We all like to talk about how we spend our work time; well, at least most of us do. I happen to love what I do: Organization Development (OD) consulting. It’s interesting; it’s multidisciplined; and although there are certainly similarities across human behaviors and organizational processes, each organization is unique.
I’m often asked what OD is. My answer can be short: "OD is an approach to bring about organizational change." Or, depending on who’s asking and how interested they are, I might go on to say: "Usually I’m engaged when leaders realize they must change in order to adapt to some type of change in their environment: changing market conditions, changing expectations of customers, changes in funding capabilities."
Why Organizations Need OD
You may not be thinking about Kurt Lewin while working on organizational change, but the father of modern social psychology is also widely recognized as the founding father of OD. Through Lewin’s research we learned the importance of group dynamics and action research, two of the key foundations for organization development work.
It was Lewin who wrote, "If individuals are active in decisions affecting them, they are more likely to adopt new ways. Change proceeds in a spiral of steps, each of which is composed of a circle of planning, action and fact-finding about the result of action."
My experience demonstrates that leaders may recognize that their organizations must change, but few have more data beyond their own perceptions about what’s wrong. And very few know how to go about planning and implementing change. There are some that attempt change alone, but their attempts at forced change are overwhelming disasters, ending with employees feeling disillusioned and wondering, "Who’s steering the ship?"
Organizations sincere about wanting to plan and initiate successful change need organization development knowledge and experience provided by an internal or external OD consultant. The OD consultant’s role is not to examine, diagnose, prescribe and fix the organization. Instead, the consultant serves as the catalyst for guiding and facilitating processes designed to help the organization look at itself, understand its challenges, and create actions to close the gaps between who or where they are, and who or where they want to be.
The OD consultant is capable of calling on techniques, theories and methodologies from a variety of disciplines; i.e., behavioral sciences, anthropology, sociology, thinking and organizational learning, mind maps, body mind synchronicity, decision making, and coaching to list a few. This is not a consulting field where "one size fits all." What works for one organization will probably not lend itself to another organization. The consultant will take the time to listen and explore with the organization their history, culture, practices, expectations and change objectives before suggesting options for how to move forward in planning for change.
Organizations have been utilizing OD support since the ‘50s, and they still need it. The OD interventions designed for the organization will be unique to its people, considering a diversity of ideas, perceptions, readiness, beliefs, expectations, etc. As Warren Bennis wrote in 1969, "Change is the biggest story in the world today, and we are not coping with it adequately…." I think that statement is timeless. Change continues to challenge us. It’s demanding, elusive, and yet ever present and impactful. Why do organizations need OD? In order to survive.
How Does The OD Process Work?
When I talk about OD, I often point to the benefits that can be achieved by any organization: private sector businesses as well as government agencies. Some of the benefits include expanding organizational capabilities to:
- improve interpersonal and team processes and relationships.
- create a pathway for more effective communications.
- enhance the organization’s capabilities to cope with challenges.
- improve leadership and managerial competencies and abilities.
- deal with conflict in a healthy manner.
- cultivate an atmosphere of trust and collaboration.
- structure the organization to improve efficiencies and performance.
The OD consultant starts with the end in mind; i.e., a process to answer the question, "What does the organization want to achieve?" Based on the answer the organization agrees to, the consultant will work with the various stakeholders to develop a Change Plan or "travel guide." Think of the guide as a map detailing how to successfully move from Point A to Point M using collaborative and facilitated processes along the way.
Organization change doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process that demands sufficient acknowledgement of elements such as: time, patience, expertise, data gathering, analysis, planning, resources, collaboration, co-creation, trust, confidentiality, conflict, fence-mending, coaching, facilitation, exploration, intuition, decision making, risk-taking, stakeholder participation, open communications and let’s not forget coaching or training along the way. Yes, I love what I do!
So What’s Next?
Every organization today is faced with issues of change: Budgets are being cut and people are retiring and leaving with knowledge and experiences that haven’t been documented. Workplaces are dealing with management styles that haven’t kept up with the expectations of the current workforce. Multiple generations working together are clashing over expectations and preferences, workplace cultures aren’t adapting quickly enough resulting in a lack of productive ways to work together. Technology is changing faster than organizations can assimilate to, and the list continues to grow.
If your organization is considering a change initiative, the first step is to ensure the organization has the leadership bold and secure enough to take a good look in the mirror. Next identify internal or external OD resources to assist. This point can be dicey, because the OD consultant needs to be neutral. If the OD consultant is too close to management, it may be difficult for employees to be candid and hopeful that positive change can occur.
The worst thing I’ve seen organizations do is recognize there is a problem, but sit back and hope that it resolves itself. I’m not saying it never happens, but the odds of the problem resolving itself are slim. What usually happens is the culture begins to accept the dysfunction that the problem is causing and then begins to fester, resulting in other dysfunctional reactions and solutions filling in the void that management is not addressing.
If it’s time to address change in your organization, find the right resources to help develop your guide to successful change. If EMI can assist you, we’d appreciate your consideration. Make change happen so that the next time someone asks you or your employees, "What do you do?" the answer can be, "I work for the best organization on the planet!" Wouldn’t that be cool?
As always, I welcome your comments to my posting. If you found this article interesting please pass it along to others in your network who can also benefit from it. Have a great week.
This article was written by Deborah A. King, SPHR and President of Evolution Management, Inc. an SBA 8(a) certified firm. For 18 years, EMI’s team of experienced HR and change management consultants have been partnering with organizations interested in improving their workplace environments, as well as their organizational performance. We’d appreciate an opportunity to work with you. Contact us at 770.587.9032 or visit our website at www.evolutionmgt.com.