Archive for June, 2014

Weisbord’s OD History: A Snippet supporting “Whole System”

June 25, 2014

 Getting Everyone Improving the Whole

In the 1980s, inspired by conversations with Eric Trist and Ron Lippitt, (One of  Roland’s main mentors),  I found myself seeking to marry participation to Socio-Technical principles.  A series of projects I reported in Productive Workplaces led me inexorably  toward a scary conclusion.  If we truly wanted to realize values for workplaces in which productivity rested on the bedrock of dignity, meaning and community, we needed to figure out how to get  EVERYBODY IMPROVING WHOLE SYSTEMS.  I noticed that in successful cases there was an attractive goal, a leader with an itch to scratch, and some energized people who had both expertise and commitment.

I also derived  a few “minimum critical specifications”  for effective OD:  get the whole system in the room; focus on the future rather than the problem list; and set things up so that people could do the work themselves, using the skills and experience they already had. If every human deficiency had to be remedied with training before people could implement a new workplace, nobody would ever get a new workplace.

Over time, I came to understand “whole system in the room”  as people with authority, information, resources, expertise in need. When we convene such diverse groups, we effectively redefined a system’s boundaries. That was a giant step beyond diagramming “environmental demands”  on the flipchart ( a technique Roland learned from Beckhard).  People who are each other’s environment shared what they knew. Everyone came to understand the whole in a way that no one person had done a few days earlier. Through this was a structural intervention, paradoxically, many people voluntarily change their behavior.

This  phenomenon,  I believe, is the key to the success of today’s “large group interventions.”  (ABSOLUTELY SAYS; ROLAND) These structures provide opportunities for people to act in new ways.  They tilt the power balance. Then enable fluid coalitions in real-time. Most require no training. They turn “systems thinking”  into an experiential rather than a conceptual activity. They enable everybody to discover for a few hours, or a few days or a few months, how to use what they already have on behalf of a goal larger than themselves.

I put these ideas into practice experimentally for more than 30 years. Every time I ran a workshop, I saw something I had never seen before. Sandra Janoff, my Future Search Network partner for more than two decades,  and many other colleagues ( including yours truly, Roland)  are deeply engaged in this work as I write.  Their collective efforts, and yours, constitute the present for me.



 Techniques to Match to Our Values:

An Idiosyncratic History

Of Organization Development

To be published  2015 by Sullivan, Stavros and Rothwell in Practicing Organization Development: Leading Change and Transformation, Fourth Edition

This essay iterates, paraphrases, and elaborates on themes from Productive Workplaces: Dignity, Meaning and Community in the 21st Century , 3rd Edition (2012).

Postscripts by Roland.

1.  Now that Dr. Argyris is dancing in the heavens, Marvin, in my mind, is the senior living most influential organization development professional today.

2. This is a first in a long series of excerpts from our upcoming Fourth Edition  of  Practicing   Organization Development: Leading Change and Transformation. I do so because Ron Lippitt , who is mentioned by Marvin, above told me personally that one of his predominant values was to “disseminate change knowledge freely”.  For those new to the profession, Dr. Lippitt  wrote the first book ever on organization change in 1957.




Purpose: Reflect on purpose in all you do

June 16, 2014

I of the hurricane-TLC Edition

All large and small group transformation events., for me, are contained around a joint writing of a purpose statement with the client system.

 See below a quote from the remarkable re-released international bestseller by Art McNeil’s Classic entitled, “The “I” of  the hurricane:  How to generate and focused corporate energy.”

#1. The Statement of Purpose

Getting senior teams to focus the meaning of their business (a super-ordinate purpose that reaches beyond turning a profit) is often a struggle. The trouble is that many executives and managers do not understand the concept—nor do they appreciate its capacity to generate corporate energy. “There’s no time for motherhood stuff—we’ve got a business to run”, is a typical response. Their debilitating industrial- age perspective prevents them from understanding what a well-articulated “statement of purpose” will trigger. When efficiency skeptics first enter the organization’s “I” it’s strange and unnerving. Getting them centered is challenging; helping them stay centered is next to impossible—as the new culture forms, the old culture must die.

For “old school” managers, creating a statement of purpose seems far removed from bottom-line results. The potential of enhancing performance using a statement of purpose usually comes as a gestalt (an ah! Ha!) for managers still caught in the debilitating embrace of outdated industrial-age habits and patterns. Gestalt can be compared to telling a joke—until the audience gets it, the whole message seems pointless. Only when the audience literally pictures the surprising punch line in their mind, will they get the joke. If the comedian has to explain the punch line, the desired outcome will be beyond reach. Marilyn Ferguson, author of The Aquarian Conspiracy, calls gestalts paradigm shifts.


