We’ve covered a lot of ground in the last few weeks, reviewing our definition of OD and some of the key characteristics of successful OD practitioners. There’s a lot to absorb, and there is a lot more to come!
If you would appreciate an opportunity to look at all of this from 30,000 feet and see how it all fits together into our three-dimensional meta-model that incorporates the levels of organizations OD practitioners work with, the stages of change processes, and the disciplines required for us to be successful working across the stages and the levels, please join me on Wednesday for a free 90-minute webinar. You can submit your questions and I will explain everything! Please click here for more information and to register!
This is the third in a series of blog posts on the subject of . In the first two, we looked at our definition of OD and the first of three aspects of that definition: What practitioners do. Now we will discuss the results practitioners are after.
Practitioners “collaborate with leaders and their groups.” For what purpose? OD is after “systemic change and root-cause problem-solving toward improving productivity and employee satisfaction.” This is the most powerful aspect of organization development. Systemic change focuses on the total organization or organizational unit to get at the root cause of organizational problems that stem from the relational dynamics among multiple issues.
Human systems are not like machines. When machines malfunction, the process of choice is to locate the malfunctioning component(s), then fix or replace them. In human systems, such faultfinding processes tend to promulgate more problems, rarely solutions. In human systems a “malfunctioning component” can only exist over time with the support and collusion of the rest of the system. Remove the “malfunctioning” person and colluding aspects of the system that are still in place will create the “malfunction” someplace else.
A leader, on noticing that her/his manufacturing area is delivering product consistently behind schedule, might blame the head of that area and ask for their resignation when the problem is related to the sales area under pressure to produce revenue, the engineering area under pressure to increase design quality, and the manufacturing area under a “zero defects” edict being in conflict over promises to clients, design specifications, and production time. All three area leaders are actually strong leaders of their respective units. The problem lies neither within their areas of their expertise, their units, nor their leadership. It lies in the area of their ability to solve problems with each other when their leader is managing them individually. Their collective problem lies within the “system” of their human dynamics. A root-cause analysis can only occur when all four are in the same room to solve a “delivery problem” that belongs to them all.
When a leader suggests to us a single-point solution (such as, “please train my supervisors”), I respond with something like… “I see what you’re after. It would probably be a good idea to find out what’s going on that has so many of your supervisors demonstrating poor management skills. Things like poor hiring practices and poor accountability management are often behind such problems. If we can get at the root causes the problem will go away forever. What do you think?” The leader now has a broader perspective from which to begin to create a broader solution, rather than one that not only may create other problems but won’t solve the initial issue.
OD solutions improve productivity and employee satisfaction in a couple of ways. One is that it can help minimize the waste of productivity caused by miscommunications, misunderstandings, contention, hostility, turf-battles, and other forms of power struggles. Just ending such waste would improve productivity and morale a minimum of twenty-five percent. Another twenty-five percent can be gained through improving the amount of teamwork, creativity, and synergy generated throughout the organization. Just how all this can happen will be explored throughout the chapters of this book.
Many who call themselves OD practitioners only want to focus on the human relations aspects, the employee satisfaction aspects of OD. Then there is another group of practitioners who are bottom-line oriented to the exclusion of employee satisfaction. Neither recognizes that bottom-line productivity and employee satisfaction are systemically related. To deal with either to the exclusion of the other is to risk losing both.
The systemic orientation of organization development practitioners can provide solutions to even the perennial problems that many organizations have become accustomed—like meetings that waste time, conflicts between departments, and too much turn-over. That’s powerful!
Next time we will look at the third part of our definition of OD: How it works.
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!
This is the first in a series of blog posts on the subject of , and is the product of decades in the field. Just the title raises
There are many definitions of organization development (fondly known as OD by those who are familiar with it). Most, however, are too abstract or vague to be of much use in understanding just what an OD practitioner does. Too often OD is thought of as “soft” or “touchy-feely” which pejoratively seems to have something to do getting too emotional or sentimental. Or, it’s the latest jargon for team building, retreat facilitation, or training—all of which are a part of OD, none of which are OD. So here is our definition based on what has worked in our experience with 100+ clients and too many students to count.
Organization Development: 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.
What we like about this definition is that it offers the essence of (1) what practitioners do, (2) the results they are after, and (3) how it works. These three items can also help us understand and explain several critical aspects of organization development, and we will explore them further in our next posts.