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Posts tagged ‘People Matter’

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.

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.