OD preaches change, but refuses to change

A What is this all about?

For almost a decade, I have been harping on the Western bias of Organization Development, and how to align OD with global organizing.

My argument is that OD’s values and tools have a western bias which render OD inappropriate in global organizing. OD should not be the tool to impose western values, but rather the platform which enables various cultures to work together to get things done without cultural imposition of OD’s western ways. To claim that traditional OD has relevance for global organizing is preposterous.

B Where did I start? Where am I now?

I started this line of thought in the Organization Development Journal (Vol 21) in 2003 in my article “Making OD Global”, which was initially ignored and is now often quoted. For years after that, I engaged with junior and senior alike practitioners in the ODNET discussion group about the western boas of OD.

At present, I am engaging people about coming to terms with their Western bias in both LinkedIn Groups, and via this blog which has about 600 hits a day. I recently published an article called “Aligning Organization Development to Global Organizing”.

I am writing an exercise book for managers and consultants to expand their global awareness.

C) Resistance I encounter

A very small population of OD practitioners understands both my strategic direction and the derivative tactical need to cast aside concepts and tools of traditional OD in global organizations.

By and large, I encounter massive resistance to my ideas, and in this post I point out various ways in which my ideas are resisted.

1) There is nothing new except for Allon’s arrogance.

Folks who make this claim appear to understand that my argument, if correct, is very threatening to the status quo. Thus, I become part of the status quo.

2)  Allon may have a point, I need to acquire some intercultural skills”.

Folks who make this claim conveniently ignore the point that a global  practitioner does not need some cultural understanding, but rather the ability NOT to act with a western bias.

3) “Allon exaggerates a bit”.

Folks who make this claim prefer to believe that “in the end, people are all the same; they want to be “open”, face saving does not apply to the young, and no one really wants to defer to authority”. OD is a process which will “enlighten” the East lies at the heart of this claim.

4) Some folks find my ideas so repulsive that I get hate mail.

5) Some folks agree that what I claim is true, but only in the global organization.

I find the word “only” pretty shocking, because everyone is obsessing about the future of OD, and global organizations is where the world is going.

D) Let’s not go on pretending

I waging this campaign, driven by an overwhelming feeling that OD can have universal application only if its key values/concepts and derivative tools are revised and adapted to global reality. Because OD does not “get” global organizing right.

In the past, I was a main line, traditional  ODer, with a Tavistock background.I was a career officer for many years in the IDF, and that sure pushed me to conform.I graduated from Montreal’s McGill University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, neither of which promoted too much intellectual innovation.

I will continue this campaign of mine, despite the very limited impact I am having on the way mainstream OD practitioners think about and “do” OD. I will do so because it needs to be done.


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15 thoughts on “OD preaches change, but refuses to change

  1. Allon
    Great topic and discussion. Why don’t you join us at the ISODC Conference in Amsterdam (July 7-12, 2014)? I will put you on the program to led a panel discussion on the issues you are raising here. More conference details at http://www.isodc.org.

    All the best.

    Jerry Glover

  2. First of all, I’m not sure that your impact is that all limited, Allon. Remember that one of the elements of OD is that we are often unaware of the impact we’re having until after the fact.

    It seems to me that, with facilitation as core to success in OD interventions, one of the most critical characteristics for a successful practitioner is neutrality – at least striving to go in without preconceptions. & isn’t that what you’re really preaching here?

  3. Hi Allon

    Having practiced in a number of countries and now working in the Middle East I absolutely agree with you about the Western mindset in current OD thought. Tools that have worked well in the UK and US do not work in the Middle and Far East. You have to work from first principles and adapt practice to the business environment you are working on. Effective OD and change management are pragmatic and rely very much on practitioners being attuned to the cultures worked in.

