New cliches for organization development, Toby Elwin, blog

New clichés for organization development

Toby Elwin Blog, Organization Behavior 2 Comments

Bugs Bunny, toro, bullfighter, organization development

I slap you, you slap me, it is called slapstick comedy

Companies develop their own language or accepted terms.  Professions develop their own lingo. Organization development clichés are just as tired as all other jargon.

People use stock phrases or go-to frameworks. Clichés are an attempt to communicate, to create a common understanding, to fit in, to prove what you know, and to make sense of the situation. Jargon, clichés, rhetoric  – talking while saying nothing.

The problem arises when clichés obscure meaning and just fill dead space.  This leaves people frustrated by lack of progress, lack of clarity, and a host of assumptions, never resolved.

Business jargon has led some to play a game known as bullshit bingo:

  • Before a meeting or seminar write out top clichés within your company, team, or profession, as people speak, check off each phrase from your list; keep yourself amused;
  • Add to the fun:  before a meeting share your bingo card with others, during the meeting make eye contact to find out who is paying attention to the large amount of rhetoric being slung about;
  • Add an element of danger:  agree on a word or catch phrase before a meeting, when a card is complete, be the first to utter something like, “great idea”, your catch phrase, and regale in the glory of your win.  Of course, if “great idea” is your catch phrase to announce to others you won, there is a danger some suck-up, unaware of your game, will steal your thunder.  You might stick with “bingo”, as in “bingo, that’s a great idea boss”.  Ah well, you work it out.

Organization development has a tough enough go of it, as it is.  We organization development folks have a heavy burden:  a business can only develop when its people develop and change is constant.

So, in this challenge where does organization development start and stop?  What is a complete list of what organization development does and does not do?

Organization development needs to be relevant, so for my part I will change the way I talk.  Try to take a little rhetoric out of the world.

Organization Development Paper Cliches

Here are 3 business clichés used in strategy, in organization development, in information technology, in project management, or just in conversation around the dinner table.  I now promise to turn from cliché to impact:

1.  Let’s change the framework people, process, and technology to politics, process, and technology

  • Seems evident that people are often forgotten in this framework. The benefit of using the work politics is that people drive politics so people are accounted for, but more importantly you begin with the discussion on risk or around stakeholder impact.

2.  Let’s change the entire concept of change management to end-user adoption

  • Change management is so often reduced to a process or a task during the project. Seriously, can you get any 3 people to give an accurate description of what change management even is? If we flip our thinking to end use adoption then we build in an expectation and plan throughout for user feedback, for stakeholder design sessions. Ultimately, the switch from change management to end-user adoption means we have not finished until we measure and monitor end-user adoption.
  • Take this from a process to a project goal. End-user adoption shifts that focus.

3.  Let’s change seeing is believing to seeing is deceiving

  • When someone describes what they saw, they describe what they processed. People communicate through their bias, mood, culture, values, agenda, and a host of other hang-ups we all have in place to make sense of the world.

… monitoring both the information they receive and the way their brains are processing it. But keeping atop the news takes time and effort. And relentless self-questioning, as centuries of philosophers have shown, can be exhausting. Our brains are designed to create cognitive shortcuts — inference, intuition, and so forth — to avoid precisely that sort of discomfort while coping with the rush of information we receive on a daily basis. Without those shortcuts, few things would ever get done.”*

  • What you get is what people filter. What you ingest is what you filter. Stop relying on an obvious point you make or a picture you present. Solution: ask more what others see in the data, what others can recap from the assessment, what they think and confirm, confirm, confirm to set, to manage, and to keep on top of expectations.

Join me.  What suggestions do you have to help us move from cliché to impact?

And if you yell, “bingo” in a meeting I facilitate, I appreciate it, you kept me honest.

*The Boston Globe, Ideas Section How facts backfire

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Comments 2

  1. A very interesting article.  I’d venture to say that you could write a great deal on the “Politics, Process, Technology” concept.

    In my humble opinion, and from my personal experiences, I believe the most powerful “tools” for moving from cliche to impact are

    1) “true accountability”, and
    2) “tangible performance metrics.”

    What this means is that clear metrics that are proactively collected and managed allow an enterprise to determine success or failure.  And then, once such determinations are made, “accountability” allows for a reward/punishment path….

    – If you exceed metrics, you get rewarded (larger bonus and/or more responsibility and trust).
    – If you meet metrics, you stay flat (expected bonus).
    – If you don’t meet metrics, you get punished (no bonus or even dismissal).

    1. Accountability, as defined in a meritocracy environment works.  I would love to see it.  Meritocracy environments rely on transparency.

      Accountability as defined in a political or bureaucracy or parochial or kleptocracy environment works against.  I see this too much.  Political or bureaucracy or parochial or kleptocracy environments rely on double dealing and smoke screens.

      In the absolutely sane proposal you make the win is built with a shared goals, achievements, recognition, and transparency.  Roll me onto that project, please.

      In your last bullet-point above you write:  “If you don’t meet metrics, you get punished (no bonus or even dismissal).”  I take on a project, I own this.  Agreed.  An interesting element of the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification is the ownership as a Project Management Institute (PMI) certified PMP that if the project fails the project manager (me, if I take the roll) deserves to be fired. 

      PMI’s case, if you are certified by us, and you can not rescue or deliver on a project, you do not know what you are doing (paraphrased, of course).

      In a straw poll, how many PMP, PMIs out there recall this fine print?

      Better yet, how many PMIs continue to take on each project with the attitude, “Fire me if I do not deliver this project”.

      That is the ultimate meritocracy.

      Project management meritocracy in a business environment of cliches makes for the same end.

      Guerino, thank you for commenting. 

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