We design and implement various actions and events to create critical mass for some goal. In some fashion the system and the people in it will respond to those actions and events. Those responses—verbal and otherwise—are feedback that tells us if we have moved toward critical mass (positive feedback) or away from our goal (negative feedback). To be effective we must pay attention to and learn from this feedback to correct our course, if need be, or to hold steady.
In this vein, feedback is a data-gathering process. Such data can be gathered in several ways. Asking for feedback regarding the effectiveness of some event might be done with consensus checks that will tell you how close or how far you are from the needed agreement. I have worked with organization leaders who want to bring a discussion to closure about some action by asking if everyone agrees. When greeted with silence, I’ve heard the leader say, “OK, I’m taking your silence as consent to be disappointed when the requisite follow-through does not occur.” That silence might have been better interpreted as feedback indicating the possibility of concern regarding the proposal. Accordingly, the lack of follow-through might be seen as feedback indicating an insufficient critical mass.
The more important a project is the more important it is to gather, pay attention to, and understand all available feedback. Failing to do so easily leads to unnecessary do-overs and wasted time, energy, and money. Use a rigorous consensus checking process to be sure you have the buy-in needed or to further action that might better move you toward the critical mass of support needed.
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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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!
This is the second of two posts that look at the stages of the organization development process. The first post discussed Contracting and Re-contracting and Data Gathering; now we will look at the other three stages: Intervention, Evaluation and Disengagement. Bear in mind, however, that the stages are not discrete. They overlap. They are iterative. They often must be orchestrated simultaneously. Each can trigger the need for another.
Implicit in the idea of the empowerability of human systems is the assumption that through improving relationships within the system the leaders and members of the system can begin to identify and resolve their own issues and, in the process, create whatever change they wish. This could mean improving the relationships and resolving conflicts between system structures, between groups, and between individuals. At the intrapersonal level, some change action is often needed to help resolve the internal conflicts that bedevil many system executives and managers.
Interventions, then—as a stage in the total change process—are those actions designed to improve relationships within the target system on behalf of opening communication and developing more informed and inclusive decision-making processes. Interventions include, in their various forms, feedback to the system, team-building, strategic planning, training, conflict management, and coaching.
Two important skills needed to design and carry out these interventions include group facilitation and conflict management. Those two skill sets require deep use of our listening and straight-talk capacities. A systems orientation wherein we act from a perspective that keeps in mind impact on the entire system is essential. Of course, the ability to use ourselves flexibly and congruently with any particular situation is fundamental. Use of self and a system orientation are notable as the first two change management disciplines described in the sections below.
As much an ongoing process as a specific stage, the Evaluation stage informs the change agent and the system about the results the change project or specific change actions have had. In essence, evaluation is a feedback-based data-gathering process—feedback which will give the change leaders critical information about how the system has responded to a change action and how they might design the next action to be more effective. This concept is notably different from the use of feedback as a means—generally, ineffective—of getting someone to change. Feedback is more useful as a means of determining the quality of relationship that has or has not been stimulated by a particular change action. Feedback is essentially an evaluation process that can also be used to gather data about what can make a more effective next change action.
Evaluative processes can be as simple as asking someone or a group how well something worked and what might work better next time. More formal group processes can take a form where everyone takes a turn responding to an evaluative question (such as, what did you learn about managing change this weekend?). System-wide evaluations might be done at the end of a change project and at periodic intervals after that to see how much staying power some systemic change might have. It is a good idea to have evaluative feedback processes built into a system’s ongoing routine to monitor the specific and general wellbeing of that system.
Little discussed in the change management literature is the process of completing or ending a change project. A typical disengagement process for the participants in the change project might include a closing evaluation session, statements of learnings gleaned from the project, and celebration of whatever success was achieved.
In addition, the change leaders—task leader(s) and process facilitator(s)—should get together to formally agree that the project is completed or otherwise at an end. Additional and more personal feedback might be shared in this meeting about what worked well, what worked less well, and what might be done differently in a future project. Some celebration would certainly be in order.
Appropriate closure and disengagement allow the system and the people in it to learn from their experience in the project and to let go of what has been completed to move effectively on to whatever is next.
Next we will look at the levels of organizational systems across which the stages are applied.
This cutting edge article has been moved to http://www.chumans.com/human-systems-resources/critical-interventions.html.
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