Organization Development – 3.1 The quality and use of action plans

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3.     Action Planning – The End of the Beginning

Introduction

The content of this section is largely based on the experience of the author and the reflections of fellow OD practitioners.  They are included to encourage further reflection – an essential part of Continuing Professional Development for the OD practitioner.

3.1    The quality and use of action plans

It is essential that the action plans that are developed during an OD intervention contain SMARTER objectives at all levels (Specific, Measurable, Agreed, Realistic, Timely, Evaluated and Revised when necessary).

It may take the novice practitioner by surprise to find that the action planning stage of an OD intervention is often accompanied by anxiety and negative reactions.  Potential contributors here include:

  • The client’s realization of the amount of time required to bring about change;
  • The tendency to attempt to address all of the issues that have arisen during the data gathering, analysis and problem-solving stages;
  • The emotional ‘rebound’ that follows the enthusiasm associated with ‘seeing the light’ and having worked through difficult issues.

During this phase, the practitioner must ensure s/he is not part of the problem!  It is essential to ask:

  • Am I getting caught up in the ‘spirit of the moment’?
  • Do I believe the group can deal effectively with all the surfaced issues during the timeframe set?

Beyond this, there are actions the practitioner can take to reduce anxiety and negative reactions.  These include:

  • Allowing a cooling-off period between analysis and solution to ensure a degree of realism that might otherwise be over-ridden;
  • Reminding the group that there will be the usual competition for their time when they return back to their normal working environment;
  • Offering own experience and opinions if it is felt that plans are of questionable quality and feasibility.

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Organization Development 2.4 – Overcoming failure patterns

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2.4    Overcoming Failure Patterns

As alluded to in earlier comments, many OD efforts achieve limited or no success due to organizational or managerial circumstances.  In addition, certain types of practitioner behaviour may precipitate the breakdown of an OD effort.  These behaviours include failing to …

  • Obtain and work through a contract (applicable to both external and internal practitioners);
  • Establish specific goals for efforts and interventions;
  • Demonstrate sufficient courage to confront the organization and key managers in particular;
  • Be willing to try something new;
  • Determine the identity of the real client;
  • Work with real organizational needs;
  • Develop viable options;
  • Work with the organization as it is rather than as the practitioner would like it to be;
  • Measure or evaluate OD activities;
  • Plan for and avoid managerial abdication;
  • Solve problems (by becoming involved in ‘quick fixes’);
  • Specify both short- and long-term goals for the effort;
  • Be honest about what needs to be done and why;
  • Determine whose needs are being met;
  • Plan for and build toward the client managers’ ownership of the OD effort.

In reviewing these behaviours, a practitioner might feel overwhelmed or discouraged.  However, simply being aware that certain negative behavioural patterns are potentially damaging to OD efforts can help a practitioner to avoid such behaviours.  In addition, the practitioner who conscientiously attends to the following activities may have greater success in overcoming failure patterns.

Activity 1:  Building a strategy

As discussed earlier (Section 2.1), one of the practitioner’s primary responsibilities is to formulate a strategy.  The systematic building of a strategy for specific activities and projects protects against failure by forcing the practitioner to consider and deal with such issues as developing a contract, establishing goals for the entire project and related interventions, and avoiding ‘quick fixes.’  In fact, a comprehensive strategy focuses attention on each of the failure patterns.

Activity 2:  Establishing a flow diagram of activities

Another practice that forces consideration of the issues involved in failure patterns is establishing a flow diagram covering all activities of the OD effort.  A flow diagram provides an illustration of the ways in which the various interventions tie together and build on each other, the perceptions of the practitioner and the client personnel regarding progress at various points, and aspects related to the critical question of timings.

Activity 3:  Engaging in joint planning with prospective clients

During proposal development and prior to the launching of a long-term effort, the practitioner should engage in joint planning with the prospective client.  Without sufficient joint planning and exploration, the practitioner tends to proceed with a high risk of falling into at least one, if not several, of the failure patterns.

Activity 4:  Incorporating review and evaluation sessions

Of great help in avoiding failure patterns is the practice of incorporating into a contract a provision for periodic review and evaluation sessions.  Such a meeting allows the practitioner and appropriate organizational participants and managers to examine the immediate activity and to ask such questions as the following:

  • Are we on track?
  • Are the expected results materializing?
  • What feelings are we experiencing about our working relationship?
  • What modifications or changes need to be made?
  • Are any failure patterns beginning to appear in the project?  If so, what can we do to eliminate them?

