Analytics suggest reduction in blog postings

Organization design and development activity is usually not tracked or evaluated in any meaningful way. Practitioners do not know whether their work has directly resulted in improved organizational performance. A report from the UK's Roffey Park Institute highlights this deficiency in OD the Roffey Park Institute's report Best Practice in OD evaluation.

The authors say that

We approached our research aware that there are many practitioners in the field of OD who believe that its systemic nature makes it hard to measure; some hold a world view that says it's inappropriate even to try.

…. In the prevailing economic climate we would argue that it is critically important. And as we emerge into a post recession world, we believe that being able and willing to demonstrate the impact of OD on the effectiveness of organizations will be imperative if the discipline is to maintain and increase its credibility.

Analytics and evaluation are helpful. A small personal example illustrates: in May this year, around the time the Roffey Park report came out, and triggered by what I had read in it, I enrolled on Google analytics so I could track traffic to this website. Here is the summary I've gathered on this site.

Monthly traffic has almost doubled between May of this year and this December, going from 300s to 600s, and traffic has come from 58 different countries. Here are the top 6countries to visit the site.

1 United States
2 United Kingdom
3 South Africa
4 Canada
5 India
6 Germany

The most visited pages on the site for December are the following

1 Home page
2 About Page (Biography Page)
3 Tools of the Month
4 Contact Page

The individual blogs have received hits but not significant numbers. The most visited blogs this month (December 2010) received between 20-30 hits. These results are promising, in that traffic is building, but given the time and effort it takes to construct a daily blog alongside a full time job and several demanding part time affiliations and commitments, I'm not sure that there is a real value to me of blogging on a daily basis.

It seems that actual readers' hits on the blog for December accumulated to about 76 out of the 609 visits / hits received on the site. What I don't know, but am trying to find out, is if the 76 readers constituted a loyal following who visit the site regularly. I may risk disappointing them if I don't blog everyday. So please let me know on this if you are a loyal follower who enjoys reading a daily blog here.

Till I hear from you, and using this data I've decided to blog once a week for the next six months and will post each Sunday. So, the next blog post you'll see will be Sunday January 2. I'm going to experiment with the approach too. Since I am a full time OD consultant I plan to do more on the lines of examples of stuff that I'm working on, and hints and useful things I've come across that week that have helped me manage any issues, challenges, opportunities.

I'll be monitoring the traffic monthly and making adjustments in the light of what the data suggests and/or shows.

Reg Revans and Elliott Jaques

The book chapter that I mentioned the other day is coming along in spite of the interruptions from present exchange, holly and ivy things, and other 'holiday' (aka Christmas) stuff. It's wonderful how much I'm learning by writing the chapter, so I'm finding it an enjoyable process at this point.

As my chapter is on the history of organizational development (though I'm still getting stuck on is it organization development, organizational development, organisation development, or organisational development and am using all forms indiscriminately) I've been looking at information on the early years of the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations. Established in 1947, today it is

engaged with evaluation and action research, organisational development and change consultancy, executive coaching and professional development, all in service of supporting sustainable change and ongoing learning.

Reg Revans, who pioneered action learning, was associated with the Institute, and if there was a UK Hall of Fame for Organization Development people he would be in it. I read his obituary which, at one point, made me laugh.

Revans made no attempt to conceal his low opinion of most business education – "Moral Bankruptcy Assured" was his interpretation of the MBA initials, and he cuttingly remarked that his ideas were so simple that it took at least 10 years for management academics to misunderstand them fully.

He sounds just the sort of person I'd enjoy having dinner with and I'm sorry I didn't get to meet him before his death in 2003.

Revans himself explains action learning in a delightful paper Action Learning: Its Terms and Character.
In this he points out that

If conditions are changing more rapidly than the organism (organization) can learn (or adapt), it will fail; it may even die, or cease to exist. Those who underrate their competitors (perhaps by idolizing their own successes of the past) may … whether individuals, industries or even nations … well invite calamity; those, on the other hand, who respond vigorously to competition may not only master it, but also improve upon their own standards of performance. We may give this argument a veneer of logic in the two statements:

When change is faster than learning the organism fails
When learning is as fast as, or faster than, change the organism survives and is likely to grow.

