Transcript: The Art of Demystifying O.D.

Hello, and welcome to The HR Uprising Podcast.

Thank you very much for those of you who’ve already tuned in those last few weeks. I really, really do appreciate the feedback and comments that you’ve made on our earlier shows. Do keep the suggestions coming. We’ll be going out to the social media groups to ask for ideas of future programmes.

And just to let you know, we’ll be starting our ‘conversations with’ series fairly soon. And that’s where we’re going to be interviewing some interesting people out there in the HR, O.D. and L&D Community. I’m really excited about some of the names we’ve got lined up.

So, for those of you who are just tuning in, my name is Lucinda Carney. I’m a Chartered Psychologist. I’ll explain why that’s relevant to know I’m raising that at this point. But in terms of my background, I’ve got 15 years of corporate experience in a senior HR role, further 10 years as Founder and CEO of Actus Software. In both of those roles, I’ve always had a leaning towards O.D. That’s why I thought that this week’s episode on Demystifying O.D. could be a good topic to be stuck into.

And that is because I put a post out on LinkedIn quite recently, and just asked out of curiosity, how many people actually understand what the word ‘O.D’. is. It was fascinating. I think, if you are outside of HR, virtually no one has a clue what you’re talking about. Everyone knows what HR is, but they don’t know what O.D. is. And I think that’s supported by an anecdote that I have certainly, that when I started out 10 years ago, someone said to me, I had O.D. on my business card. They said, oh, what’s an ‘odd’ Consultant? And I said, okay, that’s organisational development to you. And they’re still none the wiser.

So, for me, I think O.D. is a bit confusing, even if we are in this area. I mentioned, I’m a Chartered Psychologist. That basically means I did a Psychologist Degree. I then did an Occupational Psychology Masters. Then I was a Supervisor for 3 years while I was putting this into practice. I had to do a number of O.D. activities and interventions.

Now, I’m saying this, because actually, I don’t consider myself an expert at all, because I don’t live in academia or practice on a regular basis. But I am very interested in doing things well. And we know that being evidence-based, is, something we should do more of. Actually, many of us, if we are in HR role, are being asked to do O.D.

So, I thought it would be helpful just to clarify what it is, what it isn’t, how it’s different from HR, and just take away some of the mystery. On that note also, I mentioned being more evidence-based. I don’t know if anyone of you has come across this website. I will put it up on the show notes. But it’s quite a useful one if you’re trying to increase at your levels of evidence-based work.

One of the websites is called, That’s a really great one just to get some high-level articles on evidence-based HR. If you want to go more deeply into this, you could find out too, something which is called, CEBMa, which is The Centre for Evidence-Based Management.

Now, I am a member of this organisation. Those of you who’ve heard of Rob Briner, he’s very senior in that organisation. That is a place where you can really go and get access to some of the theories. One of my major frustrations, I think, is that we’re criticised for not being evidence-based. Yet, it’s virtually impossible to get access to the evidence! Now, if you really are serious about that, CEBMa is a really good resource and place to go to.

What do we mean by O.D.?

Okay. So, being a bit academic, but I promise you, the podcast is going to be as practical as possible because that is absolutely my preference. I suppose let’s start out by thinking what do we mean by O.D. Effectively, it’s just about evolving. It’s about adapting, evolving, or improving an organisation. But the key here is, it’s about doing it in line with business goals or organisational goals.

So, the CIPD defined O.D. as:

a planned and systematic approach to enabling sustained organisational performance through the involvement of its people. So, that’s another definition.

But the key for me is, it’s very much about being aligned with business strategy.

The sort of things that are included in O.D. or organisational development are about change. But it could be a change of process. It could be a change in culture. It could be a change of people. And it is about diagnosing things. So, it’s done in a managed way as opposed to having these change initiatives. For example, ‘Oh, we’re just going to shout about this’. That’s not O.D. That’s just when an idea is plucked out of the sky. Doing O.D. properly is about sustained and well-managed change. Our first podcast The Five Secret Powers Of A Change Superhero was on change and we will be doing more on this topic too. We know that change often doesn’t work down to people issues.

One of the main things, is, in my opinion, it isn’t managed by O.D. practitioners. It isn’t followed through in a structured way. So, in terms of what is O.D., I’ll just check with my notes here. Just to make sure, I’m covering things as I go through. We’ve talked about what it is. It’s about change within the organisation. We’ve said that it’s about being evidence-based. So, that might be using structures or behavioural science evidence. And it’s about being systematic. So, it’s about doing a diagnosis. And then it’s about a systematic and methodological change.

So, how does O.D. differ from HR?

