Blog Post by: Ian Gee
In this blog I want to continue to explore why Carole and I believe it is critical for OD practitioners to engage with Tech, be involved with its development and find ways of incorporating it into our practice. In her last blog Carole mentioned the lack of visibility of OD practitioners at the recent HR Tech World Congress and expressed concern, that we might be coming late to the party and ultimately miss out. I believe not only will we miss out if we fail to fully engage with Tech, we will see a continuation of the abysmal figure of 70% of all OD initiatives failing.
The combination of newly available technology, shifting workplace demographics and changes to the political landscape are the biggest drivers of change we face. You could argue this has always been the case. What has shifted is the pace at which these are moving forward. This presents immense challenges to us as OD practitioners.
We have chosen to focus on Tech both because of the speed of change and its potential to impact the very nature of work and our relationship with it. Yet, this seems to be the least explored area from an OD point of view. In terms of how it impacts on our practice, how we can leverage it to enable faster and more impactful change and how potentially it will change the practice of OD in ways that we can hardly yet understand. However, we believe that critically there is an interaction between demographics and change that we need to understand first before we look at how Tech will both change and enhance what we do.
We can track the development of OD approaches in terms of the dominant generation in the workplace and the dilemmas they bring with them as they enter the world of organisations. I think Baby Boomers have struggled with the dilemma of organisations being either about social control, conformity etc., or a place for self-liberation and freedom of expression. This led to OD ideas like NTL, T Groups, change agents, action research, Appreciative Inquiry, Future Search, etc.
To my mind, Gen X struggle with the dilemma of organisations being about efficiency and effectiveness, versus their need for security and a sense of place. This has led to them dismissing a lot of the ‘boomer type’ interventions as fluffy, soft stuff and consequently moved OD to OE with interventions such Six Sigma, Agile, Lean, re/engineering, Quality Circles etc.
Gen Y, who are relatively new to the workplace, I think carry the dilemma of desperately wanting to be part of the herd and yet at the same time wanting organisations to recognise ‘the specialness of me!’ As OD practitioners I don’t think we have not fully understood the implications of this, or the kinds of interventions that will resonate with them. However, examples such as tech led reorganisations to drive down cost and increase efficiency, workplace communities and structuring for the gig economy all come to mind.
I don’t think we yet know what dilemmas Gen Z will be trying to work out in organisations or the kinds of OD that will work for them. As a best guess, I think it will be something about the move from backpack to briefcase being ‘always on and connected’ 4D thinking and a need for depth and focus. What kinds of OD work will resonate with this group goodness knows? However, I am willing to place a large bet that Tech, HR or otherwise will be at the heart of it! To be considered as relevant to Gen Z not only will we need all the skills we currently have but also to be able to demonstrate a true depth understanding of Tech in and outside of the workplace.
As Gen Y and Gen Z start to be the dominate generations in the workplace and given their facility with all things Tech, I believe it is critical that as OD practitioners we fully understand such things as Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality and Serious Gaming. Without this we will most certainly be considered old fashioned and of limited relevance by them. Our understanding needs to encompass not only what they are, but how we can make use of them to enable sustainable and impactful change. We need to understand the ‘what it is’ and to be able to help shape ‘what it might become’. My friend Alberto Torres has written an interesting blog about the differences between AI and VR that you can find here
As we continue these blogs we will explore in more detail what these technologies are and what we think they offer to the world of OD. We will look at Tech in the widest possible sense. Imagining a world where OD practitioners having coding skills, or a good understanding of them and be the kind of professionals who can work as equals with Tech specialists to develop ‘OD algorithms’ and co-develop apps and other forms of Tech we can use in our practice.
If you are already working in this way and incorporating any of these possibilities in your OD practice it would be great to hear what you have been doing and the impact, positive or negative it has had on the outcomes of your work.