“We are witnessing and participating in an unprecedented dissolution of the boundaries of the field of organization development. In organizations around the world, the HR function is monopolizing the OD function at an unprecedented pace, which is limiting our reach, blunting our effectiveness, and compromising our role.”
OD and HR
Do We Want the Lady or the Tiger?
By Matt Minahan
Ding. Ding. Ding. OK, time’s up. Time to decide. Will it be door number one, or door number two? The lady or the tiger? In Frank Stockton’s allegory (1882), a prisoner is ordered to choose between two closed doors. Behind one is a woman whom he must marry sight unseen and live with for the rest of his life; behind the other is the tiger which would surely eat him alive. Without knowing exactly what is behind which door, how is one to choose? And, which does one really prefer? Like the mythical prisoner, the field of OD has been standing in front of two doors for too long, putting off the choice between them. One door would leave the OD function embedded within HR; the other would get OD out to stand independently on its own two feet in the organization. The field of OD has been putting off this decision for too long—since its inception, in fact—and it is time for us to make the decision. Well into our mid-40s as a field, we can’t really blame all of this mess on our forebears, because frankly we’re dealing with these choices just as badly as they did when the field was first founded. We’re still standing looking at the same two doors between which our OD forebears could not decide. Long History, Deep Roots This question about whether OD should be part of HR or should stand on its own goes back to the founding of our field. What became organization development had its roots in the training and
development function, where the T group was the primary intervention. At a panel of the founders of OD at the 2009 Academy of Management conference in Chicago, almost every one of them, to a man, said that they were trained as writers or sociologists or engineers, but attended an NTL Institute T group where their lives changed. (Several also lamented that they were all white men in the field at that time, and on that panel at AoM.) Following their NTL experiences, they tried to bring these insights they had obtained into their organizations via the training function. By the late 1960s, just a few years after the field was founded by about a dozen internal training and development people at NTL’s summer home in Bethel, Maine, the theory was, “let’s transform the way managers think about themselves and the ways they relate to people and solve problems, and once we’ve done that, we can send them back home to transform their own organizations” (Porras & Bradford, 2004). Evidently, there were some who said that the OD function should stand on its own and be independent of other influence (Burke, 2004). Others, however, were concerned that the field of OD was too new and unknown and should reside in the personnel or training function, as advocated by Shel Davis of TRW Systems, Sy Levy from Pillsbury, Herb Shepard formerly of Esso, Dick Beckard, and others. Their belief was that “OD at the time was too new, too ephemeral, and too suspect to survive on its own in the organization . . . Early on, then, two models or scenarios
OD and HR: Do We Want the Lady or the Tiger?
about the place of OD within the organization were debated regarding the wisdom of such a placement” (Burke, 2004). Theory Versus Fact The vast majority of the central thinkers, writers, and scholars in our field today (Cummings & Worley, 2005; Marshak, 2009; Feyerherm & Worley, 2009; Rothwell, et al., 2009) write as if OD is a separate and distinct field of practice, but the facts on the ground tell a different story. We are witnessing and participating in an unprecedented dissolution of the boundaries of the field of organization development. In organizations around the...
References: Bradford, D., & Burke, W. (2004). Is OD in crisis? The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 40(4), 369-373. Burke, W. (2004). Internal organization development practitioners: where do they belong? The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 40(4), 423-431. Bushe, G., & Marshak, R. (2008). The postmodern turn in OD. OD Practitioner, 40(4), 9-11.
Cumming, T., & Worley, C. (2008). Organization development and change (9th ed.). Mason, OH: South-Western Cengage Learning. Feyerherm, A., & Worley, C. (2008). Forward to the past: reclaiming OD’s influence in the world. OD Practitioner, 40(4), 2-8. Greiner, L. E. (1972). Red flags in organization development. Business Horizons, 15(3), 17-24. Greiner, L., & Cumming, T. (2004). Wanted: OD more alive than dead! The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 40(4), 374-391. Kirkpatrick, D.L. (1998). Another look at evaluating training programs. Alexandria, VA: American Society for Training & Development. Marshak, R. (2006). Organization development as a profession and a field. In B. Jones, & M. Brazzel (Eds.), The NTL handbook of organization development and change: principles, practices, and perspectives (p. 18). San Francisco: Pfeiffer. Minahan, M., & Farquhar, K. (2008). The Future of OD education in a global and sustainable world. OD Practitioner, 40(4), 12-15. Rothwell, W., Stavros, J., Sullivan, R., & Sullivan, A. (2009). Practicing organization development: a guide for leading change. San Francisco: Wiley. Stockton, F. R. (1882, November). The Lady, or the Tiger? The Century, 25 (1), 83—86. http://www.eastoftheweb.com/ short-stories/UBooks/LadyTige.shtml.
Matt Minahan, EdD, is a partner in Sapience Organizational Consult ing, and has specialized in organi zational strategy, design, business processes, and communications for 30 years. He is member of NTL Institute, the Academy of Man agement, and current member of the Board of Directors of the OD Network, where he is also an active volunteer and manages the ODNet email discussion lists. He can be reached at mminahan@ sapienceoc.com.
OD PRACTITIONER Vol. 42 No. 4 2010
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