One of the challenges in my line of work is clearly communicating the value of the services I provide. Organization development is a fuzzy term and it means different things to different people. Consulting is also a loose term that is hard to define.
Expert business consultants are often hired as a “pair-of-hands” to do something that cannot be done in-house because of time or resource constraints. These consultants are typically specialized in a particular business area and hired to complete a project with minimal supervision, assistance or even interaction with other people.
Organization development (OD) consultants provide planned interventions with individuals (leadership coaching, 360 evaluations), groups (conflict negotiation, team building, facilitation and training), or entire organizations (change management processes and implementation). OD consultants require a great deal of contact and collaboration with people directly involved in the intervention.
Organization development involves a system-wide application of behavioral science knowledge to a planned development as well as a reinforcement of organizational strategies, structures, and processes to improve an organization’s health and effectiveness. This cannot be done without the active participation of people within the organization.
OD consultants also work independently analyzing data as well as studying the client system with an outsider’s perspective, but we rely on both our client’s understanding and ownership of the problem at hand. In this way, we can become effective at helping the organization with their immediate challenges as well as provide learning and growth for tackling future issues on their own.
Expert consultants and OD consultants offer organizations huge benefits that supplement in-house management and staff. The consultant can be brought in when necessary to solve problems or develop opportunities as they arise.
But both the expert consultant and OD consultant could learn valuable lessons from each other in order to be even more beneficial to their clients.
Using an OD lens, the expert consultant could better look for signs of dysfunction, resistance, or a lack of trust within the client system. Paying more attention to these people issues can often mean the difference between a project’s success and failure.
The expert consultant should also consider taking a whole systems perspective when evaluating a particular project. Is the presenting problem really the issue or is it something larger within the entire organization that needs to be addressed before a sustainable solution can result?
A common downside in hiring an expert consultant is that if there is no learning from the work that is performed, then the next time the job needs to be completed, the consultant must be hired back again to do the same thing. This may be great for the consultant, but ultimately doesn’t serve the client very well.
The OD consultant is trained in the interdisciplinary fields of sociology and psychology, drawing on theories of motivation, learning and personality. Central to the OD process are the ideas of group dynamics and action research as well as maintaining a collaborative relationship with the client. The OD consultant is ultimately a change agent and knows how to get people in the organization involved in solving their own problems.
But the OD consultant could also learn important lessons from the expert consultant.
Much of the value the OD consultant provides is measured qualitatively rather than quantitatively. And though these results may be difficult to measure, especially because they are often longer in duration, measurements must be included in the scope of any project.
Perhaps most importantly, the goals of any OD project must be directly tied to a business result; otherwise the intervention can become merely an academic exercise.
Too often the OD consultant is caught up in helping people get along better, but not tying this directly to a business objective. The intervention may therefore appear much less important to the organization, no matter how much it has directly contributed to an increase in overall productivity.
Providing the best practices of expert consulting with solid measurable results that are tied to business objectives along with the best practices of OD consulting that incorporate people issues, a systems perspective and enables organizational learning is an approach that may ultimately deliver the best value to the organization. And that makes good business sense to us all.
Mark Craemer www.craemerconsulting.com