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The Organization Development Practitioner

The Organization Development Practitioner:

A closer look at OD practitioners can provide a more personal perspective on the field and can help us understand the essential character of OD as a helping profession, involving personal relationships between practitioners and organization members. Much of the literature about OD practitioners views them as internal or external consultants providing professional services—diagnosing problems, developing solutions, and helping to implement them. More recent perspectives expand the practice scope to include professionals in related disciplines, such as industrial psychology and organization theory, as well as line managers who have learned how to carry out OD to change and develop their departments. A great deal of opinion and some research studies have focused on the necessary skills and knowledge of an effective OD practitioner. Studies of the profession provide a comprehensive list of basic skills and knowledge that all effective OD practitioners must possess. Most of the relevant literature focuses on people specializing in OD as a profession and addresses their roles and careers. The OD role can be described in relation to the position of practitioners: internal to the organization, external to it, or in a team comprising both internal and external consultants. The OD role also can be examined in terms of its marginality in organizations, of the emotional demands made on the practitioner, and of where it fits along a continuum from client-centered to consultant-centered functioning. Finally, organization development is an emerging profession providing alternative opportunities for gaining competence and developing a career. The stressful nature of helping professions, however, suggests that OD practitioners must cope with the possibility of professional burnout. As in other helping professions, such as medicine and law, values and ethics play an important role in guiding OD practice and in minimizing the chances that clients will be neglected or abused.

Who is the Organization Development Practitioner?

The term organization development practitioner refers to at least three sets of people. The most obvious group of OD practitioners are those people specializing in OD as a profession. They may be internal or external consultants who offer professional services to organization clients, including top managers, functional department heads, and staff groups. OD professionals traditionally have shared a common set of humanistic values promoting open communications, employee involvement, and personal growth and development. They tend to have common training, skills, and experience in the social processes of organizations (for example, group dynamics, decision making, and communications). In recent years, OD professionals have expanded those traditional values and skill sets to include more concern for organizational effectiveness, competitiveness, and bottom-line results, and greater attention to the technical, structural, and strategic parts of organizations. That expansion, mainly in response to the highly competitive demands facing modern organizations, has resulted in a more diverse set of OD professionals geared to helping organizations cope with those pressures.


the term OD practitioner applies to people specializing in fields related to OD, such as reward systems, organization design, total quality, information technology, and business strategy. These contentoriented fields increasingly are becoming integrated with OD's process orientation, particularly as OD projects have become more comprehensive, involving multiple features and varying parts of organizations. For example is the result of marrying OD with business strategy. A growing number of professionals in these related fields are gaining experience and competence in OD, mainly through working with OD professionals on large-scale projects and through attending OD training sessions. For example, most of the large accounting firms have diversified into management consulting and change management. In most cases, professionals in these related fields do not subscribe fully to traditional OD values, nor do they have extensive OD training and experience. Rather, they have formal training and experience in their respective specialties, such as industrial relations, management consulting, information systems, health care, and work design. They are OD practitioners in the sense that they apply their special competence within an OD-like process, typically by engaging OD professionals and managers to design and implement change programs. They also practice OD when they apply their OD competence to their own specialties, thus spreading an OD perspective into such areas as compensation practices, work design, labor relations, and planning and strategy.

the term OD practitioner applies to the increasing number of managers and administrators who have gained competence in OD and who apply it to their own work areas. Studies and recent articles argue that OD applied by managers rather than OD professionals is growing rapidly. They suggest that the faster pace of change affecting organizations today is highlighting the centrality of the manager in managing change. Consequently, OD must become a general management skill. Along those lines, Kanter studied a growing number of firms, such as General Electric, Hewlett-Packard, and 3M, where managers and employees have become "change masters. They have gained the expertise to introduce change and innovation into the organization. Managers tend to gain competence in OD through interacting with OD professionals in actual change programs. This on-the-job training frequently is supplemented with more formal OD training, such as the variety of workshops offered by the National Training Laboratories, the Center for Creative Leadership, the Gestalt Institute, UCLA's Extension Service, University Associates, and others. Line managers increasingly are attending such external programs. Moreover, a growing number of organizations, including Texas Instruments, Motorola, and General Electric, have instituted in-house training programs for managers to learn how to develop and change their work units. As managers gain OD competence, they become its most basic practitioners. In practice, the distinctions among the three sets of OD practitioners are blurring. A growing number of managers have transferred, either temporarily or permanently, into the OD profession. For example, companies such as Procter & Gamble have trained and rotated managers into full-time OD roles so that they can gain skills and experience needed for higher-level management positions. Also, it is increasingly common to find managers using their experience in OD to become external consultants. More OD practitioners are gaining professional competence in related specialties, such as business process reengineering, reward systems, and organization design. Conversely, many specialists in those related areas are achieving professional competence in OD. Cross-training and integration are producing a more comprehensive and complex kind of OD practitioner, one with a greater diversity of values, skills, and experience than a traditional practitioner.

