Lessons from an Organization Development Professional: Staying Centered and Clear on Values at Work & in Life

Haiti Earthquake 2010 - Red Crossclick on photo for donation information

Entertainment.  It’s all around us.  The late night talk show wars between Jay, Conan, and Dave.  The new TV season is starting with American Idol and 24, and SuperBowl Weekend is just on the perceivable horizon.  I don’t know about you, but we live in exciting times!

Really?  Really?  What have we become?  Does Hollywood really dominate our attention so much as to dull our senses about what is going on in the world around us?  Have we become so numb to our world that we let “The Tonight Show” shenanigans take precedence over what happened in Haiti these past weeks?  Or to take precedence over what’s going on in our own homes with our spouse and children?

We are deluged daily, not only with entertainment, world news of disasters, war, and economic turmoil, but we are “attacked” with e-mails (let’s start a contest to see who gets more than 500 e-mails a day!), and overwhelmed with requests for our time to attend meetings and teleconferences.  Where do we draw the line?  When do we start to get control over our lives and our time?  How do we start to manage our commitments and keep a focus on the important relationships in our lives to make a statement about what is important to us?  How do we dig out of everything that gets piled on top of us so that we can breathe fresh air and regain a sense of balance that will both sustain us and energize our efforts to lead more productive and fulfilling lives?  Is this all too much to ask?  Is it pure fantasy that we can actually achieve this?A little over 25 years ago, I had the fortunate opportunity to participate in a program that truly changed my life and that provided me with the foundational tools and experiences to launch a career in OD.  The program was called the HRD Intern program, and it was conducted by the brilliant staff of consultants at University Associates (UA).  The program was expertly designed and elegantly facilitated so that upon completion, I (and other participants) left with a much clearer sense of “self” and “purpose” that would enable us to more effectively operate as a catalyst for positive change in organizations.

Oh, getting my Masters degree in Counseling was a great foundation, too.  But the UA Intern program was not about “book” learning where theories and concepts were king.  The Intern program was about getting centered on who I was as a person.  It was about getting clear on my values….on what was important in my life, and on what I needed to do to be “on purpose” in all of my interactions with clients, colleagues, family, and friends.  It was about having access to, and learning from some of the great thought leaders in the field of OD including John Jones, Phyliss Cooke, Will Schutz, Warner Burke, Len Goodstein, Paul Hersey, and Bill Pfeiffer.

The Intern program was designed to enable an experience of personal growth, as each of us learned to struggle with our own idiosyncrasies, our own interpersonal needs and issues, our own values and beliefs, and our own weirdness.  But it also enabled us to integrate our very personal learning with our professional development.  We learned that if we are to be instruments of positive change in organizations that we must first learn to change ourselves and thus become more positive role models to those we are encouraging to change.

So what did I learn?  It’s difficult to capture in words, because so much of the learning took place on an experiential level.  And experiential learning is, by very nature, transformational as it causes learning to occur on not just a cognitive level, but on a physical and emotional level as well.  But if I were to capture a few key points about what I learned to be more “centered” and “on purpose”:

  • I am “on purpose” when my thoughts, intentions, words, and actions are focused on jointly optimizing my client organization’s needs and objectives with those of the employees working there.  In other words, I use myself as an “instrument” or “catalyst” for positive change by applying my knowledge of people and organizations to design and implement new systems, processes, structures, and roles to help companies become more profitable and to help employees feel more fully engaged.
  • Through various structured activities, personal growth group experiences, and intensive self-examination and assessment, I learned how to become more “centered” and “comfortable in my own skin”.  I learned more about who I was (values, beliefs, strengths, weaknesses, needs, drives, etc.) so that I could become a more effective human being in interpersonal and group situations where people look to me to offer helpful insights, counsel, and advice on how to improve leadership and organizational effectiveness.

Looking back on that period, I realize that it was my experience in the HRD Intern program, and my fortunate opportunity to work as an employee at UA for nearly four years, that caused me to shift my career focus from becoming a Counselor to a Consultant in OD.

If you are an OD professional, what foundational experiences led you to choose OD as your career of choice?  What are you doing, or what have you done, to develop yourself for a career in OD? For all professionals, how do you stay “centered” and “on purpose” amidst the onslaught of information overload and the demands of competing priorities?

As for me, I try to attend at least one major conference a year (Linkage and/or OD Network) to “recharge my batteries” and expose myself to new thinking.  And I try to do at least one “retreat” a year where I commune with nature and some good friends or family in the peaceful surroundings of the Sierra Nevada, but I confess that these things get harder to do amidst all of my other commitments.

So, back to my opening comments on entertainment…… I confess to be an addict to “24” and “American Idol”, and I have them set to “record” on my DVR.  (We all need our “guilty pleasures”.)  And I wish that I could apply some sweat and muscle to rebuilding Haiti, but since I can’t I will donate money so that others can.  But I do hit the “delete” button on more and more e-mails, and I am continually striving to keep my priorities clear and in focus.  (I need to make more time for my hobbies of playing guitar and photography for sure).  But I am curious to hear what you do to make (and keep) yourself the best “instrument of change” that you can in whatever you do.

Posted in OD Insights, topical, Work/Life Balance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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