Wright, N. (2003) ‘The Paradigm 4C Dynamic Model: An OD Framework for L&D Strategy’, British Journal of Occupational Learning, Institute of Training & Occupational Learning, Volume 1, Issue 2, December, pp3-19.
Learning & development professionals have broadened their horizons in recent years to integrate plans with wider organisational strategy. No longer is the focus of attention confined to what takes place in the training room and this is a welcome development for a profession committed to adding value. This article proposes, however, that integration with organisational strategy alone is not enough. Learning & development adds greatest strategic value when it views the whole organisational landscape through the conceptual lens of organisation development (OD), consulting and formulating its strategy against this backdrop. A dynamic model for learning & development is presented below incorporating 4 systemic OD variables: culture, complexity, capability and climate. Detailed explanation of the 4C concept is provided alongside examples of application to learning & development practice.
Learning & development professionals can add considerable value when they extend their focus beyond the confines of the training room to consider wider business priorities (Harrison, 2002; Phillips & Shaw, 1998). Indeed, integration of learning and development strategy with wider organisational strategy is a critical step to achieving strategic impact (Rothwell & Kazanas, 1994). Nevertheless, linkage of strategies alone to achieve genuine organisational transformation is insufficient without the additional input of an organisation development (OD) perspective (Crainer, 1998).
The reason for this is that an organisation’s formal, published strategies often concentrate on the tangible/technical aspects of its operating environment (e.g. competition, capital assets, future technologies) yet inadvertently miss less-tangible, qualitative, critical aspects of its internal experience; for example, climate and resulting impact on behaviour (Mullins, 2002; Kanter, 1984). Ironically, history teaches that the people dimensions of organisation (e.g. trust, anxiety, politics – the stuff of OD; see Crainer & Dearlove, 2001) impact as much on an organisation’s ability to achieve its strategy as any formal, rational or practical consideration (Atkinson, 2003).
In light if this, if learning & development strategy fails to take into account an OD dimension too, it is likely to be inadequate, defective or, at least, limited to a corresponding degree in terms of its effectiveness. Conversely, however, when learning & development strategy is consciously designed and implemented within an OD framework, I believe it can add profound developmental value and strategic impact. In order to demonstrate this point, I will present an OD-oriented ‘4C Dynamic Model’ for learning & development below with specific examples of application to practice.
An OD model for Learning & Development
Typically, OD supports an organisation’s ability to fulfil its mission by:
Identifying critical human-related factors and dynamics that are likely to enhance or inhibit its development potential (e.g. Leigh, 2001; Morgan, 1997).
Designing system-wide intervention strategies that build on enhancers and mitigate against inhibitors (French & Bell, 1995).
OD practitioners are often systems thinkers, identifying inter-connectedness between different facets of an organisation’s behaviour and experience (e.g. Senge, 1990). More recently, OD has developed to take into account elements of complexity theory too (Flood, 1999; Phillips & Shaw, 1998). This latter field holds that organisations, as essentially human systems, are at times incomprehensible and unpredictable and yet surprisingly self-organising. This phenomenon applies equally well to learning & development interventions too where strange and unexpected outcomes sometimes result that could never have been anticipated.
OD concerns itself, therefore, with the analysis, diagnosis and design of interventions that will increase the possibility of achieving desired organisational outcomes, whilst treading cautiously when pressed for more definitive prognoses. Similar caution is advisable for learning & development too where practitioners, in their anxious preoccupation with return-on-investment, can too easily predict with absolute certainty outcomes of interventions that are really outside of their ability to control (Mayo, 2003 & 1995; Harrison, 2002). OD is not a guarantee of success for learning & development but it can, nevertheless, provide practitioners with tools and insights that help inform diagnosis and strategy.
I have, in my capacity as development consultant (Paradigm) and against the backdrop of my experience in learning & development practice/management, developed the tool described below which views an organisation and its various strategies through the conceptual lens of a ‘4C Dynamic Model’. Picture a circle with climate at the centre and culture, complexity and capability interacting with the climate and with each other.
The outer circle in this model represents the boundary between an organisation and its environment. A dotted line could be used to indicate that this boundary is permeable rather than solid, with environmental influences impinging on each dimension of the organisation’s life. A national culture with a strong tradition of hierarchical leadership, for instance, may well influence which models of organisational leadership are considered appropriate within its national/cultural boundaries (ten Have et al, 2003; Mullins, 2002; Huczynski & Buchanan, 1991).
In practice, real organisations exist in a state of constant flux rather than a fixed stable state. The model suggests, therefore, that culture, complexity, capability and climate are interdependent, systemic variables engaged in continual dynamic relationship (i.e. a change in one area will effect at least some degree of change in each of the others). All things being equal, positive changes in this system will enhance the organisation’s ability to fulfil its strategy and, conversely, negative changes will undermine its ability. One fundamental question ought, therefore, to underlie learning & development strategy from an OD perspective: what kind of impact will organisational 4C dimensions and dynamics have on learning & development strategy, and vice versa?
