What is OD?

Organisational development (OD) is a deliberately planned effort to increase an organization’s relevance and viability. Vasudevan has referred to OD as, future readiness to meet change, thus a systemic learning and development strategy intended to change the basics of beliefs, attitudes and relevance of values, and structure of the current organization to better absorb disruptive technologies, shrinking or exploding market opportunities and ensuing challenges and chaos. OD is the framework for a change process designed to lead to desirable positive impact to all stakeholders and the environment. OD can design interventions with application of several multidisciplinary methods and research besides traditional OD approaches. Wikipedia

OD is work that focuses on how an organisation functions. In essence, organisational development in higher education is about helping the HEI to harness more of its collective talents in order to succeed in its various joint endeavours: enhancing the quality of the student experience; supporting and directing the expansion and extension of the field of human knowledge and understanding; or establishing thriving enterprise ventures. The benefits from OD actions can be described in terms of an organisation’s capacity to learn and change.

Still iPaddling (but up to my knees, now)

By Simon Inger, University of Bath

My daughter started secondary school this year. They all get iPads, at her gleamingly new, large comprehensive. Parents pay for them, on some scale of affordability so that everyone in a not-very-affluent catchment can join in, but basically everyone has one, and they use them in every subject, home and away. This has significantly changed the IT dynamic in a home that has been slow to build up its collection of devices, has parents that don’t do popular culture, and has very poor internet access.  Despite rural broadband, Minecraft has arrived.

I’ve also watched a change in the ODHE group since those days of Bex and the digital literacy project. For newer members, this was a project in which an expert came to our meetings for a couple of years and tried to help us understand and adopt digital ways of working. Small steps, little at a time, to get with the century. I still remember the debate at Storrs Hall in 2012; a very few members were using mobile devices, mostly laptops, and there was a strong majority feeling that paying attention to screens was disrespectful, that it signalled a lack of attention and involvement.  Doing your emails in a conference session was considered rudest, but there were even scowls of disapproval when a group looked up something that had been mentioned in the discussion, found something amusing and were stifling guffaws. One member was playing chess against a distant Bulgarian. But even then, people were starting to compare such behaviour with more traditional forms of disengagement like doodling and reading, or gazing out over the lake. Who were we, they said, to moralise about e-doodling?

Now we know, of course, that students are arriving in lectures with screens on the go, accessing multiple channels, and it’s normal, it’s the way life is and it’s our academics who have to deal with it.

So fast forward – no, you don’t need to fast forward any more, you can just swipe the slider – to an ODHE meeting in the Midlands somewhere. I walked in before the SIG to find a smattering of colleagues sitting around, mostly separated by several metres, mostly interacting with a screen. Oh, I thought, so we’ve all travelled from around the land for an opportunity to talk to people we rarely meet, for stimulation and enrichment, and actually the screen is more tempting. How far we’ve travelled indeed. I confess to being a bit depressed, but mostly because I didn’t have the techie know-how to send a mischievous message to them all saying “Hi, I’m the one standing by the door in the blue jumper.”

Douglas Adams said this about technology:

1) Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.  2) Anything that’s invented between when you’re 15 and 35 is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.  3) Anything invented after you’re 35 is against the natural order of things.

For me it’s social networks that count under (3). Everything else is evolution (video games, the internet itself, music technology).  I still don’t really get it, why “likes” and “friends” are considered a better measure of status than actually having a bank account, for example.

But remember what Cliff Oswick was saying at the Glasgow meeting; organisations of the future will be more like networks than hierarchies.  People who aspire to lead, manage and transform organisations (that’s us) need to understand and work with that. It struck me only yesterday that even as we put more structure onto our academic endeavour, with management systems, QA frameworks and performance reviews, the world is moving towards what the most traditional academic would recognise and call “collegiate.”  People who talk to each other making things up as they go along to fit the needs of the moment. Sorry, I mean whole-system co-created emergent strategy. With agility.

Buzzword bingo aside, this is what has crept up on me as we’ve changed our digital practice in the OD community.  We work with connections, it’s axiomatic to the OD philosophy, but do we understand well enough how to do that when many of the connections are down a cable? What, in a nutshell, does a University fit for the 21st century look like, and what are we doing to build one?

Kids of today, eh? What are they going to expect of us when they become staff in HE?

Answers on a postcard…


You can read a bit more about my daughter’s school in the first part of this article; she does the orchids too (“Cool Asia” section; which catches the zeitgeist on the back of a hoodie better than “Cool Britannia”.)


