Organization Design Blog
Organization design blog
At the beginning of last week at the European Organization Design Forum meeting in London I was presenting on the future of work. At the end of the week I was a panelist on FedTalk (Federal News Radio) discussing the challenges US government agencies are facing in developing a workforce of mobile workers . And at some point during the week someone asked me how I handled resistance to change in organization design work. Now I'm sitting on the flight back to DC and I'm wondering about resistance. I have several questions in my mind on this:
1. Does the thought of future work patterns, including mobile working, inevitably provoke resistance from stakeholders?
2. If the answer is 'yes' are there any groups of stakeholders who are particularly resistant to thinking about new ways of working and, if so, for what reasons?
3. Is there then an automatic assumption among organization design and development people that where resistance is evident then it somehow either unjustifiable or wrong and must be 'managed' (i.e. overcome)?
4. If the answer to this is 'yes' are there ways of thinking about resistance not as a barrier but as a positive, healthy, and normal response to work practice changes?
5. If so how can resistance lead to conversation and dialogue that yields useful information and new insights to a design project?
I'll briefly tackle each one of the five questions and see what I come up with. (I've always rather liked the quote from somewhere 'When I hear what I say, I'll know what I think'.)
Last week I was facilitating an organization development program. We started off discussing three definitions of organization development, and what their similarities and differences were. The three we considered were.
- Organization Development is a dynamic values-based approach to systems change in organizations and communities; it strives to build the capacity to achieve and sustain a new desired state that benefits the organization or community and the world around them. Organization Development Network
- It is the systematic application of behavioral science principles and practices to understand how people and organizations function and how to get them to function better within a clear value base. It is shamelessly humanistic and has strong value drivers. Linda Holbeche, Organization Development – What's in a name?
- OD is the activities engaged in by stakeholders in order to build and maintain the health of an organization as a total system. It is characterized by a focus on behavioral processes and humanistic values. It seeks to develop problem solving ability and explore opportunities for growth. Roffey Park
People homed in on the values of OD. Look at the definitions and you'll see the phrases "OD is a dynamic values-based approach", it is about functioning with "a clear value base. It is shamelessly humanistic and has strong value drivers." "It is characterized by a focus on ... humanistic values."
An astonishing number of people I have meetings with seem to have no idea how to either hold or run a meeting that has a clear purpose and a desired outcome, or outcomes. Sometimes it's completely understandable – if the meeting owner is inexperienced, or hasn't been trained in running meetings – sometimes it's baffling. I've been in various forms of meeting over the course of the last week involving from three people to over twenty. None of them has been as productive as they might have been if they had had good meetings discipline, meetings protocols, and in some cases common courtesy. As a result, this past week I felt myself grow increasingly testy as I attended the various meetings. This was not good. So I took time to step back to think about meetings, but not entirely successfully as I came up with a list of questions that suggested to me that I was still feeling irritable. Here are the questions:
1. Can organizations be designed so that they become meetingless?
2. Would an organization development consultant add megabucks to the bottom line if all they ever did was facilitate effective meetings (forget talent management, etc)?
3. Is it productive to suggest meeting participants develop meeting protocols and stick to them or does that just earmark one as being a fool?
4. Are face to face meetings better run than meetings where participants are remote from each other?
5. Are meetings where all participants are remote from each other better run than face to face meetings?
6. Is technology an enabler or disabler of productive meetings? (Some clues on this "Sorry, the call dropped." "No I can't see your screen." "You're very faint, can you speak up." "Ha ha ha I like/don't like your yellow wallpaper." "I'm just going to plug in the other phone".)
I toyed with the idea of turning the questions into a quiz where the answers could be along the lines of either 'yes/no', or on a scale of 1 - 5, or a set of statements like 'don't interrupt I'm in a meeting.' In my dour mood I felt that it would reveal that most meetings are considered at best a marginal waste of time and at worst a complete waste of time. (Some of the scoring would be dependent on whether the respondent has been able to do other things while in the meeting, like eating lunch, sending emails, or reading the news on his/her i-pad).