Activity 5:  Using consulting teams

Directly or indirectly involving one or more fellow professionals enables the practitioner to be more aware of, and sensitive to, potential failure patterns.  Such involvement generates more analysis, the sharing of different perceptions, the use of more specialized skills and experience in given interventions, increased feedback and constructive confrontation.

Activity 6:  Participating in OD activities

Frequently, practitioners attempt to guide clients through OD activities that they themselves have not experienced as participants.  Being a ‘disinterested observer’ does not allow the practitioner to experience the dynamics and feelings of the ‘owner.’  Firsthand experience can be invaluable in planning OD activities for others.

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Organization Development – 2.3 Selecting an approach

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2.3    Selecting an Approach

After building a strategy and considering organizational dynamics, the practitioner is ready to select an approach for initiating the effort.  Several options exist, and combinations of these options may be appropriate in some situations.  Each option has, of course, certain advantages and disadvantages.

Option 1:  Selection of a winner

With this approach the practitioner selects a project that is associated with a high probability of success and little chance of failure.

Advantages

  • Low risk for the practitioner as well as the organization;
  • A potentially high, quick return;
  • The opening of doors to other opportunities as a result of early success.

Disadvantages

  • The practitioner may be perceived as simply being in the right place at the right time rather than as working diligently on the organization’s behalf;
  • The problems addressed by the project may be seen as minor or of relatively little impact;
  • Those involved in the project may be perceived as special or as ‘different’ from the rest of the employees.

Option 2:  Use of a power play

This approach involves starting with the most influential and powerful group in the organization.  A suitable project might be a team-building activity conducted with the manager of this group and his or her staff.

Advantages

  • A high potential for change because of the target group’s power to implement the change;
  • A high return or impact attributable to the group’s control over numerous variables;
  • The fact that if the project is successful, the practitioner gains a great deal of credibility, as does the OD process.

Disadvantages

  • This approach may make an overly powerful group even more so, thereby threatening the rest of the organization;
  • The practitioner may be seen as part of the organization’s power structure;
  • If such a project fails, there is high risk to the organization and to the future of other OD projects.

Option 3:  Limitation through a pilot project

In using this approach the practitioner proposes and gains acceptance for completing a project that is limited to one or two areas of the organization.  Examples include a job-development project accomplished in one department or a team-skills workshop conducted for a particular level within the organization.

Advantages

  • It is often more acceptable to key managers than a large-scale effort;
  • Its limitation in scope affords greater manageability;
  • It gives the practitioner an opportunity to demonstrate what can be done;
  • If the initial effort is successful, the practitioner will find it easier to intervene in other parts of the organization on the strength of this success.

Disadvantages

  • Such a project may be seen as successful only because it is ‘special’;
  • It may be rejected on the basis that it is threatening to the rest of the organization;
  • Further intervention may become difficult due to scepticism about activities that were ‘not invented here.’

Option 4:  Concentrating on a business problem

With this approach an attempt is made to concentrate on attacking an acknowledged business problem such as turnover, absenteeism, poor quality, high waste or deteriorating relationships.  An example of such a project might be the use of problem-solving groups to improve service quality.

Advantages

  • The effort is perceived as legitimate because it is directed toward an acknowledged problem;
  • As with the pilot-project approach, the chance for success is enhanced because the effort is limited in scope;
  • If such a problem is successfully resolved, everyone benefits;
  • The organization gains a solution to the problem, and both the practitioner and OD itself gain credibility.

Disadvantages

  • Success may be limited because of the many variables that influence business problems;
  • The organization’s personnel may be impatient with the time required to obtain visible results;
  • If the project is unsuccessful, the practitioner may lose the opportunity to gain entry into other parts of the organization.

Option 5:  Control through action research

In this situation the practitioner institutes a controlled experiment in which some aspect of the organization is changed and the impact is then monitored and evaluated.  This type of activity is similar to the pilot project, but it is generally even more tightly controlled and limited in scope.

Advantages

  • It is often more acceptable to key managers than a large-scale effort;
  • Its limitation in scope affords greater manageability;
  • It gives the practitioner an opportunity to demonstrate what can be done;
  • If the initial effort is successful, the practitioner will find it easier to intervene in other parts of the organization on the strength of this success.

