Value added OD brings to to the strategic process

In a previous post, I stated that OD did not have the appropriate skill set to drive the strategic process single handed.

In the same breath, I stated that business developers and Heads of Strategy are equally unequipped to drive strategic processes single handed.

So what is the value added of OD to the strategic process? Here are the top 3 things I believe OD brings to the table in strategic planning.

1) Strategic planning focuses on technology, markets and beating competition; at best there may be some time devoted to “do we have the organization to support the strategy”. The truth is that any business strategy not linked to an organizational strategy is useless. And the organizational strategy does not support the business strategy, it is a sine qua non of any coherent strategy. OD forces this issue at all times, in order to prevent a business strategy being developed which is divorced from delivery capabilities.

2) Strategic planning has an intense political undertone since players try to maintain their own personal power base in any new strategic direction.  OD plays a major role in building a process which circumvents this enormous obstacle.

3) Organizations have “mega bugs” which  impact the operations of the firm: e.g., wrong assumptions, too little room for dissent, too much infighting, R&D too weak; Sales over empowered to make promises which cannot be fulfilled…..whatever. The list is long.

Very often, these very mega bugs contaminate the strategic process, and the strategic process replicates the mega bugs instead of removing them. (Armies strategize about  “more fire power”; peaceniks strategize by hallucinating about non existing boundary conditions, religious folks always conclude we need to pray more.)

The most important role OD has in strategy is to work to ensure that the existing bugs in the organizations’ basic assumptions are laid bare and discussed so they have less contaminating impact on strategic planning.

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What do clients ask for… that OD cannot provide?

An OD projected cannot be ‘scoped’ like a delusional change management plan or a project to refurnish the 2nd floor.

The workings of an OD project only become clear over time, and attempts to add get clarity at the initial stages results putting the OD into a straight jacket, focused in the wrong direction.

However,OD service providers, aka “vendors” are asked to provide unavailable information about the OD projects scope. This phenomenon occurs  in dealing with  insecure HR manager, a “barracuda” Procurement officer,or an organization dominated by an ERP which has replaced the human brain.

3 examples will suffice:

1) Define the  Plan

OD projects do not follow a plan very well, because

  • people are “open source”,
  • changes in circumstance cannot be factored into the plan
  • that is the nature of the OD beast

Our projects are much more like civil engineering infrastructure projects in terms of planning accuracy: i.e., way way off initial “scope of work.”

2) Define the Outcome

Let’s say that an OD project was commissioned to improve the interface between Sales and Service.

And let’s say that after 5 months, we learn that the Head of Sales is vastly more powerful than the Head of Service in resource procurement.

And let’s say that  the CEO knows this, but does not want to act because the CEO is retiring in 6 months, and the Head of Sales has the ear of someone on the Board who calls the shots after the CEO leaves.

So I ask you, how can the OD “vendor” define the outcome up front, whilst dealing with a Gloria, the HR manager everyone has nightmares about..

3) Will the OD process be “disruptive”?

Most OD products are not disruptive, because they are irrelevant or nonsense. Most OD projects are disruptive, because they undo before they do. Certainly informing Sarah Barracuda from Procurement or Gloria from HR about this disruption is not to the benefit of winning business.

The truth is that OD projects are very hard to plan, the outcome becomes clear only after a few months, and OD needs to be disruptive. To make an omelette, you need to break a few eggs.

Go tell that to Gloria Ramsbottom from HR or Sarah Barracuda from Procurement.


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The Real Value Proposition of OD

The real value proposition of OD is not found in the commercialized snake oil products  on the shelf which claim to provide generic models for generic organizational issues… “The 5 step model for Post Merger Integration”, or whatever. These products are the very antithesis of OD.

Here is a short list of what I see as the real value of OD, based on my experience with my own projects, and the hundreds of projects I have supervised.

1) OD provides organizations with excellent diagnostic material. An OD organizational diagnosis is functional, political, dynamic and personal. It is a system, end to end diagnosis. I believe no other profession that provides diagnosis as well as OD.

2) Organizing causes anxiety since organizing means enhanced dependence on others. OD can drastically lessen dependency-based paranoia, enable trust and enhance the probability that the organization can be more flexible and adaptable.

3) No other profession can improve dialogue and communication like OD does.OD provided huge value to work within teams and between teams. OD is a great enabler or cooperation.

4) OD provides great support for good organizations to become better. OD provides a great platform for growth.

5) Great OD provides an eclectic framework for providing context to organizational life, and thus, better adaptive capabilities.

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What can’t OD do?

Because of the competition in the consulting domain and the free for all between coaching, change management and OD, at times everyone claims that they can do everything.

I have 36 years experience;  I certainly do not think believe that OD practitioner can do all the things that we claim to be able to  do.

