- Posted January 17, 2014 by
Kenneth Eng: How Organization Development Focuses on Individuals
Has anyone ever said to you, “Kenneth Eng, I value you as a human”? Probably not because that’s my name and the whole, “I value you as a human,” is a bit touchy-feely. Regardless of the fact that you’ve likely never heard that statement before, the idea behind it – humanism – is central to the concept of Organization Development which is the topic of this article.
Let’s take a moment and define some terms. Humanism is defined as a concern for the interests, needs, and welfare of humans. At heart, you’d no doubt agree, we’re all humanists because we’re all interested in our own – and other’s – needs and welfare. But humanism takes this idea a step further and emphasizes the value of humans and individual thought over established doctrine.
These humanistic ideas are the basis for Organization Development which is roughly defined as a strategy to change the beliefs, attitudes, and values of an organization so that it can more readily adapt to change and challenge. And what is an organization if not a collection of individuals? So change the beliefs, attitudes, and values of the people within an organization and the organization as a whole changes.
When we examine the business world, we can see how humanism and Organization Development – when it was conceived in the early part of the twentieth century – would differ from the impersonal, assembly-line culture that dominated. But it’s important to understand that the primary purpose of Organization Development is the development of the organization, not the training of the staff.
Let’s examine Organization Development a bit further by looking at the six humanistic values it espouses.
1) Treat each human being as a person with a complex set of needs that affect his work.
Humans are not just mindless automata; their needs and emotions affect their work. If an organization can address those needs and emotions, it can serve to create an environment in which an individual can be both productive and happy. This, in turn, serves as a feedback loop that encourages those behaviors to continue.
2) Provide opportunities for individuals to function as human beings rather than resources in the productive process.
As a management consultant based in Vancouver for the past seven years, I have seen both sides of this coin. When workers are seen as just another resource like the computer system or the forklifts, productivity and job satisfaction begin to fall. But when workers are seen as unique individuals with talents that can add to the success of the organization, productivity and satisfaction increase exponentially. Organization Development looks for ways to provide opportunities for the workers to express these talents for the betterment of the whole.
3) Provide opportunities for people to influence the way in which they relate to work, the organization, and the environment.
Giving individuals the opportunity to tailor the work experience to their own needs goes back to the idea that workers are not mindless automata. When a worker can affect how he relates to his work, it gives him a modicum of control in an otherwise rigid environment. This, again, serves to produce a happy, productive member of the organization.
4) Provide opportunities for each member – and the organization itself – to develop to his full potential.
Keeping an individual from developing to his full potential is a bit like shooting yourself in the foot; ultimately, it limits your ability to react and progress. By giving individuals opportunities to develop, the organization as a whole continues to develop and improve.
5) Attempt to create an environment in which it is possible to find exciting and challenging work.
This goes along with #4: challenge an individual with exciting work and his potential will reveal itself. As with all the other values, this helps the organization grow.
6) Seek to increase the organization’s effectiveness at reaching its goals.
The previous five values help to reinforce the sixth. So whether it’s absorbing disruptive technologies, adapting to shrinking or exploding market opportunities, or coping with ensuing challenges and chaos, Organization Development serves to strengthen an organization’s ability to set and meet goals.
In light of these ideas, don’t be surprised if you go to work one day and everyone is wearing a tag that says, “Hi! My name is Kenneth Eng from Vancouver.” That would be a little strange wouldn’t it considering that’s my name not yours? But you get the idea. This small Organization Development exercise worked well at a 50-employee company with which I recently consulted. The office staff consisted of nine to ten individuals at a central location while the manufacturing and support staff was scattered over a fifteen acre complex. Wearing name tags helped put names to faces and made the work environment a bit friendlier. Now when a plant employee ventured into the office with a question or for an appointment, he was recognized and made to feel like a part of the team rather than an invader in unfamiliar territory.
Organization Development and its focus on the individual can be combined with other development strategies to help provide a well-rounded solution to the challenges faced by business in the 21st century.