THE FIFTY-YEAR EFFORT

People have inherent worth simply by being human. However, our value as individuals depends on what we contribute. For over fifty years I have studied why people do what they do, and for the last forty-plus years I have helped people improve their contributions, as individuals, partners, team members, leaders and followers. Most of my focus has been on life values and people interactions. However, these matters are difficult to define and measure.

Through my dissertation research I was pleased to discover that the mystifying people interaction of psychotherapy could be divided into measured and sequenced steps not unlike the practiced moves of the mambo: partners moving together to a mutually rewarding end. Identifying the therapy steps made a difference in understanding what should happen at any one moment and what should be done next. All is harmony and no toes are stepped on. I have been interested in simplifying and improving people interactions ever since. Now is the time to share my thoughts on the people side of organizational development.

Organizational development has created change models that enable us to take the right steps, in the right order, and make change easier, faster and more sustainable than before. But the commonly accepted estimate of about a thirty percent success rate suggests we have not yet identified the optimal approach, if there is one.

Our approach is to better understand and better apply the most basic element of people interactions: our biology. Not by investigating our personalities, our generational similarities, or adaptability, not even by better comprehending the quicksand of business culture, but by how our brains are hardwired. From that basic biological reality, we can design more realistic and effective people interactions to support organizational development. “HST” stands for “Harnessing the Speed of Thought.” The model begins the change process where it actually starts, in the human brain, then expands outwards through teams and leaders to move the entire organization forward. By beginning with the basics, how the human brain works, this new model creates a direct path from idea to implementing and sustaining. It works by supporting people needs first, which then support business needs. Readers will learn how to set up the change process even before change is contemplated and ensure buy-in by all strata of the organization.

However, what I will propose for the fundamental element of our change model is not a simple fix, because it is as counterintuitive as anything can be. It doesn’t take longer, and it finds better solutions, but it disrupts how the brain naturally attacks problems. And it isn’t like learning how to ride a bike: hard at first and then easy. It will always be a challenge because it will always be contrary to how the brain wants to function. Superior results, however, make the effort worthwhile.

Although the HST model for change includes measured and ordered steps, it must be adjusted to the realities of each organization, just as a chili recipe should be adjusted for different tastes. You have to discover what will work best in your organization. Where people interactions are involved, the people interacting must be able to contribute their perceptions and ideas for how the model should be applied. Models are only templates and should not take precedence over actual people.

George Box (Journal of the American Statistical Association, 1976) adds this thought: “Since all models are wrong the scientist cannot obtain a ‘correct’ one by excessive elaboration. On the contrary following William of Occam he should seek an economical description of natural phenomena.” Models are misapplied when they are used as structure. The model must fit the people; the people should not be squeezed to fit the model. The HST model should be used only as a tool to enhance people interactions, not control them.

What makes sense? Listen, your employees will tell you. What will resonate with their needs? They will let you know. Tell them you want to explore how to more easily improve the work. Listen and respond to their feedback. Do not simplify the people; simplify the change process.

I’m excited to provide you with over fifty years of observing, trying and learning so you can become a more successful change agent. The book is dedicated to John Kotter, with whom I had an email exchange a few years ago culminating in his invitation to lunch. We haven’t had that lunch yet, but the dedication is my thanks for the invitation and his contribution to the field and to my professional development.

It is also dedicated to one of my dissertation committee members, Roger A. Kaufman. My dissertation was based on his book describing educational planning, and his early support and guidance has reinforced much of what I have done with my career.

As presented in the next section, the HST model contains two essentials for organizational change. You can include whatever other essentials exist in your organization. This might be an investment in other approaches, the guidance of an expert consultant or lessons brought back by inspired conference attendees. These may add value, they may add clutter, they may improve your quality or slow you down. That’s normal and you’ll find out soon enough.

Organizational development is not an unimpeded linear process, and any improvement system can use all the help it can get. Add the HST model for change and keep improving how you use it. Don’t expect change to be like riding an escalator; it is more a hands-and-feet scramble up a slippery hillside.

For the purposes of the HST model, a leader is anyone who has responsibility for others, and who is expected to make decisions regarding them. Teams are not labels for groups of people working together, but how individuals have been trained to function together toward a mutual goal.