Disadvantages

  • Such a project may be seen as successful only because it is ‘special’;
  • It may be rejected on the basis that it is threatening to the rest of the organization;
  • Further intervention may become difficult due to scepticism about activities that were ‘not invented here’;
  • The practitioner may be viewed as a ‘researcher’ who is separated from the mainstream of the organization.

Option 6:  Reduction of organizational pain

This approach is similar to concentration on a business problem except that ‘pain’ is defined more broadly than is ‘problem.’  Organizational pain might include poor decision-making or problem-solving, the inability to obtain valid information from staff, excessive time spent in initiating and/or implementing change efforts, the unwillingness of staff to take the initiative in directing their own activities, and so on.

Advantages

  • The effort is perceived as legitimate because it is directed toward an acknowledged ‘pain’;
  • As with the pilot-project approach, the chance for success is enhanced because the effort is limited in scope;
  • The organization gains a relief from the pain, and both the practitioner and OD itself gain credibility. Managers who receive help in reducing the kinds of pain illustrated can become intense supporters of the practitioner.

Disadvantages

  • Success may be limited because of the many variables that influence the pain that develops in organizations;
  • The organizational personnel may be impatient with the time required to obtain visible relief;
  • If the project is unsuccessful, the practitioner may lose the opportunity to gain entry into other parts of the organization;
  • The pain may be social or psychological in nature, therefore improvement may be viewed as ‘soft’ or ‘fuzzy’ by personnel in other parts of the organization who are not actively involved in the effort.

Option 7:  Involvement in an imposed change

This approach consists of becoming involved in a project or change that the organization has already mandated.  Examples might include the promotion of a manager, a merger between two departments, the initiation of a new service procedure, or the launching of a new department or division.  This type of project might involve such interventions as a transition meeting, a merger meeting, or a new-division start-up.

Advantages

  • The need for change is already established;
  • The change itself is the natural process employed in the intervention, which may make the organization more receptive to other OD activities;
  • The practitioner is seen as assisting in a natural and/or legitimate process and thus is considered to have a relevant, helpful function;
  • The potential for success with such a project is relatively high, and the practitioner shares with others the responsibility for success.

Disadvantages

  • The practitioner may be seen as a meddler;
  • Success in the project may be attributed to factors other than the OD interventions;
  • The reasons for the change may not be consistent with OD values, therefore, the practitioner may be seen as hypocritical or unethical.

Option 8:  Association with the influence leader

This approach is similar to the power play except that the focus is on an individual rather than a group.

Advantages

  • A high potential for change because of the influence leader’s power to implement the change;
  • The fact that if the project is successful, the practitioner gains a great deal of credibility, as does the OD process.

Disadvantages

  • This approach may make an overly powerful influence leader even more so;
  • The practitioner may be seen as part of the influence leader’s power structure;
  • If such a project fails, there is high risk to the organization and to the future of other OD projects;
  • It may be extremely difficult for the practitioner to work in other areas of the organization in which the influence leader’s work is envied or suspect.

Option 9:  Association with OD support

With this approach, activities are initiated in those parts of the organization that are already supportive of OD values and activity.

Advantages

  • Projects can be initiated quickly;
  • The potential for their success is high;
  • The employees involved feel a strong sense of ownership of these projects and perceive the practitioner as valuable.

Disadvantages

  • Success with such projects may be viewed by personnel in other parts of the organization as merely perceived rather than real;
  • Success may accomplish little in the way of opening doors into other parts of the organization;
  • The practitioner may be seen by the rest of the organization as just ‘one of those OD people’;
  • If the practitioner’s support comes from a low-influence group, his or her own influence may actually diminish elsewhere.

Option 10:  Total-system intervention

The objective of this approach is to affect all parts of the organization almost simultaneously.  Such a project might be a new-division start-up in which the practitioner or a team of practitioners is involved in every aspect of planning and implementation.

Advantages

  • Being involved in every aspect of the organization;
  • Having more control of the variables;
  • If the project is successful, the practitioner gains great credibility and influence.

Disadvantages

  • Failure in this type of project has an extremely negative impact on the practitioner’s credibility;
  • Few managers consider this approach to be a viable starting point for OD.

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Organization Development – 2.2 Working with the organization’s dynamics

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2.2    Working with the Organization’s Dynamics

While building a strategy, the practitioner should keep in mind the following organizational dynamics or change requirements.

