Has OD finally found its place in organizations?

Published by Vinay Kumar

Some time ago, I wrote an article called “Would The Real OD Please Stand Up?” The article was a result of an encounter I had at a conference. In the same trend, this article is the result of another encounter at the Mumbai airport lounge. It is funny how long people tend to remember such things. The person in question (who shall remain unnamed) is a former client who has now entered the world of consulting and training as an independent practitioner. During our conversation, he mentioned my article and asked what my thoughts were now and if Organization Development has moved along.

This got me thinking. Over the next few weeks, I made a few calls to professional colleagues and clients (both present and former) across India and even to some near and far places such as Singapore and the US. About 20 conversations later, here is what my notes look like:

  1. The need for OD has never been greater:

    Organizations and businesses are continuing to undergo rapid changes, and the world is in full VUCA swing at the moment. Traditional hierarchies and performance management systems are being pushed to the brink. The war for talent has evolved to become the war for talent engagement and development. Against this backdrop, OD initiatives play a significant role in helping business leaders remain equipped for continuous evolution. OD professionals who are able to speak this “enablement” language are finding business leaders eager to listen and request their support.

  2. OD Roles are becoming specialized (albeit slowly)

    For many years, the titles within L&OD were very common and, of course, confusing. There was much training initiated, and L&D folks holding the OD portfolio often did so as more of an afterthought rather than with any strategic focus. Now, though, it is not uncommon to find roles such as “Organizational Transformation,” “OD & Change,” and “Change Management Programs,” etc. These roles are also increasingly rolling into HR or Strategy Leaders rather than into the L&D leader. Does this mean that there is now a better understanding of the specializations in OD or is it just a new fad?

The storyline sounds pretty good so far, doesn’t it? Does this mean that OD has found a place in organizations? These indicators all seem to demonstrate that progress is definitely being made in the right direction. Herein lies the challenge though. The danger today is that this positive turn could quickly fizzle out if the business expectations are not set appropriately and managed well.  Is the OD professional being skilled appropriately to evolve along with this shift?

While there is clearly a business need for long-term transformation and change initiatives that often form the largest part of OD initiatives, the OD practitioner is still expected to be a “miracle worker.” and the pressure is still on for them to make things happen fast and cost-effectively. This means there continue to be four key skills and challenges that OD professionals need to develop and manage:

  1. Expectation Management

    Only the truly skilled OD practitioner can push back and set the right expectations with business leaders. The even more critical message of OD interventions failing without adequate investment of time and resources by the business is a harder message to deliver though. But it is vital.

  2. Program Management

    The Organizational Transformation manager is not the one who creates the transformation but is instead the one who manages the program. This significant difference is so often lost in the weeds of execution. Most of my conversations have clearly indicated that this is where many practitioners need help. There simply isn’t enough investment in developing the necessary program management and group facilitation skills to expedite this discrepancy.

  3. Staffing of OD Specialists

    At the risk of annoying most of my colleagues in the HR fraternity, I would state that too many OD professionals come from within the HR practice. In principle, this should not be an issue. However, we do need more OD professionals coming into these roles from business operations and functions. The really successful OD professionals I know have all had a very strong grounding in business to complement their OD skills.

  4. OD Consulting Services

    As someone who works at an OD Consulting firm, I can clearly state that there continues to be an over-reliance on using OD consulting practices to “bell the cat” with businesses. Let me be clear. We can help support the diagnosis and design of initiatives, but we cannot execute them without internal capability and business leaders support. Too often we find ourselves being asked to put band-aids on transformation efforts. Of course, we are here to help and partner with OD teams in engaging with their business. We can also assist in supporting communication to their business. What we cannot do is become an internal OD team for them. Internal OD practitioners also need to up their own consulting skills and become trusted advisors and partners to their businesses.

What will happen if the above four challenges are not meaningfully addressed? What does it mean at an organizational level? It means simply that OD initiatives will fail and will set back any organizational initiatives.  More importantly, it will undermine the credibility of the OD professional and their ability to partner with their business.

We are at the point of a strategic inflection. Each one of these challenges needs critical attention. What is vital at this stage is for a shift to occur in the mindset in organizations at all levels when it comes to the role of the Organizational Development.  Remember, “If it’s got to be, it starts with me.” The first shift will have to start with the OD practitioner and how we position ourselves in the organization. And it may have to start by saying “No” to some activities and tasks that are not within the realm of OD.

Over the course of the next few months, I’ll be sharing more on the five specific steps to be taken to address each one of the above challenges and make that shift. What would be great is if you could share your individual experiences, thoughts, and insights on the matter, so we can all co-create the next part of the strategy in unison. Let’s address the problems before us with a united front—get involved today! Share your comments.

Vinay Kumar

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