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Posts tagged ‘Sustainable Performance’

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.

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 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.

What is Organisational Effectiveness?

Leadership teams like buzz words, and every year new phrases are added to management lexicon.  The current buzz is around organisational effectiveness.  I remember doing my post graduate diploma and learning that efficiency was doing things right, and effectiveness was doing the right things.  So organisational effectiveness is about doing the right things, but what exactly does that mean?  Anyone?  It appears that Organisational Effectiveness is a difficult concept to pin down.

Francis, Holbeche and Reddington (2012) in their new book People and Organisational Development: A new Agenda for Organisational Effectiveness offer the following definition;

“Organisation Effectiveness takes as its desired end point sustainable, self-renewing outcomes.  This… requires a shift in mindset and practice with respect to organisational change, towards one based on… authentic mutuality.”

That clears that up then.

Well not really.  It just adds more buzz words to management lexicon which we will need to unpick to understand.

The first element to highlight is that organisational effectiveness is an end point, which suggests that in order to get there, the organisation needs to have a start point, and has to develop towards the point of achieving the outcome or goal of organisational effectiveness.  Its not a process or a system that the organisation adopts, but rather it is something the organisation works towards achieve.

This end point is not something that is static or one thing.  Its not like a gold medal that once achieved can’t be unachieved.  It is akin to organisational learning in that it is a way of doing things around here, but unlike organisational learning, which you never achieve if you really are learning organisation, but rather is something that can be achieved.  If you do the right things, you will continue to do the right things and maintain organisation effectiveness.

The self-renewing and organisational change elements are not new in management literature, but what is different is the element of ‘authentic mutuality’ and that is what makes this definition so exciting.  A seemingly banal statement made up of buzz words is actually challenging the way organisations work in regards to the employer/employee relationship.  It is ask for organisation to work together with employees in a way that not just benefits the organisation but also the employee.  Doing the right thing for the organisation AND doing the right thing for the employees who work in the organisation.

Of course this throws up all sorts of challenges for the organisation in regards to Human Resource practices, and the balancing the tensions created in attempting to do the right things for both organisation and employee.  But the output of an organisation focused on doing only the right things for the organisation is being felt in the economic challenges faced by the world today and the broken nature of the western capitalist model which focuses purely on competitive short-term entrepreneurship without consideration of the people in the organisation.

The time is ripe for change, and quite possible with some societal and cultural changes organisational effectiveness is achievable.