Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Organizational development (OD) interventions: Managing systematic change in organizations

To effectively adapt and thrive in today’s business world, organizations need to implement effective OD interventions aimed at improving performance at organizational, group and individual levels. OD interventions involve respect for people, a climate of trust and support, shared power, open confrontation of issues, and the active participation of stakeholders. OD interventions are broader in scope, usually affecting the whole organization (socio-technical systems). OD interventions are sponsored by the CEO and supported and “owned” by staff at the different levels of the organization.

OD professionals must have a solid understanding of the different OD interventions to choose the most appropriate, or “mix and match” them -based on the expected results and a solid analysis of the organization and its environment.

This blog presents a brief analysis of OD interventions using a classification proposed by M. Kormanik.

Major OD Interventions
OD interventions aim at improving organizational performance and employees’ well being. According to Robbins (1994), OD integrates a collection of planned change interventions that relies on humanistic and democratic values, aimed at improving organizational effectiveness, and employees’ well being. OD interventions rely on the following values: respect for people, trust and support, power equalization, confrontation and participation. Kormanik (2005) proposes a classification of OD interventions in 6 groups: large scale, strategic, technostructural, management and leadership development, team development and group processes, and individual and interpersonal processes.

Large-scale interventions
Large scale interventions typically involve a full-size group of stakeholders, working toward the definition of a future state. These interventions start from top levels of the organization, to analyze, plan, and define the intervention’s outcomes, then, people are involved in the solution, creating with this a shared commitment, and a “contagious of effect” effort, which will support the implementation of defined actions in the long term. Some examples include the following: appreciative inquiry summit, future search, open space and real time strategic change. Large scale interventions are highly structured; each activity is carefully planned beforehand –this is particularly important since the whole system participates simultaneously, in the same room, at the same time. Cummings and Worley (2001) describe the three step process involved in any large scale intervention: 1) the preparation of the large group meeting, 2) Conducting the meeting, and 3) Following on meeting outcomes. Large-scale interventions are quicker, build organizational confidence, give immediate and broad based information, promote a total organization mindset, inspire action, and sustained commitment.

Strategic interventions
Strategic interventions contribute to align the organization with its environment. Cummings and Worley (2001) state that these interventions “link the internal functioning of the organization to the larger environment; transforming the organization to keep pace with changing conditions” (p. 105). Strategic intervention help organizations to gain a better understanding of their current state, and their environment, that allow them to better target strategies for competing or collaborating with other organizations. Kormanik (2005) includes under the umbrella of strategic interventions, the following: mission / vision / purpose, strategic planning and goal setting, visioning / scenario planning, benchmarking, SWOT, communication audit / strategy, values clarification and commitment, climate survey, and culture change.

Technostructural interventions
Technostructural interventions focus on improving the organizational effectiveness and human development by focusing on technology and structure. These interventions are rooted in the fields of engineering, sociology, and psychology, combined with socio-technical systems and job analysis and design. These types of interventions rely on a deficit based approach; the idea is to find problems to solve. According to Cummings and Worley (2001) technostructural approaches focus on improving an organization’s technology (for example, task methods and job design) and structure (for example division of labor and hierarchy)” (p. 104). Kormanik (2005) includes as technostructural interventions the following: organizational structure, organization systems, business process redesign, space and physical settings, socio-technical systems, change management, job design / enrichment, competency-based management, knowledge management and organizational learning.

Management and Leadership Development Interventions
These types of OD interventions aim to improve organizational performance by increasing effectiveness of formal and informal leaders. Their use is wide spread, and almost all organizations have programs in place to identify, measure, and improve the quality of their leaders. Kormanik (2005) includes the following examples: executive and professional development, mentoring, coaching, action learning, action science, MBO, succession planning, 360 degree feedback, participative management, technical / skills training. A research study conducted by the Corporate Leadership Council (2001) revealed that organizations are focusing on the following five actions to increase their leadership bench strenght: 1) redefining the leadership profiles to better respond to current business needs, 2) targeting future leadership needs, 3) ensuring top management accountability for leadership development, 4) creating a continuous development culture, and 5) customizing the development opportunities to the leaders needs (pgs. x-xi)

