Self as instrument and the Perceived Weirdness Index

Someone this week contacted me saying: I thought I would just drop you a quick email to see if you have any useful article or fact sheet on 'self as instrument'. I am doing my Organisation Development core practice programme piece of work on self as instrument. I think this is a useful concept for organisation design practitioners to explore, not least because 'self as instrument', is 'one of the unique trademarks of Organisation Development' and 'By embracing that role [of self as instrument] we fully recognize the fact that we 'ourselves' are the ultimate instrument that needs to be deployed to shift the client system. … We do not think this type of training exists among strategic planners or technical experts in organisation design'. (See p.22 Organization Development: A Practitioner's Guide for OD and HR, by Dr Mee-Yan Cheung-Judge, Dr Linda Holbeche),

I was struck by the last statement. Organisation design is about organisation change and development and needs the full suite of practitioner skills (see my blog on organisation design the organisation development way)

Using 'self as instrument' is just as critical for organisation designers as it is for organisation developers – indeed for any person involved in trying to change an organisation. I am currently working in an organisation that has a vision to 'transform'. This means some big shifts in thinking about the organisation design and then taking bold action to actually transform it.

My simply stating (and providing evidence) that design change is needed is insufficient. This is where the 'self as instrument' concepts are helpful. To support the necessary redesign of the organisation I must model a way of being, thinking, and behaving that is both in line with the organisational members' values and ways of being but that also models challenge to the system. To do this successfully, I have to be at the right level to maintain organisational standing and credibility otherwise I won't be able to help change things. I came across a quote that aptly illustrates the position: 'I am trying to do two things: dare to be a radical and not be a fool, which, if I may judge by the exhibitions around me, is a matter of no small difficulty.'

In exploring the self as instrument concept I found, in the NTL Handbook of Organisation Development and Change, the Perceived Weirdness Index (PWI). (In the new edition of the book it is mentioned as a paragraph but in the previous edition it has a couple of pages – available here). It's a delightfully helpful way of measuring whether established organisational members see a 'change agent' as similar enough to them to be credible: that is the change agent being on the same wavelength, understanding and speaking the 'language' as them, asking informed questions, tuning into their concerns and worries, being empathetic, and so on. Once accepted as competent and credible, the self-aware practitioner can then use him/herself as instrument to 'launch ways of interacting that challenge, provoke, and unsettle the system.'

The author of the index also makes the point that 'Competence breeds tolerance for the eccentric. … a proven track record, or a compelling presence is often expected to exhibit behaviour that is a bit weird'. But as a word of caution he makes the point that consultants whose PWI is too low get absorbed into the system i.e. 'go native', those where it is too high get isolated and expelled.

Is self as instrument just as useful a concept for the organisation designer as the organisation developer and is the PWI a useful way of assessing 'self as instrument'? Let me know.

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