Saturday, October 30, 2010

HR and OD - What Does the Future Hold?

Over five years ago, I published a blog entry, on the relationship between HR and OD, that has consistently been one of the most read posts on Here We Are. Now What?

Now the OD Network has released the latest issue of OD Practitioner devoted to the same topic. While my copy has not come in the mail yet, I've heard it has a great line-up including Ed Schein, Matt Minihan, and Dave Hanna.

So in view of this resurgent interest, I thought I should re-publish my take from 2005, plus add some current thoughts at the end. Enjoy.

Why HR and OD Don't Get Along

There is an article in the current issue of Fast Company magazine, called "Why We Hate HR," that is getting a lot of discussion at places like ODNET and HRNET. I have even weighed in a bit at those two discussions.

In this blog entry, however, I am going to look at a different angle, the relationship between HR and OD.

HR and OD are related functions in many organizations, where both are concerned about critical people processes. Sometimes they get along fine; but at other times, they eye each other with suspicion. Why is it that HR and OD don't get along sometimes?

Although quite often they have a common reporting structure (e.g. to the VP of HR), they often have different areas of focus. HR tends to focus on short-term tactical people processes such as recruiting, benefits, salary structure, policy, pay, and performance reviews. OD tends to focus on longer-term strategic people processes such as training, development, leadership, succession, mission, vision, and values.

HR's purpose leans toward organizational maintenance, while OD's leans toward organizational performance and renewal.

In the best of situations, the two functions find areas of commonality, where working together, collaboration, and creativity can surface and be applied to needs of the business.

Sometimes, however, there can be trouble. Because practical HR is more here-and-now, and visionary OD is more there-and-then, there can be misconceptions and misunderstandings. HR can view OD as fuzzy and "in the air." OD can view HR as unimaginative and plodding.

There can also be turf issues if one group strays into an area that the other group feels it owns. For example, performance management. OD stakes a claim because of the link to organizational performance and competencies, while HR stakes a claim because of the link to merit and bonus pay.

Like a married couple, each brings its own personality to the relationship. Hopefully the union will last. May it be a long and fruitful one! As long as each party can adapt to the needs of the other, appreciate the other's gifts, and adjust to the differences of the other, HR and OD should have a nice long run.

Added Thoughts in October 2010:

So here we are five years later. What's new? A lot.

For one thing, we now have a brand new HR buzzword, Talent Management. Take a look at any OD job opening and check out the reporting structure and the duties. OD is still reporting to HR and is now focused on talent management, succession management, and performance management. Don't get me wrong, however. It's nice work, if you can get it, especially in this economy.

Another new development, Coaching. The field of executive coaching has exploded, with books, consultants, schools, and certifications (carrying hefty price tags). HR people have always been internal coaches, meeting with their clients one-on-one to advise and guide, often through treacherous employee relations and organizational dilemmas.

One more, Employee Engagement. Of the three new developments I've singled out, this one may be the most controversial. Academics look upon it with disdain, while consultants have been running with it. Unfortunately, inside of organizations, neither HR nor OD has embraced it in a big way. Interestingly, business leaders and Corporate Communications have had no trouble "getting it" at all: a highly engaged workforce is happier, more productive, more innovative, and better at taking care of customers. The proof is in the financials.

Bottom line: A lot is new. And that means new opportunities to do exciting and meaningful work for both HR and OD.

Added Thought re What Does the Future Hold?

I'm adding this coda on October 31 because I had to wrap up the above and head out to a Halloween party last night.

Thinking about the future for HR and OD, a couple thoughts...

In both HR and OD, many have been thinking about what it means to play a strategic role and "have a seat at the table" with the CEO and other senior leaders in the organization. In HR, the rise of Talent Management has become the answer. I'd strongly recommend that HR also embrace Employee Engagement, in partnership with OD and Corporate Communications.

In OD, many are continuing the soul-searching effort to connect with the essence of the field. Some see the rise of coaching as a distraction, perhaps even a "wrong turn," away from the true core. But what is that true heart of OD? There are different perspectives to be sure. One that feels, at least to me, like the "real thing" is represented by OD consultant Roland Sullivan who, for over five years, has been diligently working with OD figures in Asia to help build the Asia OD Network.

For Sullivan, OD isn't really OD unless the practitioner is working on the whole system, with the intention of transformation.

With this view of OD catching fire in India and other parts of Asia, I would expect it to rise in the coming years as a dominant force in the field of Organization Development. Maybe it will help change our world for the better...

Posted by Terrence Seamon on October 30, 2010. For more ideas on HR, OD, talent, coaching, engagement, and change, invite Terry into your organization.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Falling and Rising

Did you ever have the great pleasure of observing a baby learning to walk? Though she falls many times, she rises, going right back, trying, striving over and over until, on staggering legs, she takes that first step. Whoever has witnessed a baby's triumph knows the joy of that moment.

Learning to walk, you might say, is the first task we undertake. Our first job. It is filled with set-backs as the performer tries and falls, over and over.

