The corporatisation of us

I live in a village where there is an incredible amount of independent retailers.  Anything can be purchased, sorted, repaired, chosen.  Each retailer has a unique personality; one shop is a bit stinky – fags puffed in the backroom; another is a mother and two daughters who quietly disagree as they rearrange the handbags.  Another – saw me walking down the street with an elderly relative, and stopped me to ask if I would like them to reopen the shop (she was on her lunch) so my relative could come in.  Each shop has it’s own eccentricities.   I love it.

Last year, a space was occupied by one of our largest retailers, selling food.  Within six months, a baker of 40 years standing had closed.  I did pop in to the corporate retailer.  A lot of bland uniformed staff, very nice to me, walking me around past expensive loaves of bread.  Speaking from a script.  All eccentricities ironed out, tucked away, left at home.    There’s a place for this; whether it’s the local high street, I don’t know.  (btw The corporates are the ones that opt out of the £45 annual fee for the Christmas lights).

It seems that the larger organisations get, the more systems and processes are introduced to control, report, predict, contain the whole system.  Controlling these systems become a goal in themselves.

We need metrics, we love them, they give us certainty in an uncertain world.  When our viewing perspective is purely financial and numeric, – how much, how many, how often, what savings, what costs – I think we so limit ourselves.  We have taken 100 calls in ten minutes and it cost us 10p per call – what are we missing here….?

We have “saved 100k” through implementing the Bradford Factor (the most searched term that brings people every day to my blog is a variation of “I hate the Bradford Factor”). What other costs are we creating in making management more difficult, losing more people – the CIPD estimates that replacing each leaver costs in the region of 1.5 times their salary.

Umm, isn’t there plenty of evidence already in existence that tells us managers need support, training, development, encouragement, coaching?  Don’t the companies that perform the best (ie greatest financial returns) also in general (there are cultural bypasses but they are not the norm) have cultures that pay attention to human needs, and actually who see excellent performance being delivered through innovative, committed to a shared purpose employees?

Oh I know, we want gamification; we LOVE it.   “gamification is used to get consumers to do something more and to do it better”  “everyone loves a gold star”.  I think not.  We infantilise our employees.

I suppose if we view employees – “our greatest assets” in the same way that we view a consumer, it fits.  It seems distasteful to me; manipulative, creating conditions to drive human behaviour towards desired outcomes.  What about undesired outcomes, gender differences , what about transparency?  Isn’t gamification another version of command and control/Theory X, Theory Y?  Isn’t gamification what clever folks did to our financial system?  ”

Organisational systems ensure that managers have to protect themselves – and unless there is radical change in size of organisation units, pay gaps, and authority boundaries, so it will go on.

We internalise this and expect to be measured, controlled predicted.  We become compliant, passive aggressive, we internalise our protests, we accept bullying as a sad but realistic part of organisational life.  Sometimes we speak in a language that those outside the corporation don’t understand.  We are on an invisible treadmill, forgetting where to find our joy.

We think culture and change are powerpoint slides with a list of text boxes, we think employee engagement is a survey, we think customer service can be outsourced, we don’t think our hearts have a place in business.

We have bought into something that deadens the love, the playfulness, the silliness, the emotionality and the felt world.  What I feel is real; but you need evidence.

How do we get off the invisible treadmill of the corporatisation of us?

Teaching people to think independently seems to be a step in the right direction.




The authenticity hijack

red and blue hot air balloon floating on air on body of water during night time
Photo by Bess Hamiti on

By choosing integrity, I become more whole, but wholeness does not mean perfection.  It means becoming more real by acknowledging the whole of who I am.”

Parker Palmer

I started writing this a couple of years ago.  During that time, I’ve moved further towards being “whole and undivided”.  I’ve been training, learning, stretching, letting go, through my work as a Thinking Environment® practitioner.  So simple yet so full of complexity.  Like a tardis; like a human – it’s bigger on the inside.

“Bring your whole self to work” “Authentic Leadership”.  It always with makes me a bit …..I don’t know, wriggly. Why?

A coachee once talked a lot about “being authentic”, and when others weren’t (authentic) how it irritated/annoyed him.  He was unable to articulate with any specificity what he meant by authentic.  What did he mean I wondered?  Where he got to was that he had some assumptions, values about being a good and kind human being which boiled down to the fact that when people said one thing and did another, that was the cause of the irritation, the rub, the grit.

I wonder about this whole self to work, this authenticity.   I wonder too why I experience some discomfort.  Is there something in me that finds it hard?  Sometimes I have found it hard to be ME.  To be my complete self.  Frightened perhaps of rejection, looking foolish, of not being loved.  Not aware of what was in front of me. In me.  Hiding, lurking.  Buried.    I have delayered quite a bit of sticky stuff that wasn’t mine, in pursuit of being me.  Some of it was really stuck, superglued with assumptions.

I have discovered being me seems to invite others to be them.

