28 August 2006

Individual vs Group Change

I have worked with many established consultants as their right-hand assistant over the past years. Keeping in mind my goal of arriving at an ever-dynamic theory of organization development and combining it with my love for philosophy, I've realized that all my mentors have subscribed to one way of thinking. When you've been in business for 30 odd years, ego is bound to set in, with the belief that "my way always works". Sometimes, brilliant professionals may not want to admit that their ways are no more applicable in the new world, and that 30 years of experience may have been the wrong kind. I do not want to digress from the main idea of discussion which is how positive change in organizations can be brought about.

Two schools of thought stand out in this discussion. One of them believes that positive change in organizations only comes about through large group processes, where the minds and hearts of the team members become aligned through an interactive large group intervention. Achievements of goals will not be accomplished in the little meetings of departmental heads. Every employee who is going to be affected by that goal needs to be in on the managerial strategic meetings. I like this whole idea because it increases employee involvement and participation in the organization, and motivation levels are heightened ten-fold.

The other school of thought centers around personal philosophy of individuals. Here, individuals are inspired by personal goals, rather than a corporate group process. Every employee is a leader, and maintains personal responsibility to deliver the best in their work. Position titles do not mean much to them.Change comes about through individual belief and dedication to their organization. I also like this idea, because unlike the group process above, I do believe organization change is a result of the individual changing first. However, the group process might be an easier and more realistic route to take because of the general human nature of resistence to any change. It is highly unlikely that people who have served their organizations for 30 years would change themselves, their outlook, their beliefs, and their work styles. In addition, personal leadership seminars might also not be effective in personal change due to rudimentary lecture-type formats.

So what is the best way to bring about effective change? The large-group processes that I have facilitated along with Mr. Sullivan, one of my mentors, has been a truly unique and inspirational experience for all those involved. It seemed like all the individuals involved in that 3-day offsite meeting came out changed and renewed, as if they went through a transformation tube of some sort. As a group, they were motivated and believed they could take their organization to new heights. However, the long-term effects of this change process have not been established and cannot be guaranteed. The short-term burst of excitement dies down with time, and the action plans that come out of the large-group interactions might not even be implemented. That's why individual change is so crucial at this juncture of an organization's changing nature.

Individual employees must change their entire outlook to life, and their relationships with each other, if organizational change has to occur in a truly genuine way. Connecting to the self, why they've chosen to do the work they do, and what they want for their organization needs to be worked out in individual hearts and minds for the large-group interactive process to be effective, with the result that the organization never comes back to its original state. It is important not only to think about how you can serve the organization, but how one's work serves one's life.

Therefore, I would add a mandatory 'Connect your Work to your Life' piece at any transformational 3-day offsite meeting. Ideal implementation of the resulting organizational action plan depends on this very facet of individual leaders.

16 August 2006

An Organization's Model

The title of this post may have misled you into thinking that I'm about to lay out a profoundly structured model for assessing an organization or system. Unfortunately 90% of the world's Managers are still held captive in "the matrix" when it comes to explaining away organizational behavior. Its time we broke free from this, and realize that organizations can never be explained away or brought in line with a structured model. Here I am about to rock your foundation again as I always do, but I believe its my job to free you from the illusive matrix of structured organizational assessment models that blindfold you from the truth of a reality that is far from being structured and organized.

If you work with a set model in mind, you might risk the loss of meaningful information that might be critical to your business. So the first step in setting yourself free from this matrix is to believe that there is more to what meets the eye when you look at a structured model. Top-down analysis has been the traditional method of organizational structures, assessments, and intervention processes. It is indeed natural to approach situations in a linear logical fashion because it is simpler this way. However, a linear approach is no more valid in today's complex environment. Chaos theory is replacing systems thinking with more frequency.

More than chaotic, the new term is "chaordic" taken from the words "chaos" and "order". Everyone hears of how complex the world is today which leads to the idea that systems are not self-correcting once they are formed. Systems thinking is getting more irrelevant by the day because the traditional linear cause-effect framework is simply losing its applicable value. With numerous advances in technology, theory, and the state of the world, systems no longer come back to their main functional origins if things spiral out of control. Traditionalists in management rely on self-correcting systems to come back to their original state if they stray once in a while. This is surely changing with time, due to the inability of managers to bring back their organizations to some original pristine value. Change is exponential in that there is not even a trace left behind.

Chaordic theory however still puports to detect some underlying order in random chaos. The order refered to here though is not a traditional cause-effect scenario. This is precisely why research in Organization Development has been so sparse. There is no way of knowing basic relationships between variables in an organization.
a scary thought but realistic nonetheless. I predict that organizations will have to let go of their precious pretty models that seem to embed all the answers. They are not going to sustain themselves in the future with pure orderly top-down approaches.

