OD needs to stop cross-dressing as Change Management in order to support the chaos of organizational life

Organizational life is characterized by a high degree of chaos, a chaos which creates a complex painful reality at the system, personal and interpersonal level.

Organizations pretend to deny/avoid the chaos via ERPs, structural changes and well defined processes, but the chaos bites them in the ass all the more, manifesting itself in a plethora of post-modern pathologies, such as collapse of trust, massive disengagement, toxic leadership and subjugation of common sense to grotesque IT dictated business processes.

Despite the need that exists to better cope with the brutality inflicted by chaos, OD is no longer a major player in this domain. OD sold its soul as it went through a vast array of changes and  these changes have negatively impacted  OD’s ability to survive. A few of the changes-

  • Commercialization
  • Productization
  • Dumbing
  • Crawling into bed with change management

OD rendered itself irrelevant in the very area in which it has most value. OD became a side show.

Why did these changes not position OD to move into the chaos pain mitigation domain more effectively?  Well, chaos is chaos. Coping with the complexities of chaos cannot be done by dumbed practitioners, using scalable models which promise the predefined deliverables a la change management.

The alternative to the commercialized OD product crap is not easy. Selling and practising the less structured, semi chaotic art of OD is real tough. OD that deals with coping with chaos is hard to define to the client. There is lots of artistic and eclectic improvisation on the way, and the output of such an OD effort is unmeasurable; the changes OD makes eventually creep into the system and people, alleviating a lot of the side effects of excess chaos. However, there is no “deliverable” as an output, enter-able into an ERP purchase request.

By conforming to the clients’ pathology instead of confronting it, we sold our soul.OD knows how to deliver a change in the critical underlying dynamics which sabotage flexibility. There is no need to pretend to be something else.

So where do we go from here? I believe that before OD supports clients’ chaos, we need to loosen up and deal with our own anxiety driven over-structuring. 

In the meantime, OD practitioners who want to help their clients cope with chaos would be wise to avoid all OD models, avoid the flight to spiritualism and desist from cross dressing as change managers.

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29 thoughts on “OD needs to stop cross-dressing as Change Management in order to support the chaos of organizational life

  1. Allon, can you provide a case study? Not as an example/prescription of yet another “package”, but rather an inspiration of what real OD can do for org., teams, individuals. Thank you.

  2. Just shared this with an India list with the following comments ” In India, the desire to please may be an epidemic of insecurity, that not only OD practitioners but facilitators at large need to overcome. That’s what I felt after I read this one. What do you feel?”

  3. Right you are Allon, While systems thinking can help, OD is not Change Management nor systems engineering. Helping the humans who operate enterprises to manage the chaos and find ways of living and working more fully and effectively is not necessarily efficient…at least in the short run.
    When we see organizations such as SHRM and ASTD and anybody else who wants to set up a cert program etc. take over some kind of mass certification in OD for nearly everyone in the HR field it calls the practice into question. As you say real OD/action research is hard, messy, sometimes painful and requires interpersonal and facilitation skills far beyond the mechanics used in change management and HR.
    Good thoughts Allon

  4. Allon–the more I read your writings, the more clear I am that you do not know very much about the work done by competent OD practitioners. You attack OD at evry turn. What is it about competent OD practices that are so threatening to you?

    Regards, Don

    • I like what Allon writes.
      I think we try and box things into some well packaged process and tick the box that we are done, but this is rarely the case as transformation is a long term process, and too often we seek the short term deliverables.

      • Are you against cross-dressers lol? OD was all about change when Kurt Lewin walked the earth, long before the change management fad. I agree with most of what you wrote…as usual…but I gotta disagree that effective OD isn’t measurable…the measurement for me is whether or not the customer hits their business goals. Lewin was always trying to help a system meet goals…and yes there are un-measurable side effects as well. Respect.

      • I regret that this conversation ended this way. I thought we might be on to something. I thought Allon’s comments about OD were right on and very provocative but then they went in to the garbage can with the language, etc. Clean it up a little bit, have some respect for your colleagues here and in the world (we’re all part of the same web) and I think you might have something you can teach us.

