I was asked the other day what my three essentials of Organisation Development are. It was a interesting questions which really got me thinking. What are the three most important things an OD practitioner should practice in any intervention?
You might have an alternative set of essentials but this was the answer I gave.
#1 – People
Any organisation development intervention must have people at its centre. Organisation Development is about allowing the people in the organisation to create the change the organisation is looking for. OD is a holistic intervention, and therefore isn’t restricted to the top brass. In fact, it works quite the opposite in that it releases everyone from the bottom up to have a say, and share their knowledge, talent and skills in developing the organisation.
If your OD intervention isn’t people centred, and unashamedly humanistic it is probably not an OD intervention.
#2 – Know you Tools, Know your Theory
Whether it is Complexity theory, Action Research Theory, Lewin’s Change Theory, Systems Theory or Appreciative inquiry the cross discipline theoretical background of OD is essential to understanding the tools that an OD practitioner will use in their OD practice. If you don’t understand the behavioural sciences, sociology and psychology behind methods such as gamestorming, focused conversations or world cafe’s you won’t know which tools to use to deliver the results the organisation needs for sustainable performance and organisational effectiveness.
A mechanic doesn’t try to fix your car engine without knowing how the combustion engine works ‘in theory’ – by understanding the process the mechanic can quickly identify where the process is broken and know what tool/method required to make the engine roar back into life. OD is no different.
Many practitioners dismiss academic theory as ridiculous ‘ivory tower’ thinking and not applicable to the real world. The interesting thing is that the theory that OD is built on is often criticised by the academic community because it is built on practice and field work experimentation, worse still, in the eyes of academics, it takes bits of different disciplines because those ‘bits’ are relevant and ignores the stuff that doesn’t add value to the process. Get to know your theory and you’ll get to understand How the OD toolkit works and when to use the different tools.
#3 – Be Sustainable
I could have chosen a number of things for number three, but the one I plugged for is that of legacy. The OD practitioner is the catalyst in OD interventions. They must have the ability to build the business case for the leadership team, get the leadership team on board to sponsor the programme, build relationships with key change agents within the business and draw together disperate groups to make the intervention successful. They become the centre of the intervention. The use of self as a catalyst of change is a central pillar of OD practice. BUT. What happens when the OD intervention comes to an end? How do you prevent the organisation from slipping back into old habits?
This is the paradox of the life of the OD practitioner. You are the centre of change whilst at the same time building a legacy which means that the organisation learns how to change itself. The OD practitioner must translate the practices, and tools that they use so they become embedded into the way that the organisation does things. The questions you ask, become the organisation’s questions. The techniques you use, are understood and used by the organisation you are working with and more importantly you leave the organisation in a positon where they have learnt how to develop themselves without the ‘self’ of the OD practitioner being present.
When the OD practitioner is no longer needed then the OD intervention has worked.
So there you have it, my top three essentials for the OD practitioner.