Thursday, September 21, 2017

The OD Quest: Part 5 – Face to face with the antithesis?!

 "I don’t have an opening in my OD team now. But, you can join our recruitment team and do recruitment in the OD way”, I heard the Senior HR Leader telling a candidate who was hell-bent on joining the OD team. This was my fifth ‘encounter’ with this gentleman (See 'Passion for work and anasakti ‘, 'Appropriate metaphors for organizational commitment ‘ ,‘To name or not to name, that is the question’ and ‘A Mathematical approach to HR’ for the outcomes of my previous interactions with him).

I was a bit taken aback by what I just heard. I knew that often these kind of ‘solutions’ will end in tears or worse. However, similar to what had happened during my previous encounters with him, this interaction forced me to think a bit more deeply about the underlying issue - the application of OD(Organization Development) to the various functional areas in HR (Human Resource Management). That, in turn, has prompted me to write this series of posts on 'The OD Quest' where we will look at the possibilities  that arise when OD ventures into other parts of the people management terrain.

In the first post in this series (see The OD Quest: Part 1- Mapping the terrain) we did a cartography of the Human Resources (HR) and Organization Development (OD) domains to map out the current world (the terrain) inhabited by HR and OD and also the evolving worldviews in HR and OD (ways of looking at the terrain). In the second post (see The OD Quest Part 2 : Doing Recruitment in the OD way) we made a visit to the land of Recruitment and explored the value OD can add to Recruitment. In the third post (see The OD Quest: Part 3 – Rendezvous with L&D) we covered the Rendezvous with L&D
. In the fourth post we saw how OD can sweeten Rewards and make it ‘Total Rewards’ (see The OD Quest: Part 4 – Totally Rewarding) In this post, let’s take our OD Quest to a domain that has often been considered as the antithesis of OD – Industrial Relations (IR).

Prima facie, OD and IR make strange bedfellows. Isn’t IR  the rough and tough side of HR whereas OD is the gentle and soft side of HR? Doesn’t IR happen in the context of an essentially adversarial relationship whereas OD assumes a win-win relationship. Isn’t IR about tangibles (like wages and working conditions) whereas OD is about the intangibles (like culture and values). Isn’t IR the bread and butter stuff for HR while OD is more like the icing on the cake? Have you ever come across an HR professional who is an expert in both IR & OD? Doesn’t IR happen in reality of the shop floor whereas OD interventions typically happen off-site locations that are as far away from the work reality as possible? Aren’t OD and IR two fields of study that are customarily separated in both theory and practice?


To me, these questions are based on the stereotypes of IR and OD and are not based on reality (See Decoding the ‘IR mindset’ and Organization Development Managers as Court Jesters’  for more details). Yes, these stereotypes have existed for such a long time that they have become some sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy. After all (organization) reality is socially constructed to a large extent. But if we go beyond the outward appearances, significant possibilities for value addition begin to emerge. Yes, in aspects like creating a congenial 'organization climate' (the perception and attitudes of organizational members toward the organization that influence their behavior in the organization), the convergence between OD and IR are apparent whereas in other aspects we need look more carefully to see the convergence.

Let’s start with the most typical (stereotypical?) part of IR – collective bargaining leading to long-term settlements(LTS). There are often significant disruptions (at least distractions) to work before the LTS is signed.  Also the productivity improvement clauses in LTS are often notoriously difficult to implement. All these can be avoided if the process of working towards, signing and implementing the LTS is carried out as an integrated change management activity. Change management is the core skillset in OD and hence OD can be of immense value this case.

Another important area where OD can contribute to IR is Workers’ Participation in Management(WPM). Most of the WPM efforts remain ineffective or superficial as insufficient attention is given to the key enablers like working on the underlying assumptions and attitudes (of workers and management towards each other), building communication, trust and collaboration etc. OD can be of immense help in working on these enablers and hence can enable real and effective participation(WPM).  


Similarly OD can be of help when implementing any sort of changes in the workplace (e.g. changes in production processes, introduction of new equipment & technology, multiskilling etc.). OD’s behavioral science foundation supports values of human potential, participation, and development in addition to performance and competitive advantage. OD can also help in promoting attitudes and behaviours that enhance quality and industrial safety apart from creating better focus aspects like organizational justice (distributive, procedural & interactive justice) and inclusion & inclusive development. 

Yes, there is often some inherent conflict in the union management relationship. However, conflicts exists between various group of employees also (e.g. between various functions). So the more effective way is to recognize the conflict and work on it and that is an area where OD can definitely help (See ‘A political paradox for HR and OD’ for a more detailed discussion).


IR and OD have common theoretical roots in the domain of industrial sociology that examines the direction and implications of trends in technological change, globalization, labor markets, work organization, managerial practices and workplace relations. Over the years behavioral scientists have deepened the understanding of the ways that interpersonal, structural, and technological forces can affect organizations and industrial relations. Increasing diversity in both the characteristics of the labor force and the organization of work have blurred the distinctions between blue collar jobs (traditional domain of IR) and white collar jobs (traditional domain of OD). In general, workers with good education and high occupational status are more likely to assert their interests individually rather than through collective bargaining.

