April 14, 2011 by Neil
If there is one term that I hear more and more, but means less and less it is “Organisational Development”. I’m not sure I was ever taught what it meant all those years ago when I sat my IPD exams nor did I ever witness anyone talking about it as I cut my teeth in the profession. Yet in the last couple of years I seemed to have been invited to more conferences, training days, seminars and webinars on Organisational Development than anything else.
But the thing is….and not for the first time…..we don’t seem to know what we’re talking about.
At a recent conference I attended, the session on OD was the most popular of the lot. Not because of the quality of the speakers, they were neither spectacular nor dismal, but because we were all there hoping someone was going to tell us what it was all about (for the record: they didn’t, so I’m none the wiser).
One of the biggest mistakes that we make, in my small and completely humble opinion, is the confusion between OD and OD interventions. Typical of the profession, we are happy getting down and dirty with the practicalities and less happy talking about the more ethereal overall concepts. One of the questions raised by a delegate prior to the conference was how to evaluate the success of an OD programme. I guess my answer would be that the problem is the question not the evaluation.
I’m not a big believer in making things complex, there are theorists out there who will tell you the models and thinkers that are best positioned on OD….when I have time to read, it is not going to be on that topic. I tend to take a simple view of all things HR and that includes OD.
If you look at the development of a human it is an organic (by definition) process. We know that humans develop differently; at different speeds, in different ways and with different results. Within a lifetime there are various stages of development and we “do stuff” to support and aid that development. Whether that is early years stuff, learning the first words etc. Whether that is educational stuff, schooling, further or higher education. Or indeed, whether it is more experiential stuff such as the first job.
And this “stuff” is the group of interventions that support development, sure they can be evaluated and measured (if you absolutely feel the need to) but in themselves they are not the development. You can measure exam results, but what is done with the learning is the important thing. Likewise in Organisations, there are interventions that support the development but these in themselves, I would argue, are not Organisational Development.
Instead the overall journey that grows and develops and organisation and the big and tiny interventions as well as the less substantive, but no less important, natural development and growth of the organisation through experience, trial and error, but – and this is an important factor – in a semi-cohesive progression towards an agreed general strategic direction. That for me, comes closer to trying to encapsulate this concept of OD.
And if that all sounds woolly, I guess that is because to a certain extent I think it is. On the other hand, we could just go back to measuring process badly. Because we know how to do that.