Posts Tagged ‘Organization’

The Challenge of truth telling in the Army profession

July 12, 2014 Leave a comment

If a large organization like the Army which is so renowned for the quality and caliber of its leadership and integrity as difficulties with different levels of command and leaders telling the truth to each other, how much of an unseen force is the lack of candor in commercially-based organizations where there is more self-interest among individuals?
How important is it to the culture of the organization that people can tell the truth without fear of repercussions? If that’s not one of the cultural values of the organization, what are the implications going to be for large-scale transformations that require honest and open communication?
How do we break that political and cultural barrier?

reflections on Kotter’s change model and appreciative inquiry

May 22, 2012 Leave a comment

Change Management process ITIL

Change Management process ITIL (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Should organizations be looking at how to change themselves to adapt to an environment or should they look for environments in which their organization is prone to succeed and stay with what they know?
Those who believe in the latter approach, are advocates of the core competency model.
Kotter‘s model is concerned about minimizing error or avoiding it altogether. Can his model be reconciled with the positivist approach of appreciative inquiry?
Kotter’s model seems to emphasize the top-down approach through leadership, beginning with vision and having the leaders drive the change direction and change management. Only after the vision is established does he talk about communicating for buy-in. Does this bypass stakeholders for the sake of efficiency? Is there room in the Kotter model for good ideas from the bottom to dictate the direction of the organization?
Is it reasonable to expect that people at the bottom levels of the organization have sufficient strategic insight to be able to offer good advice on strategy?  In other words, is everybody’s opinion equally valuable?
In the face of resistance, how do we know when it’s time to persevere and push through or time to adapt?  One man’s persistence is another man’s stubbornness.
One of the principles of action research when it comes to making change stick is the importance of making changes in infrastructures and policies. That doesn’t seem to be part of Kotter’s eighth step. Is that an oversight?
When is innovation the enemy of efficiency? How do we know whether to prefer the new change over improving our current process through standardization and eliminating waste?

Making the Invisible Visible: Understanding Leadership Contributions of Asian Minorities in the Workplace

January 24, 2012 Leave a comment


Image by Ed Gaillard via Flickr

This small quiet book on leadership deserves to become visible so that its message of quiet leadership can be absorbed into our business and political organizations worldwide.

Who are the invisible leaders? How do we make them visible?

Back up for a moment: SHOULD we MAKE them visible, or is our understanding of leadership in the Western mode, with the “Individual as Hero”, not all there is to the story?

The authors tackle the problems and opportunities of global leadership from an angle that would be seen as nontraditional by Western leaders but which addresses the reality of leadership in daily life as experienced by millions of people around the world.

Coming from a Western in military background, I’ve grown up in a leadership culture that prizes individual heroic approaches to direct action leadership. I’ve never felt like that reflected everything that needs to be said about leadership and that’s the central message of this powerful book.

Thatchenkery and Sugiyama conducted a multi-year study to examine what they call the invisible leadership style that they experienced as members of various Asian communities. What they call invisible leadership can be thought of as a cultural worldview built on the ideas that showmanship is the opposite of leadership, that what matters is teamwork and results in long time horizons that favor growth and development from the inside of the organization and that performance is examined and valued on the basis of what’s good for the team. Invisible leaders get the job done and trust that the results will speak for themselves. They value team performance, and dont expect leaders to be constantly self-promoting and trumpeting from the front.

The authors proceed to explore their sense of this phenomenon by conducting a thoroughly grounded research effort that incorporates quantitative and qualitative data and analysis using surveys, focus groups, interviews and case studies to develop their argument. It is a model of scholarly work that carefully identifies assumptions, limitations and constraints while pointing to areas of consensus and opportunities to apply their insights in the last chapter.

They’ve incorporated scholarship on the impact of culture, motivation theory, multiple models of leadership and globalization in their efforts. They examine the impacts of leadership style and philosophy on promotions, training, recognition and reward systems and considered how invisible leadership is affected by current management practices in developing metrics, management practices and counseling programs.