We’ll see these questions applied below with detailed exploration of each dimension, examples of learning & development strategy implications and, finally, what happens when dimensions interact in practice.
The OD model applied
Definition: a pattern of shared basic assumptions, based on shared perceptions, memories, beliefs, experiences and values, which reflects and influences the behaviour, thinking and feelings of staff within an organisation. In shorthand, culture = beliefs + behaviour.
OD-based analysis of organisational culture tends to focus on phenomenological aspects of its experience, e.g. how people believe things should be done alongside positivistic manifestations, e.g. how things are done (Mullins, 2002; Warr 2002; Crainer, 1998). Most organisations have common cultural characteristics at a corporate level as well as sub-cultural distinctives within individual groups and teams (see ‘Complexity’ below). The following culture-related questions are of particular interest for learning & development strategy:
What is the degree of alignment between the organisation’s espoused culture and that encountered in the real organisation? Is the organisation’s culture strong or weak? What are the potential impacts of organisational culture on learning & development strategy? What impact with learning & development interventions have on organisational culture?
There is often a striking gap between an organisation’s espoused culture (i.e. that which it proclaims publicly) and the reality of culture(s) encountered within the organisation itself (Muller, 2002). This may arise when, for instance, espoused culture reflects an aspiration rather than current reality, the espoused culture was developed at high-level without engaging staff or, perhaps, the originators of the espoused culture have left and been replaced.
Gaps of this nature can lead to scepticism and cynicism among staff unless tangible, visible, sustained steps are taken to integrate aspired values into everyday organisational life and practice (ten Have et al, 2003; Crainer & Dearlove, 2001). As one example, the leadership of an organisation I encountered suffered badly when it produced a set of values for the organisation that were light years away from its own everyday practice. The subconscious irony of this action was compounded shortly afterwards when a new corporate logo was introduced featuring 2 faces.
There are also noticeable differences between strong and weak cultures (Warr 2002; Martin 1992). A strong culture is characterised by a high degree of uniformity and commitment to shared values and norms; by contrast a weak culture has a greater degree of diversity and looser adherence (Lambert, 2003). It’s possible, for instance, to have a strong culture at team level but weak at a corporate level, e.g. if there are significant differences in team cultures owing to diverse norms within the fields they represent, or different cultures within various hierarchical strata.
Strong sub-cultures at a team level can sometimes create problems for inter-teamworking if significant aspects of those sub-cultures clash (Warr, 2002). Weak cultures, whilst experiencing potential problems with identity and consistency of ethos, are, nevertheless, often more open to alternatives and change. The learning & development practitioner may do well, therefore, to produce a culture map of the organisation, marking strong and weak territory before deciding on an appropriate intervention strategy (Mullins, 2002).
Impact on strategy
The learning & development practitioner needs to take into account actual cultural patterns in different parts of the organisation, as well as the organisation as a whole, when devising and negotiating plans. He or she also needs to ensure that his/her own behaviour models congruence with the ideals implied in learning & development publicity and information in order to avoid similar credibility gaps to those described above.
Where strong culture is evident, learning & development strategy will need to be carefully designed, developed and delivered in a manner consistent with that culture if it is to be accepted by stakeholders. Where maximum decision-making authority has been delegated to team level, for instance, the learning & development practitioner will need to consider who (e.g. the individual, the team leader, the team as a whole, the learning & development team) has responsibility and authority to define/resource/deliver the team’s learning priorities.
Where an organisation has a weak culture at a corporate level, learning & development strategy will need to take into account the distinctive characteristics of each individual team/group sub-culture and ensure that its own intervention strategy is sufficiently diverse and bespoke in nature to match different preferences and styles. This can, of course, create difficulties when organisation-wide programmes or communiqués are required.
When team functions and processes within an organisation are interdependent, effective inter-teamworking is likely to be a key matter of OD concern (French & Bell, 1995; Schein, 1988). Language used to describe sub-cultural structures and entities can carry and reinforce its own cultural messages: team, for instance,conveys togetherness whereas depart-ment contains implicit messages of separation. Learning & development interventions will, therefore, need to use language and methods that reinforce desired cultural values.
Interestingly, issues and dynamics encountered at inter-team level often parallel those at intra-team (especially in multi-disciplinary teams) and corporate levels (e.g. in corporate alliances: Crainer & Dearlove, 2001). Learning & development strategy can contribute to an organisation’s learning culture, therefore, by enabling learning at any one of these levels of an organisation’s experience to be transferred to support learning and development at others. Ideas and expertise from the knowledge management field (e.g. learning reviews, intranet technology, communities of practice) can helpfully inform learning & development strategy in this area (see ten Have et al, 2003; Lambert, 2003; Harrison, 2002).