I remember reading an article many years ago, an HBR piece about authentic leadership. I remember thinking “yes, that’s IT!”  I haven’t read many leadership models, articles, theories that I don’t agree with. Leadership development in abundance.  And yet……

“Be your authentic you”,” bring your whole self to work” (what is the psychological contract that comes with that? Do you want my story, my grief, my history?  What are my choices?).  We have a multi billion pound industry; and yet…..having done some research with one of my own clients and the efficacy of 360 appraisal; one of the main conclusions was that if an individual is up for self-development, they will get benefit. They’ll find inspiration everywhere, and they’ll love any programme they attend.    If they aren’t, they won’t.  If they’re expected to disclose as opposed offering to share, they’ll actually close up, retreat further.

What are we really asking of people when we ask them to bring their whole selves to work/ to be authentic? It must be fuelled with good intentions but  I think as an employee I might resent that expectation.  I think there is a potential for us to be projecting our own interpretation into this. (Isn’t that how we do everything?)

Perhaps I dislike my job and fantasise about another reality but I can still function well enough.  “Don’t ask any more of me”.  Met plenty of those, maybe once or twice, it’s been me.  Whilst I may think how much more fulfilment life offers if you are in the present, sharing freely,  do I have any right to ask more of you than you are prepared to show, reveal, offer?

It is my assumption that when we are being treated well, we are more likely to be whole, undivided, and perhaps live with a dream that could be realised – rather than escape into a fantasy. And that means if we are undivided with our energy and attention, we will probably more likely to feel whole, complete. Like ourselves.  Real. Seen. Whole.  That’s perhaps when people experience our authenticity. So what do we do about the “other?” who isn’t treating us well, over whom we have no power, and who has power over us?

Arnold Blesser says that change happens “when we become who we are as opposed to try to become who we are not”.

For me to bring my whole self to work; I don’t think you need to “know” anything about me.  Maybe I am assuming that is what is expected.  I may not say everything I am thinking and feeling but I am often aware of what I am thinking and feeling so that my contribution doesn’t create a need to respond to my needs.   Put us all together in a group and we create enough dysfunction already without my stuff going into the mix.  (Can I prevent that?).  I think the Thinking Environment evolves that further through offering others complete, utter, fascinated attention and the self becomes out of the mix in service of others thinking for themselves.  I need to be there, but not necessarily to be saying anything.  A coachee once said to me “I know what you’re going to ask me” (a specific TE question)  “but I need to hear you say it. “

Who and how I am is as much my work (more perhaps?) as what I know, and how I go about working with many different organisations and people.  Sometimes, the energy in an organisation reverberates and I don’t feel I can be who I am, and if I can’t be me, I can get a bit awkward, clunky. I once worked with an organisation where I caused an outcry “you can’t talk about that” when I talked about ethics in relation to coaching.  I wondered what that meant about the culture; the work I was doing.  Where did that come from? How could I, how could anyone be themselves if there was such vibration around one word.  I couldn’t be myself there.   They didn’t want what they said ” a more coaching and listening culture”.  Consultancy as another form of command and control. Not me.

I saw something recently about authenticity that made it OK through being authentic to dismiss or discount someone else in service of speaking truth.  So yes, that is being authentic. Yet there is something that bothers me; all tools, data, models, definitions can be distorted, manipulated to suit the narcissist, the power hungry, the status driven – the neediest of the needy can wrap anything around their own ego to suit themselves/ourselves.

If we think about integrity – being whole and undivided and operating with a moral framework  – then when we are acting with integrity, then our decisions are going to be made with a sense of our self, a sense of completeness.

Don’t tell me to be authentic.  Create space for me to discover for myself who I am.  I’ll make the choice.

Integrity – whole, undivided, knowing what I stand for.  Me.

I am an inexpert

I have learned/am learning that relinquishing the need to know (the answer?) is in fact creating something more in me.  Releasing me, unleashing me.

I’ve been to a lot of conferences, and seen a lot of speakers; some compelling, some entertaining, some dull, many with an excitement of busy slides.  I’ve seen many with a product to sell, more than a few with an ego, and a beautiful minority who have something important to share.   They have a message from the heart;  I notice that the medium of the powerpoint and the talk somehow leads to the human heart energy becoming diluted into something tepid and unconnected.   All in service of the requirements of expert.

Whatever the message, I’m always fascinated at how little of the audience input speakers want.  Occasionally a question is asked; nearly always the thinking is already done.  (How about if the speaker did their thinking with the audience – wouldn’t that be wonderful).

I live my work life as an OD consultant and I think OD is essentially a paradoxical place (perhaps why it can be hard to understand in a system which needs to make things easy – but life ain’t easy).  I need to both know – data, theories, methods, techniques, myself, oh man, myself  and  – to not know.  I can’t know what has happened before, who has something to say, what is needed, what people think, what can happen next, what questions people want answered, and what to do next – we create that together.  It’s a glorious exploration of potential and – me not knowing I find invites others to really think for themselves.  And then the magic happens.