Here is a short list of what I think we cannot do:

1) OD cannot change culture. OD can midwife this part of this change via facilitation, but OD cannot “change” a culture. Nor can we forge a new culture- post merger. By and large, this is a Darwinist process. We can mitigate some of the Darwinism, but Darwinism is more powerful than OD.

2) OD cannot drastically upgrade the functioning of an incompetent manager. Coaching claims to be able to do so, but I feel this is not an accurate representation of what coaching (whatever that is) can do.

3) OD practitioners generally cannot work well with other consulting professions in a team. Although we preach team work, our own level of teamwork is often poor, since OD practitioners are too paranoid about their space, because they lack confidence about their real added value.

4) OD can not lead a strategic process single handed. OD has massive  value in supporting strategic planning and change, but  we lack the business skills to lead the process single handed. (However, neither can BD or Strategic Planning)

5) OD (as practiced in the Western world) is irrelevant in dealing with cultures where “face saving” and “discretion” is more important than authenticity and transparency. OD has a built in western bias, which it force feeds on Asian and Mid East clients, to our detriment.

There is  lots of good stuff we do, but posts need to be kept short. 😉

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Please the client, and ruin the job: What can be done?

Often clients mis-diagnosis their own problems  and ask OD consultants to do the wrong thing.

The best examples of this are “work with mid management on listening skills”, or a request to coach someone who is totally incompetent, or “work on a process” when cooperation is the real problem.

Often  HR joins the choir of  by pushing for wow wow interventions, after which everyone feels good, regardless of what does (and does not) get done.

How can this fiasco be avoided? How can OD avoid pleasing the client in order to get the job done? Here are a few things that appear to work.

1) Avoid entering an organization via a Training Function. This is THE entry point where “apparent effectiveness” is so sought after because of the low positioning of Training.

2) In your initial meeting with the client, do not present a list of products or services that you offer. Listen to the clients needs. If the client wants to see you sing and dance before he defines his needs, he is not interested in OD. Walk away.

3) Try and have the first meeting in your office or in the lobby of a hotel, not in the clients’ premises. Pay for the coffee. Act the role.

4) Watch your words and your clients’ words carefully. You are not a vendor. You are not a service provider. You are an OD consultant.

5) In your very first meeting, manage expectations . Make it very clear that you don’t please or titillate clients. Explain that OD is like root canal work; midway there is not a lot of joy and glee. If your client says “this is a commercial relationship: we define the scope of work and you do it”, walk away. No OD will be done.

6) Avoid over planning. Over planning leads to expectations that the OD project road map is clear; no OD project road clear is clear. If you make the plan too clear, HR will lunge in “measure progress”, against mile stones which never have should been put out there.

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OD is not winning a popularity contest

Often at the end of consulting offsite, HR is interested in a summary questionnaire “to get a feel of how well it went.”

There are 3 major reasons to fight this practice tooth and nail:

1-It takes time for things to sink in. Administering such a questionnaire so early in the game makes no sense whatsoever.

2-Often, OD interventions need to be highly unpopular. Allowing  participants to give feedback at inappropriate time is counter-indicated for effective change. It also equips HR with a tool to beat up the consultant if the session wasn’t “wow”ish. Weak HR (and many many HR folks are as such) needs fun and popular sessions, which may them look good because everyone feels good! OD needs an effective outcome.

3) Questionnaires are never sensitive enough to get any meaningful feedback on an OD process.

My recommendation is that the OD consultant reach an agreement vis s vis this issue with the direct client and the HR manager. If a Gloria is involved, she should be left out of the loop and informed by the client of the decision.

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From Training to OD-An impossible transition?

There are consultants who take junior or mid level training assignments. Many consultants take these jobs with the hope that they can succeed –in order to be considered later on for a more senior OD assignment in the same organization . It very rarely happens.

There are several  reasons for this not happening:

1) If you have worked with middle management on listening skills , or have done “Japanese Business Culture in 45 minutes”, you have branded yourself as junior. Senior management may admire what you have done, but they have managed you-not worked with you. When they look for an OD consultant, they will want someone they respect as an equal, not someone who has “done a good job”. Senior OD people are “consulted with”, not only managed.

2) Your prices will be linked to the “ Japanese Cultural Training in 45 minutes”; you will have gone thru Procurement and you have spoken about prices with a barracuda with sharp teeth; perhaps you have undergone what we call a “second circumcision” price wise. You will not be allowed to raise praises. They know what you whore for, as George Bernard Shaw would say.

3) Senior management does not mind sending someone “down” to do some  OD spying; they rarely take someone up  who may already “have the wrong perspective”, which stems from having spent too much time with the proletarian.

4) Senior people hire senior people.

Some folks say: when my middle manager client becomes senior, he will take me with him. This is baloney. He will want someone who does not remember him as a middle manager.

