OD interventions are not Garden Forks

It is really exciting to get a call to meet with a client. The chance to start a new relationship or rekindle an old one is awesome. Of course, the first meeting is often a clumsy one – there is so much ground to cover that its easy to be superficial about the things that matter. In a recent debrief with a colleague we talked about the different ways to show up at these meetings.

Sometimes we enter a transactional relationship. That usually sounds like “I need a program to improve team dynamics” or “what have you got that improves business partnering for our support functions?” It is the equivalent of walking into a gardening shop and asking for a small gardening fork. I suppose that there is nothing wrong with that when it comes to gardening equipment– especially for the gardener who knows her garden and knows her tools.

Levels of relationships

Imagine the relationship on a spectrum:

When it comes to organisation development interventions or programs the way you use the tool is influenced by the way you select the tool. 

Think about:
Tool RFI (request for Information): “tell me about your Business Partnering Program.”Sharing Task: We want to Improve Customer Perception of Value from Service Function (say: Sales or HR).Sharing Mission: We want to transform function from transactional to strategic support for customer.Sharing Purpose: We need to enhance our customer’s success.

Why level up?

When a client asks us about the tool, we want to know about the Purpose, Mission, and Task as well. When a client invites us to that conversation, we can share so many more possibilities to improve our customers choice. We also get an opportunity to deepen our mastery of the kinds of issues that clients are facing, and we have an opportunity to reflect on and develop more powerful tools.

This is true of all business relationships – whether its working with a subordinate, a colleague, a supplier, or a customer. When we open our purpose, mission, and task we invite a more meaningful relationship.

The invitation is not always answered, and it does come with risks and costs. Risks such as the concern that you unveil your strategy, and others might copy you. Or costs such as the extra time that it takes to share more, more deeply.
You can mitigate those risks and costs by choosing who you speak to – speak only to those who you believe it is worth having a relationship with and find your way into a trustful and respectful place. A shovel is a spade and is good for gardening. An OD intervention is not a shovel. 

How to level up?

Vulnerability and honesty are central to a partnership conversation. Always frame the conversation with your purpose, mission, what you have tried before. 

Explain what you hope for this time, and what has failed. Share your fears, doubts, and pressures. Peter Block captured this process in the contracting conversation of Flawless Consulting, which our friends at Symphonia Leadership Development share so well.

Try it out: When we are allowed to see the bigger picture with all its hopes and all its messiness, we become a partner on a journey rather than a provider of tools that will be carried out of the store. That is a good space for us, and for people in general.

The last time I went to the gardening store, I chatted to the assistant about the plan for the garden, and why I wanted the little hand fork. I left with a standing lawn aerator. It did a better job than the little hand fork would have.