Impact on culture
Learning & development can help bridge gaps between espoused and actual culture by modelling behaviour and designing interventions that support aspired culture (Peters, 1988), both in terms of what those interventions are (e.g. content/type/composition) and how they are developed and delivered (Mayo, 1998). An example in a team-orientated context might be to ensure that, as a matter of principle and ethos, all learning & development interventions are designed and delivered in explicit collaboration with key stakeholders. Learning & development practitioners operating in internal consultant mode can also help raise awareness of potential organisational implications of prevailing culture/sub-cultures and advise on change strategies where they might be needed (Mayo, 1998; Phillips & Shaw, 1998).
Definition: an organisational system with many different interdependent parts, each capable of changing independently and, therefore, by implication of changing the system as a whole. In shorthand, complexity = diversity + change.
Examples of complex organisational characteristics may include, for instance, staff employed from diverse professional disciplines and/or national cultures; staff engaged in a diverse range of task areas and processes; organisational sub-groups changing in different ways and at different times (Phillips & Shaw, 1998). A degree of complexity can provide vital opportunity for interaction and synergy of contrasting ideas and perspectives, enabling the organisation to respond to its environment with flexibility, creativity and innovation. Conversely, a high degree of complexity can engender confusion, political conflict and burnout (Brown, 1995). The following complexity-related questions are, therefore, of particular interest for learning & development strategy:
What kinds of diversity are evident in the organisation? How do different parts of the organisation respond to change? What are the potential impacts of complexity on learning & development strategy? What impact with learning & development interventions have on organisational complexity?
Diversity implies variety and distinction. Examples may include difference in gender, culture, age, expertise and learning style (Harrison, 2002). OD analysis of diversity typically seeks to (a) identify differences in specific parts/levels of the organisation and the organisation as a whole and (b) gain insight into what happens when they interact (French & Bell, 1995; Schein, 1988). The Christian organisations that I work with predominantly tend to base their teamwork and diversity models, affirming differentiation, interdependence and unity, on a Biblical analogy with the human body:
‘The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body… Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? …If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don't need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ’I don't need you!’…so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.’ (1 Corinthians 12:12-26)
The body analogy illustrates how questions of diversity are linked closely to an organisation’s core identity and ethos. Interestingly, growing impacts of globalisation mean that, whether an organisation’s learning & development strategy is driven by ethical, legal or practical considerations, diversity is increasingly likely to prove a central matter of strategic concern.
Organisations, too, face such rapid and on-going change that the maxim, ‘Nothing is constant except change’ (Rothwell & Kazanas, 1994 pix)has come to describe a central tenet of organisational life. My impression is that three types of change culture are prevalent currently: planned (strategy-oriented), organic (complexity-oriented) and pragmatic (contingency-oriented), each determining how an organisation’s decision-makers are likely to respond to change (cf Mintzberg et al, 1998; Peters, 1994). I will describe these cultures and their respective practice implications for learning & development strategy in further detail under ‘implications of change cultures’ below.
Impact on strategy
In the midst of turbulent, anxiety-provoking external environments and in an attempt to ensure consistency, stability and cohesion, organisations often choose homogeneous/syncretic approaches rather than those supporting diversity. Examples include staff recruitment criteria that perpetuate current norms, training opportunities that reflect one learning style, procedures (e.g. protocols for meetings) that reinforce the dominant cultural/gender bias. Ironically, conservative approaches such as these can inadvertently lead to blinkered perspectives, inflexibility and, as a result, increased organisational vulnerability (Mullins, 2002; Crainer & Dearlove, 2001; West, 1994).
This dichotomy presents a very real dilemma for organisational leadership and learning & development practitioners alike in their attempts to balance the need for continual progress with corresponding degrees of safety and continuity (Mullins, 2002; Mintzberg et al, 1998). Stacey (1993) comments insightfully that, ‘(an) organisation... faces the paradox of needing consistency and stability in order to conduct its existing business in an efficient day-to-day manner, and also needing to shatter that consistency and stability in order to generate creative new moves... Success…is [therefore] a creative, innovative process that requires exposure to and management of contradiction’ (p101). In order to maximise the benefits of diversity, therefore, a learning & development strategy that incorporates training and mentoring/coaching support for leaders/teams in the ‘management of contradiction’ is likely to prove of critical value (Harrison, 2002; Peters, 1988).
A second implication for learning & development strategy is that when an organisation feels vulnerable or, conversely, very secure, it may well become risk-averse in order to avoid destabilising the status quo. In the former case, learning & development interventions that help reduce anxiety (e.g. career coaching with a focus on transferable skills) can help create the openness and confidence needed for development to take place (Hersey et al, 2001). In the latter case, interventions aimed at precipitating radical self-reflection, innovation and change may help the organisation avoid falling into unconscious complacency (Crainer & Dearlove, 2001; Peters, 1988). Diversity can be helpful in both cases, providing the organisation with opportunity to explore its experience and options from a wide range of perspectives before moving forward (Pollar & Gonzales, 1994).
