Leadership Barometer 36 Organization Development

February 3, 2020

OD is short for Organization Development. This is not a new term. Behavioral scientists have been writing about Organization Development for over 40 years. The science has evolved into many different approaches all aimed at the same objective: to enable massive improvements in organizational performance through specific and planned interventions.

I have been involved with hundreds of OD efforts over the past decades. Some of these have resulted in the desired improvement. Some have not. In this article I will reveal some green lights, some caution (yellow lights), and some things to stop doing, or red lights.

Let’s review four major types of OD interventions (there are others, but they are usually variations or combinations of these four):

1. Action Search
2. Appreciative Inquiry
3. Future Search
4. Whole System Intervention

Although the objective of each of these techniques is the same, the viewpoint and methodology for each is different. I will give my personal views of the strengths and problems with each method from my experience. All of these methods can work. The trick is to match the leadership style and organization culture so that the one selected has the best chance of success in a particular case.

Most OD work is performed with the assistance of trained facilitators. They have the professional training to lead groups through the chaos of change to arrive at the objective. Managers who attempt a “do it yourself” approach to OD work often create more turmoil and make things worse. This is especially true if the leadership dynamic is part of the problem (which is usually the case).

OD work is tricky. It requires the skill of someone trained in this field. Headstrong managers who decide to undertake massive organization change without help are like critically ill patients trying to remove their own appendix. It is not a smart strategy. The flip side is that the effort needs to be owned by the manager rather than the consultant. Leaders who abdicate their responsibility to be the spiritual leader of the organization pay for it with lower trust.

Action Search

Most organizations contemplating an OD initiative, do so because they are not satisfied with how things are going. If the current trajectory of business is meeting or exceeding goals, there is little impetus for change. The Action Search approach takes on a somewhat negative spin from the outset. The idea is to determine what is wrong and fix it quickly.

The first stage is to gather data. What areas of the business are falling short? How can these be changed to perform better? Unfortunately, many efforts using this technique become “witch hunts” where management looks for scapegoats. The process becomes one of uncovering ugly issues, followed by defensive tactics by those in charge.

Most of us have participated in this type of intervention. It takes place on a regular basis in some companies. Ask yourself how successful these programs have been in your experience. Do they produce positive change, or simply mask more underlying issues while creating interpersonal chaos? My experience indicates this technique should be used only under very tight constraints with ground rules supporting solid values. That does not happen very often. Hence, using Action Research has a real potential to backfire if not managed extremely well.

Appreciative Inquiry

This approach is the mirror image of the “action research” technique. The process starts by asking what is working well. Groups focus on what is going right rather than what is going wrong. The idea is to find ways of doing more of the right stuff, thus providing less reinforcement for doing the wrong stuff.

This is a much more pleasant process. It feels good to focus on strengths. It also provides a benchmark for improvement. The danger is that groups who are failing miserably can deceive themselves into thinking all they need do is clone the few bright spots to succeed.

I witnessed an example of this, years ago, and it was ugly. One business unit was on the verge of extinction, so they did a three-day exercise in appreciative inquiry. By the end of the exercise, they were celebrating, dancing, and singing about their wonderful opportunities while they were actually going out of business. Six months after the crepe paper, helium balloons, high fives, and “jive dancing,” they were all looking for new jobs.

I believe appreciative inquiry can be much more powerful than action research, but it needs to be tempered by reality. A combination of both methods can avoid a kind of “Pollyanna” view of reality.

Future Search

In this process, the focus is on the vision rather than the current state. The idea is to get groups engaged in defining a compelling view of the future. When compared to the present, this allows clarification of the gaps between current practices and organizational goals. Outstanding vision is the most powerful force for all individuals and organizations. Here are some comments on vision from my book (Whipple, 2003, p27).

Without a well-defined vision, the organization has no true direction. It is like a ship without a rudder, sailing around at the mercy of the wind, hoping to find a safe port with little chance of reaching one. Creating vision is absolutely essential for any group because it gives a common direction and provides a focus for energy.