When the call came for speakers for Inexpert2018  – a conference all about not knowing; it seemed perhaps a place where I could maybe have something to contribute. Or where I wanted to say something.  Where I could enjoy not knowing.

I did and you can see it here. All of it, not just mine.

As a regular Edinburgh Fringe festival goer; Inexpert2018 transported me into that magical space of anticipating what the next show will actually be about, regardless of it’s title.   For those who haven’t been to the Fringe; it’s not all comedy gigs, it’s that and lots of performance art in multiple guises.  I remember going to see “Moths ate my Dr Who Scarf”  and walking into to TARDIS take off sounds.  What fun I thought then – later – leaving in tears after a beautiful and unexpected exposition of the letting go of grief.

Inexpert2018 was like a festival of not knowing; such diversity of offerings.   I loved all of them, including mine where actually I finally got some insight about the calculus from the audience.  The audience were as vital as the speakers.  There was no division; a great sense of connectness.  That is liberating – setting our minds free to go where they need to, to ask and to play.

Each person brought something quite different into the room.  None of it would have worked without us all being part of it.  Silence connecting us, poetry touching us, stories moving us, inquiries getting us thinking.

Reflecting on the experience, I felt sadness at the education system and my own experience of having my questions denied; I have thought a lot about conference formats over the years and why we want to pay for someone to do our thinking for us, and I have thought about what value we place on knowledge and status over learning and kindness.  My overriding sense from Inexpert2018 is that it was kind; it was explicitly a place where experimentation, not knowing, failing, falling, forgetting and flailing were part of the process.

Kindness.  That is all.



The OD mindset and facilitation design

I went an event that the CIPD invited me to earlier in the year, and despite it being really well planned, organised, with content that was spot on and being in a great venue; I left with a feeling of dissatisfaction and irritation.

I found myself having a moan to a friend on a train about it.  The remainder of the journey home was filled with that unpleasant realisation that I hadn’t offered any feedback directly and as a consequence of passive aggressive moaning,  I then had to feel annoyed with myself.

Luckily I have no cat to kick.  I acted on my annoyance; picked up the phone, ‘fessed up, and my feedback was received with a welcome.  I offered to come in and share my own approach to designing events – in the spirit of sharing how it works for me which again was welcomed.

In an early incarnation of myself I was a branch admin manager for an insurance company.  I loved that job.  Complete autonomy and accountability; brilliant manager, multiple responsibilities.  Once a year, all of us were gathered together for a conference.  The evenings were what we all waited for.  Time to talk, make friends, 26 people doing the identical job – before technology enabled so much sharing, all we had was that space.  We were so hungry to share experiences but oh man….  the conference part – I remember once a new 200 page manual being issued, and someone taking us through each page. At the end of it we were swivel eyed loons.  The dreaded theatre layout, the slides, the injection.

Dear reader, eventually the ownership for designing and running of the conference was mine. I asked what they wanted – interaction, time to think, time to be, something active to do.  So we constructed a few activities, got out of their way, celebrated success and –  we had some legendary years.

My start point therefore is always to think of myself as a participant.  In every event, workshop, coaching session, engagement meeting.   What will it be like to be me? And recognising that for people who are like me, and like what I like, there will be people who don’t like what I like. They may respond to the opposite, they may want a combination.

I work to design my work from principles of inclusivity – if I want everyone’s contribution, everyone’s thinking; what are my considerations?

Here’s a summary of the key points I shared with the CIPD gang; about 20 of them came and at least one of these points I think landed for each person there.

Stakeholder, stakeholder, stakeholder

Why is the meeting/event/conversation/activity being held?  Who has interest/power? What do they want, expect, hope for, fear?  Much of the work with meetings I facilitate happens outside “the room”. Ask them, involve them, and listen to them.  Design for them.  Them includes people who will be in the room, people who are sponsoring, initiating, recipients of learning etc.

Imagine the experience from the participant perspective. 

Consider logistical arrangements,  content design and the psychological and emotional experience that people will have.  What will people need to know before, what do you want them to go away knowing, thinking, doing.   Think.  What will a good experience be? What events/meetings have you enjoyed the most?  What are the different experiences that people may bring into the room; some already engaged with some knowledge, others may have a different story.

All of use enjoy meetings where they participate, engage, talk, have time to reflect and share and when we are clear about what is expected from us; and where we have had an opportunity to express our own expectations.

Be honest about what you want. 

If you want specific questions answered; then you can do this through interviews and surveys or a chaired timed meeting.  If you want to impart information, with any engagement as additional benefit, but not essential – then – say it how it is.  If it’s a tell, rather than an ask – plan it that way.

If you want to get others thinking…. if you don’t want a set answer – then facilitation works.  Design a flow that creates space for people to connect and land, that gets energy and engagement.  Don’t do the thinking for your participants; assume they are adults, assume they are at least as smart as you, assume that they will ask for what they need.  Assume that you are equals.

