Think you know the secret to effective OD? Paul Matthews has one simple philosophy to get you on the right track.
What is Organisational Development? Even the practitioners seem to have some differences of opinion about that. I went to a workshop on OD not too long ago and one of the questions debated was a working definition of OD. Despite the wide range of suggestions, and no agreed definition, the common thread to me was the inherent change component. And of course this is implicit within the word 'development'.
Any OD initiative is going to involve change. In an ideal world, that change will make the organisation better equipped to deliver on the strategy decided upon by the senior team, in pursuit of the vision.
Furthermore, change involves people. There is no getting away from it. Change will impact on people, it will be implemented by people, it will succeed because of people, and if it is to fail, it will probably do so because of people. People are an inevitable central part of organisational change, thus it is the people who must change in some way alongside other changes in systems, processes, hierarchy or location. People must behave differently, do things they have often not done before, step up their game and get more efficient and effective in order for the change to take root and become the new norm.
"People are an inevitable central part of organisational change, thus it is the people who must change in some way alongside other changes in systems, processes, hierarchy or location."
Almost anything they need to do that is different will require learning at some level: maybe new skills, maybe learning to cope with some new relationships, maybe learning new habits, or maybe learning more about themselves. It will also usually involve unlearning old habits and patterns to make way for the new ones. This is far easier said than done as we are very much creatures of habit.
If breaking old habits and learning new ones is needed, there had better be motivation to do so, or it won't happen, and the change will falter and fail. Also, if learning is needed, there had better be the opportunity to learn, or it won't happen, and the change will falter and fail. I would argue that the motivation to learn and the opportunity to learn should be integral parts of any change programme an OD person instigates.
So where does this motivation come from?
Leadership. We know that leadership is about engagement and motivation. The OD person needs to ensure that there is someone leading the change in such a way that people become engaged with it and want it to happen. How the leader does this is a different story altogether.
When people want the change to happen, they will support it, and wish to help it along. They will be thinking 'What can I do to help make this happen?' which is a lot different to change that has no leadership, where people think 'I wish they would stop bothering us with all these changes that don't help us. How can I avoid getting involved?'
When people are seeking to support a change, they will automatically find out what they need to know in order to do what needs to be done. They won't think of it as learning, but in reality that is what they are doing. The learning that takes place is almost a side effect of being involved with the change that is championed by the leader. The leader doesn't have to preach learning, but they do need to lead well.
And this brings us to the second critical factor - what do I mean by the opportunity to learn?
When that employee is being well lead and has a strong desire to participate in the change, they reach out for what they need to get involved in. At that moment in time, their motivation is vulnerable. If they reach out and cannot grab what they need, their engagement can disappear as easily as a puff of smoke unless the leader is particularly strong, and their motivation is particularly strong.
"When people are seeking to support a change, they will automatically find out what they need to know in order to do what needs to be done. They won’t think of it as learning, but in reality that is what they are doing."
Any barriers between the employee and what they reach out for in the moment to assist them participate in the change will test their motivation severely. If the barriers are too high in relation to the level of motivation, the motivation will die. The OD person needs to ensure that the barriers (will always be there) are reduced in both size and complexity. This way, when people reach out in the moment to find what they need to enable them to participate in the grand organisational development plan, they can.
They may reach out for many things, but often it will be information and knowledge. This is often called informal learning; learning that happens almost as a side effect of participating in the workplace, and the changes going on.
OD needs to look at how the change will be led, and how easy it is for people to equip themselves to follow.