Technology intervention in Organization Development
The Internet, email, and Web conferencing tools have created the capacity for collaborating across time and space both within and between organizations. Just as technology has transformed the organizational environment, it’s also transforming the field of Organization Development (OD).
Currently, there are three widely recognized applications of technology in OD:
1. Quantitative, database assessment tools, such as employee surveys and 360-degree feedback
2.Communications and teamwork, including document management and information sharing
3. Management and employee development, including online training.
OD practitioners increasingly use technology in their work every day. But, whereas most technologies applied to OD are used for one-way communication, data collection, or individual mentoring or training, we need new generation of interventions that use technology to facilitate “whole system” collaboration and organizational change.
Evolution of new Technologies
Currently, technologies are available that extend beyond normal correspondence and simple data collection to facilitate online collaboration, community building, collaborative learning, and the sharing of best practices on a global scale. New uses for such emerging technologies by OD practitioners hold the promise of becoming an integral part of the dynamic organizational change process itself.
The evolution of collaborative technologies such as portals, online discussion groups, real-time chat and webcasts (transmission of linear audio or video content over the Internet) have provided valuable capabilities that promote the organization development mission of whole system collaboration.
Portal technology offers a wide variety of tools for the OD professionals to promote increased organizational effectiveness, enable open communication and knowledge sharing and deliver multi-dimensional organizational change efforts. Properly implemented portals knit together disparate business applications and, in effect, present a composite application tailored to the role of the user in the organization. By presenting business tools, data and content to users via an easy-to-use, personalized interface, portals support the primary OD goals of increased organizational effectiveness and performance. Used in combination with content management systems, portals also become valuable communication and knowledge-sharing vehicles by presenting online content filtered by the language, geography or role of the user. Best practices, compliance information and strategic content can be pushed simultaneously to geographically diverse internal and external (customers, partners, suppliers) audiences. The top portal vendors also integrate search capability into their products, allowing users to search for the content that meets their needs. Prior to the advent of portal technologies, organizations were restricted to a “one size fits all” approach to pushing applications and content to employees. Portals allow the creation of a user experience that is tailored to the employee’s demographics.
Online discussion groups, weblogs offer users the ability to post questions, comments and general information at a central online location. These types of forums are particularly well suited for the ongoing, system-wide communication required during large organizational change efforts. Typically, these discussion forums are created to focus on topics related to specific training programs, practice areas or operational best practices. The questions or comments posted can be directed toward specific experts, facilitators or to the general group membership, creating an open, collaborative process.These online discussions can take place over a period of weeks rather than minutes. The content of the discussions can be made searchable and becomes part of the organization’s knowledge base for future reference. When delivered through portal technology, links to specific discussion forums can be made available to individuals based on their demographics.
Instant messaging and online chats offer organizations a much more immediate form of real-time collaboration than asynchronous online discussion groups. Most enterprise instant messaging applications now allow users to form real-time instant group chats by pulling multiple users into an online discussion as needed. Users can also share content (documents, slides, graphics) during their chats to facilitate understanding. Instant messaging technology is particularly useful when immediate information exchange is required (customer service, call center, etc.) by a small number of users.
For larger audiences, scheduled online chats are effective vehicles for mass interactive communication. Executives and subject-matter experts can communicate to mass audiences and answer questions on the fly regardless of geography through scheduled chat sessions. Participation in the chats is usually voluntary and users also have the ability to join the chats anonymously, which promotes open, informal and candid discussion. Online chat sessions are increasingly being used in OD efforts that involve large-scale organizational change and require frequent mass communication. The contents of both instant message sessions and scheduled online chats can be saved and made searchable for future reference. Prior to these chat technologies, interactive conversations would require conference calls, real-time office visits and herding masses of people into meeting rooms for live face-to-face dialogue. Although the online collaborative applications have not replaced more traditional live meetings, they have presented viable alternatives that augment the efforts of OD professionals and lead to increased organizational effectiveness.
Webcasts and Podcasts are examples of Online audio/video technologies becoming mainstream tools OD professionals use to disseminate information quickly and efficiently. Live training or informational events are often shared organization-wide via webcasts and recorded for later use. Audio or video combined with many of the newer e-learning authoring tools allows other content (slides, text, graphics) to be displayed along with the video or audio for a media-rich user experience. The newest of the online audio/video technologies are podcasts, which combine the standard recorded webcast with “publish/subscribe” functionality. Publish/subscribe functionality allows the user to subscribe to specific subject areas and have the content automatically pushed to their computer or MP3 player whenever new content is available. The user can then view or listen to the content whenever his or her schedule allows. Although podcasts are not yet widely used in organizational communication, their popularity in the public domain is a glimpse of the potential of this evolving medium. Previous to the use of the online audio/video technologies, organizations would distribute videotaped content via mail to all their far-flung locations. Employees would view the video individually or congregate in meeting rooms to watch the video presentations.
OD approaches that embrace technology as an integrated component of the strategic change process itself can
enable whole system participation.
With hurdles like travel costs and time zone issues greatly lessened through technology, bringing the whole organizational system into the room–employees, partners, customers, and so forth is made possible. Ideas, opinions and issues from all stakeholder groups can be shared and considered in a collective forum virtually and in connection with face-to-face meetings.
rapidly align dispersed stakeholders.
Creating alignment between stakeholders who are located across the country or the globe can take months or years. By blending face-to-face participation with an inclusive virtual participation process, stakeholders can be brought together in productive ways that decrease the time it takes to reach an agreement.
accelerate organizational readiness.
Inviting the whole system to participate in the change process enhances communication, fosters buy-in and establishes a level of readiness for change that traditional communications plans cannot easily achieve.
produce higher quality strategies and plans.
Through obtaining direct input from both a horizontal and vertical slice of the organization, as well as partners, customers, and other stakeholder groups, more robust ideas and work products can be produced.
foster collaborative learning and knowledge sharing.
By linking together stakeholders that would not otherwise connect and communicate, it becomes possible to harness learning and knowledge in ways that surface and diffuse best practices, which leads to a greater capacity for innovation and organizational agility.
Integrating technology into OD interventions can open the door to new opportunities for engaging teams, workgroups, organizations, partners, and customers in collaborative change processes. But where do you start? Here are some tips that may help.
Assess the need.
Determine if the needed intervention would be advanced through engaging stakeholders that cannot be in the room.
To be successful, an organization must embrace the potential value of using technology to support the process. Determine the readiness of the client system to explore new ways of working.
Gauge the fit.
Select technologies that fit the desired intervention. Know when you’re looking for divergent vs. convergent thinking, qualitative vs. quantitative input, individual vs. group contributions, and so on, and choose the tools that support the lifecycle stage of the process.
Make the business case.
While there are costs associated with applying technology, using technology can also reduce travel costs, save time, and accelerate the change process. Defining the ROI (return-on-investment) of using technology helps garner support for new approaches.
Define integration points.
OD interventions that involve technology also typically include face-to-face meetings. Look for ways to use technology prior to, during, and after meetings to support group and organizational goals.
Engage the early adopters.
Identify individuals who are predisposed to embrace technology as part of the process in order to create early wins that create proof points for the new approach.
Tell success stories.
Even small successes can be used as stories to energize the organization and inspire others to participate through the new tools and approaches.
Technology in OD is here to stay. More and more, OD interventions will include collaborative technology as a core enabler of the change process. As OD practitioners apply these tools to their work, especially when they enable whole system change, new expectations within organizations are established. Once people experience the possibilities associated with incorporating the voices of a larger collective in ways that increase participation, accelerate change, and deliver higher quality results, the value of these collaborative technologies are established and the organization’s desired future draws nearer.