Not too long ago I was having dinner with a client in the midst of a project that was going well. At some point my client looked up at me and said, “I’m glad you’re not one of those OD people.” After recovering from my surprise, we had a good discussion about what OD is and isn’t. Here is a summary of that discussion.
People ask me why I use a rather fierce looking dragon as my Center for Human Systems’ logo.
Dragons are known throughout the world in all climates, cultures, and eras. There are dragons with horns, claws, breath of fire, great size (some small), wondrous wings (some wing-less), and marvelous colors. These serpentine creatures forever populate our myths, legends, novels, and movies. Dragons are strong, fierce, powerful, and persuasive. They are creatures of magic, power, and beyond-normal insights. In Western cultures the magic and power of dragons is destructive; they are to be eliminated. In other cultures, dragons are positive symbols: Chinese dragons are symbols of good fortune. In the Aztec, Olmec, Mayan world, their dragon—Quetzalcoatl—symbolizes sustenance and re-birth. In the old Slavic world, some dragons—Zmaj—were friends of humans while others—Azdaja—were friends of witches and such. When they fight, great storms occur.
Dragons are creations of the human psyche representing the passion, fierceness, magical potentials, and depth of insight that is now mostly hidden from human kind. As Western rationality and civilization ascended over the centuries and around the globe, we repressed those potentials. Unfortunately, as we deny our passions, our fierceness, and our magicality, we also deny ourselves the power and insights needed to make real the possibility of creating teams and organizations, families and communities, even humankind to be as healthy, productive, and engaging as we want them to be.
In these modern times, our scientific method would have us be sensible people who do not accept dragons or magic or fairies or spirits or sprites or witches or wizards or anything we cannot see, measure, manage, and control. In the place of dragons, science and technology have given us the wonders of automobiles, airplanes, skyscrapers, computers, the World Wide Web (chockful of dragons itself), and cell phones. Caught up in their thrall, we depend more and more on rationality and technology. We have put aside the part of ourselves that loves wholeheartedly, that can make castles from cardboard boxes, and that have the insight and discipline to create healthy, productive, and engaging organizations–organizations where people love to go to work and do whatever it takes to make them successful. Those things we can do if we reclaim dragons—as magic, power, and possibility.
When I live as the dragon I am, I end the power struggles we create when our egos make it important that we never be losers. I learn and can help others to learn from our differences rather than work so hard to convince others that I am right and not wrong. The dragon I am loves fully with total focus, consummate passion, and direct action. I am irresistible and in wonder.
Only the dragon I am listens with compassion. I have the insight to see hostility and fear to be signals of pain needing healing. Only the dragons we are turn dysfunctional groups into synergic teams appreciative of each member’s good heart, good intentions, and useful contributions. Only the dragons we are can see the systemic issues that create cultures of blame and dysfunction. We can discover the levers that will most bring everyone to full alignment and the organization to full productivity and success. The dragon I am sees resistance to our efforts as important information we need to fine-tune those efforts and create new partners.
A dragon is the symbol of the Center for Human Systems. The dragon in us manifests through eight essential and insightful disciplines that enable us to be dragon-wise and dragon-strong as we create change within ourselves, with others, with groups, and with organizations. We call those disciplines Dragon Principles.
The Eight Dragon Principles
- Conscious Use of Self: Where It Change Needs to Start
We behave mostly on automatic without the need for much thought. When wanting to create change, however, our automatic tendencies often do not have the impacts that will be useful. Consciously and deliberately choosing our behavior, emotions, thoughts, and beliefs to create the changes we desire requires dragon-wisdom. Such Conscious Use of Self is the foundational discipline for creating the changes we desire.
- Human Systems Thinking: The Power of Organization Development
Understanding and operating from the premise that systems behave in whatever way they are behaving because every component of that system is behaving the way that they are. This gives us opportunity to manage change at every moment. It also provides the foundation for sustainable, systemic behavior change. As we are soaked in the Western socialization of individualism, dragon-wisdom is required to consistently think and operate in terms of human systems rather than individuals.
- Sound and Current Data: So Obvious, So Important, So Often Missing
Our assumptions based on our lifes’ experiences get us through our days with little need to check them. However, if the changes you seek are not forthcoming, it’s time to see if your assumptions are in tune with what is really happening. The biggest assumption that can hamper our change effort is the assumption that they are Sound and Current Data when they are not. That our assumptions may be correct 85+% of the time is enormously seductive requiring dragon-wisdom to notice and dragon-strength to resist.
- Personal and System Feedback: Are you on target or off?
