Organisational development: What is it, and where does it fit with good internal communications?
by Pamela Moffat
In the 20 or so years I have worked in Organisational Development (OD), there is one question I have always dreaded, especially if it comes from a relative or friend:
‘What do you do at work?’
Now I have a few options here that I could say:
- I help people (not entirely true)
- I help senior people make their business perform better (getting closer)
- I help all parts of a business work really well together (definitely moving in the right direction now)
What I know with certainty though is, that if you google OD there are more definitions of it than there are flowers in florists shop window.
Every description that I have ever taken the time to read is full of what appears to be big, fancy words that don’t make sense unless I’ve had a glass or two of wine. How can that be? I’ve been doing the job for years.
Anyway to my mind, it can be as complex or a simple as you want to be, just like anything in life, and I chose to keep it straight forward for my own sanity!
Besides I’m from the Northwest and generally if it’s beans on toast, we say its beans on toast and not a carbohydrate base with a protein topping!
It is, however, true that it has a different interpretation depending on the nature of the business and I think that makes perfect sense; there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ version of OD.
But to offer some clarity, the broad principles of what OD does, are probably similar no matter where you look.
It has a long history, born in America in the 1950’s but debated and researched from much earlier than this. Its evolution came from human psychology and sociology, so there is some science behind it, behavioural science! Even though to me it’s more of an art!
The profession has given birth to the tools we still use today such as NLP, Neuro- Linguistic Programming – it’s simply a technique to influence behaviour without having to put a metal colander with tons of wires attached to it on someone’s head. It helps us understand why people behave in certain ways at work.
So why should we care about this? OD professionals care about everything about a business, not just the people, because people will behave according to the system they work in, the things they hear and see.
Important to note that people need to think and feel in order to behave or act. Like a root cause will always have a symptom.
So that in mind, a typical day in the world of an OD pro could go something like this…..
analysis of employee satisfaction data to inform the refresh of the employee engagement plan, a presentation to senior stakeholders to introduce new learning and development products then a conversation with the marketing and team on internal branding, a coaching session for a senior leader on a business change issue then off to meet with planning to discuss the next year’s business plan
So what does this have to do with internal communications? Well, more recently I have heard my IC colleagues say ‘people are just indifferent to a specific communication’ and I ask….. ’but what have you written to encourage them to think?’ It doesn’t matter if people love or hate what you’ve written (there will always be a difference of opinion) indifference is a missed opportunity’.
The upshot is, I believe, that OD and IC are dependent on one another (a bit like fish and chips) and I have first-hand experience of this. I believe we need to work together to have better impact in pursuit of ‘what’ people do and ‘how’ they do it but firstly we need to understand each other better.
This includes lifting the lid on ‘what OD is’ as a starter for 10.
What more might you want to know about the dark art?
Pamela Moffat is a senior business partner at Staffordshire County Council
image via taymtaym