External and Internal Practitioners:

In every large-scale planned change program, some person or group is usually designated to lead the change; sometimes it is the OD practitioner. The practitioner then, is the change leader, the person leading or guiding the process of change in an organization. Internal practitioners are already members of the organization. They may be either managers practicing OD with their work groups or OD specialists that may be from the human resources or organization development department. External practitioners are brought in from outside the organization as OD specialists and are often referred to as consultants. Both the use of external and internal practitioners have advantages and disadvantages. The OD practitioners who are specialists, whether from within or outside of the organization are professionals who have specialized and trained in OD and related areas, such as the social sciences, interpersonal communications, decision making, and organization behavior. These specialists, often referred to as OD consultants, have a more formal and involved process when they enter the client system than managers who are doing OD with their work group. Although much of the chapter is directed at OD practitioners who are specialists, the concepts also apply to OD practitioners who are managers and team leaders implementing OD.
The External Practitioner:

The external practitioner is someone not previously associated with the client system. Coming from the outside, the external practitioner sees things from a different viewpoint and from a position of objectivity. Because external practitioners are invited into the organization, they have increased leverage (the degree of influence and status within the client system) and greater freedom of operation than internal practitioners. Research evidence suggests that top managers view external practitioners as having a more positive role in large-scale change programs than internal practitioners. Since external practitioners are not a part of the organization, they are less in awe of the power wielded by various organization members. Unlike internal practitioners, they do not depend upon the organization for raises, approval, or promotions. Because they usually have a very broad career base and other clients to fall back on, they tend to have a more independent attitude about risk-taking and confrontations with the client system. At McKinsey & Co., a leading management consulting firm, consultants are direct, outspoken, and challenge the client's opinions. Once "The Firm" (as McKinsey is called) is hired, a four- to six-person "engagement team" is assembled, with an experienced consultant to coordinate the effort. Bear in mind, though, that McKinseys management consulting work is not necessarily organization development. The disadvantages of external practitioners result from the same factors as the advantage. Outsiders are generally unfamiliar with the organization system and may not have sufficient knowledge of its technology, such as aerospace or chemistry. They are unfamiliar with the culture, communication networks, and formal or informal power systems. In some situations, practitioners may have difficulty gathering pertinent information simply because they are outsiders. Our Changing World illustrates problems that outside management consulting firms face in Germany.

The Internal Practitioner:


internal practitioner

is already a member of the organization: a top executive, an organization member who initiates change in his or her work group, or a member of the human resources or organization development department. Many large organizations have established offices with the specific responsibility of helping the organization implement change programs. In the past few years, a growing number of major organizations (including Disney, IBM, General Electric, General Motors, Honeywell, Union Carbide, and the US. Army and Navy) have created internal OD practitioner groups. These internal practitioners often operate out of the human resources area and may report directly to the president of the organization. Internal practitioners have certain advantages inherent in their relationship with the organization. They are familiar with the organization's culture and norms and probably accept and behave in accordance with the norms. This means that they need not waste time becoming familiar with the system and winning acceptance. Internal practitioners know the power structure, which are the strategic people, and how to apply leverage. They are already known to the employees, and have a personal interest in seeing the organization succeed. Unfortunately, it is by no means easy for internal practitioners to acquire all the skills they will need. The proof is in the problems encountered by new, not quite ready internal practitioners or managers who take on projects before they are fully comfortable with their practitioner roles in the organization, and before they understand and have developed critical skills. The position of an internal practitioner also has disadvantages. One of these may be a lack of the specialized skills needed for organization development. The lack of OD skills has become a less significant factor now that more universities have OD classes and programs and their graduates have entered the workforce. Another disadvantage relates to lack of objectivity. Internal practitioners may be more likely to accept the organizational system as a given and accommodate their change tactics to the needs of management. Being known to the workforce has advantages, but it can also work against the internal practitioner. Other employees may not understand the practitioner's role and will certainly be influenced by his or her previous work and relationships in the organization, particularly if the work and relationships have in anyway been questionable. Finally, the internal practitioner may not have the necessary power and authority; internal practitioners are sometimes in a remote staff position and report to a mid-level manager. The OD practitioner must break through the barriers of bureaucracy and organizational politics to develop innovation, creativity, teamwork, and trust within the organization.