Talent Development – Defining, Identifying and Supporting

In the July 2014 issue of the Leadership Foundation’s publication Engage, Linda Amor and I have published part one of an article on the ways in which we are approaching the challenges of talent development at Bournemouth University.  We have set out to find answers to the following questions:

How do/should we

  • define ‘talent’?
  • identify ‘talent’?
  • support existing ‘talent’?
  • support future ‘talent’?
  • retain ‘talent’?

In this article we highlight just some of the literature that has informed our thinking and explain the steps that we are taking in order to identify the organisation’s response to the questions raised above. We intend to provide a second article in 2015 which will include a report and evaluation of the activities, how the organisation has responded to the five questions raised, and how those responses are influencing our practice.  Please see the article at the link below and read on to find out how you can become involved.


A full evaluation of the BU activities will commence at the start of 2014/15 and we will summarise our findings in a second article for Engage. We encourage those who have read this article, who are also working on developing talent within their organisation, to contact Linda and I to share your stories in order that we can also feature some of your approaches in the next article.  Or please feel free to share some of your experiences below and we will contact you!

Best wishes


On Academic Writing – from Professor Matthew Bennett

Blog 1 September 2014


Hi ODHE Bloggers – you may remember Professor Matthew Bennett who joined us at ODHE in Bournemouth in May.  He is conducting some research into how academics write and I thought that you may be (i) interested in this if you write academic articles yourself and (ii) might know of academics who would be interested in becoming involved in the research.  Please see the call for participants below and forward it to anyone who you think might be interested.

Best wishes


On Academic Writing – from Professor Matthew Bennett


Writing is not easy, yet academics must write.  Communicating your research and ideas to your peers through writing is an essential part of an academic career, you may be doing brilliant research, you may be a fantastic speaker or teacher, but if you can’t express your ideas through the written word your career may flounder.  Writing lies at the heart of research.  There are no quick solutions, fixes or dodges and I don’t profess to have any, but I am interested in the process of writing and seek your help in exploring this.


The importance of writing is no great news and if you are like me dyslexic and find the challenge of writing exactly that, a challenge, then what can you do?  We all have different approaches to writing – our own coping strategies if you like – that allow us to get the words on the page, the thoughts and ideas clarified and expressed.  It is an intensely personal process and what works for me is unlikely to work for you. 


So what does works for you?  How do you go about writing that difficult piece of prose? 


Have a think while I share what works for me. 


How I write

Ideas often flow better for me from conversation, but as an introvert I don’t have much time for conversation!  So I talk to myself, mentally rehearsing what needs to be said, framing initial ideas and nebulous arguments.  I can be seen on the walk to work deep in thought, in fact deep in silent conversation, and not always silent to the amusement of those that walk their dogs in the park I cross each day! 


These silent conversations shape my initial draft, since when I sit down to write I am simply noting down the conversation.  I then refine this early draft picking out and questioning the logic, developing the argument as I craft iteratively the text before me.  For me writing is therefore a process of constant refinement, iteration and clarification as my ideas and argument take shape in the words that I write. 


It’s different for everyone

Others work differently I know, my mother for example who is a retired academic talked to me recently of how she used to coin a statement, or phrase, something elegant and clever that she then picked at to see if it was true, forming her argument in light of it.  For others it is all about the research question that is being posed and I know that some of my colleagues believe that all your ideas should be formed and in sharp focus before you start to write.  It is a bit like having a beautiful artefact that they can see in their mind’s eye, which simply needs to be described.  I cannot write like this and my approach is more akin to that of Stephen King who, in his wonderful book On Writing, describes the process of writing as the excavation of a fossil with the story slowly emerging from the ground with work and care.  No one way of writing is any better than any other and each may have their own particular style and this may also vary across discipline boundaries which leads to my basic question how do you approach the process of writing?


It is this question that intrigues me, a question that I would like to explore for its own sake but also perhaps because it might amuse me in time to write about it in a book or paper. 


So what do I need, to help me explore this idea?


Getting involved

Well I need the help from my fellow academics, not just geoscientists like myself but social scientists, chemists, historians and engineers.  I am interested to know what helps you to write – a short email with ‘a brain dump’, a couple of paragraphs or a list of bullet points is all I need with your own reflections on how you approach the task of writing.  If you are not an academic but write a lot as part of your profession then drop me a line as well.  In return I will reflect on how I can best summarise, or collate your collective ideas, to play them back to the academic community in ways that would be useful. 


So going back to the questions posed earlier – how do you write?  In framing your response it might help to reflect on the following questions, whilst also adding anything else that you feel it would be relevant for me to know.


How do you approach your academic writing?  Describe for me the process by which you shape your ideas and craft your prose from conception to completion of a piece, whether it is a journal article, a book or a chapter.


What is the most challenging part for you?  And how do you overcome this?


