The OD “House of Lords”- is a crumbling palace

Because of the Western bias of Organization Development, OD’s concepts, values and tools are inappropriate to many issues impacting global organizations. As a matter of fact, OD is biased in action and behaves with the same intolerance which gave birth to OD’s creation.

Text books, articles and web sites dedicated to OD ignore the irrelevancy of the OD profession to problems of global organizing.  Even OD conferences pay only minor lip service to the crushing need to develop OD’s relevance.

Written material and conferences recycle the same traditional old crap repackaged in new slogans. Alternatively, folks reminisce about the good old days… the good old days when white liberal UK and US based males established the OD profession which the next generation inherited and then “froze” OD’s design. The world changed and OD stayed put, except for the moronic design of OD products, whose goal was to make money, not further OD’s cause.

There is a wonderful expression in Chinese 哑巴吃饺子,心里有数 which means “When a mute person eats some dumplings, he knows how many he has eaten, albeit he cannot speak. In other words, people know things that they do not or cannot express.

OD practitioners know how much irrelevance is bombarded at them by the old guard, they just do not speak up. Why? Because the old guard controls the keys to the palace. The palace may be crumbling, but they have the keys…the keys to keynotes, the key to publications, the keys to budgets-because they sit in the House of Lords.

OD conferences are good for networking and PR, but little else. In other words, we all know that besides networking, conferences have minimal value. New content is not provided, but no one says anything. Few OD books really innovate anything new, except new tools for a crumbling paradigm.

The old OD guard is trying to ensure that OD stays at it is. At most, practitioners need “some cultural skills”, mumble the Lords. Nonsense, claims this author. It is OD itself that needs to be modified. In the domain of global OD, the present elite needs to listen, not preach, read and not write. They are not ready.

Imagine that the Lords of OD stopped perfuming the pig and dedicated a conference, or a book, to examine how to make OD relevant in global organizations.

Could you imagine a book, or OD conference on these 5 subject?

1) Root Canal 101: Breaking Away from the Founding Fathers

Since organizational reality has changed radically since OD’s founding fathers first murmured their ideas, OD can become relevant when its tools are not biased. The profession must be realigned around global organizing.

2) Organization diagnosis in discrete and face saving cultures

3) A culturally contingent role of OD Consultant:

Expert, Mediator, Enabler, Masked Executive

4) Retooling OD:

What are the alternatives to free flowing team interventions,”conflict management” and ways and means of by-passing the need for direct communication, and how to do OD “offstage”.

5) Managing the Major Polarities in Global OD

-openness and discretion

-involvement and stability

-respect and change

-ascription and achievement

The OD power elite in OD does not have a clue about these topics so they shut these topics down. So the voices of those of us who advocate the globalization of OD are expressed mainly in avant guard blogs like this.


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16 thoughts on “The OD “House of Lords”- is a crumbling palace

  1. This is so true – At the end of the day cultural intelligence is what is required in everything. I work in a global company where in many cultures it is difficult to take direction from a woman (more difficult than in the US at least) and how do i help then get what is needed and delivered in a way that pulls the best out of the them in the long term so I don’t have to baby sit. I have had to re-tool how I do things and and how interact while still having to deal with who has the “keys to the kingdom”. When the conference you describe is in…. I will be there without a doubt! Wouldn’t mind helping put one together either 🙂

  2. When a radical idea is born – even if it is grounded in traditional thinking – it becomes hard for those who subscribe to it to recognize when the radical is, well, not so radical anymore, when in fact it has become stodgy and refused to recognize change and ‘others’.

    THinking outside of comfortable paradigms is a challenge and these is always pushback. You have been a leader in expanding world views.

  3. This is an excellent start to a much needed dialogue on the role of OD in an increasingly globalized world where volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity are more the norm than the exception.

  4. Suppose a mysterious Supreme Being concerned with how to enable the best in human organizing. Suppose this Being’s structure of thinking were rooted into his world (yes, this Supreme Being would be male). Suppose His world were the ecology from which wealth and the dream of wealth emerged. That Supreme Being would have created OD as we know it today. And that Supreme Being would want to “help” all creatures from His monolithic creation of what Help is. In the mind of that Supreme Being, global organizing would show up as a conflicting opinion. No conflicting opinion has relevance for Him, only the united opinion of what is the “best possible world” according to Him. In His world, the earth is flat. In global organizing, the earth is also not perfectly round.

  5. OD, as a profession failed when the OD Institute failed to get a majority to make OD a profession (around 2002). Many folks did not want the accountability associated with as profession, preferring instead to view OD as an ‘open system” (yawn). Time marched on. Frankly I do not see any example of a theory for OD. Demonstrate Kurt Lewin, etc. We psychologists have to demonstrate and defend theory everyday. I observe that OD folk are currently busy searching for a theory. I say this because I see little evidence of showing a n underlying theory. SHOW ME KURT LEWIN IN YOUR PRACTICE (or get out of the way). I no longer view OD as a profession, but as a generic set of activities around developing organizations (more of a European perspective).

    • I’m getting to my response to Allon, but I have to ya that I don’t think the OD profession today knows shit about Kurt Lewin, so if they are saying “show me Kurt Lewin in your practice,” I’d be shocked. Who says that? What do they mean?

  6. Allon, do you know Roland Sullivan? He does a lot of work in Asia with OD and large scale change. I agree with your analysis. Even if you only work in one country most of us face global influences and immigration, so your points are well taken. I just don’t understand how companies can spend so much money on surveys based on one paradigm. Well, I kind of can because most execs will not delve into the messiness of humanity. Give me a formula and I will buy!

    I’m not saying I’m bias free–far from it. But I’m open to being told when I’ve stepped in it.

    • Hi Rosa
      Yes I know Roland and we have corresponded.
      There is a huge amount of arrogance in using one size fits all….like exporting democracy to the mid east.
      Thanks for your comments.

  7. Hi Allon, I generally agree with your critique. The OD establishment and OD conferences are both toothless. I think you are missing something though. OD knows nothing of it’s founder, if the founder is Lewin. Most OD people have never read his work, and only have a watered down ineffective knowledge if his methods.

    Lewin, a Jewish male from eastern Europe who worked closely with people from every back ground he had access to (Margaret Mead, Eastern Europeans, African Americans, Jewish leaders from all regions of the globe). If you are going to rule him out because of gender, ethnicity, or geography, you should rule yourself out while you are at it. That would be foolish of course. As for Lewin’s methods, he would absolutely help people solve their problems locally, with respect for their tendencies towards discretion versus openness and all those other polarities you mentioned. Read the manuscript of my new book on Lewin man. Your description of OD rings true, but it is not because of it’s roots.

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