Tuesday, 3 March 2015

What is Organisational Development?

In my early career I started life as a qualified trainer engaged in what was once called ‘capacity building’ and soon realised that I needed other knowledge and skills if I wanted to be able to impact organisations. So I learned about policy and change in organisations. That was followed by how to coach people to improve their effectiveness and wider performance, business transformation; leadership development and project management. I also quickly realised that this field I was entering involved a lot of different knowledge bases and skill sets, so if you ask most Organisational Development (OD) Consultants today you will find that they – like me - have taken a long time to grow into their roles.

 Organisational Development Consultants come from a wide background and my conversations with them over the years revealed a similar struggle to explain their work. Finding that they would be lost for words trying to explain what they did. Often they’d revert to summarising the tools that they used e.g. change management; training; coaching; facilitation; conflict resolution; work process redesigning rather than calling themselves a particular professional name.  Not a good way to impress a potential client and hopeless for the 30 second ‘elevator pitch’.

 For better or worse – for a while I was known as a Management Consultant. However whereas Management Consultants work with the leadership or management team - OD Consultants work with the whole organisation and they make themselves aware of other interdependences affecting the outcome of the project including those between the organisation’s structure processes and wider stakeholders.

 French describes OD as ‘A long-range effort to improve an organisation’s problem-solving capabilities and its ability to cope with changes in its external environment with the help of external or internal behavioural-scientist Consultants, or change agents as they are sometimes called.’

 For me one of the most important aspects of my OD role is that I leave the organisation better off in terms of the issue they have brought me in to address (so they are less likely to need me to deal with this type of problem again – i.e. sustainability) and that they have increased their problem solving skills - which are transferable to new situations. That’s why I like French’s definition so much better than many others (that focus on the tools that are used; the outcomes that are achieved or the approaches that are employed) that make no overt or covert reference to the underlying values of the Consultant and their profession.