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Organisational Development in Strategic HR – is now the time we ALL became OD Practitioners?

Before I even knew what OD – Organisation Development (or Organisational Development) – was, I was doing “it”.

I suspect this is the case with many people involved in HR where change happens.

Or where something other than the conventional norms of an organisation appear – and by conventional norms I am talking recruitment, basic training, payroll, people administration, issue resolution, pension enrollment, exit management.  The more transactional aspects of HR.  Necessary but still transactional.

Where OD as a practice field sits is in the transformationalbucket.

Either regenerative, restructuring, re-imagining.   Something that literally transforms and develops the organisation.  Simple really.  Except its not that simple.  For everyone and no-one owns OD.  Whether you’ve the job title or not doesn’t mean it’s all yours.  And perhaps nor should it be.

I recall a book review I did for “Organization Development” by Linda Holbeche and Mee-Yan Cheung-Judge where I said “all leaders ought to get OD”.  Maybe many of them do. I still think they all should.

For me, OD is still the way to theorise, model, deploy and bring impacts to change at an organisational level.  It allows for systems thinking, several psychologies, business analyst methods, modelling and design approaches and most importantly people and energy dynamics to all come into one place. And that’s without throwing innovation into the mix.

OD is quite simply the place where anything can happen.  And invariably does.

Leaders may go on their MBA courses and come back full of 7 McKinseys and 5 Porters, but I’ll trump them with 4 Scheins and 6 Morgans any day of the week.  In all seriousness, there has been some terrific thinking under the OD banner – born out of practical case studies as well as academic theory.  It – OD – enables us to look at change and deal with it dynamically.  Not using theories of loss but theories of renewal, reconstitution and revolution even.

OD is about adapting.  It is probably something we have all seen over the last few years as change has changed itself to be more convulsive, rapid and even seismic.  We have had to adapt to this and the more successful companies who have weathered the more recent storms may well have been OD-oriented companies deliberately or unknowingly.  They may have called it change or agile thinking but they were probably “being” OD practitioners.

The NHS really has got the OD bug – so much so that the “Do OD” strap-line has many leaders in and outside of HR researching and deploying OD models, thinking and approaches to help them with the constantly changing demands in public healthcare in the UK.

So isn’t about time we ALL became OD practitioners?

Yes, is still my viewpoint.  OD is – a lot like its cousins change and communication – everyone’s job.

To develop the organisation you’re a part of is not for R&D or the Business Analysts or Technologists.  It’s for all of us.  In varying levels and elements of course.

People may want to keep OD special or disagree its part of everyone’s job, but if change is the only constant (sorry for the cliche there) and OD is the specialty where business change gave rise to it, then I stick by my assertion that we should ALL be OD practitioners.  For change looks like it’s here to stay and be more unpredictable than ever.

So should we replace the MBA curriculum with OD thinking?  At least merge and update the MBA content with more from the OD school sure.  I’d like to see an OD degree given equal standing to an MBA as being the epitome of someone who has proven insight into theories of change and development vital to business success.  We all know a supply chain mechanic but can we diagnose our culture and know how we help change it to become a force for better?  OD helps us with that.

Teach OD as a standard aspect of all HR qualifications?  Hell yes.

Feature OD more prominently in HR journals, debates, conferences and social activitist groups? Definitely.

I will leave you with something from Linda and Mee-Yan’s book on OD which sums it all up for me.

OD practitioners support senior leaders to ensure there is adequate internal development to support the delivery of those identified external ambitions.

So how do YOU support the internal development to achieve your organisations external ambitions?  If not much, then you might want to dose up on OD.


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