Thursday, June 23, 2005

Ballet or Hockey?

Way back in the heyday of the TQM movement, Quality guru Phil Crosby talked about two kinds of organizations: Those that are like ballet, and those that are like ice hockey.

- Ballet organizations are very precise and elegant places where methodical procedures and processes ensure that every toe meets its mark on the stage.

- Hockey organizations are wild and crazy blurs where sticks and skates are flying in pursuit of the puck . . . and the goal.

In my travels, I haven't see any pure forms of such organizations. I have seen hybrids however! Yet, I think, underneath whatever the outward appearance is, all organizations are very much alike deep down . . . in certain respects.

All organizations are:

- Striving toward some goal(s) - Whether clearly visualized or not, whether intentional or not, each organization is headed somewhere.

- Trying to serve their customers - All organizations -- across the spectrum from private to public, from for-profit to non-profit -- have somebody that they exist to serve.

- Coping with growth - Whatever the age of an organization, unless if it is closing its doors for good, it will be dealing with growth issues. Growing an office, a market, a workforce. Or dealing with negative growth, aka downsizing.

- Living with constraints - There is never enough time, money or staff to address the myriad of things that need done.

- Challenged by quandaries - While some of the problems facing an organization will have an obvious solution or even a quick fix, many (if not most) of the problems are true quandaries, that is problems without any clear-cut solution.

- Grappling with inner demons - Just as an individual can have some form of mental illness, for example bi-polar disorder, an organization can have a "mental illness." Every organization has a history, a temperment, and skeletons in the closet.

- Reporting to a higher authority - All organizations have overseers such as regulators or a board of some kind that sits above, monitors what's going on, and expects periodic reports on the health of the organization.

- Endeavoring to get stuff done - Hopefully the right stuff...stuff that will serve the customer well and bring the organization closer to its goals.

This then is the arena where the OD practitioner does her work. She needs to keep all of this in mind as she operates in the organization.

The effective OD practitioner continually refines and expands her capabilities so that she is able to enter into any of the above and make a valued contribution.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The Nine Steps to Successful Organization Development - Reflecting at the Top of the Hill

After taking these nine steps, I feel like I am standing atop a hill. Surveying the landscape around me, I look back upon the nine steps to successful OD. Like birds taking off from the fields, a flock of additional ideas about OD are springing up.

Looks like this series is about to be continued!

The Soul of OD

One of the cool things about the field of organization development (or OD for short) is that people are always asking, So what is OD? and What do you do? Funny thing is, the folks in OD ask these questions too!

OD folks seem to be in a perpetual state of self-analysis and self-criticism (maybe even self-doubt). To me, I think it's healthy, because it keeps us on-our-toes and ready to explain what it is we can bring to the party.

At the ODNET discussion board, someone recently asked, what is the soul of OD? I love it. This is a typical OD question.

What do OD folk do? One person answered, We provide processes for helping people to do better. For me, that means helping people in organizations to think better, plan better, learn better, perform better, improve better, figure-stuff-out better, interact better, and collaborate better.

That is the soul of OD.
The Nine Steps to Successful Organization Development - Step 9

I knew when I started this nine-part series that the number 9 was an artificial thing. Truth is, success in OD probably entails 99 steps or 999 steps.

What matters most, I think, is to keep moving. The journey to being a successful OD practitioner is never-ending.

And the most important tool for the journey is learning.

Step 9 - Here We Are. Now What?

I am learning all the time:

- from my experiences
- from the people I meet, at work, at home, and elsewhere
- from reading
- from coursework
- from networking
- from online communities

Plus, I am learning from my experiments, from the risks I take, from the things I push myself to do that take me out of my comfort zone.

An example would be online tools for collaboration. I am not a technogeek. I can turn on my PC, use Outlook and Powerpoint, and do a search on Google, but that's about it for my level of proficiency. But despite my level of IT literacy, I have plunged into the world of netmeeting, social networks, discussion boards, blogging, and wikis. By shoving myself into this arena, not only have I learned something new, I have a better idea of how these tools can benefit the organizational clients I work with.

The successful OD practitioner is all about learning: their own learning, and the organizational learning that is vital to the health and success of their clients.

Where to from here?

Monday, June 20, 2005

The Nine Steps to Successful Organization Development - Step 8

My mother, who passed away in 1981, taught me that "Life is what you make it." I've always believed that, but until one day, I didn't fully get it.

Step 8 - Life is what you make it

We had been acquired. Along with all the others from my company, I was attending a required management seminar. The topic was leadership and change. The instructors were consultants, hired by the new owners, charged to shake us and wake us up to the new realities.

They were provoking us to think about the results we want to obtain in life. They were pushing us to think about who really determines the outcomes that we get in life, both at work and at home.

If life is truly what YOU make of it, then very few external things really influence your life. A tsunami, for example, such as the one that hit Indonesia last week, can overwhelmingly influence your life. You don't have any say-so in the face of a tidal wave.