Consideration 1:  Felt needs or goals

The selection of specific interventions should be based on client responses regarding problems that are not being solved or goals that are not being reached.  Managers and organizations readily respond to proposals that address felt needs.

Consideration 2:  Support system

Of major importance in the success of an OD project is the practitioner’s initial identification of supportive forces in the organization and his or her subsequent commitment to working with those forces.  A project is seldom successful when an attempt is made to influence the total organization at once.

Consideration 3:  Chance for success

The entire OD effort, as well as each related activity, should hold a realistic chance for success.  This sounds obvious, but many projects are launched on the basis of little or no hope for success.  To change an organization, a series of early wins must be achieved.  The practitioner is seldom given a second chance if the first activity is not at least moderately successful.

Consideration 4:  Multiple entry

Organizations of any size have a tremendous capacity to withstand change.  When an organization experiences a short disturbance of the status quo as a result of an OD effort, it will naturally tend to settle back into its original patterns.  This problem of inertia can be dealt with through the use of multiple entry points.  Although care must be taken and planning must be deliberate, change in a larger organization is more likely to be accomplished if pressure is exerted on several different facets of its operation.

Consideration 5:  Critical mass

One of the purposes for using multiple entry points is to bring about a critical mass.  Just as a chain reaction builds sufficient force to produce a major result, so an organization is changed through the development of a strong and building effort.  A strategy must be built in such a way as to plan for, and cause, the occurrence of a critical mass.

Consideration 6:  Organization control

The chances for success in an OD effort are greater when the practitioner works with individuals or groups that have some autonomy or control over their own operations.

Consideration 7:  Appropriate levels of involvement

Careful consideration must be given to developing and providing for the appropriate involvement of managers and other individuals who will be affected by the proposed changes.  Attention must be centered on those who need to be active in decision making, those who need to be given information, and those who need to provide input for action and evaluation.

Consideration 8:  Communication at all levels

It is useful to develop plans for communicating intentions, goals, and progress to the entire organization.  In one major project in the social housing sector, a monthly, two-page update was given to all staff.  This update had a marked impact on reducing resistance to the project and opening doors for suggestions and input.

Consideration 9:  Determination of feasibility

Mechanisms must be established not only for letting key people know about OD plans, but also for enlisting the aid of these people in determining the feasibility of plans.  One of the biggest traps in building OD strategies is planning in a vacuum.

Consideration 10:  Linking with internal change agents

Most client organizations include staff who are responsible for organizational change and improvement.  A practitioner’s strategy is much more likely to succeed if s/he establishes ways to co-ordinate efforts with those of personnel such as designers, engineers, quality-control experts, financial analysts, etc.  Major organizational change is greatly enhanced by linking change teams from several disciplines or functions.

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An Exploration of the Background to – and Future of – Leadership Models

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An Exploration of the Background to, and Future of, Leadership Models

Beliefs, Assumptions and Change.

  • We all have beliefs and, on the basis of these, make assumptions
  • Our assumptions shape our behaviour
  • The degree of alignment between our beliefs and reality may contribute significantly towards our effectiveness
  • Self-fulfilling prophecies can have positive and negative outcomes
  • Changing our beliefs and subsequent assumptions is not easy and may take a major crisis

Introducing Models.

  • The beliefs and assumptions we have about leadership are often referred to as models
  • Models are representations of a more complex reality and as such they help us see some aspects of a phenomenon
  • The danger of models is that they oversimplify or blind us to other aspects
  • Because of the complexities of modern life we need to call upon more than one model
  • Models are a product of their age (and maybe our age!)

An Evolutionary Perspective

1900 – 1925: The Emergence of The Rational Goal Model & The Internal Process Models

The Social and Economic Context

  • Exciting economic and technological growth and progress
  • Rich resource bases with cheap labour
  • The age of coal became the age of oil
  • Average level of education was 8 years
  • Social Darwinism (‘survival of the fittest’) was a dominant orientation
  • Little in terms of unionism or government policy to protect workers
  • Henry Ford applied the principles of Frederick Taylor’s ‘scientific management’

–               Car assembly time from 728 hours to 93 minutes

–               Market share from 10% to 50% in six years

The Rational Goal Model

  • The ultimate criteria for organizational effectiveness are productivity and profit
  • Clear direction leads to productive outcomes
  • A continuing emphasis on processes such as goal clarification, rational analysis and action taking
  • Organizational climate is rational economic with all decisions being driven by considerations of ‘the bottom line’
  • Ultimate value comes from achievement and profit maximisation
  • The leader’s job is to be a hard-nosed director and producer

