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Posts tagged ‘Organisation Effectiveness’

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.

Five Core Theories – Social Constructionism – Organisation Development

There are five core theories that provide a solid foundation for the work that OD practitioners do.  Good grounding in theory is essential for every OD practitioner.  The better you understand the theory, the better you will understand the complex and intricate nature of the OD process and OD tool kit.

Social Constructionism in Brief

The etymplogy of social constructionism was introduced by Mead (1934) and Berger and Luckman(1966).  It is a strand of sociology, pertaining to the ways social phenomena are created, institutionalized, and made into tradition by humans

In the field of OD social constructionism aims to uncover the way in which employees, teams and departments within the organisation interact with each other and participate in their self created groups to develop their own perceived reality of the organisation.  The social constructed reality provides the backdrop for the culture and organisational traditions that make up ‘the way things are done around here.’  The reality of what is, isn’t at play, but rather the representations, perceptions, ideas, language and beliefs that make up the perceived concrete reality of the organisation.

The meaning we derive from the actions and experiences within the organisation are developed through interacting and assimilating ideas with other people within a social situation.  The significance of this theory to OD practitioner is that organisational truth and reality is in fact a socially constructed idea which is based on experiences and attitudes relating to the past, possible futures, self, others and the organisation.  These ‘ideas’ and be disseminated by listening to the stories and narratives within the system.  Furthermore, the ‘reality’ of the organisation future prospects can be changed by injecting positive and modified alternatives through the creation of conversation.

Key Points

  1. Reality isn’t real, it is socially constructed, and is understood by conventions within the organisation
  2. Language helps create reality
  3. Sense-making comes from inaction between different people
  4. The meaning of an event is constructed by people, but it is the meaning that people respond to and action upon.
  5. Relationships are key to creating a collective reality, and are created by what people can imagine.

Applying Social Constructionism in an OD Intervention

  1. Provide a forum for the sense-making process, managing the creation of meaning through a process of inquiry and collective sense-making
  2. Make sure that the subjects/topics/questions of the inquiry are positive; focusing on the best of the past to figure out what would be best for the future
  3. Help the organisation identify it’s positive core, the place from which the development journey can begin and which can be used to maximise progress
  4. Develop processes which are holistic, highly inclusive, participatory and collaborative
  5. Use right-brain methodologies to collect diagnostic data, such as storyboarding, gamestorming, imagery and poetry
  6. Focus on dialogue, discussion and interaction, avoid Tell and Sell facilitation
  7. Appreciate the organisaitonal system.  Organisations don’t need to be fixed, the past and present needs to be affirmed in order to construct a positive projection of the future.
  8. Practice asking questions, the type of questions you use will influence the employees and the organisation in significant ways
  9. Focusing on the positives from the past, provides a springboard for journeying into the future
  10. Interlink inquiry and change, provide the seeds of change through interaction between people and keep the focus on the best of what is.

Three Essentials of Organisation Development

I was asked the other day what my three essentials of Organisation Development are.  It was a interesting questions which really got me thinking.  What are the three most important things an OD practitioner should practice in any intervention?

You might have an alternative set of essentials but this was the answer I gave.

#1 – People

Any organisation development intervention must have people at its centre.  Organisation Development is about allowing the people in the organisation to create the change the organisation is looking for.  OD is a holistic intervention, and therefore isn’t restricted to the top brass.  In fact, it works quite the opposite in that it releases everyone from the bottom up to have a say, and share their knowledge, talent and skills in developing the organisation.

If your OD intervention isn’t people centred, and unashamedly humanistic it is probably not an OD intervention.

#2 – Know you Tools, Know your Theory

Whether it is Complexity theory, Action Research Theory, Lewin’s Change Theory, Systems Theory or Appreciative inquiry the cross discipline theoretical background of OD is essential to understanding the tools that an OD practitioner will use in their OD practice.  If you don’t understand the behavioural sciences, sociology and psychology behind methods such as gamestorming, focused conversations or world cafe’s you won’t know which tools to use to deliver the results the organisation needs for sustainable performance and organisational effectiveness.

A mechanic doesn’t try to fix your car engine without knowing how the combustion engine works ‘in theory’ – by understanding the process the mechanic can quickly identify where the process is broken and know what tool/method required to make the engine roar back into life.  OD is no different.

Many practitioners dismiss academic theory as ridiculous ‘ivory tower’ thinking and not applicable to the real world.  The interesting thing is that the theory that OD is built on is often criticised by the academic community because it is built on practice and field work experimentation, worse still, in the eyes of academics, it takes bits of different disciplines because those ‘bits’ are relevant and ignores the stuff that doesn’t add value to the process.  Get to know your theory and you’ll get to understand How the OD toolkit works and when to use the different tools.

#3 – Be Sustainable

I could have chosen a number of things for number three, but the one I plugged for is that of legacy.  The OD practitioner is the catalyst in OD interventions.  They must have the ability to build the business case for the leadership team, get the leadership team on board to sponsor the programme, build relationships with key change agents within the business and draw together disperate groups to make the intervention successful.  They become the centre of the intervention.  The use of self as a catalyst of change is a central pillar of OD practice.  BUT.  What happens when the OD intervention comes to an end?  How do you prevent the organisation from slipping back into old habits?

This is the paradox of the life of the OD practitioner.  You are the centre of change whilst at the same time building a legacy which means that the organisation learns how to change itself.  The OD practitioner must translate the practices, and tools that they use so they become embedded into the way that the organisation does things.  The questions you ask, become the organisation’s questions.  The techniques you use, are understood and used by the organisation you are working with and more importantly you leave the organisation in a positon where they have learnt how to develop themselves without the ‘self’ of the OD practitioner being present.

When the OD practitioner is no longer needed then the OD intervention has worked.