Implications of change cultures
I have implied above that, when faced with change, the nature of the predominant culture will affect an organisation’s response. The learning & development practitioner needs, therefore, to be sensitive in each instance to: (a) whom in the organisation to engage with in order to ensure effective strategy-integration, (b) the terms within which learning & development perspectives and ideas will need to be presented and (c) the type of interventions that will engender positive change (Mayo, 1998).
If the dominant organisational culture is planned, logical frameworks are likely to abound with SMART objectives and detailed plans that mitigate against risk. The intention behind this approach is to achieve the organisation’s vision through management of tightly-controlled, pre-defined, goal-orientated objectives, roles and procedures. This culture is, typically, most responsive to formal, concise facts, information and statistics, especially when these are presented using that culture’s own concepts and terminology. Learning & development initiatives must be described succinctly and explain clearly how they will contribute to fulfilment of strategic objectives. Formal reports, Powerpoint presentations and OHP acetates are likely to be preferred forms of communication.
If the dominant culture is organic, participative processes are likely to feature with as least as much prominence as task objectives. The intention behind this approach is to fulfil the organisation’s vision by harnessing the natural interests, expertise and energy of staff/teams in such a way that strategy emerges naturally from human interaction. This culture is, typically, most responsive to discussion, exploratory conversation and collaborative working. Learning & development initiatives must be presented in tentative terms, open to amendment/improvement and paying explicit attention to relationships and processes alongside intended goals/outcomes. Unilateral action strategies that drive forward change without a degree of consensus beforehand are likely to be resisted. Discussion, brainstorming and mind-mapping are likely to be preferred forms of communication.
If the dominant culture is pragmatic, vision is likely to be expressed in general terms and strategy in the form of tactical methods and provisional, short-term goals (Crainer & Dearlove, 2001; Peters, 1998). The intention of this approach is to grow and succeed by capitalising on whatever appropriate opportunities may be discovered and created on route to achieving its vision. This culture is, typically, most responsive to brief chats over coffee that have an explicit emphasis on immediate action and innovation. Learning & development initiatives must be presented in creative form that will communicate and generate energy, enthusiasm and cutting-edge challenge/opportunity. Flipcharts, coloured post-it notes and desk-based presentations are likely to be preferred forms of communication.
Impact on complexity
Learning & development interventions can support diversity directly (e.g. running development programmes in diversity management) and indirectly (e.g. by inviting diverse representatives from different parts of the organisation into the same learning & development arenas) (Sonnenschein, 1999). A critical success factor in this latter case is the presence and ability of an independent facilitator to help participants communicate and work positively together across natural ‘boundaries’ (e.g. of language, profession, gender, national culture). This facilitator role is sometimes performed by the learning & development practitioner him or herself, acting in consultant mode.
Learning & development can, too, provide valuable OD-related consultancy (coaching and advice) to organisational decision-makers during change-planning and implementation, helping to ensure that complexity is appropriately regarded as a central strategy consideration (Mayo, 1998; Phillips & Shaw, 1998).
Definition: The ability of an organisation to acquire, develop and deploy the resources needed to fulfil its mission. In shorthand, capability = resource + opportunity.
Resources are, broadly-speaking, those things capable of deployment for an organisation’s benefit; for example, staff expertise, financial capital and technology. Opportunity is often expressed in terms of technical or relational infrastructure as the conduit through which deployment can be effected; for example, relationships, systems and team/organisational processes (Harrison, 2002). The following capability-related questions are, therefore, of particular interest for learning & development strategy:
What resources does the organisation have and need for the future? What opportunities exist for resources to be deployed, and where are the blocks (Mullins, 2002; Hersey et al, 2001)? What are the potential impacts of organisational capability on learning & development strategy? What impact with learning & development interventions have on organisational capability?
People resource development is probably where the majority of learning & development practitioners feel most familiar and confident. Traditional areas of learning & development/HRD interest are: (a) training geared to immediate improvements in job performance, (b) education geared to intermediate change in capabilities and (c) development geared to more general and longer-term improvement in the individual (Rothwell & Kazanas, 1994). Distinctions are drawn between (a) development of the individual and (b) changes required to the context within which the individual is working. This latter emphasis is reflected in, for instance, National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) which helpfully acknowledge mutuality between individual and workplace competence.
More recent emphases on competitive advantage have added considerable impetus to the learning & development field (ten Have et al, 2003). Organisational learning, the ability of an organisation to learn and apply learning, is now considered widely as a strategic imperative (Harrison, 2002; Crainer & Dearlove, 2001). The learning & development strategist needs, therefore, to think beyond simple personal development to incorporate the learning and development needs of the organisation, moving beyond individual learning to examine implications for the organisation as a whole; for example, from “What worked well in this project?” to “Was this the right project?” (Mullins, 2002 & Crainer, 1998; Phillips & Shaw, 1998).
Not surprisingly, therefore, the ability to learn and apply learning is now regarded as a critical organisational/employee competency area (Lambert, 2003; Crainer, 1998). Individual competencies may need to be defined, therefore, to represent not only what knowledge and skills might be required to fulfil individual job roles but also what attitudes and abilities might be needed to generate and share learning across wider teams, groups and organisation.
