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

Something’s missing though.

Stuff is shifting around in my head. Something’s stirring my thinking; something’s bothering me.

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 decided 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; speaks a truth.  What takes the most energy when it goes wrong is our relationships – and particularly 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 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.


I see that in the time between my first draft, and publishing, Sara is no longer on twitter.   I don’t know why; I hope she wasn’t driven away.   Speaking up is hard to do.













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





Companies that don’t change will be replaced

“Companies that don’t change will be replaced” A quote from Michele Zanini from Management Exchange in November’s CMI conference.

I live blogged from the conference; exhausting, I don’t know how Kingfishers and Figs do it.

This stuff really landed for me so in case you didn’t see it on the CMI site; here it is on mine.

Michele Zanini’s Toxic assumptions about change:

No 1 The pace of change
Michele talked about the pace of change; and offered the thought that organisations are already living in the past. Leaders only know change needs to happen when it’s a problem; they’re too late!
Eg Nokia – the 2011 burning platform – it was too late to change. It was simply too late; those who knew – didn’t have the authority to shape a change agenda, so by the time the need got up to the CEO, it was simply too late to change.

No 2 It has to be cascaded
It sounds like a wonderful theory.   “Who are you kidding?” says Michele. When change is rolled out as a cascade – it’s often resisted, often derailed.  Data from McKinsey shows that 70% of transformation efforts fail. No 1 cause of failure – 39% is employee resistance. 33% is management behaviours being incongruent with change. Lack of resources/other is the remaining percentage.

No 3 assumption Change is engineered
This might be true for specific discrete tasks, but deep large scale change – it’s hard to predetermine the right answer (relies on the mind of the engineer).

Extreme example” JC Penney
2011 brought in Head of Apple retail – he architected a radical plan – pricing, like an Apple Store, a cultural “cleanse” – overhaul everything JC Penney stood for.. The most radical example – created a huge acrylic box, where employees were encouraged to put new symbols and pick up new symbols to signify new culture. No consultation. People hated it.

He ignored them. 2012 company shrunk sales by $4bn left in 2014, company’s market price went down by half, 20,000 people lost their jobs.

We need a new paradigm for thinking about change, need to overturn these beliefs.

Management lab think about it by building a change platform, make three shifts
• From top down to activist out
• Change needs to be shifted from sold to invited – let other people figure out how to help you solve it
• From managed to organic, rely on self-organizing communities and experimentation *working with permanent slush” things moving too fast for the freeze stage.

Example; CEMEX
Progress in making change; construction is a localised industry in many locations. Locations didn’t talk to each other. They tried sending “emissaries” HQ staff then disseminated key information; didn’t work.
In 2010 they tried something different; they created peer communities of passion and interest. Tried informal and informal networks. Focussed on biggest priorities. Organic communities that anyone could start. They have been doing this for five years – now hundreds of these communities exist across CEMEX.
(View – some of the stories are here with more detail.)
They share documents, share insights, use video conferencing, offline conferences to support the communities.
Business impact
1. How do we think about construction in the 21st Century – 10 big priorities (eg sustainability, energy efficient buildings) defined the strategic agenda? Nominated people who would lead these priorities.
2. Ready mix products – 50 different countries community – first global brand – unprecedented. 33% of total revenue.
3. Alternative fuels – saving £130m
Quote from CIO “collaboration is how we get this done today. Our open connected approach as resulted in more speed and agility. Just as important, everybody feels something of something bigger, something important” Gilberto Garcia.
When individuals are given change to solve problems together change is natural.

How to hack:
• Culture
• Business model
• Management Model
• Operating Model
American group – Multiple retail brands
Two realisations from EO – first – to compete they needed to build up their innovation capabilities; make it a core part of DNA, second – not going to do it top down. Try something different, try to involve people, gives them the skills and the tools to embed the change.