All industrial relations systems ultimately face the same fundamental issues : they must devise policies and institutions that can meet workers’ expectations and enhance productivity; they must also provide employees with a means of expressing their needs at the workplace while offering steps for resolving the conflicts that inevitably arise between workers and employers. The common need to ensure the survival of the organization in a highly competitive market place is putting increasing pressure on unions and management to jointly solve complex problems and hence the ratio of ‘integrative bargaining (win-win)’ to ‘distributive bargaining (win-lose)’ is increasing when it comes to collective bargaining. OD is essentially about facilitating joint exploration and problem solving

It is interesting to note that there are fundamental similarities between OD and IR in terms of the 'unit of work'. While most of the HR processes (e.g. recruitment, performance management, career development etc.) impact the employees primarily as individuals both OD and IR deal mostly with groups. Understanding of the formation and evolution of groups and group dynamics is key to both IR and OD. By the way, OD is not only useful for the ‘management team’ of the  but also for the unions. After all union is essentially a group of people who have to work together. It can be argued that the need for group cohesion is the highest for the unions as their power (or even existence) comes from being able to act together as a group.

Where does this leave us? IR is not the antithesis of OD. IR is essentially about balancing (in the dynamic sense) the economic efficiency of organizations with equity, justice and the development of the individual to find ways of avoiding, minimizing and resolving disputes and conflict and to promote harmonious relations between and among the parties involved. OD can definitely add value to IR – especially in terms of change management, facilitating greater alignment with the vision, mission and values of the organization, enhancing communication, collaboration, psychological commitment & trust and better sensing & management of the group dynamics.

OD can enable IR (Industrial Relations) to transition to Employee Relations (which goes beyond the collective bargaining level to include non-union organizations also where dialogue might be between employers and their employees, although with alternative bargaining structures) and then to Employment Relations (that looks more broadly at employment and the forces that impact employment to enable greater cooperation between management and employee to add value to the organization). Yes, for this his to happen HR professionals need to go beyond the stereotypes about IR and OD and look at the core of the domains. Yes, it also means that OD and IR professionals have to spend more time working together! We must also remember that even in those situations where there is really a ‘thesis’ and an ‘antithesis’, we can find often find a ‘synthesis’ that integrates the thesis and antithesis at a higher level!

Any comments/thoughts before we take our OD quest to the next domain in the HR land?!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The OD Quest: Part 4 – Totally Rewarding!

"I don’t have an opening in my OD team now. But, you can join our recruitment team and do recruitment in the OD way”, I heard the Senior HR Leader telling a candidate who was hell-bent on joining the OD team. This was my fifth ‘encounter’ with this gentleman (See 'Passion for work and anasakti ‘, 'Appropriate metaphors for organizational commitment ‘ ,‘To name or not to name, that is the question’ and ‘A Mathematical approach to HR’ for the outcomes of my previous interactions with him).

I was a bit taken aback by what I just heard. I knew that often these kind of ‘solutions’ will end in tears or worse. However, similar to what had happened during my previous encounters with him, this interaction forced me to think a bit more deeply about the underlying issue - the application of OD(Organization Development) to the various functional areas in HR (Human Resource Management). That, in turn, has prompted me to write this series of posts on 'The OD Quest' where we will look at the possibilities  that arise when OD ventures into other parts of the people management terrain.

In the first post in this series (see The OD Quest: Part 1- Mapping the terrain) we did a cartography of the Human Resources (HR) and Organization Development (OD) domains to map out the current world (the terrain) inhabited by HR and OD and also the evolving worldviews in HR and OD (ways of looking at the terrain). In the second post (see The OD Quest Part 2 : Doing Recruitment in the OD way) we made a visit to the land of Recruitment and explored the value OD can add to Recruitment. In the third post (see The OD Quest: Part 3 – Rendezvous with L&D) we covered the Rendezvous with L&D
. In this post, let’s take our OD Quest to the land of Rewards that is also known by names like ‘Compensation & Benefits’ (C& B) and by more interesting ones like ‘Monies & Goodies’.

If we look at Rewards essentially in terms of compensation surveys, compensation structures and benefits the possible value addition from OD is not apparent with exception of facilitating deeper discussions around the compensation philosophy (the ‘why’ of what we do in Compensation &a Benefits and its alignment with the company values). However, when we look at Rewards as a tool to drive appropriate employee behaviors to achieve a particular set of business results, the possible value addition from OD  becomes clearer.  

Employee behaviors (and also employee engagement and performance) are driven by the ‘total employee deal’ offered by the company that include (in addition to compensation and benefits) factors like the organization culture, work environment, development & growth, meaning & purpose etc. OD plays a key role in enhancing these aspects. Most importantly, the underlying messages conveyed by the Compensation & Benefits provided by the company must be in sync with the messages conveyed by the other parts of the total employee deal. For example if an organization wants to provide a highly collaborative environment the Reward system should also support that. 

One of the ways to enhance the alignment between Rewards and OD is to jointly create a coherent and internally consistent ‘Employee Value Proposition’ or a ‘Total Rewards Statement’ that include all these dimensions. This would ensure better integration between the transactional aspects (traditionally the domain of Compensation & Benefits) and the relational aspects (traditionally the domain of OD) of the total employee deal. Please see ‘Of Rewards, OD and Passing the buck’ for more details. For example, it creates cognitive dissonance when the organization looks at salary purely as a 'matter of supply & demand' and at the same time wants the employees to develop a deep emotional connect with the organization beyond the rational connect  (or even consider the organization as their extended family).


Reward systems must focus on what is valued in the organization (stated values of the organization). Clarifying these values is an area where OD can help. There must be a clear connection between the valued behaviors and the Rewards. Money speaks louder than words! So if there is a disconnect between the espoused values of the organization and what is actually rewarded, the employee behaviors would be influenced by what is rewarded. It is also a sure way to lose credibility and trust.

