Well here I am back blogging after the summer break. In this blog I want to explore the rise and celebration of amateurism in all areas of public, business and private life and the impact I think this is having on the professional practice of OD.
For the past year or so I have been speaking at conferences and events around the world about how the nature of change is changing and the implications of this for the successful practice of OD. This thinking started after I had read a number of research reports that showed that around 70% of all change and OD initiatives fail. I started to wonder why this was the case and how a trade or profession could continue to sustain itself, with any credibility, with a 70% failure rate.
After a lot of thinking and a bit of research I came up with the idea that maybe the nature of change itself has changed and the models, principles and practices we have been using have not. In essence, the way we practice OD has not caught up with how people and organisations have changed their constructs about change and their expectations as to how it is led and managed.
I identified a number of issues that I believe are driving the change in change. These included:
- An increasingly multi generational workplace with greater focus on and discussion about the ‘the generations”, (i.e. Boomers, Gen X, Y…)
- Social Media creating new ‘centres of gravity’ and points of reference
- An explicit desire for scrutiny and transparency
- Instant judgement, supported and driven by mass communication and 24 hour media
- New relationships to ‘time and space’ through living in a 24/7/365 connected world
- Popular culture
I want to explore the last issue ‘popular culture’ in a bit more depth, as I believe this is at the heart of the change and the major reasons we are embracing amateurism at the expense of professionalism.
Mass media exposes us to huge amounts of reality TV programmes, all of which are focused on personal, community and even organisational change. I did a quick trawl of the Internet and came up with examples of just a few of the UK programmes that have this focus. See the list below. TV companies franchise the majority of these around the world and so I am sure that wherever you live or are reading this, you will have similar programmes coming into your living room!
The programmes, regardless of the category I have put them in, follow a similar story arc. An individual or group are stuck in some pattern of behaviour, way of working, living or being that is not enabling them to achieve what they want to do. In some cases this is very specific (e.g. Fairy Job Mother, How Clean is your House, Naked Office etc.) In others the focus is on the search for fame as a way of escaping from poor circumstances or a troubled life (e.g. X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent, Master Chef – most candidates have a sob story, which by winning the contest, they hope to ‘heal’!) As the programme unfolds there is usually an initial intervention that the participant(s) are grateful for and that seems to make a difference. Then there is a period of crisis when things fall apart and finally a further intervention that does the trick. We leave the ‘subject(s)’ of the programme basking in the warm glow of the potential of their new life. Most of the programmes take an hour and very rarely, if ever, do we see a follow up exploring what happened next. We are left wondering if the change ‘stuck’ and if people made the most of the opportunities the programme gave them.
What is very interesting to me is that in most cases the people who we see designing and leading the interventions (the televisual OD person!) are amateurs. They are not professional psychologists, OD or HR people. They are gifted amateurs who have developed a wealth of skill through experience. They have not had their experience professionalised or codified through traditional academic study. It could be argued that this continues the spirit of people like Harvey Jackins and his work on ‘Revaluation Co-counselling’ or Carl Rogers ‘On Becoming a Person’. In many of these shows, professionals are shown to have singularly failed to make a difference in the lives of the people or the community who are taking part in the programme. The underlying message is, it takes an amateur to make a difference.
What, of course, we don’t see during the programme is the team of ‘behind the scenes’ professionals and experts who provide insight and advice to the programme’s presenter. With the speed at which credits for TV programmes roll these days it is even difficult to see if any professionals were involved, unless you have interactive TV and can use the pause button!
My belief is that this has led people to believe that change, whether it be personal or organisational, follows a predictable path, is easy and can happen quickly in a clean and clear manner. And you don’t need professional skills to help enable or support it.
A few weeks ago I was listening to a BBC Radio 4 programme “The Morale Maze” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Moral_Maze) which bills itself as “Combative, provocative and engaging live debate examining the moral issues behind one of the week’s news stories” I happened to hear an episode that was exploring the UK governments discussions about internet filters to make access to adult content a matter of personal choice. The programme had an expert panel of lawmakers; academics etc., and they then called ‘witnesses’ who in this case were from ‘moral majority’ and libertarian type groups, the adult film industry and religious groups. What surprised me the most about what I heard, was that the majority of adult content people are viewing over the Internet is amateur, uploaded by the individuals ‘staring’ in it. This move to amateur adult and mainly free content has had a direct impact on the professional side of the trade. Much of the professional adult industry is now in economic difficulty, with film studios closing down and professional adult artists finding it difficult to get work. So yet again the public seem to be more interested in the world of the amateur, rather than that of the professional. They are voting with their mouses!
I think people find amateurism, in both the adult industry and OD and change, to be more connected to them and their lives and not professionalised and distanced. In the case of the adult industry I think people are looking for others ‘like themselves’ as opposed to those augmented beauties that look inauthentic, unreal and, what’s more, unattainable. In the world of OD and change management, I think people are looking for something similar. Something that feels like them; co- created, with not just a surface veneer of authenticity, but a depth of authenticity that drives and stimulates their trust and engagement.
So much of our past and current OD has paid lip service to co-creation and engagement. When reviewing the outcomes of both large and small scale change initiatives, many of the people I have spoken with tell me they feel like the change was ‘done to them’ with engagement and co-creation being little more than a sham. They feel they had no real opportunity to contribute, influence the outcomes and make a positive difference. This is often despite the best intentions and efforts of those involved in leading and supporting the change. I cannot help but believe that this is what lies at the heart of the 70% failure rate for todays OD and change initiatives.
So where does this leave the professional practice of OD? Like the rest of our HR community, OD has sought to raise standards and enhance its professional standing and status and then advertise this to all who will listen. The belief being that if we professionalise we will be taken seriously, get good and interesting work and make a positive contribution to organisational health. Given that either consciously or unconsciously the general public think amateurs are better placed to carry out our work, I think we may be in trouble! If we are to get our success rate higher than 30% I think it is time for radical change in the way we practice OD. We need to
- wear our professionalism lightly rather than publically flaunting it,
- study where the public take their models of change from, and
- see what we need to do to authentically incorporate this into to our consultancy and intervention design practice.
I am not talking about dumbing down the practice of OD. What I am talking about is best encapsulated in a story I heard from Yoland Wadsworth in the early 90’s (http://www.rmit.edu.au/staff/wadsworth_yoland). Yoland is a truly inspiring social scientist and practitioner of action research. She told me a story about how, when she had just finished her PhD, she was involved in an action research project into the lives of an Aboriginal community in Australia. She said she did everything by the book, putting into practice all she had learned, but found it almost impossible to get people to talk and engage with her. After a very frustrating period of time, one of the elder women of the community came to talk to her. The conversation went along the lines of ‘Yoland, you are a good, clever and smart person and we like you a lot. However, unless you can show that your liberation is somehow connected to our liberation, no one will come and work with you’. For me this sums up what wearing our professionalism lightly looks like and finding and celebrating our inner amateur.
Let me know what you think. I will be really interested to see what you have to say. I also bet this is the first time you will have seen a discussion about the future direction of OD and a crisis in the adult film industry!