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Posts tagged ‘Purpose’

Five Core Theories – Complexity 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.

Complexity Theory in Brief

Based on the research of individuals such as Stacey, Wheatley, Black and Morgan complexity theory provides a lens at which both academics and practitioners can analyse and understand the operation of an organisation, and as such, the methods by which an intervention should be structured to deliver the change the organisation is looking for.

Complexity Theory is probably better know in Mathematics, the natural sciences and the development of Algorithms in computer science, however, in the field of OD is concerned with the emergence of order and structure in complex and the apparently chaotic organisational systems.

The Theorist (Stacey 2003, Wheatley 1992, Black 2000 and Morgan 1997) challenged the traditional view that organisations had a ‘business as usual’ change model to a non-linear system which was surrounded by dynamic forms of change.  The unpredictability of change meant that organisational leadership cannot manage change, but instead support their organisation on its change journey, releasing individuals to adapt as the organisation moves towards the ‘edge of chaos’ providing the environment for self-management and the avoidance of liminalities.

In complexity theory the future is unknowable and as such the ability to learn is absolutely critical to ongoing organisation effectiveness, navigating the paradox of the desire for stability with that of the need to flex, adapt and change.  Too much stability will stagnant the organisation and prevent proactive adaptive change, too little and the organisation becomes impossible to manage.

Complexity theory therefore promotes the idea of organisations aas complex adaptive systems which need to respond to the external and internal environment by remaining on the edge of chaos whilst at the same time self-organising and continuously re-inventing the organisational.

Key Points

  1. Change can’t be managed in a complex system
  2. Change must be supported
  3. Leaders must encourage people to learn how to adapt and flex
  4. Open Connection between the different parts of the organisation is essential for self-organisation and embracing diversity of thinking, ideas and approaches
  5. Feedback loops and Information flow is essential to prevent the organisation from falling into chaos.

Applying Complexity Theory in an OD Intervention

  1. Provide the organisation with the tools to operate in instable conditions
  2. Develop Feedback loops in order for the organisation to adapt and create the environment for change
  3. Help individuals navigate the political interaction and build communities of practice to progress self-organisation
  4. Promote diversity of thinking and agility by examining and shifting organisational and personal mental models
  5. Shift the design of the organisation, rejecting hierarchy and control in favour of decentralised, flexible and multifaceted teams
  6. Encourage experimentation, and freedom to create, innovate and self-express to help develop new patterns of operation
  7. Focus on Purpose – Why are we here, rather than What we are doing, which provides the forum for openness to new directions.
  8. Organisation should encourage and promote learning, especially around growth in adaptability, flexibility and change.
  9. Use system-wide collaborative inquiry methods to build connections and encourage diversity of thinking
  10. Provide a stimulus to the organisational system to encourage and influence change


How do you Articulate Organisational Purpose?

On an individual level we my occasionally wonder what our purpose is. Organisations very often set strategic goals which are financially driven, but forget the reason why the organisation exists in the first place

Where does the answer to the question “What is our purpose” come from?

The first thing to understand is that you do not create purpose. Purpose is what it is; it is why the organisation exists in the first place. The unconscious organisation can articulate purpose through four diagnostic phases: Consult. Listen. Simplify. Understand.

Phase 1: Interviews with Key Stakeholders
The start point of articulating organisation purpose is to get people to talk to one another, via structured interviews with key stakeholders both internally and externally. The interviewer must encourage interviewees to tell stories about the organisation at its best by asking questions about what the interviewee understood about the organisation at that time.

Phase 2: Appreciative Inquiry of Organisational Purpose
Appreciative inquiry simply means recognizing what is best about the organisation (appreciative) by asking questions (inquiry). There are two options for Appreciative inquiry at an organisational level;

a) Organisational Purpose Forums
Groups of employees are taken through a process where a facilitator helps forum members to describe their best experience of the organisation in as much detail as possible while encouraging the rest of the forum to be curious and ask questions. Once the exploration is complete, the facilitator asks, on the basis of what the forum have just discussed, to develop a consensus on what really matters to the organisation.

b) Organisational Purpose Conference
For larger organisations it may be impractical to run numerous forums over a long period of time therefore a large group event is recommended.
The opportunity cost of ‘lost’ work, and the added value of getting so many people together in an appreciative climate can easily lead to productivity benefits which are significantly greater than the cost of the conference.