Dos and don’t

First don’t and do
If you have a problem, don’t appoint a task force of the usual suspects- instead invite everyone to hack the issue.
Create innovation capability; – we ended up building a corporate innovation mooc, 3000 people were invited to take part. Build up the skills, give employees tools to think like business innovators, regardless of where they sit in the hierarchy. We generated hundreds of ideas that would eventually drive the strategy. We said “As a way to fundamentally changing the culture this is the opportunity you have to change the direction of the company. I really mean it. It’s not an interesting exercise – a pillar of our change.”
Reception was amazing 103 comments on opening blog; people truly appreciative.

Second do and don’t
Don’t package a high level sanitized account of the problem
Do encourage everyone to join an honest discussion of root causes and barriers.

E.g. people highlighted key barriers to innovation “we’re so focussed on the product we are forgetting about innovation about the way we serve clients, go to market”. What are we doing right that we are doing wrong? Create a conducive environment for creativity and innovation.
Ask – do we have the organisational structure for success?
A first in the company, people felt liberated. A lot of energy.

Third dos and don’t
Avoid the temptation to rush to an answer, relying on benchmarking and expert judgement. Let the community create its own path.
We used four lenses:
• Innovators – identify industry orthodoxies you can challenge
• Trends and discontinuities – emerging trends that are unappreciated
• Skills and assets that could be combined in creative ways
• Unmet customer needs.
We generated hundreds of ideas, how to choose?
Focus on one idea that is industry specific (give them some filters – e.g. potential in market place)
Then their task to build a business model around that idea. e.g. rethink the shoebox – what customers, what products, how do we make money. Where do the ideas converge? The level of participation surprised us; 2000 people generated 10000 ideas. Almost 100000 likes, 10000 comments. All voluntary – no time off to do the Mooc and the hack. Discretionary energy that this unlocked was amazing. We thought if we have 200 people, we would be in great shape.

Fourth do and don’t
Don’t create a grand plan in great detail, Do create a persistent hacking community. Develop a portfolio of experiments based on the best ideas, emerging process. We took 950 ideas clustered into 12 big themes, eg” rethink the customer experience, customizing the product.
Created self-managing teams, pitch their idea, create short lists, extended team, ability to experiment if selected.
Michele told us that he was presenting this live! It’s a work in progress – not declaring victory.

More dos and don’ts
• Don’t target a narrow set of practices or skills, do focus systemically on individuals and institution
• Change the way your management model works so it can be pro innovation.
• Now; Moving towards hacking management
• Internal crowdfunding platform, open source strategy process
• Change structure, self-organising, self-managing communities
• Establish real accountability for pro-innovation behaviours, eg legitimising dissent

Final piece of advice
Don’t focus on formal change, do embrace new principles and behaviours.
Previously business experienced a fad about TQM – it didn’t have much to do with culture – created quality circles; the problem was that most leaders only paid lip service to underlying values of TQM. Disconnect between what you’re saying and what you’re doing – leads to failure.
Leadership behaviours – means devoting attention to environment that means that leadership is less of a change agent, more of a change enabler.
One example of embracing new behaviours – opportunities to “ask me anything”. Reinforcing intent to change.
Interesting question – what could Nokia have actually done? For the future – companies that don’t change will be replaced by other companies. Eg the internal allocation of capital inside companies, is as big as bonds/capital market – if that’s not allocated properly because of inertia – a waste of resources.

What you can’t see..

Thanks to Sukh Pabial whose blog “the diversity and tolerance conundrum” prompted me to finish this blog which has taken a bit of time and thought to write.

Diversity and Inclusion; this is on the agenda of most organisations – right?

  • What’s our policy?
  • How many people of colour do we have in senior positions?
  • How many women do we have in managerial roles?
  • How do we make our public places accessible?
  • How do we train managers to understand and be engaged in working within the law?
  • What are we doing to understand the impact of Diversity and inclusion to creating an adaptable business?
  • How can we make sure we respect and value the needs of people of differing faiths?

“While many organisations can claim they put diversity and inclusion at the core of their people strategy by covering issues such as interviews and assessment methods … many key activities that would help to create non-discriminatory and inclusive workplaces are less common”. Diversity – Fringe or Fundamental?  CIPD 2012

There are some fantastic people in the field of Diversity and Inclusion providing training us to understand our unconscious bias’ and how we may be prejudiced in relation to internalised beliefs, out of our awareness.