Another very important contribution that OD can make is to better manage the formation and evolution of the psychological contract. While salaries are more in the domain of the employment contract, the way salary negotiations are conducted during the various phases of the employee life cycle can have a huge impact on the formation and evolution of the psychological contract and hence outcomes like employee engagement, performance and retention. Please see ‘Of Salary negotiations and Psychological contract’ for more details. Also, how Reward decisions are handled (especially when the organization is not doing well or when the organization can afford to drive a hard bargain with the employees) with both shape and reveal the organization culture and values.


OD can help in facilitating better change management around the changes made to compensation and benefits (especially on tricky ones like discontinuing a benefit or redesigning incentive/variable salary schemes to derive more value). Of course, it works the other way around also. When OD is driving an organization-wide change management effort, Rewards can be of immense help by rewarding the desired (new) behaviors/ways of working and hence facilitating them to take root. For example, if the organization wants to build a more performance-driven culture, increasing the level of differentiation in Rewards for the various levels of performance can be a key enabler.


So where does this leave us? OD can add a lot of value to Rewards. OD can help Rewards to evolve from Compensation & Benefits to Total Rewards! We can say that the application of OD makes Rewards better just like ‘sugar sweetens milk’ in the famous story* about Parsis. Of course, it is important to keep working on the Rewards & OD partnership to take it to higher levels of excellence and to ensure that things doesn’t fall through the cracks (or fall in ‘no man’s land’). Considering that we are on an OD quest and not a conquest continuous exploration of the possibilities of the Rewards and OD partnership definitely fits into the spirit of the OD quest!

 The story goes something like this.: Parsis came to India fleeing from persecution in their Motherland Iran and landed in Gujarat. There they approached the local king Jadi Rana and requested asylum. Jadi Rana motioned to a vessel of milk filled to the very brim to signify that his kingdom was already full and could not accept refugees. In response, one of the Parsi priests added a pinch of sugar to the milk, thus indicating that they would not bring the vessel to overflowing and indeed make the lives of the citizens sweeter. Jadi Rana gave shelter to the emigrants and permitted them to practice their religion and traditions freely. Parsis are still adding “sugar” to our lives!

Any comments/thoughts before we take our OD quest to the next domain in the HR land?!

Monday, April 24, 2017

Remarkable Encounters - Part 1 : Teacher

It is said that we discover some parts of ourselves only in the context of our interaction with others. Some of these interactions are so enriching that they leave us feeling more complete, integrated, alive and human. In this series of posts, we will look at the impressions from some of the remarkable encounters I have had. To be of greater relevance, I have grouped these interactions into categories based on roles. In the first post, we will look at my impressions from an encounter with a remarkable teacher.

I have learned much from you, and it is not limited to what you have taught.

I have taken much from you, but I haven't diminished you. A lamp that lights another lamp Is not diminished in the process.

You taught straight from the heart, with your deeds amplifying your words. True integrity is the integration of thoughts, words and actions.

You gave me the courage to accept what I have known all along and to stand on your shoulders to see what you never been able to see. You gave me the benefit of doubt, perhaps more than what I deserved.

You encouraged me to experiment with new behaviors and perspectives and to discover the joy of learning . You discovered potentials in me that I could not recognize myself.

Yes, you have often cut me very deeply, to open up my channels of learning. But you used a surgeon's blade and not a butcher's knife and that too with infinite care and compassion.

You enabled me to be more of myself with all my peculiarities. For it is in our sharpness and not in our well-roundedness that we become unique and truly human as individuals.

You have demonstrated so beautifully that the teacher and the student can learn together.

In a world with so much information and so little understanding, a great teacher can indeed be the bridge from sight to insight. Yes, I do feel blessed, in more ways than one, that our paths have crossed!

Friday, March 10, 2017

The OD Quest: Part 3 – Rendezvous with L&D

"I don’t have an opening in my OD team now. But, you can join our recruitment team and do recruitment in the OD way”, I heard the Senior HR Leader telling a candidate who was hell-bent on joining the OD team. This was my fifth ‘encounter’ with this gentleman (See 'Passion for work and anasakti ‘, 'Appropriate metaphors for organizational commitment ‘ ,‘To name or not to name, that is the question’ and ‘A Mathematical approach to HR’ for the outcomes of my previous interactions with him).

I was a bit taken aback by what I just heard. I knew that often these kind of ‘solutions’ will end in tears or worse. However, similar to what had happened during my previous encounters with him, this interaction forced me to think a bit more deeply about the underlying issue - the application of OD(Organization Development) to the various functional areas in HR (Human Resource Management). That, in turn, has prompted me to write this series of posts on 'The OD Quest' where we will look at the possibilities  that arise when OD ventures into other parts of the people management terrain.

In the first post in this series (see The OD Quest: Part 1- Mapping the terrain) we did a cartography of the Human Resources (HR) and Organization Development (OD) domains to map out the current world (the terrain) inhabited by HR and OD and also the evolving worldviews in HR and OD (ways of looking at the terrain). In the second post (see The OD Quest Part 2 : Doing Recruitment in the OD way) we made a visit to the land of Recruitment and explored the value OD can add to Recruitment. In this post, let’s take our OD Quest to one of OD’s closest neighbors – Learning & Development (L&D) also known as ‘Training’ (though the term ‘Training’ is becoming increasingly unfashionable especially for behavioral training)


OD and L&D (as opposed to OD and Recruitment) are often considered to be siblings or even twins. In some of the organizations they also live in the same house (function) called 'Learning & OD'. When OD becomes more like OE/Organization Effectiveness that focuses more on the 'structural' dimension (e.g. Organization structure, job design, congruence of structural elements, workforce planning etc.) as opposed to the 'human process' dimension and/or when L&D is clubbed with Technical/Functional Training, they are more likely to live apart, in terms of the boxes and arrows in the organization chart, often with unfortunate consequences!

