Archives for posts with tag: organisational effectiveness

I was chatting with an old colleague the other day, they being from the comms side of things, and we discussed, among other things, difficulties we had experienced getting organisations to put out employee surveys.
Actually doing employees surveys is now so par for the course I’m amazed when I come across organisations that are still afraid to ask, but it seems that sometimes leaders just don’t think it’s the right time. My chum and I went through a few of the excuses we had come up against over the years – there were a few, but here’s the top 5:

  • We know what they think anyway
  • Everyone is miserable so why bother asking
  • Money’s tight, this is a nice to have not a necessity
  • We’re going through too much change, so no point asking until things get settled
  • It’s just an excuse for people to have a whinge

Let’s have a look at these in detail, shall we?

“We know what they think anyway” Really? Really? Everyone in the whole organisation? Hmmm… Now, I always say that if a team leader is surprised by the survey results for their team, then they aren’t really leading that team, but that’s for another blog, another time.

But if you’re the CEO or other senior leader in any organisation of more than, say 50 or so people, then chances are you aren’t close enough to people to really know what they say. And, chances are, if you are, and you do go out and about, visiting the troops and ask people how things are, they might, when  put on the spot, tell you what they think you want to hear. An anonymous survey may give them chance to say what they really feel, which may be something different.

“Everyone is miserable so why bother asking” A classic “how do you know if you don’t ask”. I worked with an organisation who took this approach once, and I worked with a group of change champions across the business, speaking to them on a pretty regular basis on how things were; the picture was far more mixed than senior leaders thought. What came through, after a bit of digging, was that lots of people were very role engaged – they loved doing their job, got a lot of fulfilment from it, took meaning and satisfaction from doing their best and doing it well – and where they had the autonomy and authority to do those jobs, they were very happy. What they lacked, on the whole, was engagement with the organisation as a whole.

Even if you think you know that everyone is unhappy, and they are, it’s handy to have that in writing, with evidence, so that you can do something about it. After all, aa survey shouldn’t just tell you how people are feeling, it should give you some insight into why they are feeling that way. Again, we can discuss further in another blog.

“Money’s tight, this is a nice to have not a necessity” I know the recession is over and things are on the up – but I’m not sure that is really felt out there in the big wide world, you know? Anyway, money is tight, especially in the public sector, and likely to remain so, so this excuse will be in favour for a while to come. What I say is, can you afford not to? Disengaged employees are more likely to cost your organisation a lot more in absence, lack of productivity, poor quality work, mistakes etc than the cost of a basic survey – for some facts, check this. Bottom line for your bottom line: engagement = mo’ money.

“We’re going through too much change, so no point asking until things get settled”. Two things: (a) when aren’t you going through change and (b) that is exactly the time you need to know how people are thinking and feeling: the success (or failure) of the change depends on it, believe me. Again, another blog (in fact, I feel a series coming on…) for more, but if people aren’t engaged with the change, it’s unlikely to deliver the benefits you hope to get.

“It’s just an excuse for people to have a whinge” Guess what? They’re going to whinge anyway, probably at home, down the pub, at the water cooler, to their colleagues; why not give them a platform to do so, and then do something about it. That way, they might stop whinging.

I may revisit these excuses in more detail and real life examples in future blogs, but, in the mean time, have a think: are you putting off your staff survey? If so, why? If you have another excuse, let me know and I’ll explain why that’s a bad idea too…

One thing I do quite a lot is networking. This often involves going into a room full of strangers and talking to them. This is how a typical conversation will go:

Stranger: “Hello, I’m Geoff.”

Me: “Hello Geoff, I’m Richard.”

(Business cards are exchanged)

Me: “So what do you do?”

Geoff (Not a stranger any more, you see): “I’m a procurement manager.” (inspects my card). “So what is it that you do?”

Me: “I’m and Organisational Development Consultant.”

Geoff: “Oh. So what what is it that you do?”

The next line depends very much on what Geoff does. Sometimes I say “It’s sort of like HR”, sometimes I tell them “it’s kind of like personal development, only with organisations.”

In my more retrospective moments, which rarely occur during networking, I try and think what Organisational Development is, and how to describe it.

For me, OD is about making organisations more effective through its people.

That sounds simple, but what that encompasses is really, really complex, and it means you need to know quite a few things before you can get started.

Firstly, you need to know how effective the organisation is now. And for that, you need to know what the organisation is there for; what is it meant to do?

This is a very straightforward question, surely? A shop sells things; a manufacturer makes things (and then sells them); a legal firm offers advice about the law to clients. 

There is clearly more to it than that, and I have blogged previously about the importance of vision and values to an organisation, and how these link to the strategy; if you combine all of these, you will get a sense of what the purpose of the organisation is, and then you can start to think about how effective the organisation is.

Then you need to think about how they can make it more effective. How it can do what it needs to do to meet its purpose in a better way.

Clearly you can change things like systems and processes, making them more efficient and productive, which is fine as far as it goes; what you also need to bear in mind is that you need people to operate these new systems and make these new processes happen, which is why I define OD as the process of making organisations more effective through their people.

