Monday, March 12, 2012

Does OD begin with CEO awareness of organisation?

Variations in CEO behaviour have more to do with their personalities than their desire to give up control. Organisational systems organise themselves far in excess of the CEO's control-horizons. E.g. No matter what the CEO does to fetch daily sales figures, reports of actual production, distribution and inventory; competition plans their moves in ways that grabs clients’ attention. Each organisation in that ecosystem creates institutional space in which value competes for attention of the customer. The customer in turn feeds back through choices governed by his or her awareness. If you are willing to take your own cloth bag to a retail store, you indicate extra-role behaviors in the buying process, which the retail brand did not expect of you before. Social imitation begets more customers like you, thanks to your awareness of your ecological impact on the planet. The system is larger than the CEO’s traditional impact horizons. Citizens are slowly coming alive to their planet’s survival.

CEOs are often taming the uncertain elements, and keep looking for decision moments to regain stability in that direction. Show them anything that requires their attention beyond 10 minutes, and their attention deficit will bear heavily on you too. Some CEOs listen more as they dip into their experience to reflect their opinions. Other CEOs engage you with questions that surface maniac-like as from a quiver of anxiety that seems to insure the CEO from oblivion. Inevitably, leadership choices cannot end with the CEO’s comfort with reality. In a typical pyramid organisation today, hierarchy is a pre-given. Even direct reports of the CEO overlearn the ‘routine’ and seal off the consequences of the environment in self-deception. Being alive to consequences of one’s ecosystem is critical to self-renewal and organisational vitality.  This is why traditional machine-like training and development efficiency may fall short of effectiveness. One such distinction was attempted a decade ago by Nohria and Lawrence as in the figure below. The critique today is that Theory O was advocated for sustainability, by Theory E believers. Theory E stood for efficiency and economic outcomes.

Change and learning often exist together. Adjusting the sails on a rough sea is adaptation alright. Getting afloat on an ark that has the entire organisation aboard is anticipatory survival. Learning for development occurs early enough to detect opportunities for survival and growth. Development occurs when you realise an experience of inner transformation that grips your sensibilities so much as to endear the responsibilities of stewarding change for the organisation. Learning facilitators may come to you in the form of coaches, trainers, quality management consultants or even critics.

Dynamic organisational change capability is attained when notions of stability in routine are replaced by dynamism and responsiveness. Organisation transformation or Organisation Development (OD) consultants have a great opportunity to facilitate such systemic choices for CEOs, key teams and the change participants in these organisations. The tipping point could ironically be in understanding the motives of the CEO and facilitating his or her awareness of choices in the ecosystem of the organisation.

Today, information is not only codified, it is also widely available in the public domain. Justified beliefs about such information needs a context in which meaning is made of such information. That is not codified enough to be explicitly available. That is intervention space for OD consultants. Learning for development in organisations in the knowledge economy occurs through such dynamic transformation. Complexity, Systems thinking and group dynamics are integral to this scheme.

As things are, the CEO has an enabling effect to play into the future. That may perpetuate the role of the singularity of the 'leader' but may not necessarily make for justice in the long run.  Apart from purposes of legal accountability and being available as the one proverbial 'throat to choke', if the CEO sees the self as the serving facilitator of participatory problem solving, the OD consultant will have played a great role. By supporting the CEO with requisite challenge of deep questions of purpose and shared interests with his/her employees, the OD consultant has a lot to offer the CEO and the client organisation. This is where the OD consultant and the CEO need to live up to the larger connectedness with universal principles like the evolving citizen pushing Wall Street plastics out for cloth bags on the Main Street.