New world challenges facing organisational development

I took time out to attend the CIPD Organisation Development conference sponsored by McKinsey & Company in central London earlier this month. While I and many other delegates had a difficult start managing to get around the fire just outside Marylebone Station that day, once we were there, the presentations and learning were stimulating.

We looked at traditional OD, the world of solving problems where change is seen as a diagnostic and scientific process, a linear process that can be planned through and for.  However the world of work now needs a more emergent OD approach.

A state of continuous change

Recognising the globe is socially connected, and the world now turbulent, OD needs to step up and respond to this. Previously, change had been seen as a finite problem presenting an opportunity for improvement. Now OD views change as something continuous, always with us, and a process that required unremitting engagement.

This shift in approach includes a move away from change management being a top down process towards an employee engagement initiative where change may be instigated sideways and bottom up. It’s a more diffused process.

This creates a real challenge for managers.

  • How to become more open with employees?
  • How to create the space to listen to what they are saying?
  • How as managers to let go of the control and direction mode of operating?
  • How to allow for a more emergent approach to organisational change?

The challenge here for managers is to let go, adopt a more open approach, and create opportunities with employees rather than for them. This is beautifully described as a metaphor by Heiman and Timms (2014).

New power operates like a current. It is made by many. It is open, participatory and peer driven. It uploads and it distributes. Like water or electricity it is its most powerful when it surges. The goal with new power is not to hoard it but to channel it.

There were some wry smiles that the surge in electrical power had created the fire that delayed the start of the day – so the image landed well with us all.

Empower people at all levels to take ownership and action.

One clear recommendation from the conference was for managers to create ‘conditions of possibility’ where networks can flourish.

Action learning is exceptionally well placed to respond to this new world challenge in Organisational Development. It is an employee engagement approach that fully empowers people to take ownership of responsibilities and have the confidence to take action within a network of peers. Significant organisational change can result from a well-placed action learning set – with participants going back to their workplace able to influence their managers, direct report peers and stakeholders.

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