When it comes to the nature of work, the boundary between OD and L&;D is not often clearly defined (and it varies significantly across organizations). Typically, individual level capability building is considered to be in the L&;D land and group and organization level capability building is considered to be in the OD land. ‘Coaching’ is a hotly disputed territory between OD and L&D. Territorial disputes also erupt when it comes to  ‘change management’/’mindset/culture change’ kind of training.   

To me, the separation between OD and L&D is arbitrary and counterproductive. Learning’ is defined as ‘sustainable change in behavior’ and OD is about ‘facilitating change’. So, it is very difficult to determine where one ends and the other begins. This is even more true these days when L&D has moved away from being primarily 'event-driven' and OD has moved away from 'conducting isolated ('hit and run')interventions'. Efforts to force a separation between the two often leads to 'things falling through the cracks'. More importantly, this can adversely affect the mutual value addition.

Let’s look at an example. One of the serious ‘crimes’ committed in the L&D land is that of ‘Training the victim’ where problems at the strategy/structure/process/culture levels are conveniently misdiagnosed as ‘capability issues’ and employees are sent for remedial training to fix their capability gaps (see ‘Training the victim’ for details)!  

A closer partnership between L&D and OD can improve the quality of the diagnosis/need identification and also help in better change management to sustain the ‘change in behavior’ and ‘transfer of learning’ as the OD function often brings in excellent diagnosis and consulting skills. Also ,OD can help a lot in terms of structuring the 70% (on the job learning) part of the 70:20:10 learning model (see ‘Truths stretched too far’ for more details).  Again, ‘Leadership Training’ often degenerates into some sort of ‘Corporate Rain Dance’  (see 'Leadership Training and Corporate Rain Dance' for details). Partnership with OD can help in addressing this also.

Similarly, large scale OD interventions often involve a lot of capability building where L&D can help. Again the L&D function often brings in significant program management capability that can be leveraged to enhance the effectiveness of the roll out of change management initiatives.

A closer partnership between L&D and OD also ensures that high impact domains like ‘coaching’ don’t fall through the cracks and that they are effectively addressed. Another key area where the collaboration between OD and L&D can add a lot of value is in enabling employees to transition from one responsibility level to another responsibility level that requires a different mindset in addition to a different skillset (See ‘Accelerated learning & Rites of passage’ for a related discussion).

So where does this leave us? OD and L&D can add a lot of value to each other. This works best when their ‘natural affinity’ (in terms of nature of work) is maintained in terms of organization structure. Hence an HR organization structure that combines the L&D and OD functions into ‘Learning &OD’ is much more likely to be impactful. This also facilitates better crosspollination of skillsets and a more integrated perspective!

Any comments/thoughts before we take our OD quest to the next domain in the HR land?!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The OD Quest: Part 2 – ‘Doing Recruitment in the OD way’!?

"I don’t have an opening in my OD team now. But, you can join our recruitment team and do recruitment in the OD way”, I heard the Senior HR Leader telling a candidate who was hell-bent on joining the OD team. This was my fifth ‘encounter’ with this gentleman (See 'Passion for work and anasakti ‘, 'Appropriate metaphors for organizational commitment ‘ ,‘To name or not to name, that is the question’ and ‘A Mathematical approach to HR’ for the outcomes of my previous interactions with him). I was a bit taken aback by what I just heard. I knew that often these kind of ‘solutions’ will end in tears or worse. However, similar to what had happened during my previous encounters with him, this interaction forced me to think a bit more deeply about the underlying issue - the application of OD(Organization Development) to the various functional areas in HR (Human Resource Management). That, in turn, has prompted me to write this series of posts on 'The OD Quest' where we will look at the possibilities  that arise when OD ventures into other parts of the people management terrain. 


In the first post in this series (see The OD Quest: Part 1- Mapping the terrain) we did a cartography of the Human Resources (HR) and Organization Development (OD) domains to map out the current world (the terrain) inhabited by HR and OD and also the evolving worldviews in HR and OD (ways of looking at the terrain). Now, let us come back to the statement made by our Senior HR Leader – about ‘doing recruitment in the OD way’.  

Prima facie, OD and Recruitment appear to be ‘strange bedfellows’. Aren’t they at the opposite ends of the spectrum of HR activities in terms of their nature? Isn’t OD supposed to be much more strategic and evolved as compared to Recruitment? Aren’t the skillsets required for OD and Recruitment dramatically different?  However, when I thought about underlying issues a bit more quite a few possibilities started to emerge in addition to paradoxes! The crux of the issue here is ‘What is meant by the OD way?’.  

While OD is typically defined as a planned effort to increase organization effectiveness using behavioral-science knowledge, the domains that are typically associated with OD are Culture, Vision, Mission Values, Employee Engagement, Coaching, Collaboration, Diversity and Inclusion, dealing with hidden issues  and biases etc. Also the traditional OD approach has been that of action research (the process of systematically collecting data about an ongoing system relative to some need of that system, feeding thee data back into the system, taking action by altering selected variables within the system and evaluating the results of actions). Similarly, while recruitment can be defined as the process of bringing the right talent into the organization, the domains that are typically associated with recruitment are Attracting/sourcing talent, Selection, Offer, Joining and Onboarding.