The learning & development practitioner needs, too, to consider what organisational characteristics will support or inhibit individual/organisational learning and to ensure that those characteristics are addressed as tactical priorities (Hardingham, 1996; Bolman & Deal, 1991). Unless assets can be successfully released, resource capabilities exist in potential only. The worst case scenario is an organisation potentially rich in knowledge assets but unable to deploy them because they are not clearly identified, held in the wrong parts of the organisation or untapped because staff feel too demotivated to use them. An important OD challenge for an organisation is, therefore, how to capitalise on strengths, develop new resources and create the right opportunities and climate for effective ‘release’.
Examples of common characteristics that support and/or inhibit organisational learning include: the degree to which leaders and employees genuinely recognise the benefits of learning and/or potential risks if learning is not prioritised; flexibility of structures to allow cross-pollenation/sharing of expertise and ideas (e.g. via cross-departmental projects, cross-disciplinary matrix teams: Peters, 1988); formal systems, processes and facilities that promote and enable organisational learning (e.g. periodic learning reviews, knowledge management systems, intranet/internet communities of practice); a culture where learning, inter-team collaboration and innovation are rewarded (West, 1997 cf Morgan 1997; Bolman & Deal, 1991); opportunities whereby learning is routinely sought and applied to influence strategy, policy and decision-making (Mayo, 1998).
Impact on strategy
The learning & development practitioner can add significant value by incorporating internal consultancy (coaching and advice) into his/her role, enabling organisational decision-makers to reflect on learning priorities, resources, opportunities and strategies in light of OD considerations (e.g. impacts of globalisation on organisational culture; effects of post-modern culture on employees; engagement in strategic alliances; working cross-nationally/culturally; developing the learning potentiality of digital technologies; dealing with long-term implications of continual change) (Mayo, 1998; Phillips & Shaw, 1998).
Learning & development practitioners can, too, help raise awareness of resource capacities and deficits (e.g. knowledge, skills), provide direct services (e.g. training, mentoring) and liaise between leaders and staff/teams if capabilities are perceived to be under-developed, static or diminishing. It is a combination of these interventions that will provide strategic learning & development impact on capability at organisation-wide levels (Rothwell & Kazanas, 1994).
Impact on capability
The potential benefits of learning & development interventions on organisational capability may at first seem obvious and yet, nevertheless often prove difficult to quantify adequately when reporting (Mayo, 2003 & 1995). This is usually because, when learning & development moves beyond provision of basic hard skills support (e.g. training in computer skills) to less structured, developmental interventions (e.g. coaching, action-learning, networking), it is notoriously difficult to prove causal relationships between interventions and subsequent specific outcomes.
Employee X, for example, returns from a developmental placement on secondment and there is a noticeable improvement in the quality of his/her work. The improvement could be, however, explained by a variety of factors; for example, new skills learned on secondment, improved motivation/loyalty having being granted opportunity to do a secondment, relief at being back in his/her team after a terrible experience on secondment, skills learned in spite of being on secondment, changes in the team that now make work more enjoyable.
I find it valuable, therefore, to work alongside key stakeholders to (a) consider what improvements are desired, (b) identify what factors might contribute to/undermine that improvement, (c) co-design an agreed intervention strategy and (d) evaluate its impact together. Formal service agreements may also be introduced that identify each stakeholder’s respective contribution to the overall development process. This method allows inclusion of a broad range of retrospective input to establish correlation between interventions and outcomes, even if strictly causal relationships are not easily demonstrated (see Mayo, 1995).
Definition: The prevailing atmosphere throughout an organisation that reflects level of morale, strength of feeling of belonging, care/goodwill among employees and general sense of well-being. In shorthand, climate = feeling + orientation.
Climate describes the collective psychological, emotional and spiritual state of employees, the corporate ‘mood’, what if feels like to be part of an organisation (Mullins, 2002; West, 1997). Climate can have a powerful effect on organisational health and capability expressed in energy, inspiration, motivation and commitment on the one hand or stress, depression, absenteeism and high staff turnover on the other (Lambert, 2003; Kahn & Byosiere, 1992). Climate change in different parts of the organisation and at different times are a natural part of the ebb and flow of ordinary life. When, however, a climate change is (a) principally negative, (b) widespread and (c) chronic, it will be important to have mechanisms in place to detect changes before they reach crisis point.
The following climate-related questions are of particular interest for learning & development strategy:
What is the current climate in the organisation? Is there a general climate or does it vary in different parts/levels of the organisation? What are the potential impacts of climate on learning & development strategy? What impact will learning & development interventions have on organisational climate?
One of the most commonly-used climate-monitoring tools is a staff survey carried out by consultants using questionnaires, interviews and/or focus groups (Warr, 2002). Standard indicators are defined which can be tested at regular intervals (e.g. annually) in order to track changes. Common indicators include whether: corporate goals resonate with those held by staff, staff feel heard and involved in appropriate decision-making, trust is experienced between different levels in the organisation, psychological contracts are honoured, opportunities for development are provided (Mullins, 2002). The learning & development practitioner can provide insight in these areas too, identifying common issues arising in learning requests/events and reporting related underlying patterns to relevant decision-makers.
