Organizational development is the cornerstone of success for all businesses and organizations. Innovation-inspired Organization Development (OD) is a tool that guides decision-making and improves productivity and performance. As organizations grow and technological innovations arise, companies must remain forever flexible. Change is never going to ever slow down again and is, therefore, essential to stay competitive. But change can be scary and often causes anxiety. To ensure organizational transformations are successful, positive change must inspire at the individual and team levels. Without the investment and willpower of individuals and teams within the organization, change cannot happen where traction is needed most.
Organizations that are designed with the need for adaptation in mind can withstand, and even come to thrive in change. Change is not a destination but an ongoing process. As the world around us evolves, so must organizations if they wish to survive — organizational development, which acknowledges and seeks to capitalize on employees’ natural strengths. When employees’ contributions are appreciated and valued, they become empowered to be the agents of change within the organization. Individuals who feel their contributions are valued and encouraged to become highly engaged employees who seek to impact the organization positively. In Leadership Excellence Magazine (download free copy), I talked about appreciative inquiry and “the three circles of the strengths revolution.” Starting first with “the elevation of strengths” at the individual and team levels, and then moving to the second circle, which is all about change management mobilized through combination effects of strengths. That is, uniting and “creating chemistry effects of strengths” in ways that create a multiplier effect, and then finally, creating a strengths-powered organization that magnifies or “refracts organization and collective strengths out into the world” as a force for creating outside value, advantage, and betterment. But in this article, I want to focus on that first circle, the elevation of individual and group strengths.
At its very essence, successful change management means creating a working environment or holding environment where individuals are empowered to reach their fullest potential. The keys to forming this type of holding environment are establishing a culture of individual agency, community building, and substantial investment in employees’ development. The goal: what Harvard’s Robert Kegan has called “the deliberately developmental organization.”
Start by seeking employee feedback about what’s working and what’s possible. Listen to each person’s visions, aspirations, and concerns. Encourage people’s ingenuity in coming up with innovations to the challenges and opportunities the organization is facing. Give them the freedom to activate and implement their ideas. Keep a growth mindset when it comes to so-called failure. Approaching change in this manner as opposed to imposing a top-down push demonstrates to employees that each individual has a role to play and is valued for their contribution. Use each and every change agenda as an opportunity to help engagement soar. Studies show that companies using Appreciative Inquiry as their approach to positive OD are significantly outperforming older approaches that are diagnostic and problematizing instead of strengths saturated. Two research studies are worth clicking on.
One by Michele McQuaid of the Change Lab was the largest survey of the American workplace of its kind. It explored how and why today’s relentless change was related to stress and burnout. But what the Change Lab found was that this is largely a myth. Relentless change was related to stress— but only some of the time. What the surveys showed was that it was not the amount of change that causes stress and burnout. Instead, it was the WAY that the change management happened. Change that combined high engagement + appreciative inquiry’s focus of strengths soared in its success rates.
In addition, an even more recent study just released this week by Gallup confirmed much the same thing. Genuinely developmental approaches to change—approaches that elevate people’s strengths and are the starting point for better collaboration—are helping companies see sharp increases in engagement scores along with higher performance.
Indeed, one thing is getting quite clear. We change best when we are strongest, not when we are the weakest. Moreover, this poses a paradox, doesn’t it? It’s often precisely when we need to change the most that we are feeling the weakest, for example, a company near bankruptcy, or someone engulfed in a dark depression. That is something we might call “the mean paradox of change.” It is mean, it is wicked, and it is a paradox that needs to be reversed. It’s precisely those times we are at our weakest that we need more than normal strength.
That’s why deliberately developmental organizations do better in OD and change. They are continually forging a culture that can see, elevate, and collaborate to create chemistry effects via unique configurations of everyone’s strengths. And when difficult change happens, the deeply developmental business can surround and saturate the change challenge or opportunity in an incredible theater, or surround sound of strengths.
Investing in the continued growth and development of employees gives them the tools they also need to implement change. Continuous employee development—via the excuse incredible change projects– provides an incentive to remain with the company and explore additional career pathways that may further benefit the organization.
Recognizing employees for their contributions further validates their competence. With this validation comes a sense of belonging and bonding, including an atmosphere of respect and incredible trust. Thus, a community-of-competence is created within the organization where employees feel free to share openly and support actively. They do more than empower. They ennoble and depend on one another.
Change doesn’t have to be scary—or a source of stress and burnout. By taking an appreciative inquiry approach—see Research in Organizational Change and Development to organizational development and change management, which addresses the basic human needs of all stakeholders, organizational change can have a positive impact, not just on employees, but also on the organization as a whole.