MANAGEMENT : Oh Dear, Where’s The OD?

What is OD, I hear you ask? This is the problem defined. You, the readers of this magazine haven’t, it seems, cottoned on to OD. It can provide you with the power to be transformational and help with your most difficult work, improving organisational performance.
OD stands for Organisation Development. It is about people in organisations, but let’s be clear, OD is not human resource management (HR). OD is about the business, the organisation of business, and the business of organisations.
There are several definitions of OD, many of which would make the best of us nod off. But for the record, most include concern for system-wide planned change, the use of behavioural science interventions, focus on human and social processes, and the intention to build the capacity to adapt and renew organisations (Worley, C. 2002). Most importantly, most definitions also suggest that for OD to be successful it needs to be led from the very top.
OD as practice evolved in the 1950s out of the work of the National Training Labs (USA) on group dynamics and leadership, and the human relations work of the Tavistock Institute (UK). By the mid 1960s OD had already become very diverse field, with many different approaches being used to deal with organisational issues and the management of change.
OD continued to evolve as field to meet the many challenges being faced throughout the 1970s (technology), ’80s (recession), ’90s (globalisation) and the 2000s (knowledge economy). Today, OD continues to evolve cutting-edge practices and techniques to deal with some of the most difficult and entrenched organisational issues.
Many OD concepts and practices have now become mainstream in New Zealand including: strategic planning, organisation design, process consulting, team building, conflict management, diversity awareness, action learning, appreciative enquiry, change management, leadership development, the importance of attending to organisational culture, the power of experiential learning and the concept of learning organisations. Today OD is used to solve both very practical problems, and very difficult problems.
We have recently undertaken research looking at the strategic organisation development and human resource capability across the state sector. The findings suggest that OD is alive and well in some parts of the sector only. This is despite the fact that there are some very skilled practitioners and internal consultants working within this sector. My reading is that this patchiness is not limited to the state sector.
Thought Partners is contributing to this arena by running practice-based OD Forum on 19 November 2009 in Wellington. The purpose is two-fold: Firstly, to engage senior leaders and senior OD practitioners in the debate, and secondly, to facilitate and reinvigorate the development of skills and knowledge of OD.
Since undertaking this research I have been talking to many business owners and leaders. There seems to be missing link as to why OD is failing to help you. One thought is that many senior managers in New Zealand just do not ‘get it’. Ask yourself – what do you know about OD? Do you know how to access and use this body of knowledge?
The literature identifies the pivotal role of the CEO to drive ownership of the transformation and enable OD practitioners to be effective. I’m not suggesting you need to become an OD specialist, although if you do not have an OD person you are, in fact, the OD specialist. Knowing something of what OD is and how it can help you and your organisation to move forward is important. We need new thinking and solutions to the new problems we are facing.
In order to lead your organisation you have to understand it, and this includes the wishes, desires, views and motivations of the people within it, and outside it. OD can provide the language, the tools and the techniques to help you with these conversations and make the critical decisions and interventions which are required.
Senior leaders and managers in New Zealand organisations need to seize OD as their own and use their specialist OD practitioners and consultants to drive the change required to improve efficiency, productivity and performance.
If you still do not ‘get it’, make an effort to make OD part of your own development, it will pay dividends. Maybe it is time for you too, to upskill. M

Dr Dale Nelson is consultant at Thought Partners and visiting fellow of Cranfield School of Management, Bedfordshire, UK. [email protected]

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