the organization.

Though there may be policies in place in regards to stress and absence management, very few executives will be aware of the lives of the people who work for them, they may recycle paper, and print double sided for environmental (cost saving) reasons, but they probably wouldn’t have a clue who ordered the paper for the office building in which they work.  Leadership development programmes may have coached them in regards to the personal impact of their behaviours on their peers, manager and line reports, but it is an awareness sought only in the context of increasing the performance of those around them.

In management schools, future organizational leaders are taught about PESTLE and SWOT analysis, they learn about the importance of ‘envrionmental scanning’ and being aware of future trends; but their thinking is limited to the immediate impact on the internal environment – an outside/inside perspective rather than an inside/outside perspective of considering the impact of the organization on the external environment.

It is natural to use a ecology metaphor, but the issue is, human beings only ever consider balance in respect to the impact of change on themselves.  How the stuff that happens ‘outside there’ will force us to change the way we do things, rather than the impact of our actions on the balance of the eco-system as a whole.  The singularity of our thought process, and the centring of balance on our world perspective is a direct result of the individualism and self-interest expressions of the Capitalist marketplace.

Systems are a cyclical process with many players, and a large number of contingencies.  Systems are greater than the simple reciprocal two way relationship that much of organizational efforts are focused on.  The impact of our actions are greater than that of cause and effect.  Like a stone skimmed on water, each touch point we have sends out ripples that disturb the balance of the wider environment.  It is impossible for us to know the true external cost of each and every one of our actions, but being aware that what we do has greater consequences than a simple linear effect is important if we are to successfully manage organizations in a holistic way.

What if organizations conducted a PESTLE and SWOT analysis not from an internal, but an external perspective?  What if the opportunities and threats we pose to the wider environment, both in regards to the natural environment but also politics and society were explored?  How would our analysis differ from the outside/insider perspective.

To be thinking in a systemic way, a different perspective is needed.  We must not concentrate just on the things that effect us, but what effect we have on other people, communities and the environment at large.  It means that we do become interested in more than dealing with the output of our processes but also in how our processes themselves impact the wider environment.  It is more than worrying about keeping customers happy, but ensuring that our suppliers, employees, and the community in which we reside is well cared for, and properly understood.

During the second world war, many Germans who were living in walking distance of the concentration camps had no idea what the regime was doing in their name or the suffering that occurred in the camps – they were blindly ignorant.  Following the ceasefire, the allies made German citizens walk to the concentration camps to see what was being done in their name.  We don’t have the mechanisms to force CEOs or politicians to walk among the fields of despair and destruction that their actions have caused, but we should do everything in our power to ensure that they are mindful of the consequences of their decisions.

A new perspective is required if we are to successfully adopt systems thinking, it is one that relegates self-interest to a secondary place in the priority list and instead provides an outsiders view of our actions.  We can’t always make pure decisions, since we live in a world where compromise and the lesser of two evils might be the only choice available, but there is always room for better and pursuing Doing Good.  Systems thinking forces us to raise our game, and our awareness in regards to the external costs of our actions.  It forces us to think about and confront what happens to our waste further than our street collections and consider the true impact of our actions on others.

Too often business process engineering concentrates on the efficiency of processes and systems in regards to technology and efficiency ratios whilst ignoring the most important part of any system, people.  Sometimes, the right way to do something won’t be the most lean or efficient way in regards to the internal system, but will have the least negative impact in regards to the system as a whole.  If we are to Change for Good, we need to boldly approach our lives, the organizational operations and our political decision with a new perspective, and a different agenda.