They carefully examined the very notion of the utility of categorizing leadership under the broad concept of “Asian”, which on the surface seems like it could be useful but which masks the very real richness and diversity that can be found in various communities of practice and social groups populated by people from India, China, Japan, Thailand, Korea etc who are living and working in the United States, United Kingdom and Canada and whose generational demographics and further complexity to the rich mélange that is their personal experience.

The study takes a cross-section of all of these personal demographic factors and adds a further dimension based on work factors like public versus private versus nonprofit institutions. No simple leadership model can do justice to such a complex sociological mixture, despite the loud proclamations of best-selling leadership book titles, and the promises of quick fix, simple formula leadership solutions. The authors findings resonate with Heifetz’s “Leadership Without Easy Answers “, and Deming’s advice to “eliminate slogans”.

The book begins what should be a long and continuing conversation to understand the real-life complexities of modern organizations and to find ways to unleash the power and quality of all our people. It suggests that organizations can begin to apply the insights of invisible leadership by asking the right questions, considering organizational policies about visible leadership, and the payoffs of supporting invisible leaders from both pragmatic and philosophical perspectives.

They carefully examine and debunk three common mental models that have plagued Asians in the United States, the UK and Canada. Asians have been variously seen as a model minority that has supposedly “made it” and shown the way for other ethnicities; as a “middle minority” without the social problems inherent in newly emerging groups but who are not quite yet co-equal with the majority and the experience of Asians as a group that is forever foreign. According to the study, these mental models are broadly perceived by Asians to affect them personally and professionally and get in the way of Asians being seen as individuals with rich personal narratives and unique circumstances.

The study examines the realities of glass ceilings in professional promotion patterns in a broad spectrum of typical organizations, relying on insights from personal interviews and government statistics to make the case. It avoids simplistic formulations and superficial conclusions and does a fantastic job of providing a rich background of context that suggests many avenues of research needed in the future.

The authors suggest that organizing around affinity groups rather than simple ethnic and social groupings can add real value to organizational dynamics. Considering the impacts of quiet leadership at all levels of the organization: strategic, operational and tactical can have powerful implications for policy and vision. They recommend organizations consider breaking with tradition of hiring outside leaders and rather concentrate more on growing their own from the inside as a way to acknowledge the power of tacit, long-term values based growth.

The authors don’t recommend a simple exchange of philosophies (“either-or”) but rather suggest that broader integration of multiple modes and perspectives on leadership will add value and robustness to organizational DNA.

I give this fine book my highest personal and professional recommendation, because it resonates for me on a personal and a professional level. It describes a style and philosophy of leadership that has gotten little to no attention in the scholarly or popular press and which I have witnessed to be enduringly effective. It treats a serious subject seriously and respects the broad diversity of opinion and scholarship that has been conducted in this area and yet finds many points of contention and new sources of information and inspiration. It’s offered in the spirit of scholarship and understanding and suggests new ways in which our global communities and people can be respected and make progress together.

how OD interventions need to be adapted to fit different cultural contexts.

June 11, 2010 2 comments

Cummings and Worley acknowledge the importance of appreciating, if not understanding, the cultural context when considering an OD interventions. This includes culture on a national, regional, tribal, religious and ethnic dimension as well as the traditional social norms. They remind us that interventions appropriate in one area may not fit separate culture. This cultural context must be considered for the intervention from day one in terms of defining appropriate roles for the OD consultants, whether internal or external; the processes used to diagnose, analyze, design and implement strategies; the degree to which the culture requires or permits partnership status for stakeholders; the political culture and its accommodation for power and authority; the value system by which interventions will be judged as failure or success and the timeframe within which interventions can expect to operate. Culture will help influence the capacity for change as well as the degree of possible change in the narratives by which success and failure will be defined and propagated throughout the organization.