Something is missing

It feels like we have progressed, are progressing and yet –  it feels like something is missing.

I had my own thinking challenged a couple of years ago.  I was at a conference where various people from arts and culture organisations had come together to look at making performance spaces accessible for people with disabilities.  So, I’m thinking of people in wheelchairs, perhaps people with visual impairments.  What remains with me from that conference was the speaker from a theatre company in Sheffield who had recently taken on an old industrial building for conversion as an arts space. They work with learning disabled performers, and wanted a lift that someone who was unable to retain multiple instructions would be able to operate.  Out of 25 lift manufacturers, only two were able to make something that worked for these performers.

My own family experience of disability, and past work with SEND children led to my (incorrect) assumption was that I would “know”  about this subject, and yet – the perspective of someone learning disabled hadn’t occurred to me.  I think it struck me as a powerful example of the ways in which people can be excluded, and how hard, how difficult it is to embrace diversity when we think so much from our own frame of reference.

I read a blog late last year by Tony Jackson which was so beautifully written and which really made me think – it’s about how we exclude ourselves from what might cause us pain, embarrassment, difficulty.  Even abuse.

Let me explain from a very personal perspective;  I don’t have children.  Although I am so fortunate to have special ones who I love, and you know who you are.

My childlessness has met with varied reactions throughout my adult life, and I have been excluded, have excluded myself from, various activities because of the judgements that I know people make about me.

I didn’t enjoy being told that “life wasn’t worth living for any woman who wasn’t a mother”. Knowing that I didn’t have children, but not knowing anything else about me.  At a party.  I’m not sure she meant to be unkind, but I have now had that said to me more than once, so I know it’s a view that exists.  So  there are various places, conversations, groupings that I have excluded myself from .  Unspoken judgements made about me speaking loud and clear.

I facilitated an event recently where all the participants and the client were male.  I was referred to as “the glamorous assistant” at one point  – despite having an equal role with my male co-worker.  The spoken assumption that my male colleague was also the superior.   In another situation, where all the speakers were male –  I was told that they just couldn’t attract women to speak.  My response was – “”””try more, try differently”.

The speaker space – so easily claimed by men (not by all men) makes me think. If I inhabit a place that is traditionally male, what will I have to leave behind of myself to fit in?  Women don’t have as much testosterone so – they use up more adrenalin when there is some type of pressure to perform.  That depletes resources. So maybe I don’t do it.  I prefer to step back, and direct my energies elsewhere. These things may not be a “problem” for me as I have adapted, accepted, got used to them.  They may not be conscious choices – choices operating outside of my own awareness.  I exclude myself. No-one deliberately excludes me.

At the core of D&I work has to be the valuing of difference.. If in our hearts we value difference and want to understand more about it, we don’t need quotas, laws, training because our mindset, our thinking is rooted in knowing there are individual realities.

As someone (and forgive me, I can’t remember, but it was a tweet) who has MS recently said  “inaccessibility is what disables me”.

Physical adaptations are a vital part of inclusion; quotas whilst conflicting for so many of us do have a role to play I believe, and policies can enforce behaviour change – absolutely.   But there is so much about all of us in addition to race, gender, physicality which is invisible.  If we restrict our thinking and acting on Diversity and Inclusion to the workplace and legal compliance, what is obvious – we’re missing something about what it is to be human.

We are all unique, each of us.  I would like to see more conversation, more exploration along with the education.  Only when we create shared meaning are we able to really embrace and rejoice in our diversity and make our spaces – both physical and metaphysical – accessible.

Carl Rogers said –  (exploring whether we need a reality)- “the only reality I can know is the world as I perceive and experience it at this moment”.  He goes on to say, perhaps the human tendency could be “I prize and treasure you because you are different to me”.

I want to know what OD is…….

