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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