Critical issues facing Organizational Development

“The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mudville Nine that day;

The score stood four to two, with but one inning more to play,

And then when Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same,

A sickly silence fell upon the patrons of the game.’

From Casey at the Bat –Ernest Thayer         Hebrew translation

Let’s look at the context in which OD is practiced nowadays and what this all means.

1) There is a severe economic crisis which has been going on for a long time. While some phoney “economic indicators” may look better than they did in 2008, the truth is that organizations are war zones in which people struggle not to join the ranks of the unemployed. Few people expect to have job satisfaction; “ satisfaction” is having a job. Since market conditions favour the employer and not the employee, people are no longer all that important. People have become spare parts.

The cornerstone of OD was to align the individual with the organization and focus on creating an environment which is good for the individual and for the organization. Thus, the relevance of OD’s value proposition appears bizarre at the present moment.

2) Professions should have professional standards. These professional standards serve as a balance and complement the commercial criteria by which professions are evaluated. So, a chartered accountant who has a thriving business but violates accounting practices will find himself in deep water.

OD is a poorly defined profession with no borders. There are no agreed upon professional standards. Thus, commercial standards are totally dominating how OD is practiced. OD has become a commodity, sold by an OD vendor, and the OD practitioner must satisfy the client. If the client does not know what he needs, this is irrelevant because you “follow the money” and deliver what has been ordered.

A cornerstone of OD was to “speak truth to power”. If one needs to “titillate” and please the “customer”, the ability of OD to delivery on one of its major principles is castrated.

3) OD was founded by White Western and European males, and the Western values of OD are  in line with those of the founders: participation, openness, authenticity, delegation, team work.

Organizations are now configured globally. In most of the world, there is more autocracy, more secretiveness, more discretion than is seen in the west; many of the values of OD are seen as parochial and irrelevant to the way people should operate, especially when they are threatened as people are in today’s economy.

4) As OD “stands its ground” and waits for the economy to “recover”, other professions cannibalized OD.

Change Management promises those in power that changes can be “managed” with a set of templates. HR’s disguising itself as a “business partner”, has cast aside/betrays the lobbying for the human resource and often serves as management’s 5th column to “deal” and contain the human resource. Unions and organized labour may/will fill in the vacuum. Certainly in the country where I live, re-unionization is rampant.

5) OD had a massive focus on communication. In organizations, people rarely talk too much any more; they text and email and use portals.A major domain in which OD brought huge value is shrinking.

Oh, somewhere in this favoured land the sun is shining bright;

The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,

And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;

But there is no joy in Mudville — mighty Casey has struck out

From Casey at the Bat –Ernest Thayer     Hebrew translation

 

 

 

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15 thoughts on “Critical issues facing Organizational Development

  1. Again, Allon. . . Clear, compelling and disturbing thinking. Keep it coming. . . We OD types need to hear it.
    Let’s talk about ways to respond to these emerging insights you are putting forward.
    John

  2. I think this is brilliant; and I particularly find the comment about communication styles important. The change in communication is very significant and even if the economy was booming would still present a challenge. If you combine multi-culturalism with this technology as communication you can see the challenges faced even by those companies that truly value their human assets. OD has made itself (like healthcare in America) tied to economic ups and downs – and consequently when things get tight its one of the first things to go.

  3. Strong, excellent points. Even in the US and even in the domain of white women and European males, leaders in OD have little compelling to offer to the two most critical domestic issues: health care and education. Sustainable sources of energy and employment are close behind, and with a similar silence. Until the field is bringing something to the table on matters of that level urgency and import, OD will be considered superficial and frivolous. I appreciate the seriousness you bring to the topic.

  4. Well, what can I say! This is probably the only blog on the Web that calls an (OD) spade a spade and truly explains what is going on in the field…

  5. Interesting and thoughtful article. Some of my experiences though, I have to say, differ from some of the issues you have described, which of course is not to say that they aren’t prevalent.

    Regarding your first point, an important element of OD is ‘org design’. I have had several clients over the last 3 years who, driven by the need for efficiency savings, looked to restructure some of their operations and back office functions to strip out cost in a way that ensures ‘things don’t fall down’. Like with many other professions, there are different strands to OD which can and should be applied appropriately to the environment on which it operates.

