OD during Covid : Bailing out the ship

To my absolute surprise, my workload has increased ever since it became clear that this virus is not going away; not only are  the lemons not about to become lemonade, but  the plague is  worse than expected . As the poet Ogden Nash wrote in Seaside Serenade

It begins when you smell a funny smell,
And it isn’t vanilla or caramel,
And it isn’t forget-me-not or lilies,
Or new-mown hay, or daffy-down-dillies,
And it’s not what the barber rubs on Father,
And it’s awful, and yet you like it rather.
No, it’s not what the barber rubs on Daddy,
It’s more like an elderly finnan haddie,
Or, shall we say, an electric fan
Blowing over a sardine can.

Yet it is a time for good OD practitioners to find work, much to my surprise. I want to share some of the characteristics of work that has come my way as well as some reasons why I think this is happening.

Life with covid is not going away. And the reality of the world is now nasty and brutish. I am not an optimist  nor am I known as an optimist. Quite the opposite,I am a pessimist with a good sense of humour as well as a love of the absurd, which makes it easy to deal with what I say because of how I say it.  Furthermore, once people realized that  ‘back to normal” is messianic nonsense, my pessimistic nature has become more appealing.

During my entire career, I have held two principles as my compass: say things simply and be practical. So, my message has been -“we are up shit’s creek and no one knows anything; let’s take this hour by hour and yes, give me a can and I’ll help you bail out the boat”.

Difficult problems have become almost impossible during covid. Things move much slower; decisions take longer to make; everyone looks bad; stakeholders are worried; managers are worried; staff are worried. Ok, what’s new? If you believed that things were much better, then this new reality is all but unbearable. Yet I have believed for the longest time that stakeholders worry only about themselves, long term commitment between management and staff is feigned propaganda-so for me, the present situation is just a bit worse than it used to be, It is not paradise lost. I have confidence and I am neither appalled or frightened of being seen as incompetent. OD is not perfect. It has huge value,but it ain’t rocket science.

(This reminds me of people who claim that America is more divided than ever. America has almost always been divided for heaven sakes.Trump is the most racist president ever? No more than Carter was (his days as Supervisor of Education were horrendously racist)  and certainly less than Kennedy acted as he dragged his feet on civil rights.)

The problems that my new clients have asked me to lend a helping hand to alleviate are difficult, multi dimensional and stubborn. I am not sure exactly or what approach to take, and I have no tricks up my sleeve. My new clients respect my lack of conviction about how to proceed.They feel safe that I am thinking as well as acting with caution seasoned with pragmatism, not peddling some elixir like cod liver oil or employee engagement or “we are all in this together”.

Probably my present value proposition to my clients is my sense of humour, my ability to learn,and my lack of ready made solutions.

In memory of Alex Kornhauser-brilliant, fair, exact, humane and humble. A great leader, a fine man; sadly missed.


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5 thoughts on “OD during Covid : Bailing out the ship

  1. Allon, Your description of the current situation (“Things move much slower; decisions take longer to make; everyone looks bad; stakeholders are worried; managers are worried; staff are worried.”) feels right to me. Yet, at the same time, companies are still working, still downsizing, still hiring. Life is going on despite the virus and the uncertainty.
    My clients are folks who have been “let go” by their employers. Cast out into the job market during a pandemic, they are grasping at any straw they think will help them land.
    My value proposition is “I have been there” (having been terminated five times in my career) so I know what you are going through; a job search is a change process (something I know a bit about as an OD Guy); there is no cookie cutter approach but the key is putting yourself out there and leveraging one’s network.

  2. Allon, I like to think I have a similar approach (assuming that I ever find work again).

    My only disagreement would be the comparison of President Peanut & Kennedy to The Narcissist. Acting more slowly than we might have liked is hardly comparable to encouraging & promoting racism & anti-Semitism. & while I still don’t think he was a very good president (although possibly our best ex-president), I think there are many issues, including racism, on which President Peanut genuinely grew & changed before his ascension. I do, however, agree that he was willing to practice wholesale deception on the electorate in order to be elected governor. While I agree with the actions he actually took as governor, those actions did not at all match his platform to get elected.

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