I think it’s really interesting because I hold a view that I think HR could fit under O.D. The interesting thing is that they tend to be seen the other way around. You might have an O.D. Consultant within HR. You might find that O.D. type activities, actually are done outside of HR. One company I worked at, had a department called, Business Improvement. They would do things like, Six Sigma and Lean Initiatives. Actually, arguably that is O.D. as well. So, it’s interesting, it’s where it sits.

But if it’s a people-related initiative, you would expect HR to be involved. And for me, O.D. actually is a broader, wider activity. As I say, my argument would be, that maybe, we should have O.D. Directors sitting on Boards, and then HR and learning and development fit into it. That’s my controversial point for this podcast. I would be interested to see, if anyone else agrees.

Okay. So, we’ve defined what organisational development or O.D. is. What I’m going to do now, is, going through the podcast as we’ll look a little bit at what examples of O.D. activities might be. So, you might recognise them to decide, whether you’re actually doing them already. We’ll also think about what’s the difference between O.D. and HR, the subtleties of the difference.

And then we’ll look at a 5-Step Process – how do you do O.D.? If it is an O.D. intervention, might be the language you hear. Although I’m not desperately keen on intervention. It does sound a bit like we’re going to accost people and lock them up”

What is an O.D. intervention?

So, for me, the sort of things that might fit into O.D. are, if you’re involved in changing the structure, skills, or behaviours, basically cultural aspects within an organisation, in order to lean towards achieving strategic goals, Then there should be a clear goal – it’s not just doing things for the sake of it.

Also, it might be looking at things like theory and practice and so, analysing how the organisations happening. Looking at different cultural pockets of behaviour. Looking at ways, certain aspects of the organisation are more effective. You may then put in an intervention. For example, a leadership development programme, or team activities to share the skills across the organisation. But you’d be basically looking at theories, and analysing in line with those behavioural theories.

Anything to do with a change in my view pretty much fits within O.D. And there are all sorts of areas there, where you think of, you could divide it down into technical change. And I say this, where you think, where you’ve had initiatives like, business process initiatives. It could be a culture change. It could be people change like, leadership development programmes. It can be evolving. So, it’s not necessarily something that it may go on overtime. So, you have a succession of interventions.

I was trying to think some examples of interventions I suppose, that I’ve been involved in, in the past. And I think an example of an O.D. intervention might be working with both HR and the Business Planning Team to develop a new performance management process. But the reason this is O.D., it’s not about just getting at better at doing an appraisal. It’s actually making something more effective in terms of meeting the organisation’s goals.

Then maybe, it’s better aligning. It’s a better cascade process. There’s better alignment between an individual and organisational goals. It could be you’re doing something, where you are facilitating workshops or focus groups to understand cultural issues, values, how people perceive, let’s say, the organisational values, what they mean to them. And it may then be a ‘to-be’ workshop in terms of what values or competencies behaviours should we have in the future.

It could be something like analysing the feedback from exit interviews, trying to identify themes, testing those themes out, seeing if they’re robust. Let’s say, there’s an issue that’s arising on a regular basis, that people are leaving, because of poor induction, for example. Then you might put in place training or systems to address them.

Or, it could be job redesign, where you’re working with a department to understand what shape of the roles need to be in the future. Maybe, looking at the competition. Identifying what sort of skills people need in the future compared to what they have now. Then helping them to define the roles and structure, that’s best going to support this.

The bottom line, is, if an O.D.’s intervention is done well, it needs to lead to a change in the business. Obviously, that’s the case about any change. But it’s about how well therefore the change is managed. As I’ve said earlier, that’s the topic we can talk about again. But change, culture change, transformation would fit in to O.D. too.

How do I do O.D.?

So, now, let’s have a think about, how do I do O.D.?

I’ve got a 5 Step Process here for us to run through.

So, in terms of these 5 Steps, the difference between just transformation or doing change is that O.D. is much more structured. It’s much more systematic. And it’s much more methodological. That’s why I think it’s useful to think of it in terms of 5 Steps.

Identify your needs

So, first of all, it’s about understanding the needs, you know, the diagnosis, and you might look at, I’ve mentioned earlier, the example of needs in terms of competition. Let’s say, you need to have a different shape of skillset in the organisation because you’ve moved technologies and the world has moved on and actually, you’ve got people with legacy skills. In order to succeed in the marketplace, you need to have people with wholly different skills, in order to be more competitive.

So, that might be a shape of your workforce or a skillset that you need, in terms of your future strategy. It might be that you can see, that you’ve got a whole bunch of people who are going to retire in the next 5 to 10 years, which is, going to leave a huge gap or risk in your organisation. So, that might be, where you’ve spotted a risk, and then decide how you’re going to meet it.

