Have you sold your soul as an OD consultant?


Before you start reading: Although this is a short post, several links are provided. These links provide illustrative and satirical support for the point I am making.The links are well worth reading.

The crisis OD is facing has caused many practitioners to sell their soul. Now “selling one’s soul” is a tough thing to admit, and we all probably look at other consultants and claim that they, not I, have sold out.

So I prepared a short quiz that will indicate the degree of having sold out.

There 6 signs may indicate the severity of the sell out. I am not going to define what this means, because, like pornography, we all know it when we see it.

The Quiz:

If you agree with 3 of these statements, we know what profession you are in, so please quote the price.

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Chronic Diseases of Organizations

 Opening Comments

Very much similar to people, organizations tend to have chronic diseases.

These diseases are a function of

  • life cycle of the organization,
  • CEO’s who have lead and founded the organization,
  • domain in which the organization operates,
  • degree of regulation,
  • random factors that we do not understand.

The goal of this post is to illustrate some of the more frequent chronic diseases and suggest ways that OD can be harnessed to address (not cure) these ills.

Many of the chronic conditions listed below may appear in all organizations, yet only a  constant recurrence of the same ailment make it chronic.

2-Chronic Diseases, Symptoms and Possible Causes

  • Constant Reorganization

Symptoms-the organization is always preparing for a reorganization, implementing a reorganization, or after an unsuccessful reorg

Possible Causes– Incompetence, buying time, creating a cloud of uncertainly to enable blaming.

Example-K has a product that is no longer competitive, although they still have one legacy product which will make them money for decades. New technology initiatives are killed on arrival. The organizations has had 7 reorganizations in three years.

  • Processes Nazism

Symptoms– constant clarification of process, roles,  responsibilities, charter and the constant pursuit of clarity as the ultimate elixir.

Possible Causes-a desire to define away complexity; inability to implement teamwork

Example-P has technical presales in Holland, Sales in each geography and Product Management in Texas. All 3 functions mistrust one another. They have been defining roles and responsibilities for 12 years.

  • Measurement-ism

Symptoms-measure everything, if possible on line

Possible Causes-mistrust, IT-gone-mad, efficiency as strategy

Example-C has been loosing 200,000 end users yearly for five years due to a change in regulation. Performance indicators of the service team have been updated 33 times in the 4 years “to find out why people are opting out” of the service.

  • Sloganeering

Symptoms-constant window dressing and perfuming the pig to make things look better than they are, hiding and denial

Possible Causes: monopoly, government intervention, too much regulation, high level of media scrutiny

Example-a police force, loyal only to an elected official has been getting bad press for 8 years, due to racism, brutality and corruption, all which serve the mayor’s interest. Massive money is poured into internal communication and “image management”,

  • Silo-ism (the ultimate chronic disease, like back pain)

Symptoms-lack of transparency, maximization of sub systems

Possible Causes: latent or overt fear of coup, need to allocate blame, paranoia at the top, divide and conquer as a religion. measurement system, poor staffing

Example-A functional organization lacks end to end ownership of client issues. A very dominant CEO (and his father) have maintained control by “divide and conquer”. The CEO complains of siloism, although he constantly ensures that his managers squabble about ownership issues. He fires one executive every 5-6 years.

3-Guidelines for the OD practitioner

In order to address an organizations chronic illness, there are certain precautions that OD practitioners much factor into their interventions. After all, there is no need to “amputate a lung” due to chronic asthma.

Here are few guidelines that may help you treat chronic illnesses properly:

  • Understand the history of the organization
  • Understand the latent function and ongoing secondary benefit of all dysfunction, and that will be decisive in understanding if the illness is chronic or not. For example, the benefit of process Nazism is to avoid dealing with trust issues.
  • Set proper expectations, ie- mitigating the dysfunction, instead of curing it
  • Less intense care spread over time, instead of an extensive effort to drive change
  • Pain management, ie, adjustment to the pain
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Let’s look at OD like developers, not application engineers

One of the lessons I have learnt in my decades of OD work with high tech companies is that the “next generation” of products and services does not usually emerge from the same people/teams working on the present breadwinner.

A power structure develops around breadwinning products  whose role it is to preserve the centrality of the mind sets and skill sets which gain value from the breadwinners’  predominance. Hence, new ideas which challenge the current paradigm are often resisted.

The same phenomenon effects OD. The current version of OD is “stuck”, yet protected by the dominant practitioners, gurus and universities who benefit from the present versions of OD.

OD will not renew itself by gawking at the past or fiddling around with new packaging of old ideas, nor via peddling “applications” based on the same “core code” of the old OD, a professional dominated from day one by western values and western assumptions about human behaviour.

There are several core issues that can hasten the “realignment of OD with future reality”.

   1-The acutely diverse nature of the global organization which simply cannot adapt itself to western values. (openness, authenticity, personal development, empowerment)

   2-The massive dysfunction stemming from a severe overdose of IT driven business processes. (At present, OD cross dresses as change managers, ramming these processes into place).

   3-The alienation of the soul in the work place. (The engagement products which OD provides to deal with this are a pathetic bad joke)

Next generation OD will not be conceived in universities. My experience is that learning OD in academia is almost useless, at best. Nor will OD be reinvented by most current practitioners, who serve as “application engineers”, administering OD products, often mindlessly. naively, cynically or out of self preservation.

I believe that OD can benefit from emulating other professions which focus on anticipating future needs, not serve as an order taker for elixirs which address current aches and pains. In other words, renewing OD is an exercise in system architecture, not engineering.

These are very initial thoughts, and I will modify this post as my thoughts become clearer.

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