How a new skill becomes core to leadership.

A new competence integrates into leadership skill sets in a three-stage sequence. It was true for Information Technology (IT) over the past 60 years and it is proving true again for Organization Development (OD).  (Excerpted from the Get Loose Chapter of Manage to Lead: Seven Truths to Help You Change The World)

A new competence integrates into an organization in a three-stage sequence:

Stage 1: New competence provided by a source outside the organization.

Stage 2: New competence brought inside the organization as staff-support.

Stage 3: New competence becomes a pervasive skill across the organization.

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Example: Information Technology (IT)

Information Technology competence was non-existent in organizations before World War II. After the war leaders drew on outside experts and eventually staffed internal IT departments. Only in the past few decades have organization leaders been defined by their IT competence.

odimage02-stages
Click to see evolution of IT competence in organizations over time.

Example: Organization Development (OD)

It is useful to think about the application of Organization Development as one or more person’s intentional, systematic, and sustained effort to evolve an organization in a specific way to perform better in the future. Kurt Lewin first introduced the application of behavioral psychology to human dynamics in organizations after World War II.

In so doing he launched the evolution of Organization Development (OD) including Change Theory (unfreeze, change, refreeze), Group Dynamics (how people relate to each other when working together), Action Research (evolving a system by asking questions of those in the system), Force Field Analysis (assessing the forces that work for and against something), and Sensitivity Training (including self-management).

OD is going through a similar progression: Coming from outside ⇒  to inside staff support ⇒ to inside core skill that eventually pervades the organization.

Thoughtful application of OD theory in work situations has led to the evolution of tools and methods that accelerate and smooth the pace at which groups grow to achieve their potential to perform. See example tools, methods, and principles at intelliven.com and in Manage to Lead: Seven Truths to Help You Change the World.

University programs and training labs have taught thousands about OD. Many of those trained wonder where they ideally fit in the organizations that employ them. Business master’s students who took an OD class or two come to realize how useful OD skills (such as getting team members to work better together and to give and get constructive feedback from each other) are as their careers blossom and wish they had taken even more.

Decades from now, every leader will likely have and apply OD tools, methods, and principles just as today’s leaders internalize and deploy skills in math, economics, and now also IT.

How to deploy OD-competence.

Just as those trained in IT, those with training in OD tools, methods, and principles have three choices. They can:

  • Help others use OD to perform better in the role of outside consultant in a small or large consulting firm; as in Stage 1.
  • Help others use OD to perform better in the role of inside consultant; as in Stage 2.
  • Personally use OD to perform better in whatever role they happen to have; as in Stage 3.
Stage 1 and 2 Goal

Success for the OD consultant operating in Stage 1 or Stage 2 is when s/he works as part of a collaborative leadership team contributing what s/he knows about OD in a way that it is internalized by those s/he helps. Once accomplished, the OD professional can stay with that team to help achieve ever higher levels of performance or go off to help another leader and team.

Stage 1 or 2 success could, in theory, put OD professionals out of work.  But it will take decades for OD competence to become commonplace and, in that time, just as with IT, new OD tools, methods, and principles will evolve to keep practitioners employed.

Stage 3 Goal

OD-competent leaders should not lead with OD. They should lead instead with the improved performance OD helps produce. Stage 3 OD-competent leaders will consistently produce better results, sooner, and more cost efficiently.

OD-trained persons who seek Stage 1 and Stage 2 roles should themselves first put OD competence to work as Stage 3 leaders to learn what it is like to be a leader putting OD into action. Internal and external OD consultants who have been successful as OD-competent leaders will give better advice just like leaders who get good at getting feedback are better at giving  feedback.

Stage 3 leaders may find their value created and impact delivered incredibly satisfying and want to make a career being an OD competent leader. It can also be financially rewarding considering those who develop, internalize, and use OD to achieve high-performance will be better recognized for their success than those who merely provide OD advice, as important as it might be.

OD-Competent Leader Maturity Continuum

OD competence will eventually show up everywhere in organizations just as today we expect to find rigorous analytical thinking to be ubiquitous across an organization and not housed in a math or economics department.odimage04-cmc

The evolution of Stage 3 OD competence in leaders will likely progress through a continuum from Unaware to Innovator as illustrated in the Competence Maturity Model in the accompanying figure.

Guidance

Those committed to the evolution of OD competence in leaders and the improved performance it helps secure, should, regardless of where they sit in the organization, strive to take four positive actions as summarized in the table below:

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