Monday, July 18, 2016

The OD Quest : Part 1 - Mapping the terrain!

"I don’t have an opening in my OD team now. But, you can join our recruitment team and do recruitment in the OD way”, I heard the Senior HR Leader telling a candidate who was hell-bent on joining the OD team. This was my fifth ‘encounter’ with this gentleman (See 'Passion for work and anasakti ‘, 'Appropriate metaphors for organizational commitment ‘ ,‘To name or not to name, that is the question’ and ‘A Mathematical approach to HR’ for the outcomes of my previous interactions with him). I was a bit taken aback by what I just heard. I knew that often these kind of ‘solutions’ will end in tears or worse. However, similar to what had happened during my previous encounters with him, this interaction prompted me to think a bit more deeply about the underlying issue - the application of OD(Organization Development) to the various functional areas in HR (Human Resource Management). That, in turn, has promoted me to write this series of posts on 'The OD Quest' where we will look at the possibilities that arise when OD ventures into other parts of the people management terrain. 

In the first post, we will begin by doing some cartography (that is, mapping out the currently known world inhabited by HR and OD). This cartography is not only of the world (terrain). At a more fundamental level, it a also a cartography of the worldviews (ways of looking at the terrain). So we will look at the various 'countries' in the HR world - like Recruitment, Training, Performance Management, Talent Management, Rewards etc. and see what happens when the OD quest reaches those countries. Of course, OD quest will explore the land of OD also,! But we will reach there towards the end of this journey because, as T S Eliot said, "We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time."  Of course, as soon as we make some progress with the cartography, we will venture out into the land of recruitment (in the next post in this series)!

To proceed further with our cartography (map making), we need to have some sort of working definitions of HR and OD. This is a difficult task as there are so many definitions. For the purpose of our discussion, we will use the following simplified definitions. Organization Development is a planned effort to increase organization effectiveness using behavioral-science knowledge. OD deals with a total system or with a subsystem in the context of the total system. Human Resource Management is about systems and processes aimed to enable the management of people within an organization so as to maximize employee performance (and engagement) in alignment with the strategic objectives of  the organization (See 'Towards a Philosophy of HR' for a deeper discussion).
So, there is an obvious overlaps in terms of overall objectives. However, when it came to actual tasks, there wasn't much of an  overlap initially, as HR was primarily focused on the basic processes related to people management (like Recruitment, Training, Performance Management, Career Planning, Compensation and Benefits etc.) whereas OD was focused on more 'ethereal' stuff like inter-team and intra-team collaboration, mission/vision/values, culture building, sensitivity training, action research etc. So, HR was mainly a set of regular activities whereas OD was a set of interventions that happened once in a while. But, this has changed quite a lot now.

These days, HR functions in most of the companies are gravitating towards some variation of the Dave Ulrich model with HR Business Partners(HRBPs), Centres of Excellence (CoEs), HR Shared Services etc. The overlap with OD happens mainly in the HRBP roles - especially when they are supposed to be 'Strategic HR Business Partners' (though what they actually end up doing varies considerably - see  'In the wonderland of HR Business Partners' for more details). Outsourcing of transactional activities in HR is also meant to prompt HR to be more strategic (though it might not always work out like that - see 'Nature abhors vacuum' for more details)

OD has also evolved from sensitivity training (in 'stranger groups' outside the organization) to sense-making (in 'intact teams' within the organization). Also, the tradition 'Diagnostic OD' (that used the 'action research' methodology to enable organizations to solve their problems) has been supplemented (not replaced!) by 'Dialogic OD' (that takes the organization reality to be 'socially constructed' and uses 'generative metaphors and images' to shape that reality).

More importantly, the worldviews (of HR and OD) are also converging with HR taking a more 'systemic view' and OD becoming more sensitive to and accountable for the sustainable value added by the OD interventions (as opposed to 'hit and run' OD interventions). Actually, the term 'intervention' no longer seems appropriate for OD work, as OD  work is currently viewed more as a 'dance involving the consultant and the client' as opposed to being some sort of an 'operation' done on (or done to) the client! 
Hence, there is a growing overlap between HR and OD. A more fundamental question is whether OD should be a CoE within HR or a separate function reporting directly to the CEO. There is no clear answer to this. Metaphorically speaking, whether OD is 'a country in the HR Union' or it is a 'completely independent entity' is a political question on which a referendum needs to be called for (again and again)! The first (OD being part of HR) is the more common scenario as of now, though it creates quite a few tricky challenges for both HR and OD (see 'OD Managers and Court Jesters'). One easy solution is to hire OD expertise from outside. But the question will come back to haunt us in another way - who will take the decision on hiring OD expertise- the HR Head or the CEO!

So,how should HR and OD respond to this overlap? Obviously,fighting over the disputed territory (however tempting that might be) is not the most effective solution. To me, one solution is for OD to remain a bit of an 'outsider' so that HR can fully be an 'insider'. Being a bit of an outsider helps the OD professional to be more objective (or at least not to have any vested interests) or even to be a bit provocative when required (see 'OD Managers and Court Jesters'). Being an insider allows HR to be fully part of the solution design and implementation. Of course, this calls for a very high level of mutual trust and respect between HR and OD. Also, remaining as an outsider while being a full member of the organization in all aspects is a very tricky 'tightrope walk' for internal OD consultants! Anyway, OD leveraging its marginality and HR leveraging its centrality to add value to the business seems the best possible solution to me. We must keep in mind that the concept of  'Business-orientation of HR' per se is quite paradoxical!
The above discussion does not complete our cartography. But we have done enough to start our 'OD quest'. It is important to remember that OD can be defined at many the levels (e.g. underlying philosophy and principles, process, tools/techniques, outcomes, skills etc.) and the quest can be done at any/all of these levels. While the story of this quest has been written from the point of view of OD, I have tried very hard not to take sides (I have done both HR and OD roles and I have the highest degree respect for HR professionals - see 'In praise of HR generalists' for more). The objective of the quest is to explore the various domains in HR with the twin objectives of (a) determining what value (if any) can OD add to the domain and (b) figuring out what OD can learn from the domain. Remember, it is a quest and not a conquest!!!
 Any comments/suggestions at this stage before we start our quest (starting with the land of recruitment in the next post)? Please let me know!

2 comments:

Major Bhargava said...

A must read for the aspirants as well as practicing HR professionals. The narration makes reading it interesting. A big relief to note that we study from the "Present - now, here" perspective rather from the historical perspective. Waiting for more!

Prasad Oommen Kurian said...

Thank you very much for your kind words!