Reaching Out

A plea….

I see by the Cluster Maps that folks from all over the world have looked at this blog, but no one has left me a message or commented on my thoughts.

I would LOVE to hear from folks who are interested in dialoguing about organization development, organizational change or any of the topics contained in this reflective blog.

This blog was started as a course requirement for my Masters in Education program but has been dormant since I graduated in May.  Every so often I go back and read it and realize that I truly miss the dialogue we had in the program. 

So I just may start posting here again.   If you’re reading this, please talk with me…

An Amazing Five Years

It took me longer than most, but I can now say that I have a Masters in Education with a concentration in Human Resource Development.  What a journey.  When I started the program in 2004, I merely wanted to take a couple classes to get a better sense of adult learning, because I had just taken on a new role as the head of Talent and Learning.  After the first courses, I was hooked on the topic, hooked on the learning and ready to join the program. 

Five years later, I have completed the core courses in Research Methods, Program Planning and Evaluation, Adult Learning and Development.  Those behind me, I began the HRD track which happened to coincide with major challenges at work, and ultimately the rare situation of eliminating my own job and that of my team, as my company fell prey to the economic woes of the real estate, mortgage and credit crises. 

As difficult as this was, there is no better teacher than crisis.  The difficulties that we experienced trying to downsize, deliver more with less, restructure our own area while helping the business leaders deal with the same situation in their areas was an experience that provided tremendous practical insight into the theories we were learning in the HRD program.  My classmates became my friends, my therapy group and helped me to work through the challenges we were experiencing.

Ultimately, my job loss gave me the opportunity to complete the program a year ahead of schedule.

Graduation is next week, but of course my son’s college graduation trumps my own, so I will be a proud mom in Lexington Virginia watching him receive his diploma and be commissioned as a lieutenant in the US Marine Corps.  I could not be more proud.

For me, I am ready to take what I have learned and continue to grow professionally and personally.  I don’t know exactly what that means, but I am confident that the next step is right around the corner.

The Strategy of Instructing

I don’t really have thoughts about the strategies presented this past week.  Honestly, it’s difficult to focus on anything but the Capstone project right now.  And with graduation looming large in less than a month, I have to admit to a bit of a “short timer’s attitude” as we used to say in the Marine Corps.

That said, I did some across an interesting book that was advertised in the ASTD bookstore.  The book is called “Leaders as Teachers“, by Edward Betof.  We’ve learned throughout this program that learning occurs everyday in every place, not just in a classroom.  Based on my experience in organizations, leaders really are the teachers.  Leaders demonstrate what to do (and not to do) every day.  They even influence whether classroom training really sticks or not by how they position and follow up.

This reinforces conceptually what we have experienced in this class.  The teaching demonstrations have shown that teachers can be tutors, trainers, nurses, or just about anyone.  A lesson to take from all of this is that we influence (read: teach) all the time and we should probably be conscious of that to make sure that the lesson we want others to hear is the lesson we feel good about giving.

Life’s Big Lessons

My mind is on overload right now because of Capstone, so I don’t really have any profound thoughts related to the instructional strategies that we observed this week except to say that I am enjoying learning more about the world than what I typically see being part of corporate America….although the hints on stress management were helpful to deal with all the silliness that exists working for a company.

I did walk away with a sense of sadness for our troops who are wounded in Iraq.  The statistics we hear are about those who died, not about those who have had their lives so horribly shifted.  And I have always linked IED injuries to loss of limb or life, not traumatic brain injury.  What more noble teaching challenge than to teach these brave men and women how to get back to as normal a life as possible.

I will always remember Marta’s comments about using comatose soldiers’ tattoos as leads about their interests, and talking to them about their tattoos….Sure does make everything we go through in corporate America pretty trivial.  It also makes me hope that if, God forbid, my son is injured while serving his country, someone like Marta is there to help.

What I’ve Learned about Organizational Change

I reread the syllabus before beginning this final ADLT 625 blog post.  Dr. Carter described three elements of the course: overview of change strategies, the history and theory of organization change and an introduction to whole system change.  That was an ambitious goal, but I think that we accomplished it.  I think that this has also been my favorite class of the program.

For the last fifteen years, I have been involved in discussions about change, mostly on the periphery.  While a compensation practitioner, I learned a bit about the concept of organizational change within the context of pay plan design.  When I moved into the organization development role in 2003, I was well aware that change was a major element of the role but I would have been hard pressed to really explain it to others.  I was able to coach leaders in what I saw as issues and roadblocks, but I was limited in what to look for systemically, or how to explain what was happening.

