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Posts tagged ‘people development’

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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.

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Development only works with Measurement

The debate continues to rage regarding return on investment from development interventions.  I have to confess I have always struggled with HR’s issue with ROI.  They seem to make it so, well, complicated.

Maybe it is because I come from a commercial background that as a development practitioner I believe passionately that people deliver performance for a business and that I can measure it, as you would any other financial performance measure in the organisation. But I am often asked how do you measure the Return on Investment of development programmes – isn’t it all a bit intangible and difficult to measure?

As a commercial development practitioner I seem to bridge the gap between the development community and the business world. My thought process is simple.  Business performance can be measured, so therefore people delivering performance can be measured too.

Like any other project or business investment can you really measure 100% scientifically, without doubt, that it is your intervention or project and not other factors that have delivered performance? Well yes, to a degree. And yes, I confess that there is a degree of judgement – but it is possible.  Consider for a moment a sales person.  Are they successful because they got lucky or because they were doing all the right things?

“I say luck is when an opportunity comes along and you’re prepared for it.” Denzel Washington

If an organization chooses to invest in capital equipment can it’s increase in sales be directly attributed to the equipment purchase? If the equipment is producing a product that previously the organization wasn’t producing, then the sales can be attributed to the capital project. But what about a new or additional pieces of kit – can you measure the return on investment accurately.  The answer is yes, to a degree. Common sense tells you that if you invest in X and your sales revenue/productivity increase by Y or your costs reduce by Z then you have a positive return on investment.

So why does HR think that people development is somehow different?  If an organization is choosing to invest in a programme of development and they are clear about what success looks like and what metrics will be used to measure success then yes performance improvement can be delivered.

Notice the key line “what success looks like and what metrics will be used” – too often HR lacks the discipline to consider what it is they are trying to achieve with a development programme.  They decided to do a programme without considering how it aligns with business objectives or what the programme will deliver for the organisation.  Before programme aims and objectives are decided on OD practitioners must consider what it is that the programme is delivering.

Starting with the end in mind makes sure that the programme is designed to deliver added value and that measures of success are agreed before a programme is developed let alone implemented.  It helps the practitioner to ensure that what they are delivering will achieve a ROI, but also provide a platform for ongoing evaluation so that adaptations can be made if the programme isn’t delivering what it should during the implementation phase.

The amazing thing about people and organisation development is that 2 + 2 = 5.  Agreeing up front what success looks like with the business makes it easy to demonstrate the ROI for Organisation Development Programmes

Even ‘feeling better’ after a programme has a value add that can be measured. If people ‘feel better’ what does that mean for a business? Absence reduces; productivity increases; attrition rates go down. It could be argued that these are because of other factors – but so to can an increase in sales after investing in capital goods. And is business growth because of a growing economy or is it because you are making good business decisions and investing in the right things?

Why ‘people development‘ has to be any different from any other capital investment I do not understand. Yes some of the indicators are lagging – and therefore behavioural change is more likely to impact long term measures, but there are still things that you can measure and data that you can capture which tell you whether the programme is delivering what is desired.

Personally I work on two measures – Return on Expectation, which is qualitative and Return on Investment which is quantitative. I agree the metrics and success criteria upfront; performance metrics which are used by and meaningful to the business and make sure that ongoing evaluation is part of the programme.

There is no black art, just good relations with the business analysts in the organization I work with. People deliver performance, and business performance can and is measured!

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Everyday Learning and Development – Personal Development

The human capacity to learn and develop is phenomenal.  Have you ever stopped to wonder how you have managed to learn everything you know, and how to do everything you do?  Just think about the things you don’t think about; walking, talking, getting dressed, understanding social cues, eating, driving, reading – at some point you would have had to learn about all those things.

I learnt about Language acquisition when I was at Leeds University studying my degree, but to watch my two year old daughter learn how to communicate is amazing.  As a newborn crying for attention, but as a parent I soon learnt there were different cries for different needs.  Then babbling, making different noises, grunting and pointing to get her point across (and getting upset when I didn’t understand).  Then the babbling and pointing began to turn into recognisable words, and every day there were a couple of new words.  Now those words are turning into sentences and are very recognisable – and she has a few words that are unique to her, but we all understand what she means.

But learning new things isn’t restricted to the young.  At 37 I learn new things all the time.  It may be that I have to learn how to drive to a new football ground for my sons Sunday league football; how to use my new mobile phone; or how to increase my SEO ratings.  This week I will find out how to make my way to Costa Coffee in Warrington, and any number of titbits picked up from various online blogs, tweets and webinars.