Oddly Elliot Jaques, a founder member of the Tavistock Institute for Human Relations, where he worked until 1951, died a month after Revans. He too would go in the OD Hall of Fame. Like Revans he was somewhat of an outsider to established management thinking. Much of his work in organisation design and development focused on the nature of hierarchy. As one writer says:

[Jaques' work] spans half a century and is based on extensive field data on how people behave at work and how they feel about their roles. [He] argued that organisations, no matter how complex, should have seven levels of hierarchy, each corresponding to a different managerial time horizon. Jaques's theory has come to be known as RO (requisite organisation).

His obituary points out that

Jaques maintained his controversial status to the end, refusing to abandon the primacy of hierarchical accountability in establishing socially just and productive organisations. Undistracted by human resource fads, leadership gurus or the dotcom bubble, he continued to develop his concepts in "real" organisations. Although ignored by many academics, his ideas are widely used by consultancies and organisations across the world.

I think I read somewhere that they knew each other and they were both associated with the Tavistock Institute – but I can't find the reference right now. What's curious about the two men is that they both refused to participate in mainstream thinking or media hype about their thinking. But maybe media hype didn't exist when they were cutting new ground in the way that it does now. Would Revans and Jaques have accepted speaking slots at the TED conferences? What would they have said about them?

Were they pleased to know that each has one of their books mentioned in the The Ultimate Business Library: The Greatest Books That Made Management, 3rd Edition, by Stuart Crain, published in January 2003 just before they died?

Starting the Book Chapter

I've been asked to write a chapter for a new textbook on Organization Effectiveness. As always this seemed like a lovely opportunity when it was first suggested, and I accepted it cheerfully. Unfortunately, now that the deadline is looming (January 19) and I haven't yet done more than think about it at odd moments, the whole notion of writing 8000 words feels like a tremendous ordeal.

The book's working title is "Transforming Organizations: reconnecting and redirecting OD and HR" and

"will examine the increasing evidence for an integrated HR/OD approach to enhance organizational performance at a time of unprecedented austerity in the public and private sectors. The collection of chapters will deal with the competing challenges faced by HR functions, which are under massive pressure to demonstrate how they can contribute to organizational performance and wellbeing. It will also address the growing debate within Management and HRM Journals about the need to address the increasing distance of research from its user base. "

My chapter outline – submitted in November – was accepted, so now I'm committed to four segments, each with subsections, plus a case study, making a total of 8000 words, as follows:

1. A discussion on the purpose and scope of organization development : Why organization development? What do organization design practitioners hope to achieve? What is the scope of organization development and how does this relate to organization design, change management, resistance, etc.?

2. A perspective on the history of organization development Definitions: why so many, what are the similarities and differences among the, why do definitions matter? Core historic/underpinning theories and the 'founding fathers' of organization development including systems theory, complexity theory, chaos theory, behavioral science, social psychology, motivation theory, learning theory, etc. Current theories including models from a world view, a socially networked view, and a sustainability view Values and ethics practitioners subscribe to

3. An outline of intervention phases and methods: The classis consulting sequence and how does this work in practice? The commonly used methods: use of self, action research, change processes, resistance, and multiculturalism, appreciative inquiry, culture assessments, etc

4. A discussion of the relationship of organization development to organization design. How they are different lenses on the organization (development = informal elements, design = formal elements)
How they work together to shape the formal and informal organization elements. Shaping the formal and informal elements to meet organizational goals

The elements above then have to be illustrated by a case example. This is likely to be a traditional organization with hierarchy and bureaucracy facing dramatic external context pressures to become customer focused, adopt new technologies, do more with less, and beat off competitors. Commentary on the case study will illustrate the definition of OD adopted by the organization, the predominant theory in use, the reason for the choice of intervention methods, and the interweaving of design and development perspectives. (Good, I have a case study in mind, so maybe I'll start with this and work backwards).