Team Development and Group Processes Interventions
Team development and group processes interventions aim at improving different aspects of a group performance, such as goal setting, development of interpersonal relations among team members, role clarification and analysis, decision making, problem solving, and communities of practice, among other. One of the most important objective of team building interventions relies on improving interdependency of team members. The underlying premise is that the aggregated value of the team is much greater than any individual. According to Robbins (1994), Team building is applicable where group activities are interdependent. The objective is to improve the coordination efforts of members, which will result in increasing the team’s performance” (p. 275)

Individual / Interpersonal Process
Individual / interpersonal process interventions aim at improving organizational performance by developing specific skills of individuals. Given its nature, these OD interventions are the most personalized of all, and probably the most widely used by organizations. The most common examples of this type of interventions are learning strategies, life transitions, mentoring, and interpersonal communications, among other.

Measuring their impact on organizational effectiveness and employees’ well being
OD interventions encompass other change initiatives, that is why it is difficult to identify their impact and effectiveness in isolation, nevertheless, the 2008 ASTD State of the Industry Report revealed that organizations achieved important benefits for their investment in learning activities “Almost all BEST organizations reported improvements in employee and customer satisfaction, quality of products and services, cycle time, productivity, retention, revenue, and overall profitability. BEST organizations had clearly defined processes to link learning strategies and initiatives to increases in both individual and organizational performance".

OD interventions require visionary and participative leadership
OD interventions are initiated at the top and require employee participation and commitment, therefore, visionary leaders that work as change agents, developing a vision, and providing continuous and sustained support is paramount. Kanter, Stein & Jick (1992) consider that OD interventions require a strong leader role. “An organization should not undertake something as challenging as large-scale change without a leader to guide, drive and inspire it. These change advocates, play a critical role in creating a company vision, motivating company employees to embrace that vision, and crafting an organizational structure that consistently rewards those who strive toward the realization of the vision” (p. 384)

Questions for reflection
What is your favorite type of OD intervention?
Which one(s) may be more appropriate for today’s business environment / type of industry / country?
Do you have any success story to share?
I am interested to know your key insights, lessons learned, or any other question you may have.

Bridges, W. (1991, 2003). Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press.
Corporate Leadership Council. (2001). The Leadership Imperative: Strategies for Increasing Leadership Bench Strength. Washington, DC. Corporate Executive Board.

Cummings, T. & Worley, C. (2001). Organization Development and Change, Mason, OH: South Western.
Dubois, D. & Rothwell, W. (2004). Competency-Based Human Resources Management. Palo Alto, CA: Davies Black Publishing.
Green, P. (1999). Building Robust Competencies: Linking human resource systems to organizational strategies. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Kotter, J. & Cohen, D. (2002), The Heart of Change: Real-Life Stories of How People Change their Organizations. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.
Moss Kanter, R, Stein B. & Jick T. (1992). The Challenge of Organizational Change: How Companies Experience it and Leaders Guide It. New York: Free Press.
McLagan, P. (2001, 2002), Change is Everybody’s Business. San Francisco, CA: Berret-Koehler Publiser Inc.

Robbins, S. P. (1994). Essentials of Organizational Behavior (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.
Schein, E. (1992), Organizational Culture and Leadership (2nd Ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
Senge P, Kleiner A., Roberts C., Ross R., & Smith B. (1994). The fifth discipline fieldbook: Strategies and tools for building a learning organization. New York: Currency Doubleday.
Paradise A. (2008), State of the Industry: ASTD’s Annual Review of Trends in Workplace Learning and Performance. Alexandria, VA: ASTD.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Organizational Diagnostic Models

An effective diagnostic model allows identifying reliable data to help clients better understand their company’s strengths, deficiencies, and opportunities for improvement, to later articulate a targeted intervention and measurement strategy. To effectively improve organizational performance, as well as individual and group development, Organizational Development (OD) practitioners must be knowledgeable of quantitative and qualitative methods, as well as, the different diagnosis models to choose the most appropriate, given the intervention’s objectives, resources, and organizational culture and context.

This blog examines two relevant organizational diagnostic models, and compares and contrast their application and usefulness to support the implementation of OD interventions. The six-box model, a very popular and easy to use model centers the diagnostic analysis on six organizational factors: the organization’s strategy, structures, rewards, internal relationships, helpful mechanisms, and leadership. The second model, the sharp-image diagnostic, develops specific models to fit the characteristics of the intervention. The model includes four steps to scan the organization and identify critical areas for closer examination.

