OD espouses tolerance, but is intolerant-in-action

At face value, the profession of Organizational Development exudes tolerance. But this is misleading.

Much of OD is trapped in the past, and often demonstrates intolerance towards innovation except for repackaging, buzzwords and marketable fads.

More shameful is OD’s embracing western values to the exclusion of others, a topic that I address most often on my blog and published work.

Things were not always this way. But now, faced with a world that they do not understand, traditional OD ers are stuck in the past when they encounter realities they do not understand. OD’s elite is protecting its vested interests as do all power elites, and by and large OD conferences burn incense and do not provide the needed innovation.

Global organizations of today have more behavioural variance than the organizations for which OD was designed. For many employees of today’s’ global organization, many (not all) values of OD are offensive.

  • The feedback loop and openness, critical cornerstones of OD, do not taste and feel good to people who comes from societies which prefer discreteness and face saving.
  • Participative decision making is threatening to people who see relationships as very unequal by design
  • Conflict management is totally offensive by the many employees who believe that talking about conflicts makes them worse.

When OD encounters  behavioural variance in a global context, it pays lip service to some “cultural differences” yet continues to impose the values of OD, because OD has yet re examine its core values in light of globalization and adapt its so call  tool kit.

  • “Jie, let’s be honest, and get this conflict out in the open.”
  • “Chan, why don’t you tell HQ what you really need from them? You are so opaque!”

I have personally learnt about OD’s intolerance in many ways. I shall list three

1-Massive resistance about the need to globalize the practice of OD. This resistance is disguised as yes but-ism.  “Yes Allon you may have a point, we need more “cultural sensitivity; but that is not main stream OD“.

2-For many years, an OD list almost threw people overboard who were not PC, or not “civil” or not “nice” or too temperamental, as judged by  “universal” Mid Western US standards.

3-The OD and HR satiric Gloria blog encountered fierce resistance because it is not “nice”. It was even marked as promotional material and banned by an OD list  on LI. The truth had struck too close to home. (In the meantime, the Gloria blog has been monetized and has almost 900,000 hits.)

Steeped in trauma of post-World War Two, the white middle-age men who founded OD were fighting the battle of their time. For the epoch in which they lived and experienced, the values of OD served as a beacon that enabled organizations/people to introspect as well and evolve more positively than even before. OD was a revolutionary force in its day. Today, OD force feeds Western values, and navel gazes about ‘cultural differences”.

This type of OD behaviour reminds me of the multi-culturalist who enjoys tasting the food of various minorities and even shows interest in their holidays, yet this same multi-culturalist behaves in such a liberal and inclusive manner only when the position of being the dominant cultural is ensured.  When faced with real cultural variance, the multi-culturalist retreats.

In the civil domain I support a multicultural society which maintains its boundaries, as in French secularism/laïcité. However in its professional domain of global organizing, OD cannot claim that its values are dominant. When OD claims to be tolerant but behaves oppressively, we have espoused tolerance and intolerance-in-action!

OD’s intolerance-in-action has positioned the profession as ill-equipped to deal with the complexity of global organizing.

All that is left of traditional OD in face of global complexity is: “Speak up Jai, even though I respect that it is not your culture”. And perhaps some ethnic food at lunch.

So how did it happen that our profession, a bastion of liberalism, become so backward?


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Allon  אלון

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