Check in with them, contract with them, and mostly, get out of their way.

Less is more.

Facilitation could I suppose be described as making discussions easier through creating gentle adaptable structure.  Many years ago, facilitating a joint board meeting, pre merger (a first for me), one CEO took me aside and said “Meg; we just need you to be here; that is enough”.  I was trying hard to own the space, be seen, be validated.  I learned so much from that share.  Facilitation is not there to do the doing, or the thinking.  We lightly hold the space with respect and mutuality.  It’s not a performance.

Assume you are equals – then you don’t have to solve any real or perceived difficulties.

Create the conditions for people to think well.

I am a Thinking Environment practitioner, and this infuses everything I do.  There are Ten Components described by Nancy Kline for people to think, really think, independently.    These ten components are based on treating people well.   One of the components is ease –  no need to rush, free yourself from any internal sense of urgency.  Which leads me to the final point I shared.

It’s not about you

A key OD principle – the thought that we are an instrument of change ourselves.  Nancy Kline describes this as “people learn you”.

Be aware of your own stuff.  Most coaches and facilitators have supervision; which allows us to explore when we are projecting our own needs into our work.   For example; if you prefer open flow and not too much structure; that can confuse others.  If you like precision and timescales, that may restrict others.  I remember a leadership programme where we three facilitators could not really connect to the energy of the cohort.  It wasn’t until we midway that we realised we all had a preference for working in a very emergent way and were comfortable with a very loose framework.  What was happening was that the group were almost entirely opposite to us, and were not very clear on what was expected; and to do their best thinking, they needed more structure. We redesigned everything so that there were no vague “go over there and think about the culture here for a while” but clear questions with clearly expected outcomes.  Those who needed a loose framework did what they wanted, and those who worked better with clarity, gained a sense of achievement from knowing where they were going.

Recognise when your need to close something down is because you have run out of time, or whether you are in task mode and want to tick a box, or whether the conversation isn’t going how you think it should and you want to exert control.

One bit of reflection I remember from this recent CIPD session was the relief expressed by one person that the facilitator does not have to be visible at all times.   Facilitation is not a performance.

Facilitation is improvisation

My final thought; facilitation design requires judgement, self awareness, respect for the participant and thinking through the fine detail/nuances so that people have a fulfilling session.   All the things I have said above.

None of that predicts what will happen in the room.

Create space for people to notice what is going on for themselves is the most valuable gift you can offer.

Recent developments in my design has increased emphasis on stakeholder engagement prior to work; and in real time more open space.

It’s a beautiful thing.


There is no talent shortage

We are short of something; but it’s not talent.

I find it hard to make sense of the “shortage of talent” that we read about.  When I see schemes for high performers, I wonder about the other performers.  If you are a HiPo and I am not; what does that do to my performance?  How does being a HiPo impact my relationships with noHiPos?  Subconsciously. Who decides who is HiPo or noHipo?  How is that decided?  How do we decide who are NoPos?  What are our criteria for doing so?   How do we know that the noHiPo aren’t actually full of HiPo?

And then I think about diversity.

And I think about the difficulty people of colour, people over 50, people with disabilites have getting work and I think about ever narrowing selection criteria along with confirmation bias; unconscious bias, conscious bias.  And then I hear we have a shortage of talent.

Something is very wrong.  The UK has relatively low productivity in comparison to our country peers.  Could any of this be linked?  I think so.

Some hypotheses:

HiPo is a way of reinforcing and maintaining the status quo; the notion that some are superior to others, have inate abilities that others don’t, a manifestation of the class system?

I speculate about the confirmation bias in recruitment and my hypothesis is that this is fuelling the notion that we have a talent shortage.   I would like to see some data about recruitment; what are the demographics of those typically recruited through the agency route, and what are the demographics of the recruiters?  What would this tell us?  Perhaps a useful piece of research for the CIPD and Recruitment Federation to undertake.

If we saw everyone as HiPo, even when they may not see themselves like that; would we then be genuinely inclusive?  How would that impact our businesses if our people development includes everyone and didn’t decide who was HiPo?   If we were truly inclusive, non hierarchical, assuming everyone has equal potential – diversity comes into its own.  This doesn’t discount succession planning; just makes it much more likely that you will have a truely diverse senior population and that in turn would lead to more diversity of perspective …. and so on.

Selection –  it’s like a narrowing of the arteries is taking place;  is “talent” the person that can tick all the boxes … or someone that can tick some and have potential, energy, commitment?   Do we always want people who are 100% ready and do we always reject people who have many years experience and perhaps have realised seniority isn’t all it was cut out to be?  There’s a similar mindset I think in procurement of coaching/facilitation – as @tonyjackson said to me recently “the best coaches aren’t necessarily the best sales people”.  I think exactly the same applies to people applying for jobs.  If you write one CV every ten years; you probably are going to get scoffed at by a recruiter somewhere that takes exception to your font, your stating of hobbies or your long winded description of something you are proud of.   If the arteries continue to narrow…… is needed, and a lifestyle change.

