As organizations have changed beyond recognition since OD was founded, the profession has not shown much resilience. OD practioners cling to outdated values, irrelevant tools, and outdated assumptions. There are many reasons for this rigidity and in this short post, I want to point out what I believe to be the major barriers to change.
- OD was a revolution. Revolutions become institutionalized. Prophets are replaced by priests; rebels are replaced by bureaucrats. The bureaucrats and the priests auger power and sanctify the revolution as “over”.
- Many people who teach OD do not practice OD, except for lectures and guest appearances. Some have never had a long term client in their life. As opposed to a great legal mind who knows the law but has never been in court, or a philosopher whose very detachment from the everyday enables new perspectives, OD professors who have not spent years in the field are worse than useless; they promulgate an understanding of organizations as they existed more than half a century ago.
- There have been very few innovators in the field of OD. The innovative brains of OD are in the field doing OD, practising OD, but not renewing it from positions of power from within the profession.
- As organizations changed faster than OD, OD became more fundamentalist, much like the Amish, Hassidic Jewry or the Bible Bashers of the South. Believers blind themselves to a world that they do not accept, and sanctify the past. Maybe this is what religion is about, but not OD.
What needs to be done to expand the awareness and derivative skills of the OD professional? I have a few concrete suggestions:
- Work experience of 5 years in a real organization with a global configuration is a pre-requisite to studying OD.
- Understanding the western bias of OD must be compulsory.
- Skills for practicing OD in hierarchal and face-valuing societies must be obligatory.
- Proficiency in a foreign language, my assumption being that that learning another language always expands cultural awareness.
“The answer is easy if you take it logically” Paul Simon
How has OD adapted itself to the changes in organizational configurations? Let’s take a look.
First I will spell out just a few ways that organizations have changed in the last few decades.
- Organizations sell things that do not exist, install half-cooked crap, and fix it constantly, until it works-and then sell an upgrade which is managed the same way.
- Most communication is not face to face.
- People who work together do not work in the same building; as a matter of fact, they work in different time zones and-lo and behold, may not share common values.
- Business travel is dead due to a plague impacting the globe.
- Nothing is predictable, most of all supply chain, stability of order flow, and relevancy of existing products.
- Service provision has been digitalized.
- ERP’s have produced brainlessness and the near death of personal ownership.
I would be very interested in knowing if and how OD has adapted to these changes?
Imho, it hasn’t-which is why there is so much standing on the shoulders of the tired and very dead founders. If you are interested in what needs to be done, most of the posts in this blog provide an answer. Start here. Then here. Now this.
After which, you can plough through my blog-and most of the changes that OD needs to adopt are spelt out.
I emerged dejected from a cordial meeting of very smart people on OD’s relevance in face of the massive change and crisis we are all experiencing.
I felt at times like I was in a group of Latin speakers, discussing how to further inculcate the use of Latin in written passports and diplomacy.
Now I have way of being in people’s face and speaking my mind, but I did try to behave until I heard words like “permanency” and “awareness”. Thankfully, one colleague from Missouri noted that the language we used during the meeting was somewhat out of sync. I felt, “thank god I’m not alone”
I decided to try to be positive today about the whole matter. I am recovering from a 3rd corona shot (which is no easy task) and it’s so hot that I dare not venture outside except for taking George outside to “relieve” himself. So I pondered-“what can be done”.
What OD needs to do now to become relevant. (like yesterday!)
- Speed as strategy; whatever we need to do, it needs to be fast.
- Work with clients to ensure that expertise is well positioned and empowered, even if it means less emphasis on teamwork.
- Similar to other professions, we need to intervene in order to diagnose. “Take this pill, if it works, then your symptoms are depression. Install this software, and we’ll test it down the road”. Diagnose, intervene measure; freeze unfreeze-are irrelevant. Eg, X is incompetent. Outsource the capability NOW.
- Stop standing on the shoulders of the founding fathers. They are old, dead and partially irrelevant. Show respect by breaking with tradition, as they did.
- In the army, I learnt that OD is done best before a battle and after. So when necessary, mitigate overdosing on reflection, awareness and activities that hinder short term survival. Yes, short term.
- Political survival of key figures, aka-what’s in this for me, becomes a dominant theme in extreme crisis. Factor this into your understanding of what is/needs to be done.