Where do you like to write?  Can you write anywhere – on the plane, train or in a stolen five minutes, or do you need a block of time and a quiet place, or a noisy coffee shop?


Do you write for a specific audience and journal or in a more generic way formatting once written for a particular journal?  Does this vary depending on the piece?  Do you always know where something is to be submitted before you start?  What in truth guides your choice – clinical analysis, convenience or simply the tradition in your discipline?


How do you write collaboratively?  Do you take the lead, or do you write truly by committee?


How much are you influenced by the norms of your discipline – and what is your discipline?


These are the types of thing I am interested in, I am trying not to be prescriptive and all I ask is that after some reflection you open up an email, insert my address – mbennett@bmth.ac.uk – and write to me something about how you write!  I will respond asking you to sign a consent form and with further details of the study and I promise to preserve your anonymity at all times, unless you specifically state that you are happy to be acknowledged.  Thank you.



On-boarding coaching: the positive difference

By Karen Carter, University of Gloucestershire, Organisational Change and People Development Manager

We piloted on-boarding coaching earlier this year, with four members of staff who had been newly appointed or newly promoted to senior management roles. We started to consider this following feedback from some participants on our senior development programme (that was initiated and rolled out last Autumn), that they would have found coaching at the entry point to their roles particularly helpful.

We know that joining organisations at a management or executive level is a demanding experience, both for the individual & the organisation. This is all the more so when the organisation is also undergoing rapid change. Further exploration reveals that the failure rate of executives in UK organisations is rarely a failing in the hiring process, but more commonly a failure to recognise the difficulty of joining and leading in a new organisation.

Our pilot participants included a Head of School, a Head of Institute, a Dean of Quality and Standards and a Subject Group Leader. The intervention consists of a one and a half hour coaching session with an external coach within the first four to six weeks of starting, that helps with orientation, includes a health check on how the person is getting on, and sets a plan for the coming months. Some participants chose to have one or two further coaching sessions.

The evaluation showed that the most helpful aspects included: feeling valued and having confidence in the University, because it had invested in them from the start; putting ‘new person’ fears into perspective; and receiving reassurance that their experience was ‘normal’, given the organisational context, rate of change, and culture. Outcomes included: setting expectations around developing a face to face communication culture; changing behaviour to be consistent with positive intentions; committing to mindfulness practice; and snapping into a broader focus congruent with operating at a higher level.

As a result of this positive feedback we have incorporated on-boarding coaching into the induction programme for all new senior managers.

After six months in post all senior managers go on to participate in the senior management development programme, which consist of 360 feedback and a coaching session. This gives them the opportunity for coaching support at the point when they are challenging the status quo, as well as assessing their connection with colleagues, hearing observations around how they lead and feeding development actions into the continuous Staff Review and Development process.

Why I Wasn’t In Bournemouth

“This is odd, I’m nervous. It’s been long time since I went to a conference where my main feeling is trepidation.” Such were my thoughts as my train trundled towards Roffey Park for the second annual conference of the fledgling OD Network Europe. Why trepidation? I recognised just three names on the list of 130 participants; only one was from a university. It’s a long time since I was so thoroughly among strangers. I also have a scientist’s aversion to the tortuous and woolly language of some of the ODN abstracts and articles. Well, that’s good. I’m an introvert who came here to broaden my horizons and get out of my comfort zone. Notice what you’re feeling, it’s all about the whole self, right? I was going to blog comparatively about this and next week’s UHR conference, but this stuff is so bursting out of me that I have to catch it now, as I trundle back again.

 Roffey was itself a comfort zone, as usual, but boy were my horizons broadened. In a good, scary way. Immediately evident were the networks that already exist, often rooted in the various expensive and committing qualification programmes people had been through.  But of course we’re a warm, humanistic community, so it’s hard to be friendless for long. The range and depth of experience and knowledge in the room were breathtaking, and I got a sense that many were grounding their practice more explicitly in the underpinning scholarship than I do. It was like happily pursuing a profession – geologist, say – having done an A level, then finding yourself in a room full of geologists with degrees.


Among the wide-ranging sessions a recurring theme was the emergence of a “next generation” OD frame, taking in complexity, connectedness and non-linear systems. In keeping with the conference theme of “collaborating and innovating in social systems,” there were highly resonant tales of successes and challenges in dialogic, co-creative approaches. One session that used art to tease out our own development journeys gave me two major “ker-zzzingg” moments that I hadn’t expected (like a-ha moments but more fizzy). An “innovation” sampler was the loudest, funniest, happiest workshop group I’ve ever been in, but also deeply educational. Mots du jour included “constructive deviance” and “rhizomatic,” but beware: “engagement” has joined “empowerment” in the bucket of jargon terms to make knowing, ironic jokes about.


