Volume 6 • Number 3 • Fall 2009
By Elham Assadi
I have a beautiful view of oak trees and the surrounding mountains from my office, and I use this view to relax my eyes and refresh my thoughts. Sometimes, during these brief moments I reflect on the impact technology has had on my life and my practice.
I’m sure many of us remember the Jetsons and the Flintstones, two prime-time animated television series produced by Hanna-Barbera in the 60s. While the Flintstones lived in a world with machines powered by birds and dinosaurs, the Jetsons lived in a futuristic utopia of elaborate robotic contraptions, aliens, holograms, and whimsical inventions. In the 60s, many of the ideas conveyed in the Jetsons seemed too far-fetched to ever become a reality.
As a child I wondered what it would be like to live as the Jetsons did and I laughed at the experiences portrayed on the Flintstones. Little did I realize that in my lifetime technology would change as much as it did between these two programs. Each of us remembers an era when telephones were a series of wires strung across the country, memos and letters took days to reach their destination and music came on tapes that would rip apart when played too often. Over the same time period, computers were so large they filled an entire office. They were expensive to operate and were used for a very limited number of applications. Sounds like the Flintstones when compared with cell phones, email and CD or DVD and powerful computers the size of your thumbnail.
But the reality is that many of the ideas portrayed by Hanna-Barbera have come into everyday use. For example, I have an eleven-year-old niece who does everything from school research to distributing her Christmas wish list on line. She forwards me weekly emails that entail jokes, stories, or large amounts of content sent to her by others, but we chat together on line daily as soon as she gets home from school. Remember when email was the latest technology for communications? We used it when we couldn’t reach each other via phone. Email is no longer a communication tool but rather a tool for sharing information – lots of information. I remember working as the director of training and development for a CEM firm (contract electronics manufacturing) where I went to my office at 7AM and at times did not get home till 10PM – that is how long it took to catch up with the 400 emails I received on an average day. Today, I find I get a much more rapid response using instant messaging (IM). My niece having been raised with technology at her fingertips, has embraced her virtual life. I have approached it more slowly.
What does this evolving technological environment mean to OD practitioners? What does it mean to those of us who are the managers of change and promoters of human interaction?
In my experience OD practitioners map easily into one of three categories with regard to integrating technological advancements into the practice of OD.
Resistors are uncomfortable with change and will do what they can to fight it and push back on it.
Equilibriums may try new technology, but are good with the minimal technology utilization.
Catalysts actively promote new technology.
How Do We Get Ready?
Technology is changing the way we work, and our role as OD practitioners is NOT to stop technology but to take advantage of it. What follows are the simple steps I used to move into the future.
Step 1) Sense what is emerging: OD’s Transformation Path…
In one of his books, Ed Nevis talks about a healthy Circle of Experience starting with a sensation. Someone senses something is happening. They might or might not be aware of what that is, and they might or might not be enthused about it, but action will take place and change is inevitable. And of course, there is learning to be obtained from that change and then the next sensation will come about.
At Sedaa Consulting we notice these change indicators:
Comments such as “OD is dying”, “We need to change the name of OD”, “Reinventing OD” and so on
OD practitioners’ hesitation when technology became a mitigating factor for interaction
Lack of clients’ enthusiasm in working with OD related projects
Visible gap between the industry and an OD practitioner’s comfort level with technology
Visible gap between the younger generation technology endorsed skill development vs. the OD practitioner’s skill sets
Our clientele is the global community of OD professionals. Based on our observations, our clients are facing a new learning opportunity – a new Circle of Experience. We came up with this short list of objectives we wanted technology to help us address with our clientele:
Creating and driving a global OD community
Taking practitioners’ skills to the next level
Establishing credentials for senior practitioners
Creating a global presence and connection with cultural sensitivity
Becoming a recognized global resource for talent recruitment with major companies
Promoting efficient and effective use of technology in the field of Human Behavior and OD
Providing services that fill the gap for a globally connected OD community.
Step 2) Partner with the Energy: OD the Problem Solver…
With the exception of those in the Philippines, OD Practitioners have been slow to embrace social networking technology. So I was in good company. The questions remained: What are the emerging technologies? Who is using what? And how do we partner with this energy to provide better counsel to our clients?
Linked-In and Facebook are the two most commonly used technologies in the OD community. Where they excel is in the realm of social networking. They don’t lend themselves to building an on-line community. Social networks are open to everyone, but a community, on-line community or otherwise, will not exist without the participation of its members and cannot be sustained without a common purpose. Our on-line community needed to integrate processes within its infrastructure that promoted its members’ participation. Today we have more than 82 OD Practitioners in 12 countries and a platform that is robust enough for everyone to share knowledge about best practices. Ultimately we created an environment that integrated human processes and requirements that reinforce certain behaviors that eventually result in habit changes and adoption.
Step 3) Impacting the Future
Organizational Development, like the enterprises served is dynamic, but clients will continue to resist working on OD related projects. Practitioners need to do everything they can to minimize the perceived gap between our use and the client’s use of technology if they are going to affect the future. So let’s leverage our strengths. OD practitioners may not be too comfortable with technology, but by nature we are great networkers, collaborators and transformers of knowledge. Many of us have already embraced social networking as a tool for staying connected. Comfort with online networking and connections will lead some to experiment with more challenging habit changes such as knowledge sharing, online learning and growth. From here it is an easy step to more challenging programs like on-line collaboration.
This will include usage of other tools, such as on-line project management, coaching, performing on-line event facilitations, on-line brainstorming, and more…
About the Author
Elham Assadi, MOD is the founder of Global Brain Trust and the founder and CEO of Sedaa Consulting. Elham is an expert in the adoption of social networking and online community development. She has over 15 years of experience in Organizational Change Management, Organization and Leadership Development, Learning and Development Consultation, and related disciplines. Elham holds a Masters in Organization Development Psychology from Sonoma State University. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.