When we completed the needs assessment for our Leadership Academy, we agreed that an element of the program needed to be leading change, and designed the module around John Kotter’s eight step model of change.  When we previewed the program to senior leadership, it was obvious that this group was hungry for knowledge that would help them navigate what really was overwhelming change.  The Leadership Academy participants declared this one of the most helpful modules and often cited using these concepts when back with their teams.

A year or so later, I stepped in to help one of my team members who was assigned to lead the change management efforts of a major software implementation.  Together we quickly realized that Kotter’s model was great theory but it did not provide a roadmap for how to assess, intervene or influence the organization to look at the human elements of the change.  We devised our own model, based on good old organization development action research.  We talked to those involved extensively, fed back our data to the project team and made recommendations for increased two-way communication.  That seems to be the right way to use Kotter’s model – explore what is really going on, and then apply it to the model.  If data tells you there is no sense of urgency, that is where the change intervention can be most helpful.

From this exercise and from the study of change during this course, I have concluded that the popular literature on organization change may have done a disservice to the discipline of leading change.  While popular books may be helpful to managers by giving them quick insight into the feelings of those involved in change, they don’t offer sufficient theory behind human reaction to change, nor do they provide much in the way of practical steps.  I mentioned in my April 1, 2009 blog post that I would like to study MBA programs to see the scope of how they teach organization change theory and practice.  I suspect that few programs provide enough real content to embed the realities of leading change into their graduates.  Either that or they forget what they learned when confronted with change, because I have rarely seen a leader who could articulate the critical importance of the emotional elements of change.  I also suspect that MIT MBA graduates have a healthy dose of change theory, given the relationship of Schein and Senge to MIT.

The real losers in popular literature’s approach to organization change are human resources practitioners.  I am convinced that most human resources and even many organization development practitioners are unfamiliar with change theory and therefore unable to fulfill the critical role of advisor to leadership. 

The film Mindwalk was a pivotal learning experience for me.  It has led me down several paths of outside reading from Fritjof Capra, to Meg Wheatley to Peter Senge.  It is interesting that many theorists who write about self-organizing systems have expanded their horizons to a global reach.  Wheatley, Senge, Harrison Owen and Marvin Weisbord all have taken their work to international communities with crucial agendas for change that will hopefully help to move our world forward.  I can’t help but feel that the corporate world becomes trivial in comparison.  The problems that corporations face are so elementary compared to global warming, peace in the Middle East and genocide in third world countries.  But yet, no progress seems to be made – we just aren’t learning, as evidenced by the current stories of corporate greed, stupid investment decisions and the inability to carry out basic business plans.  This probably sounds cynical, and I suppose it really is.  Perhaps this is why Change Strategies is my favorite class of the program…if we really want to move forward, the key is in understanding human behavior, and human behavior can be most effectively understood and respected through the quantum world.

Of course, as I wrote on January 29, 2009 this was also my “light bulb” course for finally getting my arms around the concept of organization development and human resource development.  The discussion in class about context was what I needed to put together what we had been studying throughout the program.   In continuing reflection about organization development as a practice within organizations, I realize why sometimes the practice does not reside in human resources, but within the business.  Organization development is the human side of the business; while human resources may claim that role, I think that the “non-OD” elements of human resources are more like a staff function.  The profession of human resources puts together programs and processes similar to those developed by the finance or IT departments.  OD does business work – the focus is on the human aspect of the business.

These days OD work is often done in departments that have nothing to do with human resources.  They may be called project management, corporate communications, six sigma, process improvement and often they are embedded in an IT function because of the dramatic impact that technology has made on organizations.  Those who “get” that software is dependent upon a business process which is dependent upon the people who execute the process typically embed OD or change practitioners in their work.   Early in my time with my former employer, I found myself competing with our corporate communications and project management group to become involved in organization change efforts.  These disciplines have staked claim to OD work and change management is part of their professional curricula.  But like human resources, it seems that few really understand theory and practice.

I have blogged my personal transformation in the past three posts, and I have not really made any more progress on thinking through this world of self-organizing systems any more than I did in the last post.  That said I believe that this thought process will frame who I am and how I approach my life from this point forward.

So, how will I practice what I have learned and what I continue to ponder?  At a minimum I can identify several areas where I will change my approach to my role, whether in a job, or with other interactions.

