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Thinking about Thinking

As an OD practitioner, my business model has been destroyed by CoVid-19.  I cannot get 20 odd people in the room, in dialogue and capturing ideas on a flipchart.  At least not in the near term. Since I live in Wales, I am still in lockdown so can’t leave my house.  But, although I am still working with my old clients, taking some of what I did face to face, into a virtual meeting space, lockdown has given me time to think – and the result is the development of a really thrilling venture called 4i Forum which offers disruptive dialogue virtually, but can also be transfered to in person interventions when we the world no longer needs social distancing, hopefully sometime in 2021.

woman sitting by a glass window

However, the reality of the global pandemic is that the world of work and the way organisations operate will never go back to what we thought we knew.  Think about it, the last time there was a global pandemic of this scale was in 1918, that was before all the major management theories were even thought of.  We have NOTHING in management theory that provides an adequate response to this situation.  How do you balance shareholder needs and the economic health of the business (something that has so dominated the organisational mindset for the last fifty years) with the need to preserve life.  The pandemic is causing us to ask big questions about the role of organisation’s in human society.

During a disruptive dialogue with some clients last week we were exploring the work practices that would help an organisation operate effectively in the new world.  Some of the thoughts being expressed was that the employees had demonstrated that serious work can be done in shorts, that they can be productive working from home and that the was not a requirement for presenteeism at the office – “Why would I ask my staff to go back to having to commute for 2 hours in heavy traffic to be in the office for 9am?”  It also threw up the quandry on how to integrate two workforces, those who have experienced the challenges of working remotely and learnt how to operate different, and those who were furloughed.

Any crisis means that organisation’s have to respond and react to manage the fall out.  The CoVid-19 pandemic is no different.  However, what is different is the urgency with which business leaders need to take the time afforded by lockdown to think about what they want for the organisation going forward.  We are at a opportune point in organisational history where fundamental changes can be made to the reason why an organisation exists and destroy antiquated work practices which are still based on the Victorian paradigm.  It is terrifying, has no precedent and no guide book – it is also thrilling that ‘all’ those things that are wrong with organisation life and ‘the way we do things’ can be challenged and questioned.

Rather than tackling problems, leaders need to spend time formulating questions “What questions might we be failing to ask that we should be asking?” and the elements of their thinking “What assumptions underlie our point of view?  Is there another point of view we should consider?”  This includes questioning the questions we ask ourselves; “Is this question the best one to focus on at this point, or is there a more pressing question we need to address?”

If I could offer any advice on how to get through “this” period in question, it is this – it is time to think the unthinkable and pursue thought in many directions, exploring complex ideas to engage in disciplined and deep thought.

Stay Safe and Well!

R.E.S.P.E.C.T

Managing teams remotely is tough, working at home whilst in lockdown is even tougher.  Firstly, you will quickly discover that people you thought you knew very well have a different work personality to their home personality.  Suddenly your flaky partner who can’t make a decision is able to give clarity and clear direction with his or her work colleagues, or your normally highly strung flatmate is calm and patient with everyone.  You’ll start to wonder whether you’ve been invaded by the body snatchers.

Regardless of whether you are isolating alone and only connecting with others via technology, working with your family at home or with flatmates or even your parents You need R.E.S.P.E.C.T to work harmoniously with others.

  • Recognize that everyone is different – we all have our quirks that drive other people nuts… even you!
  • Empathy – Don’t be quick to judge or react. Take time to listen and connect with others.
  • Self-Monitor – Think first about what impact your reaction or words will have on others.
  • Personal Space – Give a little room (Physical and Mental) to others – As a chronic introvert “I need to self-isolate” has actually become a thing in our house, and everyone knows it means I am feeling overwhelmed.
  • Earn Trust through your Actions – actions have consequences and people will respond to you based on their experience of your past actions.
  • Cheer on Others and their Success – Whether it is work colleagues, your spouse or your kids spot opportunities to celebrate.
  • Treat Everyone as an Equal – Your needs are not more important than those of other people. Be considerate and make sure you are pulling your weight – whether that is taking turns with home educating, making cups of tea or taking responsibility for running the next virtual team huddle on MS Teams

The World’s Largest Remote Working Experiment

As a manager you will be supporting many employees who are unaccustomed to working remotely but the novel coronavirus has meant that offices are going into lockdown and individuals are self-isolating.  It’s unprecedented, and the World’s Largest Remote Working Experiment.

Top Five Tips

1) Treat everyone as an individual:  Coaching at a distance requires intentional individualisation.  Make sure you ask the individual the conditions under which they perform best, their concerns about their workflow and their emotional response to the situation.  This is especially important if people are concerned about loved ones.

