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With its roots in the early part of the 20th century, Organisational Development (OD) is recognised as one of the most effective ways of shaping employee behaviour. In essence, its goal is to ensure that employees remain motivated and productive in a changing environment.
Birthe Mester is an expert in the field of Organisational Development with over 25 years of experience starting her career in diplomacy. Following over a decade in consultancy, she has led numerous projects helping organisations to understand their culture, to increase employees’ motivation and perceived productivity by focusing on adapting and changing managerial and employee behaviour. She has diverse professional exposure working across the globe with business leaders and government regulators. Birthe regularly speaks at conferences and has been on the international advisory board Durham University Business School since 2018.
In your opinion, how has the Organisational Development landscape evolved over the years? What are some of the advantages of the current technological advancements?
Practices like structuring an organisation, managing change and incentivising productivity have been there pretty much from the inception of OD. Later OD was enhanced by thinking about how we engage employees, develop leaders and employees alike, and how we manage and recognise performance; with its latest additions in Diversity and Inclusion and looking after the wellbeing of employees. New insights from Neuro and behaviourial science, allow us to clearly understand what motivates and demotivates employees and what helps them to be productive.
If I had to characterise the evolution of OD, it has moved from the employees being in a passive / receiver state, i.e. are you happy or satisfied, to an active / contributor position, i.e. does your experience help you to be productive in an organisation.
With the current technological advancements it is so much easier to stay in touch with employees. Taking the pulse of an organisation, be it through channels such as culture surveys, 360 leadership surveys or crowd sourcing, is a matter of days rather than months and sometimes years of painstaking data collection. Secondly, connecting data points that link the employees’ experience to retention, attrition and client satisfaction is a key advancement. It will help organisations to have precise insights into what kind of behaviour and environment stimulates the best service to customers and society at large.
What according to you are some of the challenges plaguing the Organisational Development landscape, and how can they be effectively mitigated?
Despite a plethora of external studies, OD has always had a challenge to evidence that its practices make a fundamental difference to financial achievements, customer satisfaction, operational efficiency and a company’s reputation.
Much of the economic landscape centres on a company’s short term financial performance. The spotlight is on what makes a difference today. Managers who are short on time and are bound by an organisation’s focus on margin do ask the question whether additional investment in leadership development, regular conversations, wellbeing and D&I will really make a discernible difference. It is not enough to claim that it is common sense that it does.
The digital ecosystem has provided organisations with more information, excellent connectivity, accessibility and helps people work at an incredible pace. On the flip side, it has lulled people into an expectation that digitisation is the answer to managing people with little to no effort from the manager him or herself. But as many of the readers will know, good management can’t be automated.
With that in mind, I would invite organisations to consider three things:
• Firstly, don’t just rely on external studies, but show
evidence that OD does make a difference to your everyday effectiveness. At Deutsche Bank, we have been able to show that regular and meaningful conversations not only motivate our people, they enable our employees to innovate, recognise risks and speak up about potential problems
• Secondly, ensure that any practice or process clearly differentiates what digitization does and what is expected from the manager and why.
• Thirdly, tone and action from the top are absolutely critical. There is almost nothing more effective in creating sustainable change than leading by example.
What are some of the best practices businesses should adopt today to steer ahead of competitors?
Staying ahead of the competition is the culmination of many factors. For any industry, but in particular for all knowledge based industries, its people and how they behave is one of the defining differentiators.
Here are my three top OD tips:
• Stay relevant to your clients, your employees and society! Relevance is rarely conveyed through endless internal reorganisations but through a good product delivered by highly skilled, committed and productive employees who know what the organization stands for.
• Take heed from the ESG agenda. Many organisations are focused on the E for Environment, but a focus on the S for Social, for example Human Capital development, Employee engagement, Diversity & Inclusion and Labour standards, will further increase the performance of an organisation.
• Finally stay in touch and engage with your people. Do they want to be a key contributor to the growth of the organisation, or do they see the organisation just as someone who pays their bills?
It is an organisation’s choice how employees experience their environment and as a result how they choose to contribute to the company’s success. This seems like a clear case for making that sustained investment into organisational development practices.