“How will we know that the service that we are purchasing is effective? How can we measure the results”, are questions posed by clients at the outset of an Organization Development project. These queries are posed either due to the need to justify the expense, or out of ignorance, or in order to gain control of the vendor. At times, perhaps, they are asked naively.
What’s the answer to such a question? Let me start with two stories that I have shared with potential clients.
An organization providing product X decides to measure customer satisfaction by discovering how many times the phone rings before it is answered, and how many complaints are received about poor service per customer service agent. Software is purchased and an OD vendor is commissioned to implement that change. Immediately, customer service agents beginning answering calls immediately and saying “please hold”, and when they identify themselves, they mumble their name so that it’s hard to complain about someone specific. Later on the consultant learns that product X itself is faulty and its non functional features were, and are still, over promoted.
Another client wants to enhance the long term commitment of the ultra-skilled staff, and hires a consultant to enhance their engagement. Over time, it becomes clear that this very staff has become a monopoly of knowledge, systematically keeping new recruits in the dark for years, making their experience into a power bloc that makes incredulous pecuniary demands.
OD, I explain, deals with the “underworld”, the subterfuge that prevents change from happening effectively. And up front, it is very hard to define exactly what success will look like. The “success” we strive for changes constantly. OD is often initially commissioned for the wrong reason, or the intervention is aimed at the wrong people. It is ever so rare that OD deals with the problem that it was initially commissioned to deal with.
So the answer is that success cannot be defined a priori. It can be initially defined every few weeks, and each definition will be vague and not binding. Success is not even progress, because in the initial stages, things get worse, or much worse. If the client shies from this truth, it can be likened to planting a flower bed in the wrong direction with no/too much water. It’s not going to work. And it’s best to make this clear as early as possible, as early as possible.