Both diagnostic models derive from the action research approach, and involve clients across the process to obtain
adequate commitment and support to subsequent implementation and measuring stages.

The six-box model
Weisbord’s six-box model contains six elements to focus the organizational diagnosis: the organization’s strategy, structure, rewards, internal relationships, helpful mechanisms, and leadership. Surrounding the six box model is the environment, although it is not included in the model. For each dimension, the model includes specific questions.

Weisbord’s six-box diagnostic model centers the analysis on areas of dissatisfaction as the starting point, identifying organizational outputs with which both external customers and internal producers are dissatisfied. Then, participants find the causes of dissatisfaction in the six elements of the model. Internal producers are the key decision makers to solve those areas of dissatisfaction.

Harrisom and Shirom (1999) describe that the model center on the identification of gaps. “For each of these boxes, consultants are encouraged to diagnose the following types of gaps: (a) gaps between what exists now and what ought to be: (b) gaps between what is actually done and what employees and managers say that they do (i.e. gaps between the official and emergent aspects of organizational behavior): and (c) gaps among organizational units and layers –including gaps within and between boxes” (p. 102).

The leadership dimension positioned in the center is connected to the other five factors, because Weisbord sustains that leaders play a critical role in the organizational effectiveness.

Weisbord’s six-box model has been widely used by OD practitioners, because is easy to use and easy to understand by clients. However, the simplicity of the model is also a disadvantage, because the model lacks a solid theoretical foundation to determine the real existence of gaps, and their degree of influence over the whole organizational effectiveness. Furthermore, the model fails to provide a solid course of action to close identified gaps given the internal arguments of dissatisfaction.

Sharp-image diagnosis model
Harrisom and Shirom (1999) combine the open-systems and political frames with a more sharply focused model to conduct an organizational diagnostic. “…practitioners of the sharp-image diagnosis start with a broad scan of an organization but then select core problems and organizational challenges for close-up examination” (p. 18).

The sharp-image diagnosis model employs two or more theoretical perspectives to analyze the underlying causes of identified problems or challenges, and their interrelations with other subsystems.

The sharp-image diagnosis includes four critical steps: 1) the gathering of data to identify specific problems or challenges to focus subsequent analysis, 2) the use of theoretical models targeted to the specific needs, 3) the development of a diagnostic model to identify the root causes of ineffective outcomes, and feedback on relevant data to clients.

The first step helps to identify data related to the organizational problems or challenges, analyzing relations between consultants and clients, and cultural traits of the focal organization.

The data gathering process is conducted using the open systems frame, the analysis of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT), and the analysis of stakeholders. In the second step, OD practitioners prioritize organizational problems or challenges to maximize the impact and benefits of the intervention, focusing on the more important areas, and examining links with other socio-technical systems.

In the third step practitioners develop a model tailored to the needs of the intervention. Harrisom and Shirom (1998) emphasize the need to develop a reliable model for the analysis of gaps “These models summarize the factors that produce central organizational problems, such as the inability to provide services or products that satisfy customers, or the failure of the organization to obtain competitive advantage within its environment” (p.21). The authors caution on the use of existing models due the limitations they may bring to particular situations, instead, they provide useful guidelines to develop a customized model “To construct diagnostic models, consultants usually have to supplement their diagnostic data with available evidence and insights from the organizational and management literature and with their own experience and intuition….In addition to provide a valid explanation of the sources of organizational problems, diagnostic models need to identify feasible points of intervention to alleviate problems” (pp. 22,23).

In the fourth step of the sharp image diagnosis model, OD practitioners provide feedback to clients focusing on ways to minimize inefficiencies, cope with challenges, and increase organizational effectiveness. Harrisom and Shirom (1998) reinforce the importance of feedback to facilitate the implementation of organizational changes, by unfreezing the status quo, reducing resistances, and channeling client’s decisions toward actions that produce the maximum organizational effectiveness. Additionally, during this step, OD practitioners obtain client’s ownership with the diagnosis results, and commitment for the implementation phase.

