Next week’s annual Organisational Development in the NHS conference is focusing on ‘forward thinking different’, a very topical theme for the service. With another new set of challenges facing the NHS, including the transition to seven-day working and new rules designed to promote honesty, a different mindset and way of planning will be needed in order to manage this demand for change. At Mayvin, we think an OD approach to change is more critical than ever.
It’s something that may sound easier said than done – the prospect of changing the way you think and work can feel unachievable and overwhelming when the organisational landscape is becoming different too. If the hard edges of your surroundings are uncertain, or in the process of shape shifting to something new, how can you ‘think different’ when you can’t even be sure of what ‘different’ is?
Well, a good place to begin is by asking that very question – ‘How can I?’. Our experience of working in OD with a wide variety of organisations, including the NHS, shows us that developing effective skills to manage such complexity works best when it is grounded in people’s real-world contexts. Starting with a simple ‘how can I…?’ question ensures that you put yourself at the centre of the challenge that you are addressing and the word ‘can’ helps you to think about the need to take some action, to have some control of the situation.
Putting yourself at the centre of a challenge will help you to understand the role that you play, as an individual, in shaping the culture of an organisation and enable you to take ownership of your individual agency for change. It does not mean however that you have to go it alone.
At last year’s OD in the NHS conference, James Traeger, Director of Mayvin and Carolyn Norgate, Change Manager – OD, Guy’s & St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust presented the findings from their first piece of research for DoOD on building OD Capacity in the NHS – now published as an Account of Practice for the Action Learning: Research & Practice journal. The findings showed that OD Practitioners in the NHS benefit from a ‘safe space to stay sharp’, to reflect together, to ask questions and listen, to stay connected with a wider group and to respond to external needs. A space together to reflect on:
- What kind of OD practice does my Trust need?
- What kind of OD practitioner do I want to be?
- What are the conditions for OD to succeed here?
And thereby generate the sorts of ‘how can I’ questions that are essential to supporting change.
The scale of the challenges being presented to the NHS mean that you’re unlikely to be able to ‘solve’ anything solely with your own ‘How can I’ inquiry. That is why we recommend doing this work as part of a group, in an action learning context, where the safe environment of support and challenge will help you ‘stay sharp, and master the complexity you face. This way, you can think differently, feel better about the issues you’re facing, regain some control and thereby create a stronger place to move forward from.
So no matter how big or unwieldy the challenges you face seem to be, an OD framing of the issue can help to set you off on a journey that will generate some real, tangible and meaningful results for you and for the service more widely.