How many of you have ever looked for a role in OD and have looked at the job description blankly? How many of you have been in a conversation where someone describes themselves as OD and when they get talking about what they are doing you think… hmmm really? How many of you have seen training roles, design roles or talent management roles disguised under the OD banner?
I am thinking this is an everyday occurrence for many OD practitioners out there. Misconceptions of OD are everywhere. This to me has always been interesting since I was studying my Masters: why was there such a gap between what theory says and what practice does? and why were OD roles so different or not even really OD? It was so interesting that after my dissertation which focused partly on this, I also published a paper about perceptions of OD in Western Europe.
However, years later this is still an issue. As my first blog post described what I believe is the core to OD I will not go into what OD really is in this post. I merely offer my perception of why it is that these misconceptions have come to play in the world of practice. I would be interested in reading other practitioners opinions on this so feel free to add your perceptions.
Let’s start out with 2 of the most common misconceptions, although there are others:
- Yes, many times OD interventions can lead to learning & development interventions; however, OD is not a synonym of L&D. In practice this is many times forgotten limiting the scope of the OD practitioner and not really giving its true value.
- OD does not mean Organisational design. Again as with L&D it may be a result of a diagnosis, but moving around boxes definitely is not the only approach a true ODist would take.
So why do these and other misconceptions exist? (as above, these are my perception however, they may be other reasons)
- There is a variety of definitions of OD. Although, they have core values at heart and explain the background behavioural sciences it is based on, not having one overarching definition causes confusion to the untrained eye.
- OD as a discipline was born due to other behavioural sciences that all influence our practice. Not necessarily fitting into one box has caused OD a lot of issues! This is especially true when we are talking about internal consultants, they do not necessarily fit in one place in the organisation and this amounts to confusion: where should it go? who should it report to?
- The holistic and systems approach of OD also influences into not fitting in a box. Hence, when not structured at a strategic level can cause many issues of not having influence over certain sub-systems, or not being able to make decisions or reach key stakeholders.
- OD can work with people strategy changes, strategic changes, start-ups, leadership behaviours, reward strategies, IT changes, overall business transformations, structural changes, relocations, process changes, creating employee engagement and cultural changes. This wide remit of changes causes havoc in practice and reflects point 2 and 3 above.
- Last and not least, there is no one size that fits all when it comes to OD. Both national culture and organisational culture come into play. This means skills required by practitioners will not only depend on the type of project, but also in what context they are working in.
How to prevent all these misconceptions and roots of misconceptions?
Interesting… and not such an easy question to answer. I think it is partly down to us as OD practitioners to keep making people aware of what we do have to offer an organisation wherever we are structured and no matter at what level. Although, I also do not think this is solely the accountability of the practitioner or OD academic, I do think we can go some way into creating awareness of what we mean by OD.