Tag Archives: OD

What can OD offer D&I?

After spending two days at the ODN Europe conference last week, my answer to that question is – lots!  Admittedly, I went to the event looking for new insights into organisational change from theorists and practitioners at the cutting edge of OD.  And it’s easy to feel evangelical after a stimulating conference with great speakers, interesting participants, convivial networking.  But from the opening address onwards, I was hooked.  With each speaker, workshop, conversation, paper, I heard a bit more about current thinking on how change in organisations happens – or doesn’t.  And with that dawned a new perspective on why progress on diversity and inclusion is so slow.  Let me give you an example.

The first speaker at the conference was Professor Ralph Stacey from the University of Hertfordshire, talking about complexity and change.  The main message that I took from his hour-long talk (given without notes, slides or a microphone) was about the potential of tiny changes in organisations to make a huge difference.  Now there’s nothing massively radical or innovative about that you might think, but in delivering the message he contrasted that approach with one which relies on a top-down, plan-driven prescription for change – a prescription which often enough is shown to be ineffective in practice, but which people continue to act out in the service of the change they are hoping to bring about.  And why don’t such plans work?  Because, he argued, the control and order which having a plan implies is a fiction.  Because at a deep and personal level we all have different plans, spoken or unspoken, and what actually happens happens at the ‘interplay of all our different plans and intentions’; because change at the macro level emerges and is made real at the local level, at the unpredictable, messy, emotional level of identity and human relationships – and conversations.

As Stacey said all this, I couldn’t help thinking about how we in the D&I profession also appear to rely on what feels increasingly like ‘sparse and repetitive thinking’ (his words) about how change happens.  You probably know what I mean – the oft-repeated formula of a compelling business case linked to organisational objectives, senior level commitment, clarity about accountabilities and responsibilities, communication, networks, sponsorship, development programmes etc etc.  The thing is – this top-down thinking and planning may be theoretically right, but in practice it’s not having the effect we’d hoped on diversity and inclusion, any more than it’s working for other kinds of change.  Stacey helped me visualise another approach, which challenges and refreshes the somewhat jaded conversations about diversity in many of our organisations, and encourages a much more energetic, complex, messy, local approach.  I don’t mind admitting, I’m not yet sure what this really looks like in practice – but I’m now on a mission to find out!

Knowing me, knowing you

A more introspective piece this week, on the role of self-knowledge in leading change on diversity and inclusion, prompted by reading an article on ‘The Self as an Instrument – A Cornerstone for the Future of OD’ by Mee-Yan Cheung-Judge which you can access here.  Mee-Yan is an organisational development (OD) guru and was voted one of HR’s top 25 most influential UK thinkers in 2012.

Her article – now over ten years old – is about the heightened self-awareness or self-knowledge required to be an effective OD consultant.  Getting to the requisite level of self-knowledge – or what she terms ‘instrumentality’ – isn’t easy, and it doesn’t happen overnight.  It means, in Mee-Yan’s own words:

–          ‘Devoting time and energy to learning about who we are, and how issues of family history, gender, race and sexuality affect self-perception.  It means also identifying and exploring the values by which we live our lives, as well as developing our intellectual, emotional, physical and spiritual capacities’

–          ‘Get to know your fears, blind spots and comfort zones. Use your emotional comfort (or discomfort) as data in .. the work you do’

–           ‘Dedicating time to the on-going maintenance of both self-knowledge and technical expertise’

Three things struck me about the article:

First, everything that Mee-Yan wrote about the self-knowledge required to be an OD practitioner and consultant I think also applies to diversity and inclusion practitioners and consultants, and indeed to managers and leaders wanting to see change on diversity and inclusion in their organisations.

We can’t hope to inspire change in the attitudes and behaviour of others around difference, or understand the resistance that such attempts at change provoke, without first spending time and energy on getting to know and interpret our own beliefs and behaviours and reactions to difference.  I know myself that that can be pretty discomfiting, but it needs to be done.

Second, self-awareness is something that is generally left out of the skills and attributes required of diversity practitioners.  The competency model for D&I practitioners to which I most often refer – and refer others – is published by the Conference Board, and is called appropriately Creating a Competency Model for Diversity and Inclusion Practitioners. It’s an exhaustive collation of knowledge, skills and behaviours under eight business-like headings: change management; diversity, inclusion and global perspective; business acumen; strategic external relations; integrity; vision and strategic leadership, and HR competencies.

Written in 2008, it’s stood the test of time for me – until now.  Because now I feel it has one glaring omission – possibly the most difficult competency of all to acquire  – that of real self-knowledge.  Mee-Yan Cheng-Judge refers to use of the self as instrument as a ‘cornerstone for the future of OD’.  I think it’s the cornerstone for the future of D&I too.

Third, Mee-Yan’s article was written well before the explosion of interest in unconscious bias as an explanation for the slow progress being made in many organisations towards real change on diversity and inclusion.  Unconscious bias awareness activities are now all about building self-awareness and self-knowledge, and form an integral part of many an organisation’s diversity action plan.

The thing is, unconscious bias programmes promise self-awareness in 90 minutes.  I’ve been part of such programmes, and it’s true they are powerful and enlightening.  But Mee-Yan sees the development of self-awareness and self-knowledge as an ongoing journey, in effect a lifetime commitment, which I suspect is a more realistic – though less palatable – timetable for real self-knowledge.