Getting the Business to Believe in Organizational Development

The business unit head at an e-commerce company is sensing the disintegration of his team. There is a lack of collaboration among his team members; employees are more concerned about their goals rather than team or organizational goals. From being one of the highly functional teams, his team has become a dysfunctional one – a case study in the making. He knows he needs help. His team needs support and reinstatement of values which have gotten them so far. But, he is not quite sure if his Learning and Development department is equipped to understand and solve this challenge.

As he attends the meeting with HR and L&D, his first thoughts are: “What is HR trying to peddle me? Do we have to get L&D involved? Is this going to make any difference?”

That’s where Organizational Development (OD) comes in. OD is a way out of this siloed trap. However, business leaders won’t engage with OD any differently if they see it as the same thing with different dressing. OD must take a foundationally different approach to operating inside organizations if it is going to have the impact it is capable of.

OD can offer intelligent solutions that can take any company to the next level. But first, you need to get business leaders to believe in it. Here are five strategies to have that going for you:

1. Define OD in Terms the Business can Get Excited About

The classic definition of OD is an effort planned, organization-wide, and managed from the top, to increase organization effectiveness and health through planned interventions in the organization’s “processes,” using behavioral-science knowledge.1

This definition is true, but business leaders need something stickier to remember OD. For our purposes, OD is how you achieve the goals you haven’t hit yet.

For business leaders to get excited about OD, they need to know from the beginning that it is here to help them, not itself. Every time you talk about OD, it needs to be linked to a meaning that business leaders identify with. By using an easy-to-remember definition, OD has a better chance to gain better recall.

2. Think Like a Consultant, not a Department

If OD gets boxed into a department, role or individual, it will fail to deliver. As soon as you place OD within the organizational hierarchy, you automatically make it more concerned with its own well-being rather than the success of the work it is doing. As you can imagine, this completely destroys the purpose of having an OD department.

Instead, OD professionals should begin to emulate the qualities of great consultants. Great consultants:

  • Are committed to the project, not a department
  • Maintain an independent outsider’s perspective, but align their performance metrics to the success of the project
  • Don’t see limitations in what can be done
  • Listen more than they speak
  • Understand the stated and underlying goal of the project
  • Operate outside of internal politics and hierarchy

If OD professionals approach the business with this mindset and attitude, they will find business leaders excited by the possibilities.

3. Listen and Learn

Nothing turns off business leaders quicker than listening to the advice of a know-it-all who comes in with very little real business experience. OD professionals must first and foremost be listeners and learners. They must learn the language of the business. They must figure out why certain numbers are important and others are ignored. They must be patient and allow time for understanding.

OD professionals can provide value to a situation only if they can demonstrate deep understanding. The good news is that most business leaders do not expect OD professionals to come in with all the answers. Business leaders know their situation is complex and do not expect someone else to fully grasp it after a thirty-minute interview. If you show a willingness to listen first and speak later, they will grow more excited about the input you give.

4. Diagnose better

After listening, business leaders will expect OD professionals to speak with clarity and insight about the situation. This cannot be done if the OD consultant always uses the same framework with simplistic solutions. To encourage business buy-in, OD professionals should invest a majority of their continued education on the diagnostic process.

What are the core issues the business faces? What are their presuppositions? What has everyone else missed? Is the challenge more related to system-wide processes or individual behaviors and attitudes?

OD professionals need to walk into every situation with a clear goal to fully understand the challenge at hand. Nothing will impress a business leader more than for you to simply and insightfully summarize the situation and make it clear where the focus of activity should be.


5. Focus on results

From the start of any engagement, OD professionals need to quickly define what success looks like. This definition cannot use words like “increased engagement” or “improved efficiency”. Use real numbers and trackable behaviors. This focus on clear results will earn the respect of the business and show them that you are there to help them, not yourself.

In most cases, OD professionals should align their success with the metrics the business is already using. If you feel that the metrics are not the correct ones to focus on, you need to clearly define better metrics with the help of the business leader.

Moving from being a support function to a function that has the capability to calculate its value in terms of business impact will open more avenues for OD professionals.


1. Richard Beckhard’s 1969 Organization Development: Strategies and Models:


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