Organisational Development and the NPO leader- Part 3: Planning OD Interventions

leadership npos organisational development
Wednesday, 23 September, 2009 - 12:49

Diagnosis was described as key to addressing organisational effectiveness in the first two articles of this series. This week Stuart Allen explains that by executing a number of interventions over several years further improvement and strengthening of the organisation will come about. Considerations that should be made in the intervention process would include: a programme, time frame; and levels, management and choice of the intervention

Planning organisational development (OD) interventions has two key aspects: intervention choice and planning for the execution of the intervention. OD interventions fail for many reasons, but common ones include bad choice of intervention or poor implementation. The choice of intervention should, as the previous articles in this series have emphasised, be guided by the initial diagnosis. If you know what is wrong, then you can choose a suitable remedy. Starting with the choice of remedy makes little sense. Equally, do not always expect there to be one thing wrong. Organisations, like people, are complex and tend to have a mix of issues, some related and others not. For example, an organisation that has unhappy employees often has other issues, because employees sometimes focus on their salaries more than they normally would when there are problems with things like job satisfaction, leadership, meaningful work, or other factors. So you might have to deal with problems in a few areas, before the unhappiness alleviates.

Remember that OD interventions typically address problems that are long-term in nature: a dishonest manager who needs to be terminated is not an OD issue, unless the organisation has a tendency toward poor hiring practice or broad ethical issues. With problems that are complex and have taken a while to develop, the solution usually takes a while to implement. For example, even an NPO that was caught off guard by sudden withdrawal of a funder needs to consider that while there is a short-term solution (find another funder), there is probably a need for a long-term and more complex solution in terms of creating a greater strategic focus on funding (to prevent future crises), improving fundraising skills in the organisation, and better strategic planning by the leadership. There are a few exceptions with OD that can or must be quickly implemented, but this is usually limited to situations where rapid change is needed for survival, such as restructuring of organisations.

In addition to needing to focus on the long-term in OD, leaders also need to remember that OD is usually programmatic. This simply means that OD does not usually refer to a single intervention, but rather a series of interventions over time. The term ‘programme ‘serves as an umbrella for a number of interventions over years that collectively aim to resolve an organisation’s problem/s or strengthen the organisation. It is useful to see OD as a programme because it needs to be managed as such – it usually needs a champion (leader) or task team who will oversee the process to ensure it does not get dropped, sidelined or neglected, and that it is progressing and achieving its aims. For example, an OD programme designed to reduce silos between departments or teams is usually a multipart intervention over a few months or years that requires the involvement and support of the whole management team and ultimately the whole organisation. Some organisations even choose to brand their OD programmes, so that employees can see something new and special is happening. This also helps to maintain accountability, encapsulate changes and interventions under a single brand, and can enhance the therapeutic value of the interventions.

It is also valuable to mention that there are different levels of intervention. Interventions can take place at the individual, dyadic (pair of individuals), team/departmental, interdepartmental, organisational, inter-organisational, or even industry level. The choice of level is again determined by the diagnosis. OD programmes often include multi-level interventions. For example, an NPO wanting to reduce bureaucracy may introduce a series of bureaucracy-bashing interventions:

a) at the individual level (employees requested to report back by a specific date on how they could reduce the complexity and paperwork required in their jobs);

b) at the interdepartmental level (workshops to discuss how procedures can be dovetailed and duplication of work across departments can be reduced);

c) at the organisational level (strategic planning sessions within leadership to identify ways to instil new priorities, measures and values away from the bureaucratic focus that developed); and

d) at the and inter-organisational level (workshops with funders and government departments to discuss reporting and paperwork requirements with a focus on rationalising documentation while still meeting requirements).

Part of planning any intervention also needs to consider the management of the intervention. This would include managing the change (people-focused) and project-managing the interventions (task focused). Project managing the interventions looks largely at breaking down interventions into their component parts, setting dates, setting responsibilities, identifying resources and creating mechanisms for monitoring progress. Change management would look at how to ensure the intervention is well-received by staff and might include communication of the why, what, who, how and when of interventions, creating opportunities for feedback, consultation and two-way communication before, during and after interventions, as well as ensuring opportunities for staff involvement, celebration of success and other means of helping others through the journey of change.

A discussion on the actual choice of intervention, and information on tried-and-trusted and cutting-edge OD interventions could easily fill a book on its own. In all likelihood, unless the problem is simple and the solution obvious, you may need some input from a professional here. As a leader, it is important to at least be able to understand the principles of OD and be able to be involved in and oversee what happens. If you have followed a good process, you should be able to spot someone trying to sell you their favourite solution or who does not have the expertise and experience to identify the right solution. Also remember that most serious problems are systemic, which means interventions will need to occur and be sustained at many levels.

Nonetheless, some classic interventions that may be implemented in organisations at various levels include:

  • individual (eg coaching, mentoring, counselling, training, career planning, work/job design, feedback);
  • dyads (eg conflict resolution, role negotiation, coaching);
  • teams/departments (eg team coaching, process revision or work redesign, role negotiation, self-managed teams, quality circles, team-building, education and training, interdependency training, vision setting, and appreciative enquiry);
  • interdepartmental (eg process and task design, survey/intergroup feedback, conflict resolution, partnering, interdependency training);
  • organisational (eg vision setting, survey feedback, strategic planning, appreciative enquiry, future search conferences, culture analysis, total quality management, business process redesign); and
  • inter-organisational (eg partnering, process consultation, conflict resolution, interdependency exercises, information sharing).

Some of these may ring bells and seem familiar; others might not make much sense. Be aware, as I have raised before, that typical teambuilding that is marketed in South Africa is rarely true teambuilding and is more frequently just rewarding fun (eg quad-biking, drumming, war games), as opposed to true teambuilding which is usually purposeful hard-work.

Remember that with solutions, every organisation is unique. What works for one organisation, often has no impact for another organisation. So do not pick your interventions because ‘it worked at ABC organisation’. Consider a pilot intervention (where possible) to see if there is a good fit with the organisation. Be bold in asking questions about potential interventions. Study the information carefully before choosing. Lastly, find a balance between trusting your intuition as a leader about what will work and being stubborn or dependent. In Part 4, we will look at how a leader can contribute toward effective and efficient implementation of interventions and successful OD results.

- Dr Stuart Allen works at the Nyack College, SBL.

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