We don't know what's next for business - but what we do know is how to help you be ready. This blog is all about anticipating the future and positioning you for success.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

What Do You Do?

Think about the last networking or social event you attended. What was the most common question you were asked? That’s right - "What do you do?" A good ice breaker.

We all like to talk about how we spend our work time; well, at least most of us do. I happen to love what I do: Organization Development (OD) consulting. It’s interesting; it’s multidisciplined; and although there are certainly similarities across human behaviors and organizational processes, each organization is unique.

I’m often asked what OD is. My answer can be short: "OD is an approach to bring about organizational change." Or, depending on who’s asking and how interested they are, I might go on to say: "Usually I’m engaged when leaders realize they must change in order to adapt to some type of change in their environment: changing market conditions, changing expectations of customers, changes in funding capabilities."

Why Organizations Need OD

You may not be thinking about Kurt Lewin while working on organizational change, but the father of modern social psychology is also widely recognized as the founding father of OD. Through Lewin’s research we learned the importance of group dynamics and action research, two of the key foundations for organization development work.

It was Lewin who wrote, "If individuals are active in decisions affecting them, they are more likely to adopt new ways. Change proceeds in a spiral of steps, each of which is composed of a circle of planning, action and fact-finding about the result of action."

My experience demonstrates that leaders may recognize that their organizations must change, but few have more data beyond their own perceptions about what’s wrong. And very few know how to go about planning and implementing change. There are some that attempt change alone, but their attempts at forced change are overwhelming disasters, ending with employees feeling disillusioned and wondering, "Who’s steering the ship?"

Organizations sincere about wanting to plan and initiate successful change need organization development knowledge and experience provided by an internal or external OD consultant. The OD consultant’s role is not to examine, diagnose, prescribe and fix the organization. Instead, the consultant serves as the catalyst for guiding and facilitating processes designed to help the organization look at itself, understand its challenges, and create actions to close the gaps between who or where they are, and who or where they want to be.

The OD consultant is capable of calling on techniques, theories and methodologies from a variety of disciplines; i.e., behavioral sciences, anthropology, sociology, thinking and organizational learning, mind maps, body mind synchronicity, decision making, and coaching to list a few. This is not a consulting field where "one size fits all." What works for one organization will probably not lend itself to another organization. The consultant will take the time to listen and explore with the organization their history, culture, practices, expectations and change objectives before suggesting options for how to move forward in planning for change.

Organizations have been utilizing OD support since the ‘50s, and they still need it. The OD interventions designed for the organization will be unique to its people, considering a diversity of ideas, perceptions, readiness, beliefs, expectations, etc. As Warren Bennis wrote in 1969, "Change is the biggest story in the world today, and we are not coping with it adequately…." I think that statement is timeless. Change continues to challenge us. It’s demanding, elusive, and yet ever present and impactful. Why do organizations need OD? In order to survive.

How Does The OD Process Work?

When I talk about OD, I often point to the benefits that can be achieved by any organization: private sector businesses as well as government agencies. Some of the benefits include expanding organizational capabilities to:
  • improve interpersonal and team processes and relationships.
  • create a pathway for more effective communications.
  • enhance the organization’s capabilities to cope with challenges.
  • improve leadership and managerial competencies and abilities.
  • deal with conflict in a healthy manner.
  • cultivate an atmosphere of trust and collaboration.
  • structure the organization to improve efficiencies and performance.

The OD consultant starts with the end in mind; i.e., a process to answer the question, "What does the organization want to achieve?" Based on the answer the organization agrees to, the consultant will work with the various stakeholders to develop a Change Plan or "travel guide." Think of the guide as a map detailing how to successfully move from Point A to Point M using collaborative and facilitated processes along the way.

Organization change doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process that demands sufficient acknowledgement of elements such as: time, patience, expertise, data gathering, analysis, planning, resources, collaboration, co-creation, trust, confidentiality, conflict, fence-mending, coaching, facilitation, exploration, intuition, decision making, risk-taking, stakeholder participation, open communications and let’s not forget coaching or training along the way. Yes, I love what I do!

So What’s Next?

Every organization today is faced with issues of change: Budgets are being cut and people are retiring and leaving with knowledge and experiences that haven’t been documented. Workplaces are dealing with management styles that haven’t kept up with the expectations of the current workforce. Multiple generations working together are clashing over expectations and preferences, workplace cultures aren’t adapting quickly enough resulting in a lack of productive ways to work together. Technology is changing faster than organizations can assimilate to, and the list continues to grow.

If your organization is considering a change initiative, the first step is to ensure the organization has the leadership bold and secure enough to take a good look in the mirror. Next identify internal or external OD resources to assist. This point can be dicey, because the OD consultant needs to be neutral. If the OD consultant is too close to management, it may be difficult for employees to be candid and hopeful that positive change can occur.

The worst thing I’ve seen organizations do is recognize there is a problem, but sit back and hope that it resolves itself. I’m not saying it never happens, but the odds of the problem resolving itself are slim. What usually happens is the culture begins to accept the dysfunction that the problem is causing and then begins to fester, resulting in other dysfunctional reactions and solutions filling in the void that management is not addressing.

If it’s time to address change in your organization, find the right resources to help develop your guide to successful change. If EMI can assist you, we’d appreciate your consideration. Make change happen so that the next time someone asks you or your employees, "What do you do?" the answer can be, "I work for the best organization on the planet!" Wouldn’t that be cool?

As always, I welcome your comments to my posting. If you found this article interesting please pass it along to others in your network who can also benefit from it. Have a great week.

