CSI in organizations – a valid approach?
We are in the beginnings of massive change for both the way we employ people and the way organizations are financed and run. To prepare us for the ‘new world’ we need to look at things from a different perspective.
At first glance Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) in organizations and organizational development may look a little out of place, but when things go wrong it can help the rest of the OD world to understand why the ‘victim’ died, who was involved and could anyone have prevented it.
Conventional Organizational Development (OD)
In the normal course of events we use metaphors of machines or organics to represent change and growth. Stories like the life cycle of the butterfly, human development – infancy, childhood, teens, young adults etc. are prolific, indeed we have many models to reflect this. But most of them seem to focus on growth, not the decline. What are we as OD and change agents supposed to do in times of decline? Much like the state of the business word, with the recent collapse of several key (and perceived to be strong) UK and US financial institutions suggests that we need to move away from models of growth to that of survival (at least in the short term) for some organizations. Which organizations… well read on to see…
A new model of OD
Let’s look at adult cycles of organic change and see what we can learn:
The illness part in organizations is where things start to go wrong. Where there is dis-ease with people, process or product. There are not many of us that run to the doctor or specialist at the slightest little sign, we prefer to ‘ride it out’ hoping for it to ‘get better on its own’. well in organizations that just does not happen. dis-ease does not go away unless people leave and take it with them – very rare!
As OD and change professionals we regularly undertake organizational diagnostic reviews or staff surveys – or preferably both. The question is what happens when something is identified as ‘not being well’? What do we do about it? Who do we tell? Will senior people in the organization react appropriately to our concerns? Or will they ‘deny’ there is a problem? Those that do not undertake regular health checks (diagnostics and surveys) take note – it is easier to deal with a problem when it is identified earlier than later.
If the situation is denied or not taken seriously then usually a second stage diagnostic opportunity is missed (going to the specialist in a hospital) and the situation gradually worsens until it is terminal or critical in nature.
Then radical action is required, and radical action is always fighting against the odds. The patient goes into Intensive care (of change teams or liquidators) and becomes unconscious. Soon the organism stops to breathe. Specialist fight, but again the numbers are stacked against survival. The longer it goes on the less opportunity of survival. As things deteriorate the body is put on to a ventilator, providing the patient with essentials (oxygen and food) while key systems have a chance to repair themselves – Often in such cases the patient is beyond ‘self repair’ and soon the brain stem dies – but for a while the rest of the organism keeps on ‘business as usual’ and when the time comes the ‘business as usual’ elements suddenly stops as certain resources are no longer available. For some time parts of the organism carry on working at an individual cell level. Until eventually all activity stops. It is only at this point the CSI team is introduced to the situation.
How often do we notice our organisations are about to be put on the ventilator? How often have we worked inside an organisation when someone has already turned off the ventilator?
After careful investigation the lead CSI reports that the cause was often one of two main factors:
- Lack of timely action
- Long term poisoning or systems failure due to damage (poor information)
Worse – the metaphor of a machine
If we think that organic metaphors are bad news lets look at the common metaphor of machinery, supply chains, systems etc.
Even the most expensive motor vehicle needs love care and the occasional service. More than that, on occasions it needs its oil replacing and on occasion new parts as they wear out. But even the most expensive motor vehicle has a finite life. There comes a point when much of what was there has been replaced (much like many of the organizations we work for), and then the stage beyond that when the vehicle, no matter how much it is loved, it is just beyond economical repair. And so it goes off to the scrap heap (sorry recycling centre!). How often have you had ‘just one more MOT’ on the car that should have been written off a year ago? Are you in a job that ceased being cost effective some time ago?
Organizations are like this too – for some their time has come. Lets just make sure that when an organization ‘dies’ it dies of natural causes and not a premature death that could have been avoided by good management and effective organizational development.
Whatever the metaphor, we as OD and change specialists need to be sensitive to the environment we work in, keep up with the health checks or preventative maintenance, notify other teams when we sense things are not quite the way they should be, and above all we need to be brave and take appropriate action as early as we dare.