Is There Ever a Typical Organization?

This is the first in a series of posts linked to articles on my website that look at contemporary issues in organizational development (OD). Although the term organizational development has been around since the 1960s, the last century, its focus on expanding the capabilities of people within organizations to effectively manage change and performance is always relevant. According to a UPenn citation, “OD is a process of continuous diagnosis, action planning, implementation and evaluation, with the goal of transferring knowledge and skills to organizations to improve their capacity for solving problems and managing future change.”

Among the various types of OD interventions are: Survey Feedback, Team Building, Sensitivity Training, Managerial Grid, Management by Objectives (MBO), Brain-storming, Process Consultation, Quality Circles, and Transactional Analysis. While this is not a complete list, it does highlight the need for at least three phases: diagnosis, solution development, action implementation. Today, concepts such as Organizational Agility capture the need for speed and effectiveness given that technology drives change with rapid and sometimes unpredictable results.

Of particular interest to me is working in the space of Organizational Culture. This concept focuses on the deeply seated norms (accepted guidelines for interactions), values, and behaviors shared by people in the company or organization. At AbiNader Advisory Services (AAS), we work with clients to consciously develop a direct link between commonly accepted communications behaviors that characterize how employees interact to the company’s vision/mission, strategy, values, and culture, as in this diagram. The key process outcome is to enable participants to speak to basic factors that cannot be observed – mission/vision, values, strategy, and culture – except through observable and measurable behaviors – in this case, their communications. Importantly, in today’s context, it also provides a platform for discussing key agenda related to diversity and implicit bias. There are a variety of training modalities that can be used in the process, from scenario building and survey instruments to analyzing tactics to breakdown silos and accelerate information distribution.

It is essential for management to recognize that the deeply seated norms, values, and behaviors their employees share derive from more than their current employment or assignments. Their individual cultures are the sum of their many personal and professional experiences. And from this recognition, leadership can work with designated teams to identify, cultivate, and promote an organizational culture aligned on five elements:

  1. A consistent, shared, and sustained commitment to the company’s vision and mission
  2. Transparent and effective communications throughout the organization regarding current and future goals and objectives that cut across teams – the company’s strategy
  3. Shared values expressed in both organizational (e.g. efficient, results oriented) and interpersonal terms (e.g. inclusion, acknowledgement) – these describe the company’s culture
  4. Agreed behavioral norms that define desired behaviors both vertically and horizontally – your culture working for your objectives
  5. Agreed behaviors and expectations of behaviors among employees, teams, departments, others

Concepts of work forces have changed as a result of advances in technology, shifts in the makeup of economies, and greater interest in direct customer contact. Labels such as “Gen X, Millennials, disruption, transformation, etc.” do not really add clarity to the continuous re-definitions that are occurring. What is clear is that a nimble/agile organization must be aware not only of how employees are evolving along with their roles/assignments, but how the shifting nature of their aspirations requires rethinking and redefining relationships from the board room to the operations floor.

Next time, I’ll look at leadership being redefined since it all begins at the top, for better and sometimes for worse…




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