Enhancing the placebo effect of organization development

CEO Morris send me a Whatsapp ; “Hey Allon,  the management meeting this week went exceptionally well. It came up several times that you Allon ask the right questions. Thanks Morrie”. In this particular organization, I had merely interviewed 6  out of the 15 members of the senior management team.

My guess is that some cynics may ask why I even bother writing a post about placebo effects of organization development. Tangible, real  effects of organization development are very real, yet are immune to standard measuring instruments. So why worry about leveraging placebo effects for our very uncertain profession?

The reason for this post is that I do believe that the placeo effect is one of the best medications ever invented. And when the placebo effect is transferred to OD, it can indeed be leveraged to create a perception of change, which serves as a platform for other more tangible changes.

So now to be practical, I want to spell out a few ideas on how to go about creating the placebo effect of an organization development process.

  1. Price your services high. It is easy to be dissatisfied with a consultant who charges $80 an hour; it is much harder to be unhappy who charges quadruple that amount.
  2. If your project is controlled by an HR manager, there is a good chance that few people will want to make the project shine. The HR manager will more often than not try and control the project, which positions OD as a commodity. However, if OD is owned by the CEO, it needs to look good, almost by definition.
  3. Never negotiate fees with Procurement. If fees are negotiated, procurement will made it well known than they “chipped off”  x% of your fee. And that is not very conducive to a service producing a placebo affect.
  4. Avoid long sessions which can be judged as “success” or “failures”. In other words, don’t hand the executioner the rope. Work in smaller, shorter sessions, placing the burden on the client and not on your showmanship,



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6 thoughts on “Enhancing the placebo effect of organization development

  1. Often asking the right questions – questions that have never before been asked in that organization – can be the first step toward changing the thinking. An that, in & of itself, can begin to be a catalyst for change.

    • The very asking of the right questions does have some effect indeed. Yet the major changes that can be produced in diagnositic stage are imho part of a placebo effect….. something like I feel with every new treatment fory lower back pain. 🙂

  2. Sound advice, Allon. Picking up on Robin’s suggestion, I have found over the years that asking what initially appear to be “dumb” questions yields a lot of very useful information – to the consultant – who can then turn it around, tweak it a bit, and use it to open the client’s eyes – often to their great surprise and delight.

  3. Totally agree (no surprise there). And I find point #4 sometimes is a challenge. Finding that balance between getting the client to address the big picture and making the engagement small enough can be tricky. But I think breaking it into small pieces and “picking the low-hanging fruit” moves it in the right direction. Asking the right questions shows your thoughtfulness and allows smart clients to contribute to solutions – not exactly placebo, but you’re right: hard to measure.

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