When I ask executives to imagine what they are moving toward, their first response is typically to come up with a new product, or ideas for raising profit margins. Until they let go of business plans developed for use in the turbulence, they’ll never get beyond seeking solutions to current problems. But when executives follow a visioning process, invariably they start focusing energy generating insight. At the beginning, few appreciate the inherent power of a cultural-values congruent statement of purpose. When executives return from their “I” with a shared vision of a preferred future, performance miracles start happening. People from all levels of the organization begin to see solutions that weren’t previously available to them. A new culture starts growing as the old culture starts to die.

Invariably, the new and old ways of doing things will come into conflict. The culture determination zone is fraught with make or break issues that will demand tough (often unpopular) decisions. If the organization’s cultural-values, ethics platform, and process disciplines are not rigorously enforced during this volatile period, a retreat to the familiar will cause the emerging culture to fail. The CEO and a unanimously committed senior team will have to hold “toes to the fire” for a minimum of eighteen months before new collective habits (the emerging culture) will move beyond the culture determination zone and become the norm.

How to create a Statement of Purpose

! Complete the following sentences: In a Utopian setting,

  • Our customers will see us as –

  • Our shareholders will see us as –

  • Our competition will see us as –

  • The way we’re treating ourselves will be –

    ! Have a slogan campaign.
    Pass out cards to employees, asking them for two sentences on how they see the organization.

    (Involving others creates excitement and develops a sense of belonging).

    -List what you are not.
    -Review previous advertising.

    When I work with a group of eight to ten executives, I divide the group into two and ask the members to fill up wall charts with visions of alternate futures. I allow only a short period of time so that previous conditioning and their preoccupation with perfection won’t kick in. After five minutes of brainstorming, I ask them to seek for common themes and discuss what they uncover. The results of this exercise typically come in the form of a slogan. To generate corporate energy the objective is to paint pictures using metaphors and words that have meaning for participants. Following this process executive teams are usually surprised at how quickly they reach consensus on a statement of purpose—unlike business planning or budgeting sessions where everyone is focused on protecting their own turf.

A Word about Wordsmithing

Start with a concept. Perfect phrases will evolve soon enough. Corporate energy is not generated by wording but by your tenacious signaling of the meaning behind selected words.

Many managers believe that their organization and people know where they are going—that’s usually a false and dangerous assumption. Senior teams are seldom focused among themselves. To succeed, corporate targets must be understood by every employee. There is a child’s party game that starts with writing out a message and whispering it from one child to the other until the last one announces the transmitted message. By the time everyone has passed on what they thought they heard, the message


bears little resemblance to its original. Senior executives all too often whisper hopes for the future when they should be shouting their vision—signalling using both word and deed. Your statement of purpose must be in front of customers, suppliers, investors, and your people at all times. Many add a version of it to their logo (i.e. Nike’s “just do it”).

I was invited by Tom Bata, chairman of Bata International, a privately owned multi-billion dollar corporation and one of the world’s largest shoe manufacturers, to facilitate an executive development session. During volatile debates while they were in small groups, I watched as a diverse group of executives reaffirmed the heart of Bata’s business. The company’s statement of purpose was clear to them. Their leader came from twelve generations of shoemakers. Tom’s father once said, “I was put on the face of the earth to shoe mankind.” The statement of purpose at Bata is, “Shoemakers to the World.” That theme has propel Bata to establish and maintain a presence in over eighty-five countries around the world.

Well articulated statements of purpose are the stuff of legends. There is a story in the Bata organization about an employee sent to conduct a marketing survey in Africa. He returned saying, “there’s no market— the people don’t wear shoes”. The conclusion infuriated Tom who, legend has it, sent an ashtray crashing to the floor, while he screamed, “people don’t have shoes and you can’t see a market?” Such legends live long and their stories will shape an organization’s culture.


 I share with you below one of the 10 historic meeting centers in the country.   I was privileged to create the purpose for Polk Audio’s change effort there (  in cylinder to the right)  with my daughter when she was in her early teens.



An Invitation to All OD Interns and Professionals

June 6, 2014

I am looking for golden gems like the one below to publish with my fourth edition on Practicing Organization Development. If you have a favorite send to me at . If we publish we will give you credit for sending. – Roland


To OD Interns and Professionals:

Be true to yourself.

Know yourself – your strengths in your limitations,

Trust yourself,

Respect yourself,

Be open and relevant to others and to the world around you,

Be guided by the basic values which you believe.

It is by way of this path that you will most enrich those whom you touch as you go through life– both professionally and personally.


With support in caring,

Bob Tannenbaum

UCLA Professor of Change


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