    Kind Regards


  4. Even practicing OD in North America from our North American inflused OD constructs requires re-thinking. Joel Poldony, in his research, presented a case where consultants were largely mistrusted from their contributions to the 2008 crash – where we were not innocent voyeurs. Your questionning, Allon, though uncomfortable, is a call for action on two grounds:
    1: Naming our pre-suppositions with regards to the purpose and tooling of OD.
    2: Holding those pre-suppostions to the light of various cultures.
    The work then is one of research extending, elaborating, testing and applying the findings. Together, we can participate in this continuing exploration to bring increased understanding and sanity to our own work as OD practitioners and to the organizations we claim to “serve”.

  5. Thank you for your work. Your point of view is shared and obvious to thousands of us who work in the real, wonderfully diverse world.

    ‘Courage and appreciation,
    Mary Beth Lamb

  6. Allon, I am presently reading a book called “The Indian Way: How Indian Top Business Leaders are Revolutionizing Management.” I picked it up while in Mumbai the other day. It’s very much aligned with what you are saying and as someone who works at the heart of multicultural distributed teams all over the world, training on how to optimize the communication flow between cultures, I agree with your statement 100%. I do believe though that in order to get out of our cultural silos and to be able to see the forest for the tree when it comes to the influence of Western values on OD, having access to the tenets of cultural intelligence is key. Contrasting our differing view points with other cultures is the only way for people who have been prevented from experiencing other cultural norms to realize that the only universal truth is that there are none… All the best and keep on doing what you’re doing!

  7. We have an old saying “Do as I say, not as I do” that sums up the meaning of hypocrisy. Trouble is, that others can see what I do…and they notice the discrepancy.

    This is why the Johari window is such genius! It helps us to become more humble as we become more aware of our own blind areas.

    As OD consultants, one of our most important attributes must be humility.

  8. The “church” of OD was indeed built up from a North American creed and for a North American deed. While several OD theologians have come up with more “modern” interpretations and exegesis , the fundamental creed has remained. Hence, many OD priests hold Global Organizing as requiring more “advanced” forms of cultural awareness. The shift from “multiculturalism” (a quiet form of assimilation to the founding OD creed) to “interculturalism” is a difficult one. Multiculturalism has, as a founding pre-supposition, that there is a “majority” ethnocultural center from which differences are recognized and politely appreciated as long as they think “like us”. Interculturalism is a mindset whereby ethnocultural differences are held as the common ground for connection. The distinction here is between “differences as thinking territories to colonize and guide” AND “differences as thinking territories with boundaries that both separate and connect”. (Only an Israeli can come up with the term Global Organizing. Hey, they negotiate with the Big Guy and succeed in having Him change his mind).

  9. Allon, as others are saying, you are not alone in this long, long campaign. While many Australian HR and OD professionals do ‘get it’, in principle, and some in practice, real change is slow. After 35 years in the intercultural field, I continue to press the argument for culturally competent management systems, both global and domestic. Your blogs are both enjoyable and valuable. Keep ’em coming!

  10. I was acting as a CEO of an Indian off shore R&D company, a subsidiary of a global western company. I was the only non indian person there,out of 3000 employees. The mission also included merging 2 different companies located in 2 different India states with deep cultural difference between them.
    the idea to bring an outsider (apparently against all theories)was the OD’s idea -Allon in this case.
    The sucsses was beyond the company’s expectation and I must admit beyond my own expectations. I can sum up in short the principles that led to sucsses as the following;
    1.Treat your employees and talk to them on equale level (“eye to eye level) do not treat them as the “western colonial boss”, This is the way to receive their full dedication,loyalty and sincerity.
    2.Study and respect the Indian culture, behave accordingly but DO NOT COMPROMISE ON RESULTS (just because “they are different”)
    Dov Nardimon

  11. Allon: May I ask what have you experienced that led you to the conclusion that “OD’s values and tools have a western bias which render OD inappropriate in global organizing”?
    What have you witnessed that make say: “OD preaches change, but refuses to change”?

    I am interested
    Looking forward to learning from you

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