This can be as simple as making sure people can operate the new processes or systems; however, there should be more OD can do. OD can look at the culture of an organisation, and see if it is aligned to the purpose; OD can see if the behaviours that are dominant in the organisation are going to help or hinder effectiveness; OD can see if leaders are leading in a way that helps or hinders too; OD can help you understand if your people are engaged with what you are doing, and with the organisation.

At its heart, OD for me is about change; if you are becoming more effective, then you need to change something about the organisation, and for change to be effective, people need to understand what’s changing, why and how, in order to make that change happen. Again, it’s all about the people.

Most of all, OD is about asking questions; it’s about defining and clarifying where the organisation is now, and where it needs to be, and then asking more questions to understand and define the journey between those places that the people of the organisation need to go on.

Which is why, in my blog, I usually end up with a question. What does organisational development mean to you? What have I left out? What else does it mean? Have a think, and let me know.

In a recent post I discussed my experiences of the public and private sectors – and how similar they seemed, on the surface at least.

In that blog I said I would return to that point – where you see the same things but they come from different places, and how important this was for cultural diagnostics.

I’ve used a few diagnostic tools in my time, and some of the most useful look at behaviours in an organisation – what people do. Even better is to uncover the behavioural norms that underly these – what kinds of behaviours do people need to demonstrate in order to get on and get along within an organisation.

Regular readers will know that these form part of the Rousseau culture model – layers two and three of the five-skinned onion, in fact. And these are vitally important = you need to know what people are doing so you can compare it against what you want people to do – defined effective behaviours.

For example, if you are (or are striving to be) an innovative organisation, then you need people to be open and honest about mistakes, because you learn from them and build upon them, in order to produce something new. If, however, you have a culture where people hide mistakes, or look to blame others, then you are likely to repeat the same mistakes and you don’t learn – the behaviours are ineffective.

So behaviours = important, yes? Yes.

Now, imagine you are re-organising, bringing new teams together, perhaps. Or even merging two separate organisations. You take a look, and do a behavioural diagnostic and you see similar behaviours in both sides. Great,you think. Job’s a good ‘un, these two will work together seamlessly, off you pop.

But, being regular readers will know that there is more to culture than the behavioural stuff; there are further layers underneath; there are values and there are the underlying beliefs and assumptions that cause the behavioural norms, and, in turn, the behaviours.

Another example, based on real life; two organisations where people take forever to do things. The behavioural norm is to put things off, prevaricate or otherwise delay implementing things. Clearly this is ineffective behaviour, you need to get things done; no point having a strategy if you’re not executing it, is there?

So how do you address this? Tell people just to get on with it? Just, as someone once said, do it? Fine, try that, and see what happens. Any ideas? Yep, the same thing that always happened, ie not that much.

No, what you need to do is look at the whys and wherefores, understand the reasons behind those behaviours and norms; what values are driving them, what beliefs lie beneath them.

In the example I’m thinking of, there were two organisations. Both had long histories, dating back well over 100 years, proud heritages and, apparently, shared values. Those values were only the ones on the  posters and on the corporate intranets, however; they were the stated or aspirational values, not the actual values; the actual values were quite different.

Organisation A was based in a large city, and was about twice the size of the other organisation in terms of headcount, but just another player in the employment profile of the city; Organisation B was based in a small rural town, and was by far the biggest fish in a tiny, tiny pond.

Organisation A was political; people based their loyalties on a series of mutual favours rather than personal relationships; power was based on knowledge and decisions tended to be made in private, outside of the “official” decision-making forums.

Organisation B was entirely based on personal relationships. Generations of the same family worked there, former schoolmates worked on the  same team, and you were as likely to have a chat about work with a colleague on a night out.

In Organisation A things took forever because the decision to do something was made over a brew between two people prior to them going into a meeting where the decision was apparently going to be made; everyone else at the meeting then spent the next few months trying to change things to support their agenda, stopping things going ahead as originally decided; the upshot was that things took forever to happen.

In Organisation B  decisions were made by consensus; everyone involved had to be happy with every aspect of the decision, every sharp corner had to be smoothed off, because the person who might have caught the sharp end could be bad-mouthing you in the pub on Friday night; everything was gone through in detail and over and over again, each iteration being run past everyone again to make sure they were happy with it; the upshot was that things took forever to happen.

So, they looked the same, but the reasons they happened were very different, and so needed addressing in different ways; where it went well leaders looked to pull out the positive aspects of both and I ran quite a few workshops on decision-making, demonstrating the value of dialogue over debate and how decision-making by consent tends to be more effective than decision-making by consensus. You could tell which workshop attendees were Organisation A people and which were Organisation B people just by how they related to this workshop, which was fascinating in itself.

So how did we get this insight? That would be telling, suffice to say I have more tools in my toolbox than just behavioural diagnostics. What I hope to demonstrate from this blog is the advantages you can get of going that bit deeper into the layers of the cultural onion.

Have a think, then, about different parts of your organisation, where you see similar behaviours. What lies beneath? Not the schlocky film with Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer, but beneath those behaviours. Is it the same thing? Or is it different values, different beliefs, driving similar outcomes?

It’s important, because if those behaviours aren’t working out for you, then you need to change them, and to do that, you really need to understand what’s causing them, don’t you?