How to think about where competencies that generate great value fit in organizations as they evolve.

The application of behavioral psychology to organizations over the past 60 years or so has given rise to Organization Development tools, methods, and principles.  University programs and training labs have taught thousands of professionals in the rapidly evolving discipline.  Many of those trained wonder where they fit in the organizations that employ them.

To set the context for thinking about where specially trained resources fit in an organization, it may help to consider how other emerging competencies have evolved to fit in organizations.  Consider what has happened with information technology (IT) for example.

Stage 1: New competence drawn in from resources outside the organization. Prior to

Figure 1: New Competence Comes from Outside

World War II literally no organizations benefited from the application of IT.  When the potential utility of computing power first appeared, organizations hired outside experts (see Figure 1) who were specially trained to help conceive, design, develop, implement, and support ways for IT to drive value.

Stage 2: New competence brought into the organization in a staff position. After experiencing success with outside resources in the ‘60s and ‘70s, organizations realized that they would be able to harness and deploy the benefits of IT more efficiently if they staffed their own organizations with

Figure 2: New Competence Comes Inside

IT competent personnel as indicated in Figure 2.

IT departments grew in importance in the ‘80s and ‘90s as investments in IT improved productivity and performance.  In some, if not many or even most, cases IT departments became disproportionately powerful in their own right with extraordinarily large budgets and the power to decide, even over the CEO, what got done in the line organization as suggested by the graphic in Figure 3.

Stage 3: New competence becomes a core competence across the organization. Gradually, IT competence has filtered into the line such that organizations today are even often run by CEOs with IT

Figure 3: New Competence Takes on a Life of its Own

competence (see Figure 4) and so are no longer likely to be held-up by IT politics. Instead, organizations are being defined by their ability to powerfully employ IT.

IT competence is becoming ubiquitous.  Every role in an organization will be carried out better because those in it are able to see and seize the potential to improve performance with the intelligent application of IT (as suggested in Figure 5).  With the race to the cloud, IT is headed to be like water, electricity, and phone service in that it will be provided by an outside utility and not manufactured and tended to by resources internal to the

Figure 4: Competence Moves into the Line

organization yet everyone will know how to use it and draw on it to help them perform at peak levels.

OD may be going through a similar progression from outside, to inside staff, to inside core, to pervasive competence in organizations.  While the evolution is playing out, those with OD training should either use OD to help organizations perform better in whatever role they happen to be in or help others in key roles to internalize and effectively use OD tools, methods, and principles.

The mindset and objective in the latter case, though, ought

Figure 5: Competence become Core

to be to put themselves out of a job.  Success for the outside or inside OD consultant is when what they know has been internalized by those they help.  They then can go on to help others.  It will take decades, if not a century or more, for OD competence to become so pervasive that we run out of jobs of OD consultants and in that time new tools, methods, and principles to deploy will surely evolve.

On the other hand, OD professionals who want to secure their financial independence may be wise to consider that those who use OD in the line will achieve and be more recognized for success and better rewarded as a result.

Figure 6: OD Competence Maturity Continuum

OD competence may eventually show up everywhere in organizations just as today we expect to find rigorous analytic thinking to be universal and ubiquitous across an organization and not housed somewhere in a math or economics department.  The evolution of OD competence in the line will likely progress through a continuum from unaware to innovator as suggested in Figure 6.

In the meantime and along the way, those committed to the evolution of OD competence and the improved performance it helps secure should, regardless of where they sit in the organization:

  • Look for and capitalize upon opportunities to personally make a big positive impact by applying OD tools, methods, and principles to improve performance.  Do NOT lead with OD…lead with the improved performance that OD helps produce.
  • Find and help develop those in the organization with potential to understand, internalize, and intelligently use OD tools, methods, and principles to perform better.
  • Track and promote successes; consolidate, model, and communicate lessons learned and best practices.
  • Connect with those in other organizations, including universities and labs, to systematically bring in new material and to contribute to the field.

One thought on “How to think about where competencies that generate great value fit in organizations as they evolve.”

  1. I think there’s a lot of insight in your IT analogy, Peter.

    And, I believe, there is another dimension at play that you might consider for your next blog — the tradeoffs between generalists and specialists in OD.

    As I look around at the IT world today, there are generalists who work in organizations that provide outsourced turnkey IT service . . . and there are specialists who are hired to do a particular application such as an ERP or build a call center, etc.

    IF line managers are truly taking in the body of knowledge that we have called OD, then they become the generalists, and the OD practitioners have to become more specialized, providing advice and counsel to the generalists.

    I know that a lot of folks in our field have specializations, and will do fine in this new world if it evolves as you suggest. But I’m concerned about the generalists who have not invested in a specialization and who a Jills and Jacks of All Trades, but Expert at None.

    Matt

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