So this week I sent off to the editor Chapter 5 of my forthcoming book on organizational health and started to plan out Chapter 6 which is on healthy technologies. (The book is coming out in December this year).
People ask me how I write. By this they seem to mean what is the process I go through to get words on a page. Do I plan things out? Do I just begin? How do I know what I want to say? The answer is that I have a rough idea of what I want to say – it feels rather like a lump of clay that I put on a potter's wheel with the idea that I will make a vase. Then as I begin turning the words something completely different emerges. I have the ability to knock it down and start again or shape it differently. And this is how I began Chapter 6. I know I want to write about healthy technologies – but what specifically?
Part of my writing process is that once I have roughed out the book contents I then open a folder for each chapter and put into the folder any articles I come across that I think will be relevant to that chapter. Additionally I boldly open a word document with the chapter number and title and just drop into it anything that could be useful when I come to writing that chapter. Thus in determining to begin actually writing Chapter 6 I looked through the articles I had for it, and at the random stuff in my Chapter 6 word document.
This week I got an email from someone who says "I have been asked to put together the business case for going down the organization design route to solving a number of organizational issues. The problem is that the executive team does not see that the organization design process is the best way to get them from current to future state because they think they can just write down the work priorities for their areas on the back of an envelope and then decide what to stop doing etc."
She then lists the organizational issues the group has identified need addressing:
• Approaching service delivery differently (but not specifying what or how)
• Making more effective use of our tightening resources
• Smoothing out the patchiness, peaks and troughs in workloads across the organisation
• Ensuring that we are not just driving financial change but also culture and values change
• Supporting the executives in spending time on the strategic things and not the lower level work
• Putting more focus on managing the business and how this impacts staff
• Developing wider, cross-organization thinking so that fewer things slip through the net
I just started to read A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander that someone gave me for my birthday. My friend knew I was interested in it because he looked at my Amazon wish list - which made me wonder whether Santa now looks at Amazon wish lists rather than at notes floated up chimneys. The book was on my list because now that I'm moving in architectural circles I find that it's a book frequently mentioned, and I was curious about seeing if Alexander's pattern language of the physical architectural could translate to organizing the work systems, processes, and behaviors that are stuff of the organization design as I define it - "arranging how to do the work necessary to achieve a business purpose and strategy".
Myriad companies traditionally associated with architecture, product design, and facilities layout, are entering the field of organization behavior, organization development, change management, and organization design as I know it - are finding. Tim Brown of IDEO (a global design firm) in his Fast Company article Strategy by Design, notes that "In order to do a better job of developing, communicating, and pursuing a strategy, you need to learn to think like a designer." Helpfully he offers his five-point plan on this:
Four things on the same day last week converged on sustainability issues:
• I listened to a podcast The HR Function of the Future given by John Boudreau, Center for Effective Organizations, USC in which one of the questions he asked was "Will HR Connect Values and Culture to Sustainable Strategic Success?"
• Someone sent me some information about SAP's new HQ building that has just received LEED Platinum status.
• I was invited to join a community group "to share ideas and efforts related to sustainable workplace strategies".
• One of the students that I mentor decided last week to focus his dissertation research efforts on service innovations in the utilities sector - specifically related to sustainability.
So what did I learn from these four different slants on sustainability? First I learned that the term 'sustainability' was no being used in the same way, with the same definition, in each of the four instances. That confirmed my opinion that it's a word that is used very loosely. People have very different takes on it and usually do not take the time to clarify what they mean by it.
What signals do organizational titling conventions convey? I have worked in organizations where it is required to put one's job title on a business card or in a signature block, and standard to include one's academic or professional qualifications after one's name, and the norm to put one's department.
Equally I have worked in organizations where it is prohibited to do any of these - people just have their first and last names and the company name. I've also worked in organizations where there are no guidelines and people just do what they prefer in terms of title, qualification, and department mention.
Face to face there are similar conventions, or lack of them. Is it ok to call someone by their first name, or does one have to say Mr. Brown? What if they have a doctorate - are they then called Dr. Brown? But how would you know if the abbreviation 'PhD' was not on the business card.
