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!”
Learn to Make a Difference in the World of People, Teams, and Organizations http://bit.ly/zFCNfv
I’ve been thinking about how to formulate with sufficient detail to be useable and in a temporally logical manner, the things that the top OD folks think about as they move from the beginning of an OD project to its end. The problem, of course, is that each step requires the personal judgment needed to move a step from number 3 to 9 or step 12 to 5. Most steps will need to be repeated over and over as the process unfolds anyway.
I’m offering a loose recipe that will always require your own tweaks, modifications, and embellishments. It’s stuff worth thinking about for those who want to increase their ability to manage change in human systems.
Go to http://www.chumans.com/human-systems-resources/process-of-od.html for the document.
Let me know what you would add, change, or subtract from the list that would make it more useful! I’d really like that!
In our previous post, we discussed our Meta-Model of Planned Change, a three-dimensional matrix that describes the traditional model of organization development (including the stages of the planned change process and the levels of human systems) and the disciplines of critical thinking. In this post and the one following we will look at the stages of the organization development process, beginning with Contracting and Re-contracting and Data Gathering.
The Stages of The Organization Development Process
The stages of contracting and re-contracting, data gathering, action, evaluation, and disengagement represent the basic structure of OD. They are not our formulation, but are basic to the field. They are not discrete. They overlap. They are iterative. They often must be orchestrated simultaneously. Each can trigger the need for another. Data-gathering, intervention, evaluation, and disengagement can all lead to re-contracting. All are interventions that can have system-wide impact and which can generate new data and lead, again, to re-contracting. Any stage can lead to any other stage. For the sake of presentation, the order presented is generic as if all things were equal and ideal, but they never are in human systems.
Contracting and Re-contracting
Contracting is a negotiated process for coming to agreement. We make agreements all the time. Some are implicit. A few are explicit. Many are vague. Occasionally, they are specific. The process of OD works toward contracts that are explicit, specific, and that have the potential for all parties to the contract to arrive at some significant level of satisfaction.
OD-type contracting is the process of coming to consensual agreement with the person or persons who are key to the success of a change project. If an OD practitioner is involved there must be a contract with the organization’s leader. The leader (with the support of the practitioner if there is one) must contract for change with those who are key to facilitating and implementing the change. This process of contracting for mutual satisfaction is core to the process of effective organization development.
Effective contracting clarifies goals, roles, basic strategies, relationship values, and the next steps of a change project. Of course, as a project moves forward new information is uncovered requiring re-negotiation of the initial contract and subsequent contracts. Contracting and re-contracting are dynamic, on-going processes that move with the movement of the project.
Once the initial contract has been established, the prudent change agent insists on a data-gathering stage. This process serves several purposes:
- It provides needed information for the effective planning of further Change Actions.
- It galvanizes organizational energy in preparation for “something happening.”
- It provides an opportunity for some initial empowerment coaching of those from whom data is gathered.
Data should be gathered about the following:
- What’s working in the targeted system?
- What needs improvement within the system?
- What has been done to attempt improvement?
- What barriers occurred to such attempts?
- Reactions to the change goals and reasons for them.
The information being sought is the general themes and patterns extant about the state of the system and its readiness for a particular change goal. This data will direct the formation of the strategic and tactical plans for the change project. From this data, needs of the system which could act as resistance to the change need to be considered in their own right and can be planned for and engaged.
This is not the only time that data will be gathered during a change project. The data gathering process is continual, as we will discuss under the discipline of Sound and Current Data.
Next Up: We will look at the stages of Intervention, Evaluation, and Disengagement.
OD Practitioners “collaborate with leaders and their groups.” Two key words here: “collaborate” and “leaders.” OD starts from the top of an organization or organizational unit—its leader. Working together—albeit collaboratively—the practitioner and the leader come to agreement about the change goals of the project, the basic strategies to be used, and other important perspectives that will be explored when we discuss Contracting and Re-contracting.
Many potential users of OD have the notion that we will fix whatever their issue is for them. After all, we are “the experts.” And, we are experts! We are experts who understand how to create and facilitate the human processes that drive all organizational work regardless of how automated that work may be.
A core element of those human processes is, of course, the leader her or him self. Accordingly, the work of OD calls for the leader to lead the project, not the OD practitioner. We do work in partnership with the leader to facilitate effective goal identification, and problem-solving processes toward root-cause solutions. In other words we collaborate with leaders and their groups to identify and solve their own problems. We work from the perspective of the Chinese maxim, “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him how to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.” In the world of OD, leaders lead their own projects in collaboration with OD practitioners as designers and facilitators of the human processes involved.
Maintaining these roles (client as project leader and practitioner as process consultant and facilitator) can be problematic. Practitioners have been known to acquiesce to leader requests to take over project leadership. Practitioners have been known to take project leadership from acquiescing clients. Both are risky as the leader becomes a bystander and practitioner carries both roles. Even if the project is successful on it face, future successes become uncertain as a key success factor (the practitioner) moves on to other projects. To combat such happenstances, leader and practitioner must distinguish the two roles during their initial contracting. Both, then, must recontract whenever necessary to reestablish the appropriate roles. This is not to say that the practitioner cannot lead some aspects of the OD project such as leading a conflict management portion of a team-building session. Still, that should only be done to demonstrate how it can be done so that the leader can do his or herself at later opportunities.
We will address the rest of our definition of OD—the results OD is after and how OD works—in the next two blog posts. Stay tuned!