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HUMAN RESOURCES

Organisation culture reconsidered

Recently we gave a presentation to a group of Human Resource Managers who have responsibility for Central and Eastern Europe. The task - to comment on the status of Organisation Development (OD) as a tool used in companies to improve productivity and affect management change. It made us stop and think.
In assessing OD's usefulness here, several observations can be made. These should cause any manager to take a hard look at the approach a firm uses, how it spends time and money. The implications should force all executives to shift the nature of their jobs and use a new way of thinking.


Mari Novak

Recently we gave a presentation to a group of Human Resource Managers who have responsibility for Central and Eastern Europe. The task - to comment on the status of Organisation Development (OD) as a tool used in companies to improve productivity and affect management change. It made us stop and think.

In assessing OD's usefulness here, several observations can be made. These should cause any manager to take a hard look at the approach a firm uses, how it spends time and money. The implications should force all executives to shift the nature of their jobs and use a new way of thinking.

OD should be both preventive maintenance and resolution of problems that block people from being able to perform their jobs. OD addresses any and all 'people processes'. These include job analysis, work flow analysis, organisational structures, communications systems, etc. It is the critical complementary tool when large scale changes are undertaken. These include new market entries, mergers or acquisitions, automation enhancements or large scale layoffs. An experienced Organisation Development practitioner also has a multifaceted perspective on how organisations work.

Over at least the past 20 years there have been increasing calls for a 'new way of thinking'. Businesses have suffered from the difficulty of stuffing the current demands of markets, work teams, competitiveness, and technologies into a company package. In reality, this approach hasn't changed much in decades, and fundamentally not for centuries. Responses to these demands have been certification and standardisation programmes such as ISO 9000 and TQM. Although these programmes have helped raise quality and team issues, they have not addressed the underlying mismatch.

What observations have been so significant, and why haven't they surfaced until now? What is the mismatch?

Why do executives from leading global companies keep crying out for help to apply a 'new way of thinking'? What has been put forward that is useful and qualifies as 'new thinking'?


Steven Kelly

The short, and first answer to this issue is that we have been taught to perceive an organisation mechanistically, as a system. The entire body of organisational theory is based on - and all academically trained human resource development professionals have been trained in - systems theory. Our assumption was probably wrong in the early 1900s. It has increasingly been wrong dealing with 'knowledge workers' and 'learning organisations'. These terms describe the response of organisations - their HR strategy - to compete successfully in a changing workplace.

The alternative theoretical framework is that an organisation should be understood as being organic. The dynamic within an organisation is not a self-correcting mechanism using internal and external feedback, but a balancing of competitive, critical points. The resolution of each point or issue evolves the organisation: you never are at the same point twice. Laid on top of the dynamic equilibrium is not a repetitive cycle, but a spiralling system. If you are not getting better, you are getting worse!

The immediate impact of this 'new way of thinking' should alter your priorities for your staff. There is, therefore, no perfect organisation. Any structure is temporary. So don't cast those charts in stone: you often have to shuffle workflow and responsibilities. You have to evolve your way of doing business, constantly.

Secondly, the key to executive success lies in anticipating the critical point and preparing for it in the best way. That is half the job. The second, equally important part is to resolve the results and ramifications from having crossed that point. This is the hardest part. Multifaceted: everything from re-deployment to restructuring to encouraging some down time for exhausted staff.

The Human Resource job can be stated simply; to be responsible for the readiness of the organisation. Do you have the people capable of taking on the next challenge?

That can be the next day of operations, or even a new market entry, a new client or a new production process. Readiness, perceived in this new way, redefines your measure of effectiveness, your success. It also matches what is important with what is real.

Instead of ignoring your 'people processes' because you think they are set, you must face the fact they are constantly being redefined, and will continually be so. Get ready for tomorrow!

Mari Novak and Steven Kelly are partners at KNO Slovensko. Their column appears monthly. Send comments or questions to kno@kno.sk.

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