Friday, March 10, 2017

The OD Quest: Part 3 – Rendezvous with L&D

"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 forced 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 prompted 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 in this series (see The OD Quest: Part 1- Mapping the terrain) we did a cartography of the Human Resources (HR) and Organization Development (OD) domains to map out the current world (the terrain) inhabited by HR and OD and also the evolving worldviews in HR and OD (ways of looking at the terrain). In the second post (see The OD Quest Part 2 : Doing Recruitment in the OD way) we made a visit to the land of Recruitment and explored the value OD can add to Recruitment. In this post, let’s take our OD Quest to one of OD’s closest neighbors – Learning & Development (L&D) also known as ‘Training’ (though the term ‘Training’ is becoming increasingly unfashionable especially for behavioral training)


OD and L&D (as opposed to OD and Recruitment) are often considered to be siblings or even twins. In some of the organizations they also live in the same house (function) called 'Learning & OD'. When OD becomes more like OE/Organization Effectiveness that focuses more on the 'structural' dimension (e.g. Organization structure, job design, congruence of structural elements, workforce planning etc.) as opposed to the 'human process' dimension and/or when L&D is clubbed with Technical/Functional Training, they are more likely to live apart, in terms of the boxes and arrows in the organization chart, often with unfortunate consequences!

When it comes to the nature of work, the boundary between OD and L&;D is not often clearly defined (and it varies significantly across organizations). Typically, individual level capability building is considered to be in the L&;D land and group and organization level capability building is considered to be in the OD land. ‘Coaching’ is a hotly disputed territory between OD and L&D. Territorial disputes also erupt when it comes to  ‘change management’/’mindset/culture change’ kind of training.   

To me, the separation between OD and L&D is arbitrary and counterproductive. Learning’ is defined as ‘sustainable change in behavior’ and OD is about ‘facilitating change’. So, it is very difficult to determine where one ends and the other begins. This is even more true these days when L&D has moved away from being primarily 'event-driven' and OD has moved away from 'conducting isolated ('hit and run')interventions'. Efforts to force a separation between the two often leads to 'things falling through the cracks'. More importantly, this can adversely affect the mutual value addition.

Let’s look at an example. One of the serious ‘crimes’ committed in the L&D land is that of ‘Training the victim’ where problems at the strategy/structure/process/culture levels are conveniently misdiagnosed as ‘capability issues’ and employees are sent for remedial training to fix their capability gaps (see ‘Training the victim’ for details)!  

A closer partnership between L&D and OD can improve the quality of the diagnosis/need identification and also help in better change management to sustain the ‘change in behavior’ and ‘transfer of learning’ as the OD function often brings in excellent diagnosis and consulting skills. Also ,OD can help a lot in terms of structuring the 70% (on the job learning) part of the 70:20:10 learning model (see ‘Truths stretched too far’ for more details).  Again, ‘Leadership Training’ often degenerates into some sort of ‘Corporate Rain Dance’  (see 'Leadership Training and Corporate Rain Dance' for details). Partnership with OD can help in addressing this also.

Similarly, large scale OD interventions often involve a lot of capability building where L&D can help. Again the L&D function often brings in significant program management capability that can be leveraged to enhance the effectiveness of the roll out of change management initiatives.

A closer partnership between L&D and OD also ensures that high impact domains like ‘coaching’ don’t fall through the cracks and that they are effectively addressed. Another key area where the collaboration between OD and L&D can add a lot of value is in enabling employees to transition from one responsibility level to another responsibility level that requires a different mindset in addition to a different skillset (See ‘Accelerated learning & Rites of passage’ for a related discussion).

So where does this leave us? OD and L&D can add a lot of value to each other. This works best when their ‘natural affinity’ (in terms of nature of work) is maintained in terms of organization structure. Hence an HR organization structure that combines the L&D and OD functions into ‘Learning &OD’ is much more likely to be impactful. This also facilitates better crosspollination of skillsets and a more integrated perspective!

Any comments/thoughts before we take our OD quest to the next domain in the HR land?!