Someone commented that there was a sense of excitement, potential and experimentation, which they found absent from the slightly grandee-dependent meetings of the larger US parent network. This momentum is being tapped by a set of action-research clusters that we formed in the final session, hubbed by Roffey but aimed at turning ourselves into a community of researchers in the support of practice.

 It’s proposed to take this European network to the mainland next year. Will I be going? Oh, emphatically yes, even if it means (gulp) missing ODHEG again. The world is wide, and I seem to have found my learning edge.

 (Twitterati can check out @ODNEurope, #ODNE2014)



Lessons from a transformational leader

At our last ODHE meeting in February, we were lucky enough to hear from a transformational leader, Professor Bob Cryan, Vice-Chancellor of Huddersfield University. Prof Cryan was recently awarded The Guardian Inspiring Leader award, and his presentation certainly inspired me to reflect on some of his leadership philosophies.

People not structures: Prof Cryan spoke about how his focus is on the leadership in the University, not about its structures. In his time at the helm, he hasn’t changed anything structurally.  I find this remarkable when I think about the amount of structural changes happening in HE across the sector. I wouldn’t like to guess how much OD time is spent helping management teams plan and enact structural change, when much of it seems to be cyclical. Schools, Units and Faculties merge, only to be split again a few years later.

Simple hooks: Prof Cryan asks staff ‘What have you done to be inspiring, innovative, and international?’ By keeping things simple and memorable, the University can pare its desired staff behaviours down to three key elements. I think about the lengthy and generic values statements I come across, and I think, here too, there’s definite mileage in brevity and simplicity as Cindy referred to in her last blog post.

Never stop learning: Prof Cryan outlined his career-long learning approach, comprising top management programmes, postgraduate study, and even recently returning to undergraduate study to gain an understanding of the modern student experience. It made me reflect on how many leaders don’t prioritise and protect time for their own development. One of the challenges in my Institution is engaging academics in development who (often by virtue of their superb research skills) suddenly find themselves with management and leadership responsibilities. Having a senior leader model the way is admirable.

100%: Prof Cryan mentioned that he sets 100% targets “so that there’s nowhere to hide.” For example 100% of academics should research, 100% of academic staff are HEA Fellows etc. This made me reflect on whether my targets are ambitious enough. By aiming for 80% or 90% completion on tasks, or on satisfaction ratings, does this allow everyone to psychologically take their foot off the gas?

It can’t be easy to be a transformational leader, but I’ll be mindful of Prof Cryan’s approach and aim to factor it in to leadership discussion and thinking in my own Institution.

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Getting Unstuck: It Starts with a Question

By Sally Wilson, Sally Wilson Associates, Coach and Independent Consultant & Trainer to higher education

This is the title of a piece written by Renee Charney (February 19, 2014) that gave me food for thought – especially as I had committed to writing the ODHE blog this month (and have only just made it by a stroke of the keys!). My ‘stuckness’ for a topic was also informed by an ODHE colleague recently circulating an SOS with the comment ‘why do we suddenly go blank when we’re asked to produce something ‘innovative’?!’

This had me pondering on the expectations of OD departments by their organisations and the notion that somehow ‘they’ (OD) will ‘pull something out of the bag’. Mindful of Cindy’s January blog on making the complex simple, I’m struck by the more complex the difficulty facing an organisation, the higher their expectation of OD and the consequent pressure on OD colleagues, together with the pressure they place on themselves to be ‘creative and innovative’.

Being stuck at times is part of the human condition. Charney identifies being stuck as sometimes ‘feeling out of control and unable to unravel the twisty-turny, thorn-ridden mess’ before us. We’ve all been there, and we’ll be there again. The challenge is perhaps determining why we’re stuck.

For example, a project/commission/problem presented to OD can initially sound like it would be straightforward enough, but turns out to be ‘a bear of a project’. Charney goes on to say her own identification with this is ”I get embroiled in distractions, each one potentially sending me in a slightly new direction. I’m like the lost wanderer standing at a crossroads, but each time I think I’ve made my decision I suddenly see another road opening up and I think “That might be an interesting path to poke around for a while…..”


As in coaching and problem-solving, it starts with a question.  What questions might help to lead us from uncertainty and avoid paralysis?

How willing am I to do something different around this? How much choice do I have about the way in which I act ? What currently stops me taking action? What am I reacting to in this situation? What do I know? What do I need to know? What models/techniques do I have for bridging the gap? Would a graph/visual of the situation help? Should any segments be added to a diagram?

What types of questions help you get unstuck?