There is no talent shortage.

What are we short of then? Imagination? Courage? Love?

What a lot of potential to do this so much better.

OD at the Tate – Who gets to Speak and Why?

Notes from Vilma Nikolaidou from the Tate telling her OD story.  Magical.

Written mostly in Vilma’s voice.

Our challenges:

  • OD – building the new Tate Modern.
  • New building has greater variety of spaces.
  • Turbine hall still central.
  • Real story is not the building but the difference experiences of art.
  • How art has changed “A cold Dark Matter, an Exploded view Cornelia Parker… we had different discussions at the Tate – how do we show it, how do we light it, how do we install it, do we allow people to touch it?

We staged an experience in our galleries involving people and animals – we own the art, but we don’t own the people/the animals?  What’s the interpretation?  What does it mean for the organisation when the world around us is changing so much?

70% funding raised by the Tate, 30% raised from Government – this has lowered – we had to make up the short fall leading to a more entrepreneurial approach and changing the way we think about ourselves.

The real mission of the organisation – we want to take art to as many as possible and we want people to appreciate that art changes lives.

We didn’t want to cascade new vision, we got all staff together in rooms – what does this mean for us? A great deal of worry in the organisation – “what if people come up with the wrong stuff” – OD – trust – they will come up with the right stuff.

Of course what came out was our people really care – about the Tate, art – that’s why they get up.  These workshops were so significant; everything comes back to them.

Audiences – more people come, more people engage – ways in to art change – this created the case more than anything we have done before.

When we talk about alignment – we did a big piece of employee engagement – we did a lot of consultation, a lot of talking “people over here talked to the people over there”.  We some good stuff – we got some amazing data.  The data is a significant lever for organisational change – which we have to to do to build a different kind of museum.

We talked about performance – what does success look like, not just in terms of numbers –but the way we do things.  We wanted people to behave and think differently and we had to articulate what that difference would be.  We change – audiences will change.  The work has been at the middle of the organisation – working with key influencers in the organisation – not seniority.

Reaching wider audiences, more diverse – work around brand, voice, tone – are we accessible – or experts for the few?

Vilma read a book recently, I love Dick by Chris Kraus – the most important question is who gets to speak and why?  Some voices are loud, get heard.  Vilma likes to hear the voices that don’t get heard.

We don’t talk in ways that people understand.

How do we get different voices bringing a little disruption into the organisation?   “Disruption” made people feel nervous.

If you give people the space, they will come up with good stuff.  Idea Queer British Art Show – we kept focussed on the shared purpose about a broader audience, we got the funding.


Where OD happens in unexpected places – Tate Exchange “an open experiment”.

We have a dedicated space, create your own experience, hold your own events, get your audiences to interact differently.

It is a new way “when you have that flutter in your stomach” you know something is good.  People not knowing whether something will be successful; creates nervousness AND pride.  OD happens in rhizomatic ways – people start thinking differently.

Resistance is useful… where is the resistance – there are some interesting stories their; and unless you can hear these stories, you won’t be able to bring those people along with you.


“Conversations with magic”  Looking after ourselves.

Within the HR and OD team we have been looking after ourselves, our well-being, our competence and expertise, reflective practice, we use Slack – a dedicated place for our CPD, learning, sharing.  We want to create more opportunities for people to think, a la Nancy Kline.


Lessons learned:

It takes longer than I think it should, and then it happens unexpectedly.  Slogging away for years particularly about audience, inclusion, difference – and suddenly it happened.  It was magical and lovely, and now it really stretches us.  I believe in the emergence.

Pay attention the micro cultures of your organisation.  Working in visitor experience, very different from working in an office.  Their stories are different, and the combination of their energy creates something very different.

We give a lot of respect to different cultures.







OD – creating the conditions for possibilities


Some notes from Cliff Oswick’s talk at CIPDOD16 and a few mullings from me.

“Emerging OD – action, discourse, action, discourse, action, discourse reflection – Cliff Oswick, Cass Business School”


Key principles of emergent OD

Emergent OD – about looking forward – a whole raft of emerging techniques which go beyond tradition/contemporary.

Change as a blended/diffused process – don’t just focus on “let’s figure out the problem, or blue sky”– a process to mix it up, by taking real action, in a robust way, reflection, action, reflection – (Meg – an evolution of action research?)

We don’t just talk about it, we just don’t do stuff.  We engage in both.  Action without talk is meaningless, talk without action is meaningless.

Possibilities – create something more broad than improvement, things don’t just have to be better, can be different – learning, action, learning

Rhizomatic – nonlinear – like roots of plant, tree – branches grow where there’s light, a path, and it’s spontaneous – changing their path and direction according to the circumstances.

Doing stuff in the present. Taking action, reflection, taking action.