The "contributor guide" (aka instructions to authors) is almost a book in itself. There are 17 very detailed instructions and then three appendices including one on how to reference materials in Harvard style (not America Psychological Society in case you were wondering). Now that I've read the guide – and it is fortunate that I did this before I began writing, experience with IKEA bookshelves have clearly reinforced in me the discipline to read instructions before beginning assembly – I know that:

Chapters should be 8,000 words, including key learning outcomes, the case study, guide to further reading, and any material in boxes. This word count does not include figures and tables or references. It is very important that this word count is not exceeded. Once all the chapters are combined, relatively small over-runs will have a large combined effect on the total page count. (I don't think there's much fear of over-run in my case)

This is a textbook for students. Please be careful about the use of language: do take time to explain important and difficult ideas (if necessary saying the same thing more than once, slightly differently, in order to make sure the point is getting across) and do not use jargon. Do use interesting examples to keep up the interest of the students. Do signal what's coming up, and what has gone before. Avoid the passive voice.

It is important that contributors use the same type and similar numbers of headings. This helps to ensure that chapters do not look and read very differently. Headings need to give a clear and uncomplicated map of the chapter, there needs to be a similar number in each chapter; and they should follow the same broad format.

So with all this in mind it is "once more unto the breach dear friends". Writing requires the ability to "Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood." I can't quite say that I am standing "like greyhounds in the slips, Straining upon the start." But at least I'm ambling towards them and know "The [writing] game's afoot:"

Customer service issues

On December 22 I wrote about my megabus experience (Pop Up Communities). That evening I decided to contact megabus from a different angle to see what happened. Their website has press releases so I was able to find out the name of the President and COO (Dale Moser). They do not list on their website any email addresses of staff. To contact them you have to fill in a contact form.

Because I had been pleased with the outbound journey (good driving in the snow) I had completed the contact form sending in a note of praise to the drive: in doing so I noted that the drop down does not have a label for 'feedback' so my comments went into 'general enquiries'.

Here's what I said:

Date: 12/17/2010 11:56 AM
Subject: General Enquiries

How do I thank one of your drivers? I was on the 11:45 a.m. from Washington DC to Christiansburg yesterday – December 16. It was snowing, roads were treacherous, yet the bus left on time and despite the very poor conditions got us all their safely and cheerfully. Great driver and driving. Naomi

And here's the reply from 'Inquiries' (Sent on December 21)

From: inquiries@megabus.com
To: naomi@stanford.cc
Cc: Jessica.Francois@coachusa.com

Thank you for choosing megabus.com. I will forward your email to the appropiate personnel for proper handling. We do appreciate receiving good comments and really am pleased when one of our company employees is being thanked for their good service. Again, thank you for being a megabus customer, and we look forward to servicing you in the future.
Thank you
Annie

I tried, in various combinations, to email Dale Moser at Megabus.com. No success. Finally I took a look at the general enquiries response again – notice that the reply was cc.ed to Jessica with a coachusa address. So I tried the .coach usa address. Bingo!

Below the exchange. An impressively swift response from Dale Moser. I wonder what the next stage will be?

—–naomi@stanford.cc wrote: —–

To Dale Moser, President & COO, Coach USA
12/22/2010 06:54 p.m

Reservation number 17-4359-121910-M38-1335-BLA-WAS

Please tell me why the megabus scheduled to depart at 1:35 on Sunday December 19 did not arrive at Christiansburg? Please tell me why your customer service department did not answer, your managers in the ticketing department were not available to speak with, there was no SMS alert to my cell phone, and there has been no subsequent apology or explanation for the lack of service (in every aspect). I am sending you by mail a request for reimbursement of my one way car rental.

Many thanks

Naomi

—–Original Message—–
From: Dale.Moser@coachusa.com
12/22/2010 08:37 p.m.

To: naomi@stanford.cc
Cc: Jessica.Francois@coachusa.com
Subject: Re: Customer Service Issues

Ms Stanford,

Let us look into this issue and I will have our Director contact you with a response.

Dale Moser
President & COO
Coach USA

=====================

Sent: Wednesday, December 22, 2010 9:17 PM

Dale

Many thanks. Just as an fyi – we waited 2 hours and the bus did not show.