I hope to become a better listener and a better asker of questions.  I don’t think it is possible to facilitate change by talking.  There are some ideas and concepts that can be offered, but questions prime the pump by getting people to think on their own about what is happening.  Theoretically, that will create more openness to ideas and concepts.  I need to practice this.

I will try to look beyond the obvious.  To me, the human behavior is the obvious.  To business leaders, human behavior is often the last thing that they think about.  So my challenge will be to think beyond what is obvious to me, look at things from their perspective and ask questions about what they’re interested in that will eventually uncover issues of human behavior.  Good theory on my part; let’s see how I do with application.

I will continue to follow this path I am on learning more about systems thinking and human behavior within the context of self-organization.  I am on chapter two of the Fifth Discipline.  Sitting on my shelf is “Presence: An exploration of profound change in people, organizations and society”, authored by Peter Senge and others.  I think I will also explore the Society for Organizational Learning. 

The one area that I really don’t know what to do with is the growing sense that I need to get out into the world beyond Richmond Virginia and explore this universe that is so much more than what we see in this community.  I don’t know what that means.  Perhaps there are opportunities to enlarge my thinking while still in Richmond; Ali’s interfaith group comes to mind.  But it is a path I know I need to take; I just don’t quite know how.

Sequencing Intentional Learning

When I first joined my former company as the head of OD&T, I knew nothing about the theories behind OD.  Someone suggested I read Senge’s The Fifth Discipline, but offered the caveat that it was “pretty dry” and very difficult to read.  I tried, but put it away because it was difficult to read.  Perhaps that became a self-fulfilling prophecy, or perhaps it was simply that I did not have sufficient foundational understanding to get what he was saying early in the book.

I picked the book back up this weekend and felt like I was reading a totally different book than the one I started in 2003.  It grabbed me immediately, and I understood exactly what he was saying.  I was able to focus on his primary thesis – systems thinking – because I understood and had spent much time pondering the other four disciplines.  I am excited to delve more deeply into systems thinking.

The Burke text for Change Strategies led me to Fritjof Capra’s book “The Web of Life”.  Capra led me to Meg Wheatley’s “Leadership and the New Science”.   I just now grabbed Burke back off the shelf to remind myself what he said about connectivity, networks etc. and realized that it was fairly surface level – appropriate for a survey text.  I supposed that’s what made me want to see what Fritjof himself said.  As a scientist, he focused primarily on the science, but I wanted to know more about how the theories impact organizations, so I found Wheatley.  This path gave me a deep appreciation for some basics that anchor Senge’s concepts – that open systems self-organize, that they can’t be controlled (or shouldn’t be) and that the best that an open system can do is to learn how to learn.  Otherwise, what is excellent cannot be sustained.

I am ready to explore systems thinking more deeply.  And I don’t see anything dry about this book – it is alive with ideas and hopes.

I think also that there is a message here about sequencing intentional learning.  I know that I get excited about ideas, concepts and theories and I want to share them with others.  The learning here tells me that I need to make sure that the foundation has been laid for listeners to a.) understand what I’m saying and b.) find excitement in the topic.  If the listener isn’t ready, there’s little point to sharing the theory.

There is more to adult learning…

….than meets the eye.  The teaching demonstrations have ranged from oral cancer screening to interviewing to GED preparation.  Adult learners sit in dentist chairs or prisons. 

Likewise, the range of techniques for conveying information to adult learners is vast. 

I have gained tremendous respect for my classmates, and in doing so have found myself questioning the effectiveness of learning in corporate America.  There is important teaching being done everyday, and crucial learning happens in unexpected places (like the very disturbing knowledge I gained Thursday night that I could not pass the GED).

Corporate America seems petty to me, perhaps because I’m still carrying baggage from my recent experience.  Knowles’ concept of andragogy places ownership and responsibility on the adult learner to learn.  Adam said that prisoners pursuing their GED are motivated to learn in order to look beyond their current situation.  Individuals want to learn how to detect oral cancer for obvious reasons.

In corporate America – at least in those companies I know – we often miss the lesson of andragogy.  We tend to push down, rather than inspire.  “Best practice” companies seem to do a better job of creating learning environments, but overall I don’t think that corporate America has figured out how to inspire learning that truly creates a learning environment.

Hearing my classmates describe the learning environments that they have created for their learners is inspiring, and hopefully, I will have the opportunity to “pay it forward” in corporate America. 

