Although there is no single model of what a great organisation looks like, there are a number of characteristics that many successful organisations share, and which help them meet the challenges of a VUCA environment. Organisational development (OD) is not about change for change’s sake, instead, it is concerned with improvement; helping organisations develop their capacity for greatness.
Organisational change often fails but research by Rowland & Higgs (2008) highlights an important nuance – leaders who define and manage the process of change usually fail; leaders who manage the process but who let stakeholders define the nature of change usually succeed. This suggests leaders need to move away from traditional models of command and control towards more collaborative working methods that promote widespread engagement and inquiry.
OD’s primary role is to help organisations respond to adaptive challenges, rather than solve technical problems. Adaptive challenges are complex issues without a single right answer, typically, they are never completely “solved”. Technical problems, however, often can be found through the application of analytical models and expertise. Treating adaptive challenges like technical problems is one of the biggest mistakes a leader can make.
How to best structure an organisation and allocate work within it, is an adaptive challenge. This means leaders need to resist the temptation to “pick winners” from competing proposals before assigning the implementation to someone else. Instead, leaders need to accept that they can’t predict what will work and what unintended consequences any solution might create. Rather, it makes sense to encourage a variety of pilot projects, led by those who are motivated to act. This requires engagement, inquiry, experimentation, and learning. These are issues OD is uniquely well-placed to address.
Because reality emerges through our interactions with one another, we recognise that our role as OD consultant is part of the unfolding process of change, not a neutral facilitator. This means we seek to play an active role in both the strategic and practical aspects of change, in order to help make organisations great. This means working with organisations to improve their overall adaptive capacity, not just how they respond to a specific change. We do this through helping improve an organisation’s ability to talk to itself and ensure decision-making is based on reason and not emotion.