It’s ever so rare that Organization Development is commissioned for the right reason

“How will we know that the service that we are purchasing is effective? How can we measure the results”, are questions posed by clients at the outset of an Organization Development project. These queries are posed either due to the need to justify the expense, or out of ignorance, or in order to gain control of the vendor. At times, perhaps, they are asked naively.

What’s the answer to such a question? Let me start with two stories that I have shared with potential clients.

An organization providing product X decides to measure customer satisfaction by discovering how many times the phone rings before it is answered, and how many complaints are received about poor service per customer service agent. Software is purchased and an OD vendor is commissioned to implement that change. Immediately, customer service agents beginning answering calls immediately and saying “please hold”, and when they identify themselves, they mumble their name so that it’s hard to complain about someone specific. Later on the consultant learns that product X itself is faulty and its non functional features were, and are still, over promoted.

Another client wants to enhance the long term commitment of the ultra-skilled staff, and hires a consultant to enhance their engagement. Over time, it becomes clear that this very staff has become a monopoly of knowledge, systematically keeping new recruits in the dark for years, making their experience into a power bloc that makes incredulous pecuniary demands.

OD, I explain, deals with the “underworld”, the subterfuge that prevents change from happening effectively. And up front, it is very hard to define exactly what success will look like. The “success” we strive for changes constantly. OD is often initially commissioned for the wrong reason, or the intervention is aimed at the wrong people. It is ever so rare that OD deals with the problem that it was initially commissioned to deal with.

So the answer is that success cannot be defined a priori. It can be initially defined every few weeks, and each definition will be vague and not binding. Success is not even progress, because in the initial stages, things get worse, or much worse. If the client shies from this truth, it can be likened to planting a flower bed in the wrong direction with no/too much water. It’s not going to work. And it’s best to make this clear as early as possible, as early as possible.




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3 thoughts on “It’s ever so rare that Organization Development is commissioned for the right reason

  1. Right on. It would be great to have an ongoing curiosity between the client and the consultant, so that the ever changing meaning spaces they enter into are enjoyable in the least. If it yields in navigation of the ‘underworld’ – the implicit ties of varying strengths – within the core value process, or at the boundary where the right material is sourced as input, or the right reward is paid by the customer for the output – outcomes may be mutually desirable. I recall that most of my assignments saw the client redefine the original problem; some of course, painfully rejected by the client for the unprecedented responsibility it entailed for the leader. Those gave the consultant learning to get better in engagement in subsequent assignments.
    The headline of your article stands : It’s ever so rare that Organization Development is commissioned for the right reason.

  2. AMEN again, Allon. . . Here in Central/Eastern Europe when I am ‘teaching OD’ I often say, ‘When a potential client calls and asks you to come and do X, my experience is that X is not going to be what is needed. It will either be a symptom of what is really needed or the only thing the client knows about or knows to ask for. Neither of those will ‘work’. I suggest starting such a conversation with the point of view that the client is probably not in touch with what is really needed, and take your first step from that place.

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