In the summer 2019 issue of the Organization Development Review (ODR), Matt Minanhan challenged the Organization Development field in an article titled: Change Our Name, Change Our Game. It’s time for Strategic Change.
Scholars and Practitioners in the field, myself included, were asked to offer responses to the article. Below are brief excerpts from Matt Minahan’s article and the responses that were offered. This is an important conversation for our field in these times, so I hope you engage in it in your organizations, associations and other spaces where this dialogue is needed and that this post and the article might offer a starting point. NOTE that the below is only a snippet of the piece so if you are an OD Network member, please access the full article online. If you are not a member and interested in the full piece, please contact me or any of the writers who offered contact details as below.
Matt Minahan, Ed.D., is president of MM & Associates, an international consulting firm specializing in strategy, structure, organization design, and culture change. He teaches in the MSOD program at American University
and is a guest lecturer at Benedictine University, Cabrini University, and other doctoral programs. He is a longtime member, and former board member and T-group dean at NTL Institute. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
… What would we be without our name? Would we have to shift our identity the way the training organization shifted from ASTD to ATD to reflect their new direction? …Strategic Change. Like OD, both words mean something individually. But together they have much more meaning than organization and development together. Everyone knows what a strategy is. Everyone strives to be more strategic. Everyone realizes that requires work. The words strategy and strategic have more meaning and currency today than at any time in the history of organizations. The word also evokes a bigger scale, a farther horizon, a larger context to the work that we do and the change that we want to support. It connotes a strong connection to the organization’s, and our, larger purpose. Likewise, everyone knows what change means. It is swirling around every facet of our lives. We have to acknowledge that our field has no Immunity to Change (Lahey & Kegan, 2009). We don’t have the privilege to exempt ourselves from the very imperatives of evolution and outside environment that govern life in every living and organizational system. In fact, helping them cope with this very imperative is why they hire us.
Responses to Matt Minahan’s Call for Strategic Change
I need to go on record as co-authoring with Gervase Bushe a recent book chapter arguing that positioning OD as focused on dealing with change leads to difficulties and that a better positioning would be that OD creates great organizations (Bushe & Marshak, 2018). For me, there may be problems with the name organization development, but I am not persuaded “strategic change” works better unless what are now considered to be some of the core elements of the field are dramatically changed. And, while perhaps sounding more appealing to for-profit corporations and business schools, I am not sure the “strategic change” name would have the same appeal to government agencies, not-for-profits, spiritual organizations, volunteer organizations, and so on.
Robert J. Marshak, an OD practitioner and educator for more than 40 years, is a recipient of the OD Network’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
Matt Minahan comments that “there is little, or no research being done in OD.” In the context of his critique of contemporary OD I want to add my tree to hug, namely OD action research (Shani & Coghlan, 2014). OD has a dual identity; it is a science of change and the practice of changing. At the heart of this dual identity in our OD heritage is action research, which is understood as addressing the twin tasks of bringing about change in organizations and in generating robust, actionable knowledge. While action research is one of the distinctive features of OD and one of its core origins and is powerful for practice, the original intention for scholarly contribution got lost… There are rich action research studies being published in outlets such as: The Journal Applied Behavioral Science and the research volumes, Research in Organizational Change and Development (Emerald). In recent years action research into core business challenges such as collaboration in the supply chain, the merger of two organizations and innovation, to take three examples, demonstrate the reemergence of OD research as a collaborative activity. In a broader context action research on the challenges of global warming and sustainability are common. Such studies may not explicitly use the term organization development, but they exemplify the core values of action research that is undertaken in a spirit of collaboration and co-inquiry, whereby the research is constructed with people, rather than on or for them. The OD heritage of such action research is foundational.
David Coghlan, Trinity Business School, University of Dublin, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland
I was pulled into a world of executive-led, aggressive, top-down change. And now I am employed by a change leader, whose strict no “fairy dust” and “watch the numbers” approach sometimes makes me want to throw a flipchart marker. But, I have learned critical skills I did not have as a newly minted practitioner: an understanding of budget, fluency with workforce and data analytics, and the ability to understand and tolerate the most frustrating of internal politics.These things make me a better practitioner and of more use to my client. And though I know I will always be doing OD and living by the values our field espouses (I clamour for participation and process until I’m blue in the face), I no longer introduce myself as an OD consultant. Depending on my mood and the venue, I am a change consultant, a change strategist, or a process facilitator. I’m still figuring it out. But as long as I do good work, no one outside the field seems to notice I’ve dropped the OD.
Rebecca Slocum is an independent consultant who works primarily with international organizations and development agencies. She can be reached at rebecca.slocum@ gmail.com.
