Why things get worse when an OD intervention starts-and what to do about it

Don’t believe those who say that OD cannot make things worse. The truth is that OD does develop organizations, enabling them to better leverage horizontal team work between functions, mitigate unnecessary escalations, and repair organizational “bugs” by re-empowering people to evoke common sense. However this takes time and initially, things get worse.

Here’s why.

When people start talking about their problems, their expectations go up. However the speed of change is much slower than the rise in the level of expectations. The result is the perception that things are getting worse. This is common sense.

OD projects change the allocation of power generally from top to bottom, but also from side to side, ie, from one function to another. People resist these changes and fight back. How often? Always. For how long? As long as management is not consistent in supporting the change effort.

OD projects have opposition. The opposition arises from managers who see impending threats, from internal OD who moan and groan why they are not allowed to do the work, and from Finance since professional OD is expensive. Often the internal opposition initially creates lots of noise to undermine the success of the OD project.

OD efforts are often trial and error. The trials are sometimes unfortunately similar to finding a good antidepressant-it takes time and some pain.

Change is painful, and very often old problems disappear and new ones surface. Because OD does not solve problems, it replaces them with new ones, of a different magnitude. For example: we have now empowered our hotel maintenance staff to order spare parts directly without going thru the Hotels’ Management Chain’s purchasing bureaucracy. Maintenance is faster; guests are not complaining any more.  But now we need to change the methods/ culture of control and recruitment. New problems. New pain.

My suggestion is that an OD consultant always inform and explain this “initial setback” when before signing up for a job. If the management wants fun and wow, it’s better to clear this up front, and not get burnt.

And remember, HR and internal OD have a VERY low pain threshold, especially if they are the ones that have chosen you to do the work.

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3 thoughts on “Why things get worse when an OD intervention starts-and what to do about it

  1. Low risk is a preference.most people have. Understanding anxiety in learning and coping with change helps. However, some internal OD folk prefer simplistic notions and shun or numb learning and change with sweet positivity. Their choice of banana chocolate muffins to deny real bitter nutritional requirements of the body.
    One internal OD person recently wanted an OD ‘program’ for the year. ‘Last year we did Appreciative Inquiry. We are looking for options this year’. As if there’s a center of gravity within change options that revolves like Newtonian physics around the OD sun!

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