The External-Internal Practitioner Team:

The implementation of a large-scale change program is almost impossible without the involvement of all levels and elements of the organization. One approach to creating a climate of change uses a team formed of an external practitioner working directly with an internal practitioner to initiate and facilitate change programs (known as the

external-internal practitioner team

).This is probably the most effective approach. OD researcher John Lewis, for example, found that successful external OD practitioners assisted in the development of their internal counterparts. The partners bring complementary resources to the team; each has advantages and strengths that offset the disadvantages and weaknesses of the other. The external practitioner brings expertise, objectivity, and new insights to organization problems. The internal practitioner, on the other hand, brings detailed knowledge of organization issues and norms, a long-rime acquaintance with members, and an awareness of system strengths and weaknesses. For change programs in large organizations, the team will likely consist of more than two practitioners. The collaborative relationship between internal and external practitioners provides an integration of abilities, skills, and resources. The relationship serves as a model for the rest of the organization—a model that members can observe and see in operation, one that embodies such qualities as trust, respect, honesty, confrontation, and collaboration. The team approach makes it possible to divide the change program’s workload and share in the diagnosis, planning, and strategy. The external-internal practitioner team less likely to accept watered-down or compromised change programs because each team member provides support to the other. As an example, during the U.S. Navy’s Command Development (OD) Program, the internal change agents recommended that training seminars be conducted away from the Navy environment (i.e., at a resort) and the participants dress in civilian clothing to lessen authority it issues. Higher authority, however, ordered the seminars to he held on naval bases and in uniform—ground rules that the internal practitioners reluctantly accepted. In this situation an external practitioner with greater leverage might have provided enough support and influence to gain approval to the desired program. Another reason for using an external-internal practitioner team is to achieve greater continuity over the entire OD program. Because external practitioners are involved in other outside activities, they generally are available to the organization only a few days a month, with two- or three-week intervals between visits. The internal practitioner, on the other hand, provides a continuing point of contact for organization members whenever problems or questions arise. Because many OD programs are long-term efforts, often lasting

three to five Years, the external-internal combination may provide the stimulation and motivation needed to keep the change program moving during periods of resistance. The team effort is probably the most effective approach because it combines the advantages of both external and internal practitioners while minimizing the disadvantages.

Practitioner Style Model:

There is often a gap between the practitioner’s and the client’s understandings about OD and change. The practitioner needs to assess the degree of this gap, because a relationship is possible only if the practitioner can be flexible enough to understand where the client is and help the client to learn about the OD change process. In this sense, the practitioner must have clarity about the purpose of OD in the organization. The practitioner brings certain knowledge, skills, values, and experience to the situation. In turn, the client system has its own values and a set of expectations for the practitioner. The target organization within the client system has its own subculture and level of readiness for change. The practitioner’s task and the scope, difficulty, and complexity of the changes to be implemented affect the relationship as well. Finally, the target organization’s readiness, for change, level of resistance, and culture also influence the practitioner’s style and the change approaches that may be successful in a given situation. The OD practitioner needs to involve organization members at all levels and convince them to “buy in” on the change program—in effect, to get involved in soling the problems.

Developing a Trust Relationship:

The development of openness and trust between practitioner and client is an essential aspect of the OD program. It is important because trust is necessary for cooperation and communication. When there is no trust, people will tend to be dishonest, evasive, and not authentic with one another, and communication is often inaccurate, distorted, or incomplete. There are several basic responses that the practitioner may use in the communication process aimed at developing a trust relationship:


—“How do you see the organization?”

Applied expertise (advising)

—“One possible intervention is team building.”


– “It sounds like you would like to see a participative form of leadership.”


—“From your description, inter-team conflict could be the problem.”


—“I’ve felt discouraged myself when my ideas were rejected.”


—Say nothing, let the client sort out his or her thoughts.

Figure: 09 Practitioner Style Model

How these basic responses are used is important in developing the practitioner-client relationship, in general the more balanced the practitioner’s use of these responses and the more open the range of responses, the higher level of trust. For example, some practitioners rely almost exclusively on questions without sharing their own ideas and feelings. This tends to create a one-way flow of information. Other

practitioners rely heavily on advising responses, which may tend to develop a dependency relationship. It is important for the practitioner to be aware of the range of responses and to use those that will build an open and trusting relationship. During the first several contacts with the client system, the following types of questions may be reflected upon: What is the attitude of the client system toward OD? Is there a real underlying desire for change? Or is the attitude superficial? What is the gut-level meaning of the client’s problem? How realistic is the client’s appraisal of its own problems? What are the possibilities that an OD program will alleviate the problem? Can OD solve the problem or are other change programs more appropriate? What is the practitioner’s potential impact on the system? Based on feedback from the client, how probable is it that the practitioner can bring about significant change? Once these questions are answered, the practitioner can decide whether to continue the change efforts or to discontinue and terminate the relationship. Most OD practitioners recommend an open discussion with the client on these issues at an early stage.

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