The perfect storm: The fearful HR clerk and the OD “brush salesman”

In my previous very widely read post, I described the imperfect nature of the OD intervention.

The goal of this post is to link these imperfect OD interventions to what is happening to HR, which often commissions external OD interventions.

The positioning of HR organizations is in a state of drastic decline. HR domain has been cannibalized by IT technology, Legal Departments as well as by the declining perceived value of the resource that HR represents, i.e. people and their loyalty/satisfaction.

As a result of HR’s speedy and painful demise, the anxiety level of the remaining HR executives is sky high. Management and peers of HR constantly “question the value” of HR, as illustrated in the satiric HR Gloria blog. Like a third rate politician frightened by plummeting rating, HR becomes motivated by fear.

There is a still a group of HR managers, mainly (but not only) in their 40s +, who stand their ground and do an admirable job in this hostile environment. However there is also a younger set of HR managers , transactional technicians,  who accept that the HR consists of sycophancy to the regime  (obsequious flattery) and transactional efficiency. These HR technicians guard their position by “apparent effectiveness” and wow-wowing, i.e., organizational cheer leading.

At the meeting point between the imperfect world of OD interventions and the anxiety of transactional HR technicians, the perfect storm occurs.The OD practitioners can only commit to a process that questions the regime’s assumptions, and the HR technician deals with its own anxiety by wow wowing and cheer leading.

The result of the perfect storm is that the type of OD intervention which is chosen by HR is aligned with the fear level of HR and not the needs of the organization. The OD “vendor” must ensure that the intervention is fun, measure-able, and creates a wow buzz. Luckily for HR, there are many OD hacks who have morphed into doing this shit.

Just to provide a small example. Recently I received a call from the HR manager of a company which had recently been acquired. The call went like this, “Hi this is Dorit speaking. I am the HR manager of XXX, which has recently been purchased by YYY. Do you have an “engagement package” for technical staff. And how much does it cost?. I need this by 2 pm”.

Share Button

6 thoughts on “The perfect storm: The fearful HR clerk and the OD “brush salesman”

  1. Right on. The measurement factors for organizational success are sometimes the right ones, it is the criteria that need rethinking.

  2. I agree fully with your premise and your statements and conclusions. One way I attempt to ensure service, (If Hired) is to insist on clarifying the intervention goals and expected results and creating a representative employee and management “Steering/planning and follow-up committee within a contract that includes a three to six month follow up session. While it is true that many companies and organizations decide to say no and hire another consulting group, my conscience is clearer, though not completely free.
    Thanks for your insightful truths!

  3. Allon,
    Like usual, you “hit-the-mark”. Based on my experiences with clients, and observations from others, this message (like many of your previous posts) resonated with me.
    I also enjoy your writing style. Please keep it coming!

  4. This one resonates well with my latest encounter with an HR VP as I was walking out of the building. “Hey, Lévis, what a coincidence. Our change management process is slowing down and people are getting angst. I was wondering if you could do a one-day gig to put our strategy back on track? Give me a call. Got to go!”


  5. At one time, HR & OD were natural allies, but this is no longer the case. Over the past 40 years or so, HR has evolved to be almost entirely compliance & regulatory oriented (at least in the U.S.). to the “compliance/regulatory mindset”, change is anathema. & OD is (or at least should be) entirely about change.

    There is a tremendous need to put the “H” back into HR.

  6. Spot on, as always, Allon!
    In my experience a large part of fear among many HR people comes from their own drastic incompetence, the lack of overall general knowledge and education (how many Harvard graduates go for HR jobs?) and the resulting insecurity. So when they are confronted by someone (an OD practitioner) who talks about something they simply have no clue about, it is very difficult not to feel threatened and insecure, isn’t it? It is much easier to go for yet another “training” or “engagement package” (“yeah, I saw it once in my previous job, at least I know what that one is…”) rather than risking your own head for something you simply don’t understand (and are afraid to admit it)…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.