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Ride the Horse that Shows Up

Updated: Jul 19, 2019

In my years as an equestrian, I learned early on that the best laid plans for a ride depend on the horse that shows up.  You may have plans for your ride, but the horse is lame, in a sour mood, tired, or just plain obstinate.  The smart thing to do is to abort your prior plans rather than fight the entire time and not accomplish anything.

The same is true for an Organization Development (OD) consultant.  We all have our bag of tricks and the tools and techniques we know, but it does a great disservice to the organization to suggest a tool, training, or intervention just because we have it developed, had intended on it working, or just don’t want to abort our prior plans.  I have seen this happen repeatedly and, just like the example with my horse above, trying to force fit an intervention does not provide anything of value to the organization and may even do some harm.  That is one of the reasons I strongly oppose “off the shelf” products unless a comprehensive needs assessment has been conducted and the product or service identified fits the organization’s needs “to a t”.

So, what are the steps to take to ensure you are providing the right service to your client?

Listen from the Start: Listen for subtle signs of potential issues so you can respond accordingly.  It is far better to listen more and talk less at the initial meetings. There will be subtle clues about what the issues may be that you will not be able to identify if you are taking up all the air space by sharing your own brilliant thoughts.  Look for nonverbals and notice who is contributing and who is not.

Define the Objectives: The initial meetings will help you define the objectives.  A few helpful questions to draw out the client’s objectives may be:  What do they want to happened or occur?  What are their expectations?  What is preventing them from getting this done without your help?

Talk to More People than the Boss: It is essential to hold interviews or focus groups with several organizational players so you can be sure to understand the organizational reality from their perspectives. This will help you identify the real issue (not just what the sponsor or management says the issue is).

Put Together Your Recommendations: Develop a plan of action.  Once you get the lay of the land through the interview process, you will be able to draw on your expertise and develop next steps.  Present the issues that emerged from the data and share possible scenarios for moving forward that you believe will get the organization closer to the objectives they shared at the onset of your involvement.

Stay Flexible: Constantly adjust.  An organization is a living entity.  Once you have reviewed the recommendations with the organization, co-develop the actions to be implemented and allow the organization a role in the interventions.  Be willing to adjust to the ebbs and flows of the process and constantly check in with the client to ensure you are heading in the same direction.

You must ride the horse that shows up just as you must work with the organization as it is, not as you would like it to be because you have a pre-selected fix.

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