02 August 2006

Choosing a Consultant

How many of you are frustrated managers fed up of meeting more consultants who promise results they don't deliver? I bet you've been a victim of poor consulting, where your company has had to scrap entire efforts after wasting its time, energy, and precious resources on things like lengthy surveys, endless formatted documents, and intricate measurement systems. Who should you go to next time? Will you have the courage to try again?

I would like to draw your attention to a universal principle I always keep in mind: situations will recycle if you haven't learned the lessons that need to be learned. In other words, you will go through the same vicious cycle if you repeat the same mistakes over and over. So if you find yourself failing effort after effort in any action plan or intervention, you need to step back and evaluate what went wrong, why, and whether others contributed as they were expected to. Or else, you'll face the lack of success again. The good part about realizing failure in an intervention, is that you will increase your chances of success on your next attempt.

How you choose the consultant you work with is the most important step in your effort. This is compounded by the fact that you have only yourself and your team to make that decision. Once the right consultant is on board, you have an extra resource at your disposal.

Here are some guidelines when choosing an external consultant:

1. Make sure you are instinctively comfortable with the candidate. If the candidate starts reccomending strategies immediately, he/she probably has chosen the consulting career because of a power trip. Consultants are not there to tell you what to do. Rather, they must be hired primarily as a coach to guide the client system. So if the candidate shows that they know more about your company than you do, be cautious because the client should always be the one in control.

2. Observe the pace of the candidate. He/she should respond with quality, not speed. Don't be impressed if a potential consultant gets back to you with a full proposal after one meeting the next day. This type of consultant usually will expect you to come back with an uninformed, hasty "go ahead". A good consultant of the 21st century will offer to structure a proposal with you after an initial couple of meetings to narrow down the focus areas. In other words, a documented proposal is not so effective if it comes as a surprise to the client. This point is related to Point 4.

3. Get to know the consultant's philosophy. Ask the candidate about what they think a successful organization means, what model they operate on, what they think would be required for companies to survive and thrive in the future in general. I suggest that you do this in person, and not as a questionnaire over email. You'd want to observe a candidate's body language and confidence while they respond to these very important questions. See if you agree with the candidate's responses, and visualize whether you'd be able to work with him/her long-term.

4. Scrutinize the consultant's proposed process. Nothing is more important to successful implementation than the process you will use. Question the validity, timeliness, and pros and cons of each process step. Another red flag would be if the consultant seems hesitant to share the process details with you. The client must expect that the company's management team and a select group of employees will be highly involved in the effort. You will have to make sure that the consultant you hire will not be let loose to implement as he/she chooses, because any results must evolve before your own eyes. An ideal candidate would edit and adjust his/her proposal based on your viewpoints, feelings, and judgement as many times as it is needed to get it right.

5. Ask yourself whether you enjoyed reading the final proposal. If the proposal has common spelling and grammatical errors, and the points seem too complicated, do not hesitate to stop reading it further. Your proposal should be simple to understand, have no surprises, and most of all, should inspire you to go forward with it. If the proposal is something you have heard 100 times before with other consultants who failed, you know you have to proceed with caution. An important aspect is the issue of price. Here in Dubai it is almost an absolute rule that a "quotation" is given upfront in black and white in the proposal document itself. My personal and professional opinion is that price should be discussed verbally beforehand and negotiated in a trustworthy way. Like I said before, there should be no surprises.

6. Assemble a panel to shortlist and decide who you want to go with. Even if you are the CEO that makes all the decisions, do not make this decision alone. It is vital to gather the input from people you value, who are going to be affected by the work this consultant will do for you, and those who are going to be directly involved in the effort. Establish your criteria for choosing a consultant to work with as a group based on your past mistakes. Discuss with your group each candidate's performance based on the above points, and always aim for a clear consensus.

7. Test your consultant with a pilot project. It is always best to go slow and test your consultant's capabilities, ethical practice, and the depth of his/her connection with your team. A pilot project on a small scale is a good starting point to assess your working relationship. Do not make the common mistake of getting over-excited and contracting your consultant for a major organization-wide effort. Observe how the consultant manages his/her time, how he/she goes about garnering support from various sections of the team, the level of his/her patience, and whether he/she gives you constant updates on the next phase of the process.

Remember one last point. A good consultant expects support as well as work from the client. Most competent consultants will not go forward with a project unless there is adequate support and motivation from the client system. For your intervention to be a success, you must work with your consultant in a joint effort, and be mindful of not treating your project as something that is purely outsourced.

Good luck with your new consultant!