Outside of uncontrollable things like that, the major influence on your life is You. Your attitude. Your actions. You control 99% of what happens. Or doesn't happen.

"Assuming it can't be done, limits what can be done" is quite true.

Earlier this year, I was reading a book called Flying Without Wings by Arnold R. Beisser (published in 1989 by Doubleday). He was a champion tennis player who became a quadraplegic at age 25. Despite the catastrophic misfortune that befell him, Beisser went on to a successful career as a clinical professor of psychiatry, as well as a consultant and noted author.

His story is about choice and personal power. As he struggled with the awful truth that he had lost everything that he had most valued, he finally realized that he still had life. And he still had a future. And that he could still choose.

As someone once said, "If you think you can't, you won't."

Sunday, June 19, 2005

The Nine Steps to Successful Organization Development - Step 7

In organizations, we look into the future and ask "What do we want to become, to achieve?" We call this process various things including strategic planning, annual performance objectives, goal setting, etc.

Organizations would do well to remember to "be careful what they wish for."

Step 7 - What Do You Wish For?

Some years ago, at a large chemicals company, I worked with a Quality director named Winston. We co-taught a problem solving course. A pleasant fellow from the South, he was a highly experienced Operations guy with many wise aphorisms, including the following: Every solution, no matter how elegant, generates a new set of problems.

He illustrated this with the visual image of a bathtub full of balloons. Push one balloon down at one end of the tub and a couple pop up someplace else.

I was struck by the truth of this saying. Problem solving isn't linear. It's not even a cycle. Just when you think you have the dilemma solved, and you implement the carefully evaluated solution, you now have a whole new set of problems on your hands.

I immediately incorporated this idea into the course. In the years since then, I have often thought of it and passed it on to others.

Reflecting on my years in various organizations, I witnessed (and was a part of) many attempts to improve things, to change things for the better:

Downsize. Quality. Excellence. Speed. Thrive on Chaos. Better, Faster, Cheaper. Rightsize. Do More With Less. Execution. Outsource. Offshoring.

I wonder how often the designers of those changes realized that each change they implemented would bring a whole new set of challenges. Or said to one another, "Be careful what you wish for."

Today is Father's Day here in the U.S. Until lately, I pretty much celebrated this day as a son. But since my dad passed away in 2003, and I turned 50 in January, I've started to come around to the notion that this day is for me.

This morning, when I went downstairs to put on the morning pot of coffee, I found a Father's Day card from my sons, saying, "Don't get old."

I suppose I always wanted to be the elder of the family, but now that I'm here, I guess it does pay to "be careful what you wish for."

Sunday, June 12, 2005

The Nine Steps to Successful Organization Development - Step 6

A few years ago there was a little book about innovation called "If It Aint Broke...Break It." For me, there was an exciting truth contained in this book: that breaking something doesn't kill it ("What does not kill me, makes me stronger."); rather, when we break something, it opens it up the possibility of transformation, as a butterfly must break out of the cocoon in order to fly.

Step 6 - What do you believe in?

I believe that we are broken. Brokenness is part of our human condition.

And not only that. I believe that we are gifted as well.

Taken together, like the yin and the yang, we have the whole of each person: their brokenness and their giftedness.

~~In our brokenness, we have wounds and weaknesses.

~~In our giftedness, we have talents and strengths.

Each person's life is the story of being both broken and gifted. How do I discover my gifts? How do I use them to reach my goals? How do I use them to better the lives of others?

What is the gift that comes hidden in the wounds that life inflicts on me?

What is the gift within the weakness that I carry?

How do I discover the gifts of others? How do I help them to discover their own gifts? To develop their gifts? To utilize their gifts?

Brokenness is integral to change. Change, by definition, entails breaking. Some wise sage once said, "If you want to make an omelet, you have to break a few eggs." This is why change is so hard to do, in particular organizational change. No one likes it. No one wants to be changed. Yet, in order to move on and grow and improve, we must change.

When we change, we have to break with the past, with the old familiar. We have to shed our skins. We have to disturb things. We have to upset the status quo and shake people up.

Brokenness is a strategy. As change agents, we are not exempt from the breakage. By virtue of being human, we ourselves are broken. And by virtue of the work we do, we break others.

In our "use of self," do we use our brokenness? Do we OD practitioners bring our brokenness to the table?

Though it is not fashionable these days in the business environment to openly share your spirituality, I do. It's a personal conviction. And one that informs my work as an OD guy.

As an OD practitioner, I often am in awe of the person sitting across from me. Whether a client, a customer, a boss, a subordinate or a colleague, I try to remind myself that they are special, both broken and gifted like me.

My approach is . . .
- to be welcoming
- to be receptive
- to empty myself
- to listen
- to be patient
- to appreciate their perspective
- to be thankful

To look for both the brokenness and the giftedness. And to value both.

