• …is OD Part of HR?

    by  • November 12, 2015 • OD and L&D • 0 Comments

    A popular question with an unpopular answer.

    A popular question with an unpopular answer.

    People ask this all the time, and I’d like to set the record straight: No.

    There are no two ways about it, folks, OD is not and should not be part of HR, and pardon the common vernacular when I say #SorryNotSorry.

    Why are so many OD people in HR?

    That’s a fantastic question, and one day I would love to research it properly.

    My guess, however, is that the perception of OD is that it’s about people. And while that’s partly true, it isn’t exclusively so.

    Organisational Development does what is says on the tin. It develops organisations. It helps organisations do better.

    In my opinion, there as an assumption that organisations are made out of people, so OD is about the people who make the organisation.

    What’s an organisation then?

    That’s another fantastic question, and this one has been written about quite a bit.

    The definition of “organisation” depends on who you read. My personal favourite is

    ‘a group of people working towards common goals’

    (Cushway and Lodge, 1993) (not an exact quote, by the way).

    “That’s the people!”, I hear you argue, and I will argue back that “working” is a word that hides a lot in it, so does “common” and so does “goals”:

    ‘Goals’ need to be defined.

    Defining goals is a process: we use all sorts of tools and methods to help us define goals.

    We need to agree on what ‘Common’ is.

    Another process: what ‘common’ is will change depending on the group we are with and its context. We need to agree this, implicitly or explicitly (preferably the latter).

    ‘Working’ is a bit of a red Herring.

    And this is why:

    People, Processes, Systems

    ‘Working’ is what we constantly do to fulfill the organisation’s aim. ‘Working’ is making use of systems and processes, or more specifically, people making use of systems and processes to turn input into output.

    OD is about the organisation as a whole. It’s about this “grey box”, where people use processes and systems to turn resources into a service or a product:

    Image of an Organization: The Organisational "Grey Box"

    Image of an Organization: The Organisational “Grey Box”

    What’s the blue cloud?

    That’s the prettiest way to add complexity to something that looks really simple. Firstly, that triangle in and of itself is actually rather complex once you start unraveling it.

    The cloud is to remind you that the grey box is reflexive: it interacts with its environment, it influences it and in is influenced by it. So that triangle never actually operates autonomously and unhindered.

    Two things to remember about organisational complexity:

    1. organisations do not exist in a vacuum

    …or a box, for that matter.

    Not only are the elements within the organisation (People, Process, Systems) influence each other, but they are each subject to influence.

    Just to make it a bit more complicated, the relationships between them (for example, the link between People and Process or the link between Process and Systems) are subject to influence as well.

    They are influenced by internal forces and external forces (the kind of stuff you analyse in your SWOT and PEST and Force Field and Five or Six Forces etc.) and most importantly, they are influenced by other organisations.

    (Read the point 2, it will help clarify. )

    2. organisations are like an infinite series

    Remember Cushway and Lodge up there?

    ‘a group of people working towards common goals’

    That could be any group. So in your organisation, there are dozens and dozens of organisations. Some of them were created by the defined structure of the organisation. Some were created by the force of necessity (a network).

    But there are other organisations that are not explicit or were not formed in a work context. But just because you can’t “see” them or know why they’re there, doesn’t mean they’re not important, because they influence organisations within the organisation.

    (Because organisations don’t exist in a vacuum).

    OD is much more than people

    OD is a method and philosophy to appreciate organisation(s) and the cloud of complexity within which they live.

    The beauty of OD, in my opinion, it allows to develop businesses / organisations / communities in a way that is complex, but not complicated.

    So what’s the problem with HR owning OD?

    Firstly, there is an irony in silo-ing the very thing that’s supposed to transcend compartments.

    Secondly, the whole point of OD is that it considers the whole organisation. Being “owned” by a people function restricts is remit.

    So where should OD be?

    Good question. My personal opinion is that OD shouldn’t be a department (see above re irony).

    I think that the OD way of improving organisations should be part of the whole organisation, should be part of every single department, every single team.

    Everyone in the organisation should be aware of what improving organisations in a humanistic and complex (but not complicated) way means.

    If the IT team is about to upgrade Windows for every user or is about to move the servers, those can be done in an OD way.

    If the finance department is planning next year’s budget, they can plan it in an OD way.

    If the marketing department is looking at a way to measure their ROI on web advertising, that can be done in an OD way.

    And so on.

    Some of these have a people element in them, some of them less so. Yet – the method in which they are done can be influenced by OD philosophy.


    Thank you for reading!

    So – are you curious as to what this philosophy is? What’s your understanding of it? Please comment below.

    I would also love it if you shared your thoughts with me on @twitter or via email@.


    Image credit to daniel ingegneri via freeimages.com.

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