A summary of some of the thoughts that Cliff shared:

In our turbulent and socially connected world – digital connectness is changing everything.

Action is simultaneously unfolding in different locales.. We can be in more than one conversation at once; this is relevant to the way we do OD and how change unfolds.

Rhizomatic processes (non linear, emerging, developing – eg rhizomes move towards the light) – utilising dialogic methods e.g. World Café/AI – imagine these were an ongoing conversation always going on where people who are interested mobilise around together and create new realities.  More actions, more conversations.

Orgs will look more like social movements, as they become more networked, and less hierarchical – evidence that it’s a case of when, not if.

Bottom up and sideways rather than top down; people coalesce around things they are interested about.  Create the conditions that people who care about stuff have the space capacity and resources to do so.

Employee activists, a process of dialogue; create conditions for people not to resist but to activate and mobilise about things they care about.

White paper produced by New Horizons group Bevan and Fairman NHS, download PDF – sets out a process of change in the NHS.  AN amazing example of emergent OD.

Instead of power through hierarchy, it’s about power through connecting, the move from hierarchy to networks.  All organisations are starting to engage more with the networks, and playing down the influence of hierarchy; exploring networks in very meaningful way.

Shared purpose talks about what have we got in common, rather than vision, mission – shared purpose is a process.

To summarise:

  • Treat change as an ongoing process not as a punctuated activity
  • Create conditions of possibility where networks can flourish
  • Encourage managers to learn to let go
  • Actively promote radical autonomy
  • Seek to engage mavericks not just committed individuals

A potted summary of a rich and engaging session.  I think Cliff is talking to a room of people who are in, moving towards, curious about and loving this space.    I experience a work world in which the word emergent itself is counterintuitive; there is much invested in holding on to the hierarchy; organisations often only embark upon change when they are in some way forced to, sometimes when it’s too late.  A world that wants a tidy text boxed up solution.

I think OD requires courage for the practitioner/teacher and all others who trust the process.  It’s about letting go …….moving with the system.  It’s not letting go of reality, but recognising there are multiple realities.

It’s beautiful.











Organisational silence – why speaking up is hard to do

When you do speak out, you are seen as a problem, as if the problem is only there because you speak about it”.

I read a blog last week written by Sara Ahmed. I shared it on twitter using the quote above which resonated with experiences I’ve had over the years.  That quote has been picked up and shared so many times and by such a broad group; I’m assuming that it connected, landed, shouted at, moved something in the heart of those who read it.

Sara’s blog is a wonderful piece of writing; a tough read about her experience of challenging sexual harassment. Essential reading for all HR practitioners I would think.   I drew many insights reading her blog, insights for all organisations.  One in particular has made me step back. And think. Really think.

Before I move to that; the stories I hear, keep hearing, my own experiences – what matters most to most of us at work is how we are seen, heard, acknowledged.  What takes the most energy at work is our relationships when they “go wrong”.  In particular the relationship we have with our manager and/or those with hierarchical power.  From the workers at the front line through to the Board and what they offer to their CEO/Executive Teams relationships matter.

I’ve had a few weeks where I keep hearing something. The same thing.  I’m not searching for it, but I keep hearing it.  “She is heard as complaining. When she is heard as complaining she is not heard”. (Sara Ahmed).

That something is people talking about conversations they’ve had with their bosses. I’ve heard examples of discounting and disrespecting on a scale that never fails to be saddening.  A person who’s gone to their boss with an excessive workload  and saying they can’t do everything, and just being asked “how can we hit our targets”. No offer of help. Another being shut down from sharing data by a lie and when the lie is proven, it is brushed under the carpet.  No need to make a fuss. Another being shamed/embarrassed by a boss who has decided to raise an issue in public and the shock of “why did they do that” paralyses.  There’s plenty more.

Each one of these experiencing disrespect, discount, override, are senior managers who have significant responsibilities.  They ask for help and don’t get it. They are put down; know they are dealing with mendacity – what happens?

It silences them.  

Not completely.  And yet – once we’ve been shut down, we will be more careful. We may not make a conscious choice to filter what we say, but we will.  Our truth is silenced.  We don’t trust.

Back to Sara’s insights.

At work, sometimes, at some point,  action is taken to remove someone who is damaging others – often when the damage to the organisations’ reputation will become public.  Action is swift – perhaps after long periods of inaction or something has become too obvious to discount; it can no longer be brushed under the carpet.  And here’s my realisation; the silence of the compromise agreement sweetened with a confidentiality clause – it doesn’t remove the problem.    Everyone knows, but no-one knows. Shameful organisational secret. We can’t talk about it.  The damage containment, it contains the damaged. (Sara again).  If anyone has ever wondered what is really meant by systemic thinking; this is such a powerful example.

