As per the traditional view 'an organisation becomes what it becomes because of the direction, programs, plan chosen by the dominant coalition in the organisation and implemented through the administrative system designed by them'. This construct could be limiting when the organisation is challenged to re-invent themselves or go through a transformational change with complexities outside and inside. In such instances usually its not the expertise of the dominant coalitions which will lead to emerging possibilities but the ingenuity of the front runners.
If this is the case how can a transformational change be supported/ accelerated? What could be role of a leadership in facilitating transformational change?
The effectiveness of any planned change management process is dependent on how well cause-effect relationships of the contributing variables are traceable. In conditions where the contributing variables keep shifting it’s tough to project plan change! This realisation that transformational change is more emergent than planned has been challenging change management agents and consultants to revisit the existing practices of change management.
In our times Whole system change is becoming complex than complicated. While in a complicated situation what causes what can be figured out, ahead of time, so collecting data and information about the issues and concerns could be the best way to resolve problems. In a complex situation predicting what will lead to what becomes tough. While we look at transformational change where an organisation is attempting to create a future which is not extension of their past, unlike incremental change its challenging to start knowing the means to the end. If we know the means to the end it may be just incremental in nature and may not be a transformational one.
What do we do together when we don't know what we are doing yet?
Ron Heifitz the author of 'The practice of adaptive leadership' and Harvard professor differentiates between adaptive challenges and technical problems. We may be dealing with a technical problem 'when we know steps to solve the problem, even though when those steps are intricate and complicated'. In such situations an expert or one person with the right vision can create a plan to solve it or train people to solve it. What about situations in which the expert or the leader does not know the steps to solve the problem. This typically happens when an organisation is striving to create an future which is not an extension of their past. In other words not incremental change but transformational change.
In times like this the primary role of leadership could be to enhance the adaptive capacity of the organisations before getting the strategy right
Latest findings in complexity science claims that often this seemingly “messy” processes of self-organisation among complex adaptive networks is what leads to unpredictable emergent change.
So, what can leaders do to improve the adaptive capacity of the organisation?
From Diagnostic OD to Dialogic OD
8 years ago when I started learning about Organisation Development the popular narrative was 'OD is Diagnostic centric'. This was also because the foundational OD was grounded in the idea that, while supporting the planned change the role of change agent is to use data based action research methodologies to diagnose contributing factors to the real organisation problems. Subsequently, change was a result of a re-educative process of increasing awareness and engaging members in formulating changes based on that new awareness. In today’s world of rapid change diagnosis inherently provides an out of dated picture for the client system to work with.
Diagnosis at best can only capture a moment in time. By the time contracting is completed, a diagnostic process initiated, data collected, responses prepared for presentation, and a feedback session conducted conditions could have shifted in important ways. This has always been a limitation of the data-feedback model, but it has become an increasing concern with the shift to today’s world of hyper- active systems and continuous change
The influence of complexity sciences, sociology, and philosophy has given a new lens to OD called Dialogic OD coined by Bob Marshek and Gervase Bush. Dialogic OD may involve a number of practices that are usually known as large group interventions that said ever since Bob Marshak and Gervase Bushe coined the term it has helped create an operating system level shift among OD practitioners
While Diagnostic OD used to look at organisations as open systems, Dialogic OD is based on a view of organisation as a dialogic systems where individual, group and organisational actions result from socially constructed realities created and sustained by the prevailing narratives, stories, metaphors and conversations through which people make meaning of their experiences.
With this perspective change results from the following
Thus instead of change driven by diagnosing how to objectively align or re-align organisational elements (strategies, structures, systems, people practices, etc.) with the demands of the broader environment as suggested by open systems theory, the dialogic systems perspective invites considering how to induce new ways of thinking by altering the ongoing organisational conversations that continuously create, re-create and frame understanding and action.
Dialogic OD in Action: The Process of a Dialogic OD intervention
As stated earlier, the operating principle of any Dialogic OD intervention is that change occurs when the day to day thinking of the team/ group members has altered the day to decisions and actions. The thinking is changed when the language, stories and narratives the community uses is altered in a profound way.
Given that the following could be Process for a Dialogic OD intervention
In essence Dialogic OD is about changing narratives which underpins the social reality. The spirit of inquiry is what separates this from the rest of the change management processes. There were times before knowing this as a consultant I was tempted to develop a good enough story about a change scenario which appeals to people who are paying me. In such situations usually there are certain stories which are suppressed and marginalised due to my bias. So the new realisation is to create space for people to reflect on existing narratives, assess impact and consequences of these narratives and create a new compelling narratives.
While ODA is supporting a transformational project for organisation the operating principle has always been 'To shift from just fixing a/few problem to cultivating a system capable of addressing its own challenges'. Whether its a Big4 consulting firm trying to address the issue of attrition or a Pharma company going through a complex merger and restructuring this approach was able to leave behind a more evolved system, with a greater sense of direction, hope, personal connection with the will and energy to work across previously unbridgeable boundaries.