One possible reason is that the same fertile ground that nourished the early roots of
OD is doing the same today. The UK public sector has embraced OD wholeheartedly,
not only to achieve change in the services they provide but also to combat modern
day worker alienation.
Parker and Parker (2007) reflecting on the state of the public
sector suggest ‘the metaphor of the machine – the idea of predictable, rational, cause
and effect analysis may have brought about some significant improvements, but it has also failed to tackle deeper questions of motivation and legitimacy. Public sector staff are disengaged and frustrated’ (p15). The authors go on to describe the quest for a ‘new narrative’ with new ‘organising frameworks’ and ‘sources of disruption’.
A further symptom of malaise in the public sector is the inability to learn. Chapman (2002) for example describes the obstacles to learning in government and policy making as an aversion to failure; using failures to score points rather than learn lessons; pressure for uniformity; command and control authority; lack of time other than to cope with events; secrecy used to stifle feedback and learning; turf wars; efficiency drives and vested interest.
The behavioural sciences are now once again much in demand in the quest for employee engagement in both public and private sectors where there is fairly widespread consensus that OD is concerned with organisational effectiveness. There is also some agreement that it relates to ‘sustainability’ both for the organisation but in a broader sense of social responsibility to communities and the use of global resources.
Rowland (2007) identifies a number of themes around OD today:
■ OD happens in different guises although it may not be badged as such
■ All kinds of people do OD, not just designated practitioners
■ Development experts may not have the title but may use OD interventions.
This brings us back to our initial dilemma that ʹit depends what you mean by ODʹ. There is clearly a quest for organisational effectiveness but the means to achieve it relies heavily on the competence of the OD practitioners, whether they are designatedʹ or simply have an intuitive understanding of how to engage and harness the creative energy of people.
The 'self as an instrument'
Cheung‐Judge (2001) suggests that ‘OD consulting necessitates a high degree of selfknowledge
and personal development that must engage OD practitioners throughout their professional lives’. She argues that ‘among the many competencies required of us (OD practitioners) the use of self as an instrument is at the heart of our uniqueness and effectiveness’.
OD still relies on the ability, effectiveness and commitment of individuals and can seemingly be a lonely role to play as one practitioner describes, ‘I learned as well that working alone with a complex system is quite difficult. I was unable to internally hold all system members, that is, to take in all its parts, to validate them separately, to see them as all part of the whole. Yet during much of the project I held onto the grandiose illusion that I should do so—which speaks, I think, to how caught I was in the agency’s search for a savior and in my fantasy that I could be one’ (Kahn, 2004).
A key dilemma, however, for the development of OD professionals is what might be described as a nomadic status in organisations. Most OD specific academic training and networks are still US based. There is no standard professional qualification or accreditation to demonstrate competence, practitioners are from a variety of career paths and there are few robust evaluations of OD interventions. Similarly its corporate home is often dependent on the partnerships it forges with HR, learning and development, strategy, communications or other areas of the business.
Grieves (2000) describes the OD practitioner as a ʹjourneymanʹ, a term from the Middle Ages conferring status and freedom of movement. The journeyman acquires skills and knowledge to become a master craftsman and Grieves suggest that in the future ʹthe OD professional will be equipped with a new set of skills and a form of knowledge that may derive from the past but will not be tied to it. In that sense it is more self‐critical and self‐reflectiveʹ.
A scan of 22 senior OD manager, consultant and director roles during September and October 2008 suggest that organisations are indeed looking for ‘journeymen’ with a broad range of skills, qualifications and experience. Most required a post‐graduate qualification in organisational behaviour, occupational/organisational psychology or HRM and some were seeking business qualifications such as an MBA or practical six sigma expertise. A range of experience is also demanded from partnering with key stakeholders, leadership, project management, commercial and sometimes global
experience to evidence of delivery in talent management, culture change, restructuring, organisational capability development and change management.
With such broad development required of practitioners it is unlikely that there is a quick fix or a single route to achieving this status of master craftsman other than through a long and varied apprenticeship. Unfortunately the lack of accreditation leaves plenty of room for charlatans.
OD: the future
How then can OD avoid the terminal decline that has been forecast in the US (Greiner and Cummings, 2004) and support the rising demand for effective OD in the UK? Is it time to come in from the cold and enter into merger talks with HR to strengthen support for OD practitioners and also spread their skills into the HR community?
Some have argued for a convergence of HRM, HRD and OD (Ruona & Gibson, 2004) or at least for a strong partnership. Ultimately they are all striving to make organisations more effective through people.
Burke (2004) identifies five models, two of which he sees as potential futures for OD:
1. The traditional model: OD a sub‐function of HR
2. The independent model: freestanding OD not reporting in to HR but possibly administration, strategy or operations
3. The decentralised model: OD practitioners in business units reporting to unit head with perhaps a presence at HQ
4. The integrated model: OD integrated into all aspects of HR with change as a primary responsibility
5. The strategy model: OD as an integral part of the strategic‐planning function reporting to the CEO
Burke argues that while the strategy model would put ‘OD where it belongs in the organisation, that is, integral to possibilities of system‐wide change’, he believes OD professionals would require new business knowledge and skills as well as incorporating the bottom line into their values. Indeed this lack of business knowledge is also a frequent criticism of HR professionals. He therefore believes that the integrated model provides a practical way to strengthen and renew both functions and to spur new thinking and creative action for the future.