2) Be clear about expectations:  Make expectations crystal clear.  What work should the individual be doing.  What is the quality standard expected and when is the deadline.  Senior leaders will need to provide high-level expectations about what should be done to keep customers engaged and maintain corporate standards.  The more detail the better.

3) Equip and Inform: make sure that the individual has the equipment to the job they need to do and have access to all the information they need.  There are plenty of tools available to collaborate on line e.g. MS Office, Zoom and Skype Business just to name a few.

4) Communicate productively: Make sure you are purposeful about your communication, include three elements to every call or video-conference: relationship, resources and information.  Make time for socialising, prepare the information that will be required and ensure resources are accessible.

5) Support your reporting managers: remote working over an extended period of time will interrupt workflow and reporting managers may begin to feel negatively if they don’t trust their workers.  Give support both practical and emotional.

Finally, this will be difficult for everyone, but see the changes in workflow as a positive.  Focus on what CAN be done, rather than what is being prevented.  And the enforced change in pace creates a unique opportunity for all that personal development you’ve been meaning to do – so take the opportunity to learn too!

The Human Economy

The Renaissance culture movement profoundly affected economic, scientific, social and political thinking as humanism, liberalism, and intellectual inquiry led to a revolution in learning.  Architecture, music, philosophy, mathematics and artistic endeavour are studied and still admired hundreds of years later.  This flourish of human imagination was eventually overtaken by industrialization, technological progress, social organization, managerialism and urbanization focused on creating efficiency and economic growth.  The idea was to improve the human condition.  It is true that scientific progress has improved quality of life and economic development.  However, the mechanistic Victorian paradigm birthed in industrialization continues to exist within organizations focused on processes and efficiency saving.  The result is a significant cost to both the environment and human society: Deteriorating quality of work and life, loss of individuality, reduced individual power, negative health impacts and rising levels of inequality.

Pollution, Environment, Drone, Aerial

In recent years there has been a growing trend towards integrating humanism into organizational life, and the growth of the human economy.  The digital economy has swung the pendulum away from the mechanical to a focus on knowledge, innovation and creativity.  It is no longer just about what people can make but what humans can create and communicate.  This movement was accelerated following the 2008 credit crunch when the financial machinations of corporatism woke up the working population to their exploitation at the hands of their corporate masters.  The millennial generation are leading the shift to the gig economy as accepted ideas regarding the workplace challenge the nine to five permanent role as the only acceptable form of employment.  This offers a dual benefit of releasing organizations to be more human, whilst creating a stream of disruptive influences as those working outside the organizational boundary become infect organizational culture.  This new structure of employment is challenging what is meant by organization, and forward thinking organizations are moving towards a more humane form of organizational endeavour.  Perhaps history will note that this era was the beginning of a New Renaissance, demonstrated by the shifting political landscape, social upheaval and a growing demand for freedom and independence of workers wanting to think for themselves, create something new and contribute to society beyond the economic.  The fear of non-conforming is being replaced by a fear of conforming and a struggle for freedom to be, defines the hope of this generation.

What does this mean?

As a discipline Organization Development (OD) is over 60 years old, but the movement towards a more human economy means that the philosophy and approach offered by OD is in tune with what is happening in the wider social, political and economic systems. Knights (2016: 4) stated that, “to expect ‘the leader’ to always come to the best solution alone is unrealistic especially in our modern complex world.”  The world of the charismatic leader that always had the answer has been exposed as problematic, and once feted leaders revealed as flawed. Organizations are facing unprecedented pressures on their operations and this environment is often referred to using the acronym VUCA;

  • Volatility: Unexpected challenge over an unknown time period
  • Uncertainty: Unknown causes and effects of change
  • Complexity: Overwhelming interconnection between variables
  • Ambiguity: Unknown, unknowns.

OD can offer organizations tools and techniques to combat these challenges by harnessing the human power and creativity within the organization to deliver sustainable organization performance.  It offer a human approach to an industrial problem.

The Evaluation Phase

The Evaluation Phase in to some extent a misnomer, because in OD evaluation is a continuous and constant process of assessment. Formative evaluation will take place throughout the OD cycle in order that the OD practitioner can make adjustments to keep things on track and respond to new information that becomes available as a consequence of each interaction and intervention. Setting a plan and blindly sticking to it fails to take into account the system in which the OD programme is being delivered. It is therefore essential that mechanisms are put into place to evaluate progress and take stock of what has been achieved so far. Since organizations are social constructs, the very act of changing the conversation and language through dialogic interventions will result in a shift in the organizational culture. Keeping track of how the organization is evolving will mean that plans that were crafted following the initial investigation will need to be adjusted or scrapped completely. Regular communication of progress with the sponsor, steering group and key stakeholders is essential to keep track of developments and ensure that support continues for the programme.


