Demystifying the complexities of organisational development

Several HR heads agree on one basic thing all organisational development specialists should know.

Even as disruptions and new market trends continue to emerge, it seems organisational development (OD) practitioners only have to grasp one simple fact: that intuition, and not knowledge, is what renders their interventions effective.

This was the consensus reached by a panel of seasoned OD and HR practitioners at HRM Asia’s Organisational Development Innovation Congress 2017 on September 12.

While the conceptualisation stage of an OD input used to be key and still remains necessary, Raghu Ram, Head of HR, Global Specialties & Asia Talent Lead, Shell, shares how the actual application process is where OD specialists can truly impact the business.

“Just as any function, there is the conceptual knowledge base. OD is all about behavioural transformation, and originates from behavioural sciences,” says Ram.

“But the application side is most interesting, and that’s why OD practitioners can really make a difference,” he says, adding that application can come at the organisational level, team level and individual level.

More importantly, however, Ram emphasises the need for specialists to develop their own frameworks and models, rather than simply relying on existing ones.

He warns that here in Asia, in particular, not enough research around OD has been carried out.

“I do believe OD is losing its edge. It’s all western models. We haven’t seen new ones in decades and that’s where you – the practitioner – each of us, can design our own models,” says Ram.

While theoretical knowledge is always a good base to work from, customising and developing new models fitted for their organisations is what will really help OD practitioners to add business value.

“You do not always have to carry the burden that you should be a theory expert or a PHD holder in OD,” Ram says.

Meghna Shukla, General Manager Talent & OD – Asia, Middle East and Africa at New Zealand dairy co-operative Fonterra, is also of the opinion that being knowledgeable should not be the top concern of practitioners.

Instead, they should focus on understanding the market landscape and competitors, their internal environment and overall workforce, and the respective teams and individuals throughout the organisation.

“Don’t rush into acquiring the knowledge first. It limits your view,” says Shukla.

“First understand your business’ context, then start looking at what are the models that are out there. You may be surprised how some of these models help us in defining out thinking in terms of what are the elements we may have missed.”

But the main lesson here, she says, is not to just blindly apply an existing model, but rather be “intuitive” practitioners.

At Fonterra, major disruptions have been happening, and Shukla’s team has had to exercise careful judgement in which elements to incorporate.

“We’re looking at introducing the gig economy, gamification in the learning space and rolling out automation. But we examined whether to apply such things across the board and the answer is no,” she says.

“So being a smart business thinker and then applying OD is absolutely the key.”

Personal care product manufacturer Kimberly-Clark’s HR Director Eugene Lam agrees that tactful execution is what matters most, offering a few examples in the process.  

Recalling his time at previous organisations, Lam shares how although he has always been an HR generalist, he has found himself in the thick of many merger and acquisition (M&A) situations many times.

Whether it was building a high-performance workplace culture at Hewlett Packard (HP) around 2011 or facilitating the merger of HP’s printer and computer units, Lam always found that effective OD was always about aligning various parts of the organisation with a clear end goal in mind.

“It’s about bringing the different arms of an organisation together,” he explains.

“The things that keeps an organisation alive – the DNA of it – are culture and corporate values, and in many ways, what influences these two is leadership.

“So OD is about how you thread together leadership, culture and values to enable an organisation to be effective during M&As,” says Lam. 

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