One of the things I get asked a lot is about making organizations flexible and adaptable so that they can weather the forces that assail them from various directions. Looking out of my window this morning at the torrential rain and gusting winds I wondered if the weather would clear for my running training this evening and I consulted the weather forecast. It was accurate. The rain stopped.
It's much more difficult to get any accurate forecast for organizations to plan against but a couple of days ago I got an email from the University of Houston, reminding me that I'd previously shown interest in their Certificate in Strategic Foresight.
Last week I did a learning teleconf call with the Plexus Institute, It is "a not-for-profit organization that was formed in 2001 by a small group of people from diverse backgrounds who shared a vision of discovering the most beneficial uses for the insights from complexity science". Because as the site states "Clearly, we need a new way of looking at work and organizations of all types." And complexity science applications offer that new way.
The teleconf calls led by the Institute are described as follows:
PlexusCalls are designed to let you listen in to unrehearsed, spontaneous conversations among leading complexity scholars and practitioners from the comfort of your home or workplace. ... The format is simple. The calls last an hour and are held on many Fridays on a conference line.
Flawless Consulting, by Peter Block, has been a long-time favorite of mine. Thursday and Friday this week I was using it as a 'course text' for the consulting skills program I was facilitating in Shanghai so I was paying particular attention to its content and relevance. A number of things caught my attention. (I was using the second edition but someone told me there is now a third edition which I just looked up and discover that it becomes available in March 2011).
First was the way he allocated discussion to the phases of consulting. He notes on page 6 that: "each consulting project, whether it lasts ten minutes or ten months goes through five phases". He then overviews the five - entry and contracting, discovery and dialogue, feedback and the decision to act, engagement and implementation, extension, recycle or terminate. All good so far.
I get the Merriam Webster word of the day every day and find that some I know and some I don't. Most weeks I learn a few new words but rarely keep them long enough in my memory to use them in speech or writing.
This week I've come across new words in emails sent to me. First is copacetic (everything is ok) and the other is TMI (textspeak for Too Much Information) both I had to look up. I mentioned copacetic to someone and he instantly said it was the title of a 'rubbish song'. So I then had to look that up and found that
"Copacetic is an album by Velocity Girl, an American indie rock band formed in 1989 in College Park, Maryland, although it was generally known as a Washington, DC-area band. The band released three albums before splitting up in 1996."
Already this week I've been involved in two meetings that had a similar outcome - they required a proposal or strategy to be written on a business issue: telework take up, and building governance. Simultaneously I have been assigned some PhD learners by the university where I teach. They are wrestling with how to write a decent proposal that will take them to the point on their PhD journey.
In thinking about how to guide the PhD students I pulled out a paper written a couple of years ago by a faculty member I have worked with - Dr John Latham. He wrote a paper Building Bridges Between Researchers and Practitioners: A Collaborative Approach to Research in Performance Excellence Which describes a collaborative approach initiated by the Monfort Institute at the University of Northern Colorado to engage high-level practitioners of performance excellence and academic researchers to a) identify the external and internal dilemmas facing practitioners in high-performing organizations; b) develop a purposeful research agenda that addresses both the needs and interests of practitioners and researchers; and c) develop a concept of operations to address the research agenda.
Someone lent me the book The Ten Faces of Innovation that I mentioned in an earlier post. by Tom Kelley of Ideo. I've now started reading it.
What grabbed my attention immediately was the opening discussion about people who play the devil's advocate who Kelley says 'may be the biggest innovation killer in America today'. ... 'every day thousands of great new ideas, concepts, and plans are nipped in the bud by devil's advocates'. He points out that these negative thinkers are 'toxic to the cause' of innovation.
I just signed up for an email subscription to TechCrunch. Probably about 3 years later than most people. And I'm not sure of those signing up how many are currently doing so using email. Techcrunch offers 6 ways of subscribing - RSS, email, app for browser, twitter, facebook, and some google profile thing.