General or localised
Climate often feels different in different parts/strata of an organisation and at different times. One organisation I worked with suffered a climate change at middle-management levels of such magnitude that it almost precipitated something akin to an organisational ice age. The change in mood, which had powerful impacts on middle-management behaviour (diminished communication, working to rule, resignations) resulted primarily from the introduction of a new director with a radically different leadership style to that of his predecessor. Interestingly, the change was largely contained within that one hierarchical stratum and most employees in the wider organisation were relatively unaffected.
By contrast, another organisation I worked with went through a very low period when certain high-profile members of staff were killed in an air crash. The climate change was marked in that instance but only for a fixed period of time. I have also experienced occasions on which a significant climate change has taken place within me, as consultant, owing to pressures in my own life. It is very important in such situations to distinguish carefully between our own experience and that of the wider organisation with which we are engaged, although, on occasion, the two may coincide (Quade & Brown, 2002).
The learning & development practitioner needs, therefore, to be cautious about generalising of climate patterns and changes on the basis of experience, observation and/or feedback in just one location or at one specific time.
Impact on strategy
Having identified possible changes in climate, the relative intangibility of climate itself makes it nevertheless very difficult to manage. This is principally because, as Rentsch (cited in Mullins, 2002) comments, ‘…organisational members perceive and make sense of organisational policies, practices and procedures in psychologically meaningful terms’ (p809). Bolman & Deal (1991) reiterate this phenomenon: ‘What is most important about any event is not what happened, but what it means. Events and meanings are loosely coupled: the same events can have very different meanings for different people because of differences in the schema that they use to interpret their experience’ (p244). Even the most positive, well-meaning and carefully-planned interventions can go horribly wrong if misunderstood by those with different subjective perspectives and expectations.
There are, nevertheless, a number of steps that can help contribute to building the conditions under which a positive and healthy climate may be created and sustained (e.g. Warr, 2002; Katzell & Thompson, 1995). These include:
Relationship: treat all employees fairly with care, openness and respect.
Exposure: expose employees to customers/stakeholders directly in order to see and hear first-hand their interests and concerns.
Partnership: involve employees in organisation/system-wide tasks and decision-making to encourage buy-in to the ‘whole’.
Participation: enable participation by providing resources/training that enable employees to input effectively.
Relevance: involve employees in the design of organisational systems and processes to ensure they support real work tasks, priorities and ‘felt’ aspirations/concerns.
Clarity: provide clarity on respective roles, responsibilities, authorities and expectations, both within and between teams.
Evaluation: test successive prototypes of new systems with employees as testers, observers and/or advisers.
Reward: design systems that encourage and reward suggestions for improvement by employees and teams at every level in the organisation.
Results: Ensure that employees are able to see explicit linkages between their own work efforts and the resulting success/failure of the team/organisation as a whole.
The learning & development practitioner can provide internal consultancy support to leaders/teams on organisational process and change that incorporates each of these steps (Mayo, 1998; Phillips & Shaw, 1998; Schein, 1988). The practitioner can also use this type of checklist to test learning & development strategy and interventions too, in order to ensure that they are broadly consistent with the same principles; for example, by providing appropriate opportunities for participation in learning design, implementation and evaluation (Hardingham, 1996).
Impact on climate
In those respects described above, learning & development can help create the conditions under which the possibility of a favourable climate is maximised. Significantly, learning & development interventions per se can symbolise an organisation’s commitment to staff, even in harsh conditions where other factors (e.g. changes in work practices) could precipitate climate changes of a more adverse nature (Bolman & Deal, 1991).
One organisation I worked with introduced, as part of a significant change process, a wide-scale development programme in leadership and teamworking that involved all leaders and staff learning together over an 18-month period. Staff commented in retrospect that, although the training programme had been helpful in terms of new knowledge and skills, the most impressive aspect of the initiative was the serious corporate commitment it signalled to ‘learning together’ in order to address challenges of the future. The relationships built between leaders, staff and teams at that time continue to provide important organisational benefits some 5 years later.
Learning & development strategy and communications ought, therefore, to consider implicit messages that nature, timing and composition of interventions can convey. As a general rule of thumb, I find it helpful to consider: (a) every action as an intervention and (b) what each intervention might mean at both rational and symbolic levels (Bolman & Deal, 1991). My own experience suggests that it’s the symbolic level that almost invariably has the greatest impact on climate and culture.
We have seen above what each dimension of the ‘4C Dynamic Model’ presents and examples of potential implications for learning & development strategy. I will present a case example below to illustrate how dimensions interact and exert reciprocal influence in practice. The Model is inherently complex and this implies that a comprehensive learning & development strategy requires a corresponding degree of sophistication, too.
