In the recently concluded International OD Conference organized by IODA in Mysore in May 2016, Nancy Zentis, CEO, Institute of Organization Development, USA and I had the opportunity the opportunity to share our thoughts on The Future of OD in the Workplace. I am sharing the key takeaways from our session in this post.
When I talk about Organization Development to others, I have received different types of responses. Sometimes it is “I don’t know about OD, Tell me about it? Or “I have heard something about it, I want to know more?” or “OD is my passion, I want to learn more” or “I am an OD Practitioner or Consultant” and more. Mee-Yan Cheung-Judge & Linda Holbeche share that “Organization Development is not a well understood field. Often questions like: ’What is it?’ will pop up among clients. Even many of the OD Practitioners feel that while they intuitively know what the field is about, it is hard to articulate what OD is to others.” The insight for me is that apart from those who say that they have not heard about OD or don’t know about OD, for many others, OD evokes an interest and there is no standard understanding of what OD is. The same can be said about how organizations approach OD also and there is no evidence of a consistent model or approach being used for OD across organizations even though the value of OD is well understood. So the question is what is Organization Development?
Since the 1940s, the field of OD has been growing in strength and application with the contributions of many thought leaders across the globe. While there are many definitions of OD, what appeals to me as most relevant is that of Wendell French and Cecil Bell and according to them OD is a “systematic process for applying behavioural science principles and practices in organizations to increase individual and organizational effectiveness. It is an organizational improvement strategy and it is about how people and organizations function and how to get them to function better.” So the focus of OD is to increase individual and organizational effectiveness. It’s about taking an organization from A to B to C and so on and to accomplish this task of increasing the effectiveness and furthering the journey from A to Z, OD Practitioners need a set of building blocks consisting of values, knowledge of theoretical roots, mindset and skill set. In our OD program we also use the definition of OD as “a process where an internal or external change agent helps senior leaders solve critical problems by involving all members of the organization to share their views, provide feedback, and determine the best solutions to fit the needs of the organization”. This highlights the role of an internal or external consultant in helping leaders solve critical problems and brings in the humanistic values of involving of all members and empowerment & choice to choose their direction. Now that we know a bit about what OD is, the next question is what are the challenges ahead?
According to Edgar Schein there are two problems all organizations should deal with 1. Survival, growth, and adaptation in environment and 2. Internal integration that permits functioning and adapting. These two problems create the business case for OD in any organization which is experiencing these two problems. These two problems manifest through many challenges that organizations have to face. When we ask what those challenges are we can list many and I found two frameworks useful to understand at a global level and at an organizational level. At the global level, the Millennium Project (www.themp.org) lists 15 global challenges based on their research. I believe that each one of those challenges is an opportunity for OD/OD Professionals to support. At the workplace level we can look at the framework by Unum, who articulated the key trends that will affect the employee wellbeing in the future workplace. While this framework was for UK, there are a few trends which can be global in nature like The Ageless Workplace – which shifts the focus away from what people can’t do to what they can do and the shift from retirement to returnment, The Mindful Workplace – which stresses the need for business to be mindful of the whole person in the employee, The Intuitive Workplace – which leverages technology to unite the workforce, The Collaborative Workplace – which needs to bring people together and break the silos, The Changeful Workplace – which makes change part of the DNA and The Engaged Workplace – which engages the hearts, minds and body of people. We can list many other challenges including diversity building, capacity building, leadership development and more in the backdrop of the two problems articulated by Edgar Schein. So we do have several challenges and the question is how can OD help? On a broad level, we see that OD can help in
a. Improving Organization Effectiveness – aligning organization systems, developing sustainable processes, proactively managing change instead of reacting, using data based/scientific approaches to decision-making, increasing resilience and leadership impact, building a stronger brand & reputation, improving processes & performance and more
b. Improving Workforce Effectiveness – developing a stronger workforce that adapts to change, supporting employees to increase capability, developing a talent ecosystem and more
c. Nurturing Engaging Culture – engaging the whole person, developing boundary less / structure flexi organizations, going beyond the immediate organizations to support the community, nurturing diversity and managing multiple generations, creating culture of safety for employees to share and be who they are, nurturing organizational dialogues and more
I believe that the possibilities of how OD can help organizations are endless and we can continue adding to the lists above of how OD can help. We can summarize by saying that OD has the power to help achieve the triple bottom-line of Profits, People and Planet for any organization. I am confident of the Triple Bottom-line Impact of OD because of its two major core values. According to Friedlander & Brown the field of OD reflects two major core values – a humanistic orientation and emphasis on organizational effectiveness. These core values make OD a powerful vehicle to help organizations achieve the triple bottom-line.
For OD to be able to help organizations we need a few critical elements like 1.Leaders practicing OD Values, Behaviors & Principles, 2.HR/L&D Transitioning to become Internal OD Consultants, 3.Setting up an internal OD Function/Role or leveraging an External OD Consultant based on the need to coach, build OD Capability and intervene/provide support, 4.Leveraging the OD approach to deal with all people side of the enterprise and most importantly the Top management should understand & appreciate the value and returns of OD to the triple bottom-line, provide the complete support and set expectations for a results oriented OD Culture.
In closing I would like to share that the field of OD is out there offering value and impact to anyone who wants to use the power of OD to create miracles for individual, organizational and social success. OD is not some niche knowledge/skills used by the select few but rather open knowledge and acquirable skill for Everyone to live/use to impact self and the world in a positive way.
Please do reach out to me for guidance on your OD Journey, information on upcoming OD Programs in your region and for the presentation we used in the conference.
Ragland Thomas G
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