Can OD be useful in all forms of change? Allon elaborates on a question from John Scherer

For years, Dr. John Scherer prodded me to write a blog (and a book), and thus any request from my friend John comes to the top of the pack.

In my previous post, I pointed out some of the contextual features of the environment in which OD operates; John Scherer has asked me to elaborate.
I wrote “rapid change is just even  getting faster, making organizational change inhumane; this has grown the business of “change management” and shrunk available business for more classical OD types.”


1) In medicine, some tumours are inoperable.
2) In law, while anyone can be defended, the legal profession  realizes that in some cases, defending someone is a mere formality.
3) Paramedics who arrive at a massive  terror attack (like Dolphinarium attack in Tel Aviv) first choose who needs to die, so that available paramedic resources are used to save lives.

Now, lets move from the metaphor to the case at hand.

1) OD needs to operate in a playing field where our profession (with its humanistic basis)  is relevant. Not all organizational changes meet this criteria.

2) Rapid change which dehumanizes organizations should not  be the domain OD; dehumanizing change is the domain of a defanged HR (which has lost its way) and  Change Management, which has a ready made productized template for everything under the sun. OD has no value for an organization which undergoes 3 mergers in a year. Similarly, when a Board tells a CEO to close a US based R&D center with 600 people in 2 quarters and open a new R&D center in Bangalore “whilst keeping customers and staff happy”, OD has nothing to offer. This type of brutal change is best handled by HR managers like  Gloria Ramsbottom.

3) OD cannot be effective in all change situations. OD needs to be able to say “not in our domain”-and this will make OD far more effective and far more respected. When we peddle our wares in very rapid and inhuman change situations, we make  mockery of who we are.

4) OD is applicable to changes where OD can be loyal to its humanistic roots; not all clients suit that bill. Furthermore, change which is too fast and too brutal is  out of the ballpark or playing field on which we play.

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9 thoughts on “Can OD be useful in all forms of change? Allon elaborates on a question from John Scherer

  1. Food for thought, Allon. I’ve been thinking along similar lines, but in terms of myself & my job search, not in terms of the profession…

  2. Sounds right to me, Allon. In effect, you’re saying that OD practitioners who are simply out to make a buck or who desperately need the money and will take on any work aren’t really practicing OD anyway. Again; sounds right to me.

  3. There seems implicit here a code for qualifying the case for OD consulting before the practice is corrupted by means and tools that look like OD and feels like nonsense. Welcome intent. Thanks for making it brief Allon – Gloria may not complain on the length of your blog at least. She can keep OD folk at bay for all other purposes in HR.

  4. I think you have raised some very important points, Allon. I am inclined to draw a distinction between rapid change and radical change.

    Rapid change is measured against speed of delivery. If speed is the imperative then OD can be left out of the process without affecting the required result. The downside is the sustainability of change and unforeseen downside results (e.g. morale etc).

    Radical change (e.g. offshoring, Merger and Acquistion) is about creating difference in the business purpose or strategy. Using this definition, radical change needs to be aligned to the organisations ambitions and the leadership group – definitely OD territory.

    There is a trade off when clients want to do both. I see part of the role as a change agent as helping them work through their options and priorities.

  5. Hi Allon
    I find your insights interesting but I am inclined to agree with Nick about involvement.

    Your premise assumes ‘a choice to be involved” but brutal or ‘shock’ change as I describe it sometimes doesn’t give you a choice.

    I was the head of HR for the Worldwide Life Insurance business for AIG in September 2008. I had only been there for a few months at that time but during the maelstrom that followed for two and a half years while we sold or set up forIPO almost all of AIG’s business I would argue that we employed every resource and expertise available to us – initially to survive and then eventually to set up the situation where the company was in a position to pay back the loans to the US taxpayer.
    We might have an interesting discussion about the effectiveness of OD to help companies prepare and be resilient to shock change – in as much as you can be – but maybe that is a discussion for another day

  6. While I don’t disagree with most of the details in this post, I definitely disagree with the overall approach or context that the post presents. It seems to imply a path along the lines of cardiac, orthopedic or renal departments “claiming” a patient, based on a real – but not necessarily single dimensional – or perceived problem . My sister was “claimed” by the renal specialists when she was first admitted to the emergency department. They kept her in and out of dialysis for months before someone realized she had a heart problem. By then it was too late.

    If you go to an orthopedic surgeon, they want to operate and if you call in OD specialists, they want to re-design your organization. In neither case is there a certainty that the right specialist has been consulted.

    In my more that 20 years of consulting, I have seen, more often than not, that our client’s understanding of their problem is flawed. They are missing the real root cause or they have a multi-demensional issue that, at best, will not be fixed with a single approach. For this reason we assess the business in great detail, diagnose the issue(s), stipulate and commit to a financial or operational outcome and work with the client to ensure that change is done correctly. And, yes, if what they need is not what we do, we tell them.

    If OD is the right call, broad involvement of staff, to ensure that the right changes are made (and not based on job descriptions) and that communication is solid, is an absolute must. We recently completed an OD assignment in a 1000 strong company. A special hot line was installed and widely publicized to give the dispersed staff a way to communicate 24/7. The entire process was very smooth and the hot line did get 3 calls.

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