Organizational Development in Special Situations. #3 “Support Centre” for Organizational Life

Posted on March 8, 2014

This is the third of 3 posts to illustrate that OD is not passé.

While others have cannibalized some of what OD used to do, and organizations do not value people as much as before thus weakening OD’s value proposition, there are special situations where the added value of OD is outstanding.

The first situation I described was  New Product Introduction. The second  post related  to use of OD to relay intent in cases where cultural obstacles prevent dialogue.

This post will examine in brief OD practitioners greatest added value: as a “support centre” helping people think and act in organizational life.

The essence of this support is working with managers on their understanding of their cognitive/emotional organizational assumptions, serve as a reality check for  perceptions of organizational  meaning and context, “think through”  alternatives of action,examine the management of risk/opportunities and work on issues stemming from organizational politics.

Here are some of the reasons why many Organization Development practitioners do not provide  this service.

  • OD practitioners have not all been trained to do so.
  • The misplaced focus of OD practitioners  on OD products has detracted from the ability to focus on less structured  support for  “thinking”.
  • It is very hard (impossible) to market  this service.
  • Providing this type support does not create scalable revenue. Senior OD people cannot delegate this type of work to new college graduates and clip a coupon. It simply cannot be done. So this type of work means that the senior OD practitioner need to continue to consult, not manage.
  • The results of this type of work cannot be measured, thus creating a battle between the OD consultant with the organization’s procurement  department and the Gloria’s of the world.

Nevertheless I believe that is where the value of OD is.

On a personal note, when I look at the types of people I work with well, they are/have been highly intelligent people who seek out “someone smart” with whom to talk. I have never worked well with someone who wants a product. For the life of me, I do not even know what an OD product is, although I see all the “brush salespeople” peddling them all over the place.

To conclude this series….is OD passé? In Hebrew we use a double negative: לא ולא which means absolutely not (no and no). While the use of OD is less universal than it was, OD is highly applicable in special situations with the right clients.

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2 thoughts on “Organizational Development in Special Situations. #3 “Support Centre” for Organizational Life

  1. Allon, your de-construction of OD is essential in re-thinking the nature of our value-added to organizations. In 2009, after the financial tremors, Joël Poldony conducted a world-wide survey. He asked: “Since last year, do you have more or less trust in Senior Mgt (U.S. Companies), Senior Mgt (Non-U.S. companies, Consultants, Academic Institutions, Colleagues.
    Response: 73% Less Trust (SenMgt U.S.), 51% Less Trust (Sen Mgt NON U.S), 43% Less Trust (Consultants). The detailed report: We were seen has having contributed to the tremors.

  2. This post makes me wonder if the place that used to be filled with OD consultants to some degree today is where the leadership coach is?

    “…working with managers on their understanding of their cognitive/emotional organizational assumptions, serve as a reality check for perceptions of organizational meaning and context, “think through” alternatives of action,examine the management of risk/opportunities and work on issues stemming from organizational politics.” all seem to me to overlap with the role of the coach.

    Interestingly enough, it parallels the other observation you make that “organizations do not value people as much as before.” Where the OD exercise used to be that the management team would identify their mutual perceptions of strengths and weaknesses, risks and opportunities, including in their cooperation patterns, using coaches have “privatized” this to make very strong top managers but not developing the pipeline as much. I don’t know if the organizational thinking is that “they are not going to stick around and only the stupid will invest in employees who will go to the competition” without considering that the lack of investment may be the exact reason employees find another place to take their talents.

    Sadly, I agree with you that scaling in intellect intensive businesses like OD may not always be possible. Whenever part of processes are done by consultants who in the eyes of the people they “develop” haven’t earned their wings, that in itself hampers acceptance of the plans. Add to that that employees see ideas they have provided in the final reports without credit given and failure is all but guaranteed.
    It takes people with enough maturity – and that is not an age thing – to listen and guide the organization in the “correct direction of least resistance”.

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