Is Organizational Development a true path to strategic development? In the past it has been behaviourally focused. Now it is time for change. Time to get more holistic. More business like. More balanced.
Traditionally Organizational Development (OD) was mainly concerned with the three S’s of an organisation:
- Staff and
Specialists and consultants practising in Organizational Development would look at an organization and identify its stage of growth or maturity. This would form the basis of a ‘diagnosis’ and an initial plan for change and developmental action.
There are many variants of these models.
Types of models
Many of the growth or maturity models describe the organization in the way humans grow and develop. The assumption being that organizations are like humans. That there is an organic order and structure to the way they grow, change and in their ‘developmental’ needs. That is they pass through fixed stages, for example – infant, toddler, child, teenager, youth, adult, midlife crisis and retirement….
These models (and there are many like it) are fine in simple single product or process organizations, however I have yet to find one that ‘holds water’ in an environment which has products at various stages of development or reflects the way that organizations have access to funding and expertise in the business world today. Change is occurring so fast that if these phases exist they are now fleeting rather than ‘landing stages’ or benchmarks in development. The age industrial age in which these models were developed has long gone. We need to stop looking at organizations in silos and look at them from a holistic position.
Once beyond the initial entrepreneurial or start-up phase, the pace of change in an organization is different and the pressures affecting each function and ‘product line’ vary considerably. In the current stages of change within our business world we need to look at all of these stages within all organizations… as some die others are born… this is as much as the ‘circle of life’ as it is organizational maturity in the way the concept was initially conceived in the 60’s and 70’s.
Times as they say are a changing
The days of organizations operating with a single product or service for many years have, on the whole, long gone. We are now in a time where many of the products and services we deliver now did not exist 5 years ago, and the likelihood is that in 5 years time the products and services we will be delivering to our customers would have changed several times. The concept of the product life cycle while potentially valid, the reality is that by the time you can plot where a product is on a life cycle curve, often the product is out of production or at the end of its life. We need to look for different ways of developing and managing our organisations.
A change of focus to holistic strategy
Rather than look at single elements of an organization, we need to start being more strategic and holistic. And we are not just talking about looking at the people aspects. As organisations become more fluid and adaptable, managers, teams and individuals need to develop stronger skills in developing others. This means more than empowerment and devolvement. It means a whole new way of working. This is particularly true for HRD professionals.
Some organizations have started to explore matrix structures. To survive in the rapidly changing time ahead we will all need to adapt to matrix structures. Many organizations have explored matrix management (or multi disciplinary) teams for change processes and project management activities.. The challenge for the future is how to harness these structures and attitudes for front line staff. One day working on product X, the next providing customer service on service Y. Some of the organisations in the retail sector have embraced this way of working for some years. The health-care sector have tinkered around the edges.
Time for HR, HRD and OD to think differently
Business is changing. The social world is changing. For HR and HRD this will mean working differently. And I am not just talking a change of function name again! For us to work and deliver strategic advantage, we need to start to look at the way we undertake OD activity in a truly holistic way.
This means OD teams (not individuals) need to start looking beyond the traditional people and structures, into finance, marketing and operations of a business. Recognising that there will be core and local cultures, processes and management styles. Teams will be required, not because of the volume of work, but the sheer diversity of what we need to review. There are few people that can keep up with current thinking in one area, let alone across the whole gambit of an organisations functions.
For OD to deliver strategic advantage we will need to embrace the following:
…within in context of management style and corporate values. This is known as the PRIMO-F model
Going beyond human behaviours
In the past we have been strategically involved in the people aspects, and to a limited extent resources. But to be truly strategic we need to encompass all of these areas and ensure that any change in one area does not have a negative impact on another. The PRIMO-F model has been used by strategic Business Advisers for a number of years. Perhaps it is time for those of us in OD to start looking at it as a strategic advantage. Traditionally HR and HRD have been isolated from the strategic business advisers, often reporting to different parts of an organisation. Perhaps it is now time to look towards integration?
Holistic organisational reviews like this require different skills and often a small team with diverse experience and competence. This in itself presents us with a challenge. Will our directors recognise our contributions in the context of Finance, Marketing and Operations? How can we build credibility? Is it time to move away from simple relationship building to the development of strategic alliances with our functional colleagues? For they too will be feeling the pressure as the pace of change speeds up.
The change away from the ‘softer’ and the legal aspects that our managers have learnt to expect in a role that is at the heart of growing and developing our organizations will be an interesting journey. That is not to say that what we have been doing is wrong. There is still an ongoing need for this activity. To be more strategic we need to take a radical approach. Identifying who does what will be one of the first critical steps each of us makes, recognising that this ‘activity’ that we identify may well be different in the coming months – and so may the role that undertakes that activity.
For HR and HRD to become truly strategic we need to change our focus from people – to how people interact with systems and processes. This is true Organisational Development, and I suspect the way forward for the (HRD) profession. This means as professionals we need to move towards understanding business, finance and operations, in order that we can add real value.