How to do OD consulting with a startup

This post will address how to go about doing OD with start ups and their founders.

At face level, there is a good match between the value proposition of OD and the needs of startups.

  • Startups have talent, flexibility, a high level of engagement and do not suffer from the chronic ailments of older organizations.
  • OD provides a development platform (mindset, concepts, skills) to support the new technologies/products which are being created. Sounds like a dream world to me.

However, founders are generally not receptive to OD. The very qualities of the founders that enabled them to become founders, prevent them from proper leverage of OD. The founder, who essence is breaking down the barriers of innovation, often views “organizational issues” in one of two ways:

1) Organizational issues are banal, ‘a matter of common sense”, (meaning the common sense of the founder.)

2) Organizational issues are a chance to reinvent human nature; “I will create an organization which will change the way people organize.”

The constraining forces inhibiting growth of a startup are often organizational and behavioural. Startups have ideas, technologies and great people; frequently they have a detailed road map of the development of the technological solution they are engineering. Yet founders of startups do not generally address the issue:” what type of organization do I need to develop to support these great ideas?”

Founders often react poorly to OD consultants. Not only are many founders arrogant, many OD practiones lack the technical savvy to gain respect.  OD consultants tend to be much older than founders, which add more complexity since the OD consultant can be seen as the “parent”. (I am 68 and many of my clients are in their twenties).

Generally founders appoint the admin to be the first HR manager, along with facilities and car rental! That certainly closes the HR route to work with startups at an early stage.

Often, investors who want their founders to get grey haired organizational development support put OD consultants on the Board, or attach some strings to the money that they invest making OD “compulsory”. This approach certainly limits the trust that will develop between the founder and the OD consultant, although I remember two cases when that approach worked.

OD in startups generally begins when the founder steps aside to becomes CTO and brings on a professional CEO . The struggle between the founder and the new CEO is a great place to start an OD project. 98% of the work I do in startups began this way.

Once a project starts, I suggest the following emphases:

1-Ensure that the development of the organization parallels the development of the organization 6 months down the road

2-Develop a dialogue and an action plan around developing scalability. (Anyone who wants to know how this is done should leave contact details below).

3-Develop a plan whereby the organization does not need to either enslave itself to the initial group of employees, nor push them aside. There are many ways of doing so.

4-Develop a life cycle dialogue and action plan about people, skills, “mores” and structuring.

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