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Posts tagged ‘practitioner’

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The Development of Culture Change

It’s interesting working in the arena of organization development. All to often managers are confounded by the fact that the employees resist any form of change whether the changes are better for the organization, will secure their jobs, and will most probably make the employees lives better.

Organizations spend thousands of pounds and many hours putting together information packs and communication plans to explain the changes, but no amount of information, no matter how rational, will seeming move those who chose not to be moved. What is more frustrating is that those who refuse to toe and line, and who engage in acts of corporate terrorism will be able to justify their bad behaviour with a perfectly rational and logic line of reasoning– even if the rational remains unreasonable. Further investigation will also unveil the truth, which is that the most reluctant will invent fabrications about the real motives of those trying to push for change, even if those reasons are nothing more than lying to ourselves.

Human behaviour, the mind and each individual’s personality are nothing if not curious and fascinating.

You see we don’t like to consider ourselves as being irrational. We need to deceive ourselves into believing that our bad behaviour is rational. If we are unable to cope with a current situation we may begin to regress, acting out like a petulant teenager, or we might use a displacement defence where we know we have to be strong, so we take out our frustration on a process of change that makes us feel fearful. Finally we might take hide from, and refuse to acknowledge the change that we are experiencing by repressing that which we are finding intolerable from our conscious mind and continuing as if nothing has changed at all.

Social Psychologist Leon Festinger described the discomfort we feel when we modify our beliefs so that we can make two contradictory ideas compatible as ‘cognitive dissonance.’ The more we believe that we are right in our belief that the change is bad, the more effort we will put into proving that we are right – and any information is used to confirm the rightness of our beliefs. If we are lying to ourselves we must in someway justify our lie to continue believing that we are a good person. (Rosenburg, 2011)

Culture or rather ‘the way we do things around here’ exacerbates the cognitive dissonance that individuals develop during a change programme.  The effectiveness of an organization can be seriously compromised if efforts to make changes conflicts with an organization’s norms, standards, working practices and values, potential creating conflict and toxicity around the change efforts.

Take for example the current context of the environmental peril that our planet is in. If we don’t change the way we do things then our grandchildren will quite possible face extinction. The problem is that we have accepted the truth of ‘plenty’ and of not having to count the external costs of our actions for such a long time that the rules and expectations of 21st Century human culture, especially in the Western World is currently stopping us from acting rationally in the best interests of our long term survival.  Organization’s can face similar problems in areas that are in obvious need of change, possibly where the way things are done around here is causing the organization to lose business or damage its reputation and yet still change efforts are met with resistance.

Since we are social creatures, doing things differently, changing to such an extent means that we have to go outside group norms. For example the terms Tree Hugger, eco-warrior and nature loving hippy have for a long time been used as insults and denote that the person acting with a belief structure that puts the environment first is in someway uncivilised. Even those organizations that are pursuing green and environmentally friendly agendas wrap their actions up in more acceptable business language of sustainability, Plan A and corporate social responsibility, it goes against our culture that these organizations should say that they care about the planet.

If you are trying to implement a change programme, it is important to consider how people are acting as a group, not just individually. When individuals are unsure how to behave they will look to the community of which they are part to understand what the norms are, which are usually driven by their peers. If there is someone who strongly represents the group displaying signs of cognitive dissonance, then that will determine what reaction the group will have as a whole to the change situation.

Individuals who have a lot lose and in the current hierarchy are in a privileged position will seek to maintain the traditions that keep them in a position of privilege, regardless of the expense to others. Destructive behaviour in a change situation will always be strongest where individuals who fear change the most are in a position of influence within the wider community.

To make the change your organization seeks, it is essential that you first understand those who are key stakeholders, and help them to transition their thinking prior to any change programme happening. That way the individuals who have most impact on cultural norms can help the group express their reaction to change, which in turn will help make the change journey smooth.