Feedback allows us to evaluate how well the impact of our behavior is congruent with our intentions. The more we can fine-tune our behavior so that our impact will be in sync with our intentions the greater will be our effectiveness as managers of change. Easy to understand, yet difficult to apply since feedback has a bad reputation. What’s your first reaction when someone says to you, “Can I give you some feedback?” And, we don’t see systemic feedback at all since we don’t see human systems. You as dragon is needed.
- Infinite Power Orientation: The Heart and Soul of Organization Development
Most people see the win/lose power struggles among people and their differences as an inevitable, wasteful, and unpleasant part of human nature. We know to avoid them by shaping ourselves to conform to the norms we see; thus, destroying whatever unique value we might have brought. Shifting such a finite, control-oriented view of power to one that sees power as infinite and as energy rather than control is crucial to successful change creation. What better purpose for both dragon-wisdom and strength!
- Learning from Differences: The Hardest, When It’s Important to Be Right
We all like to learn except when we have attached our egos to being right. We must be dragon-strong to use such ego-laden differences to accrue knowledge and skill rather than as the source of contention and hostility. Then, we can help others do the same. This is the source of dragon-wisdom.
- Empowerment: The Value-Add of Organization Development
Empowerment is about supporting others to self-discover their ability to make conscious choices and recognize their inherent excellence toward invoking their ability to achieve their personal and systemic goals.
- Support Systems: The Pay-Off of Organization Development
There is nothing of any significance that we have accomplished or can accomplish by ourselves. We need support systems. In fact, we need two kinds of support systems: a personal support system to help us maintain our conscious use of self and to help us have developed support for our change goals to critical mass. When the latter occurs, the change is virtually at hand! But, we often equate needing support with weakness and disadvantage. Dragon-strength is needed to continually focus on building support systems for ourselves and our goals to critical mass–the herald of success.
Creating change in teams, organizations, and other human systems is often an uphill battle against the norms and cultures whose task is to maintain the status quo. Armed with the eight Dragon Principles that battle is won. Be the dragon you are to create the changes you’d like to see!
Want to sharpen and deepen your organization development skills? Sign-up for the Master Classes in Organization Development jointly sponsored by the Chesapeake Bay OD Network and the Center for Human Systems.
Michael F. Broom, Ph.D., CEO, Center for Human Systems
About Michael F. Broom. I’m an organizational psychologist with 40 years of experience with all kinds of people and organizations including Microsoft, Google, and Genentech. I’m the author of The Infinite Organization, and Power, The Infinite Game (with Donald Klein), and the upcoming The Dragon Principles. After 25 years at Johns Hopkins, I founded the Center for Human Systems. I am a Lifetime Achievement Award honoree of the OD Network.
Lean, Six Sigma, Prosci, and other formulized change management methodologies all offer an orderly set steps to take—a recipe for ending waste, improving productivity, and otherwise accomplishing desired changes. There are, of course, several recipes from organization development practitioners that offer recipes. John Kotter’s eight steps are very popular. There are several versions of the stages of planned change that that typically include entry, contracting, data-gathering, intervention, and evaluation in one set of words or another. So what’s the problem?
The problem is that practical work of creating change where people are involved requires dealing with the anxiety, uncertainty, volatility, and emotionality that invariably show up when people are trying to get something done together. At those points in time, the rationality of structured formulations are not very useful. Creating change in human systems is as often as not a stressful process at any point in time. Under stress human beings tend to automatically operate in patterns that were set in during growing-up years. Some of those automatic reactions may be useful in the current situation and many will not be. In addition, the automatic patterns of some are likely to be in conflict with the patterns of others. These are situations were rationality is limited. Limited, particularly, because everyone believes that he or she is the only one being fully rational. Of course, I am over-simplifying.
Those of us who desire to be effective managing change involving human systems need something less formulaic and more amenable to creating alignment toward desired change. What is needed is n
ot recipes but a shift in perspective, of our fundamental thoughts process toward a way that we can be with human systems that allows their members to align with each other to create the improvements in engagement and productivity they want.
To do just that Edie and Charlie Seashore and I put together eight disciplines or principles to help the students we’ve had be able to actually practice what they had learned academically. They are:
- Conscious Use of Self: Consciously choose to switch off automatic and unproductive energy-sponging behaviors like worrying, complaining, blaming, and fighting–allowing you to consciously choose behaviors that you’ll find more productive and satisfying. And, help others to do the same.
- Understanding Human Systems: Experience how everything you do impacts those around you. Then consciously choose behaviors that will support the changes you want in your human systems. And, help others to do the same.