Not all vision statements are helpful. Some are relegated to plaques on the wall and ignored. This is a tragedy because an uninspiring vision breeds apathy and is worse than no vision at all. If people point to the vision statement on the wall and say, “that is where we are supposed to be going but they don’t act that way,” you are in trouble.

Getting a great vision is not a 15-minute exercise. Some groups spend months working on developing a good vision statement. The process can get convoluted and burdensome if not handled correctly. If you are adept at facilitating group discussions, you may conduct this yourself.

If not, a professional facilitator would be worth the investment. As the leader, even if you feel qualified to lead the discussion, you still may want to hire an outside person so you can become one of the people developing this material. The danger if you lead the discussion is that you could influence it too heavily.

In general, if a leader brings in a consultant to facilitate a discussion or to assist with a particular instrument or skill set, there is usually a high value.

If the consultant is brought in to get into the trenches and do the dirty work of leadership, it is often a disaster because the consultant can undermine the leader. The leader calls in a consultant and says, “Things are a mess around here and I’m under a lot of pressure. Performance is horrible recently and morale is way down. I haven’t time to fix the problem because I am overloaded just trying to run the business and I have to attend all these management meetings. I need you to assess what is wrong and recommend a program to get back on track. If my team buys into your recommendations, we will let you handle the program.”

This leader probably has lost the ability to lead the organization effectively. As the consultant mucks around trying to understand problems, significant negative energy is unearthed but the consultant doesn’t have the authority to fix these issues. Meanwhile, the leader is “busy running the business,” and being micro-managed by superiors. Morale and performance go down even further until, finally, the leader is simply forced out.

This is why it is important for the leader to be the driving force in creating a vision for the organization. It cannot be delegated to a consultant or even a high-ranking lieutenant. The leader is responsible for making sure the vision statement is clear, compelling, memorable, actionable, and real.

Key ideas for developing a good vision statement:

• Most importantly, make sure your vision tells everyone where the organization is going. A nice sounding phrase that doesn’t have pull makes a poor vision. For a football team “We will be number one in the league within 3 years” is a better vision than “We will improve our position in the rankings every year until we become the top team in the league.”
• Avoid grandiose sweeping statements that are too broad. “We will become the best in the world at computer technology” would be too general and vast for a good vision statement. A better example might be “Our superior microchips will gain 90% market share with computer manufacturers in 5 years.”
• Make sure people can connect their everyday activities to the vision. “Every interface is a chance to bestow great customer service” would allow everyone to view daily activities with customer service getting top billing.
• Keep it short and powerful. Avoid long lists of items that sound good but don’t create a picture. For example, being “trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent” may be a good motto for the Boy Scouts, but it would make a terrible vision statement.
• Select colorful words that inspire rather than describe. “Our greeting cards melt the heart and transform the soul” would be superior to “Our greeting cards are better because they make people feel great.”
• Keep it short. The fewer words the better. “Absolutely, positively overnight” is better than “Our packages are guaranteed to arrive by the next day or your money back.”
• Use special words to emphasize your most significant point. “We will never, ever, run out of stock” is better than “We promise to keep our customers needs met by always having stock on hand.”
• Don’t try to be abstract or cute in order to grab attention. “We have the softest software in the nation” might be a slogan helpful on Madison Avenue, but it makes a lousy vision. Instead try “Software delivered on time, every time!”

The initial thoughts often contain the seeds of the eventual finished product. Craft these thoughts into words and images. Sometimes a picture or logo can be enough to communicate a vision, like the Rock of Gibraltar for Prudential Insurance. Other times, it can be a slogan, such as Wegmans Market’s “Every day you get our best” or General Electric’s “We bring good things to life.” The expression needs to have “pull”; it must provide forward momentum.
Communicate the organization’s values and vision to everyone in it. Do this well and often, as it forms the basis of everything to come. Frequently demonstrate your alignment with the vision by naturally working it into conversations. You might say, “Well, let’s call the customer and tell them about this situation. After all, our vision is to put the customer first.”