Organization Development offers an alternative to the ‘information centric’ approach to change management.  Rather than a top down change that tells people how to think and act, organization development takes the organization on a journey of discovery.  Leaders are taught to role model, coach and teach so they can reflect the change that is being asked for.  For individual employees, OD interventions create safe places for them to consider the areas of thinking and belief structures that might need to change, and provides the tools for the individual to make that change themselves.  For groups it helps transition the change through careful facilitation of groups dynamics to help the group help each other make the transition.  Finally, OD considers the reinforcement mechanisms within the organization, processes and systems which will support the culture change going forward, and removing barriers to the successful change.

OD Practitioner considerations for Culture Change

  1. Know the business beyond an organization chart and what the leaders tell you.  Investigate, question and discover;  How are things done? What makes the organization tick?  What is the underlying rhythm of the business?
  2. If you don’t know find out, and use the right OD tools for the situation.
  3. BE the change, coach, mentor and position yourself as a conduit of change.
  4. Ensure Change goals are relevant, and focused on people relationships and behaviour especially in regards to how processes and systems within the organization reinforce or inhibit people processes.
  5. Support leaders to create the climate for change
  6. Develop plans that reward behaviours that reinforce the desired culture change but also manage areas where there is reversion to old behaviours.
  7. Handle uncertainty and ambiguity with confidence.
  8. Use methods that work on both the mind, in regards to intellectual stimulation but also the heart, in regards to emotion.
  9. Create experiences and opportunities for people to explore new behaviours within a positive framework
  10. Always develop methods that reinforce new ways of working.
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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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Five Core Theories – Lewin’s Change Theories – 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.

Lewin’s Change Theories in Brief

Lewin developed a unified change theory based on four distinct elements; Field Theory, Group Dynamics, Action Research and the Three step model of Change.  All have been criticised and all are necessary to bring about planned change.

Lewin viewed the social environment as a dynamic field which impacted in an interactive way with human consciousness.  The theories are useful to the OD practitioner in understanding that by adjusting elements of the organisationl environment then particular types of psychological experience predictably ensue.  In turn, the person’s psychological state influences the organisational environment.

Lewin first introduced the idea of Group Dynamics in relation to the study of the interaction of complex intra- and inter-personal forces in the operation of group behaviour which determine the groups character, development, and long-term survival.

Group Dynamics is concerned with determination of laws underlying group behaviour and studies a group’s formation, structure, interaction and behaviourial processes while looking at the group functioning.

Lewin was well known for  “field theory”.  He was perhaps even better known for practical use of his theories in studying group dynamics, solving social problems related to prejudice, and group therapy (t-groups).  Lewin sought to not only describe group life, but to investigate the conditions and forces which bring about change or resist change in groups.

In developing the Field Theory approach, Lewin believed that for change to take place, the total situation has to be taken into account.  If only part of the situation is considered, a misrepresented picture is likely to develop.

The field theory proposes that human behaviour is the function of both the person and the environment, this means that an individuals behaviour is related both to their personal characteristics and to the organisational situation in which they find themself.

Lewin’s three step model of change is related to Field Theory.  The three step model states that organisational change involves a move from one static state via a progressional shift, to another static state. The model, is also known as Unfreeze-Change-Refreeze.

Stage 1: Unfreeze

This stage involves creating the right conditions for change to occur. By resisting change, people often attach a sense of identity to their environment. In this state, alternatives, even beneficial ones, will initially cause discomfort. The challenge is to move people from this ‘frozen’ state to a ‘change ready’ or ‘unfrozen’ state.

Stage 2: Transition

The transitional ‘journey’ is central to Lewin’s model and at the psychological level it is typically a period of confusion. People are aware that the old ways are being challenged, but there is no clear understanding of the new ways which will replace them. As roles change, a reduced state of efficiency is created, where goals are significantly lowered. The end goal of this stage is to get people to the ‘unfrozen’ state and keep them there.