A summative evaluation provides the process for assessing the extent to which the OD intervention has delivered the outcomes agreed during the Contracting Phase. The metrics used should have been identified and agreed prior to the programme delivery. The Evaluation Phase is essential in understanding whether there has been a return on investment (ROI) from the OD intervention, that the work delivered has been effective and resources used efficiently. Evaluation measures also ensure that value delivered by the OD programme is captured and recognition is given for the resulting achievements. Monitoring the changes occurring within the organization galvanise trust in the OD programme and provide the energy to keep going with the tools and techniques. Continuous measurement of the outcomes provide the basis for confidence that the OD tools and techniques can deliver the desired organization change, and the achievement of sustainable organizational performance can be attributed to the investment in people led change.

Just as there are positive forces for change in every organization there are also negative or counter forces that will seek to reduce or reverse changes. The organization is a system, so although change in one part will impact another part of the organization, not changing part of an organization can prevent change for happening somewhere else. For example, during a transformation programme in a UK manufacturer a new customer relationship management (CRM) system was introduced. The commercial teams were given technical training on how to use the technology. However, there was no specific intervention to support their line managers in embedding the use of the CRM back in the workplace, nor any attempt to give meaning to the training beyond what buttons needed to be pressed. The line managers continued to demand that their teams work in the old way resulting in a doubling of the employees’ workload. Although the employees used the system, the employees lacked an understanding of how the CRM system fitted into the wider organizational process. This led to a multitude of processing and data errors, resulting in tens of millions of pounds worth of financial adjustments every month. Nine months later an intervention using OD tackled the managerial stakeholder attitudes to the new system, and employees were engaged in behaviour change and sense-making regarding expectations regarding why good data was so important. However, the damage to the change programme and the financial performance of the organization in the intervening period was significant. A full diagnosis and employment of OD tools and techniques prior to the original technical training would have circumvented these issues. This occurrence highlights the importance of good diagnosis at the start of the OD programme and the attention that should be paid to on going evaluation. It also conveys the serious consequences of getting change wrong, and the relevance of evaluation in enabling the OD practitioner to respond to issues promptly.


In addition to monitoring outputs of the OD programme during its delivery phase, evaluation provides the information required to ensure that change is reinforced and stabilized as part of the organization’s culture. Sustainable change to the organization can take years to secure and the desired outcomes may not be apparent in the initial few weeks or months in which the more visible changes may seem to occur.

Process evaluation is also necessary to ensure that both the practitioner and client learn lesson from the way in which the OD programme has been implemented and activities have been delivered. By analysing and distilling learning from previous projects the OD practitioner is able to hone their skills and improve the effectiveness of their interventions. Key questions to be addressed during that the evaluation phase are:

  • What required outcomes identified at the beginning of the OD process did the intervention achieve?
  • Given the resource committed to the intervention were the desired outcomes achievable?
  • What metrics were used to evaluate the OD intervention and were they suitable for measuring progress?
  • What tracking mechanisms, methods and approaches were used in reviewing the progress of the OD programme and who had responsibility and ownership of the data?
  • What responsibilities and ownership could internal change agents have in gathering evaluative data?
  • How can the change process be reinforced by the choices made regarding the evaluative process in use?
  • Following the analysis of evaluation data, how can the actions or the intervention approach deliver the outcomes required?
  • What worked? Why?
  • What does not work? Why?
  • How does this impact the design of future interventions going forward?

    The OD Tool-Kit – What you need for the Evaluation Phase

    At each stage of the OD cycle it is possible to evaluate progress. At the end of the Diagnostic Phase it is possible to evaluate what next based on what is new knowledge has been generated through the diagnosis. After each intervention it is possible to evaluate what happened, what was delivered and what progress has been achieved against outcomes. It is also important to re-evaluate what next based on new knowledge, which has been generated by the intervention. At the end of the programme, outcomes can be measured and a ROI generated. Process evaluation is required at every stage of the OD cycle. At all points it is possible to determine whether the goal is any closer to being achieved. The techniques and methods required for the Evaluation Phase of the OD cycle are:

  • Social Science research design in measurement and statistical methods
  • Knowledge of organizational metrics and outcome measures
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Stakeholder analysis
  • Evidence Based decision-making
  • Return on Investment calculations
  • Peer-to-Peer Learning methodologies
  • Report writing and presentation Skills

    Summary

  • OD evaluation is a continuous and constant process of assessment
  • The evaluation phase is essential in understanding whether there has been a return on investment from the OD intervention
  • Evaluation provides the information required to ensure that change is reinforced and stabilized as part of the organization’s culture.
  • Process evaluation is also necessary to ensure lessons are learnt from the way in which the OD programme has been implemented and activities have been delivered.