What Makes a Good Organization Development Practitioner

Carrie Foster's Profile

It is often hard for OD practitioners to adequately articulate the work that is involved in delivering OD in an organization. Trying to explain what OD is to the layperson is even harder, not even the academics can agree exactly what OD is. Therefore, it could be argued that writing about the attributes of a practitioner is a foolhardy undertaking. But there are characteristics that practitioners have, which perhaps make them choose OD as a practice, rather than becoming management consultants, six sigma black belts, or process engineers. 

1) Unashamedly Humanistic 

In recent years there has been a growing trend toward integrating humanism into organizational life and the growth of the human economy. The digital economy has swung the pendulum away from the mechanical to a focus on knowledge, innovation, and creativity. It is no longer just about what people can make but what humans can create and communicate. This movement was accelerated following the 2008 credit crunch when the financial machinations of corporatism woke up the working population to their exploitation at the hands of their corporate masters. The millennial generation is leading the shift to the gig economy as accepted ideas regarding the workplace challenge the nine-to- five permanent role as the only acceptable form of employment.  OD is part of that movement because OD interventions have people at the very center of its philosophy, belief, and value set. The holistic approach encompasses everyone who works within the organization, not just the senior leadership team. It is focused on all people, with all their idiosyncrasies, talent potential, strengths, and viewpoints. OD doesn’t ignore process, policies, organization design, or leadership, but it focuses on these things in the context of inclusion. It is a top-down, bottom–up, and peer-to-peer sharing of knowledge, talent, and skills focused on developing the organization. If the mindset of the practitioner is not un- ashamedly humanistic and the approach to organizational change doesn’t have people at the very center, then organizations are probably not dealing with an OD practitioner. 

2) Know OD Theory and Practice 

Knowing the foundational OD theories such as Lewin’s change theories, Psychodynamic Theory and Systems Theory is the beginning of the journey for an OD practitioner. Finding and reading the journal articles and books of the founding fathers of OD are essential to understanding why OD works in delivering sustainable change and how to use the theory in practice. All OD theories are practice based. These aren’t theoretical essays to consider ideas that can’t be operationalized. Rather, OD theory is often criticized by academics because they build a theory from the operation of a practice. Individuals cannot claim to be an OD practitioner if they are not cognizant of the theoretical foundation of OD practice. 

A lack of knowledge of the behavioral sciences means that the OD practitioner can’t possibly understand how emerging techniques such as Engaging Emergence (Holman, 2010), Re-Description (Storch and Ziethen, 2013), or SOAR (Stavros, 2011) work to deliver results. This lack of understanding also means that the practitioner will not understand which tools to use to solve what problems to deliver the results the organization needs for sustainable performance and organizational effectiveness. 

3) Sustainable Practice 
Working within organizations means that there is an onus on the OD practitioner to be an effective business person as well as an OD expert. As a catalyst in OD interventions, the practitioner must be able to communicate the business case for the change that is being sought. Becoming a trusted advisor is developed through building relationships with the leader- ship team, sponsors, and key stakeholders throughout the organization system. Whether the OD practitioner is an employee or an external consultant, the end result of an OD intervention is twofold. It has delivered change, which the organization is able to sustain and there is a legacy of skills and knowledge within the organization to support the change ongoing. An OD practitioner works within the paradox of long-term relationship building and pro- viding a contribution, which means they are no longer needed. The result is that the people within the organization be- come the change the organization needs, and they will have learnt how to develop themselves without the Big I of the OD practitioner being present. When the OD practitioner is no longer needed then the OD program is a success. 

This blog is an extract from Foster, C. (2016) Organization Development – A tool-kit for people led change, Business Expert Press which is provided as a free gift, if you complete the Illumeo Organization Development Certificate Programme.