I bet you have all ‘learnt’ similar things this week but took it for granted, after all finding your way to places, learning how to use equipment or technology and digesting the news is just part of life; and yet we will pay thousands for courses to learn new skills or knowledge; organisations spend millions on the implementation of new technology platforms, and publishing is no longer restricted to publishing houses but all add to our collective knowledge.

It is well known in development circles that the most effective development methods are on the job.  Learners tend to retain the learning for longer and take in a greater measure of development than they do on workshops.  Being able to immediately apply knowledge and skills, rather than trying to retain newly acquired learning as a concept is also more efficient.

As a developer of people and organisations I still like the workshop for its ability to take people aside from their busy lives and focus on a specific area of development.  I think it is especially useful for teams who wish to develop strategy, the team or a deeper understanding an individuals strengths, beliefs and values.

But there is a distinguishing feature of workshops that I would like to prompt your thinking about.  Very often managers will say to me, this development is fantastic, I’ve really enjoyed today and got a lot out of it, but I am worried about getting back to reality; as if the workshop is some kind of parallel universe where real work doesn’t get done.

Yet if you were to ask a manager whether they feel that meetings are real work or not, the answer would be depends on the meeting, whether the meeting is useful or not.  So if the manager found the workshop useful, why do they see it as not being real life?

Too often individuals separate their personal development from their work environment, and then struggle to apply their learning.  But if you were to take your learning; whether in a workshop, a conversation or what you read on the internet and asked yourself “so what does that mean for me?” you might be surprised at how your new learning can help you grow and development regardless of the position you work in now.

My challenge for those who have the opportunity to attend a development workshop is to see it not as stepping out of reality but as an opportunity to step aside from (but not out of the reality of) the hubbub and concentrate on something important without interruption.

I would then like to deliver a Development Elephant to them.  Very often in a workshop I will ask participants to think about what the workshop has reminded them they have learnt previously but forgotten about.  Very often a participants development gets forgotten when they return back to their ‘day job’.  Workbooks get put in a pile, are used to prop up a wonky desk or are stuffed in a draw or brief case where they start gathering dust.

So I urge you to take ten@ten – and pay attention to the #DevelopmentElephant.

The purpose of the Development Elephant is to remind you to take 10 minutes at 10 o’clock every day to revisit an action plan or workbook from a previous workshop, meeting or personal development time, and think about;

  1. What were the things that you were going to do differently?
  2. What have you done so far?
  3. What do you still need to do?
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Why Purpose is important for Organisations – Organisation Development

Like the human heart organisation purpose is more than just the centre of organisation, it provides the lifeblood to the whole of the organisational system.  It connects, refreshes, renews and brings life to every single corner of the organisation.  If any part of the organisation becomes disconnected from the purpose of the organisation it will wither and fail to function properly, like a limb cut from the body’s blood supply. 

Growth requires Purpose

When discussing organisation development very often it is suggested that the start point is strategy.  But where is strategy created from?  Where, in all the managing, planning or giving it a go of strategy that an organisation must follow do the ideas come from to decide what strategy an organisation should be following, and who decides?

An organisation must answer the question “What is our purpose?”  You may think that I am playing with semantics to talk about purpose.  There is so much management speak already, so what is so different about using the word purpose as opposed to strategy.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines Purpose as “the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists” whereas strategy is about a plan of action.  At an individual level purpose is being rather than doing.

“Purpose expresses the company’s fundamental value – the raison d’etre or over-riding reason for existing. It is the end to which the strategy is directed”  Richard Ellsworth

So when I speak of an organisation answering the question “What is our purpose?” the answer is not a profit number, or a growth percentage.  Rather purpose is what is at the very heart of why the organisation exists.  When all is said and done it is what really matters.

Is it possible for an organisation to be successful without having clarity around its purpose?  Yes. Organisation’s have been and will continue to be successful without having a purpose. But the world is changing, and the pace of change is increasing.  What used to define competitive advantage has shifted from efficiency to effectiveness.  Efficiency can be repeated, copied and adapted and is based on structures, processes and hard systems.  Effectiveness comes from utilising knowledge, innovation, creativity which comes from people.  People are unique and provide a critical element of competitive advantage for an organisation.

