If all the world's a stage, what's your part?

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01 / 6 / 2015 4.29pm

By Rebecca Watts

I was lucky enough to attend the Organisation Development Network Europe (ODNEU) conference recently and heard the amazing Dr John J Scherer speak about his life and his work, his influences and drivers and his calling in life - via his five Leadership Development Intensive (LDI) questions that can change everything.  One of the questions was 'What am I bringing?’ in relation to what do I bring to my role, my organisation, the world of OD. I’d never really thought about this but his emotive and inspirational stories and reflections left me wanting to explore this further.
My background before my HR and OD days was theatre; I had completed a drama degree in Northern Ireland and the US, and even to this day, it remains a huge part of my life. Theatre has run through my veins ever since my first role in the school nativity – third angel from the right – and I firmly believe I would not be as confident, creative nor expressive if I hadn’t developed into a #stagey individual. Whilst some of my #stagey characteristics are tucked away when at work – I learnt that no one enjoys ‘Let It Go’ sung every time they get a snappy email  - some of them I draw on every day in the world of OD. 
But is the process of theatre really that different from OD I wondered? I found the below quote from Lee Hall, the playwright who wrote the screenplay and stage adaptation for Billy Elliot:

“Whether you are a writer or an actor or a stage manager, you are trying to express the complications of life through a shared enterprise. That’s what theatre was, always. And live performance shares that with an audience in a specific compact; the play is unfinished unless it has an audience, and they are as important as everyone else.”

What a powerful quote about theatre, but doesn’t it also reflect on our work as OD practitioners? Firstly that OD also attempts to express and address the organisation’s issues and complexities, and secondly that OD is not OD unless it has an audience; its staff, stakeholders, managers, clients, patients. 

Even the smallest organisations have complex social systems and OD can be used to diagnose the required development areas, and improve the business. Once the issues are identified, dialogues take place – perhaps more improvisation than scripted – to express the current state of the organisation, the desired state and how we propose to get there. There’s usually a call to action too, but we need to be mindful that these conversations don’t turn into farce or tragedy.
OD needs to involve everyone from the outset. An OD strategy is a piece of paper, useless and unfinished without the engagement and drive of OD folk and their audience. A change initiative is not OD without engaging those it will benefit and affect, and then when implemented in an organisation, getting feedback about what worked and what didn’t. 
Only when your audience is on board with the great work we are trying to do will an OD presence be felt and appreciated. We want to improve the business and organisation through the amazing talented staff we have, so it is imperative that our audience is involved at the beginning and throughout any OD goals we have. They are the ones who will watch the journey of OD on the organisational stage, and no doubt will also be our harshest critics so let’s embrace their input and invite their reviews.
So what am I bringing to my role and organisation? An understanding of theatre. I listen to the other players and audience involved in my work, I can express my views succinctly and confidently to a room full of senior management, I can look at things from other perspectives,  I can perform when I need to and I can engage an audience to listen to me. 

What am I bringing to the field of OD? Enthusiasm, ambition, innovation and dedication. And I can sing any piece from the musical Wicked with conviction and optional jazz hands. Jackpot. 

Rebecca Watts is the HR and OD Manager for Health Education England and works part time as senior programme officer for Do OD at NHS Employers. You can connect with Rebecca via Twitter @NHSRebeccaemail  and LinkedIn.

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