Stage 3: Refreeze

The end goal of the model is to achieve a ‘refreeze’, re-establishing a new place of stability and elevate comfort levels by reconnecting people back into their safe, familiar environment. Refreezing takes people from a period of low productivity in the transitional state to that of organisational effectiveness and sustainable performance.

Key Points

  1. Organisational Behaviour is a function of a person’s personality, the group environment
  2. For change to be effective it must be collaborative and participative, and take place at a group level if individual behaviour is to shift
  3. Concentrate on individual field factors including group norms, roles, interaction and social processes
  4. Refreezing requires changes at a cultural level, to embed new organisaitonal norms, polciies and practices.
  5. Creating dissatisfaction with the status quo will provide th disequilibrium required to drive change.

Applying Lewin’s Change Theories in an OD Intervention

  1. Pay attention to group dynamics and the powerful forces within the groups
  2. Identify existing rules that create the current organisational reality and change them to create movement.
  3. Plan the mix of people involved in diagnostic events in order to shift forces and facilitate change.
  4. Diagnostic events are key learning events which lead to ‘unfreezing’
  5. Be clear about the type of ‘unfreezing’ work that is needed during the diagnostic phase
  6. Provide a safe environment in which to destablise the status quo, in order to create the motivation to learn and change
  7. Support individuals and the group in understanding what is required of them, providing a plan for the action needed to begin making the change
  8. Create psychological safety to prevent resistance
  9. Provide a desirable direction or ‘best way’ for group members to change toward.
  10. Develop congruence with the organisation environment to stablise the new equilibrium.
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Five Core Theories – Action Research Theory – 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.

Action Research Theory in Brief

Lewin developed a unified change theory based on four distinct elements; Field Theory, Group Dynamics, Action Research and the Three step model of Change.  All have been criticised and all are necessary to bring about planned change.

Lewin is one of the founding fathers of Organisation Development, especially the pursuit of the commitment to humanistic values in developing society, facilitating change through learning and the pursuit of changing an individuals mental models and perceptions of the world that they inhabit in order to move forward.

Action Research is the foundation stone of Organsation Development practice, it is what underpins the theory and practice of the discipline in the organisation.  The theory is based on what Lewin advised, “no action without research, no research without action.”

The theory provides the very heart of the purpose of the OD diagnostic phase in the OD cycle.  It provides the opportunity to build the knowledge of the causes and dynamics of organisational issues, the understanding of organisational change and the basis of the need for collaboration and joint inquiry between the OD practitioner and the organisational players experiencing the change.

Ultimately though it is a theory based on pragmatism, data itself is no the answer to change, but data regarding the issues that the organisation is experiencing provides the catalyst for change and provides the basis for practical solutions owned by all members affected by the change.  Action Research provides both the theoretical underpinnings and the practical application of organisational change.

Key Points

  1. Action Research is a four step continuous process; Diagnosis, Planning, Action and Evaluation
  2. Action Research Theory provides the bridge between knowledge building and data gathering with effective action
  3. It empowers employees and enables the organisation to sustain the change by providing data not only of how to make the changes required today but also on the change process itself
  4. Action refers to the OD interventions that are implemented to develop the organisation
  5. All organisational stakeholders are involved in the collaborative process of creating and executing the planned changes.

Applying Action Research Theory in an OD intervention

  1. Involve the people affected by the change so that they become co-investigators into the reasons for change, and participate in analysing the current reality
  2. Let individuals discuss the future they need to move toward
  3. Work to increase the amount and quality of inquiry between people so that they can learn from each other and gather a rich mix of data
  4. Secure a commitment to give some decision making power to the people involved in collecting the data so that real change can be achieved
  5. Set up a temporary diagnostic team by using those key individuals who have to support the implementation of change.
  6. Provide space for individuals to reflect on the insights they have gained
  7. Plan the direction of change/OD intervention in collaboration with all stakeholders
  8. Implement decisions that employees and leaders make democratically
  9. Provide a learning zone where individuals and groups can self organise for change.
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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!