Based on the above descriptions, it can be seen that OD can help in increasing the effectiveness of recruitment in many aspects including the following:

·    Increasing the person-organization fit (culture fit) during the selection process by mapping and evaluating fit on the relevant cultural and personality dimensions. Culture can be considered to be the personality of the organization and the fit of the personality of the candidate with that of the organization is something that is better addressed at the hiring stage as personalities (both individual and organizational) tend to be relatively stable (resistant to change)
 
·    Facilitating enculturation during the onboarding process (enhancing alignment with the organization values, vision and mission)
 
·    Ensuring  greater shared understanding of ‘what good looks like’ and hence avoiding unpleasant surprises

·    Helping in the formation and effective management of the psychological contract during the  recruitment process (see ‘Of salary negotiationsand psychological contact : before joining’  for more details)

·    Solving problems related to the recruitment process like early attrition  (through the action research process mentioned above and by enabling ‘sense making’)

·     Dealing with hidden biases in recruitment and thereby building a more diverse and inclusive organization.

·   Crystallizing the Employee Value Proposition (EVP) that embodies the essence of the organization to attract the right candidates and repel the wrong candidates.

·   Driving ‘bottom up culture change’ by identifying talent with the right ‘cultural DNA’ to be hired into the organization

Now, it can be argued that all these are integral parts of any good recruitment process. May be, that is exactly the point. OD is essentially a helping profession that enables individuals and groups to become more effective. At a fundamental level, OD is essentially about ‘process consulting’  - helping a client system to diagnose and solve their own problems. May be, we can just say that the application of OD makes recruitment better just like ‘sugar sweetens milk’ in the famous story* about Parsis.


Let’s come back to our Senior HR professional. What he was really advocating was to look at recruitment through the OD lens. There is a lot of merit in this. However, the danger in this situation was that the candidate might have interpreted it as a back-door entry into OD or might have inferred that there is a mandate to do a major overhaul of the recruitment process.  

So, where does this leave us? Can Recruitment be done in the OD way?  Yes, and that is just enlightened recruitment using what is considered to be the OD lens and OD skills! With Recruitment moving from 'being more like Procurement' to 'being more like Sales' to 'being more like Marketing', the relevance of the OD lens and the OD skills in Recruitment has definitely increased!

*The story goes something like this.: Parsis came to India fleeing from persecution in their Motherland Iran and landed in Gujarat. There they approached the local king Jadi Rana and requested asylum. Jadi Rana motioned to a vessel of milk filled to the very brim to signify that his kingdom was already full and could not accept refugees. In response, one of the Parsi priests added a pinch of sugar to the milk, thus indicating that they would not bring the vessel to overflowing and indeed make the lives of the citizens sweeter. Jadi Rana gave shelter to the emigrants and permitted them to practice their religion and traditions freely. Parsis are still adding “sugar” to our lives!

Any comments/thoughts?!

Monday, July 18, 2016

The OD Quest : Part 1 - Mapping the terrain!

"I don’t have an opening in my OD team now. But, you can join our recruitment team and do recruitment in the OD way”, I heard the Senior HR Leader telling a candidate who was hell-bent on joining the OD team. This was my fifth ‘encounter’ with this gentleman (See 'Passion for work and anasakti ‘, 'Appropriate metaphors for organizational commitment ‘ ,‘To name or not to name, that is the question’ and ‘A Mathematical approach to HR’ for the outcomes of my previous interactions with him). I was a bit taken aback by what I just heard. I knew that often these kind of ‘solutions’ will end in tears or worse. However, similar to what had happened during my previous encounters with him, this interaction prompted me to think a bit more deeply about the underlying issue - the application of OD(Organization Development) to the various functional areas in HR (Human Resource Management). That, in turn, has promoted me to write this series of posts on 'The OD Quest' where we will look at the possibilities that arise when OD ventures into other parts of the people management terrain. 

In the first post, we will begin by doing some cartography (that is, mapping out the currently known world inhabited by HR and OD). This cartography is not only of the world (terrain). At a more fundamental level, it a also a cartography of the worldviews (ways of looking at the terrain). So we will look at the various 'countries' in the HR world - like Recruitment, Training, Performance Management, Talent Management, Rewards etc. and see what happens when the OD quest reaches those countries. Of course, OD quest will explore the land of OD also,! But we will reach there towards the end of this journey because, as T S Eliot said, "We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time."  Of course, as soon as we make some progress with the cartography, we will venture out into the land of recruitment (in the next post in this series)!

To proceed further with our cartography (map making), we need to have some sort of working definitions of HR and OD. This is a difficult task as there are so many definitions. For the purpose of our discussion, we will use the following simplified definitions. Organization Development is a planned effort to increase organization effectiveness using behavioral-science knowledge. OD deals with a total system or with a subsystem in the context of the total system. Human Resource Management is about systems and processes aimed to enable the management of people within an organization so as to maximize employee performance (and engagement) in alignment with the strategic objectives of  the organization (See 'Towards a Philosophy of HR' for a deeper discussion).
So, there is an obvious overlaps in terms of overall objectives. However, when it came to actual tasks, there wasn't much of an  overlap initially, as HR was primarily focused on the basic processes related to people management (like Recruitment, Training, Performance Management, Career Planning, Compensation and Benefits etc.) whereas OD was focused on more 'ethereal' stuff like inter-team and intra-team collaboration, mission/vision/values, culture building, sensitivity training, action research etc. So, HR was mainly a set of regular activities whereas OD was a set of interventions that happened once in a while. But, this has changed quite a lot now.