  5. Allon was right and absolutely honest with his OD experience and insights. Language is limited anyway, and are we really dare to challenge ourselves whatever at any level of OD practitioner? This is a free web, anyone can speak, anyone can be supportive and anyone can be against, at least Allon is responding in gentle way, even though in his reign.

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  7. Am late to the party, Allon… 😉

    Robin Cook kindly published both his endorsement and the link to OD. So, I just read your article.

    However, I will join the “parade” of kudos for a typically brilliant posting.

    I will offer a friend a bit of quibble. I have come to realize via the work of Patrick Trottier that “emergence” more accurately defines what goes on in organization. Emergence is routinely characterized as chaos. There is a difference: chaos is – per Margaret Wheatley – the absence of pattern. However, emergence is the birth of patterns simultaneously with the death of patterns.

    This simultaneous birth and death is a bit difference than chaos, per se. It is Lewin’s “unfreeze” stage. It is what was called in OE/OD in the mid to early 80s as “transition”. It is the interaction of the Hindu gods Brahma and Shiva ( Chris Fox did an interesting overlay of this onto the Adizes Corporate Lifecycle. It is on my website in the four-slide deck (.pdf) under the link “Chris Fox Hindu God Interplay vis a vis Adizes Corporate Lifecycle” in the “Models from Other Thought Leaders” section. )

    It is a nexus where a change leader can make a difference by commanding or facilitating what patterns die and which emerge. And what those dying and emerging patterns will look like. Shaping a dying pattern is not trivial: today the vogue term is “closure” .

    Again, thank you for a wonderful read, Allon,


    Drive ON!

  8. Allon,

    I missed the comments attacking you about your language.

    The irony is not missed: attacking – no matter what words are used – are an attack. At least with direct – even vulgar – language, one is clear about the intent. When it is cloaked in a self-proclaimed protector role, it becomes hazed but the force is there all the same.

    I, for one, urge you to continue to use the full extent of your vocabulary and free speech (I know you are an Israeli but I think Israeli’s – more than Americans – value and respect free speech).

    Part of what sets you apart and makes you a valued resource for me is both your example in regards to free expression and you willingness to speak bluntly in real terms. In regards to the latter, a dollar to a doughnut says those decrying your use of words use those same words in their real world lives – or would never confront a friend or co-worker who chooses to use those words.

    Fight the PC police, Allon! I love the liberty in your posts!


    Drive On!

  9. Hi Allon – just to share… I read Ed’s input onJune 12, 2017 at 15:00 on this blog and appreciated his comments, as alwyas. For the last 20 years I’ve been engaged in developing an Emergent Organizational Development And Change™ (EODC)™ process to deal with what you have pointed out in your blog here. I totally agree with your point of view. It has been a challenging effort within my practice and writings…

    “Out of chaos comes form” (Patrick Trottier)
    “Out of complexity comes simplicity through form.” (Patrick Trottier)

    This note from me is not to market but to share my thoughts and work that again, hopefully starts to address your issues about OD. OD needs to evolve as any other state, or fade away… …

    An Introduction To Emergent Organizational Development And Change™ (EODC)™

    Still being drafted:
    The Emergent Organizational Development and Change™ (EODC™) Platform

    Long time reader of your blog. Wishing you well… Patrick Trottier

  10. Glad you re-promoted this 2015 post, Allon, as it may be helpful in today’s Covid pandemic world. I wonder what issues today’s OD practitioners are focusing on (e.g. organizational disruption)?

    How is the Change Management field faring during these times of extraordinary uncertainty? I see a lot less CM posts on LinkedIn these days.

    How many ODers have fled to the Coaching field as it seems to be flourishing and very lucrative?

  11. OCM practices to my mind make the fatal assumption (ironically) that change is a one-off. What do I mean by that? Typically, a bunch of senior stakeholders / leaders / experts convene and then ‘lay down’ the change that needs to take place.

    To expand on Allon’s point – this is linear and timebound, not multifactor and chaotic (or at least subject to flux and forces).

    Instead, we need an approach or system that allows for EMERGENT change – and this (IMHO) can be found in Engagement. Here, we achieve bottom-up inputs that enable the ecosystem to adapt to new situations and realities. It also means delegating power throughout the org (middle managers we hear you!).

    But then, is not OCM simply another way of implementing top-down control with experts and elites doing the bidding of senior leaders?

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