The Internal Process Model

  • The ultimate criteria for organizational effectiveness are stability and continuity
  • Routine leads to stability
  • A continuing emphasis on processes such as definition of responsibilities, measurement, documentation and record-keeping
  • Organizational climate is hierarchical with all decisions being coloured by the existing rules, structures and traditions
  • Ultimate value comes from efficient workflow
  • The leader’s job is to be a structured monitor and coordinator

1926 – 1950: The Emergence of The Human Relations Model

The Social and Economic Context

  • The stock market crash of 1929 in the USA
  • World War II
  • Economies boom, crash and recover
  • Technological advances in all areas
  • Unions become a significant force
  • Heavy emphasis on the production of consumer goods
  • Labour saving machines beginning to appear in homes
  • Lessening influence of the protestant work ethic
  • ‘How to win friends and influence people’ a best seller
  • Rational Goal and Internal Process Models being seen to be less appropriate
  • Chester Barnard highlights the significance of informal organization
  • Mayo and Roethlisberger carry out their Hawthorne studies

The Human Relations Model

  • The ultimate criteria for organizational effectiveness are commitment, cohesion and morale
  • Involvement results in commitment
  • A continuing emphasis on processes such as participation, conflict resolution and consensus building
  • Organizational climate is team-oriented and clan-like
  • Leaders take a developmental perspective referring to complex sets of motivational factors
  • The leader’s job is to be a sensitive mentor and facilitator
  • Early attempts at applying this model often resulted in authoritarian benevolence

1951 – 1975: The Emergence of The Open Systems Model

The Social and Economic Context

  • The shock of the oil embargo
  • Economies staggering under the weight of stagflation and huge government debts
  • The global invasion of Japanese goods across all sectors
  • Western economies move from product to service-based
  • Television
  • Society moves from ‘conventional’ to ‘cynical’ to ‘individualism’
  • Average level of education was 13 years
  • Women move into the professions
  • Organizations became knowledge intense
  • Leadership-speak embodies earlier models (e.g. MBO, MIS and a proliferation of books on motivation and leadership)
  • Managers forced to make rapid decisions as they live in highly unpredictable environments and have little time to organize and plan

The Open Systems Model

  • The ultimate criteria for organizational effectiveness are adaptability and external support
  • Clear adaptation and innovation lead to the acquisition and maintenance of external resources
  • A continuing emphasis on processes such as political adaptation, creative problem-solving, innovation and the leadership of change
  • Organizational climate is innovative and based on ‘adhocracy’ rather than bureaucracy
  • Ultimate value comes from common vision and shared values
  • The leader’s job is to be a highly adaptable innovator and broker

1976 – 2000: The Emergence of ‘Both/And’ Assumptions

The Social and Economic Context

  • Many large Western corporations in deep trouble
  • Western innovation, quality and productivity slump
  • Japanese products make astonishing advances
  • Knowledge work replaces labour work
  • Unions experience major setbacks
  • Organizations downsize whilst trying to increase quality
  • Job security become a major issue
  • ‘Burnout’ and ‘stress’ appear in the vocabulary of organizations
  • Published material includes ‘The Strategy of the Dolphin’, ‘Chaos’, ‘In Search of Excellence’, ‘The Fifth Discipline’, ‘Visionary Leadership Skills’, ‘The Art of Systems Thinking’.

The Model?

  • Simple solutions become suspect
  • No model offers a sufficient answer
  • Sometimes structure is needed, sometimes change – sometimes both at the same time
  • Leadership becomes difficult!

So, where to next with Leadership Models?

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Organization Development – 2.1 Building and OD Strategy

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2.     Beginning an OD Effort

Introduction

A successful long-term, OD project invariably begins with, and is guided by, a comprehensive and carefully planned strategy.  The purpose of this section is:

  • To outline the concepts behind strategy building;
  • To present some options for an overall approach;
  • To suggest ways to avoid, or at least minimize, the probability of failure patterns developing.

As a general point, the term ‘practitioner’ has been used, and will continue to be used, to cover the manager, leader or consultant that is leading the OD effort.

