When two rights make a right

True organisational development takes place when you bring together two groups of people, solve a problem together and then follow through on those actions when you’re carrying out your day to day.



You have to take the stance that there is something inherent in the way these two groups which is actively working against the grain.

I used to work for a TV shopping channel. There used to be very regular debates about the products selected for prime spots, the level of detail provided for them, how much airtime they received, and pricing points. On one end of the argument you had the broadcasting team wanting to improve the on air experience. On the other you had the merchandising team who wanted to optimise the sell. They were both right in their assertions. What was missing was they weren’t having those discussions together.

It took some honest dicsussions with the directors of both departments to help them see and hear each others points of view. It took a joint away day with their top teams to ensure they were hearing these myths and assumptions together. Ultimately they realised they all needed to be present at the product selection meeting that took place every week because that was the forum for these discussions.

The saying it can be hard to see the wood for the trees comes to mind here. For both groups, they had valid points of view and were both right. That’s an important appreciation from an OD perspective.

If I’m to resolve conflict I have to have true empathy with both parties. Their reality drives their behaviour. If I dismiss it or belittle it, I can’t help them because I’ve already decided they’re wrong and they don’t know what they’re talking about.

This is also the kind of situation where anecdotes are highly useful. There are a good many people who would argue that you need data to make change happen. The fact is, you only need data to support your position because there is a lack of trust in your word. That may not be intentional, but it’s true.

When I trust that what you’re telling me has value and is honest, I’m willing to have that conversation about change. When I don’t and ask you to prove it, is the right atmosphere for conflict to take place.


Balance is as balance does

I’ve had cause to reflect a lot lately.

I look around me and I hear conversations. Some are laughing. Some are lamenting. Some are distressed and some are enthused.

I try to be attuned to what’s happening in the world of work for others. My own work is not without its insights, yet I often find it so much more interesting to hear what else is happening out there.

And through it all, I try to understand – what balance have you achieved?

Sometimes in life, shit gets thrown our way and it sticks for a bloody long time. Yet people perservere and live and fight and make things happen.

Sometimes in life, things are really good and we coast on the good feelings enjoying that high point.

I wonder – what does balance look like?

Some call it flow, some call it balance, some call it mindful, whatever it is, it makes me curious.

It makes me curious about why I need to worry about balance? Life happens, and sometimes life is completely off balance and yet it persists.

Why do I need balance? What does it help me with?

Resilience. That’s what.

When I’m resilient I stay healthy. When I’m resilient I move forwards. When I’m resilient I don’t stay static. When I’m resilient I strive.

This is our challenge. This is our purpose. If I am resilient, I will achieve.

In organisations, we don’t care about resilience. We care about results. We often don’t care about how those results are achieved. We say we care, but we don’t really.

Flexible hours, benefits, credit unions, working from home, these things don’t build resilience. They are just useful things to help employees be flexible.

Coaching, team understanding, healthy debates, open conversations, knowledge sharing, open information, collaboration. These things build resilience. When we have the opportunity to be included, that’s where resilience gets built because by virtue of the method, we build a support network.

Balance, then, becomes a result of the support we have.

*dons boxing gear and ventures back into the ring*

Resilience, joy and dignity

There’s something to be said about the university of life. Experience, life, living, breathing, eating, healing, dying, educating, smiling, laughing, crying, procreating, being, sighing, procrastinating, sex making, swimming, jumping, exhilarating, saddening, hoping, demeaning, angering. There’s something to be said about what that all does for us.

I’ve seen my fair share of death. It’s a horrid thing to be around. The sadness that people feel. The depression they can find themselves in. The loneliness of it all. The support they find with others. The comfort of a loved one. I don’t mind the funerals so much. For me it helps the mourning.

I’ve had people cry their eyes at work on me. That’s tough. How do you console people who you’re not even close with? How do you give them space and let them know it’s ok to express their sadness this way?

I’ve been made redundant. We all knew it was coming, and we stilled ourselves for it all. It wasn’t messy, but it certainly wasn’t well handled.

I’ve had personal loss. That’s never easy.

I’ve seen all my children born and been there every step of the way with them since birth. When the twin boys and my daughter were born I cried my heart out at the sheer joy of it all.

I’ve had laughs and special moments with my wife who continues to walk with me in this crazy thing called life and I love her for it.

I’ve seen my parents grow to be these old people that I have to now counsel on all things in life and help them be the best they can.

I’ve grown up with my friends for 19 years and we’ve all been wonderful together.

I’d like to think I’m resilient.

No-one taught it to me.

No-one explained it to me.

It happened.

You know what we’re guilty of in the HR profession? Not helping people be resilient. I am and have been lucky. I’ve had the experience which helps me to define my path and allows me to determine where I’m going next.

A lot of people working for and with us don’t have that. They’re reliant on their work to help provide them stability.

People face shit every day. They go through trials and tribulations that impact them in ways we can’t and don’t understand.

We don’t have to be their counsellor. That’s not what they need from us. They need from us to help them be resilient. To get up and face the same thing the next day and to do it with dignity and with their head held high.

Who’s game?

Our people are our greatest asset?

It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.

A.K.A. Our people are our greatest asset.

Back in the early 2000s there was a lot of talk about how we had moved from the technology economy to a knowledge economy. Knowledge wasn’t just power, it moved the world. Apparently.

Then when social media came crashing through the walls in the Teenies, we all decided we’re in the social economy.

