By Kathryn Winterburn
Kathryn Winterburn is the senior leadership and organisation development consultant at Health Education Yorkshire and the Humber and also the author of the Do OD Capability inquiry report.
I am new to blogs. The idea of having your voice, or opinion publicly out there in the world of virtual clouds for anyone to read worries me. As I think about this a picture of space junk sprang to mind - all that debris floating around our galaxy unnoticed by most of us but it has the potential to cause disruption when it collides with space craft or falls back to earth.
According to NASA on average one catalogued piece of debris has fallen back to Earth each day for the past 50 years! I’m very much aware that, environmentally, I am now adding to a very crowded virtual galaxy and what I say may go unnoticed, it also has the potential to disturb or disrupt and even cause harm despite my intention to be helpful.
When Paul Taylor asked me to blog about my experience leading the OD capability inquiry I agreed without much hesitation. It was after all a reasonable request and I automatically responded affirmatively. It was not until a day later that I began to wonder if I was even capable of writing a blog.
Then there was the anxiety I have already described, my voice out there for all to read, critique, challenge or simply ignore. Did I have the confidence and resilience for that kind of exposure? For anyone that has already read the report findings you may recognise my personal blogging anxieties echo the themes that emerged from OD practitioners who took part in the inquiry as they described their work.
Reflective practice is an important and deliberate act for the OD practitioner to enable learning, development and change via critique, challenge and review and what follows (one hopes) is new informed action.
What are we doing? Are we sure it is the right thing to be doing? Why are we doing it? What is our intended outcome? Is there an alternative approach?
The idea behind this blog was an opportunity for me to reflect on the process of leading the inquiry but in thinking about the blog and my automatic response, I have been reflecting on my own practice more generally as well as the findings in the inquiry.
I am interested in our daily work activity and I wonder how often do we actually spend time critically reflecting on our work? Asking those deeper questions and admitting when we are on autopilot. And if we do have the courage to admit we've been practising on autopilot, what do we do to change that? Do we know what to do or do we continue doing what we have always done?
“What is the difference that you want to make?”
We know as practitioners that finding a 'safe space to stay sharp' is important to our work, but what about the days between the space, how do we remain conscious and deliberate actors focused on enabling change? Do we have mechanisms to support us when the daily treadmill of 'displacement activity' starts to run out of control?
Most people I spoke to in conducting the inquiry told me they wanted to make a difference. I think that holds true for a high proportion of the NHS workforce and it is true of me. However when someone recently asked me, “What is the difference that you want to make?” it stopped me in my tracks. When expressed that way, I didn't have an immediate satisfactory answer and it forced me to rethink my role and my work.
So what was our intent when we set out on the Inquiry? We wanted to help to raise OD capability, a lofty and ambitious aspiration and one which I fully believe to be necessary. The inquiry is complete, the report has been out there since July and now what? Has anything changed as a result? Has its findings had an impact? Was it the right thing to do or could we have done something different? Is it going to become space junk floating in the virtual ether?
If it does my hope is that it finds itself crashing and bumping into things long enough to act as a disruption, the same kind of disruption that I experienced when asked the question. The kind of disruption that stops folks in their tracks and asks them to think about their daily practice and what, if any, difference they are making in the name of OD.