By Ian Gee: (Edgelands Consultancy)
Many organisations are spending large amounts of time and money in an attempt to renew and transform themselves. On the surface, there is nothing very new in businesses seeking to secure their future. However, what is new is the overall lack of success so many are having on this journey. A number of the big consultancies have carried out research that would appear to show that some 70% of all large-scale transformation projects fail.
Organisation Development has a long and positive history of supporting the process of transformation and helping organisations increase their efficiency, effectiveness and readiness for the future. OD has a wide range of tools and techniques at its disposal to help with this and has used these, to good effect, for the past 60 or so years. These tools can be broken down into the highly programmatic, like Six Sigma, Business Process Re-engineering, etc. and the more emergent approaches, like Appreciative Inquiry, Open Space etc. What to my mind is different today, is that these techniques and approaches don’t seem to have the positive impact they used to have. They are increasingly falling out of favour and being seen as lacking relevance in the transformation process. Practitioners have said to me that these approaches feel slightly tired and old fashioned and a lot of mangers and leaders have lost interest and faith in them.
My critical question is what can we as OD professionals do in order to ensure that all the effort and energy that goes into transformation and change is not wasted and the initiatives we are involved with are part of the 30% of that succeed?
A key part of any approach to whole organisation change is to truly understand your current reality and find out what the future might be like. At the moment, this is done through lots of number crunching, mapping and scenario planning. All this activity, more often than not, leads to a lovely rich set of slides that aim to help shape strategy and plans for the future. These slide sets provide an aspirational view of the future, but more often than not no practical map towards it.
So if the slides don’t really drive change where can we look to find a more realistic view of the future and from that develop realistic and implementable transformation plans? I believe that the best place to look is at the edgelands of the organisation. I take the term edgelands from a book of the same name, written by Michael Symmons Roberts and Paul Farle, poets who have written wonderful book about geography, place and location. They describe edgelands as those unnoticed, forgotten and abandoned geographic spaces that are neither part of the city nor part of the countryside. Places where things happen outside of the norm. Places of a different kind of freedom.
All organisations have their own edgelands, but more often than not they don’t know it and don’t know where to find them. Edgelands are those parts of the organisation that are already working in a different way and have already developed different kinds of cultures and ways of working. My challenge to OD professionals is to find your edgelands, and learn from them. Here are my suggestions as to where to find them. Go look at your recent M&A activity and spend time with acquisitions, seek out successful cross-organisational project teams, look for teams working in new or emerging markets and find the groups that people talk about as being quirky or unusual. Spend time with them, watching how leadership and followership work, look at how they handle conflict and plan for the future. Try and understand how they see their development, how they consolidate and institutionalise things and how they let go of what is no longer needed. Look at how they handle performance issues and manage their relationships.
I would argue that it is time for OD professionals to find their organisations edgelands, brush off their participant observations skills and re hone their ability to ask good inquiring questions and then design interventions that help the wider organisations learn and benefit from what they have discovered on the edge of their organisations.
So what do you think? And what organisations edgelands have you experienced?