Organisation X is fairly hierarchical and bureaucratic in nature but has decided to move towards a flatter, team-based structure in order to enable greater flexibility and capacity for change. The senior management acknowledges that the shift to teamworking will imply a radical culture change. It also acknowledges that teamworking will increase the complexity of certain organisational processes and that new capabilities will be required in order to make the new structure function effectively. It perceives that the organisational climate is generally stable and positive and so decides to call a corporate conference to announce the changes.
[Implied 4C dimensions and dynamics are intertwined throughout this scenario and presented in abbreviated, superscript form below: cu = culture; co = complexity; ca = capability; cl = climate]:
The senior management[cu] is inexperienced[ca] in participative leadership[cu] and announces the conference without having consulted[cu] its department heads first[cu]. Some department heads[co] resent[cl] this imposition[cu] and others[co] are fearful[cl] of what might be expected of them[ca]. One or two department heads[co] are, however, excited[cl] about what the changes could mean for the organisation[cu] and enthuse[cl] to their staff[cu] accordingly.
The conference arrives and the chief executive announces[cu] the changes without any opportunity for staff to respond or input[cu]. This causes some staff[co] to feel cynical[cl] about the announcement, wondering what the style of presentation[cu] models in terms of ‘team-working’[cu]. Some staff return to work feeling very hopeful[cl] about the future but quickly find themselves at odds with others[co] who don’t share their optimism[cl].
The pro-change lobby organises itself into project teams[cu] in order to move things forward. They are not sure[ca], however, how to feed their ideas into the change process[cu] and so sometimes[co] feel frustrated[cl]. One department head[co] arranges training[ca] for her staff in matrix teamworking[cu/ca] to help them learn[cu] how to work across different functional areas[co]. Motivation improves[cl] in that department[com] to such a degree that other department heads[co] begin to follow suit.
One or two department heads[co], however, are still angry[cl] at not having been consulted[cu] by senior management and, in order to demonstrate their dissatisfaction, refuse[cl] to provide any encouragement[cl] or training[ca] for their staff. Staff in those departments[co] become disillusioned[cl] and assume[cu] this proves the organisation is not serious about the proposed changes. This also creates certain process difficulties[ca] when engaging with departments[co] that have moved towards teamworking[cu].
Two years later, the organisation is fragmented[cu] with strong sub-cultures throughout[co], each vying for influence[co] and, as a result, undermining organisational effectiveness[ca] as a whole. Owing to resulting loss of productivity[ca] and diminishing staff morale[cl], the board[cu] asks the chief executive to resign.
The most valuable strategic input that learning & development could provide in this type of scenario is, perhaps, internal consultancy (coaching and advice) to leaders from very early planning stages through to implementation, drawing attention to the 4C dimensions and potentially escalating/cascading effects of change interventions owing to 4C dynamics (Mayo, 1998; Phillips & Shaw, 1998; Schein, 1988). Learning & development strategy itself needs to be holistic, supporting development in each dimension simultaneously whilst allowing sufficient flexibility to adapt as unexpected conditions arise.
Learning & development can, too, provide internal consultancy and direct services (e.g. training, coaching, action learning) to wider departments/groups, teams and individuals involved in and/or affected by change. I witnessed the particular benefits of this recently when approached by a human resources specialist during a major organisational change process. Using the ‘4C Dynamic Model’, we were able to work together to identify critical success factors and appropriate interventions that would have been otherwise overlooked.
An OD perspective provides the learning & development practitioner with opportunity to both engage in and step back from change in order to provide strategic insight and support.
We have seen that learning & development has grown markedly in recent years in terms of its role and potential for strategic impact. This growth has, generally, reflected increases in complexity of internal and external organisational environments, especially in light of advancing globalisation. One of the most significant developments within the learning & development function has been a gradual progression from training provider to training & development manager to learning & development (OD) consultant, indicative of a shift in organisational focus from individual-only to organisational-level learning. This has broad practice implications for learning & development studies/qualifications, institutes, professional roles, structural positioning and marketing of services.
We have also seen how OD can provide a valuable conceptual platform upon which to build learning & development strategy, drawing particular attention to what we have described here as 4C dimensions and dynamics. These factors have a profound impact on an organisation’s ability to fulfil its mission, vision and strategy yet often go unnoticed or are tackled on a superficial or piecemeal basis. Learning & development can provide valuable input by raising awareness of these factors and their practice implications, helping decision-makers to strategise accordingly, and providing carefully-targeted interventions to support positive change.
Finally, we have noted that the learning & development practitioner needs to take careful account of the 4C factors when planning his/her intervention strategy, ensuring congruence between what is advised and what its own approach conveys in practice. The ‘4C Dynamic Model’ can provide a helpful practical tool for this purpose, too. In the final analysis, it is a conscious combination of various learning & development interventions that will help ensure genuine added value at strategic levels – and organisational transformation of a genuine kind.