Questions this raises for me:

  • Could leaders take one specific action to consider the confidentiality clause, and think, think – whether the good intention ultimately creates the silence that means that speaking out is seen as creating the problem?  What could be a different way?
  • How can we infuse our leadership and management ideology with the thought that hierarchy does not equate to inequality. Seniority does not mean ownership or give permission to utilise people as a pawn in a game of matching wits, climbing the career pole for furthering self-interest.
  • How by our own behaviour can anyone working in the people space (that’s all of us right?)  lead on creating the conditions that enable the person naming a problem not to become the problem.

I don’t have answers.  Perhaps collectively however if we ask ourselves questions and keep asking, then others will be encouraged to ask questions and then raising problems will not be the problem.












The future of work – is human

Blogging, conference, talking;  discussions seem to be clustering around a few themes at the moment. The future of HR, the purpose of L&D.  Our future when the algorithms take over (assuming you aren’t already reading this because an algorithm worked out you might be interested in it) and the promulgation of a range of favourite theories; agile, lean, 70/20/10.

I read a blog by Perry Timms yesterday on the future of work that got me thinking; good.  I like thinking.  I rather like to imagine Perry’s head sticking out of the clouds of our future having a good nose around; he’s wired to look for opportunities and possibilities and who knows; by sharing his thinking and allowing his imagination to envisage possibilities, some of those may well be brought into reality.  I always hope for a TARDIS myself.  Seriously.  It was a bit mind-boggling to go into the future; I’m rooted in the here and now – hoping there’s a future for us all.  Sometimes I doubt it, sometimes I’m scared.  Mostly I trust the process that what will be will be and do my best to be a good and kind person that leaves behind me a trail that will give another person another easy walk.

Something interesting is developing in relation to the future of work and humanity sponsored by the CIPD and facilitated by Jericho Chambers  – you can read about it hereMargaret Heffernan inspired me in March when she was talking to us about the early education system and what we build, and how we can create the conditions for people to think without fear.  I’m exploring the world of independent thinking in my own learning progression at the moment so it seemed sensible that I offered an input to the future of work and put independent thinking into the mix.

I suspect that the future of work is already here, and is happening around us, but of course we won’t know until we look back.  What was it Michele Zanini said? “Many organisations are already living in the past”.

HR and its future?  Will it only change if it has to?  I think so.  Perhaps HR and change is a metaphor for how change mostly happens, we change because it is forced upon us.   I see two different HRs and I wonder what that means for the future of work/future of HR.  I see the global corporates working like machines to keep shareholders satisfied, HR within creating engagement activities with good hearts in the organisations – working to find ways to make the machine human.   The shareholder algorithm perhaps? HR in those organisations is very different to HR in owner led organisations, charities, NGO and public sector.  The bigger organisations HR are siloed, separated, specialised in order to create order. Smaller organisations – the HR people do everything, loads of it, hands dirty.  Often one or two people making sure toilets work, and influencing leaders and unions and everything else in between. Some stuff is the same I guess; recruit, pay, discipline, induct, control unruly managers, influence the leaders to work within the letter and spirit of the law.  Maybe it’s more similar than different.

So much rhetoric about HR; the day-to-day seems to be for so many  – graft.  Restructure, change, rehire, intervene, contain, control – ever liberate I wonder?  I think HR can be the way to see the culture.  An empowered HR is unfettered, happy , experimental, devolved – unlikely then that the culture will be a miserable response to command and control – more likely to be a place where everyone’s connected to a shared purpose, and probably, on balance, people experience work as a good place to be.

Where does L&D fits in with all of this; is there an existential crisis?  Training seems to have become a bit of a dirty word, although I see a lot of training being delivered in the way that it always has. It’s a beautiful thing….to learn new stuff no?  I wonder what reflection L&D offers of the organisational culture.   Is L&D  on the outside of reality?   I read about 70/20/10, how to create learning and development with no budget, my twitter timeline is flooded with “agile”.  Which I read about (agile) and it all made perfect sense; beautifully packaged up as a product to sell. How does this connect to the never changing pain, which I hear again and again, caused by a manager who doesn’t actively, proactively from the heart care for and seek out opportunities for their direct reports?

How much time do HR people have to think independently; wow so much advice, so many “shoulds”.  How much time do L&D people devote to thinking for themselves? How much time are they given/do they take? What is their future?

More than ever people need to think. Think for themselves. Command and control – wow, it’s being held on to, reinforced unintentionally by so many interventions, corporate obedience, corporate fear – dominating.  What if we really think for and then speak for ourselves – then what?

So many questions.

I’m exploring independent thinking as part of The Future of Work is Human – creating spaces for people to think independently within a range of workstreams, facilitating open space at a Big Tent event in October, and – who knows what else.  What do you think?  Would you like to join  in?  Working together in thinking about the future.  There is no plan as such; there is a Big Tent in October; Neil Morrison has written about his work stream here and others will be doing the same.

Contact me, contact Jericho, contact Neil – if you’d like to get involved.

















