Is organization development really managing change?

Here's a quote from an email I received this week:

"We are about to undergo a space renovation to provide a more collaborative work environment and allow us to start hoteling*. We recently announced this initiative at a staff meeting and there was a lot of apprehension from the employees regarding the change. Do you know of a good change management training course that is offered? I think it would be beneficial to everyone to ease their concerns and show them than change can be a good thing."

In the email quoted you have a classic situation. Leaders believe that to develop the organization they need to provide a more collaborative work environment and start hoteling. That is the strategy piece that aims to develop the organization. The change management piece is helping workers adapt to the change in circumstances and context that this development strategy brings about.

So, organization development is not the same as managing change. To make it simple OD is strategy and the change management is operations. But with this in mind it is obvious that in order for organizations to develop/improve then aspects of their operation the process, people, space, technology, have to change. Thus organizational development and change management are intertwined.

But let's take a more detailed look at the email because it is the type of enquiry that I am getting several times a week right now. However, before that, I'll tell you three things I've learned in this sort of situation.

1. You can't help people manage their way into a new way or place of doing their work just by a training course. Helping people adapt is a multi-stream approach which should recognize individual preferences as well as collective benefit.

2. What's seen by management or the business strategists as organization development – that is improving aspects of the business operation like profitability or productivity or usefulness, may not be seen as 'improvement' by front line workers.

3. Announcing things at a staff meeting with little or no prior involvement, engagement, testing the water, or other means of 'no surprises' to employees is almost always going to result in people feeling they are losing something rather than gaining something which is not going to lead to embracing the change.

So how could you either rescue the situation or stop it from happening in the first place in both instances getting the desired result – that employees will at best welcome the new development strategy and change to make it successful, and at least not overtly or covertly sabotage it?

Let's begin with rescuing the situation: is there a way of overcoming people's apprehension and helping them feel energized by the changes proposed? Well yes. Here's what one leader said about a similar situation:

"I realized I'd made a mistake in just announcing something. Essentially, I'd imagined that in making people aware of what we were trying to do then they would do it. (The left hand side of the graphic below: awareness and action). I'd forgotten that the leadership team had been working on the development project for a good while and were familiar with what the strategy was and what we wanted to achieve. During this period they'd gradually recognized the changes that would be required and were ready to make them, they'd already moved through the four stages that makes change successful: awareness, understanding, engagement, action).

I decided to do four things to help engage the employees:

a) Set up what I called a 'Show and Say' period of 2 weeks. We planned out a whole series of events, activities, webinars, and forums which were targeted at raising awareness – basically making the business case about what we were trying to do and why we were trying to do it. During this period we invited comment, responses, and questions from employees about the organization development strategy. These were all debated in on-line forums, at management meetings, and in my blog to staff.

b) Help employees really feel what it would be like working in a hoteling environment. We set up one of the office floors as hotel space and invited work-groups to come and try it out for a day. We more or less insisted that everyone experimented with this or at least talked to someone who had. We got a lot of good feedback with this and realized that we needed to do things like provide useful tip sheets, where to go for help, and 'how to' information, like "How to change the height of your desk" etc. When I think about it, it's the sort of information you find in a standard hotel room – that explains how to order room service, amenities in the neighborhood, and so on.

c) Highlight the gains they would get from this – which were linked to the business processes, and technology we were introducing at the same time to support the hoteling principles. We wanted to make sure that people, process, space, and technology were all aligned in service of the organization development strategy. We made this a two way process – it wasn't just management saying "Look what you gain from this", it was employees putting forward points on what they felt the gains would, and could, be. I was surprised and pleased to find that employees put forward some gains that we hadn't thought of like they would be learning to use some new technologies that would be useful in streamlining their work – putting all documents on-line was one of these.

d) Recognize and reward people who volunteered to start hoteling. We had to be careful with this one so we had a phased process. Each week for eight weeks we told a story both of an individual employee's experience of hoteling and a group's. They weren't all glowing praise either, we learned to improve the process substantially in that time period."

This leader realizing that if he forced the hoteling issue he could end up with a demotivated workforce and drops in productivity. So he decided to take a step back and invest the time in doing things differently. It paid off for him, and it would pay off in most OD/change situations.

You'll find that any organizational development strategy must be partnered with a change management approach that will gain employees support. But that too is not enough. This piece has focused mainly on the communication and message based approaches of change management. Hand in hand with this goes:

• Using the forces of social influence to generate enthusiasm for the change. This is described at a popular level in Malcolm Gladwell's book 'The Tipping Point',

• Ensuring that the business processes, technology, and office space are also changed/aligned appropriately.

• Being willing to change course as you see resistances or people experimenting in ways that others could benefit from.

To summarize – any organization development strategy requires change management. The change management work is not just about the people but also about the business processes, the space, and the technologies. The aim of all people related change management is to gain high awareness of the business goal and high support for it.

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