Sustainable OD

A blog dedicated to the wonderfull field of Organisation Development

Digital OD


Today has been another great day at Roffey Park at the ODN Europe Conference. We had a great keynote speaker and all the sessions definitely had light bulb moments. I had a bit of reflection time of what I wanted to focus this blog post on, and I decided to focuses it on a very current topic in the business world which is that of digitalisation.

Within the conference there were two sessions based on digital OD. The first workshop was led by NHS Employers who explained their own journey of using digital as a way of creating conversations through an app under their project DO OD. The other one was a reflective session on whether Digital OD is a new wave and whether we as a profession are ready for it.

These two very insightful and provocative sessions have led to this blog post so thank you Paul Taylor, Karen Dumain and Steve Hearsum for sharing.

I personally don’t think you can ignore the digital world, it is just part of who we are. However, I do think there is a big question as OD practitioners on how we use technology within our work. It was interesting hearing the debate point out some of the similar polarities I hear in the corridors everyday:

  • Is digital dehumanising the workplace?
  • Does it have a darkside (i.e. cyberbullying and holding 0 accountability for your voice)?
  • How about digital procrastination?
  • Social Media is it a tool or “evil”?
  • Will it replace the way we communicate?
  • The advantage of digital for a disperse workforce being able to reach many people at one given time
  • Having the ability to communicate in real time
  • Being thought provocative and a tool/ catalyst for change
  • And as the DO OD app showed, being that initial inquirer that leads to conversations

This last point I found fascinating. How do we in OD integrate digital within our interventions when at the core we are about having conversations, a relationship discipline, based on social sciences, and need for interaction with the system? How do you ensure that when you digitalise OD you do it from a place of purpose rather than a place of just to do digital for the sake of it?

We as practitioners discussed this within groups, but I thought I’d share some of the insights and reflection points from the day.

  • Digital is here to stay
  • As practitioners we have to decide what tools work for our client for their particular context, purpose and need
  • This includes thinking of whether we want to use digital as a way of collecting data or just being a catalyst for conversations.
  • Digital can enhance learning, engagement, and change if done properly
  • Digital does accentuate the need for real good leadership skills from being able to be confident at managing ambiguity, vulnerability, being resilient, comfortable with the change of power dynamics and being out of control. I would add the whole integrity piece to this list of accentuated qualities for leaders within a digital setting.
  • Digital can enhance innovation and different ways of thinking
  • Digital changes are just part of the whole systems change when you look at the socio-technical sub system.
  • Digital can be diagnostic as well as dialogical.
  • At the end of the day even with digital organisations are built up and are just people
  • Like culture change it is long term and the real benefits of doing interventions through digital will be told in stories not in numbers
  • Digital is just another tool within our tool box

From a personal perspective I think that when used right whether it is social media, apps, wassap, LinkedIn, Blogs, special forums, etc. Digital does not replace face to face, but it provides another way to do things. For example:

– one more extra communication channel

– a way to connect with likeminded individuals and share best practice

– a way to provide a one stop shop to resources and helpful material

– an instant feedback mechanism

– potential for real collaboration with very diverse teams

– a safe environment to experiment and share ideas

– a way to start conversations

– a possible tool for engaging with staff and customers

– a way to help manage a project team

The list could go on. So the next question becomes are we ready to completely embrace this in OD? I think the answer is it depends. I think for us to get there 100% we have to see the humanisation of technology and a way to create accountability in a digital voice, but leaving the degree of freedom to have emerging conversations take place and really form individual digital personalities that are true to the self. The theme of does digital provide an inclusive workplace is one which needs to be looked at deeper for it to really work for OD interventions. However, I think we are in the journey now of discovering what Digital OD could look like.

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