“We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.” – Winston Churchill
I’m a staunch believer that our behaviour, our point of view, and how we interact with others is greatly shaped by the buildings, the neighbourhoods we reside in and the organizational structures we operate in. People shape the structure and then the structure shapes people behaviour. Think about it. What is an organization without its people? Nothing. That’s why I guess there are so many C Suite Executives who keep saying the standard five words in their interviews and articles “People are our greatest asset.” But often due to external changes, the needs and emotions of people take a back seat giving precedence to quarterly metrics and revenue targets. And this could be one of the reasons why over 70 per cent of change management initiatives fail. Because if people don’t change their behaviour and adapt to new ways of working, positive change in an organization will continue to be elusive. So, what can organizations do to improve the success rate of planning, facilitating and managing change?
Organizational Development (OD) could be the answer
Any business in today’s fast-moving, disruptive and digital environment that is looking for the pace of change to slow down is likely to be deeply disappointed. The rate of technological development is faster than has been seen before. Digital transformation, the rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Blockchain, chatbots and robots across industries is changing almost everything about a company – its products, structures, workforce preferences, people practices. Customer requirements are becoming more and more personalized. There is a need for better, faster and cheaper services. The choices are galore. Due to disruptive changes in the way organizations operate, the need for OD is gaining more significance. Some of the key challenges that are changing the way organizations operate and the role OD can play in this change are as follows:
Need for Speed
Customers are getting impatient. Technology is advancing faster than many people can learn to use it. To stay competitive, organizations are adopting new technologies even if such changes are going to affect the structural social relationships and team dynamics. If you notice, technology is utilized by organizations to reduce cost and increase profit, but what do you think happens when the people working for that organization don’t use the technology? Many organizations are struggling with adoption even after having the best of the technologies installed…Why is it so? People make the difference. An OD approach can help an organization understand the implications of technological change on the social entity of the organization and help improve tech adoption through educational interventions.
Trends Towards Consolidation
Consolidation implies layoffs and restructuring. Fewer employees are expected to accomplish organizational goals. This often means increased stress in the social system. OD interventions can help leaders and employees cope with such change.
Organizations are Becoming Increasingly Complex and diverse
Aside from technological change, legislation and regulations are mandating fairness towards all groups – customers, employees, partners, suppliers etc. Managers are therefore facing unique challenges from demographic changes in the workforce to adhering to regulatory mandates while serving customers. OD can help managers handle individual aspirations and learning needs, thus increasing individual and team effectiveness.
Growth through M&A has become rampant. Many mergers and acquisitions have failed. Executives tend to concentrate on potential synergies in technology, products, marketing and control systems but fail to recognize that two firms have different values, beliefs, practices and a unique culture. OD can be used to smoothen the integration process through cultural immersion and team integration interventions.
Organization Decline / Revitalization
An organization undergoing a period of decline experience a variety of problems, including low levels of trust, lack of innovation, high turnover and high levels of conflict and stress. The period of revitalization requires opposite behaviours including open communication, feedback, fostering innovation and coming up with new levels of productivity. OD can contribute to culture revitalization.
Many professionals use the word ‘Change Management’ and ‘Organizational Development’ interchangeably. While they do complement each other, there is a slight difference in focus. Some of the vital aspects of organization change our technology, structure, process and culture/people. While effective change management look into the entire gamut of change, i.e. creating readiness for change, a compelling business case, stakeholder consensus, executive champion, building a change management team, leadership alignment, employee capabilities and communication strategy – organizational development is a key lever used during change that focuses on diagnosing issues and business problems related to the human side of the organization by finding ways to increase effectiveness of individuals, teams and the organizations human and social processes.
OD is basically focused on culture development which is key to driving business strategy. This reminds me of Peter Drucker’s quote “Culture eats Strategy for breakfast.” Culture can become a competitive advantage to an organization, especially in a world where almost everything is getting commoditized.
One of the most important foundations of OD is the use of a participatory and empowerment approach. Increasing participation and empowerment have been and always will be the core values of OD. I believe that the most effective form of empowerment is participation by people in solving a problem or capitalizing an opportunity. That’s why participation is the such an effective form of empowerment. Participation enhances empowerment and empowerment, in turn, enhances team performance and individual effectiveness.
Almost all OD interventions are deliberately designed to increase involvement and participation by leaders and their team members. By the way, interventions are techniques, and actions designed to take the organization from the current position to the desired position. For example: Forming cross-functional working groups to solve an org-wide business problem, survey feedback, involving business leaders to identify high potentials for an exclusive learning journey, role clarity exercises, culture building immersions, leadership communication and education, building self-managed self-directed teams etc.
Depending on the structure, objectives and target audience, we can classify interventions into the following areas:
1) Diagnostic Interventions – Input gathering activities like surveys, focus group discussions, interviews and pulse checks to ascertain the state of a system, practice or status of a business problem. Examples: Rolling out a survey to know the effectiveness of management practices. Conducting focus group discussions to identify observable behaviours/actions that align with the values and culture of an organization. Circulating a questionnaire to a heterogeneous group to identify problems and opportunities to a business challenge or outcome.
