Designing OD & D learning: the criteria

What would you put in a 5 day internationally appropriate organisation design and development training programme, aimed at practitioners who have a basic view of the disciplines and who want to extend their skills, knowledge and confidence in these?

My task is to develop the outline for such a programme, and now I’m taking the first steps, eating my own dog food – as the saying goes – in doing this.

The first step, according to my new book (Chapter 4), is ‘Starting’ – blindingly self-evident yet easier said than done.  Each of the actions (recognising the triggers for the design work, meeting the client, agreeing the contract, finding out the context, getting commitment for the work, writing the case for it, starting the stakeholder engagement and risk management) takes time to complete.  In our case, they began 5 months ago in February.  However, we’ve now completed them and we’re into the ‘Designing’ phase.

This phase starts with the design criteria and I’ve roughed them out for the programme.  I’m now incubating them pending improvement and discussion, but here’s what they currently look like – with some questions I’m pondering shown in italics.

The course design must:

1              Be clear and simple in language, style, and content in order to work for people who do not have English as a first language.

(Note to design team: how will we test this?  Do we need a text analyser,  or someone specialized in English as a second language on the design team? Will we allow for activities to be conducted in the native language although the course will be in English – or will it be?  Could it be designed to be delivered in other languages – how would we train facilitators?)

 2              Show the relationships between organisation design, development and change management clearly throughout the 5 days in order to demonstrate that although they are independent disciplines they are interdependent in design work.

(Note to design team: we discussed 2 days of design, 2 days of development and one day of integrated case study, but is this right?  It feels too compartmentalised – maybe we need to show interdependence almost from the start, once we’ve discussed the different theoretical frameworks of each. There’s lots of info in Chapter 2 of my book we can draw on).

3              Balance the required level of theory with relevant/pragmatic practice and application in order to meet the needs of both the accrediting body and the day to day practitioner.

(Note to design team:  this needs thought.  Are we going to follow the 10:20:70 approach – or is it too ‘folklore to formula‘? We don’t want to spend too much time on the theory/theoretical frameworks as we know people want a ‘how-to’ guide but we do want to be academically rigorous and thoughtful).

4         Provoke participant (and facilitator) inquiry, reflection and conscious awareness of what they/we are learning and what insights are being revealed about their OD & D work in order to provide opportunities for applied learning and continuous professional development.

(Note to design team:  Critical reflection, on the theory and practice from an ethical and professional standpoint is essential.  Research shows that ‘‘learning from direct experience can be more effective if coupled with reflection—that is, the intentional attempt to synthesize, abstract, and articulate the key lessons taught by experience … [and] the effect of reflection on learning is mediated by greater perceived ability to achieve a goal (i.e., self-efficacy). Together, these results reveal reflection to be a powerful mechanism behind learning, confirming the words of American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer John Dewey: “We do not learn from experience … we learn from reflecting on experience.”  How can we build reflective elements into the design?  What form would these take?  How much do we think practitioners also have to be able to ‘teach’ reflective skills to clients who want a quick ‘solution’ to OD & D issues?)

5           Be readily adaptable to the VUCA environment in a range of international contexts and cultures in order to equip participants with up to date, relevant skills for their work.

(Note to design team: We briefly discussed how we could make this work well – a modular approach, supplementary materials, ‘slot-in’ case studies and examples for the different countries, etc. – and will continue this discussion. We didn’t discuss but we can talk next time about how we keep up to date on the use of new/emerging technologies in organisations and how these are impacting organisational operations e.g. AI doing work allocation instead of managers doing it.  On this, see ‘Should there be a computer on your organisation chart?‘.  These technologies are also increasingly being used in ‘doing’ organisation design/development work.  There’s a good article, by David Green, that looks specifically at organisational network analysis (ONA) who references a podcast on this topic that I just listened to.  It’s an interview with Michael Arena , author of a new book Adaptive Space. Keeping the programme continuously fresh and relevant over the coming 3 years or so is a challenge we’ll have to meet).   

 6           Offer a range of organisation design and development methods and approaches in order to demonstrate that there is no one right way or prescription to shape the design or development of an organisation.

(Note to design team:  Are we going to introduce notions of service design , design thinking , agile, lean, customer experience design , other types of design?  If so, how much weight will we give them?  If not, are we missing opportunities for ‘joining-up’ or connecting a wider design community that exists in most large organisations?)

