Organization Development


Whether technology implementation, process improvement, or cultural transformation, implementing change is hard.  It involves engaging the human dynamics of an organization; dynamics that are complex, social, and unique to each community.  In their 2021 International Journal of Engineering Business Management research article, reviewing an array of change models, Abdelouahab Errida and Bouchra Lotfi, ascertain that using only one model may not provide a full description of the change management process… [that] several change models could be combined to best fit the particular situation of change or the circumstances of an organization. Angela Lee of Columbia Business School proposes that resistance to change is rooted in psychology and neuroscience which reveal that our individual brains are wired for laziness, limited capacity, and [simply] don’t like change.  Though the psychology and neuroscience claims may be valid, if cynical, I advocate David Cooperrider’s observation that, People don’t resist change. They resist being changed. 

Fundamentally, the human dynamics challenge seems rooted in the context of individual choice.  The popular Prosci® model emphasizes and coaches around the individual need to desire change. I have, throughout my time engaging change, intuitively sought to leverage available value propositions to influence individual choice for change.  Revealing genuine individual benefit can serve to counter the grief of loss that comes when change feels imposed.  Even leaders must choose to willingly lead the way and model new behavior.

Given these human dynamics, development and change agents remain challenged to discern and affect the human factor of each particular environment seeking to make a change.

I learned of the Milgram Experiment (https://youtu.be/nexpwnwonRc) in my Research Methods class, and I revisit that learning to this day. Coming out of WWII, the experiment was set up to research obedience. It has been performed many times since, and the outcome continues to be the same. Somewhere around 50% of followers will abdicate responsibility for their actions to authority willing to take that responsibility from them. Why? This remains a question, and one I continue to ponder, along with whether humanity might be able to evolve from it.

Where it made sense, much of my writing through that same education referred to what I call personal or self-leadership. There are many attributes we look for in effective leaders that are important for effective leaders and followers alike:

  • Responsibility
  • Accountability
  • Self-Awareness/Self-Agency
  • Integrity
  • Effective Communication/Feedback

There are others, certainly, but these are a good representation. And, when followers possess these traits, we are better able to hold our leaders accountable, as noted 25 years ago by Ira Chaleff in Courageous Followership: Standing Up to and for Our Leaders. In it, he defines Courageous Followership as follows:

Any organization is a triad consisting of leaders and followers joined in a common purpose. The purpose is the atomic glue that binds us. It gives meaning to our activities. Followers and leaders both orbit around the purpose; followers do not orbit around the leader. Courageous Followership recognizes that to be effective at almost every level of an organization, individuals need to play both the leader and follower role adeptly.

Further, Ira discusses Five Dimensions of Courageous Followership:

  • To Serve
  • To Challenge
  • To Participate in Transformation
  • To Take Moral Action
  • To Speak to Hierarchy

And, how well these concepts align with the self-leadership attributes listed previously:

  • To Serve requires taking Responsibility
  • To Challenge requires an understanding and practice of Accountability of both self and others
  • To Participate in Transformation requires Self-Awareness which leads to the Self-Agency to choose to change
  • To Take Moral Action requires Integrity to Purpose
  • To Speak to the Hierarchy requires effective skill in Communication and providing Feedback

With unemployment trending low for the foreseeable future and many employees seeking new opportunities to better fulfill a need for agency and autonomy to manage our lives across work, family and personal needs, it behooves us as a society to recognize that supporting an evolution to better followership through personal growth opportunities is in our best interest. In so doing, we develop better followers who in turn can better hold leaders accountable to purpose, whether organizational or societal.

As Leaders, we do well to develop and leverage Courageous Followership within our organizations to attract talent as well as define and remain true to organizational purpose. Developed followers could also better contribute to fluid leadership situations like self-managed and -directed teams. Whether stepping into fluid leadership or holding leaders to purpose, better followers make better leaders.

Organization Development (OD) is the scholarship and practice of applied social sciences to cohesive groups of people – organizations, communities, unions and the like. OD professionals tune into and assess an entire social system with an aim to guide and coach it to discover and evolve itself, bringing people-based processes to do so.  To clarify, OD professionals are not hired to fix a system like a doctor or manage it like human resources (HR). We might work with individuals and teams, though usually with ALL of them or those identified as requiring support to fit the organization as it needs and wants to be as a whole.  Those who practice are typically systems thinkers, with a view on how people, process and systems work (or don’t) together. We discover how a system may work against its own interests and support it to evolve to serve those interests instead, not in doing anything to the system but by supporting its development of a more effective way.

We support pursuits like strategy-culture alignment and employee engagement through a variety of aforementioned people processes, including:

  • Strategy development
  • Leadership and management development
  • Team development
  • Coaching and facilitation
  • Conflict resolution
  • Large group interventions
  • Succession planning
  • Talent acquisition, retention and development
  • The list goes on…

…but OD professionals do not typically specialize in a single process. We usually have a capacity for multiple processes. Our specialty is in getting to know the system and what it may need, then figuring out the process to support it through research, drawing from our professional community, and trial and adaptation.

As a coach supports an individual to their own growth and development, so do OD professionals support an organization and all its individuals to its whole growth and development. To do this, we must start by engaging the very top level. If leadership is unwilling to change, there is little hope for the whole system to do so. That is the rub. On the subject of employee engagement, for OD, it isn’t about managing employees to engage; it’s about engaging employees, and we can support leadership and management to develop the capacity to do so effectively. Transformation of an organization requires every single member to develop new capacities. We can support that process, too.

If, as a leader, you are looking to take your organization to a new level or in a different direction, we can support you to evolve your organization, as a whole, to move that way. Call on us via OD professional organizations such as the OD Network or the International Society of Organization and Change as well as higher education such as Benedictine or Case Western Reserve University. You can bring us in as external or internal consultants as we do our best work in autonomy from the system, not tucked in to a department, other than perhaps the C-Suite.

We, Organizational Development professionals, look forward to serving your organization’s strategic development needs.

Be well.