Atkinson, P. (2003) ‘Reality Testing: Strategies for a Political and Behavioural Change Process’, Training Journal, October, Ely, Fenman. Bolman, L. & Deal, T. (1991) Reframing Organisations, California, Jossey-Bass. Bridges, W. (1995) Managing Transitions, London, Addison-Wesley. Brown, L. (1995) ‘Managing Conflict Among Groups’, in Kolb et al (1995). CIPD (2003) Training & Development 2003 – Survey Report, London, CIPD. Crainer, S. (1998) Key Management Ideas, London, Pearson. Crainer, S. & Dearlove, D. (2001) Handbook of Management, London, Pearson. Flood, R. (1999) Rethinking the Fifth Discipline, New York, Routledge. French, W. & Bell, C. (1995) Organisation Development, New Jersey, Prentice Hall. Hardingham, A. (1996) Designing Training, London, CIPD. Hardingham, A. (1998) Psychology for Trainers, London, CIPD. Harrison, R. (2002) Learning & Development, London, CIPD. Hersey, P., Blanchard, K. & Johnson, D. (2001) Management of Organisational Behaviour, New Jersey, Prentice-Hall. Huczynski, A. & Buchanan, D. (1991) Organisational Behaviour, London, Prentice Hall. Kahn, R. & Byosiere, P. (1992) ‘Stress in Organisations’, in Kolb et al (1995). Kanter, R. (1984) ‘Managing the Human Side of Change’, in Kolb et al (1995). Katzell, R. & Thompson, D. (1995) ‘Work Motivation’, in Kolb et al (1995). Kolb, D., Osland, J. & Rubin, I. (1995). The Organisational Behaviour Reader, New Jersey, Prentice Hall. Lambert, T. (2003) Key Management Questions, London, Pearson. Leigh, A. (2001) 20 Ways to Manage Better, London, CIPD. Martin, J. (1992) Cultures in Organisations, New York, Oxford University Press. Mayo, A. (2003) ‘A Problem Always with Us?’, Training Journal, October, Ely, Fenman. Mayo, A. (1998) Creating a Training & Development Strategy, London, CIPD. Mayo, A. (1995) ‘Economic Indicators of HRM’, in Tyson (1995). Mintzberg, H., Ahlstrand, B. & Lampel, J. (1998) Strategy Safari, London, Pearson Education. Morgan, G. (1997) Images of Organisation, London, Sage. Mullins, L. (2002) Management & Organisational Behaviour, Harlow, Pearson Education. O’Connor J. & McDermott I. (1997) The Art of Systems Thinking, London, Thorsons. Peters, T. (1988) Thriving on Chaos, London, Macmillan. Peters, T. & Austin, N. (1994) A Passion for Excellence, London, Harper Collins. Phillips, K. & Shaw, P. (1998) A Consultancy Approach for Trainers & Developers, Aldershot, Gower. Pollar, O. & Gonzales, R. (1994) Dynamics of Diversity – Strategic Programmes for Your Organisation, California, Crisp Publications. Quade, K. & Brown, R. (2002) The Conscious Consultant, New York, Jossey-Bass. Rothwell, W. & Kazanas, H. (1994) Human Resource Development – A Strategic Approach, Massachusetts, HRD Press. Schein, E. (1992) Organisational Culture and Leadership, San Francisco, Jossey-Bass. Schein, E. (1988) Process Consultation (Vol 1), New York, Addison-Wesley. Senge, P. (1990) The Fifth Discipline, London, Random House. Sonnenschein, W. (1999) The Diversity Toolkit, Chicago, Contemporary Books. Stacey, R. (1993) Strategic Management and Organisational Dynamics, London, Pitman. ten Have, S., ten Have, W. & Stevens, F. (2003) Key Management Models, London, Pearson. Tyson, S. (Ed) (1995) Strategic Prospects for HRM, London, CIPD. The Bible. (1998) New International Version, London, Hodder & Stoughton. Warr, P. (2002) Psychology at Work, London, Penguin. West, M. (1997) Developing Creativity in Organisations, Leicester, British Psychological Society. West, M. (1994) Effective Teamwork, Leicester, British Psychological Society.
 OD is a behavioural science-based approach to understanding and intervening in organisations (‘By...behavioural science we mean insights from the sciences dedicated to understanding people in organisations, how they function and how they can function better. OD applies knowledge and theory. Therefore, in addition to the behavioural sciences such as psychology, social psychology, sociology and so on…applied disciplines such as adult education, psychotherapy, social work, economics and political science have contributions to make to the practice of OD.’) (French & Bell, 1995 p32).
 Take for instance candidate X attending a training course in time management. It’s one thing to say, “This course will provide candidate X with techniques aimed at helping her manage her time more effectively.” It’s quite another thing to guarantee that, as a result of attending the course, candidate X will now complete all her work assignments on time.
 There are important learning & development policy and practice implications here (see Mayo, 1998).
 Assuming, of course, that there is congruence between aspired organisational culture and the personal/professional values of the learning & development practitioner him or herself (cf Hardingham, 1998 p13).