So, you’re identifying needs. But the key, is, it’s not just saying what training needs do you want. It’s looking at them in the context of the organisational setting, about what the organisational strategy is. So, if they want to be particularly successful in a data marketplace, then they need to make sure that they’ve got people with those data skills.

You might use tools like the sort of tools that people who have done MBA, et cetera, or marketing qualifications. So, where you come across SWOT Analysis, PESTLE Analysis of strategic planning, so you might use diagnostic tools to make this robust and objective. So, that’s the way, in which, you start out by a structured way of identifying the needs in terms of the shape of the organisation, the processes of the organisation, all the skills of the organisation, compared to where they want to be.

Decide on how to address those needs

The second part, you’ve done the identifying of needs, you’re then going to think about how best to address those needs. That’s quite considered because you could think about things in terms of the ‘why’ I came out with earlier, if you haven’t got the right skills, you’re going to lose key skills. Well, it might be a recruitment intervention. It might be a training intervention. There may be mentoring or other ways of upskilling, or it might even be a process intervention, where you’ll need fewer consultants in a certain area by improving the technical expertise that’s built into your product.

There’s a whole range of ways in which you can adjust or come up with solutions. The key is being quite objective and thinking about what the possible solutions are before you select them. And I think that’s where the criticisms are often levelled as we often just kind of go with the first solution. So, actually, it’s about being quite considered looking at the different options, and then selecting the right one.

And that’s where things like, I’ve mentioned, lean, I think earlier. So, lean process reinvention, is it? Lean engineering, I remember that was very common. But there are other frameworks standards that are quite useful in this position. So, ISO framework, we have to do that as a business. It’s a really useful set of standards that you can use as a benchmark to compare yourself against. In terms of people, we’ve got things like Investors in People. So, that’s another sort of set of questions that you can evaluate and score yourself against.

Other models that you might look at, I’ve got here, you’ve got McKinsey 7-S Model, if any of you have come across that. Also, Burke Litwin, I remember doing this one, when I went on an O.D. Programme at Roffey Park, which is, you can Google that, Burke Litwin. It’s an O.D. process model, where you can look at the way, in which, everything interrelates within your organisation, to decide what the outputs are you’re trying to achieve, and align the intervention against them.

So, you’ve done your identification needs, and then you’re basically deciding how you’re going to address those. You’ve considered the number of options. And you’re using a structured way of doing this. Then of course, you’re going to select this.

Select your intervention

So, you’re going to select your intervention and I’ve looked on the CIPD website earlier, actually. They come up with 4 ways in which the interventions might be. I guess you might have one or more of these.

So, you’ve got human processes. So, that might be coaching people. It might be training programmes. It might be working in groups, or facilitating teams of people to do things differently or define things differently.

You’ve then got business process interventions, which are things like, Business Process Engineering, Lean Six Sigma. All these are terms that I’m familiar with. I have said I’m not trained in either of these, but I remember these being done in manufacturing environments that I’ve been involved with.

You’ve then got good old HR interventions. This is where again, we’re seeing that actually, HR does sort of fit within O.D. as opposed to the other way around. So, looking at performance management, that would be a classic one to look at. Reward, you could put in place analysis of personality types with all the psychometrics, or other ways of evaluating your workforce.

Then you’ve got more sort of strategic interventions like transformation programmes or cultural change. All of those really easy to say, aren’t they, but not all of them are very easy to do. They’re quite huge.

So, that’s your selection of an intervention. Then of course, you’ve got to put it in place. And that’s implementation. That’s where you’ve done a really good considered job in terms of deciding how to do it. I would very much recommend that you take on a structured approach to delivering the change because that’s where all too often, we don’t do change well. That’s because we just don’t think it through properly.

So, we’ve been considered in this first place. You then need to make sure that whichever intervention you choose, it’s well implemented. And the change goes through a process. You unfreeze your organisation. Refreeze, and actually think about how to push it through to conclusion. So, it’s not just about starting the changes, but it’s about making sure that it’s well managed.

Then finally, I’ll say it’s really important too evaluate the change. So, if we’re doing it effectively at the start, where we identify our needs and the gaps, we should really have clear goals as to what we’re trying to achieve as a result of this initiative or change. Therefore, we should make sure we do that point and I know loads of businesses I’ve been involved in, what happens is, we never stop and go, how did we do? You know, actually taking stock. Did we achieve that outcome? Reflecting on that. Do we need to do more? What else do we need to learn?

So, you’ve got 5-Step Process there to doing O.D.

  1. Basically, identify the needs.
  2. Then you want to decide on how you’re going to address those needs.
  3. You’re going to select your intervention.
  4. You’re going then to implement the intervention.
  5. Then you’re going to evaluate the impact.

And that would be us doing O.D.