This article was written by Deborah A. King, SPHR and President of Evolution Management, Inc. an SBA 8(a) certified firm. For 18 years, EMI’s team of experienced HR and change management consultants have been partnering with organizations interested in improving their workplace environments, as well as their organizational performance. We’d appreciate an opportunity to work with you. Contact us at 770.587.9032 or visit our website at www.evolutionmgt.com.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Taking Care of Business or a Boondoggle?

Why is it when times get tough the first thing most business leaders look at cutting are those activities that help with employee engagement, retention, customer service and, in a not-so-indirect way, profitability?

Yes, I know we’ve all been focused on cost cutting and reducing overhead however we can. But, have you noticed what those cost cutting measures have resulted in for some organizations? In my experience consulting with businesses and government agencies focused on improving their workplaces, I see:
  • Poor morale, resulting from employees not feeling valued.
  • Disengagement. Very often the workforce has been downsized, while the workload remains the same. Employees feel abused and taken advantage of. Their response: only do the minimum of what’s expected.
  • Anger and frustration. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, workplace violence — including assaults and suicides — accounted for 18% of all work-related fatal occupational injuries in 2010.
  • Decline in customer service. Employees mirror the way they are treated by their managers as they engage with customers.
  • Theft and fraud. It can be stealing supplies, money or padding the time sheet – if employees don’t perceive they are being treated fairly, they will take advantage of opportunities to "make up" for what they assume they are missing.

Strategies for Engagement

I know, the word "engagement" is way overused these days, but you get my point. Good leaders know the benefit of keeping employees happy. They want their employees to look forward to getting up and coming to work. They see the benefits of employees invested in doing a great job and collaborating with other team members to ensure a quality job is completed on time and within budget. They hear the results – fewer customer complaints – as well as see revenues growing as customers come to know they can count on the organization’s reputation for quality service, products and care.

Organizations in both the government and private sectors seem to be afraid to spend money on keeping workers happy and engaged. But at what price? Yes, there are a few organizations where unexplainable decisions have been made as far as recognition and training. But should everyone suffer because of a few? What happened to common sense? A few hundred dollars - or even a few thousand dollars - a year invested in an organization’s top assets shouldn’t be perceived as a boondoggle, it should be applauded as a responsible way to take care of business.

According to an article written by Leslie Caccameseon for Great Place to Work there are five ways to make employees happy – and therefore improve your workplace performance. I’ve taken the liberty to elaborate on her points.

  1. Give them a sense of meaning. Help employees understand how their contributions fit with the mission and goals of the organization, as well as how the organization benefits the community and world at large.
  2. Provide opportunities for growth. Research indicates that employees are happier when they are learning – and we all know how important continuous learning is. Training and development, executive coaching, on-line webinars, shared libraries, job rotations, job sharing, all go a long way to boost morale and engage employees in understanding and operating the business of the organization. It may seem counterintuitive, but investing in the employability of employees is an excellent strategy for improving retention, knowledge management, morale and performance.
  3. Insist on providing freedom to balance work and personal commitments. Think of employees as people, not positions. There is so much that people are dealing with today. Don’t forget in addition to their work duties, employees may also be dealing with issues such as young children, aging parents, family members without jobs, daycare issues, medical issues, and the list goes on. People need to be able to attend to their lives, as well as their work, in a way that makes sense to both the employee and the employer.
  4. Demonstrate your interest in hearing their ideas. Employees are more content with their jobs when they feel that management sincerely is interested in their suggestions. Ask for opinions and ideas and work at keeping communications open.
  5. Be true to Maslow. We all know employees can’t focus on the bigger issues until they’ve achieved security regarding their basic needs. Demonstrate how your firm values people by valuing fair wages, benefits and bonuses that represent a fair share of the organizations’ rewards. Adopt an attitude of "we’re all in this together" for the good times as well as those that are challenging.
So What’s Next?

In her new book, Make More Money by Making Your Employees Happy, Dr. Noelle Nelson cites research that indicates "companies that effectively appreciate employee value enjoy a return on equity and assets more than triple that experienced by firms that don’t." A marketplace where 90% of employees indicate they are willing to move to a new organization demonstrates the significance of the need to connect with employees on the things that are important to their workplace satisfaction. Turnover is never cheap and can have such a significant impact on productivity.

From the Human Resources perception, it’s not all about wages and bonuses. Yes, everyone wants to be compensated fairly, but what we hear time and time again through employee surveys is that they also want to be included, consulted, appreciated, recognized and developed. There are many actions employers can take to engage with employees that are inexpensive, yet very beneficial for opening up communications and relationships.

I agree that no organization, government or private sector, should be holding retreats and meetings costing millions of dollars. However, it’s not the events we should be scrutinizing – they’re important. Employees need to connect with others to build teams. They need to be recognized for past contributions and receive training on new skills and technologies that they’ll be working with in the future. Meetings, retreats, or trainings organized for the purpose of developing your number one asset – people - should continue to be authorized. It’s the manner in which the event is planned and funded that should be receiving the extra review to ensure its within acceptable limits for employee development.

We all want the individuals we interact with, whether at a restaurant, our insurance company, our children’s’ school, the airport, hospital, mall, or at a government agency to be courteous, knowledgeable, helpful and competent. In order to ensure those good connections, workers need to be included in the commitment to taking care of business – the business of people management.

Please feel free to comment on this topic or to share this article with others. Thank you for taking the time to consider this information. Have a wonderful day.


This article was written by Deborah A. King, SPHR and President of Evolution Management, Inc. an SBA 8(a) certified firm. For 18 years, EMI’s team of experienced HR and change management consultants have been partnering with organizations interested in improving their workplace environments, as well as their organizational performance. We’d appreciate an opportunity to work with you. Contact us at 770.587.9032 or visit our website at www.evolutionmgt.com.