Phase 3: Articulating Purpose
Once the interview and appreciative inquiry phases are completed a small but diverse, team is appointed to examine the outputs and articulate the organisational purpose. It may take a number of drafts, and it is recommended that the statement of organisational purpose is stress tested with focus groups.

Phase 4: Shared Purpose
For employees to own the organisational purpose they need to share the purpose, so, creating mechanisms to communicate how the organisational purpose relates to their day to day work is essential. Whether it is in meetings, one to ones, presentations, taglines on internal organisational literature, in employee briefings, newsletters, company magazines, social media, press releases, posters, mouse mats or even the screen saver on company computers; if it can be written, blogged, tweeted, spoken, mentioned or referred to – do it.

Why Focus on Purpose – Organisation Development

“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

Politics is a funny old game.  What you hear in the news isn’t always ‘news’ but rather the media trying to create ‘news’ that isn’t there.  I like Clegg and Cameron, there is something rather honourable about the way they have attempted to build a coalition even though they make uncomfortable bed partners.  I also like the way that they are open about the fact that they don’t agree but they thrash it out.

If for a moment we were to imagine that the Coalition were a person, which is made up of conflicting beliefs, thoughts, actions and behaviours it is possible to understand where challenges and opportunities arise from and what shapes the thinking of the coalition as a whole and why it often becomes unbalanced.

The values and beliefs of the parties are different.  That’s why they are in different political parties.  How do you find common ground when the people in the party have, for so many years, been in competition.  It’s like a merger between dominant competitors; where once employees had to defend against and attack each other, now they are supposed to work in harmony.  I’d love to be a researcher working in government to track the change curve the politicians are going through.

So what can Clegg and Cameron do about it?  If I were leading the Coalition what would I do?  Like any attempt to achieve Organisation Balance I’d start with returning to the Coalition’s original purpose to begin to create stability.

In May 2010 Cameron and Clegg said that the two parties had decided to go for a full coalition to be;

“an administration united behind three key principles – freedom, fairness and responsibility… And it will be an administration united behind one key purpose and that is to give our country the strong and stable and determined leadership that we need for the long-term” the government would “take Britain in a historic new direction, a direction of hope and unity, conviction and common purpose”.

By understanding why the Coalition exists in the first place and taking responsibility for being the cause of actions, the Tories and Lib Dems will be able to take a modicum of control over the events that occur in the internal and external environment.  Through organisation development it is possible to bring the unconscious organisation to the fore and begin to understand why the Coalition operates in the way that it does. This is no different from the premise that an individual will benefit from increasing their self awareness.

Purpose will provide the glue by which individuals connect and group together, It will provide the focus for relationship building and collaboration between individuals, teams and functions collectively helping the Coalition pursue its purpose and not get sidetracked by differences. By focusing on shared purpose the Coalition will be able to tap into the collective talent gathered from inside the different parties, making it is possible for the Coalition to expand from pockets of performance to an parties wide sharing of expertise, knowledge, skill and experience.  In doing so purpose to become meaningful, shared throughout the Coalition and translated into its activities.

Growing the understanding of why the Coalition exists will mean that the two parties can understand the consequences of decisions it makes and the impact those decisions will have on performance.  Purpose provides the focus for and inspiration for creative thinking and innovation throughout government operations as the leaders  and individual MPs and party workers pursue opportunities to succeed in achieving the purpose of the Coalition.

Re-focusing on the Coalition’s purpose would enable the Coalition to return to the reason for it to exist in the first place and to adapt and adjust to the changes taking place in the external and internal environment and maybe deliver the strong and stable and determined leadership that the UK needs for the long-term.

Maybe your organisation needs to do the same?


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.