Naomi Stanford said during a panel discussion at the CIPD OD Conference on 25 September 2013 “I think it (technology) means we have to rethink the organisation and what it is; we have to think differently”.
Naomi’s comment neatly brings together the themes that were woven through the various narratives at this year’s conference which I attended last week. It’s not about doing what we do better, or doing more of it – what the workplace actually is, what it’s becoming, how we communicate, the extent to which we collaborate – it all needs rethinking.
The conference for the most part was a thoughtful, interactive, sharing of case studies. The case studies were future focussed; with practitioners sharing learning from and reflecting on the past – informing how we need to work to meet future strategies.
We need to think differently – that was the consistent conclusion – even the technology expert said it was hard to keep up as there are so many cool developments almost daily. Control is an illusion.
Case studies were from Richard Billingham – Bristol City Council “if you feel you’re in control, you’re not going fast enough” and Vilma Nikolaidou from Tate Museum “it’s not about controlling the system but understanding it” . Research from Edgelands pointed to a need to “speak truth to power“, and knowledge sharing and reflection from Onyx explored the challenges and opportunities technology is offering to OD,
“If you are perceived as disrupting the psychological contract, then change is even harder”
Vilma described changes that the Tate museum had undergone and were undergoing. It was a lively exposition of OD in action, brought to life through the stories of an organisation for whom their employees’ psychological contract is with Art. Art itself was being transformed through the digital age “it’s about what the visitor to a gallery makes of the experience and how they can shape their experience. We can’t deliver this with current models. Digital is messy; it doesn’t respect traditions. No-one owns it!.” Vilma explained how social media was propelling change in terms of relationships with customers; five years ago, customers would write a letter of complaint about, for example, dirty facilities, that would take two days to arrive, have a five-day service standard to respond and now – people will tweet on a Saturday night and want an immediate response.
There is a “challenge to the dominance of finance” in all this; change is chaotic and unpredictable. It is difficult to predict OD programmes and outcomes because by nature, OD responds to system dynamics – sometimes we look back from a distance and see what worked. This doesn’t fit with the financial need to measure, predict and control.
Vilma raised a challenge to HR – it’s not about controlling the system but understanding it and working within it to make changes.
Lessons from Vilma about organisational change and development:
- It’s hard, takes longer than you think and involves loss
- Build a great team around you, concentrate about your impact, worry less about being at the top table
- Listen to the stories around change and share them.
“People don’t resist the change – they resist not knowing how it’s going to impact them”
Richard Billingham from Bristol City council explored the relationship between HR and OD. His view was that you need both, that the mindset of HR needs to change from controlling to gaining influence through impact. Both the HR and OD function have to respond to changing internal and external pressures; the mindset needs to shift – workforce skill sets are changing and we need to meet those needs. Richard talked about culture, organisational design, the architecture of the business all being the focus of OD. HR and OD need to collaborate, blend, be both, and shift away from telling managers what to do – help them understand what the risks are. Move away from being “the function that likes to say no.”
He said too that OD can been seen as “a solution in search of a problem, a fad, and lacking in ability to prove impact”. So thechallenges weren’t all for HR; but like Naomi Stanford’s comment, there is a call for thinking differently in relation to how organisations are developed. He believes there is a greater appetite to create engaged organisations that create an environment that nourishes employee well-being, but that OD needs to do a better job at engendering understanding of the impact of the work OD does.
The focus of the Council’s organisational priorities are focussed on the needs of the people living and working in Bristol; and the OD and HR team are concentrated on working with the varying services as they change their business delivery models.
Richard also expressed a view that it is useful to get away from labelling everything and boxing it up as someone’s domain, eg performance management, rewards, training, and other initiatives/functions that can become an end in themselves – and not the means. The work has to be about the organisational imperative not about individual functions/disciplines.
He reflected too that in his experience, people don’t resist the change – they resist not knowing how it’s going to impact them. – they need to make their own meaning.
Social organisations leverage social media for collaboration and growth”
Eeswaran Navarathnam from Onyx Consulting talked about the digital imperative, and the anxiety it causes for organisations – as Vilma said, traditional boundaries – e g office hours, don’t exist. Eeswaran described three big trends impacting OD:
- Cloud computing – remote working, home working all enabled by data sharing and agility.
- The social organisation – the impact on collaborating with customers, it’s not all about process, it’s about our mindset.
- Business intelligence
You can see his slides here.
Moving away from the dominance of finance towards business and intelligence and analytics creates an opportunity for HR and OD to collaborate and add value.
“I’m a technophobe”
I heard this phrase “I’m a technophobe” more than once during the session – and I wonder what the “technophobe” is really saying. Wiki says that a technophobe has “a dislike of advanced technology”. So you don’t do on-line shopping, watch TV on your laptop, share photos on facebook?
If you don’t like technology, and the advances, and uncertainty, it offers us – it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. D; discussing this blog with @AndrewJacobsLD this morning – I learned a startling fact – that next year, people joining the workforce will have been born after google’s inception.
People are co-creating, collaborating, experimenting, yammering, crowdsourcing, hanging out, tumblring, instagramming, loomioing – as Eeswaran said, so much has happened in the last two years – I saw a TV programme last night that showed how 7 year old kids are being taught to programme.
Control is an illusion.
Enter your fear.
If you feel in control, you’re not going fast enough.
People don’t resist change, they resist not knowing.
The digital age is here.