So there you have it, my top three essentials for the OD practitioner.


The Importance of Building in Trust

Organisational effectiveness is achieved through a combination of a number of processes, behaviours and system thinking. But it is trus

t within the organisation that makes the wheels of the organisation turn. There are a number of behaviours that organisational leaders can adopt which build and repair trust.

“For it is mutual trust, even more than mutual interest that holds human associations together.” H. L. Mencken

Human society and relationship is driven by trust. But the phone hacking scandal, banking crisis and government misdemeanours means that trust is at an all time low. This loss of trust has serious consequences both for our society and for organi

sational performance. If organisations are to thrive they need a new way of thinking to enhance collaboration and discretionary behaviour among their employee population.

Approaches to Building and repairing Trust

According to CIPD sponsored research there are six ways of building trust within an organisation:

1. Create a Trust fund– Building and sustaining a ‘circle of trust’ where the organisational stakeholders demonstrate trust in each other means that individuals must demonstrate integrity on an on going basis. The advantage of a trust fund is that when things get difficult or change becomes necessary there is trust built into the system to deal with the challenges presented.

2. Manage with Integrity– Leaders have many choices to making in organisational life, but leading with integrity and staying true to a persons moral and ethical codes will ensure that trust is enhances as the result of the way in which leaders conduct organisational processes.

3. Serve the Workforce– The servant leader isn’t a new concept, but leaders who daily demonstrate care and integrity towards their employee population, and act as if their position bestows a responsibility to serve their employees will have their commitment rewarded.

4. Remove the Spin– It is important that leadership understand that employees will appreciate the use of honest communication, even when it means communicating bad news. Your employees are all adults who are big enough to receive an honest appraisal about what is going on in the organisation. Employees will reciprocate this honesty even if there are challenges ahead such as job losses or plant closures.

5. Re-engage the line– Consulting with the local level line managers helps to create a plum line of trust and ensures that even in difficult circumstances the chain of communication is not broken from the top to the bottom of the organisation.

6. Reposition the employee Relationship– Developing more open and realistic employment relationship between leaders
Demonstrating high moral concern from employees can build trust quickly, especially where an organisation is struggling with difficult circumstances or challenging change programmes. But trust is only built when all leaders act in way, which is trustworthy.and employees allows organisations to integrate dialogue and trust into the employment relationship.

“To state the facts frankly is not to despair the future nor indict the past. The prudent heir takes car

eful inventory of his legacies and gives a faithful accounting to those whom he owes an obligation of trust.” John F. Kennedy

It is impossible to consider trust building without understanding the concept of systems thinking. Systems’ thinking involves

developing an understanding of the organisation as a living system, with the whole of the organisation being equal to the sum of its parts.

Every individual, team, department, function and business unit is involved in building and developing trust within the organisation. If any individual or area is untrustworthy it is like a cancerous tumour that impacts that health of the whole organisational system.

Trust resides in the behaviour and attitudes of every member of the organisation, demanding integrity of all employees in their dealings with each other, with customers, with suppliers and with stakeholders is essential if trust is to built and sustained over the long term.

Making the Leap From Capability to Faith – Organisation Development

It’s all too easy to talk about the need to increase people capability in order to achieve sustainable organisational performance.  Read any company memoranda or share holder report and it will contain within it some reference to the human capital in the business whether in leadership or the wider employee population.  The message that organisations convey is that people matter.

But look beyond the hyperbole and delve into the practices of the same organisation and it soon becomes apparent that there is a difference between words, actions and beliefs.  A change programme will focus on systems and processes, but the investment in people is mere percentage points versus the investment in the business process engineering; the amount invested in developing people is far exceeded by the amount invested in capital projects and along with marketing budgets for learning and development are dispensable when costs have be cut.

People Matter, is not just about the words we use, the message we sell or employee engagement.  People Matter is a choice that leaders, managers and employees make every day.  Do they choose to put people first, or do they choose to do what is best for themselves or for their balance sheet.

A few years ago I heard a story about a senior leadership team that had spent the morning during a development course espousing how important people were to their business.  But when challenged by the facilitator if the ‘really’ were a people first organisation the leadership team confessed that no, what was more important was the numbers.  It sounds shocking, and when I was told the story, the person telling me was incredulous that this belief existed in the organisation.  Actually we don’t care about people we only care about the numbers.  If only all organisations were as honest.

The issue is that all the evidence and research shows that successful organisations are successful because they believe, and more importantly act in a manner, that says People Matter.  Many organisational leaders intellectually have grasped the fact that People Matter, but not many truly believe it.  They have not taken People Matter to heart and do not consider how the choices they make reflect that belief.

The result is a disconnect between what is said and what is practiced, people capability is unable to be released and organisation effectiveness is something that remains out of reach.  But for many Leaders, changing from building capability (how much are we going to spend training people) to belief (people matter) takes a leap of faith.

A leap that requires a leader to understand that in adopting choices that put people first will go against traditional organisational thinking, it may even cost more money in the short term and it requires a different way of leading.  It requires that the organisation puts people at the heart of what they do and that they concentrate on releasing the potential of the people who work in and with the organisation.  Systems and processes might need to change to accomodate the needs of People, and the investment is turned on its head to concentrate building people first, systems and processes second.

The truth is that faith in People is different to faith in capability.  It is easy to place financial values on the return an organisation will get from having a skill set or knowledge base in their business; its much harder to place a financial value on Liz from accounts or Mary from Sales reaching their potential.  Extrapolate that over a population of thousands of employees and it takes faith to believe that people can make the difference between okay performance and sustainable organisation effectiveness.

There is plenty of research which supports the claims that people make the difference.  Leadership parrot the ‘people matter‘ because they have seen the evidence.  But belief and making choices that reflect the belief that People Matter requires a leap of faith.