Thursday 22 September 2011

Thoughts on CIPD’s Organisation Development conference


   I spent yesterday at the CIPD’s Organisation Development conference.  In general, it was a well run and very informative day, including excellent sessions from Mee-Yan Cheung-Judge and Linda Holbeche.

Some of my key learnings / reflections include:


OD for OD

One of the things I liked was the ‘OD’ tone of the session, eg the ‘story books’, the origami butterflies, the number of stories the speakers told etc.  I do want to note that I think this could have been improved, in at least two main ways:

  • The ‘open space’ was a disappointment.  I’ve got nothing in general against discussion groups, and the one I was in was really interesting.  But an ‘open space’ session it’s not.  I think, particularly given the session was for OD practitioners, many of whom haven’t experienced this or other large scale formats, that a bit more precision one way or the other would have been a useful thing.  And I just hope the experience doesn’t put delegates off true open space experiences, like Connecting HR.


  • Too many slides, and too many bullet points.  Mee-Yan and Linda can get away with it given the quality of their content.  But one other presentation had 27 slides of compressed bullet points – what were the speakers thinking?


OK, I know you can make the same criticism about the length / nature of this blog post! – but please keep reading:


The Role of OD

There was a lot of good stuff explaining the role of OD.  I hope you forgive the personal reflection but the main interest for me was some reinforcement of why I don’t in general consider myself to be an OD practitioner (even though I do a lot of OD).

Take these points from Mee-Yan:


In Summary – OD is…


A field of knowledge to guide the development of organisation effectiveness, especially during change


Using group and human dynamic process from applied behavioural science theories, research and methods to facilitate movement of individuals, groups and organisations


To improve the health and effectiveness of organisations and the people that work within them in a sustainable way


Respect for human differences, commitment to all forms of social justice.  belief in lifelong learning – emphasis on ‘self renewal ability’ of the individual and organisation


Let’s have a look at these:



I strongly agree with this focus on outcomes.  However, a bit like Schein’s perspectives on culture (that the term is so broad as to be useless and that what’s really needed is to understand change in exact behavioural terms), I think they need to be sharpened too.  After all, what does health and effectiveness mean?

At least this is an improvement to thinking about activities.  If you think about the key levers we have available to us, ie people, organisation and social (the relationships between the people working in the organisation), then HR is obviously the people people piece, and I think many people assume that OD is the organisation piece (and maybe the social piece too if they think about this at all).

But if we think in terms of outcomes,

  • Human capital, which can be supported by human, organisation and social activities, becomes the HR piece
  • Organisation capital, which can also be supported by human, organisation and social activities, is largely down to organisation design
  • Social capital (once again supported by human, organisation and social activities) is then the focus of OD.


I think this focus on social outcomes provides the necessary sharpness.


Also see:


Values (and language)

I do largely support Mee-Yan’s description of OD’s values: “not quite communist but shamelessly humanistic” (I write wearing my pink glasses, pink shirt and pink socks on my pink blog).

However, to me, these values are just what I think are important and useful in helping meeting the outcomes described above.  They’re not important in their own right, ie I wouldn’t define OD based upon them.

However OD’s values do have important consequences.  Language is one example.  It’s something that Mee-Yan referred to Victoria Ward from Fujitsu picked up on in her summary of the session: that words like heart, love, courage and spirit tend not to be words we hear much (or enough) or in the everyday organisation.

So when Andrea Cartwright from Nationwide started to emphasis the need to OD to use plain business language, not OD / Organisation Effectiveness / HR language (“if I mentioned the word culture I’d be walked to the door”), I picked this up.  (To be fair, Andrea answered my question very well – suggesting that both sets of languages are important, which I’d agree with).

Linda Holbeche picked up on this theme later on too, noting that OD practitioners (and others) need to use language as a tool: “Everything we say reflects what we think and what we do – we delete other things.  What language is used in your organisation, and do you need to insert other language / stories?”.


Also see:


Going back to values, I’m even less taken by Mee-Yan’s ‘what’ and ‘how’. Group and human dynamics but the key to me is to use whatever intervention is going to work best – I don’t see the need to be prescriptive (I’m OD tool agnostic just as I am social media tool agnostic).



Linda Hobeche in particular emphasised the need to integrate HR and OD to support ‘organisational effectiveness’.  For Linda, HR’s very good at doing process, and OD’s good at the less structured stuff and these balance each other well.

Linda also sees OD’s values to be more conducive – HR’s moved too over too far towards being a tool of the business (I’d agree, though the comments I noted earlier about business language suggest this is also starting to creep into OD).


Also see:


I wouldn’t go quite so far as this (largely because I define HR as well as OD in terms of outcomes rather than activities) but I agree on the need for integration between the two.  See for example my comments on Ed Griffin’s post at HR Magazine:


But I’d also suggest that limiting this to HR and OD doesn’t go far enough.  What about IT / enterprise 2.0 – where I already spend a large amount of time?  What about workplace design etc too? - see this post from Neil Usher, Head of Property at Rio Tinto:


We need to integrate these, and other factors together, to support out focus on achieving social outcomes.  That to me is the new OD – and see my other blog, Social Advantage. for much more on all of this.


OK, I think that’e enough for now.  I’ve got another post I want to do, based upon the discussion group I was in, looking at OD and change – but that’s going to have to wait till later on.  For now it’s time to pack my bags and head off for day 2 – looking at Organisational Effectiveness rather than Organisation Development – I’ll explain more later on.



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  1. I'm so glad you don't consider yourself an OD person, Jon, though the length and precision of this blog may suggest otherwise.

    So now I can tell you my OD joke for anyone who reads all the way to the end.

    You've all heard the joke about what happens when you ask a business consultant for the time? He asks to borrow your watch.

    When you ask an OD person for the time, he or she tells you how to build a watch!

    See you in just 10 days at the HR Technology Conference in Las Vegas, Jon. Have a safe flight.

    Bill Kutik

  2. Thanks Bill, it was great seeing you in Vegas/.


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