Whole System Intervention

This is a kind of zero-based approach to OD. In this case, the activities of the organization are viewed through a “systems” approach. The emphasis is on getting a critical mass within the organization to redefine the business. Processes become the focal point for redesign efforts. This is less threatening than the action research technique because of focuses on the “what” and “how” rather than the “who.”

The challenge with a systems approach is that can get pretty complicated. In systems thinking, we try to understand the interrelations between things. This is opposed to the usual linear way of thinking – If we do one thing it results in an effect. In systems thinking we need to understand not only the direct effect of actions but also the side effects. If leaders are unhappy with performance, they need to look at their system because it is perfectly designed to give exactly the result they are getting. Trying to untangle what is hurting the system and streamline the process for a better result can get convoluted.

The four OD interventions described in this article are the cornerstones for organizational improvement. They need to be applied with care and judgment to be effective. When OD activities go awry, the “cure” is often worse than the “disease.” With the health, or even survival, of the organization at stake, it is important to do this work carefully with the assistance of an expert.

The preceding information was adapted from the book The TRUST Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, by Robert Whipple. It is available on http://www.leadergrow.com.

Robert Whipple is also the author of Leading with Trust is like Sailing Downwind and, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online. Bob consults and speaks on these and other leadership topics. He is CEO of Leadergrow Inc. a company dedicated to growing leaders.


Body Language 40 The Double Point

August 10, 2019

You don’t often see a double point in a professional setting, but when you do it can mean many different things.

The usual meaning is that “It must have been someone else; it wasn’t me.”

In the picture, this man has his arms crossed. If both fingers are pointed in the same direction toward a specific person, it is a sign of “The culprit was definitely him (or you).”

Sometimes a person will double point at herself. In that case, the connotation is a person taking responsibility for something that happened.

The message received is that “I have the full resposability for this mess.”

Alternatively, the gesture can be one of wanting the full credit for something good that happened. The accompanying statement might be, “Guess who is responsible for winning the Farnsworth Account.”

When the gesture is directed outwardly, as in the accompanying picture, the double point in normally with the index finger. In the case of identifying one’s self, the pointing can be either with the fingers, or it is commonly seen with the thumbs doing the pointing.

A single pointing gesture in body language normally is seen as a hostile gesture. Body language experts advise to refrain from pointing when addressing an individual.

The reason is that it subtly (or not) puts the other person on the defensive. It is like you are coming at the other person with a weapon.

The preferred hand configuration when wanting to emphasize a point you are making is open palm with the palm facing up. That is a more open and inviting gesture that encourages conversation. It is not considered threatening by most people.

With the double point, what you have is the same connotation as a single point except the gesture is on steroids.

When it is done to indicate something positive, it can be a highly welcome sign. If the situation is negative, you are really putting the other person on notice.

Of course, all of these signals will be tempered by the accompanying facial expression. You could double point at a person while saying something quite negative but have the whole meaning reversed with a facial expression indicating that you are joking.

Regardless of the circumstances, when you use the double point gesture, your intended meaning can be easily misconstrued. If you mean something in jest, but the other person takes it literally, then there is often a trust withdrawal.

Be alert for these dangers and use the double point sparingly and with caution. Always double back in some way to check that the meaning received was the one you intended to send. That verification step is good advice for interpreting all body language gestures.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language.” The entire series can be viewed on https://www.leadergrow.com/articles/categories/35-body-language or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.TheTrust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 600 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.


Renewal

December 29, 2010

Every New Year’s Eve, I go through a kind of renewal ritual. It is my gift to myself for having done my best for the past year, and it allows me to look forward to an even better year to come. I have recommended some form of this for all people who take my leadership classes. It does not need to be done on the New Year; some people like to do this on their birthday or some other specific day of the year. The point is to designate one day to reflect on what you have done, where you are, and what you intend to do in the coming year and beyond.

I will step you through my specific ritual, but recognize I am not advocating anyone adopt this exact formula. I do believe it is critical for you to check in on yourself in a substantial way at least once a year. Doing this allows you to feel good about your past efforts and create a rational plan for the next phase of your life. I find it sad that many adults go through the motions every year and never stop to think seriously about what is happening. It is as if they expect the world to do right by them without putting any energy into it themselves. We all know the universe does not work that way. If you wish to live a productive life, it is necessary to do some serious planning.