But what happened to the industrial economy? The technology economy? The services economy? Let alone the economy itself?

I rather imagine they’re all waiting in a pub somewhere waiting to be called on for their usefulness at some point as a point of reference and a point of conversation.

It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.

This has always been true. What you know will get you so far in your career, it’s other people who will enable your success.

I see the usefulness of referring to the current age as being the social age, but it doesn’t change the way I look at the world. Mostly because I’m immersed in that world, as has most of the developed world for the better part of the last two decades. From chat rooms to IM to social networks to wikis, we’ve all created that social landscape.

There’s a lot of discussion about whether or not we use social technologies in developing organisations. Are social technologies going to change big corporates into social corporates? Erm, wasn’t that corporate social responsibility? No? Damn.

A long while ago, I moved beyond thinking about my role in learning and development as being just about that. I moved into thinking about how I can affect the business into positive change. As part of that, I take what knowledge, intelligence, business acumen I have and I blend it all together to inform where I’m headed.

So yes, let’s debate if we’re slowly moving into the community economy, and the merits of this, but let’s also remain mindful that we have jobs to do. In most cases it’s about making ourselves useful. Now that, I can do.

Are you interested in applying your creativity in an interesting way? I’m asking people to get involved in Learning Stories to see if they can produce a story about learning which inspires someone to act. The deadline for submission is March 21st 2013. Fancy a challenge?

OD in Practice

It’s interesting to hear how OD is becoming a part of organisational life. Shaunagh Harvey-Kelly worked with Nationwide to help introduce OD. Although the people were reporting hihg levels of engagement and enablement, there were problems around delayed decision making, lack of autonomy, lack of clarity on organisational objectives, unclear roles and responsibilities in teams.

They took the approach to pilot an introduction to OD through some teams in order to build buy in across other business functions. This helped to give the other business areas confidence that introducing OD was not only beneficial but helped redefine purpose of teams, business units and achieve better levels of productivity.

In setting out the strategy, they took a three staged approach:
1) Diagnose and define – what are the barriers to effectiveness and how could we address them?
2) Implement – what do we need to do to fix some of the issues we are seeing?
3) Embed – how do we make sure the changes we implement stick?

They followed a set of design principles:
1) spans of control and organisation layers
2) management roles vs professional and technical roles
3) decision making at the lowest level
4) hands-off and interfaces clearly articulated
5) customers in all account abilities
6) business risk, value and cost management included in all roles
7) duplication and crossover removed
8) processes clear and mapped

Crucially they included analytics in introducing OD. Personally I think this is a vital piece as the use of analytics helps to give a true sense of what impact to business is when investing in various initiatives.

They define OE as a combination of a real understanding of business context and team, experience, expertise and strong facilitation and meaningful analytics and MI (Management Infomration?).

Workshops were carried out where they focused on 4 areas:
1) Established vision, prioritised critical issues, established tracking
2) Shared current activity and possible duplication
3) Mapped activity and built ‘to be’
4) Developed scorecard, structures and implementation plan

A good session sharing good level of content and insights into how OD methodology was used and what was needed to make it happen.

Who’s overlapping who?

Over coffee the other day, a one Rob Jones posed a question – what do I think is the overlap with OD and L&D? It’s one of those broader questions that raises it’s head as the workplace continues to evolve and relationships with departments become more entwined and create fuzziness. Like where does Internal Communications sit? Are they a Marketing function? Are they a Content Strategy function? Are they an OD function? Are they an HR function?

Well I guess the place to start in answering a question like this is to first define what do the two functions do. OD – organisational development – is about ensuring the organisation is doing a range of activities that help it run more efficiently. I think this looks like: having teams work together on achieving projects, creating a collaborative atmosphere where creation and innovation can happen, enabling people in the workplace to be successful by removing barriers to success, having a set of work practices that are meaningful to the business and don’t impede the success of the business.

L&D is about developing the skills of people in the workplace so they can be effective in their jobs. For me that means: apportioning budget to learning activities that make sense, creating plans that meet the needs of the organisation, creating a schedule of internal learning activities that people can engage with, producing responsive learning solutions that are not limited to face to face sessions, and finding ways to be effective business partners.

With the above in mind, we then find that we’re at that interesting fuzzy place I mentioned above, and a little closer to answering Rob’s question. Does L&D form part of OD activities? Yes. Does OD need to deliver using L&D resources? Sometimes, yes. The overlap happens because of the similar skillsets required for both roles. As experienced professionals, there are some common skills which are:
– the ability to listen, ask questions and really get to the heart of the matter
– the ability to develop solutions which meet the needs of the organisation
– the ability to deliver, facilitate and implement solutions in an array of organisational settings
– the ability to develop relationships with key people in the business to help you and them be successful
– the ability to encourage, motivate, coach and enthuse others into action for the organisation

Over my professional career, I’ve learned that where I’ve focused on providing L&D solutions, I’ve also ended up producing OD solutions. Where that’s happened it’s been more because of happen-stance as opposed to a deliberate action on my part. In recent times, I have actively sought to be involved in large scale projects which are more OD focused. And what I’ve come to realise is that although I may not have the full OD set of badges required, my L&D career and prior education in occupational psychology certainly provide me with a very strong portfolio of success.

What do you reckon, Rob, have I started to provide an answer?

On Friday 17th August I’m running an event called Positive Psychology in Application. It’s going to cover a range of topics to do with Positive Psychology. Book now to attend and learn more.