2) Team Interventions – Are designed to enhance the effectiveness of teams, remove silo thinking and improve team collaboration. These interventions focus on the ways things are done, necessary skills and resources in a new structure, relationship quality between team members and between team and leader, outdoor adventure team building programs, appreciative inquiry and role clarity exercises.
3) Intergroup Interventions – Are designed to improve the effectiveness of interdependent groups, i.e. those that must cooperate and collaborate to produce a common output. However, due to competing priorities, goals and competition between the two groups, communication decreases, feedback gets distorted which could lead to a dip in Customer Net Promoter Score (NPS) and quality standards. Examples of these interventions include: Forming cross-functional task force teams to address a common business challenge, rotating the members of the group, facilitating training sessions that mix and match members from both groups, designing events for both groups to bond and build a sense of community etc.
4) Education Interventions – L&D programs are designed and delivered to improve skills, abilities and knowledge of the employees. Conducting a learning need analysis to identify skill gaps and competencies to thrive in the future, building Individual Development Plans and designing education programs to address those learning needs are some of the activities and approaches that can be employed.
5) Structural Interventions – Are designed with an aim to improve organizational structures, job designs and overall effectiveness through changes in the task, structural, workflow arrangements, goal processes and communication practices in the organization. Example: Forming Communities of Practice (COP), Learning Groups for Knowledge Exchange. Do read the story from Xerox Corporation on how they leveraged this intervention to improve informal learning and co-creation of knowledge.
There are a range of OD interventions ( click here to read the various OD interventions you need and when to use it ) that can be designed and introduced to take an organization from the current to desired state, however the secret sauce lies in execution and getting the business to own and drive these interventions in collaboration with HR Business Partners and L&D professionals. Many a times an intervention is introduced as an HR event and not as a cyclical process, that is well thought through with feedback loops, touchpoints and review cadences to track, measure and report progress. An OD intervention can be considered as a business value-add when the involvement, participation and communication between key stakeholders have improved and the outcomes of the intervention have been achieved. Outcomes could be in the form of improved trust and collaboration between teams, individual behaviors are aligned to a new set of organization values, improved team performance, role clarity, a strategic planning workshop with clear measures of success and dashboards, a career mapping tool owned and promoted by Business Leaders, strong collaboration between groups to achieve larger goals etc.
Here are some of my lessons learnt while facilitating OD interventions to drive people practices and renew culture in an organization:
Engage early with HR Business Partners and Business leaders
Business runs on relationships. Creating strong partnerships with leaders, functional heads, and HRBP is key to in moving the needle on employee development and culture building initiatives. When you have effective partnerships in place it enables the talent development and OD team, which is part of the HR function, to make smooth transitions to new procedures and processes and support employees experiencing changes. Building collaborative strategic partnerships allow the HR team to win over internal champions/change agents throughout the organization and make OD a business-driven intervention.
Communication is Key to Transformation
One of the most important components in creating or transforming a culture is messaging. Rather than delivering information as a top-down mandate from HR, the messaging should come from the Business to the Business. Leader Blogs, Frequent town-halls with scripted talking points for leaders, Newsletter themes, and team meetings are great channels to disseminate key messages, improve adoption and engagement levels. Internal Communication and HR team partnership are central to designing and driving strong communication campaigns that can influence and change behaviour.
Start small but think big
Change does not happen overnight. Large-scale change especially which addresses culture is often built on small incremental changes which reinforce step by step developments and celebrates small wins. Tackling everything at once can overwhelm employees and have a negative impact. Therefore, it’s about how to build credibility and momentum by starting small but always thinking big picture.
Questions to Consider
Below is a list of questions that may facilitate your organization in their efforts to introduce and implement OD interventions that support in shaping and reinforcing an aspiring Work Culture.
- On a scale of 1-5 (5 being the highest), what is the level of collaboration between HR Business Partners and Talent Development Leads of a respective function/department?
- To what degree is the HR function aligned to the strategic priorities and challenges of the business?
- Do your existing HRBPs and Talent Development specialists have the required skills, knowledge and expertise to drive OD interventions in your organization?
- What skills and expertise will an HRBP need to develop if they want to play the role of a true OD practitioner?
- What challenges will you likely face if you introduce an OD team and restructure the role of an HRBP and L&D professional?
- How can you win the support of business leaders and change agents and increase credibility if you do choose to introduce an OD intervention?
- How can you improve participation and build consensus while driving OD interventions?
In summary, I believe that Organizational Development interventions should be customized to the unique business challenge facing an organization and should never be looked as an event but rather as an ongoing process that gets embedded into the social systems of an organization through stakeholder alignment, large-scale participation, mid-manager empowerment and consistent top-down communication.