- Critical Mass & Personal Support Systems: Realize that there is nothing of any significance that any of us has accomplished by ourselves. In turn, develop the systems of support that will allow you to accomplish personal and systemic goals. And, help others to do the same.
- Sound and Current Data: Consciously choose to be curious rather than automatically presuppose, as we too often do, that our assumptions and interpretations are facts. And, help others to do the same.
- Systemic and Interpersonal Feedback: Do you cringe when someone says to you, “May I give you some feedback?” Learn new ways to receive feedback without upset and how to give feedback to greatest effect. And, help others to do the same.
- Power as Energy: Discover how to shift from control-oriented win/lose power dynamics to the more practical perspective of power-as-energy which allows satisfaction for all. And, help others to do the same.
- Learning from Differences: Consciously learn from the differences that our egos automatically reject. Learn more about yourself and those who share your human systems. And, help others to do the same.
- Empowerment: Become aware of your own magnificence and support others to do the same.
- Find out more about each from the Dragon Principle Webinar Series that starts on January 24th. I’m offering an introductory webinar (no charge) on Wednesday, January 18th. It would be great to meet you there! Go to chumans.com/webinar for more information!
Michael F Broom, CEO, The Center for Human Systems
About Michael F. Broom, Ph.D.
I’m an organizational psychologist with 39 years of experience with all kinds of people and organizations. I’m the author of The Infinite Organization, and Power, The Infinite Game (with Donald Klein), and the upcoming The Dragon Principles. Formerly of Johns Hopkins University, I founded the Center for Human Systems and am a Lifetime Achievement Award honoree of the OD Network.
A CEO of a medium-sized hospital asked me to train his front-line patient-facing staff in how to be pleasant to patients. The head of IT department asked me to facilitate “an advance” for her and her staff. She pointedly told me that everything was working well; that she wanted “an advance” rather than “a retreat.” That’s just two examples of the clients who routinely ask me to implement the solutions they think will solve the problems they believe they have. I have been fortunate that my mentor, Donald Klein, drilled into my head not trust client diagnoses and prescriptions. Do your own systemic diagnosis, he told me.
I didn’t take his admonishment too seriously. A general manager of a TV asked me to facilitate what he called a routine annual retreat to reward his team for good work and to think about the coming years. “Nothing heavy,” he said. I took him at his work and was blindsided by the considerable mean-spirited sniping and their difficulty getting to consensus about the smallest issue. I never again trusted a client diagnosis.
More important, when I insist on doing my own diagnosis and contracting around those results, I found myself doing more systemic OD work and fewer stand-alone retreats and trainings! Through insisting on doing my own data-gathering (individual interviews), I can discover the systemic issues that are the root-cause of the client’s issues. With the hospital, I identified as a key issue the lack of accountability for building and maintaining a positive work environment that started at the very top of hospital. As we resolved those issues, behavior at the bottom quickly improved.
From my IT department interviews: everything was not hunky-dory but rife with frustration from the staff’s inability to solve problems because of the director’s intention driven by her assumption that everything was okay. As a result, we did a series of retreats to clear-up the back-log of problems followed by strategic planning.
In both cases, I did extensive coaching with the clients about their use of self before any group-work could was done.
Some OD practitioners fall into is the automatic tendency to please their clients by doing what they ask for. Significant Conscious Use of Self is the antidote here. In addition, I have had clients insist that no data-gathering was needed since they told me what the problem is and what they want done about it. Do not allow yourself to be intimidated. Instead, suggest there is always more going on than meets the eye. I also tell them I need to do your interviews to design something that will be effective. I’ve not had that fail.
Turning requests for retreat facilitation, training, and other interventions into real systemic intervention delivers a better result to clients and helps practitioners build a reputation for making a difference that drives more work.
Want to learn more skills for making a difference in human systems? Applications are now available for this Fall’s Dragon Principles Intensive which now offers its Certificate in Humans Systems Change Management. Find out more at chumans.com/our-services/intensive.
Master Classes in Organization Development are coming soon. Go to at chumans.com/our-services/master-classes for more!
Michael F. Broom, Ph.D.
About Michael F. Broom. I’m an organizational psychologist with 40 years of experience with all kinds of people and organizations. I’m the author of The Infinite Organization, and Power, The Infinite Game (with Donald Klein), and the upcoming The Dragon Principles. After 25 years at Johns Hopkins, I founded the Center for Human Systems. I am a Lifetime Achievement Award honoree of the OD Network.