Because culture takes so long to change and is driven by factors beyond our control in many cases, while OD interventions particularly in business must happen in a much shorter timeframe, culture, in my opinion, can at best be appreciated and accounted for rather than changed in your intervention strategy. Positive results from the change you create well over the long run influence the culture, if you’re change in results are persistent, but I have seen an awful lot of energy spent on changing a culture come to naught, both in the Army and in my private business practice.

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Some characteristics of transformational change

June 11, 2010 3 comments

An Innovation Competence Process Coming From K...
Image by Alex Osterwalder via Flickr

Discussing the three kinds of interventions associated with transformational change, namely: culture change, self-design, and Organizational Learning and Knowledge management.

Culture change: focuses more on the development of a strong, appropriate culture for the line of business, environment, workforce demographics and societal norms as a way to align organizations, mission and processes. Its central concerns are: behaviors, values, beliefs and norms. A rush to judgment premature characterization of cultural type in implications are frequent shortcomings of a naïve approach to cultural management. A distinction should be made between culture and climate in which culture represents weather patterns that are slow to change, while climate represents today’s temperature and humidity in which may be quickly identified and adapt to. It’s not clear that cultures can be managed; shine advises tempering your expectations pragmatically.

Self design: is a highly participative process incorporating multiple stakeholders who are empowered to set directions and then design and implement structures and processes that are appropriate for their situation. There is an educational component for both process and content to empower and enable stakeholders to take on the design and implementation tasks. Self design is any iterative and integrated approach with three basic phases: laying the foundation in which knowledge is acquired and then used to diagnose and reaffirm values; the design phase in which a new structure and set of processes emerge from the foundation; and finally implementing and assessing the results. This system of phases with feedback loops very much resembles traditional action research and action learning and the ideal Deming plan do check act sequence.

Organizational learning and knowledge management: combines two interrelated change processes: organizational learning which examines how an organization acquires and develops new knowledge, and knowledge management, which is focused on how that knowledge is then organized and applied to improve performance. It’s possible for this intervention to go beyond solving existing problems and proactively support continuous improvement. A central concern in learning organizations is the idea of formalizing for extracting the tacit knowledge residing in the hearts and minds of the workforce in translating that into an accessible enterprise knowledge database to support continuous improvement. Knowledge engineering, and knowledge navigation and cognitive task analysis are enabling skills needed for this endeavor.

Infrastructure, policies, education, resourcing the support staff, architecture, tagging and search are all essential elements of a knowledge management and organizational learning plan. Measuring the costs of creating, managing and applying the knowledge is nontrivial. Estimating the value of tacit knowledge in order to justify a given expenditure of resources to extract it is problematic. The buy-in of leadership, like all interventions, is important as well. A focus on hardware and software will often overshadow the all-important middleware or wetware residing between our ears. It may be more important to examine how we learn than optimizing the tools by which we will store the information we have created.

Our college is going through an institution wide approach to knowledge management in which we are making all of the possible errors noted in the book. An excessive focus on technology and hardware at the expense of how the end users actually use knowledge and what their particular needs are is evident from the first day of planning. Having the IT department director as the project lead pretty much guarantees that approach would be taken. He is looking for a technology driven, centrally managed, high cost solution, whereas the student and faculty representatives are much more interested in a robust set of diverse practices that support their particular and unique needs.

It’s not clear yet how we will bridge these competing values.

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Reflecting on surveys for organizational feedback

May 15, 2010 5 comments

Understanding, mural by Robert Lewis Reid. Sec...
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Discuss the usefulness and limitations of survey feedback. What are the key issues/problems the OD practitioner has to be aware of while feeding back data?