For me, this human process, one that happens the world over every day in every land, is a paradigm of the meaning of work in our lives. What if we applied this paradigm to organizations? Would workplaces become more human?

Throughout our lives, we strive toward deeply felt aspirations, ones that we instinctively know in our bones. We fall, many times, but after every fall, we rise. We rise and continue to strive. Until we make it.

But there is one more vital component in this process: loving support. In the baby example, the parent watches closely. Knowing that falling is part of the process, the parent intervenes if necessary to prevent accidents and injuries. The parent exudes positive vibes and rejoices in incremental progress, and proudly tells the world the good news when the first step is taken.

With such loving support, the person never loses heart when she falls, never feels badly about herself, because the feedback she receives is always encouraging, never punishing.

Imagine applying this approach to the job of supervisor. Imagine if the job were to watch, support, praise, and love the performer. Like a parent, the supervisor knows that the falling and rising are natural, expected. That work involves learning and that growth can happen in the right kind of environment.

What other elements can be gleaned from this? Effective supervisors, like effective parents, do a few other basic things very well, including;

Set Expectations: "You can do it" is one of the earliest phrases of encouragement that we hear. In organizations, there are many expectations that must be met each day. And they can be met, and even exceeded, in a "You can do it" culture.

Teach: "Let me show you" and "Try it like this" are some of the earliest phrases of instruction that we hear. In organizations, there are coachable moments happening every day where attentive instructors can step in and shape performance.

Engage: "What are your thoughts?" and "How would you handle this?" are examples of ways that we invite engagement, facilitating full participation in the purpose of the organization.

Pull Up: Sometimes people stray, drop the ball, and let others down. When that happens, we often feel angry with them. But who among us can "cast the first stone?" If we are honest, we have all been there. In the workplace we are imagining, the response to someone who falls short of our expectations is to pull them up. To offer help. To let them know they have value. And to give them another chance.

Yes, this vision of the workplace is markedly different from what's out there. But, you may wonder, are there any organizations like this?

I recently had the opportunity to consult to an organization in Newark, NJ, that, for forty years, has been striving to operate with just such a culture. Are they perfect? They know they have much to do to match their stated values. That's why they asked me to visit. But their values are vitally important to them. It's who they are as an entity. So they have chosen to face themselves head on and work at improving each day.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.”

Falling and rising. It's the human condition. It's life. Let's learn from it. And use the wisdom in our workplaces.

Posted by Terrence Seamon on October 24. For more information about culture, supervision, coaching, and developing others, invite Terry to speak at your organization.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Listen, the Key to Engaging Others

6 months ago on linkedIn, Ayesha Habeeb asked, "What is the one thing you need to do to keep employees motivated and engaged?"

The one thing is Listen.

L = Lead by listening to employees and learning from them.

I = Invite employees to say their piece of the wisdom regarding improving their work process...and how to make the company great.

S = Stopping what you are doing so you can be attentive to them.

T = Taking notes on their ideas...and then taking action, doing something with what you heard.

E = Empowering them to implement the best ideas.

N = Never stop focusing on employees and what they need.

If you are a leader, you probably want to motivate people, to solve problems, and to better serve the customer. The key? Listen to your people.

Last week, on an episode of the TV show Undercover Boss, CEO Bryan Bedford of Frontier Airlines, demonstrated the power of listening as he spent a week inside his company's operation, listening to front-line employees. He got "down and dirty" while undercover, handling baggage, refreshing planes, cleaning toilets, and even emptying human waste. And at each station, he took time to listen to the employees that were supervising and training him.

Bedford said: "I learned that we’re not doing a particularly effective job as a management team communicating with our employees. There’s a lot of stuff that we’re broadcasting, but as a management team we’re not doing a particularly effective job of listening to them. And if we are listening to them, they don’t sense it. Realizing their belief that we’re not effective enough in our communications strategies, that was very concerning to me."

Listening is an act of leadership.

Posted by Terrence Seamon on October 21, 2010. For more tips on ways that effective communication can boost employee engagement, invite Terry to your organization to speak to your managers.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Change: It Can Break Your Heart

Yesterday, for more than an hour, I watched a team of tree cutters in my backyard, taking down a 200 year old swamp maple. Like an acrobat, the guy in the tree, working closely with his team on the ground, took branch by branch, until only a stump remained.

My wife and I are sad about the destruction of a tree we had come to know for over 20 years. We knew the tree was old and that it wasn't well. We once had a tree whisperer visit our yard. He looked at it and said, "It's old. And mostly dead. But it will still give off branches and leaves each year. Until it falls down."

So, our neighbor decided to reduce the risk of the old maple toppling over on his house.

It was the right thing to do. Although the tree had been here longer than anyone in my town, dating back to post-colonial times -- an historic tree, you might say -- it was time. The tree had become a worry. And a hazard. What if it fell in a storm and took out a fence or a back porch...or a person?

Sometimes change is necessary, even though it breaks your heart.

