Der Chef organisiert von Zeit zu Zeit den Betrieb völlig um. Das schadet aber nichts, weil ja alles beim Alten bleibt. ( The boss reorganizes the company from time to time completely. But that does not hurt, because everything stays the same.)
Kurt Tucholsky, 1924
Plus ça change, plus c’est reste la même chose. (The more things change, the more things remain the same.)
Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, 1849
What’s done cannot be undone.
Lady MacBeth (whilst sleepwalking)
Igor, Hadas, Natalie and Vadim own/manage a very successful niche chartered accounting firm dealing mainly with clients in the media, including celebs and investor-tycoons from all the countries from the FSU, former Soviet Union, especially Georgia. Despite their success or because of it, severe tensions plague the quartet who constantly argue about issues such as ‘what constitutes a pure billable hour, what is monetary value of maintaining an intense relationship with academia and with senior clerks from the Ministry of Finance, and how many resources should be allocated to digitalize client interfaces”. There were also less intense disagreements about whether the language in management meetings should be in Russian, Hebrew or English, although this was minor because all partners are fluently trilingual.
An OD intervention was commissioned after Vlad and Hadas had a horrendous shouting match that the entire staff of 30 heard with furniture in the meeting room having been smashed.
After 6 months of work, agreements between the four were signed and sealed. The consultant was even payed a bonus!
One year later, all agreements had undone themselves.
Decision making by the quartet is paralyzed/severely paralyzed yet business has never been better.
Gerald (the son of the chairman of the board) is an excellent technologist and incorrigibly poor R&D manager, with a team of 159 developers many of whom with PhDs, spread all over the world. Following a massive turnover of staff, the chairman commissioned an OD intervention during which Gerald was moved into the role of CTO and Carmella was recruited to manage R&D. Two years later, the chairman retired, Carmella was axed and Gerald returned to run R&D.
These cases illustrate the return to the status quo ante following what had appeared to be a successful OD intervention. This post will elaborate several reasons why this occurs.
First however, I want to drift off a bit and illustrate that return to status quo ante happens in politics as well. The failed Oslo agreements between Israel and the Palestinians fell apart at the seams, making a very bad situation even much worse, just as the ink dried on the signed agreement. Some experts claim that neither side was ready to accept a western compromise force fed onto a Middle East reality where winners take all, and losers loose. (There are many experts in the Middle East who explain failure).
There are several reasons that agreements made during an OD process can fall apart.
- The agreements that were made are ahead of their time.
- Agreements made are not backed up by a tenable change to the power structure.
- The agreements made were made following too rigid a process, which ignored under the water iceberg dynamics.
- The consultant was too dominant and the agreements were made with too much imposition.
- The agreements were based on apparent agreement.
I believe that because OD is very imperfect, things like this will happen. (I am reminded here of my dentist who used a strong antibiotic when pulling a tooth telling me that only one in a hundred people are impacted by the antibiotic. I was the ONE, and suffered from stomach pain for 6 whole months.)
Partial prevention of return to the status quo ante can be mitigated
1-by slowly phasing out of the OD project over the period of a few months/years, based on the complexity of the changes.
2-Clients can be initially informed/ warned that this phenomenon exists building in the necessary prophylactic awareness.
3. And, most important, when making really big changes, the question of ‘how can this is undone” needs to be addressed in nightmare scenario planning.