The criteria listed have to work within certain non-negotiable constraints.  Constraints we have considered so far – the length cannot be extended beyond 5 days, the target participant group is the ‘doers’ of design work – those who will see it through implementation and evaluation, the programme assumes a basic knowledge of some of the theories that underpin organisation design e.g. systems theory, complexity theory, contingency theory.  It also assumes some knowledge of organisation development e.g. theories of change, culture, behaviour.  In other words, it is not an introductory course.

Once we have nailed down the non-negotiable constraints and the design criteria we can start on a high-level programme design.

What would you have as design criteria?  What do you think of those listed above?  Let me know.

Image: Organization Design Forum 2×2 Practitioner Landscape

Curation of learning

Along with ‘pivotal’, the word ‘curation’ seems to be in vogue.  And it was ‘curation’ that I got curious about this week.  What exactly is ‘the curation of learning’ – a phrase I read in a role description for an L & D expert?  I visualized some type of art gallery or a museum of carefully arranged pieces of learning – a Janet and John book, a recording of a teacher dictating biology notes, an abacus, an extract from an on-line course, and so on.  The curator would invite people to come and look at these or interact with some of them if they offered that possibility.  Does a Museum of Learning exist somewhere?  (Yes – The Museum of Teaching and Learning).

This took me to a mental wander around a gallery in such a museum – what was I learning from it?  I learned that the artefacts are instructional tools or mediums.  They are not ‘learning’.   Learning is an outcome.  It is the development of an individual’s capacity or the development of a collective capacity if we believe in ‘learning organizations’.

Remember Chris Argyris’ work on single and double loop learning?  That came up this week too.  I was reading a piece that argued that the way we have developed leaders is entirely wrong for now.  The author, Nick Petrie, said that ‘the incremental improvements that we were making in [development] programs were what Chris Argyris would call “single loop” learning (adjustments to the existing techniques), rather than “double loop” learning (changes to the assumptions and thinking upon which the programs were built).’

This point of view was reinforced by an article by Linda Gratton, who says management is getting much more complex and includes and that we need very different management development.  Managers must learn, ‘managing virtually rather than face to face; managing when the group is diverse rather than homogenous; and managing when the crucial knowledge flows are across groups rather than within.’ Capabilities she says are required for this are how to build rapid trust, coach, empathize, and inspire.  She also sees managers learning new practices – team formation, objective setting, and conflict resolution.’

Other articles I read make similar points.  Summarised, they agree we need ‘new pedagogical models and approaches’ in order to develop new capabilities as a response to digitalization – ‘defined as the diffusion and assimilation of digital technologies into all aspects of daily life – [that] is transforming industries in general and learning and development in particular.’

What this new pedagogical model looks like is less clear but seems to involve a shift from instructional design (per the exhibits in my museum of learning and single loop learning) to ‘learning experience design’ which to me implies double loop learning.  In learning experience design ‘professional development goes from being an aggregation of distinct activities, to becoming a continuous journey guided by data-driven insights.’  This seems plausible but what does it mean in practice?  And does it help with my trying to work out what the ‘curation of learning’ is?

Digitalization gives a different perspective on the word ‘curation’.  And here is where ‘learning curation’ becomes meaningful.)  And, as I quickly found out it’s big business and there’s masses of activity around digital curation of learning.

In fact, I can’t think how I missed it, but on the other hand, given the various definitions of it, I can now label myself a curator of organization design learning.  Given that ‘the three key things a good curator does: filter content, add value and provide a place to access her collections’.

For a good introduction to content curation look at Robin Good’s page.

What digital curation does is a create a personalised selection of learning stuff.  It’s chosen by you, or a learning ‘provider’ if you’re trying to teach people something, or I guess by AI that chooses for you by examining your digital trail.   (See Harold Jarche’s blog on this).

Are we near the point now that If we want to go really digital on this we could have our digital assistants help us.  How would it be if they were the curators of our learning (at least in the digital media) – providing us with real time data on what we are paying attention to and re-directing or reinforcing us to help us learn in a double loop way.

However you get your feed how will you know that it right for you and meets the need?

One way is to develop our thinking skills and on this, I recommend Stephen Brookfield’s work.  He describes four critical thinking processes, all of which could lead to learning, or identifying what we need to learn from any situation we are in, and also judging the quality and value of anything we are ‘fed’.