Posted by Terrence Seamon on October 20, 2010. For more info on change and leadership, invite Terry to your organization to speak with your managers.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Power of HOPE

Imagine being buried alive under tons of rock, half a mile below the surface of the earth. That's the situation that the Chilean miners found themselves in. But 70 days later, the Miracle in the Mine happened: all 33 were rescued, in a flawless operation, shown on live TV, broadcast to billions around the world!

Their story proves the power of HOPE:

- Help each other - These rough and ready men realized that they had to support one another if there was any hope of survival.

- Optimistic Outlook - Though, for the first couple weeks, the outside world thought the men were lost, the miners stayed positive. Miner Mario Sepulveda said: "I have been with God and I've been with the devil. I fought between the two. I seized the hand of God, it was the best hand. I always knew God would get us out of there." Whether faith in God, or the thought of seeing a spouse or child again, they found a lifeline, a way to hold on and maintain a hopeful outlook despite their predicament.

- Play a part on the team - They organized themselves into a team, establishing roles and routines that gave them a way to go on living even in the bleakest of situations.

- Energize each other - They took care of one another as best they could, body, mind, and spirit, so that when the rescuers came, they would have the energy to make the passage to the surface and be reunited with their loved ones again.

Watching the rescues, man by man, hour by hour, yesterday, was a moving experience. As one pundit said, it was "the mother of all reality TV shows." And it showed how horribly shallow most TV programming really is. Yet when news teams cover a story like this, you can almost feel the entire world pulling together, sending prayers and positive vibes to the site in Chile.

"Once you choose hope, anything is possible." ~ Christopher Reeve

Posted by Terrence Seamon on October 14, 2010. For more ideas on dealing with adversity, change, and teamwork, invite Terry to speak to your organization.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Making Sense of Change

Sometimes things happen in life that leave us devastated. Losing a job, for example. Or losing a loved one. These sudden and drastic changes cause our life structure to disintegrate, leaving us perplexed and gasping for understanding, wondering Why this has happened to us.

As an organizational change consultant, one of my chief influences is the social psychologist Karl Weick who coined the term sensemaking. Making sense of our life experience is a core human activity. We are doing it all the time, but barely notice it. Except for times when things change dramatically.

For example, in the personal realm, look at the loss of a loved one. You spend months dwelling on why it happened. Trying to make sense out of it. But you really never can. Hopefully you subscribe to a belief system (e.g. a religion or a non-religion) that helps you to categorize the loss. So you can move on. And get on with your life.

In the white-water of today's change-filled organizations, sensemaking is in overdrive, as people focus on Me Issues (e.g. What will happen to me?) and dwell upon their worst fears. During change, uncertainty causes stress to rise, and the drain on engagement and productivity can be felt.

What can leaders do?

From a leadership standpoint, when an organization is undergoing change, leaders must recognize the need to help make sense of things, first for themselves and then for others. People want to know: What is changing? Why is it changing? What will it mean to us on a day-to-day basis? How will things here at our company be different once the change is accomplished? How long will this take?

Leaders of change would do well to listen to these deeply felt questions. People are trying to make sense out of what's happening. Empathy and patient communication will go a long way in helping others.

As the change starts to make some sense to us, we can start to accept it and begin the process of re-integration. As Victor Frankl once said, "When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves."

Posted by Terrence Seamon on October 6, 2010. for more tips on change, sensemaking, and leadership visit Terry's website and invite him to speak to your managers.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

On Natural and Un-Natural Change

These days, many are wondering about change. In the natural world, there's global climate change. In the political world, there's Obama's progressive agenda dubbed "Change you can believe in."

The Roman emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius said: "We shrink from change. Yet is there anything that can come into being without it?"

For me, change is life itself. We live with change (e.g. getting older, losing a loved one etc) and we make change in our lives (e.g. moving out of our parents' house and getting an apartment, changing jobs, etc). With wisdom, we come to understand the natural role of change, our feelings about change, and the need to initiate change at times.

Change management professionals would do well to have a baby. (Or, if a baby is too dramatic, get a puppy. Puppies would be a close second to a baby.)

Having a baby says it all about change. They change your life. And you need to adapt. You now have a little life that you are responsible for. It's scary. It's wonderful. It calls upon our strengths. It teaches us to learn, react, and improvise. And it beckons us into uncharted waters.

Yet, as the emperor once said, we shrink from change. There's something scary about change, something in change that we fear.

As a wise sage once said, "If you want to make an omelet, you have to break a few eggs." Change by its nature entails breakage.

In business organizations, most large scale change projects fail. There is something un-natural about the changes that we sometimes force upon organizations, I think.

Some say it's an either/or proposition: Change or stagnate. Change or die.

I wonder if this Either/Or thinking is part of our problem?

I wonder if there is a process of "natural change" in business too. Just like the seasons change in nature.

Maybe our hyped focus on "driving change" is the problem. Maybe if we just did what we need to do, we would learn, adapt, and improvise...and things would change naturally.

The Irish social philosopher Charles Handy has said that the secret to business success is quite simple: "Do your best, with what you are best at, for the good of others."

Posted by Terrence Seamon on October 3, 2010. For more on change, adaptation, and learning in organizations, visit Terry's website and invite him to your organization.