These days, HR functions in most of the companies are gravitating towards some variation of the Dave Ulrich model with HR Business Partners(HRBPs), Centres of Excellence (CoEs), HR Shared Services etc. The overlap with OD happens mainly in the HRBP roles - especially when they are supposed to be 'Strategic HR Business Partners' (though what they actually end up doing varies considerably - see  'In the wonderland of HR Business Partners' for more details). Outsourcing of transactional activities in HR is also meant to prompt HR to be more strategic (though it might not always work out like that - see 'Nature abhors vacuum' for more details)

OD has also evolved from sensitivity training (in 'stranger groups' outside the organization) to sense-making (in 'intact teams' within the organization). Also, the tradition 'Diagnostic OD' (that used the 'action research' methodology to enable organizations to solve their problems) has been supplemented (not replaced!) by 'Dialogic OD' (that takes the organization reality to be 'socially constructed' and uses 'generative metaphors and images' to shape that reality).

More importantly, the worldviews (of HR and OD) are also converging with HR taking a more 'systemic view' and OD becoming more sensitive to and accountable for the sustainable value added by the OD interventions (as opposed to 'hit and run' OD interventions). Actually, the term 'intervention' no longer seems appropriate for OD work, as OD  work is currently viewed more as a 'dance involving the consultant and the client' as opposed to being some sort of an 'operation' done on (or done to) the client! 
Hence, there is a growing overlap between HR and OD. A more fundamental question is whether OD should be a CoE within HR or a separate function reporting directly to the CEO. There is no clear answer to this. Metaphorically speaking, whether OD is 'a country in the HR Union' or it is a 'completely independent entity' is a political question on which a referendum needs to be called for (again and again)! The first (OD being part of HR) is the more common scenario as of now, though it creates quite a few tricky challenges for both HR and OD (see 'OD Managers and Court Jesters'). One easy solution is to hire OD expertise from outside. But the question will come back to haunt us in another way - who will take the decision on hiring OD expertise- the HR Head or the CEO!

So,how should HR and OD respond to this overlap? Obviously,fighting over the disputed territory (however tempting that might be) is not the most effective solution. To me, one solution is for OD to remain a bit of an 'outsider' so that HR can fully be an 'insider'. Being a bit of an outsider helps the OD professional to be more objective (or at least not to have any vested interests) or even to be a bit provocative when required (see 'OD Managers and Court Jesters'). Being an insider allows HR to be fully part of the solution design and implementation. Of course, this calls for a very high level of mutual trust and respect between HR and OD. Also, remaining as an outsider while being a full member of the organization in all aspects is a very tricky 'tightrope walk' for internal OD consultants! Anyway, OD leveraging its marginality and HR leveraging its centrality to add value to the business seems the best possible solution to me. We must keep in mind that the concept of  'Business-orientation of HR' per se is quite paradoxical!
The above discussion does not complete our cartography. But we have done enough to start our 'OD quest'. It is important to remember that OD can be defined at many the levels (e.g. underlying philosophy and principles, process, tools/techniques, outcomes, skills etc.) and the quest can be done at any/all of these levels. While the story of this quest has been written from the point of view of OD, I have tried very hard not to take sides (I have done both HR and OD roles and I have the highest degree respect for HR professionals - see 'In praise of HR generalists' for more). The objective of the quest is to explore the various domains in HR with the twin objectives of (a) determining what value (if any) can OD add to the domain and (b) figuring out what OD can learn from the domain. Remember, it is a quest and not a conquest!!!
 Any comments/suggestions at this stage before we start our quest (starting with the land of recruitment in the next post)? Please let me know!

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Personality Profiling : As simple as two plus two!?

Personality profiling is an evergreen business. Human beings find other human beings difficult to understand. And, those who bother to think about it, find themselves to be even more difficult to understand. So, if there is a 'scientific-looking tool' that can enable us to map ourselves and others into some sort of  predefined categories with 'precise-looking' characteristics and consequences, it reduces our (existential) anxiety and gives us a feeling of being in control. 

Now, there are all kinds of personality profiling tools. Almost every one would claim that their tool is the best (and an unadulterated blessing to mankind) and that the other tools are so seriously flawed that they can corrupt young (and old) minds and even souls! Though the validity and  usefulness of these tools are doubtful, I am very much certain that personality profiling tools can provide amusement and pleasant diversion from the unpleasant realities of work! Since, I have always aspired to be some sort of a 'Corporate Court Jester' (see 'OD Managers and Court Jesters' for details), how can I resist the temptation to jump into the business of personality profiling - at least for comic relief?!

My personal preference is for tools that are more like 'straws in the wind' - simple things that can give an indication regarding the direction of the wind (personality).I also know that when we give people an ambiguous question, people will project their own meanings into it and hence their answers would reveal quite a bit about their personality. Actually, this is similar to what happens in a human process lab where an unstructured situation is deliberately created so that participants will project their 'here and now' reality into it (say, in their attempts to structure the situation) which in turn can serve as a mirror for the underlying feelings and thoughts. All this led to the creation of the 'two plus two' personality profiling tool.

So, what is this '2 + 2' personality profiling tool? 
  • 2+2 profiling aims to highlight some aspects of the occupational personality of the individuals concerned based on how they will answer the question ‘What is two plus two?’
  • 2+2 profile is more of a ‘caricature’ and it is not intended to a ‘portrait’ of the individual
  • 2+2 profiling is intended to be a joke (with a grain of truth)
  • 2+2 profiling won’t work on people who have a mathematical approach to life (See ‘A mathematical approach to HR’ for details).
Since this is a 'caricature' of the personality, directly asking the question "What is two plus two' won't work. If we want to get an interesting answer, we have to ask people to answer the question "What is two plus two?'  in such a way that it reflects some prominent aspect of their occupational personality. However, considering the fact that we are better at making caricatures of others as compared to making caricatures of ourselves (and that many of us are likely to have an overly positive image of ourselves), it might be even better to ask  people to indicate how different members of their team are likely to answer this question in a way that it reflects the most prominent aspect of occupational personality of those team members.