One of the main limitations of sharp-image diagnosis is what at the same time constitutes its main strength: the lack of predefined tools to carry-out the organizational diagnosis. The sharp-image diagnostic model requires experienced OD practitioners to develop customize diagnostic models, targeted to the objective, needs, timeframe and other characteristics of the OD intervention, and the organization. Additionally, OD practitioners play an active role in the feedback process to help clients better understand the diagnostic results, and advice them on a OD intervention to produce maximum results.

Main similarities

Both, the six-box model and the sharp image model are based on the action research model. French and Bell (1999) propose action research as the primary model for OD interventions “Action research involves three processes: data collection, feedback of the data to the client system members, and action planning based on the data” (p.100).

The focus on inefficiencies to center the diagnostic is another area if similarity between the two models. Harrisom and Shirom (1998), emphasize the solution of ineffectiveness to bring greater benefits to organizations “Solving problems stemming from ineffectiveness can contribute more directly and dramatically to organizational survival and short-term success that can the enhancement of effectiveness (p. 20)

Main differences
The six-box model is a predefined, straightforward, easy to use, and easy to understand model with predefined areas and questions to focus the analysis, while the sharp-image diagnosis model is more elaborated, requiring OD practitioners to develop customized models to carry-out the diagnosis intervention.

Given its simplicity, almost anyone can use Weisbord’s six-box model, while the sharp-image diagnosis model requires experienced OD practitioners to develop customize diagnostic models.

The sharp-image diagnosis model is broader in scope because it attends the internal and external aspects of the organization, while Weisbord’s six-box model focuses on the internal aspects only. The sharp image diagnosis model scans the whole organization in search of gaps or challenges, including the internal and external interrelated elements. Although the environment is illustrated in the six-box model, the analysis of factors external to the organizations is excluded. Weisbord’s six-box model centers on the identification of internal organizational gaps -strategy, structure, rewards, internal relationships, helpful mechanisms, and leadership.

Application and usefulness
OD diagnostic models draw from the action research practice, where clients are involved and take an active role in the different stages of the diagnosis process, including the definition of objectives, stakeholders, activities, and timeframe to gather and analyze data. The role of the OD practitioner is paramount to guide clients in the organizational assessment process, including the selection of the diagnostic model, the definition of activities, the feedback of results and the implementation of following actions to improve organizational effectiveness and individual and organizational development. To support my argument I will use the selection of the diagnostic model, although the sharp-image diagnosis has more advantages over the six-box model, sharp-image may appear too complicated to understand on clients looking for a short-term and focused approach, then OD consultants may guide clients on the advantages and disadvantages of each model.

By increasing client participation in the diagnosis process, OD practitioners also increase the application and usefulness of the diagnostic intervention, since clients will better understand the identified gaps and areas to focus further implementation interventions. Moreover, consultants must use a valid feedback model that allows the communication of results in a non threatening way.

Harrisom and Shirom (1998) state that good diagnosis models help clients increase their understanding of the organizational gaps that require attention, and the required resources to better focus change interventions. The authors consider a good diagnostic model specifies its level of analysis, its limits, the interaction between variables, effectiveness criteria, and evaluative standards. Additionally, the authors emphasize that diagnosis models must analyze the internals and externals of the organization, reflecting macro contingencies and macro processes to support the managing of change, and increase organizational effectiveness.

While Weisbord’s uses a straightforward, easy to use, and predefined model focused on the organizational strategy, structure, rewards, helpful mechanisms, relationships and leadership. The sharp-image diagnosis model uses four steps, and customized models to gather, analyze, and channel data to clients.

Despite their differences, both models derive from the action research field that employs a systematic process to gather, and analyze data, to later implement corrective actions to eliminate ineffective areas.

The study of organizational diagnosis models is paramount for OD practitioners, because diagnostic models help to reveal key organizational gaps, and critical areas to focus. Moreover, this analysis emphasized the role of the OD practitioner as an advisor, helping clients identify the most appropriate diagnostic model -given the intervention objectives, and the organizational culture, and using feedback mechanisms to channel results in a non-threatening mode to later focus targeted OD interventions at the effective management of change, and the improvement of the organizational effectiveness.

French, W., & Bell, C. (1999). Organization development: Behavioral science interventions for organization improvement. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Harrison, M.I. & Shirom, A. (1998) Organizational Diagnosis and Assessment : Bridging Theory and Practice, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.