I have been working on a new way of doing organizational discovery lately. I think of it as discovering motivations and needs. It’s a very different starting point for an engagement that what is conventionally done (OK, it’s new to me). Here’s how it works:
My starting point is to find out how people feel about the place that they work. In this particular case, prior to the engagement, I used publicly available information on Glassdoor.com. I looked up the company and found the employee reviews. These reviews ask for the pros, cons, and any advice the employee may have for the company. I gather all of the text from the pro feedback and aggregate it together in a file, then without any edits whatsoever, I put that file through Wordle. Now if you are not familiar with Wordle, it’s a tool that creates a visual map of the most common words found in any text you choose to feed it. It eliminates the ‘noise’ of common articles (words like: the, to, a, he, she). The remaining words that appear with the most frequency are given a correspondingly larger font. Words that appear less frequently are smaller. It looks something like this:
At a glance it can be a very good way to identify the most potent and prevalent themes in a text. So it is a good way to use a tool to discover the things that people feel the most strongly about when talking about a company that they work for.
I take the text from the pros, cons, and advice and put it into three corresponding files that I then run through Wordle to generate a sort of heat map of the words that are most prevalent in each text. The pros tend to look like the things that people are most excited by and energized with at the company. These may represent appetites that people seek within the company. They are the things that get them out of bed in the morning to come to work. They are the things that attract us to our jobs. These attractors could also be called drives or motivations. It’s surprising some of the different motivations you can find simply by using this method. It offers a curious insight into the things that excite people at different companies.
Similarly, we can run the same exercise with the cons or the things that people don’t like about a given company. Again, the Wordle can be very revealing. Often the words represent things that people want that are missing from the company that they work for. These ‘wants’ or missing things are what I characterize as needs. The aggregation of these needs as derived from the Wordle is what your employees want from the company the most.
We can run a similar exercise with the advice that employees provide, and it seems to map rather closely with the cons that they describe, so I tend (right now) to treat the two as synonymous. Advice is the employee telling us what they want – again, needs.
If you are getting started on an engagement, this sort of information is very compelling and useful for a couple of reasons:
It gives you insight into the emotional state of the organization. I don’t know of any other practice used in assessment or discovery that does this in a systematic fashion. Interviews are the only thing that comes close, and those typically yield very hard to quantify anecdotal data.
It gives you an idea what people will get excited by and what needs they have that aren’t being met. This is absolutely critical to the success of any change effort!
This sort of information is very useful, because any change effort that matches these drives or satisfies these needs is much more likely to be successful. We need to match our change to the emotional context of the organization. That is to say, that our changes must match the things that motivate the majority of people or they must help ratify the needs of the majority of folks in the organization. Otherwise, what is the alternative. I would submit that any change you propose, no matter how powerful or useful, that doesn’t match the motivations or needs of the organization is ultimately doomed to fail.
I’ll say it in one sentence: Figure out what drives people emotionally or your proposed change will very likely fail.