There were about 10 people waiting for it in the parking lot. None of us could get through to customer service number 908 282 7420 that the ticketing people gave us. Some of the passengers waiting asked to speak to the ticketing supervisor/manager and were told that he/she was too busy. (One person found out that the name of the manager was Tray). I have posted a report on the experience on my blog if you would like to take a look at it http://www.naomistanford.com

Best regards

===============
Wed 12/22/2010 9:43 PM

Naomi

It appears from a quick review of the GPS from that date, the bus did stop in Christians burg, but is this 50 minutes ahead of the schedule.

This is unacceptable and we will deal with the driver and you will be contacted by our office to resolve your situation.

Please accept our apologize and know this is no the standard of service megabus as been known for. Obviously we had a difficult first couple of days during this new Hub start-up and for that we are truly sorry.

Please give us another chance to earn back your confidence, as we have to over 8 million customers to date.

Sincerely,
Dale

Dale Moser
President & COO
Coach USA
=================

(Today I am repeating the megabus journey. I hope that it will be a good experience and not the start of My Memoirs on Megabus)

UPDATE: January 30 2011. Last week I got a check reimbursing me for the full amount of my one way car rental. Thank you Megabus.

Pop up communities

Last week I tried a megabus trip . It was a kind of comparison test with the Greyhound http://www.greyhound.com bus trip that I'd recently been on. There were a number of organizational differences in the outbound experience:

• The Greyhound you pickup a physical ticket from the bus station. The megabus operates from a parking lot with no office so you just take your on-line booking reservation number

• The Greyhound bus station is a building with bay numbers with arrivals/departures information and some sense of organization of passengers by destination. The megabus has none of this. Some buses were parked in the DC parking lot but an attempt to ask the drivers where they were heading for was met by a stinging rebuke 'wait till you are called'. In the absence of any information on departures passengers asked each other.

• Both trips started with the bus leaving roughly on time: Greyhound 15 minutes late, megabus 10 minutes late. The megabus has wi-fi and the Greyhound doesn't.

• The Greyhound was full (a second bus had to be laid on) and the megabus had 5 passengers. (It was a new route which may explain that). Both arrived roughly on time.

The inbound experience was utterly different. The Greyhound showed up, and the megabus didn't. And here's how a pop up community got organized. The bus was due to depart the parking lot at 1:35. It was bitterly cold and when we arrived around 1:15 there were several cars with people in them who we judged to be waiting for the bus. The bus was coming in from Knoxville, Tennessee. 20 minutes after the bus was supposed to have departed there was no sign of it arriving. People started to get out of their cars and tap on each other's windows.

Gradually it transpired that people were each trying to call megabus to get information. Several of us had got through to the ticketing department and had received different information. I had got "call back when the bus is 30 minutes late", someone else had got "it will be there in 15 minutes", a third person had been told "we don't have any advisories on this bus", and a fourth had been told to ring a different number because the ticketing department didn't hold information on bus locations, but the customer service department in each region did.

My second shot at the ticketing department number yielded the same information about the customer service number in the region. I rang that. Looking from my car window I could see most people on their phones too. Discussion revealed that no-one got through to a live agent on the customer service number. (One person held for 40 minutes). We all got the same recorded message that we were highly valued and the next available agent would be with us as soon as possible.

About an hour into the wait people started to emerge from their cars and swap speculations on the non arrival. Possibilities explored were: a) the driver had forgotten that he had to make the new stop and had just gone straight from Tennessee to DC. b) there was a big accident and the bus was delayed in that c) there had been some weather problems en route causing traffic delay d) the driver had pulled in early because there was no traffic delay and he/she had been able to make good time and then decided not to wait to the scheduled departure time but just set off anyway. Someone told the story of one megabus driver doing just that on a different route. e) The bus had never left Tennessee because the driver had faild to report for duty.

About 45 minutes into the wait I was working out my fall back plan. This was to drive to the nearest airport and get a one-way rental car (at vast expense!) I set about finding people who might want to ride up which meant knocking on all the car windows and asking if anyone was interested. Seeing this activity people started to get out of their cars and share reasons why it was/was not imperative for them to have got that bus, and why they were willing or not to wait for it to show up, or wait for the next one at 5:30 p.m. and why they were or were not interested in a one way car rental.

