Bling up your OD evaluation!

SAVE ITEM
James Traeger

10 / 12 / 2015 11.58am


James Traeger, director at Mayvin Ltd, encourages OD practitioners to be bolder in their evaluation and make the connection between what different constituencies or tribes value, and how they speak about them.


Could we be better at evaluating what we do in organisation development (OD)? Not just better, but bolder, prouder, blingy-er. I notice that the word ‘evaluating’ has the same root as ‘valuing’. Do we shy away from valuing what we do? It reminds me of a line from Marianne Williamson’s poem:

‘It is our light, not our darkness That most frightens us.’

Evaluating OD could simply be defined as ‘measuring the quality of the intentional and unintentional impacts of what we do’. Note, that it is simply about measuring things, according to the people who care, in creative, human-scale ways.

My favourite tale of such measurement is from when I worked on a customer service programme for a council, with dinner ladies (as they called themselves).

Management had all sorts of clever ways of measuring customer satisfaction. Graphs and tables were paraded, yet these women seemed unmoved. So I asked them how they knew if they had delivered a quality service. They replied: “That’s easy! It’s how full the bin is at the end of lunch.”

Sometimes I think we believe that evaluation needs to look ‘science-y’, rather than human-scale. The point is that evaluation is both. To the managers, the graphs and bar charts had meaning. That’s how evaluation needed to be packaged for them, in their language. But to the dinner ladies, quality looked like an empty bin. Our role is to make the connections between what different constituencies or tribes value (and hospitals are full of tribes), and how they speak about it.

So if measuring isn’t hard, why do we find it difficult? Perhaps we don’t think we’re being ‘science-y’ enough? Or is it because if we evaluated what we did, we would reveal some uncomfortable truths about the organisation? Or because, deep down, we might be scared that we really do make a difference, as Williamson says.

It’s revealing that OD is sometimes caricatured as being about the ‘pink and fluffy’ stuff. Is this a defence against what we might be giving voice to?

The really hard stuff that matters is people and their deeper doings? I once did some team coaching for the senior management of a global brewing company. In a one-to-one with the director, we strayed into personal territory.

He began talking about a recent bereavement and how that showed up across his life and work. I remember, as we started to go that way in the conversation thinking ‘I wonder if this is appropriate?’

I decided to go with the flow. In a final review meeting at the end of the project, he told me that it was this discussion that had been the most valuable to him. It had given him the most clarity about his choices, both personally and professionally. “All the other stuff was useful,” he said, “but that particular conversation was gold dust.”

So don’t hide your light. Let it bling. After all, you are doing what’s really valuable.

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