I chose email because I've deactivated my twitter and facebook accounts, I haven't got to grips with RSS, and I don't know anything about the Google profile thing - but I don't want to put everything in one Google basket: mail, search, desktop, etc is sufficient.
I've been working this week with a architecture company on redesigning office space. Hand in hand with the physical refurbishment of the building we are aiming to change the way people work and interact with each other. (I hesitate to use the words 'we are aiming to change the culture' but that is how others are describing it).
So I'm learning the new, to me, vocabulary of architecture, construction, engineering, and space planning. And working out, with that team how to use the physical space to shape the patterns of organizational life
Thanks to my brother, I've just come across a wonderful series of 255 shorts on You Tube. The one I watched first was Daniel Pink talking about on performance and rewards in the RSAnimate series.
Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us
Adapted from Dan Pink's talk at the RSA, it illustrates the hidden truths behind what really motivates us at home and in the workplace.
You can skim through the whole list of 255 vidoes to find the 'RSAnimates' and find several that are directly relevant to organization design and development, and many non-animates that are also worth watching.
What's wonderful about those is the RSAnimate series is that as the person is speaking you are watching a cartoonist/graphic artist illustrating the talk in real time. He/she is drawing at the same speed the speaking is speaking. It's rather like graphic sign language.
The Independent printed a piece titled 'A hard chair equals a hard heart'. It's an interesting idea that psychologists have found that the texture and feel of objects around us, even those we are sitting on, can affect the way we think and behave.
Given that the office move I am involved in means buying furniture the thought fleetingly crossed my mind that if we insisted easy-going, laissez faire managers can only sit on hard chairs, and driving, hard pushing managers must have soft chairs, the result might be more equitable treatment of employees.
So I read the article playing with this idea, and discovered:
I get a regular newsletter from Stanton Marris a consulting company. The one I got this morning has a brief guide to 'communicating high concern messages'. It serves as a useful reminder, making the point that
"When emotions are involved, too many managers handle the conversation badly, or avoid it altogether."
If only these tips had arrived yesterday before I got into a situation where I did not handle the conversation well. Someone asked me for feedback on a presentation she'd just given. It was one of those cases where I had a point of view, but didn't take enough care presenting it. In that situation the 'The six Cs of Communicating' would have helped.
What Edward Tufte would make of the headline "Love It or Hate It, PowerPoint Shapes Strategy-Making, Says New Paper" I can't imagine.
Tufte is one of the people who makes a very good case for hating PowerPoint saying: Alas, slideware often reduces the analytical quality of presentations. In particular, the popular PowerPoint templates (ready-made designs) usually weaken verbal and spatial reasoning, and almost always corrupt statistical analysis. What is the problem with PowerPoint? And how can we improve our presentations?
He presents his arguments in an essay The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint: Pitching out the Corrupts Within. One of his examples in this is an analysis of the way NASA scientists used PowerPoint to make engineering presentations. In relation to this Tufte asks the question "Is this a product endorsement or a big mistake?" (Neatly suggesting the latter).
On Friday I went to see the movie Office Space. Either it didn't come out in the UK or I missed it but here in the US it seems as if every office worker has seen either it or the Milton animated shorts on which it is based, a zillion times.
The film follows Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston), a software engineer cubicle dweller at Initech. He has a frustrating commute, normally tiresome coworkers, an inane boss and a girlfriend that he's pretty sure is cheating on him. The bright spots in his life are his two friends at work, his neighbor, and the waitress at the local café.
This is yet another in the genre of Up in the Air, State of Play, and Outsourced all of which I've seen in the last year and all of which look at the idiocies and difficulties of organizational life. I guess that a film showing people enjoying their work, with good bosses, in pleasant environments wouldn't be a crowd drawer. But the fact that these films and related TV programs (Back to the Floor, Undercover Boss) and Dilbert (and Alex in the UK) cartoons are so popular is that office or work life really is as depicted for many people. Who hasn't been involved in a conversation like this one at some point?
In the way of things someone called me yesterday and in the course of the conversation asked me how much I knew about biomimicry (next to nothing), and today a completely different person, knowing nothing of the conversation, sent me an article on biomimicry that she thought I'd be interested in.
