The role of organisation development

Tali Stein is the Head of Organisation Development (OD) at Investec Bank. She has over 12 years’ experience in the OD and People Management fields, and has worked with senior executives across a range of functions and business units on a global basis in the UK, South Africa, the Channel Islands, and the US. 

Tali holds a Post-Graduate Diploma in Clinical Organisational Psychology from INSEAD, an MSc in Organisational and Social Psychology from the London School of Economics, and a Social Science Undergraduate degree.

We met with Tali regarding the role of the OD function.

MANY PEOPLE WOULD IMAGINE COMPANIES ON WALL STREET AND IN THE CITY ARE RUTHLESS, COMPETITIVE, DOG EAT DOG TYPE CULTURES. WHAT'S BEEN YOUR EXPERIENCE?

I think that organisations are microcosms of the broader societies and communities to which they belong, and as a result you are likely to see all behaviours common to social groups. Both positive and negative. 

Recent failures in the Banking system as a whole might suggest that an aggressive sales culture was a major driver of bank failure, where there has been evidence of a ‘sales culture’ which rewarded staff for aggressively promoting financial products, irrespective of risk and customer needs. This led banks to make risky loans and engage in bad practices, resulting in toxic loan books and mounting fines which has undermined the balance sheets of the banks as well as the public’s confidence in them as trusted institutions. 

In this regard, I do think Investec’s culture has been a core differentiator, and its ability to ride the storm was the result of a strong founding culture that has endured since its inception and that has as its core a set of values, not the least of which is ‘cast-iron integrity’.

CAN YOU TALK TO US ABOUT YOUR TEAM'S ROLE AND HOW YOU SUPPORT THE BUSINESS?

The Organisation Development team focuses on the facilitation of strategy, leadership, change and transformation processes for the Investec Group. Organisation Development Consultants provide consultation on Investec’s culture and assist leaders in their drive to create an environment that enables extraordinary performance. Core services include: 

  • Process Design and Facilitation 
  • Individual and Group Process Design
  • Learning Programme Design
  • Coaching: Individual and Group
  • Climate and Culture Consultation and Reviews
  • Team Building
  • Transformation & Diversity Learning Programmes
  • Conflict Resolution 
  • Leadership Development
  • Change Enablement
  • Strategic Planning Sessions
  • Culture Sessions

HOW DO YOU PREPARE AN INDIVIDUAL/ORGANISATION FOR CHANGE? DO YOU HAVE A STANDARD PROCESS ROADMAP?

We do not have or apply a standard approach to the change process as we know that any approach to change management, be it individual or organisational, needs to be tailored to the specific change initiative in question. People are different, their defense mechanisms are different, and for any change process to be effective, it needs to be situationally appropriate. Having said that, I think there are some useful tenets to consider when engaging in any type of change. These are:

  • Be as transparent as possible.
  • Over communicate.
  • Engage people in the process as early as possible and give them a role in the change process – let them help guide the change as opposed to being mere recipients of it.
  • Work with people to create a business case for change so that it is meaningful for people (something that they are apart of rather than something that is done to them).
  • Seek to understand resistance to change – not simply as a ‘blocker’ to the change process, but as an important source of data as to why the change might not work as intended. Listen to people and their feedback. Be open!
  • Lewin’s change model is a useful generic framework to plan a change process, i.e. Unfreeze – change – refreeze.
  • Wherever possible, get the ‘recipients’ of the change to play a role in designing the change process.
  • Give people an opportunity to share their emotional content regarding the change, knowing that change can be hard, is anxiety provoking, and as a result can activate people’s defenses in away that can be obstructive to the change initiative. Once emotional content is surfaced, defenses tend to come down, making change implementation easier.

WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE ARE THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES WHEN IT COMES TO PERFORMANCE MANAGEMENT?

There are several challenges to performance management. Amongst these is the fact that the formal performance review process is often used by managers as their total performance management process. That is, it happens annually and it is a box ticking exercise for HR and legal purposes. Additionally, traditional approaches to performance management seem to have the following flawed underlying assumption that performance is a function of the individual alone, ignoring contextual influences and the fact that most performance happens in the context of a team. 

As a result, most attempts at performance are not linked to the strategy or the strategic objectives of the team. Nor do they take into account the contextual influences on performance, which include: the broader economic environment, changes in regulation or technology, the culture of the business and the team, the effectiveness of the line manager in supporting the individual, etc. 

Most performance management attempts are also retrospective, ignoring the primary objective which is to facilitate the development and growth of the performer. To this end, it is important to obtain feedback from a variety of stakeholders in the individual’s performance context and not rely solely on the perspective of the manager, which can only ever be partial. 

I believe that performance management should be an ongoing team responsibility, embedded in the everyday life of how a team functions. By making it a team responsibility and creating transparency around the process, the team becomes jointly accountable for performance enhancements, and the opportunity to leverage the complementarity of skills within a team becomes possible. This type of a process would necessitate a culture of feedback where performance issues are addressed timeously and in the context of an issue having occurred. In this context, the performance management approach can facilitate the building of a culture conducive to performance (i.e. an open and honest culture) where performance management and associated performance are in the interests of facilitating development and geared towards attaining the strategy of the team. This is not to say that the goals of individuals cannot be addressed one-on-one with their manager, but rather that this should be complimentary to the team performance management process. 

WHAT SORT OF EFFECT DO YOU THINK OD CAN HAVE ON CULTURE (AND IN TURN, YOUR CUSTOMER'S EXPERIENCE WITH THE COMPANY)? 

I believe that OD plays a critical role as process consultants in an organisation. What this means is that unlike management consultants, the role of OD is to facilitate the explication of knowledge that exists in the system already, rather than to provide solutions. How this translates in the context of culture is that OD can provide a framework that will facilitate the articulation of an organisation’s culture, in order that that culture (on the basis that it is successful) is purposefully perpetuated. 

For example, OD might facilitate a process with leaders and employees to look at the behaviours that have led to organisational success, and then work with participants to identify patterns that might then form the basis of organisational principles that reflect the culture (in as much as a culture can ever be fully articulated). These principles can be a benchmark for the behaviours we seek to perpetuate as well as how we manage and reward performance. 

OD also plays a role in the facilitation of leader development and can work with leaders to take up their mandate, where Leadership is the management of culture. OD can help to influence organisational processes, systems and practices, primarily through their work with leadership, to ensure that culture is permeated and reinforced i.e. a culture of collaboration needs in order to be authentic to be reinforced in the remuneration process. 

I would however, actively reject the notion of OD as THE custodian of the culture and would say that principally this is a function of leaders and in order to shift from being espoused to being lived needs to firmly reside in the hands of everyone. 

The culture is also fundamental to the client experience as clients buy who we are and ‘what we believe’, not what we sell. The culture is a reflection of that.

WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE THE KEY OPPORTUNITIES ARE FOR COMPANIES IN TERMS OF ENGINEERING A "STRONG" COMPANY CULTURE?

I think the fundamental question at the heart of this is for organisations to engage leaders and employees collectively in answering the question: ‘what is required to create an environment that facilitates extraordinary performance, or that enables ordinary people to perform extraordinarily?’. By helping people reflect on their own experience of performing at their best and the contextual factors that enabled this, companies can start to articulate the core ingredients to building a strong culture. It is less about the outcome being a strong culture in itself, but rather that in doing so, strong performance and innovative problem solving becomes self-fulfilling and not something that needs constant pushing from the top. At the heart of this is leadership that understands their fundamental and primary role as the manager’s of that culture in order to influence it in the direction to which it is intended, i.e. to facilitate internal integration and external adaptation in the interests of business survival and success.