Because of commercial interests, a desire for more business alignment, and loss of direction, OD practitioners have both promulgated and actively jumped on the bandwagon of passing fads and fashions. TQM, Re-engineering, Excellence, Knowledge Management, Engagement are a few examples of these “short affairs”.
More recently, as organizations mechanized work flow and cooperation, having eliminated the need for intelligence (!) via IT driven business processes, OD practitioners clipped a coupon with a wide variety of products geared at lessening resistance and driving the change.
Big bucks have been made by “serving the mainstream” and avoiding the role of contrarian when confronting new fads.
Yet one by one, the fads die and are replaced by new fads, and practitioners find themselves preaching, retreating and then preaching a new fad, taking a huge hit on their professional credibility.
I have always looked at my role as a contrarian. Part of this is no doubt due to my personality, which is indeed critical and skeptical. (I am also a non-believer and avoid rigid religious beliefs of all kind, theological or organizational).
Yet being a contrarian is not only a function of personality. I think that contrarianism should be a major ventricle in the heart of OD.
This is not about criticizing everything or being anti for its own sake; rather it is a set of assumptions which may look like:
- How can/will this new system be “outsmarted?” What does this mean?
- Where is the arrogance behind this new belief or fad? How can I unmask it?
- Whose interests are being served and whose interests are being compromised? Why? What does this mean?
- What underlying dynamics are being ignored and created? What can be done with this?
And I can go on and on. Contrarianism is a sanity check on excessive “beliefs”.
Few HR departments want this type of input from an OD consultant, and when internal OD departments are created to save costs, the first thing that is compromised is critical thought.
Yet contrarianism is an approach that senior management both wants and needs. If you want to look in the mirror and be proud of the value of OD, re consider learning to be a contrarian.
Notice the term: approach not product. You need a lot of experience to do it well, and it is not scalable.
For commercial reasons, for every contrarian OD consultant, there are a hundred consultants looking for new fads to support. To be a contrarian, you do not need to be an altruist, but you aren’t going to be rich.