We need to admit it.  We are afraid, then we need to talk about it, and then feel it….. we then need to change our own behaviour that frightens others; we cannot think when we are afraid”.  Nancy Kline

Here’s some fears that have walked along side me from time to time

Fear of getting it wrong

Fear of getting it right
Fear of being foolish
Fear of not fitting in
Fear of not being loved
Fear of being vulnerable
Fear of being judged
Fear of not being enough
Fear of failing
Fear of falling
Fear of crying
Fear of dying
Fear of the future
Fear of the past
When we are scared, when fear takes hold
We can’t move, we can’t be bold

Cold fear, stone like fear, sweaty like fear, night terror fear, silent fear, angry fear, fearful fear.  Ignored and buried fear.  Fear of fear.

This is what I know.

You will certainly cry at some point and most definitely will die.  You will fall, fail, be rejected, get it wrong, know too much, and not know enough.  You may offend someone, you probably will upset someone, someone will know more than you, and someone may dislike you.

We all harbour fears.  They can turn into debilitating anxieties that are visible stress, anxiety attacks, phobias.  They can exist within us as our secret doubts and worries.   Oh man, they can get in the way.  They can be the persistent grit in the eye, the muscle in the throat, the tiny secret voice stopping us from being our whole-hearted selves.

When we lecture, advise, tell others about change management; where we meet resistance – we we are dealing with fears, I’ve listed some above, (other fears are available). When we talk about culture, coaching, and the relationship aspects of work; often at the heart is resistance, reluctance, recalcitrance – some version of fear.

If our own fears are discounted, dismissed, ignored – I’m guessing we’re probably going to do the same with others’.  Because working compassionately with others requires us to have compassion with ourselves.

Fear is in all the work; I’m reflecting a lot.  Moved into OD in 1996 and before that, managed many people.  20 years, and so much fear in us.  So much of people not speaking up. We don’t create the conditions for them to do that, because we ignore fear.

I see so much irritation and frustration around change at work. What do we do when someone we love shares a fear?  Comfort, reassure, listen, encourage, and hold them in some way?  At work I see ignoring (denial), discounting, dismissing and distancing, more than I see their kind counterpoint.

If people are scared of change, the future, the unknown, then they can be comforted by information, reassured by training, listened to with respect, encouraged by offering belief in their capacity to grow and survive, and held by a system that acknowledges there is a “felt” experience that goes with the territory of the corporate world.

Saying it out loud changes your relationship with fear.   After a fatal accident of a loved one, I became fearful of driving.  I kept it a secret, only one person knew. I made so many good excuses for getting the bus.   One day it became public and I was ashamed, embarrassed.  I needed to drive, and it became obvious I had been concealing my fear.  The embarrassment unexpectedly turned into gratefulness as the person who heard my fear started to scoff –  and then realised what was true was that I was really frightened.  He gently got my car keys and suggested we go for a drive.  Man, we went for a long drive, on a motorway, we got petrol, and – we did the long journey twice.  There were other fears that walked alongside this one, and I learned that I could look at them, in the eye.

We’re so interventionist.  We’re SO interventionist.  We see someone with emotion surfacing, it embarrasses us because we identify with it, so we find a way to shut it down. Kindly  “don’t worry, no it’s fine, honestly”. We find a way to shut it down.  Rationally. Through not connecting with the individual experience, through emailing important data closing the opportunity for discussion, through delegating our messages through the filter of communications media.  If people get upset, angry, express normal emotional reaction to change and uncertainty our rational paradigm can’t cope with that. We ignore it, discount it, turn away from it, so we can’t see our own.

  • What if we stopped intervening and started giving attention to thoughts and feelings?
  • What if we created an environment where people were able to think independently for themselves and share those fears, and doubts?
  • What if we let people’s brilliant minds do the change work for themselves?
  • What if we faced our own fears, so that when another is facing theirs we meet them with compassion, grace and let them see us too?

I played with some words with which to replace fear and I came to acceptance.  It always comes to acceptance.

Acceptance of getting it wrong

Acceptance of getting it right
Acceptance of being foolish
Acceptance of not fitting in
Acceptance of not being loved
Acceptance of being vulnerable
Acceptance of being judged
Never not being enough
Acceptance of failing
Acceptance of falling
Acceptance of crying
Acceptance of dying
Acceptance of not knowing  of the future
Acceptance of the past

Works for most of them huh?

Nancy Kline describes us as living in a world of exchange thinking – where we do so much thinking for others.  Through creating the environment for independent thinking, we have the potential to quite simply create an environment in work where change becomes all about possibilities.  If we understand that by thinking for others we are stopping them for thinking for themselves…… and if they think for themselves – how liberating could that be?

I’ve been learning about independent thinking for the last couple of years, making subtle and significant shifts in my own coaching and facilitation approaches, and am now integrating the Thinking Environment into my OD and coaching work.  It’s part of my offering now and I’m seeing small and big transformations of course including my own, so please talk to me if you’re interested in knowing more.

The Thinking Environment is copyright Nancy Kline