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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,
(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.
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