From the process we have explored so far in the first three parts of this article series, you should have an idea of what organisational development (OD) is, what its purpose and principles are, the process of OD diagnosis, and the key points of choosing and planning an intervention. However, many OD programmes do not fail in these earlier stages, but rather in the actual implementation of the programme and its interventions. Common causes of failure include the inability to maintain stakeholder support, loss of interest by the leadership team because of other ‘crises’, losing perspective of interventions versus programmes (interventions are prioritised over the overall process, eg training is no longer a tool in the process but becomes the goal), poorly managed consultants, and leaders who hijack the process.
Gaining support and commitment
One of the most important ideas to consider is that OD is something we should ideally do with others, not to them. If we bring a sense of superiority to the OD process, we are going to alienate others. Communication, participation, involvement, feedback and empowerment are vital in gaining support and commitment. By making others part of the process, we help them to own the outcomes. It is not uncommon to hear employees refer to a particular OD programme as the ‘leader’s’ - “The restructuring of the teams is Joe’s project, he doesn’t tell us anything”. This can even happen between a managing director and the board. The more the leader hoards the project, the less others engage and express what they really think and feel.
Remember that OD has a systemic focus, which means we are trying to change large parts or the whole organisation. OD often wholly or partly targets social systems and patterns of behaviour. Hence, if we do not engage and involve others in the OD programme, they will not go through the process of changing their mind and their behaviour and the ultimate goal of the OD programme will not be achieved. Objectivity and some distance from an OD process is one of the advantages of having an external facilitator or consultant, but a leader who knows how to maintain objectivity and become a facilitator of the process can usually make a good OD programme leader too. The trick here is to see OD as a people process to be facilitated and not a series of objectives to be completed.
Ensuring a positive approach
One of the most innovative and interesting developments in OD in the last 25 years has been the Appreciative Enquiry (usually abbreviated as AI because of the American version Appreciative Inquiry) approach. As opposed to the more common approach to OD which follows a typical problem-solving cycle of looking for problems, looking for solutions and implementing them, the AI approach rather says: “Let’s look for examples of success and where things are working well in the organisation and then we can study those examples and see how we can spread that success more broadly”. The advantages of the home-grown nature of solutions and positive-psychology approach of AI are obvious. Keeping things positive is much more beneficial than problem-driven OD processes that make people feel insecure in their jobs, have the tone of a witch-hunt, or that fail to celebrate success and acknowledge the good in people and the past. You do not need to adopt the AI approach, but any OD process needs to balance its focus on results with an encouraging, appreciative approach.
Clarify goals of the OD process
Employees and stakeholders need to know, at the onset of implementing an OD process, what the objectives of the OD programmes are and how these goals will be achieved. Honesty and transparency about the programme are vital in minimising suspicion, anxiety and resistance. People cope better with change if it is not unexpected and confusing, and it helps if they know what their roles might be and what may be expected of them during the OD process. Uncertainty and a sense of being out of control are exaggerated when there is a lack of clarity and information – this is what makes the difference between doing things with people versus doing things to people.
Communication is key
You cannot communicate enough in OD. If you want to make an OD process work, you need real, two-way communication on an ongoing basis. Really listening to your staff and asking questions so that you can understand where they are coming from and how they see a situation is just as important as giving a great presentation to staff at the beginning of a new OD programme. For example, after an opening presentation to your staff, do not just wrap up the presentation with the standard “Any questions?” Rather break them into small groups and ask them to discuss aspects of the programme, such as the need for the programme, the choice of interventions, and concerns or suggestions they have. Small groups may encourage staff to open up, see that others have questions and concerns too, and help them process the information better. Communication and OD are not events, they are processes. It is good practice to have follow-ups a few days later to discuss more detail, or address questions and concerns that may arise over time. Further updates on the progress and discussion sessions will be needed throughout the programme. In addition, you may consider having anonymous surveys, focus groups or interviews facilitated by a neutral third party or a questions box that allow people to express themselves anonymously.
Communicate on progress
Review your progress on the OD programme regularly and update your staff on this progress too. Be honest and open and celebrate milestones often. A post-intervention and programme review is also a good idea to ensure learning from interventions/programmes, to measure success, and to identify ways to continually reinforce the new outcomes of the programme. Do not forget to provide your board and other stakeholders with regular feedback. Funders who have a vested long-term interest in your NPOs success will be more likely to assist with funding for a particular OD project (eg upskilling, leadership development) if you give them regular feedback on how the interventions are resulting in greater organisational effectiveness.
Ensure ownership of the OD process
If the OD programme is purely the brainchild of an external consultant or wholly under the control of a consultant, the OD process will not result in expanded ownership for your organisation and a truly developmental experience for you and other staff and stakeholders. A good consultant will manage their own involvement to allow for ownership by the organisation, by taking the role of facilitator rather than ‘boss’. Furthermore, if the programme is in the organisation’s control, then any consultant who is not making the grade can be replaced without derailing the entire programme. Ownership by the organisation will ensure a sustained change.
This article series on OD has attempted to get you thinking about your organisation’s needs and possible development areas that might necessitate an OD programme. OD programmes are not just for failing organisations, but are critical to all organisations in order to be revived, redirected, and developed on an ongoing basis to survive and thrive. Remember that the goal is organisational effectiveness, which is an elusive and can-always-be-better ambition.
- Dr Stuart Allen works at the Nyack College, SBL.