Friday, June 10, 2005

The Nine Steps to Successful Organization Development - Pausing on the Steps

Before continuing on to Step 6, an interlude.

Since embarking on this series about OD, I am somewhat amazed (and pleased) at the feedback I have gotten so far. It has come from far and wide, including a CEO and another blogger in India!

Today, some comments rolled in from Jay, a friend of mine who found my blog and wrote me an e-mail. In part, he wrote:

"The humanness that you write about seems pretty interesting. How does human motivation fit into this? How about human behavior? It seems like humanness conceptualizes more than human nature ... perhaps humanness is human being (about being human).

"Is it fair to say that OD is fundamentally about helping people to know what they're doing and why? And/or that OD is about human relationships ... knowing what one is doing and why with respect to other(s)? It sounds like OD could be measured simply by asking people if they know and understand how they fit within the organization.

"You write that successful OD starts and ends with strategic thinking. Are you implying that OD is a process? Is there a middle in OD between the starts and ends?"

What a great response!

Yes, OD is about being human, about relationships, and about helping people.

Yes, OD is about knowing what you are doing and why.

Yes, OD is a process.

All this and a great deal more.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

The Nine Steps to Successful Organization Development - Step 5

In the last installment, I mentioned Professor Dave Davidson's theory of human nature: "Never assume that the next guy knows what he is doing...much less why."

Because that maxim has bedeviled me for the past 30 years, I will explore it some more in this entry and relate it to the practice of OD.

Step 5 - What Do You Make of This?

As a Communication theory guy, Dave Davidson was very into the work of Karl Weick. (See my previous blog entry on Weick , "A Weick on the Side of the Head.")

Among Weick's many contributions, his concept of sensemaking made a lot of sense to me. In a nutshell, sensemaking is the mental process of interpreting and constructing the reality around us. So defined, we are sensemaking pretty much all the time as we go about our daily lives. Most of the time, stuff makes sense to us. Sometimes, we find ourselves in challenging circumstances where we have to actively make sense of what is going on.

People spend a great deal of their waking life (and maybe also some of their dreaming life) in sensemaking. That is, endeavoring to put two and two together. Sometimes we get four. Sometimes we don't.

Sensemaking goes on at home, in a marriage, at a store, in a courtroom, in a lab, at a traffic intersection, even in a boardroom. Any place in life where we encounter the challenges, problems, dilemmas, decisions, and confusion of everyday living.

The writer E.M. Forster once said, "How can I know what I think until I see what I say?" Though years before Weick came along, this goes to the gist of sensemaking.

To make sense of stuff, we have to get feedback of some kind. Writers get feedback from the page in front of them. Sometimes we get feedback from others. Sometimes it's just from ourselves. For instance, at the store or doing the monthly bills, my mother used to do addition in the air with her finger. I would watch her and laugh. So would she. But it worked for her. And made sense.

In today's turbulent business world, sensemaking can mean survival. For example, right now the company I work for is in the throes of post-acquisition integration. The larger company that bought my employer is taking hold of everything and changing a great deal of how we do business.

My co-workers (and I) are faced with a constant stream of new faces, new demands, questions, and uncertainty. All the while, we are still trying to do our jobs.

Sensemaking comes into it at every juncture as we attempt to adjust our mental models from the old to the new. The old sensemaking model worked reliably. Hopefully the new model will jell. It will take time.

Effective OD practitioners are aware of and attuned to sensemaking. Especially in organizations undergoing change.

Furthermore, the successful OD practitioner herself is a sensemaker. Not in the sense of being an Answer Man. But one who recognizes that her clients are trying to make sense of things, and who is ready to help facilitate this sensemaking process.

Monday, June 06, 2005

The Nine Steps to Successful Organization Development - Part 4

At the ODNET discussion forum, there is an intriguing exchange going on about the fundamental concepts of OD. Some have suggested alignment; others have suggested context. All are correct. But none have suggested what I would put forward.

Part 4 - What's It all About, Alfie?

Organizations are created by people, inhabited by people, and destroyed by people. Organizations are human endeavors. Therefore, the fundamental concept of OD that I'd suggest would be humanness. (Is that a word?)

Humanness includes all that people bring with them when they come to work (or whatever organization they go to) each day:
- their hopes and dreams
- their fears and disappointments
- their goals and plans
- their strengths and gifts
- their weaknesses and wounds

Because OD work is about humanness, it pays for an OD practitioner to be an avid student of human nature. Human nature can be a very quirky thing.

A mentor of mine, Communication professor Dave Davidson, used to say: "Never assume the next guy knows what he is doing...much less why."

Hmmm. If people in organizations don't necessarily know what they are doing, much less why, then what the heck are they up to?

The effective OD practitioner is something of a sleuth, a Columbo, asking questions, examining assumptions, poking around, "playing dumb" in order to discover what is going on...and why.

Human nature is a vast subject area. One that we won't exhaust in this series. But I will return to it again in the next installment.