OD during Covid : Bailing out the ship

To my absolute surprise, my workload has increased ever since it became clear that this virus is not going away; not only are  the lemons not about to become lemonade, but  the plague is  worse than expected . As the poet Ogden Nash wrote in Seaside Serenade

It begins when you smell a funny smell,
And it isn’t vanilla or caramel,
And it isn’t forget-me-not or lilies,
Or new-mown hay, or daffy-down-dillies,
And it’s not what the barber rubs on Father,
And it’s awful, and yet you like it rather.
No, it’s not what the barber rubs on Daddy,
It’s more like an elderly finnan haddie,
Or, shall we say, an electric fan
Blowing over a sardine can.

Yet it is a time for good OD practitioners to find work, much to my surprise. I want to share some of the characteristics of work that has come my way as well as some reasons why I think this is happening.

Life with covid is not going away. And the reality of the world is now nasty and brutish. I am not an optimist  nor am I known as an optimist. Quite the opposite,I am a pessimist with a good sense of humour as well as a love of the absurd, which makes it easy to deal with what I say because of how I say it.  Furthermore, once people realized that  ‘back to normal” is messianic nonsense, my pessimistic nature has become more appealing.

During my entire career, I have held two principles as my compass: say things simply and be practical. So, my message has been -“we are up shit’s creek and no one knows anything; let’s take this hour by hour and yes, give me a can and I’ll help you bail out the boat”.

Difficult problems have become almost impossible during covid. Things move much slower; decisions take longer to make; everyone looks bad; stakeholders are worried; managers are worried; staff are worried. Ok, what’s new? If you believed that things were much better, then this new reality is all but unbearable. Yet I have believed for the longest time that stakeholders worry only about themselves, long term commitment between management and staff is feigned propaganda-so for me, the present situation is just a bit worse than it used to be, It is not paradise lost. I have confidence and I am neither appalled or frightened of being seen as incompetent. OD is not perfect. It has huge value,but it ain’t rocket science.

(This reminds me of people who claim that America is more divided than ever. America has almost always been divided for heaven sakes.Trump is the most racist president ever? No more than Carter was (his days as Supervisor of Education were horrendously racist)  and certainly less than Kennedy acted as he dragged his feet on civil rights.)

The problems that my new clients have asked me to lend a helping hand to alleviate are difficult, multi dimensional and stubborn. I am not sure exactly or what approach to take, and I have no tricks up my sleeve. My new clients respect my lack of conviction about how to proceed.They feel safe that I am thinking as well as acting with caution seasoned with pragmatism, not peddling some elixir like cod liver oil or employee engagement or “we are all in this together”.

Probably my present value proposition to my clients is my sense of humour, my ability to learn,and my lack of ready made solutions.

In memory of Alex Kornhauser-brilliant, fair, exact, humane and humble. A great leader, a fine man; sadly missed.

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