One person was going to Benin and had a plane to catch, two others (plus myself) had to be at work in the morning. Two didn't care when they got to DC so were prepared to wait, etc. etc. in fact they went off for lunch. Long story short, and after several conversations with the various waiting people, and after waiting a full two-hours my friend drove the 30 miles to the nearest airport with me + one of the people waiting for the megabus. Another person was driven by his friend to the airport. (We were wanting two more people to make a car load of 5 but that proved difficult to organize, as the logistics of getting two more people to the airport didn't work out). So three of us set off in the one way rental. By this stage the ten or so people in the parking lot had formed an instant community of experience and we were waved goodbye.

What I learned from this? Have a back up plan at the ready. Have the tools to orchestrate the back up plan – I was able to reserve a car on my BlackBerry, and be prepared to lead other people into a new idea. What I'm still wondering is at what point do you decide to give up on one course of action and take the other (cut your losses). I don't know if the megabus ever showed up. I'm also curious at the way lack of information leads to speculation which is much more difficult to make judgments against. Had I know the bus was going to arrive 2 hours 5 minutes late would I have decided to get a one-way rental? (I left after two hours). If I knew the reliability record of megabus would I have chosen that transport method in the first place, etc. Why was I happy to drive a car 300 miles with two strangers I'd just met in the parking lot? (Partly because I'd shared several short bursts of conversation with them during the two hour wait period). What causes a community to gel in a very short space of time – it seems the shared experience is key. A great novel on this topic of is Bel Canto by Anne Patchett.

Reflective organization design

At this time of any year I notice the word 'reflection' coming into play. People start reflecting on the year past, setting goals for the year coming, and generally developing some kind of internal balance sheet of their efforts.

So this week Joy Costa of the Human Capital Institute makes the point that:

you may be reflecting on how you personally did meeting your goals this year, how your team and department did and how your organization did on this year's big hairy audacious goals. Equally important is reflecting on why, and even more important is drafting the right goals across the board for next year, to confidently predict desired business and personal performance.

At the same time Paul Carder of the Performance Innovation Network (LinkedIn community) that I participate posted a piece saying:

Many of you will be starting to consider your 'annual performance plan' … Hopefully you and your 'boss' … will agree on a number of key tasks for the year ahead – 2011.

But, I can place a safe bet that none of your plans include a section on THINKING TIME – 10%. That's half a day per week.

This post prompted a whole flurry of responses on why thinking and reflection is an organizationally useful capability to display. It was taken for granted that this is the case, with not much in the way of why this is so. What is the outcome of an organization that is reflectively led? What does 'reflective' mean anyway – aren't all actions preceded by thought, however brief that may be, and many organizations suffer from an excess of checks and balances requiring them to think before acting (risk assessments, peformance reviews, and business case development, are all examples of organizational reflective practices).

Thinking about this, into my inbox popped the Life Trek Provision, Attitude Matters. Bob Tschannen Moran who wrote that

Leaders are called to engage in continuous, positive self-monitoring. Continuous means that we are aware of our attitude not only after the fact – "reflection on action" – but also during the fact – "reflection in action." Positive means that we notice when our energy is life-giving and up-lifting. Self-monitoring means that we do this as a matter of habit, on our own, without external pressure or duress.

This, I think is the direction for organizational reflection – it's about the mechanisms and forums for conscious organizational-monitoring as things are going on and being alert and open to possibilities and opportunities as well as signs of dysfunction or distress.

Beyond these it's about thoughtful decision making and here Peter Drucker was good on reflective attitudes and questions. In an interview with him as she was preparing to write 'The Definitive Drucker', Elizabeth Haas Edersheim, talked to him about reflective decision making. He cited four questions to ask:

1. Have you built in time to focus on the critical decisions? While most CEOs should be making fewer decisions, "taking the time to do justice to" those decisions that are his or her responsibility "cannot be understated," he told Edersheim, who agreed that "the importance of intuition and judgment (human perception) has never been greater."

2. Does your culture and organization support making the right decision, with ready contingency plans? Edersheim explains that Drucker's goal with this question is to assess whether the organization has values that help people understand how to make tradeoffs that are not just financial. Does the organization reward some risk and recognize that it's not going to know everything and that there always has to be a backup? Have you heard ideas and perspectives on all sides?

