Organizational Development (OD) can be like changing a tire in a cold rain, in the dark, with a flashlight that only works if you shake it just right. Born about eighty years ago, OD is a dynamic field with roots in sociology, psychology, systems theory, organizational learning and a host of other approaches to help organizations adapt and develop.
For the short and so far meandering life of organizational devel-opment, there have been countless efforts to understand the people side of implementing change. Some have championed the concept that change is so odious that only by applying psy-chiatric type treatment for grief reactions can we overcome the trauma. Others promote applying the power of psychological tests to understand the complexities of people and thus enable customized interactions. Many focus on the rigidities of compa-ny culture while perhaps an equal number are split on declaring the effect of leaders as the major force to be blamed or to be hailed as the secret to success.
Fans of the complexity of change tout Everett Rogers’ adoption process of knowledge, persuasion, decision, implementation and confirmation. The adoption of this process is often depicted in the labels attached to standard deviations on a bell curve: Innovators, Early Adopters, Early Majority, Late Majority and Laggards. These labels are taken as truth to the extent that naïve OD professionals believe that for every hundred people in an organization, thirty-four will comprise the late majority and should be helped in various ways. This weak thinking gives me a stomachache and OD a black eye. Categorizing people and then creating helpful interventions for these categories is an unnecessary and counterproductive complication to change efforts.
A possible title for this book could have been: How Dumb Is OD Anyway? Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and her portrayal of someone facing a terminal illness does not belong in the work setting and is not the classic response employees experience when facing change, yet is widely promoted anyway. If you like this approach, especially the so-called change curve with the “pit of despair” at the bottom (often making an attractive PowerPoint slide), read Kübler-Ross’ writings on her system, and you will know better. She said her model is not all-inclusive, that the order can and does change and, she emphasized, grief is an individualized experience. How such a wobbly platform could become an accepted OD model is beyond me.
Psychometrics also seems to be an OD magnet. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and similar vehicles for stuffing people into boxes is at best semi-science (and I believe another embarrassment for OD) and at worst a biased and prejudicial stereo-typing of unique human beings. I am truly concerned about using methodology based on debunked psychoanalytic thinking or unsubstantiated theories. Using such tools is not how to make sense of change for the people involved. If you’re doing that, please stop. Before you’re tempted to use psychosocial instruments, check out validity and reliability studies done by neutral parties. I believe you will appreciate the folly of categorizing people. It is true such inventories make humans more understandable and seemingly available to targeted interventions, but so does stereotyping by race, religion and gender. Measures such as DISC and Personal Styles that identify simple behavioral tendencies can be useful if they celebrate and support differences and don’t assume to plumb the intricacies of per-sonality.
Using models as tools means we do not design interventions based on abstractions, such as personality types, but on actually occurring events—in our case, people interactions. It doesn’t matter what kind of interaction or the differences of the people involved or the significance of the topic. What matters is how well the people involved can address the issue at hand. The HST model creates a process for effective people interactions. The model is used as a tool when it is useful and is discarded when it isn’t. (The right tool makes an activity easier and more efficient.) People are free to choose what is best for them.
Currently, OD practitioners advocate using a four-step approach to improve organizations:
• Action planning
With our model we have taken the first two steps for you and hope our efforts will stimulate you to take the last two using the HST change model.
Our diagnosis is that organizations do not understand change and have been misled about how to do it well. This conclusion is based on OD using suspect tools and models and on the limited success organizations seem to have when implementing change. Additionally, if we define company culture as the solidification of people interactions, we might wonder about de-solidifying interactions to create avenues for people and processes to change.
Our plan is to improve how employees understand change and shepherd that enhanced awareness through two critical elements of an organization. As we shall see, organizational development does not have to be traumatic. People are not incompre-hensibly complicated. Learn just a couple of ideas and you can do what must be done without continually shaking that flash-light.