Contracting is a critical intervention that defines agreements about goals, collaborative strategies, roles, relationship behaviors, and next steps. Developing these agreements—repeatedly—are a core process of managing change in human systems. They build the support needed for the accomplishment of the goals. When that support reaches critical mass, the goal will have been achieved. Such support often creates a deeper sense of relationship leading to greater effectiveness and efficiency. It all starts with the contracting process between the practitioner and the client. It then extends through any desired agreements for support between the client and other members of the system.
These contracts should have two parts: One part focused on task issues and the other focused on relationship issues. The task issues to be covered include basic things like outcomes, strategies, tactics, roles, and accountability mechanisms. Nothing unusual there. What is different, however, is contracting for relationship issues. Contracting for straight talk and feedback are essential to building and maintaining the high levels of relationship quality needed for effective change processes and sustainably healthy human systems. What I can’t fathom is what makes the notion of contracting for relationship issues so difficult to remember! No matter how I coach and otherwise advocate for clients and students to do so, it doesn’t seem to happen unless I am present to broach the issue. When I inquire about this, the responses all circle around, “I didn’t think about.”
If you have any ideas about why remembering to contract for essential relationship behaviors is problematic, I’d love to hear from you!
One final thought: The more explicit and specific the contracting is the better the process! Implicit and general agreements dramatically increase the probability for misunderstanding which will disrupt the change process.
Most organizational development literature has some version of the stages or steps of planned change. They go something like: contracting, data gathering, intervention, evaluation, and disengagement. I have problems with this framework. Each stage is an intervention in itself, yet intervention properly comes after data gathering. In addition, evaluation includes data gathering along with some analysis. Further, in real life, the sequence suggested in most literature does not account for various stages overlapping. For example, data gathering often leads to re-contracting – as might any other intervention. This makes the framework both confusing and unwieldy.
I have designed an alternative approach I am calling “Critical Interventions.” This approach acknowledges that all of the stages are interventions. It does not suggest any particular ordering, although the order in which they are offered may have some value.
From the perspective of applied behavioral science, an intervention is an action within a human system that is intended to move that system toward some specific change goal. In organization development terms, our interventions are designed to move the support for a specified goal toward critical mass http://tinyurl.com/supportsystems through engendering collaboration dynamics such as mutual understanding and the willingness to learn from differences. http://tinyurl.com/learningfromdifferences
Seven Critical Interventions
• Data Gathering
• Creating Possibility
• Contracting for Collaboration
• Event Planning and Implementation
• Feedback as a Learning Process
• Clear Consequences
Stayed tuned next week for our explication of “Data Gathering” and what makes it the very first of the “Seven Critical Interventions!”
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Many people who are interested in the art and science of organization development believe that it is easy based on what they have seen and heard OD practitioners do. Those of us who have built successful practices —internally or externally—know that its practice presents many challenges.
We collaborate with organization leaders and their groups. Such an easy word to use, “collaborate.” Yet, it presents powerful challenges. In the positive sense that it means working with someone as a an equal. It’s that sense of equality that collaboration requires that get us into trouble.
We create systemic change on behalf of root-cause problem-solving. This challenge is what makes organization development the most powerful strategy for managing change in human systems! It’s a challenge because we live in a larger society that values linear rationality when human systems rarely move in straight lines and operate rationally only occasionally.
We are focused on improving productivity and employee satisfaction. The challenge here is to accomlish both. The effective OD practitioner understands that in the long run productivity and employee satisfaction are systemically correlates. Yet, many practitioners are challenged by their preference for one over the other.
We strengthen the human processes through which work gets done. The list of challenges here is even longer! We (practitioners and our clients) want almost desperately to avoid any conflict that might lead to contention and hurt feelings (particularly our own).
What to do to handle all of these challenges? We offer the eight disciplines of planned change.
For more information on the challenges of OD, check out our upcoming webinar!
We have defined organization development as “collaborating with organizational leaders and their groups to create systemic change and root-cause problem solving on behalf of improving productivity and employee satisfaction through strengthening the human processes through which they get their work done.” We have looked at what OD practitioners do, the results they are after, and how OD works, and we have looked at some of the ideal characteristics of a successful practitioner. Without a useful framework, however, even the most conscious and skills practitioner will have trouble achieving the triple impact that is ideal.
