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I was involved in a half-day organizational redesign exercise yesterday, and one element of this I felt I have to share with you, because it really highlights for me the status of organizational development in the mid 2010s.

I work with an educational organization which last year acquired several affiliated campuses and re-branded them under one umbrella.  Slightly over one year after the acquisition, they get all four locations together in one very large room to discuss how to make the operational aspects of our multiple locations more efficient.  And they brought in external HR consultants to moderate the breakout sections and discussions, which was good for honesty and transparency from the staff.  No one’s job was at stake, although many asked anonymous questions (they had a means to this in the exercise) about their rights to refuse to move locations, move roles, etc.

The exercises were geared towards understanding where we felt we were at present, and what it would take in terms of best practices and actions to move the needle forward. Then we were asked if the action would be self-driven, organizationally driven, or both.

The point that stood out for me was the comment to us from the external  HR consultant, in that ‘the more items were self-driven, the faster the needle would move forward’.  You can either take this as affirmation of self-motivation to achieve a better state, or as I took it, that the organization is sluggish, had directional issues and was moving like a pseudopod and if enough force pulled it forward, it would move.

As we all have worked in organizations of various sizes and shapes, we know that organizational reluctance is the cause of many issues, including innovation deficits and loss of opportunity.  But for me, knowing that the organization relied on the individual to move the needle explains to me why so many good people I know right now have left large organizations and are now self-employed consultants.  If the risk-reward is biased to the organization, the individual would prefer to get their reward financially as payment, versus a “well-done” and no real recognition at all. Self-motivation is an attribute of good employees, or in this case, good consultants who want to get the job done.

I am writing this, because I keep seeing the same patterns at the institutions I work for, and I suspect you will recognize my comments in your own organization.  There will be a small inner-circle ‘family’ who somewhat makes direction, and a few linchpin people that relied upon that sit slightly outside the circle to be the source of information for others.  Those linchpins will be over-stressed and under-compensated, but will not realize their role until they hit the breaking point. (This is not me, but I sit next to one of them, and I see it coming down the pike).  There will always be people in the organization who have not left and cannot leave, and are immovable objects who do not understand why they are not valued.  And the majority of the organization is there on a ‘semi-permanent’ basis until the value proposition is out of balance on one side or the other, and then the relationship contractually ends. And the good ones leave faster, as they have more opportunities than those not well engaged.

Here in 2015, I’d like to see a way that motivated individuals can meet on an ad hoc basis and create value together in a temporary way, and then move on.  Wait, you say.  That’s called contracting or consulting.  Yes, but in terms of design, this could be under one roof/umbrella with a directional sense to it.  Wait, you say.  This sounds like a standards body, or a trade association.  Yes, but even there you have the politics of various corporate interests.

So why can’t organizations work like consulting companies or trade associations, in a collective approach without silos?  Is it how we get compensated, or how the organization makes revenue?  Why not compensate people on their self-motivation, if this is how an organization gets traction?

I ask, as one of my colleagues mentioned an issue with transparency of information to students.  Our complexity was becoming the complexity of our customers.  And if you are not easy to do business with, in today’s economy, the consumer moves on.

Food for thought.