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8 Guidelines for Consultants:dealing with the dumbing of consultancy

Opening comments:

Before reading this post I suggest you read the short post called The Dumbing of OD which outlines the slow descent of OD in the last decade. And, to get the most out the following post, you can acquaint yourself with Gloria Ramsbottom, the HR manager we all love to work with.

Main points:

  1. The dumbing of OD may either be cyclical or a terminal illness brought on by the economic model and context which treats the human resource as spare parts.
  2. To deal with the effectively, it is important to set one’s expectations properly-what can, and cannot, be achieved in the present economic paradigm. Many OD folks go berserk and have plans to “change the world”. I suggest minimalistic and achievable goals, “the size of a lizard’s tail”, a term used by the Israeli poet “Rachel”.
  3. No models-only projects. No fads-only solutions.
  4. Whoring gives a bad reputation; avoid doing activities which brand you as such, even if financially pressed. Positioning yourself has a price.
  5. When dealing with procurement, ensure your direct client is with you and that he/she represents you. Do not speak to procurement alone.
  6. Price yourself high. I know this sounds theoretical but it is not; when you charge a lot you have the time and bandwidth to deliver real value. When you lower your prices, you are too busy and all we end up doing is dishing out pre packaged crap.
  7. Be firm up front; you and the client define together what the problem is-no “order taking” from Gloria.
  8. Find people you respect on line or off line to talk about these issues. We all share the same reality.
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The Dumbing Down of Organization Development

Dumbing down is revision/change to an idea a concept or a service with the expressed goal of appealing to a target of lesser sophistication and intelligence.

Examples of dumbing down include reality television, tabloid news, many political campaigns, style of speech and the packaging of OD.

Dumbing down may appear debilitating and numbing to those who have been around for a while, yet in the present market in which the only standards that exist are commercial, dumbing down plays a great part in preserving OD albeit only for commercial interests.

The essence of OD is/was that it swims against the current, talking truth to power and serves as what the Brits and Canadians  call a loyal opposition.

Dumbed down OD swims with the current, serving as a hand maiden to exactly what OD was created to change, and that is the negative underbelly dynamic of the ineffective status quo.

Here of two real examples of dumbing down.  I stress real, not imaginary. They have both happened to me personally in the last six months.

  • Hi OD Vendor,

We have 2 engineers going to Japan in 3 days. Can you do 45 minutes of cultural training? If so, let me know and purchasing will contact you.

Gloria, EVP HR

  • Hi OD Vendor,

Our R&D and Sales departments clash all the time. Can you be a motivational speaker? We have time tomorrow at 11 am; let me know and purchasing will contact you.

Gloria, EVP HR

Several major factors which have dumbed down OD to the present level, where emails like those above are no longer even seen as an insult but rather as an opportunity.

  • There is a market and the market demands fun; any pain is “out”. Training and HR managers, fearing that the inevitable pain involved in learning will weaken their standing, commission “wow” activities. A wow activity needs to be brief and fun, with apparent and not real effectiveness. The fact that learning must be painful at times appears to be irrelevant.
  • To adapt such a market place with no professional standards except commercial supply and demand, OD practitioners became vendors who sell products not a professional service. OD vendors negotiate with same procurement officials who buy toilet paper and paper for printers who drive down the price; as a result the level of consultant hired is cheap unskilled labour using prepackaged crap.
  • The client gets what he asks for and not what he needs. Unless the consultant is senior enough, or wealthy enough, to work with the client about his real needs, the OD vendor will kiss the clients rear end graciously and give the client what he asks for, like in a restaurant. As in… “Three post-merger lectures coming up, medium rare, with baked potatoes.” If the client is “happy” and satisfied”, he will return again. And the client and the vendor will be addicted to a dysfunctional relationship.
  • An entire market place develops, and the essence of the therapeutic OD client relationship disappears. The soul of the profession not only is kidnapped, but disappears.

This is not yet a done deal and lots of very savvy clients commission very good OD. But  the ultimate dumbing of all of OD may be writing on the wall.

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5 major changes in OD in the past ten years

1) Despite the sweet talk, many organizations no longer value the human resource; rather people are seen as “spare parts”. The importance of the human aspect, the compelling reason to use OD, has been eroded.

2) HR, the classical entry point for many (though not all) interventions, has become more sycophantic than ever,serving the status quo. Furthermore, many of those in the HR role have either an HRIS or semi-legal background. Thus, the HR entry point which was always a problem is now a major contaminating factor of how effective OD interventions can be.

3) Information technology means less face to face interactions; we teach swimming but there is no water.

4) Globalization has left OD far behind; the values of OD are Western and European. OD is way out of step with Asia, Japan, and the Middle East.

5) To adapt to a market place with no professional standards except market forces, OD sells products, not services; we negotiate with procurement, not with the client. Yet OD is not a product, but a service. This has led to the dumbing of OD.

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