    This leads on to the interesting point you make in number 2. There are almost always benefits and drawbacks to different approaches and ways of working. Whilst you accurately identify some of the draw backs, leading on from my first point, the flip side is that OD can be seen to be highly adaptable to market conditions, as I highlighted above. Again, this is not to undermine the issues you raised but to clarify some of the benefits. However, ultimately I agree with you that it is a position if strength to come from a consistent approach, I am merely pointing out that it’s not all doom and gloom.

    The challenges of working internationally are not unique to OD, and whilst undoubtedly challenging to get the balance right across cultural value systems, my experience is that the classic approach of having a core set of design principles applied appropriately, whether this be across different operating divisions or international boundaries, can go a long way, not withstanding the challenges you correctly point out.

    Your 4th point is an interesting one, but as an HR professional with a specialism in OD,I don’t necessarily see this as an issue as you have raised. Ultimately, any initiative, if it is to be sustainable, needs to be aligned to the business needs. If it is not aligned to the business needs it is also unlikely to successfully help staff develop in the ‘right’ ways to succeed in their role. This is not good for anyone.

    Finally, when it comes to comms, I fail to see why the fact that the delivery method for communications is changing should limit/ shrink the role It has in the context of OD. It seems to me that communications, if anything, become even more vital to control the consistency of the message and ensure the right message is delivered. The only thing that is adapted is how you communicate this, but it’s role no less diminished.

    Thanks for the article, I enjoyed reading it and found it insightful.

  6. Interesting and thoughtful article. Some of my experiences though, I have to say, differ from some of the issues you have described, which of course is not to say that they aren’t prevalent.

    Regarding your first point, an important element of OD is ‘org design’. I have had several clients over the last 3 years who, driven by the need for efficiency savings, looked to restructure some of their operations and back office functions to strip out cost in a way that ensures ‘things don’t fall down’. Like with many other professions, there are different strands to OD which can and should be applied appropriately to the environment on which it operates.

    This leads on to the interesting point you make in number 2. There are almost always benefits and drawbacks to different approaches and ways of working. Whilst you accurately identify some of the draw backs, leading on from my first point, the flip side is that OD can be seen to be highly adaptable to market conditions, as I highlighted above. Again, this is not to undermine the issues you raised but to clarify some of the benefits. However, ultimately I agree with you that it is a position if strength to come from a consistent approach, I am merely pointing out that it’s not all doom and gloom.

    The challenges of working internationally are not unique to OD, and whilst undoubtedly challenging to get the balance right across cultural value systems, my experience is that the classic approach of having a core set of design principles applied appropriately, whether this be across different operating divisions or international boundaries, can go a long way, not withstanding the challenges you correctly point out.

    Your 4th point is an interesting one, but as an HR professional with a specialism in OD,I don’t necessarily see this as an issue as you have raised. Ultimately, any initiative, if it is to be sustainable, needs to be aligned to the business needs. If it is not aligned to the business needs it is also unlikely to successfully help staff develop in the ‘right’ ways to succeed in their role. This is not good for anyone.

    Finally, when it comes to comms, I fail to see why the fact that the delivery method for communications is changing should limit/ shrink the role It has in the context of OD. It seems to me that communications, if anything, become even more vital to control the consistency of the message and ensure the right message is delivered. The only thing that is adapted is how you communicate this, but it’s role no less diminished.

    Thanks for the article, I enjoyed reading it and found it insightful.

  7. At it’s best, HR stands for the same underlying value, “speaking truth to power” but in the overall business cultural shift and change in the social contract between management and labor, it has indeed become a resource for controlling and eliminating squeaky wheels in the work force. If you’re not happy with a $8 t-shirt instead of a raise, you just don’t understand because…globalization. Shareholder value. And so on. Change management is in many ways a bastard discipline — the best definition I’ve seen of OD is the use of social science to help organizations deal with change, and ideally to continually be prepared to deal with changes. Change management deals with change as an event instead of a continuous process. Let’s add quality management to the mix while we’re at it. A lot of the quality materials at the highest levels — Deming, for example — read like OD notes. “Eliminate evaluation, substitute leadership.” Eradicate Fear.” Would that we could.

  8. Allon,
    Another great insightful piece. It reminds me why I continue to brand myself as an old style ODist. I find many of these challenges are true for us who still adhere to telling the client the truth and focus on the long term rather than trying to deliver that magic wand.
    Thanks as always.
    Cinthya

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