The beginning of the OD cycle is the contracting phase, which includes the agreement of terms relating to the OD programme and covers practicalities similar to an employment contract such as budget or fees, time frame, resource, objectives, reporting hierarchy and agreed responsibilities. In addition to the formal and structural aspects of the agreed OD programme, the contracting phase has two further, arguably more important aspects: establishing the psychological contract between the OD practitioner and the programme sponsor and a preliminary investigation of the organizational context.
The Psychological Contract
OD is a practice reliant on human relationship. Establishing a collaborative relationship between the OD practitioner and the programme sponsor, organizational leadership and key stakeholders in the client organization are an essential foundation to the successful execution of an OD intervention. If such relationships are ignored or fragile then the OD programme will falter and fail to establish the necessary human endeavour required for success.
The focus of the contracting phase therefore is on establishing the expectations that both the OD practitioner and the client have in regards to the working relationship, inputs, involvement and success factors. The psychological contract is based upon trust between practitioner and sponsor, and it is through dialogue that this contract is properly explored and unveiled. The exploration of expectation during this phase will set a firm foundation upon which OD can take place, developing a shared understanding, commitment and amenity between sponsor and practitioner.
Until the diagnostic phase is completed it is difficult to predict what interventions may be required or what development is needed to help the organization achieve effective performance. It is a journey into the unknown because until the process starts the end point is not yet clarified. From a contracting perspective this creates an issue with establishing boundaries in regards to resource and objectives. A preliminary investigation allows the OD practitioner to establish some of the key systemic issues, challenges and possible opportunities, which are presenting symptoms upon which the OD programme can be directed. Key questions to be addressed during this investigation are:
- What are the presenting problems and are they real or perceived?
- How are stakeholders with predetermined ideas about the diagnosis of the problem and predetermined solutions to be managed?
- What power does the sponsor have to influence the organization to allow change to happen within the organization?
- Who are the programme sponsors and how should the multiple stakeholders to be managed?
- How ready for change is the organization, how can it be readied further to the point where change can be sustained?
- What expertise does the organization have internally, what expertise does the OD practitioner offer?
- What mechanisms need to be in place to manage confidentiality whilst surfacing issues that may have previously been off limits?
- How can trust in both the practitioner and the OD process be developed and maintained?
- What conflicts exist in regards to ethics, value and belief systems?
- What does success look like and what measures will signal that success has been achieved?
The contracting phase provides an opportunity for the OD practitioner to understand what is expected and whether what is expected can be achieved considering the organization context, change readiness and political will. Where resistance or opposition by key stakeholders exists the likelihood of success is reduced, similar to trying to push a rock uphill, a lack of power from the sponsor to influence the organization to allow change to take place will have a negative effective upon any programme. Furthermore, exploring the psychological contract might reveal wildly opposed values, beliefs and ethical frameworks that would make a working relationship impossible. The contracting phase may very well resulting in exiting an OD programme before it starts. A passion to help organization’s change and achieve sustainable performance, and a belief in of OD as a powerful methodology for change cannot override a situation, which is futile and impossible
The OD Tool-Kit
The more skills or tools that the OD practitioner has at their disposal the better they are able to adapt and flex to situations, react to problems or lead opportunities. The OD tool-kit offers possible resources, behaviour or skills that the OD practitioner can explore further with an emphasis on the practical and competencies required. The techniques and methods required for the Contracting Phase of the OD cycle are:
- Humanistic and democratic assumptions
- Social Inquiry skills
- Personal self-awareness and management of internal responses
- Partnership with the programme sponsor and agreement of shared goals and intentions
- Attend to building relationship and trust with key stakeholders
- Engagement with Senior Management/Leadership team
- Engagement with individuals, teams and departments to foster support and become part of the on going interaction.
- Assessment of organizational readiness for OD
- OD Design Team and/or Steering Committee
- Agreement of deliverables – what does success look like?