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Why being 'relationship-centric' is a key aspect of use of self

This third article in a series exploring the OD concept of use of self (UoS) looks at the relevance of relational orientation

In part two of this series we talked about how to grow our instrumentality and how the dynamic interaction between the self and others in a specific context will aid the continuous evolution of our 'self'.

But why is our relationship orientation (with others) a critical part of optimal UoS?

We will position this discussion within the topic of 'organisation health'.

Set up 40 years ago, OD academics Warren Bennis and Frederick Herzberg showed interest in the concept of organisation health.

They believed there was a 'suspected link between successful business performance and the individual sense of wellbeing'.

Since then there have been numerous studies on organisation performance, resilience, capability/capacity and effectiveness.

As research in these different areas grew it became clear that to enhance organisation performance leaders needed to pay attention to the internal health of the organisation (the stated dual goal of any OD intervention effort).

Having one without the other (organisation performance and organisation health) is not sustainable for continuous organisation development.

McKinsey has been collecting data on this since 2003 through its Organisation Health Index. It now has 16 years of data (more than one billion data points from 2,000 organisations in over 100 countries) showing that when organisations have 'equal eyes' on organisation health and organisation performance simultaneously, they outperform their competitors by at least three times.

So what does this have to do with our relational orientation?

There are four levels of system work under the umbrella of organisation health – individual, group, organisation, and inter-organisation.

The importance of relationships in the development of organisation health lies primarily at the group level, which in turn has a major impact on the individual level, which is also in turn a building block for organisational culture.

At the group level, when workplace civility in terms of relational decency, relational culture, and relational readiness for positive interactions exist day to day and when there are efforts to create healthy social support among employees, the group can face complexities knowing that both individual and collective wellbeing is encouraged among the workforce.

When this happens the psychological health of employees will improve and motivation will increase, resulting in greater resourcefulness, resilience and confidence to support a more productive outcome.

This begs the question: how do we go about supporting the organisation to grow organisation performance?

Do we need to, among other types and levels of intervention strategies, subtly or not so subtly intervene in building up the quality of relationships within the organisation? The answer is yes.

The natural next question is how this can be done.

Since this article focuses on use of self I will only focus on what HR practitioners need to consider doing or rather 'being'.

Our global Use of Self research analysed this and uncovered five significant factors:

  • Using cognitive and emotional skills with courage to serve dynamic systems
  • Demonstrating strong relationship-centric values and behaviour
  • Exercising self-management in emerging situations
  • Engaging in continuous development of self and other awareness
  • The experiences self and others have when self is used in an optimal way

When the first four factors are centrally at play in our UoS they lead to the fifth factor. And, out of the five factors, the highest statistical significance is in the second.

When we look at this factor, we can see that it contains 22 items, with the top 10 being:

  • I am compassionate to others
  • I tend to empathise with others
  • I make good emotional connections with others
  • I put high value in relationships, build and maintain good relationships with others
  • I have great desire and dedication to serving others
  • My behaviour shows that I am respectful of others
  • Diversity, inclusion and equality inform my work
  • Humanitarian values are key reasons why I do what I do
  • I am committed to democratic values and use them to design intervention
  • I regularly develop open trusting relationships

Other items worth naming are: I use inquiry in relationship-building, I have personal regards for others whether they are easy or difficult, I regularly check myself on withholding judgement, I am very trustworthy, my client-centric values are actively reflected in my approach to consultancy.

When we look at the list there seems to be more 'character-based' or 'attitude-orientation' items than specific 'doing/action' items. This confirms our comprehensive literature search on UoS, in which more character items showed up in the literature.

If we possess such orientation in our interior then it will emanate from our core being, hence 'value in action'.

The intention of this article is not to show how to develop a relationship-centric approach, but to chew on the reality that if we are to intervene in organisation health, particularly at the group and individual level, relational orientation is key.

Mee-Yan Cheung-Judge is founder of Quality and Equality, author of several books on OD, a senior visiting fellow of Roffey Park Institute in the UK and at the Singapore Civil Service College, a distinguished-scholar-practitioner guest faculty at St Thomas University in the US, and ranks second on HR magazine's Most Influential Thinker's list 2019