I agree with Matt about the need to let go of some the past and move on. I recognize the appeal of re-branding; it can feel like a fresh start. But I have two reasons to suggest we stick with organization development. One, and the most important, is that we have seventy years of embedded wisdom and practice called OD. Potentially we would be accelerating how quickly that would get lost if we abandoned the OD label. Recent compilations like NTL’s Handbook of OD, or Wiley’s Practicing OD, are filled with great stuff. The big problem is that much of that wisdom is unknown outside the field. Take for example Google’s recent study on what makes a great team. It’s getting a lot of attention in business circles by people who are unaware that OD knew all about this in 1975. And this points to the second reason: because so few people have any idea what OD is, it doesn’t need a re-branding. I don’t believe there is so much of an already embedded bias against OD that we need to call it something else. Maybe that was true 20 years ago but when I enter a new client system and say what I do is OD, what I get is curiosity. I can define it any way I want and no one disagrees. If some group wanted to put the effort into making OD a “thing,” I don’t think it would be much different from making “strategic change” a thing.
Gervase R. Bushe is Professor of Leadership and Organization Development, Beedie School of Business, Simon Fraser University. www.gervasebushe.ca
Matt has gathered all the reasons and all the errors along the way. We will need real clarity going forward whatever we call ourselves. …That’s where we need to be again, starting with key strategic conversations that drive much of what is needed today in our VUCA world. Yes, we should be about Strategic Change and sitting next to smart leaders facing unknown challenges, exactly when we need more engaged resources involved in determining and executing what’s next. And short-cycle processes that accelerate learning and action-taking as the nature of the complex systems emerge. The core principles of OD are made for today if we just focus on the essence and design for what is present. No more 5- step instructions, one size fits all, or hammers looking for nails. There is a better way!
David W. Jamieson, PhD, President, Jamieson Consulting Group, Inc.
We would like to add a few ideas to the discussion from the perspective of the Socio-Economic Approach to Management (SEAM)… We are not saying that SEAM is the only way. We are saying that SEAM is a well-researched model for organizational and strategic change that deserves attention… We add this thought to Minahan’s essay: to succeed in OD, or strategic change, the mental model of many managers has to transform. Thus, one of the primary tasks of the strategic change practitioner is changing the beliefs of top managers about management. Without changing beliefs an intervention is likely to fail, or to be irrelevant.
John Conbere, MDiv, EdD & Alla Heorhiadi, PhD, EdD. SEAM Institute www.seaminstitute.org
I agree that we need to stake our claim and fight for the reinstatement of our full scope of practice so that we can be the game changing influencers we are meant to be in organization and world systems. I believe a name change may or may not be necessary to get us there if it only ends up being a repackaging/rebranding while we keep our sacred cows and competing commitments intact… We must impress on our school administrators and clients what OD is and isn’t and demand the resources and commitment needed to achieve the results we seek… including conducting quality research and tracking business impact & goal achievement…I think it’s our game we need to change… not our name.
Yabome Gilpin-Jackson, PhD, identifies as a Scholar-Practitioner. She is Executive Director of Leadership & Organization Development (OD) at Fraser Health in Surrey, BC, and consults/coaches externally as well.
We know, of course, that the work we ultimately do will focus on building the capacity and increasing the effectiveness of people at work. Whatever the place, whatever the task, whatever the goals, however, our overarching purpose is always to be helpful, to enable people and organizations of every size and shape to do their best work, to meet their own expectations, and to reach their own specific, chosen goals. What we would be wise to recognize now is that defining our intention as helping, and then fulfilling that purpose visibly and credibly, infuses our field with singular power.
After working as the Executive Director of the OD Network and Principal of ChangeGuides, Peter F. Norlin, PhD, now serves both emerging OD practitioners and seasoned colleagues as a professional coach and shadow consultant. He can be reached at email@example.com.
We definitely do not want to say goodbye to the past. Without the past and all the giants whose shoulders we stand on, we would not have the NOW in OD. No, we do not need a new name (this will have unfortunate ramification for the development of the field in other parts of the world). We need more OD practitioners who are institutional builders to advance the field and get better in evaluating the impact of our OD work. Finally, we need to stretch the OD curriculum across the breadth of what the business does, taking the content of all three camps seriously. The world needs us, whether they know it or not. The NOW time calls us to be more of an adaptor, to be more savvy with the business reality the clients face, and to help clients to stay afloat. But we can’t do this without being “holders” also— to hold up our belief of fairness, justice, and human rights. Many clients instinctively know our rich OD DNA is needed to build a sustainable future. In that sense we are “bridgers” by instinct.
L Mee-Yan Cheung Judge is a scholar-educator-practitioner and founder of Quality & Equality.