Anyone who hates the feel of glasses on their nose – but still needs something to help them see beyond the end of it – has a lot to thank Henry Lomb for.
It was Lomb who, back in the 1850s, lent $60 (32) to his friend Jacob Bausch to help with his optical goods shop in Rochester, New York, and as a result set a ball rolling that would lead to the creation of the world’s largest contact lens and eye-care product manufacturer.
Bausch & Lomb today employs some 12,000 people around the world and has a turnover of about $2.7bn (£1.4bn). Not a company with a bad organisational development record.
Organisational development is one of those concepts that has a bit of a mystique about it. If not exactly feared, it is often not entirely understood either or, if it is attempted at all, it is carried out in a piecemeal fashion.
Traditionally, a lot of the focus in organisational development has been on managing planned, systematic change. In the process, the idea goes, organisations can start to achieve various set objectives, while at the same time making the best possible use of the human capital that’s available to them.
But if Bausch & Lomb’s experience is anything to go by, organisational development need not be so process-driven and can be used in a much wider way, to tap into questions of employee engagement, motivation and action.
Three years ago, the company, which has its European headquarters in Waterford, Ireland, brought in specialist Susan Montgomery to look at how organisational development could be used to help add value to the organisation.
Along with senior operations and training and development manager Martin Sheehan, Montgomery has recently graduated from an innovative MSc programme in people and organisational development run by the business school Roffey Park.
However, as a concept, organisational development is only just gaining a foothold among Irish businesses, so the process has marked quite a sea-change at Bausch & Lomb, argues Sheehan.
“As a manufacturing organisation we are very data and fact driven. We tend to assume that the way to bring about change is through simple intellectual persuasion,” he explains.
The company wanted to develop a programme that could start to change how managers thought about the business, how they worked and how they drove the business forward. What the team did not want was to get bogged down in processes and procedures, says Montgomery.
In fact, effective organisational development is about breaking down and removing existing structures rather than adding to them, recognising how the organisation operates and what its interconnections are, she suggests.
“The challenge for HR, if it wants to have a more strategic relationship with the business, is that it needs a broader and deeper understanding of what the business is and how it all works together,” Montgomery adds.
One practical example of this approach in action has been the introduction of an innovative leadership development programme for middle managers.
The conventional approach here would probably be to have, say, a six-day training programme based on a set of core modules around which a programme is developed that attempts to address what the managers feel they need.
What Bausch & Lomb has done is to try to take a less prescribed view. It has focused instead on putting people into self-organised learning sets where they can look at how they work, how they relate to the business and then take that learning back into the organisation.
“It is much more about gaining understanding of themselves, of it being a personal journey. It is not off-the-shelf training,” explains Montgomery.
The first 15 managers have in the past few weeks completed the first two modules involved in the programme and are about to begin the next stage, and another group is poised to begin the process.
Participants also get to pick coaches from the senior team to develop their coaching skills.
“It is about participants seeking and looking for answers,” adds Montgomery.
There has also been a push in the way the company communicates with its people, and what this says about its culture, she explains. Where once communication might have been handled in large, impersonal groups, now the emphasis is for managers to take more time and effort and hold more, but smaller, sessions.
“I know of one manager who held 36 sessions with operators,” she says. This in turn has led to a greater richness and depth of feedback.
Another major innovation has been the development of organisational development capabilities outside the training and development function.
Disseminating organisational development skills throughout the organisation actually makes sense on a lot of levels, argues Sheehan.
“It is often easier to look at an organisation from the sidelines rather than from within HR,” he says, “Having said that, both sides do work very closely together.”
This is a contentious issue for HR professionals, admits Diane Moody, programme director of the Roffey Park MSc.
“A lot of HR people do feel this is ‘their stuff’, something that is one of the few things that gives them a real point of contact with the business system,” she says.
“But the problem with putting it within HR is that there is a risk of it just becoming about ‘human resources’, where organisational development should really be about bringing together social and technical issues too,” she adds.
Certainly, by getting it right, then wherever it may be located, if you start to bring about organisational transformation in engagement, communication and ways of working, you do start to get noticed, suggests Montgomery.
“We are a manufacturing company, we are about making lenses. But what we are finding is that we are now being invited into discussions at a strategic level and are being invited back.
“We are now much more involved at the front end rather than just picking up the pieces,” she explains.
Whether or not HR is leading the organisational development programme, the key to its success is to take a step back right at the beginning and assess what it is you want to achieve from your programme.
“It is important not to get seduced by the latest thing, but look at what organisational development can bring and ask what is going to be useful.
“It is about being very conscious about what your needs are as opposed to what sounds good,” she adds.
However, developing change in this way does not come quickly, Sheehan cautions. It is not a “quick win”, and therefore needs strong board-level commitment.
“People need to absorb it and then move on around the organisation. It is slower, but I feel it is more effective because people are more wholeheartedly buying into it,” he says.
“Often there is a point of light, a sudden dawning, but you cannot judge when that is going to be,” he adds.
Ultimately, effective organisational development, as Bausch & Lomb is finding, can be a process through which managers become more aware of the human dimension of change and transformation.
It may not even be, argues Roffey’s Moody, that managers end up acting in a particularly different way. What changes is their intent in what they are doing.
“There is often a deep value change that happens to people when they go through the programme. We encourage them to think about how they are working and the impact they are having on their workplace,” she explains.
“If HR people are operating strategically, and have good relationships within the business, they should be doing a lot of this stuff anyway. Whether it is called organisational development is another matter,” she adds.
The Organisational Development Conference 2005 takes place on 18-20 May in Horsham, West Sussex. To book your place at the event, organised by Roffey Park , in association with Personnel Today, go to www.roffeypark.com/od2005 or telephone 01293 851644.
Learning points for HR
– Don’t view organisational development as being simply process driven
– Encourage self-learning and putting that learning back into the business
– Consider separating organisational development from learning & development and, even, from HR
– Don’t expect organisational development to happen overnight
– Assess what it is you want from organisational development before taking the plunge