Posts in: Organisational Development

Ready for our close-up: ASK Breakfast Briefing at BAFTA

It was Norma Desmond who uttered the immortal line “I’m ready for my close-up”, in the timeless classic Sunset Boulevard. With two days to go, we’re mightily glad - and not a little relieved - that our own close-up role at BAFTA this Friday (30 September) will take place in altogether brighter circumstances - and that we are not just ready but brimming with positive anticipation.

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Plug in and play: the joys – and otherwise – of the Matrix Organisation

There’s been quite a lively debate at Business Week, where two contributors – and a long list of commenters – indulged in some weighty mutual executive briefcasing (handbagging just didn’t sound right) in response to the question: “Multi-dimensional organisational design (Matrix) is the best way to restructure a business. Pro or con?” In the Pro corner, Jay Galbraith argues for the value, inherent merit and – in today’s trading environment – the inevitability of the victory of a collaborative approach over a command and control variety. In the Con corner, Guido Quelle sees matrix organisations as painfully slow, lacking clarity and clear lines of responsibility. Verbal bruisings have been administered and received on both sides but there’s been no knock-out punch: anyone hoping to see the late, grand old man, Peter Drucker holding the limp wrist of one argument aloft and counting to ten would be disappointed.

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Wherever they lay their hats – making people feel at home

Home – in the sense of somewhere (geographic or otherwise) with which we feel a emotional connection - is also a place that even a workaholic might like to linger. Places that depend on attracting those that are most likely to enjoy their particular culture, style, values – call it what you will – are those most likely to make at least some effort making them immediately obvious. Hence the value of the employer brand. Just like the pub that sends the right messages before we cross the threshold, we know that we are staying for the second pint from choice but realise that we’re more likely to in a place that we feel in tune with.

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Machines of Loving Grace, and the odd ghost …

For those tempted to adopt the comforting position of a model that explains everything (therefore implicitly absolving us of so much), or who would prefer to run with a number-crunched ‘answer’ rather than to assess their own, there are two valuable warnings in popular culture. Firstly, when ‘Computer says “No”’, pause to reflect on who designed the software and what their view of the world was. And secondly, think about those complex weather models and remember the words of Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight. If you want to know what the weather’s doing, look out of the bloody window.

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Death of a Salesman: the sequel

Sorry for the rather un-festive title, but it’s triggered by reading a fascinating article at Harvard Business Review’s blog - Employees See Death When You Change Their Routines. It seems our sense of mortality is built on three pillars – consistency, standards of justice and culture – that the authors (James R Bailey and Jonathan Raelin) describe as existential buffers. The authors cite examples of actions that can undermine each of these, but the essential message – change knocks away one or more of those pillars and reminds us that all things (including, most importantly, our self and our sense of self) are transitory. Change is therefore perceived as threatening, and it is understandable that we therefore respond with ‘fight or flight’. It’s a story of investment, in an emotional and psychological sense. Aware of our own mortality, we play down our own fears by using culture (in the broadest sense) to give us a sense of meaning, organisation and continuity, and to create feelings of belonging, security and self-esteem. Provided, of course, that we engage with and buy into the cultural values and standards in question. (And even those who see themselves as ‘outsiders’ have a perceived sense of something that they are outside: you can’t be outside something you don’t see as being there.)

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The Social Network, or “not because you’re a nerd” …

It’s interesting to look at in terms of a story of how a huge phenomenon came about it. Doing so certainly unearths a welter of contradictions. Originally released just to Harvard students (and then rolled out to other prestige campuses, not going ‘public’ until two and a half years after its initial launch), the role of ‘connections’ in success is very mixed. Facebook’s success is based on ‘network value’ – it’s useful to its users precisely because there are so many of them – yet the value of ‘who you know’ is unclear. Those with the best connections – the Winkelvoss twins – get a substantial out-of-court settlement, but a gagging order to go with it – followed by further legal cases. The site’s early year(s) are powered partly by exclusivity – the top US universities and their students’ social scenes, but exclusivity does not and can not scale. Zuckerberg’s social fumbling, if the film is accurate, does little to encourage anyone to believe relationship skills are important in business (except possibly in terms of knowing good lawyers). For a site where ‘friends’ may be people you barely know, the ‘it’s who you know that matters’ trope needs a ‘vaguely’ or a ‘nearly’ inserting in the old cliché.

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Surviving the cuts: a change management model

Ironically, given the apparent insistence of the Chancellor that there is ‘no plan B’ (which seems remarkable unless the power to fix all prevailing circumstances until 2015 is magically concealed up his sleeve), it is a change management model that is built on the principle that Plan A is the framework that enables Plan B – F inclusive to come into being that is most likely to assist public sector managers in refocusing and equipping their organisations for the months to come.

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Guiding Principles for OD Consulting

Like any professional consultants (whether that consultancy is provided internally or – even more so – externally), the privilege of being selected to provided our service carries responsibilities. Some are mandatory in the strictest sense – the legal framework defines a range of liabilities and risks – while others are better categorised as ‘professional’ or ‘ethical’. To maintain our standards (and the standards of professional bodes to which we belong, as we are proud to support organisations that work to define, maintain and drive up standards), we are committed to regular and ongoing professional development. A further ethical concern is to recognise the boundaries within which consultancy is provided and presented: the opportunity to present ideas does not translate into a right to see them implemented. (Indeed, insisting too adamantly ultimately undermines the recipient client: effective consultancy should be based on mutual professional respect.) As world leaders in promoting the criticality of ensuring the successful transfer and application of learning, coaching and OD interventions, we are seeking here to identify and encourage the achievement of best practice in this business critical area.

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Book review: Dave and Wendy Ulrich – The Why of Work

Dave Ulrich is, without question, an HR guru: as with any guru, it’s difficult to know whether to approach them on bended knee or with a degree of trepidation. Having read “The Why of Work”, the best approach is with an open mind, a small pinch of salt – and with sufficient time to take on board what Ulrich (writing with his wife, Wendy, a psychologist) has to say. There is much of immense value here, and much that has the potential to enable leaders and organisations to generate immense value in more than one sense for themselves (and, importantly, both their customers and their shareholders). Like many of the best books in the ‘how to manage business better’ arena, my biggest qualm is that those who stand to gain most from reading it are those least likely to read it.

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