2.1    Building an OD Strategy

An OD strategy is a comprehensive plan based on a thorough analysis of organizational needs and goals.  It is designed to bring about specific changes and to ensure that appropriate steps are taken to secure those changes.  Included in it are:

  • Desired objectives;
  • Specific interventions aimed at achieving objectives;
  • Time scales;
  • A monitoring, review and evaluation system.

The strategy must specify contingencies as well as primary interventions and take into account the power and influence dynamics of the organization.

Specific interventions, such as team building and job redesign, are not strategies.  Interventions, unlike strategies, are simple activities with limited end objectives.  Practitioners who confuse interventions with strategies seldom exert significant, long-term impact on organizational performance.  If real organizational change is to be achieved and organizational performance improved, interventions must be seen only as parts of, and be embedded within, an overall strategy.

Because circumstances vary between organizations, organizational-change strategies will vary as well.  Likewise, the steps to strategy-building may differ from organization to organization.  However, it is possible to identify six general steps in this process.

Step 1:  Defining the change (OD) problem

In this step, information is gathered regarding the performance of the organization and barriers to desired performance levels.  Factors that might be identified as barriers include job designs, reward structures, skill levels, organizational structure, value systems, etc.  Care must be taken at this stage not to confuse symptoms with causes.  For example, absenteeism may reduce performance levels but, before progress can be made, the reasons for absenteeism must be determined.

Step 2:  Determining appropriate OD objectives

In this step, OD objectives are clearly and specifically defined, in both behavioural and quantitative terms, so that they are appropriate to, and consistent with, the particular organization.  Too often a practitioner initiates standard interventions without having identified clearly what needs to be accomplished or changed.  Spending time in determining objectives increases the probability for success and enhances the practitioner’s image as a contributor to the organization.

Step 3:  Determining the system’s and subsystem’s readiness and capacity to change

Nothing is more discouraging to a change effort than reaching the middle of a project and discovering that the organization or a specific group within it is not ready or able to change.  Analyzing readiness, willingness, and capacity before project initiation can help the practitioner to determine where to start and which interventions to use.  Many change efforts fail because the practitioner starts with the wrong part of the system or does not take into account the relationships among readiness, willingness, and capacity.  It will pay dividends to evaluate each key manager in this respect, as well as each major area or function.

Step 4:  Determining key subsystems

In this step, the total organization is reviewed to determine its key parts and its key personnel.  To be successful in an OD effort, the practitioner must focus on those groups within the organization that exert the greatest impact on organizational performance and on those managers who influence the direction of the organization.

Step 5:  Assessing one’s own resources

Assessing personal skills, talents, and emotional and social needs is not only consistent with meeting real organizational needs, it also assists the practitioner in maintaining an ethical stance.  No practitioner can do well in all situations or with all interventions.  However, the practitioner who takes stock of personal strengths and weaknesses before selecting a strategy is better able to determine which projects ‘fit’ his or her abilities and which do not.  Consequently, it is easier to determine which activities to conduct oneself and which to refer to other practitioners, thereby matching the right resources with particular organizational needs.

Step 6:  Selecting an approach and developing an action plan for reaching objectives

In selecting an approach to an effort and in planning the individuals steps for implementation, the practitioner must be concerned with which interventions to use, where in the organization to start, who is to be involved in the effort, how much time is required and how the effort will be monitored.  In view of the fact that OD is a process and that the practitioner must remain flexible and responsive to new developments, it is helpful to establish a flow diagram that accounts for each step.  This practice enables the practitioner to analyse the progress of the effort and whether it is leading where intended.  In addition, it enables managers to become closely involved in the process and convinces them that the practitioner is committed to reaching specific objectives that will benefit the organization.

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Organization Development – 1.4 Approaches to managing motivations and expectations

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1.4    Approaches to Managing Motivations and Expectations

Although no one has the ability to fully determine the motives and expectations of another person, it is possible to gain sufficient information to provide a workable assessment.  To a certain extent, motivations and expectations can be screened during the preliminary contracting session.  It is wise to request that this session be attended by the potential client manager, his or her immediate line manager, and at least some of his or her staff.  If the manager seems reluctant to schedule a meeting with both the line manager and staff present, the practitioner can interpret this reluctance as a significant sign of inappropriate motivation.  Sufficient time should be allotted for this meeting to allow for a discussion of reasonable depth about felt needs, important issues, reactions and concerns regarding the ideas expressed.