So now I'm learning about biomimicry! The Biomimicry Institute says:
Biomimicry is the science and art of emulating Nature's best biological ideas to solve human problems. Non-toxic adhesives inspired by geckos, energy efficient buildings inspired by termite mounds, and resistance-free antibiotics inspired by red seaweed are examples of biomimicry happening today.
At the conference I was at yesterday Traci Entel, from Booz, presented on 'The Power of the Coherence Premium'. She talked about a revised 'palette' of organizational elements which combined the forma (F) and informal (I) of the organization.
Structure (F) and networks (I)
Decision rights/management information (F) and behaviors (I)
Motivators (F) and identity (I)
Information (F) and beliefs (I)
She told us that organizations must decide what capability they are trying to compete on. Having done this ensuring 'coherence' amongst and between the palette elements in a way that delivers the capability is the route to success.
Here's an observation I received last week:
I was walking around someone's office (a consulting company) and noticed an acronym on client service and the related expected behaviors posted on notice boards and TV screens. I asked the employee whom I was with about it. It turned out that he'd never noticed either the acronym or the statements. What struck me was that if I ask someone in my organization what our service acronym is, and means, most people will be able to recite it and will have formed an opinion about the behaviors that evidence we live the service values - I'm pretty certain, everyone will know what the values are and a lot of people really take them to heart.
"Zipf's law, named after the Harvard linguistic professor George Kingsley Zipf (1902-1950), is the observation that frequency of occurrence of some event (P), as a function of the rank (i) when the rank is determined by the above frequency of occurrence, is a power-law function Pi (l/ia) with the exponent a close to unity. The famous example of Zipf's law is the frequency of the income of a company."
So starts the abstract of an article called "Zipf's law in assets and income of a company" by
Kon Tadashi, et al. Unfortunately I do not fully, or even partly, understand what the abstract saying but I was alerted to Zipf's Law when I was asking a colleague about tracking web traffic to a site. I was wondering how to encourage people to look at my site. I can't remember the details of the conversation but at one point he mentioned Zipf's Law which I had never heard of.
I finally ordered one of the books on my Amazon wish list and it arrived yesterday. It's called How the way we talk can change the way we work. I haven't read it yet, so I can't comment in any detail on it. But the reason I had it on my list was because I read a review of it somewhere (although I don't remember where). It's part of the genre of work around the language people use to make themselves understood or get things done, or conversely the way the language they don't use gets them stuck in conflict or confusion.
Deborah Tannen (whose books I have read and find thoroughly recommendable) is another researcher/writer in this field, and then I also liked the book Change your questions change your life which has good, practical ideas in it.
In February's Fast Company there's a preview of the forthcoming book Switch: How to change things when change is hard, by the brothers Heath (Chip and Dan). I haven't read the full book as yet. It goes on sale on February 16, so I'm only going on what I've read in this article. My first reaction to the extract was that it sounded identical to theories of positive deviance. I was right in that when I searched my desktop I found the article by Richard Pascale and Jerry Sternin that the Switch article had triggered in my mind. (Except that I'd forgotten the names of the authors of the article on positive deviance and only remembered the concept, while the Heaths mention the authors but not the article or the term 'positive deviance').
Within global/multinational companies the generally used language for communication is English. Thus in any meeting several mother tongues may be represented, but all are speaking (with more or less facility) English. This, as all the "Doing Business ... books" instruct, is often a recipe for mis-communication, misunderstanding, and general lack of success. The way organisational members manage the connections between languages, a diversity of perspectives, and the national cultures they represent are partly contributory both to an organisation's culture and its business success.
Going to a conference where everyone is an expert in the same topic is both useful and odd. Useful because I always learn something - a new tool, an interesting approach, and a different spin on the known. It's odd because it's a small world of people speaking a special language which seems to boundaryline their world in a way that excludes the value of diversity. Suppose a truck driver came to the conference - what would he/she get from it? What would organization design experts get from the truck driver? Does professional expertise lose opportunities by being exclusive?