So, hopefully, that’s quite straightforward. I know it’s really common sense. But I know the stage is also the part we don’t always think to do. So, using some of these structured models is a good way of doing it. And we do have some resources on that you can download from our website.

Finally, I just thought I’d come up with some examples, of where O.D. is different from HR, just to try and bring it to life. Because I know many of the people in this group are actually HR practitioners. So, it’s working out when are we doing O.D. and when are we doing HR.

So, when is it O.D.?

I think it’s O.D. when it’s orientated broadly around the wider organisation, whereas HR is more specifically about a human resources process or about people. And it could be HR or L&D, let’s say.

So, an O.D. intervention, we might actually decide that we’re going to diagnose and define the new skills that we’re going to need in a business, in order to support the 5-year business vision, let’s say. The HR piece there, would be, recruiting people with the right skills to do that. So, you can see that it’s aligned. They’re absolutely aligned, but it’s different.

On the other hand, it could be, O.D. might be facilitating the definition of values or strategic goals, that’s working with people to think broadly about what they are, in order to meet the future strategy. The HR piece, would be, about monitoring and reporting on these, and on performance management activities that’s aligned with them. So, it’s making it happen, really. One of the really important things for HR there.

Other options, here I’ve got a whole list of these, which you can download. But I’m just going to pick a couple of others. So, O.D. might be defining a competency, or skills framework that’s going to support a new way of working. And the HR piece, would be, about evaluating the skills already available in the business, and actually, tracking any progress. And I guess L&D might then put in training courses that are going to develop those skills. So, it’s all aligned really nicely together. Actually, you can see how that’s how you’d get good quality change. So, you actually need to keep these elements all aligned.

So, O.D. might be developing an overall tunnel management and retention strategy with aligned development. But you see, I would have been doing that in L&D. So, it feels to me, there is a bigger overlap. It depends maybe how strategic your role is. Then more HR would be about actually monitoring, whether we’ll be retaining people, looking at those metrics about attrition, and also, allowing access to aligned developments.

Then a final one that I’ll share, is, we’re saying that O.D. is more looking at behavioural science theory, and business theory, and theories, if you like, and best practice in order to define the best solution. HR are often having to look at employment law and policies, in order to protect the organisation, and then force policies that are already in place. That’s making things happen more operationally in that context.

So, I hope those examples may be broadly useful to you. That’s pretty much what I want to cover in terms of demystifying O.D. I think, we should be doing more of it. I don’t think it matters to, whether or not I’ve got HR on my job title, or L&D on my job title. I believe we can all implement O.D. And it’s about us thinking about what’s the purpose of what we’re doing. It’s pretty one of the most important things we can do.

Again, because we often get criticised not being strategic enough, I think, if we consider how we can practice O.D., then it’s about making sure that whatever activities we’re doing, fit into the wider context. I regularly, regularly meet with clients who maybe want to build business cases for a system. Let’s say, that they want to bring in, whether it’s a new recruitment system for its management system, training, they want to get investment from the Board on something. They don’t look up quite often high enough, in my opinion, to build that business case. If they bring in more O.D., which is, very much about thinking, where does the organisation want to get to, and what those goals are, and then translate that into whatever HR or L&D system, process or investment you wish.

I personally believe that bringing more O.D. to our practice as HR and L&D professional, is, going to give us much greater credibility. Also, it helps us to build the business case, because you are translating these activities that we’re doing, and helping the business to understand how they make a difference to key strategic goals. So much more likely to get investment, sponsorship and support, whatever it is that you want to do. But we need to get better at communicating that. And I think that’s where O.D. fits.

I’m really fascinated to know, if anyone else agrees, actually.  I’d love to hear it from you on this. Because O.D. is something I’m pretty passionate about. I think we should be taken seriously. And that’s one way we can do it.

So, I think that’s enough for today. Thank you so much for tuning it. I hope that, that truly has demystified O.D. for you. It is a topic that I feel we should take seriously as L&D and HR professionals, because I think it’s the key to as being seen it’s more strategic. O.D. ties everything we do up, and it links it to business goals. When we are building a business case, and I meet countless clients who are doing that, all too often the HR business case, is, I would say, it’s looking down. It’s too narrow. And what we need to do, is, look up. We need to be broader. We need to think about the business goals and the business impact. And that’s what O.D. is.

So, I really would recommend that we all try this. I think, it’s really in keeping with our HR Uprising theme. And thank you very much for tuning in. Do, please link up with me on social media. Comments below. We really, really welcome your feedback, and comments, and tell your colleagues. I’m really keen to get this Community bubbling.

So, that’s all that remains. My name is Lucinda Carney. And this has been The HR Uprising Podcast on Demystifying O.D. And it’s been great speaking with you. Remember, when we look up, we rise up. Thank you.