Usefulness of survey feedback (when it is effective) (Cummings & Worley, 2009, pp141-2):

  • Motivation to work with the data: organization members have to believe in the purpose and efficacy of the feedback system, We are finding it extremely important for the surveyed population to get feedback on HOW the data is being used
  • Structure for the meeting: Because of the challenges and possibilities of interpreting data and connecting it to action plans, there needs to be a thoughtful and satisfying means of examining discussing, interpreting and then acting on the data, in a process that satisfied all the tiers in the organization
  • Appropriate attendance : people affected by the interpretation of the data should be represented in the meeting: This can validate the assessment of the data and the legitimacy of the action steps decided upon
  • Appropriate power: feedback process must have the authority to get the data needed for action, but also the authority to act as suggested by a fair reading of the data
  • Process help: Because the sense-making of the feedback process stakeholders is a political process with connections to the deepest values of the organization, it is necessary that the process be above board and managed/led properly.  Social & political justice is an important part of legitimizing the decisions that come out of the feedback process. We don’t have to agree with every decision but we must be satisfied by the process that got us to the decision.

These elements are timely as we are conducting a process action team project for the college’s feedback system this month.

Limitations of survey feedback (Cummings & Worley, 2009, pp 147).

  • Ambiguity of purpose: If the purpose of the feedback process is not clear, then it stands to reason that the design of the experiment, the survey questions, the interpretation and the focus of action steps. Having an explicit plan that is clearly understood upfront seems non-negotiable before we proceed any further along the feedback path.
  • Distrust: it seems to me that distrust could come from either purposeful or accidental  circumstances. We might distrust the leaders’  true purpose or the skill of the practitioner in achieving the technical standards of designing and administering the survey properly. Either source of the distrust will clearly sabotage the ultimate actions that derive from the feedback.
  • Unacceptable topics: Culture, tradition, values, leadership-imposed constraints, or perhaps even an agreement among stakeholders to hold certain areas off limits may give us only par5tial insights. These off limits areas may not be critical to the system, but in complex social organizations it may prevent us from achieving a holistic and satisfying understanding. My experience has been that the off-limits areas really degrade the usefulness of the survey.
  • Organizational disturbance: we know from science that the act of measuring alters the system in some way so we must take into account how, so we must make trade-off decisions about how much to measure and how often, and in a manner that minimizes the cost of querying.

Key Issues/problems: It seems to me that whether your survey data and feedback processes are useful or problematic depends on how your system  “scores” on the 9 qualities of the survey data identified in Cummings & Worley,( 2009, pp139-141). I think that the organizational members perceptions of these  are as important as the technical merits of the survey/experimental design.

  • Relevant: do the data connect with the area under study?
  • Understandable :  are the stakeholders satisfied with the clarity?
  • Descriptive : do the data give us meaningful and identifiable characteristics
  • Verifiable: are the data reliable and repeatable?
  • Timely: can we get the data quickly and within a timeframe that they remain valid?
  • Limited: is the scope is narrow enough to allow focus and analysis?
  • Significant: are we working on important issues concerning core processes and values?
  • Comparative: do the data allow us to make meaningful distinctions? And infer cause and effect so that we can take actions?
  • Unfinalized : do the data lead us towards significant action? Or dlo they leave us at a dead end?

(Cummings & Worley, 2009).

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Learning from the process consultant

April 22, 2010 3 comments

Social gadfly
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Think about the last time you worked with a consultant in your organization: looking back at what the consultant did and said, were there any specific behaviors that surprised you? Did she do something that you and the faculty were not already capable of doing?

If they did something new, is the new behavior something you think your staff can now perform on their own war will it be necessary to continue to have a consultant to achieve the freedom to state the insights?

If they didn’t do anything new, what did the presence of the consultant really contribute to the process? Did they help create a safe space for discussion and reflection? Did they encourage fresh thinking that you couldn’t get to in the normal conduct of meetings with the staff?

Did you find yourself nodding as he or she spoke and saying “of course! I knew that all along!”

did the consultant offers specific opinions or insights or were they like a lawyer asking leading questions or Socrates guiding the team indirectly to the truth? Or did they simply put the question out there and let the answer go where it may?

Did they do anything that you now think “I have to add that to my skill set!”

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