The Dance Of Change – OD Reflections Part I

Peter Senge called it The Dance of Change. And I can increasingly appreciate why.

As I observed a group activity at an OD class recently, my mind reflected on the nature of organizations and organization development today. Here are a few of my reflections.

Balance, patience, reflection, perseverance, practice. Trust me. It really is a dance.

Ambidexterity is key

It’s not only about finding the immediate next step, but also finding the right path.

Organizations need to think long term. As do OD consultants. OD work, more often than not, makes fundamental changes to an organization – its policies, its culture, its structure and processes. It’s in the nature of business to focus on achieving the next big thing. It’s the responsibility of an OD practitioner to help the business see that there will be another big thing after and then another.

How are we preparing our client organizations to exploit the present and explore the future?

Timing matters

One of my early lessons in organization development came from the post-Lehman-Brothers-acquisition culture integration at Nomura. A significant part of this transition was to build an appreciation and understanding for Japanese work culture, practices and colleagues. The first attempt failed miserably. The second attempt worked marvelously. The only difference? In the first instance, it was integration efforts followed by feedback. In the second, it was listening followed by integration efforts. Just the sequence can make all the difference.

Organizations also face peer pressure… It’s called best practice.

As an OD practitioner, one of the things we need to bear in mind is to question if what is right for another organization is right for our client, right now. Is the culture similar? Are the industry and business model similar? Are they at a similar growth phase? Do they have a similar talent profile? These and more questions need to be answered. So sometimes, it’s not what we recommend but when we recommend it.

Are we evaluating and prioritizing actions over time for optimum impact on transformation?

Progress is non-linear

The fundamental assumption Economics makes is that man is a rational being. And it’s called an assumption, not a fact, for a reason. When working with organizations, at the least, an OD practitioner is working with two sets of variables – individual behavior and group dynamics. And these lead to sometimes, unpredictable outcomes.

For a client, this can be disconcerting. Yet, it’s key for an OD practitioner to be willing to explore why something is not working as it should have.

Sometimes you have to go back, reconsider and change recommendations and actions.

It’s not failure. It’s learning. And the opportunity cost of seeing progress as linear is that the client may have gone too far down a path to then discover and change tracks without significant organizational impact. We need to help our clients see the value of being on the journey of organization development as much as being driven to realize the end outcomes of organization development.

Are there ways for us to be agile, open, and design OD interventions to enable double loop learning?

Sometimes, it is failure

Often the distinction between failure and learning, or failure and trial-error is defined by the degree of negative impact. “It’s alright, it was a small thing, let’s learn from it and move on.” Such a view can be short-sighted and has its risks. Ignoring failures that seem like small misses now can manifest in massive failures in the future.

I find adding another lens useful: Asking, “Could we have predicted this?”

A recent article I was reading on the Harvard Business Review – HBR Blog, said that managers who are least surprised tend to be better at managing risk. That is, they see things coming and are able to plan for it, face it better and recover when they do get impacted.

The work of an OD practitioner is a little like that. Like a predictive analytics software. And we have to watch out for assumptions, exceptions, errors and bugs.

Like any statistic, failure is never going to have a probability of zero.

Do we have the humility and courage to persevere after failure and inspire the organization to do the same?

Habit forming is essential

The illusion of completion can be dangerous.

Learning is not complete till it becomes a motor response. Behavior has not changed till it becomes a habit.

Nir Eyal’s book Hooked, on the science of habit forming is an insightful read. It takes a carefully crafted cycle, repeated several times, to truly form a habit. Announcing victory too soon can quickly undo all the effort of various stakeholders that goes into making transformation happen. On the other hand, once formed, the new habit can ensure the OD work undertaken delivers results.

How can we ensure that change gets the repetition and practice it needs to become habit, part of the organization’s DNA?

 

These are some of my thoughts. Do you agree the practice of OD involves these things? What are some questions you think we should be asking ourselves as OD practitioners? Shall share more reflections soon. Till then, leave a comment and keep dancing!

 

Inspiration

These are my reflections from observing a group activity led by Dr. Joseph George during his “Introduction to OD” course. The course is part of the executive program in Organization Development & Change by the Centre for Social and Organizational Leadership, TISS.

I have referred to two books that in my view are insightful must-reads. You can find them here: Peter Senge, The Dance Of Change and Nir Eyal, Hooked

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