(The new picture is looking across the forum of Pompeii to Mount Vesuvius.  We took this picture in September 2007)

Chaos and Order

We cannot control the world.  We cannot control our work or our families.  We cannot control ourselves.  The world will happen – as each microscopic element grows and learns and combines with all of the other microscopic elements to organize and create the world at that moment.  It will be different in the next moment because the elements will change, relationships will develop and networks will grow.

I NEVER would have thought I would make such a statement – far too “out there” for me.  Actually, the statement is merely a synthesis of what I have read of Fritjof Capra and Meg Wheatley; I can make no claim to the thought process.  It is grounded in quantum physics and challenges the very bedrock of my beliefs.

 Meg Wheatley closes her book “Leadership and the New Science” with the following comments:

People often comment that the new leadership I propose couldn’t possibly work in ‘the real world’…..[that] craves efficiency and obedience.  It relies on standard operating procedures for every situation, even when chaos erupts and things spin out of control.

This is not the real world.  This world is a manmade, dangerous fiction that destroys our capacity to deal well with what’s really going on.  The real world, not this fake one, demands that we learn to cope with chaos, that we understand what motivates humans, and that we adopt strategies and behaviors that lead to order, not more chaos.”

I am uncomfortable with having my fundamental beliefs shaken in such a dramatic way.  I say dramatic because the concept of giving up control has been a theme throughout the past 18 months, as my company’s bankruptcy collided with courses in organizational culture, learning and change, I have had to think in new ways (and had to keep myself from thinking I could have saved the company had I been more assertive – yes, I know – not good).

I would love to study the curricula for strong MBA programs to see how much of what we’ve studied in change strategies is part of their coursework.  My bet is that there is some study of organizational behavior, but not at the level where students can conceptualize that leadership is about clarification, facilitation and coaching, not about controlling.

It’s funny really….most professions require a certain standard of knowledge before the professional is allowed to “practice”.  Not in business, though.  Anyone who does a good job can aspire to be a manager, and there rarely are standards of knowledge or demonstration of skill required when new managers are promoted.  If they get any training at all, it is typically (yes, I realized this is a wild generalization and not defensible) how to do a budget and how to write a performance review.

So back to my initial statement that we cannot control the world or the organization….what, then, is required of a leader of an organization.   What is the best that he or she can offer?  Don’t hold me to this since it’s early in the morning and this is a stream of consciousness, but I think the best that a leader can offer is to show the organization how to learn.

Wheatley, M. J. (2006). Leadership and the New Science. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Learning to Teach

First, I have to thank APT for the lesson in credit scores.  I really didn’t understand all that went into a credit score, and need to rethink our advice to our soon-to-be college graduate son.  Great job.

I really enjoy facilitating/teaching but I do it so infrequently that I get nervous when I do it.  This exercise has caused me to think about what role I want teaching to play in my next job.  I love the “ah ha” moment. I love to see people light up  when they just realized that they now know something that can help them. 

Teaching leaders is always challenging because they don’t feel the need to learn.  It’s fun to slide something in using an exercise that is realistic to their work, and use the debrief to help them realize they just learned something.  Get’s one over on ’em!

Searching for the Future

My classmates did a terrific job of condensing a HUGE program into a short amount of time and still getting the point across.  I am, however, a bit skeptical about the dressing up thing – just my introversion showing itself.  Sometimes I like being pulled out of my introverted shell, but that didn’t happen for me.  Maybe spending a longer time with the group would have helped. 

I’ve long had a personal theory that I call the M*A*S*H theory, and it keeps popping into my mind as we explore change.  One of the elements that change theorists talk about is the compelling reason to change that drives comraderie and working together.  For me, the show M*A*S*H was a great example of this.  Radar, Hawkeye, BJ, Klinger and Colonel Potter all came from different backgrounds and would return to their “roots” when the war was over.  They shared a bond that was unmistakable, even with the dramatic differences in who they were.  They developed an incredible sense of respect for each other, even through their differences.

They did this because they were taken away from their usual situation and put into a situation that required hard work and self-sacrifice.  Had they encountered each other without those elements, the bond would never have occurred.

Perhaps one of the elements of a future search is to create that sense of comraderie and bond that allows the participants to drop their defenses.  This is probably the most difficult selling point for an organization because it requires TIME.  Time is an investment, not an expense.  But business leaders often have difficulty with that concept.   

I don’t have a good answer about how to sell the concept of time as an investment.  But I think it is something important to consider.