When I had my first OD job in 1997, I had never heard of Organisational Development.  I was given the opportunity to write my ideal job and – had a new boss at the same time. The ideal job was given the thumbs up by the Exec.  I started to get nervous. And the boss said of my new job “that’s organisational development”. I said “what’s organisational development?”.  She said “it’s about growing the capability of the whole organisation”.  Gulp.  I was about to find out more.

Another beautiful convergence; around the same time,  I met a previous boss for lunch and during our conversation she slid a piece of paper across the table towards me with a sort of secret smile. It was an application for a Msc in organisational Consulting, one she had studied herself and I had seen her transformation. “It’s time”. She said. “Who me?” I said.  “Yes, you” she said.

And so my life with OD began.

The MSc was experiential; glorious, messy and life affirming.  The first educational experience where all the thinking was done by me.  Academic reading was left to me to undertake at my own pace.   We were the T-Group, the lab, the subject of our enquiry, the sense makers.  We were often left to our own devices.  One time, I was working with a group where in our trio, two others, cleverer than me (who said that?) were locking horns on a magnificent scale. I shrugged away my opportunity to learn, my pissed offness, and I went off for a fag break.  I sighed.    I bumped into the tutor doing the same thing. I told him what I was experiencing. He said “whatever you would normally do, – do the opposite”.  So I watched and said nothing.  I swallowed the urge to facilitate, to intervene, to hurry up and I watched and trusted the process. Through that,  they were able to witness themselves.  I began the life long journey of learning what belongs to me, and what belongs to others and what belongs to the system.

I learned what counterintuitive meant, we exploredo chaos and complexity thinking, Klein, self as instrument, covert processes, Gestalt “you go your way, I go mine”.  I believe that the thinking behind the design of this programme was both before it’s time, of it’s time, and drew on the wisdoms and knowledge of the most ancient of times.   I learned about going native – getting drawn into the culture, the system, I learned to see myself as both a participant, and an observer,  inviting others to a shared enquiry to make sense of the madness that is the halls of organsiational life that contains, holds, and at times, cripples our humanity.

In answer to my own question “what is organisational development” I learned it is very much like personal development – where a person can bring what is outside their awareness into their awareness, understand the stimulus driving responses and thinking, and be aware of and connect to their own potency.  Developing organisations is about working within the system with the people within it to discover the connections, to open walkways between the silos, to equip people to do the long walk, and to see the possibilities.

The OD practitioner shares the enquiry and invites meaning making.  It’s simple- yet – as someone said to me last week – simple doesn’t make it easy.

It’s being outside and within, it’s life long learning. It’s about hope that there can be a more humanistic way to be in organisations and that being humanistic doesn’t get in the way of profitability but in fact when you create the conditions for humans to flourish……. good stuff will happen.

OD is somehow on the outside; the edges. We often work in the uncomfortable places.  Doing OD has required courage leadership and humility,  to create space to discuss the undiscussable, to bring to the surface what clings to beneath.  My work has shown me the equality of us all within our diversity.

I’m curious that it can be difficult to describe; I suppose – simple doesn’t make it easy.  I described it last week as like describing love. We all know what it is right?  It’s a universal life energy that connects us all together, and that we crave and need. Put it into a sentence – you might say something the same, you might say something different.  Search for it and you’ll find different meanings that don’t express what love is to me. That doesn’t mean I am right and others are wrong; it just – is.

If you’re an OD practitioner and you find it hard sometimes to describe, I think that’s OK. You may be in a system that is evidence based, so their internal knowing and wisdom is discounted, avoided, ignored  Stay with it.  There’s room for evidence and there’s space too for not knowing and discovering.  OD is a discovery process so of course we’re into the unknown.  OD is an enquiry so keep thinking, keep asking, keep noticing, keep sharing, keep enquiring, keep with it.  Ask the asker what meaning they make of it; that’s OD.

I‘ve written this blog with thanks to Paul Taylor from the NHS Do OD team, and to the CIPD who curated an inspiring set of OD stories last week at their CIPDOD15 conference.   Both have inspired me at a time when it seems that OD has the potential to be diluted through absorption into other functions.   I’m feeling that there is light shining from the NHS with their deep enquiry into OD and systems  – hugely challenging work and it’s a beacon.