In Shaping the Future research the CIPD found that “feelings towards profit-related purpose are generally negative, with employees saying it makes them feel de-motivated and less committed to their organisation. Nonetheless, just under a third feel that focusing on investors is the right thing to do in the long run. It seems in order to produce a motivated and committed workforce, the main purpose needs to have a social basis to it – profit does not seem to ‘kick start’ the workforce.” (CIPD, Shared Purpose: The Golden Thread, 2010)

Efficiency can be created without meaning being understood, it can be achieved by doing things better.  But effectiveness requires people to have a sense of purpose and for people to commit to the direction an organisation is taking; they require an organisation to have a meaningful purpose.

I can’t remember if I read or heard the story about a NASA employee who was sweeping the floor and was asked what his job was, he answered it was to put a man on the moon; a purpose which was articulated by John F. Kennedy in a statement in 1969.  But even if this story is nothing more than an urban myth, it illustrates the power of purpose more than any other.  The individual had purpose in what he was doing, he wasn’t doing some low grade job he was putting a man on the moon.  When I think about that story I imagine the pride that the employee must have put into his job, and how motivated he must have felt when his alarm clock rang in the morning.  Organisational Purpose inspires purposefulness in employees and surely that is something all organisations would want to aspire too?

Therefore in the new global economy, the difference between an organisation which can sustain performance and one that can’t will be the clarity of purpose which is shared among all employees.

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Lies, damn lies and Statistics – Organisation Development

So what is it then?  Is unemployment going up or down?  Is the country debt getting worse or better?  What exactly is happening regards the economy, does anyone actually know?  Are we feeling more positive because it is sunny outside or are things really getting better?

Depending who you speak to, will depend on what answer you get to these questions.  What is sure is that no one really knows.  There seems to be an intake of breath as people begin to possibly, maybe, start to believe that it might actually be getting better.  That we might actually be looking at a growing economy and an improvement in economic circumstances.  Maybe.

So what should an organisation do?  Splash the cash, loosen the reins, crack open the bubbly?  Well maybe not yet but… it might be time to consider how you prepare for growth.

Contingency planning is often associated with disaster recovery, what to do when the worst happens.  However, todays economy, after the tough lessons of the last few years, requires a different type of plan, one based on positive expectations of the economy turning around and preparing for an operation which needs to respond to growth pressures.

“Change is inevitable, growth is intentional.”

The business season we are in is well matched to the weather at the moment.  There are glimpses of warmer weather to come.  We begin to think about changing from our winter wardrobe of thermal underwear, heavy knitted jumpers, Padded coats and wooly hats to clothing more suited to warmer weather.

But that change requires some preparation (especially if you are a lady).  Revealing parts of your body that haven’t seen the light of day for a period of times requires some work.  For me that involves a pedicure and intense moisturizing of my pasty legs in preparation for the big reveal when I start wearing shorts and sandals in hotter weather.

Organisations need to be prepared for a change in the economic landscape.  Taking advantage of an improving economic climate requires different leadership and different operating mindsets and practices.  Leave it too late, and you might miss the boat and your upward trajectory will at best be delayed.

Growth doesn’t just happen on the P&L of a business, it presents major challenges for an organisations operation, production, workforce and processes and will change the way the organisation works.  If you grow to fast, or get hit by unexpected or unprepared for growth it can be as much a disaster as a sudden downturn.  Is your business prepared in regards to being able to supply to a surge in demand?  Have you got the cash flow, employees, supply chain, capacity and capability to cope if the market returns to buoyancy?

From a development perspective, it is your people who will deliver the success your organisation wants to achieve.  As Jim Collins describes in his book From Good to Great have you not only got the right people on the bus but have you got the right people on the right seats of the bus, and more fundamentally do you have the right bus?  Will individual employees in your organisation be able to flex and adapt to the pains of growing after such a long period of difficulty?  Have you equipped them to be responsive to those changes and to be prepared to grow with the business rather than get in the way of growth?

“Don’t wait until everything is just right. It will never be perfect. There will always be challenges, obstacles and less than perfect conditions. So what. Get started now. With each step you take, you will grow stronger and stronger, more and more skilled, more and more self-confident and more and more successful.”  Mark Hanson

And what about your customers, do you know what they need now?  Do you know what they will need from you should their business start growing?  How do you communicate with them and how close are you to understanding where their business is in regards to growth?

It is very easy to focus on what is going badly and ‘fixing problems’ that exist, but after such a long period of bad news, fixing your eyes on opportunities and the possibility of good times and growth might feel strange.

“Growth means change and change involves risk, stepping from the known to the unknown.”