Now let us look at some of the possible answers. Of course, many more are possible!

  1. Why do want to know? Why are you asking me? Who told you that I know the answer? What will you do with this information?
  2. Before we can answering this question, we need to have a detailed discussion on 'What is addition?'
  3. The answer can be 0, 1, 2, 3, 4 or 22 depending on the organization culture!
  4. Both the 2s are my family friends. Let me tell you long stories about my last 4 meetings with them. By the way, since both of them are family friends, it won’t be proper for me to add them!
  5. What do you want the answer to be? You can choose the answer you like and I can help you to convince others that it is the right answer

Is there anything at all that you can infer from the answers about the people involved? Can you think of any modifications to the tool ? What about possible applications for the tool? For example, can we do some sort of a team building activity using this tool? (This could involve asking the team members to write down different answers to the above question so as to highlight key personality characteristics of themselves and of each of the other team members. Then each person can look at the various answers that others have written to highlight his/her personality characteristics and try to infer what could be the underlying personality characteristics. May be, they will learn something useful about themselves or at least about perceptions others have about them). What do you think?

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

A Mathematical Approach to HR?! : Promoting Responsible Use of Numbers in People Management

"If we must apply a Mathematical approach to HR, let us go beyond Arithmetic. Human Resource Management is more like a differential equation that can have multiple solutions!” I heard myself telling the Senior HR Leader. This was my fourth ‘encounter’ with this gentleman (See 'Passion for work and anasakti ‘, 'Appropriate metaphors for organizational commitment ‘ and ‘To name or not to name, that is the question’ for the outcomes of my previous interactions with him). This time, we were discussing the point of view that HR can get the elusive ‘seat at the table’ by being more data-driven, quantitative, objective and mathematical in its approach. Similar to what had happened during my previous encounters with him, this interaction also prompted me to think a bit more deeply about the underlying issues.

Mathematics and logic are immensely useful tools. The five and a half years of engineering education that I have received, my pre-MBA job as an Aerospace Engineer, the Social Research Methods related studies during my MBA and the initial years of my HR career spent in Compensation Consulting & Research Based HR Products  have made me very comfortable with quantitative and mathematical approaches to diagnosis and solution design.  Having practiced Six Sigma, I have experience in the process improvement approach of converting a physical problem into a mathematical problem, finding a mathematical solution and converting the mathematical solution into a physical solution.  I have also used quite a bit of statistics especially during the best practice & benchmarking studies during my five years in HR consulting. However, there was still something that was bothering me regarding my conversation with the Senior HR Leader.