  • Contextual awareness and deciding what to observe and consider. This includes an awareness of what’s happening in the context of the situation, including values, cultural issues, and environmental influences.
  • Exploring and imagining alternatives. This involves thinking about and imagining other ways of looking at the situation, not just the first thing that comes to your mind. It involves exploring as many alternatives as you can think of for the given situation.
  • Assumption recognition and analysis. This involves analysing assumptions you are making about the situation as well as examining the beliefs that underlie your choices.
  • Reflective scepticism/deciding what to do. This critical thinking approach involves questioning, analysing, and reflecting on the rational for decisions.

(See also, Robert Kegan’s 5 orders of adult development).

What’s your view of curation of learning, digital or otherwise?  Let me know.

What should future leaders be learning?

I had a conversation the other day with someone who asked ‘What should our management trainees be learning now, to equip and prepare them for leading 10 years out?’ He thought that if, 10 years ago, we’d been able to predict and teach them about design thinking, systems thinking, working with augmented/artificial intelligence, robots in the workplace, behavioural science, the ethics of technology – then they would be better able to manage the leadership roles they are now in.

It’s a good question, and one, I feel, is very hard to answer as what will be useful now in terms of leading ten years from now involves crystal ball gazing and futurology which do not always yield good yardsticks, as the Lyapunov exponent that I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, demonstrates.

But just to test this, I took a look at what The Economist was predicting for 2007.  They asked the question: What will be on the leader’s agenda?  Their answer: climate change, managing shifts in global power, ‘responding to a sense that, in crucial areas, progress that until recently had been taken for granted has stopped or even gone into reverse’, the internet’s transformation of business, the growing connectedness of people, and new tools to search for things.

Their predictions for 2017, ten years later, are very similar, but more pronounced: authoritarians will be ascendant, far-right parties will surge, ‘European politics will be dominated by scaremongering’, more terrorist attacks, financial shocks, and ‘Brexit negotiations will be slow, complicated and cantankerous’.  However, on the more optimistic side, ‘Technology is forging global connections whatever the backlash against migration or trade’

The Economist closes its 2017 predictions with a question: ‘The question is not whether the world will turn back towards openness, but how soon—and how much damage will be done in the meantime.’

What does this mean for future leaders? Should they be preparing for more of the same reversal of progress over the coming ten years, or for a growing return to open-ness?   As we talked this over we asked, what would give them ‘grip’ or enable them to get a grip on, a situation of either further closure and/or more open-ness, and manage it effectively?

Looking at the predictions for 2007 and 2017, it seems to me that rather than develop knowledge of  specific domain content, in order to be able to ‘get a grip’ management trainees should be developing timeless skills useful for pretty much any situation –practicing these through various methods, including scenarios, case studies, action learning, gaming and provocation sessions.

Four timeless skills I think would stand future leaders in good stead, gathered not from rigorous academic research, but from  my organizational experiences over many years, are: diplomacy, kindness, critical thinking, and curiosity.

Diplomacy:  ‘the art of advancing an idea or cause without unnecessarily inflaming passions or unleashing a catastrophe.  It involves an understanding of the many facets of human nature that can undermine agreement and stoke conflict, and a commitment to unpicking these with foresight and grace’.

Kindness  ‘the life lived in instinctive sympathetic identification with the vulnerabilities and attractions of others’ — is the life we are more inclined to live, and indeed is the one we are often living without letting ourselves know that this is what we are doing. … In one sense kindness is always hazardous because it is based on a susceptibility to others, a capacity to identify with their pleasures and sufferings. Putting oneself in someone else’s shoes, as the saying goes, can be very uncomfortable. But if the pleasures of kindness — like all the greatest human pleasures — are inherently perilous, they are nonetheless some of the most satisfying we possess.   (See a lovely poem on Kindness here).

Critical thinking: ‘that mode of thinking — about any subject, content, or problem — in which the thinker improves the quality of his or her thinking by skillfully analyzing, assessing, and reconstructing it. Critical thinking is self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking. It presupposes assent to rigorous standards of excellence and mindful command of their use. It entails effective communication and problem-solving abilities, as well as a commitment to overcome our native egocentrism and sociocentrism.’

Curiosity:   the a strong desire to know or learn; having an interest in a person, thing, or experience that leads to making an inquiry.  ‘Being curious can manifest itself in the activity of asking questions, but it can also be a position from which one approaches life.  It keeps us learning, helps in decision making and can be useful in navigating arguments or confrontations. Todd Kashdan, author of Curious? Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life, believes that it is from our openness – and not our closedness – that we are able to develop ourselves and others.

How safe do you think it is to predict what leaders will be dealing with in the future – would we be better helping them develop timeless skills (which?) rather than specific domain knowledge?  Let me know.

Image: Reggio Emilia approach