3. Is the organization willing to commit to the decision once it's made? …
"All of us second-guess decisions all the time. What's important is that an organization supports decisions, sets them up to be successful, and-by the way, when they're not-pulls back then and reevaluates why not. But it's not every day, all the time."

4. As those decisions are made, are resources allocated to "degenerate" into work? With this question, Drucker referenced his belief that "strategies are just ideas until you have a team who can execute. Allocated resources are just ideas." (Hence, Drucker's terminology: The broad strategy must "degenerate" into concrete tactics-or "work.") In The Effective Executive (HarperCollins, 2002), he credits good leaders with knowing "that the most time-consuming step in the process is not making the decision but putting it into effect."

End note The Center for for Creative Leadership publishes a useful book Developing Your Intuition: A Guide to Reflective Practice. You can download a description here .

Another book I liked that helped me develop thinking time is by Mark Bryan and Julia Cameron. The Artist's Way at Work,

Organization Design and the New Normal

Last week I got a reminder from the Organization Design Forum that:

We Are Now Welcoming Proposals for 90 minute Concurrent Sessions for ODF's 2011 Annual Conference! May 9-12, 2011 Austin, Texas – The Omni Hotel "Beyond Structure: Designing for Engagement in the New Normal"

As organizations continue to anticipate, adapt and respond to an uncertain environment, engaging employees and customers through design must take on new approaches, shapes and forms. Both traditional and non-traditional elements of design must be considered as organizations look to the future. This conference will provide the forum for skilled practitioners, academicians and business leaders to learn, discuss, debate and practice the next generation of organization design methodologies.
Criteria and suggestions are in the Call for Presenters form which can be downloaded from our website.

Also last week I was asked by the HR Society, for whom I'm running an organization design workshop in London on May 23 whether I was "happy for the event to be titled 'Organisation Design' again in did you have an alternative title in mind? Also would you like me to use the 'blurb' from last year's event or would you like to send through an updated version?"

At the same time the UK's CIPD is introducing an element of certification into its organization design program and I've been involved in commenting on that.

So these three things set me thinking about organization design in the 'new normal'. So what is the 'new normal'? For some reason 'normal' to me implies some kind of predictability within a given range, as in 'serve the wine at normal room temperature", or 'normal working hours are 9:00 – 5:00'. It seems to be about a predictable environment. So a 'new normal' would imply a predictable environment but a new one.

Making a strange leap I remembered an article I'd just read on NASA scientist's discovery about

A bacterium discovered in a Californian lake appears to be able to use arsenic in its molecular make-up instead of phosphorus – even incorporating the toxic chemical into its DNA. That's significant because it goes against the general rule that all terrestrial life depends on six elements: oxygen, hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, sulphur and phosphorus. These are needed to build DNA, proteins and fats and are some of the biological signatures of life that scientists look for on other planets.

Christened GFAJ-1, the microbe lends weight to the notion held by some astrobiologists that there might be "weird" forms of life on Earth, as yet undiscovered, that use elements other than the basic six in their metabolism.

A organizational 'new normal' might then be discovering that what operates an organization is not the standard five elements (for Galbraith acolytes) or seven (for Mckinsey people) but a different set of elements but what could these be, and where to search for them?

I'm guessing that they are around web based interactions. (I see I'm hesitating to use the word 'organization'!) Many of these, Boing Boing is one, are constructed in ways that defy a conventional approach to 'design'. We could search for them on the web in web based organizations. But maybe we just need to look through different lenses at what already exists in 'normal' organizations. As Paul Davies of Arizona State University, one of the scientists says in the New Scientist report on the discovery:

"It could also be that this 'weird life' is all around us, intermingled with carbon-based life. If so, it's going to be hard to detect, as we would have to find a way to first filter everything out,"

Maybe the new normal is already in organizations and we just have to do a similar filtering process – and organization design will be about filtering what is the 'old normal' out to concentrate efforts on the 'new normal' – predictable but in a different range, and one that we didn't realize or know existed.