Once I stayed with that feeling of discomfort for a while, things began to crystallize in my mind. The first thing that came to mind was an incident that happened a few years ago when my son was about 5 years old. I had bought him his first calculator and he was very excited.  For the next couple of days he was chasing me saying that “Tell me all your problems; I can solve them”.  It was an interesting task to convince him that most of the problems can’t be expressed in numerical terms and that even those problems that can be expressed in numerical terms can’t always be solved using the functions available in the calculator! When I thought about the matter a bit more, many other aspects came tumbling out:
  • Perfect Logic coupled with Questionable Assumptions : Logic is a great tool for reasoning. The problem is just that any system of logic is only as good as its assumptions. Great logical reasoning skills with wrong assumptions will just lead to a wrong inference faster. While this would hold good for any field, the risk is higher in HR, as the domain has quite a few unsubstantiated assumptions. Yes, over the last couple of decades a significant amount of research has been done in the Human Resources Management (HRM) domain. But the very nature of the domain imposes severe limitations on validating the assumptions underlying  HR related decision-making (See  ‘Research and a three-year old’ and ‘Truths stretched too far’ for a more detailed discussion)
  • Lost in conversion : When we look at applying the Six Sigma approach mentioned above (physical problem - mathematical problem - mathematical solution - physical solution) to HR, the difficulty is in ensuring that while converting the physical problem to mathematical problem the essence of the matter is not lost. Otherwise we might end up solving the quantifiable but peripheral aspects of the problem while the core of the problem (which is difficult to quantify) goes unattended. We must remember that many of the things that really count can’t be counted!
  • Misuse of Mathematical Induction: This occurs when one tries to apply a purely mathematical type of reasoning to a human process where it doesn't apply. I came across an excellent example of this in a HR Shared Service Centre (HRSSC). The Head of this HRSSC was a firm believer of setting 100% accuracy (zero error) as the performance target. His strategy for making this happen included a motivational talk to the employees with the following line of reasoning: "Can't you do one transaction without error? If you can do that what prevents you from repeating the same 12,000 times? This is all that is needed to make an 'error-free' year and meet your performance target”.  While the above approach seemed to be perfectly logical it was completely unrealistic from a performance management point of view. The transactions involved a large amount of manual intervention making it highly error prone. The ‘zero-error target' ended up de-motivating the employees (instead of motivating them) as they were highly unlikely to achieve it. This brings to mind a Zen Proverb - "Water that is too pure has no fish"!
  • Chasing the numbers: A related problem, that comes up especially when we try to quantify (because quantification is required for further processing) things that are difficult to quantify is that of making simplistic or overly optimistic assumptions to enable quantification and even to get the numbers that we want to get. For example, when we try to calculate the time required for doing a particular non-mechanical task (as the first step in estimating the required staffing levels), we often don’t take into account ‘invisible work’.  The invisible work arises from factors like complexity of the situation (that can’t be quantified easily) and the difference between ‘the process map’ and ‘the way things actually get done’. While in the case of the latter, it can be argued that the solution is to fix the process, it might be difficult in a situation when complex interfacing/influencing is required to do the task or in a situation where fixing the process is difficult at the level of the jobholder (as it involves fixing the ‘ecosystem’ around the process in addition to the process). Emerson was not too far off the mark when he said "The results of life are uncalculated and uncalculable. The years teach much which days never know"!
  • Banning complexity and complex motivations : Another problem comes out of a definition of rationality (a mental model) that is too narrow. As Mencken says, "to every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong"! In many areas related to people management, there are deep psychological factors operating that render purely ‘logical’ approaches ineffective.  See ‘Performance ratings and the above average effect’ for an example.  Similarly, when we consider only the (visible) employment contract and ignore the (invisible) psychological contract another set of problems arise (See the series on ‘Salary negotiations and psychological contract’ for more details). Another example could be viewing the interactions with the labour unions (say in the context of arriving at a Long Term Settlement) as a purely economic negotiation exercise. The reality here is that a union is a political entity with a constituency to satisfy. Hence, even if the management offers a ‘competitive deal’ (by industry standards), the union leaders might have (internal) compulsions not to accept it and resort to various pressure tactics (including demonstrations and stoppage of work) - just to convince their constituency (members) that they have done all they can to force the management to offer a better deal (or the best possible deal). 
  • House built on sand : We also have the interesting problem of processing/computing data without paying adequate attention to the ‘level of measurement’ that generated the data.  Typical problems involve taking ‘ordinal’ or ‘interval’ data and apply computing methods that are valid only for ‘ratio’ level data. This could be more of a problem in HR, since many of the HR professionals are not well-versed in quantitative methods. The numbers can give us a false sense of surety and doing Arithmetic operations with those numbers to derive inferences can give us a false sense of confidence on the decisions based on those inferences.  There is a huge difference between being able to calculate something and being able to understand it. If our objective is to influence that 'something', being able to calculate it without being able to understand it can create more harm than good. It often becomes very difficult to convince HR leaders who are ‘too sure of their numbers and calculations’ that HR process maturity takes time or even that ‘It takes 9 months to make a baby regardless of how many couples you put on the job’. This becomes very pertinent especially in those situations where a business leader or the CFO (without any HR background) has been moved into the HR Head role! This brings us to a more fundamental issue. The over-reliance on numbers sometimes indicates a (stated or unstated)  shift in the underlying paradigm for people management in the organization- from a relational paradigm to a transactional one. This is something that we must watch out for (See 'Towards a Philosophy of HR' for more details).   
  • Wishing away the paradoxes and dilemmas : People Management, by its very nature, is a field that is full of paradoxes.  A paradox occurs when there are multiple perspectives/opinions (doxa) that exist alongside (para)- each of which is true - but they appear to contradict/to be in conflict with one another. A paradox can’t be resolved in the same way a problem can be solved. To effectively deal with a paradox, we must wrestle with it till we reach a level of understanding (or wisdom) that enables us to see the paradox in a new light and arrive at the most appropriate solution in that particular context. Often, there are multiple solutions -making HR more like a differential equation (that has multiple solutions) and not like Arithmetic (where there is one right answer)! It can also be argued that dealing with some of the issues HR is even more complex than dealing with differential equations because in some of those paradoxical situations, the choosing from multiple ‘correct’ solutions is a matter of Aesthetics and not Logic! One can develop a keen sense of this 'Aesthetics' only through years of struggle with the paradoxes and dilemmas  in HR(See 'Truth and Beauty : Elegance and Motivations in HR' for more details)

So where does this leave us?  To me, best approach is that of ‘triangulation’, that combines qualitative methods with quantitative methods to develop a more comprehensive understanding of the reality. We should make an effort to figure out if the particular HR issue that we are dealing with is more like a ‘problem’ or more like a ‘paradox’ and deal with it accordingly (See ‘Making problems disappear’ for details). Data and analysis are very useful. But they are not substitutes for understanding and wisdom. Even when it comes to the matter of strategy making, it has been argued that the core strategy making process is essentially intuitive, with data & analysis being useful as an input/trigger for strategy making and also as tool for doing a reality check on the strategy created.  The same holds in the case of HR strategy also! We must also remember that in the physical world (outside Mathematics) there are 'singularities' where 'normal rules/algorithms' no longer work!

Similarly, benchmarking is definitely a very useful tool. But benchmarking should be done with the context also included (and not just the numbers).  For example, benchmarking a ratio like the ‘ratio of the total number of employees to the number of employees in HR’  can be misleading without the understanding of context specific factors like the mandate/deliverables of the HR function, the HR operating model, the degree of outsourcing, the degree of automation (degree of Employee and Manager Self-Service), profile of the workforce etc. Casual benchmarking, like casual sex, is easy but dangerous!  We must also ensure that HR processes and practices follow from the HR Philosophy of the company and not the other way around (a common problem that arises from the obsession with 'best practice benchmarking'). Yes, we must leverage numbers and the power of numbers in HR. However, let’s use them responsibly - by ensuring that the numbers and the calculations accurately reflect the underlying reality!

Any thoughts/ideas on promoting more responsible use of numbers in people management?