Organizational development and human resources personnel complement
one another during times of change, with OD providing a big picture
view and HR taking on front-line challenges.
When I left a Fortune 100 company in the middle 1990s, one of my
colleagues commented, "Well, OD is a dying discipline anyway.
Wasn't that a 60's thing?" Indeed. In my consulting work that
followed, I found that OD's change agent role remained somewhat
thwarted by the tail wagging the dog. More directly put,
organizational development is the parent discipline to human
resources--not the other way around. However, if one even finds OD
formally supported in an organization, it will be subsumed in HR. I
still wonder why.
The pain of change
Organizational development is the diagnostic and strategic agent to
HR, not the other way around. Using a systems perspective for a
moment, the challenge for organizational alignment arises from the
need for HR processes to support the OD effort. Although a marriage
of sorts is inevitable, OD initially sets the tone for change,
allegedly under the auspices of strategic planning and
organizational performance. Once the desired state of the company
crystallizes in the minds of executives, executing change becomes
the task of the OD practitioner and the HR team. It is OD, however,
that designs interventions to move bodies of personnel in the same
direction. It is OD that understands cultural issues and social
science. Lastly, it is OD that looks at the triad of change
management: systems, processes, and people.
Humans resources endeavors support the change triad, too, but HR
provides the frontline role. HR practitioners maintain positive
employee relations, thus supporting change in a direct way. Their
systems and processes can be problematic for OD, however. It is
here that the point of analysis shifts. Who supports whom? Who is
patched into executive vision? Who knows how to pull it off?
Typically, OD personnel possess the acumen to respond to the
ever-present CEO directive: "Make it so." Let us not forget, for
those of you not familiar with "Star Trek: the Next Generation,"
that Captain Pickard prefaced nearly every statement to his second
in command (who he called Number One) with that directive. Yet, who
"makes it so" in your firm? If you have OD in your organization,
you need look no further.
Making it so
Typically and traditionally, OD does not hold the Number One
position in terms of line authority. For this reason, change
implementation becomes undermined by politics and second-guessing.
While providing OD with a direct reporting relationship to the CEO
relieves the problem to a great extent, deeper issues hide outside
of the organizational chart. For example, how does a company
embrace project teams and base compensation upon individual
performance? Why would a company introduce change and then
discipline people for changing? Why would a company insist on
"strategic alignment," then refuse to measure performance
strategically? Why would a company introduce change when they want
to stay the same?
These awkward initiatives usually result from poor planning and
lack of direction or insight. Companies lock themselves into
unproductive systems loops or archetypes, usually as a result of
misunderstanding which discipline can provide the appropriate
service at the appropriate time. Companies do this because they do
not perceive OD or HR as strategic business partners, something we
in the business have long lamented.
Training and development can also be excluded from initial
planning, yet they are still often delegated the daunting task of
"fixing the people" by training to new competencies. In addition,
trainers are often asked to measure ROI, even when there is
miscommunication about what the executive suite really values and
wants. Competencies should be a reflection of values; sometimes, as
we know, they are not.
Lamenting misdirected energy will not illuminate this problem. OD
and HR have their work cut out for them. Educate your executives
with a simple breakdown: "OD conceptualizes, HR actualizes" change
endeavors. OD analyzes the current state, designs interventions,
identifies the change team, and reviews the business plan for
pacing. HR enters the game at the invitation of OD--when the time
is right. HR personnel may also be restructuring or redesigning
their systems in anticipation of the change process, but they need
to integrate into the larger endeavor: the desired state for the
company. So is there hope to remedy misalignment and
- Make sure the right people are in the room.
- Clarify goals that seem unclear.
- Communicate in multi-media with frequency and passion.
- Convey the change to everyone.
- Consider the change triad (systems, process, people), and be
aware that changes in one will probably affect all three.
- Let OD lead the change initiative.
2007 ASTD, Alexandria, VA. All rights reserved.