The Meta-Model of Planned Change
This Meta-Model of Planned Change offers a structure for understanding and practicing organization development. It is based upon the classic perspective of OD described above and as developed in the NTL Institute for Applied Behavioral Science. That perspective holds that the tasks of an organization—from planning to production to delivery—are accomplished with the highest level of productivity through processes that are highlighted by a high quality of relationship among those responsible for those tasks. It is a model that believes in the empowerability of human systems and the people that live and work within them. Accordingly, the Meta-Model calls for collaborative strategies and tactics aimed at open and thorough communication and consensual decision-making.
A model is a descriptive system of information, theories, inferences, and implications used to represent and support understanding of some phenomenon. Meta-, in the sense used here, is a context or framework. A meta-model could, then be understood as a framework or context of a model—albeit, a model of a model. A meta-model of planned change, then, is a framework from which any number of more specific models of how to manage change in human systems can be understood and developed. Organization development is dynamic field able to contain many models, strategies, and tactics malleable to the system and individuals—the leader, her groups, and the practitioner—involved.
Our model (click the picture to enlarge) is a three dimensional matrix. The horizontal and depth axes describe the traditional model of organization development including five iterative stages of the planned change process and the five levels of human systems. The iterative stages are contracting, data-gathering, intervention, evaluation, and disengagement. The five levels of human systems are personal, interpersonal, group, organization, and community—across which the stages must be carried out as necessary. The vertical axis describes our addition of eight disciplines of critical thinking which, when each is consistently adhered to, enable the stages across the levels to support the success of any particular change management effort.
We will explore the stages, levels and disciplines in our next series of posts. Stay tuned!
When we defined “Organization Development (OD)” in Part One of this series, we stated that the work of OD is “collaborating with organizational leaders and their groups to create systemic change and root-cause problem solving on behalf of improving productivity and employee satisfaction through strengthening the human processes through which they get their work done.” We went on to look at What Practitioners Do, and The Results that OD Is After. In this entry we will consider the third part of the definition: How OD Works.
How OD Works
OD works “through improving the human processes through which they people in organizations get their work done.” All tasks get done through some set of processes, some series of actions that some one or more persons have to do. The quality and productivity of the result of those processes is directly related to the quality of the processes. And, the quality of those processes is directly related to the quality of the relationships between and among those who are carrying out those processes. Think back to the issue in the second post regarding delivery of product to customers. Organization development is very much a task-oriented field. It provides its value through enhancing the achievement of organizational goals. That is the only reason for the existence of OD. It supports such achievement through improving how the people tasked with accomplishing those goals collectively go about their business. In that process, OD involves those who carry out said processes to determine how they might be improved. Such processes include those needed for high-level strategic planning, teaming between and among work units, and performance management.
A core OD process is inquiry. As I ask leaders and their groups to explain to me their business and what works and doesn’t work in how they get their work done, we discover the holes in their thinking and then we fill them in. In fact, our willful ignorance is our most important tool. As leaders—often after much collaborative, direct, bottom-line coaching from us—bring everyone together to share data, ideas and knowledge they discover—with the help of our deft facilitation—that they have collected enough good information to invent effective root-cause solutions. That is, of course, over-simplified, but still a generally accurate description of how OD works.
This description of how OD works points to what sets it apart from other consulting processes. For example, there is the subject-matter expert who can help solve a difficult engineering, marketing, or computer problem that the organization wants solved without the expense of hiring such expertise full-time. Then there is the “management consultant” firm (often of engineers or accountants) who will study the organization’s problems, then present their findings and “expert” recommendations in a report. Such solutions too often do not get implemented due to too little ownership of the solutions within the organization. Another reason they don’t get implemented is that such recommendations often deal only with the technical aspects of the situation at hand and only a little—or not at all—with the critical human process aspects. Also, people will implement solutions that they have invented and in which they, thereby, believe. The process of experts recommending solutions does not create enough buy-in for effective implementation. The implementation of solutions generated by those who have to implement them—assuring buy-in—is part and parcel of organization development.
So there you have it – our definition of Organization Development. Beautifully simple, isn’t it? In our next installment, we will look into why something so elegantly simple isn’t as easy as one might think.