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Written by: Michael F. Broom, Ph.D.

A New Take on the Stages of Planned Change

Most organizational development literature has some version of the stages or steps of planned change. They go something like: contracting, data gathering, intervention, evaluation, and disengagement. I have problems with this framework. Each stage is an intervention in itself, yet intervention properly comes after data gathering. In addition, evaluation includes data gathering along with some analysis. Further, in real life, the sequence suggested in most literature does not account for various stages overlapping. For example, data gathering often leads to re-contracting as might any other intervention. This makes the framework both confusing and unwieldy.

I have designed an alternative approach I am calling “Critical Interventions.” This approach acknowledges that all of the stages are interventions. It does not suggest any particular ordering, although the order in which they are offered may have some value.

From the perspective of applied behavioral science, an intervention is an action within a human system that is intended to move that system toward some specific change goal. In organization development terms, our interventions are designed to move the support for a specified goal toward critical mass through engendering collaboration dynamics such as mutual understanding and the willingness to learn from differences.

Seven Critical Interventions

·  Data Gathering

·  Creating Possibility

·  Contracting for Collaboration

·  Implementation

·  Feedback as a Learning Process

·  Clear Consequences

·  Disengagement

Data Gathering
Any planned change venture is triggered by some event that offers data about a real or potential impact on the human system at hand. Often, more data must be gathered to verify, amplify, and flesh out existing information. Organization development practitioners begin gathering data at the first meeting with a potential client. This is a significant intervention, since the data gathered can shift the perspective of the practitioner significantly. A good initial data gathering session can be a very valuable intervention for both the client and the practitioner.

Creating Possibility
The practitioner is charged with the special task of broadening and deepening the client’s understanding of the presenting situation and of possible paths to resolution. Often the information shared by the client in the initial meeting includes data that indicate that s/he has limited preconceived conclusions about what is possible. One such erroneous conclusion is that the situation can only be remedied by a training intervention, when a systemic approach is needed instead. Another faulty notion is that the problem is not remedial at all, as many believe “personality conflicts” to be. Most of the time, the client simply wants an end to the personal or organizational pain. This makes a more vision-oriented approach useful.

In any of these cases, the organization development practitioner must create an expanded sense of what is possible. Educational conversation about root-cause, systemic problem solving, sharing past experiences of broader solutions, and inquiring how the situation is impacting movement toward an organizational or personal vision can all be useful interventions toward creating a greater sense of possibility for the client.

Contracting For Collaboration
Contracting is a critical intervention that defines agreements about goals, collaborative strategies, roles, relationship behaviors, and next steps. Developing these agreements—repeatedly—are core interventions. They build the support needed for the accomplishment of the goals. When that support reaches critical mass, the goal will have been achieved. Such support often creates a deeper sense of relationship leading to greater effectiveness and efficiency. It all starts with the contracting process between the practitioner and the client. It then extends through any needed agreements for support between the client and others members of the system.

Contracting defines the changes to be implemented. These agreements mean nothing if no one takes action to implement them. Organizations hold many retreats that produce prodigious and much needed agreements that are never implemented. Returning to business as usual is too often much too easy. To support effective implementation, one of the last things I do at the end of a meeting where there has been significant contracting is to insist on a review of the agreements. This allows my client, his/her group, and me to achieve real consensus about explicitness, identification of individuals responsible for particular actions, and the date by which the actions must be accomplished.

Feedback As A Learning Process
Conducting an evaluation after the deadline of an agreed upon implementation is crucial. The client and the practitioner need to know what impact has occurred from whatever actions have or have not taken place. Attention must be paid to how the system responded to the actions taken or not taken. Undertaken as a learning process rather than a blaming process, feedback helps us refine strategies and tactics as necessary until the change initiative goal has been reached.

Feedback is also needed to discover what worked, and what could be improved. Collective feedback sessions allow the give and take of dialogue to increase and improve the database of all present. This results in a mutual understanding about effective action at all levels of human systems—personal, interpersonal, group, and organizational. This sharply contrasts with anonymous feedback processes, which allow no opportunity to work through differing connotations, misunderstandings, and conflicts. All of these need resolution for efficient goal accomplishment.

Clear Consequences
Consequences are motivational. We do what we believe will get us pleasure. We also do what we believe will help us avoid what we think might be painful. Change in human systems is often driven by perceived consequences of not changing, such as potential loss of productivity, loss of revenue, loss of key employees, loss of job, and loss of the business itself. This holds true for individuals and groups, though in many systems such consequences are not clear. For the most effective goal accomplishment, all parties involved would be clear about the consequences of following through or failing to follow through with their agreements.

Michael F. Broom, Ph.D. is an Organizational Psychologist who for over 35 years has helped all types of organizations increase their productivity and employee engagement.