Why is Organizational Development so rigid and out of step? Revised July 2023


As organizations have changed beyond recognition since OD was founded, the profession has not shown much resilience. OD practioners cling to outdated values, irrelevant tools, and outdated assumptions.  There are many reasons for this rigidity and in this short post, I want to point out what I believe to be the major barriers to change.

  • OD was a revolution. Revolutions become institutionalized. Prophets are replaced by priests; rebels are replaced by bureaucrats. The bureaucrats and the priests auger power and sanctify the revolution as “over”.
  • Many people who teach OD do not practice OD, except for lectures and guest appearances. Some have never had a long term client in their life. As opposed to a great legal mind who knows the law but has never been in court, or a philosopher whose very detachment from the everyday enables new perspectives, OD professors who have not spent years in the field are worse than useless; they promulgate an understanding of organizations as they existed more than half a century ago.
  • There have been very few innovators in the field of OD. The innovative brains of OD are in the field doing OD, practising OD, but not renewing it from positions of power from within the profession.
  • As organizations changed faster than OD, OD became more fundamentalist, much like the Amish, Hassidic Jewry or the Bible Bashers of the South. Believers blind themselves to a world that they do not accept, and sanctify the past. Maybe this is what religion is about, but not OD.

What needs to be done to expand the awareness and derivative skills of the OD professional? I have a few concrete suggestions:

  1. Work experience of 5 years in a real organization with a global configuration is a pre-requisite to studying OD. 
  2. Understanding the western bias of OD must be compulsory.
  3. Skills for practicing OD in hierarchal and face-valuing societies must be obligatory.
  4. Proficiency in a foreign language, my assumption being that that learning another language always expands cultural awareness.
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4 thoughts on “Why is Organizational Development so rigid and out of step? Revised July 2023

  1. Only to the extent that those who practice OD do not evidence their art through the methods of science.

    Those who claim innovation in practice need to show how their practice works AND why it works.

    I still remember Chris Argyris’ holding a room of more than 60 Appreciative Inquiry practitioners to question how their papers lacked theoretical rigor in terms of ‘how’ and ‘what’ in AI made change happen.

    By innovation yardstick, Gloria is more adept than cannibalistic HR practitioners. Shouting OD from the rooftops does not constitute OD no matter whose voice it is.

  2. Allon, I can always count on you to poke the bear:-). It’s one of my most favorite things about you (and there are many). I especially appreciate the global mindset you promote as a qualification. A purely academic, unseasoned approach can be so damaging to individuals and organizations. When I think about my many early career mistakes they all fall into your categories. Thank you for your insights.

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