OD will be globally relevant only when it adapts new professional values

There are those who believe that OD practitioners need a new skill set to be globally competent. There is even a questionnaire being circulated to garner input as to what these global skills may be.

I  suggest a radically different approach: OD needs to realign its core values, which are at present totally western.  Without a change to the  OD profession’s present western values, it makes no sense to define a global consulting skill set.

The list of key OD values  exposes a Western cultural bias.

  • Respect and Inclusion
  • Collaboration
  • Authenticity
  • Self-awareness
  • Empowerment

These values mean radically different things in different places. For example,

  • Respect and Inclusion is-“Give face get face in return”.
  • Collaboration looks more like “obedience to authority; there is “one tiger to a hill” and collaboration with other departments may be seen as betrayal of authority.
  • Authenticity looks more like “total control and repression of emotion as a desired state” and authenticity is weakness.
  • Self-awareness looks more like “appear” professional and collected at all times, showing no emotion.
  • Empowerment may look like “do what you are told, and I will protect you”

We can even drill down one level deeper on the idea of “respect” to show the depth of the gaps that may exist between various populations in a global company.

  • Helmut shows respect by keeping to schedule. Baharat from Mumbei shows respect by answering calls from his clients immediately, even when he is running a meeting. Moshe from Israel shows respect by giving you as much time as needed, ignoring the “formal” schedule he is supposed to be following. Paco shows a huge respect for people, yet their time is not a valued resource for Paco, so his US colleague Paul feels a huge lack of respect.
  • Daw from Huahin Thailand gives respect by never inconveniencing people with whom he works. In public meetings, he is courteous and tends to be amicable to all suggested directions, reserving his disagreements for a private conversation. He sees the gap between what he allows himself to say in public and private as giving a huge amount of respect.
  • Mark from St Paul gives respect by separating between people and issues. He can deliver a critique of an idea, but he never is critical of a person; he is careful to remain civil. Mark sees in civility the ultimate manifestation of respect.
  • Ngai Lam from Hong Kong shows respect by always being in her “professional” persona, concealing much of her emotions, expression of which may be seen as showing lack of respect for the work place.
  • Hank from Holland as well as Moti from Israel show respect by being blunt so that no one needs to guess what their intention is, which would be disrespecting and uncaring.
  • ·Olive from Germany and Oya from Japan show respect by a very formal use of language when addressing people who merit respect.

So really, even we all try and rally around something as universal as “respect”, we see a lack of shared context for organization development, unless OD decides that the values of the west can and should be imposed. 

So for those who want to jump the gun and define global competencies for OD, hold your horses and start by examining the current western biases of the OD profession.

Only when OD ceases to impose western values can OD serve as the enabling platform for various cultures to work together without cultural imposition. That is our future.

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14 thoughts on “OD will be globally relevant only when it adapts new professional values

  1. I also appreciate your view, not many OF consultants are aware of what you describe. I work as an intercultural consultant and I try to define what kind of values would help people to cooperate together, if cooperation as well as respect is understood in so many different ways… How would you name it? Understanding? Thanks for this discussion.

  2. I have read your posting and the many replies. A challenge indeed. May I refer to a book I read in my teens entitle Fundamentals of Interpersonal Communication by Kim Giffin and Bobby R. Patton. I am obviously still reading and referring to it to this day. OD may seeks to establish methodology, cultural etiquette would be the tactical sensitivity skills to embrace the many nuances that make for a successful engagement.
    The west has made it’s mark on the world over a brief time, our time. The dynamics of life urges us to think and act eclectically in order to remain viable throughout life. So to with our professional studies and methodologies that we are steeped in. Challenging and validating what we think is so, and maybe appropriate at one time, should be re-evaluated and confirmed when used for and in another circumstance. OD is not a fixed study of managing people and their business protocol. It is about finding optimum levels of communications, applying comprehensive methodologies in light of the multitude of cultural sensitivities upon which it plays on and in. The frustration that I have witnessed across all levels of engagement is when we assume rolls and predetermine expectations of understanding of our interactions…how rude indeed!
    Ronald M. Allen
    Business Consultant
    Managing Change, LLC

  3. There you go again, Allon, reminding us that we are not all Westerners or people trying to BECOME Westerners! I understand the desire for OD competencies–it’s one way to attempt to bring at least some structure and standards to a practice that seems to defy such efforts.
    Maybe, as you suggest, we need to work at the other end of the pipe (skills and tactics being ‘the brown end of the pipe’), at the ‘upstream’ end, our core VALUES.
    What are we attempting to accomplish in the world, and why? Let’s get clear about THAT first. . .

  4. Alon – you are onto something. And even as a westerner, practicing OD, the value you list, and the spirit of OD and values here, focus more on creating a certain egalitarian culture within a company, rather than to primarily serve the leadership of the companies to create better results.

    • Thanks. I was invited to the UK -Pan European OD conference and people were receptive.They feel the pain!
      There is a meeting in Oregon coming up and they seem to be focusing on global competencies, defined by insiders, which is self defeating and appears to me to be arrogant.

  5. Read this again today. There is what one may call a Western assumption of universalism, and perhaps an implicit right to appropriate unto itself what is non-western in order that the west-determined ‘globalism’ may be published and socialized. There may even be its anti-thesis beyond western worlds in a non-embracing particularism, which may also be detrimental to the intent of global exchange. Professional values needs to eschew both extremes and arrive at a new, near unique dialogue, for every attempt at inter-relating to each other. In a dynamic world, there is perhaps a case for autopoetic emergence of work cultures, because of ongoing interaction, access and opportunities of trans-national business ecologies.

  6. Pingback: OD preaches change, but refuses to change | Allon Shevat

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