To inquire into motives and expectations, the practitioner can ask questions such as these:

  • What is it that interests you in exploring OD as an activity for your team/organization?
  • If such an effort were launched, what end results would you expect or hope to achieve?
  • What past developmental activities have you felt good about and why?
  • What past developmental activities have you viewed as poor investments and why?
  • If you had complete organizational power, what would you change and why?
  • What concerns do you have about the possibility of engaging in an OD effort?
  • What contributed to me being chosen to assist in this effort rather than someone else?
  • What is your understanding of the motives of others in the organization for considering this effort?  How do you feel about these motives?
  • What specific role would you expect me to play in this effort?

While those attending the session are answering these questions, the practitioner should exercise active-listening skills.  In responding to these answers it is appropriate to concentrate on reflecting, which consists of restating, in one’s own words, what has just been suggested.  This technique helps the practitioner to maintain a supportive atmosphere during the question-and-answer part of the meeting.  By uncovering the motives for considering the use of OD processes, the practitioner can determine whether those present have a reasonably clear and realistic understanding of OD and what it might be expected to achieve.

As a practitioner, it is important not only to express concerns about motives but also to make one’s own position as clear as possible.  Therefore, the following information should be shared with potential clients:

  • Personal views and concerns about appropriate and inappropriate motivation;
  • Reactions to client expectations regarding what can and cannot be accomplished through an OD effort;
  • The potential negative consequences of OD efforts that are poorly motivated, poorly conceived and/or poorly executed;
  • Personal expectations and requirements for launching an OD effort.

Although using this candid approach with potential clients may create short-term pressure for the practitioner, in the long-term it can pay dividends by laying the basis for the authentic and mutually supportive relationship necessary to achieve success in an OD effort.

The form that such short-term pressure takes depends on the following factors:

  • The level of openness achieved during the discussion;
  • The perceived receptiveness to feedback on the part of those present;
  • The apparent level of credibility enjoyed at this point by the practitioner;
  • The practitioner’s opinion as to whether any negative motives are susceptible to influence and change.

Without question some intuition is involved here.  However, intuition and personal judgement are integral to the practice of OD, and the successful practitioner learns to rely heavily on his or her feelings and evaluations of circumstances.

The practitioner can confront a negative motive by offering direct and immediate feedback if it seems likely that the recipient will react with acceptance and a willingness to do what is necessary for the success of the effort.  However, such feedback should not be given in an accusatory manner. Rather, the practitioner should use active-listening techniques to reduce the possibility of a defensive reaction and open the way for co-operation.

To deliver such feedback effectively, the practitioner must explain clearly why the motive is inappropriate, how it might damage an OD effort and how to safeguard against potentially damaging effects by including specific actions and on-going joint analysis.  Thereafter the design of the intervention should explicitly guard against the potential consequences of the identified inappropriate motivation.

When dealing with the negative motives of clients who do not seem receptive to feedback, delayed confrontation may be more appropriate.  This approach allows time for the organization’s representatives to reflect on the discussion and for the practitioner to develop a strategy for avoiding the consequences of the negative motive.  Options include:

  • Indicating a desire to think about what has been said and to meet again at a later date to discuss a proposal for a project that will ensure that the determined needs are met.  In this way the practitioner can formulate the challenge into a presentation, thereby increasing the probability of client acceptance of any necessary actions.
  • Suggesting the client summarizes in writing his or her understanding of the project as discussed so far.   This option allows the practitioner to confront the motive as clearly as possible in terms of design recommendations.

To illustrate what is meant by ‘design recommendations,’ the situation in which the practitioner is faced with the impairing motive ‘To boost staff morale’ (see earlier) will be considered.  To recap, the manager who manifests this motive feels that some activity is needed to raise the spirits of staff, to convince them of their importance, and to show them that the organization really cares about them.  In such a case, the approach suggested by the practitioner may be:

(a)       Use a diagnostic-based intervention to confirm or otherwise the assumption that the problem is, in fact, related to staff morale,

then …

(b)       Plan the response for the fuller intervention only after additional data have been obtained and jointly interpreted;

By taking this approach, the practitioner confronts the questionable motivation in a productive manner.  If, in response to this suggestion, the organizational representatives react negatively, this hesitancy provides the practitioner with an opportunity to deal with the impairing motive on the basis of data rather than impressions.

My website contains further resources that may be of interest …

http://www.theknowledge.biz/

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