My process starts early in the day on New Year’s Eve. I begin by going back over the calendar for the entire year and documenting all my key accomplishments. This is an uplifting start to the process, because I am reminded of the incredible forward momentum that has been built as a result of prior planning sessions. That encourages me to put more effort into the rest of the day.

I revisit the “Strategic Framework” for my business and my personal life, a document that I have been building for roughly 20 years. It exists as a PowerPoint slide deck because I am right brained and tend to think in PowerPoint. The actual slides should never be presented because they contain way too much information for anyone but myself to view. Besides, there are a number of personal issues involved in several sections.

My current Framework has sections on the following topics:

Objectives – what I am trying to get out of life and work
Values – my fundamental beliefs about the nature of people and how the world works
Vision – where I expect to be in several years
Mission – what I am trying to do right now
Behaviors – things I promise myself I will do (and hold myself accountable for doing)
Value Proposition – the contribution my business makes to society and my clients
Goals – for next year, and for 5 years out – (I do two sets of goals because the actions required to achieve my close-in goals are different from what is required to accomplish long term objectives.)
Major Accomplishments Last Year – what I have actually done, in detail
Revenue Projections – a specific financial goal for next year, and also a projection for the next 5 years.
SWOT Analysis – my strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats
Strategic Plan – the handful of strategic drivers I intend to pursue to accomplish my goals based on the SWOT analysis
Tactical Plan – a list of specific activities needed to accomplish my strategy
Marketing Strategy – the promotion strategy for several categories – media, advertising, logic for reaching target groups, etc.
Sales Plan – the sales dimensions strategy document (by segment)
Publishing and Writing Plan – how many articles, where, and any books etc.
Online Presence Plan – my search engine optimization (SEO), including use of upgraded website and BLOG capabilities
Plan for Local and National Associations – including what can I afford to
keep doing (both financial and from a time perspective) & what I should stop doing
Corporate Policies & Procedures – the rules and assumptions I use to run my business
Master Strategy Team – my “Mastermind Group” as advocated by Napoleon Hill
Strategy for Teaching and Academics – how many courses, or which universities, etc.
Strategy for Optimal Speaking – patterns and associations, fee levels and pro bono strategy
Possible Partnerships – groups or individuals I want to work with in the coming year
What Makes Leadergrow Unique – statement I can use in advertising, and speaking introductions
Directional Options for Next Year – listing at least 3-5 options for course changing in my business or personal life
Mind Map of Future Options – because I think best in pictures
Detail Pages – for each option identified along with advantages and
disadvantages of each

This exercise may seem like a lot of work, but it does not need to be done all at once. You can build it up over several years. Once the initial framework is constructed, it requires only about 6-8 hours to recast the material for the coming year.

The benefit of doing this work is that, after it is done, it frees up your mind to spend maximum energy on execution rather than debating with yourself over every decision. You can confidently turn down opportunities if they do not fit your strategic plan, which creates more energy for your key drivers. Most of all, you will have the feeling that you are really charting your own course through life rather than just reacting to things that constantly come up.

I advocate some form of individual plan for every person. It does not need to be as extensive as my process, but if you will carve out a few hours every year to think about your own trajectory, your chances of living the kind of life you want will be greatly enhanced.

The process will not stop you from having setbacks or periods of angst. Life has a few “curve balls” for each of us every year. As Lou Holtz stated in Do Right, “I’m going to have at least three crises in the next 12 months, and so are you. But let me say this, and I believe it from the bottom of my heart. I have never seen a crisis that did not make us stronger if we reacted positively to it. We can all benefit from crises in our lives because they are going to happen, and a crisis is just another way to test the greatness of an individual.”

The benefit of having a concrete plan is that the vicissitudes of life will be more like ripples than tidal waves. You will be able to accomplish more in a year or two than you would otherwise do in 10 to 20 years. That is well worth one day a year to focus on your goals and strategy. Besides, it is kind of fun to invest in yourself in this way.