Back in 2003 I was invited, by an alumni group from Roffey Park’s Masters in Organisation Development, to run a session on organisation design. I was told at the time that the Roffey programme specifically excluded organisation design. Roffey was always at the feely end of touchy (or should that be the touchy end of feely?) and took the view that the two are completely separate subjects. That might explain why there is still something missing in their current mission statement “We develop people who develop organisations” – develop for what?
In November 2009, at a Leadership Foundation in Higher Education Conference (LFHE), while one keynote speaker was asking the question “What makes an effective Organisational Development Practitioner?” I was trying to answer it with my keynote on “Evidence-Based Learning & Development – The Real Purpose of Evaluation and ROI”. I asked one of the academics hosting the event whether she took the view that ODevt and ODesign were different subjects? My enquiry apparently did not warrant a serious answer – maybe it’s because I am not an academic?
Of all the disciplines that I have had to master to become an HR Professional the one that stands out for its lack of definition, purpose and workable methodology is ODevt. There are plenty of definitions available but here is one from the OD Network that I actually like -
“Organization Development is a body of knowledge and practice that enhances organizational performance and individual development, viewing the organization as a complex system of systems that exist within a larger system, each of which has its own attributes and degrees of alignment. OD interventions in these systems are inclusive methodologies and approaches to strategic planning, organization design, leadership development, change management, performance management, coaching, diversity, and work/life balance.” Matt Minahan, MM & Associates, Silver Spring, Maryland
Matt has restored my faith in ODevt because he relates it to performance and incorporates organization design; as it always should have been. Now all we have to do is produce some evidence that ODevt actually makes a difference. In that respect OD is no different from any other management discipline and the guiding principle, as always with evidence-based management, is to agree the evidence at the beginning. In practice this means that OD specialists need to demonstrate, up front, how their “interventions” are going to add some value: otherwise OD is just more vapourware.
One sector that is seriously in need of OD is the higher education sector. Universities and business schools are becoming more and more market-driven and this is already starting to put pressure on the quality of research and teaching. Some of the immediate OD challenges in academic institutions are to find Deans (or equivalent) who can show true leadership in maintaining standards, at a time of significant transition, in the face of fierce competition. They need to re-design their institutions with a whole new generation of academics who live in the real world and are evidence-based themselves; that means being prepared to have their performance managed. The real art in the design and development will come from doing all of this without losing any of the strengths of academia (its previous rigour?) whilst maintaining a collegiate culture: that’s quite a task for OD but it is long overdue. Most of all though, before any OD effort starts, someone needs to agree what type of evidence will demonstrate that these ‘developments’ have been a success and higher education has changed for the better.