Is OD Dead? Yes, We Killed It-Or Did We?

I hate to be the Friedrich Nietzsche of OD; however, the question begs to be asked, is learning and development dead? It is because the economy killed it. The need for statistically valid organizational diagnostics did not go away, nor did the necessity for strong coaching and professional development programs. The recession decimated OD and Learning and Development departments. So, the next question that begs to be asked is what are companies going to do? If they are smart, they will pay attention to the recent trends to reduce costs, retain talent, and maximize their return on their TO&D investment.

I’ve been compiling market trends and here’s what I’ve found:

Cost saving OD Trends- Companies are wising up and using learning management systems to populate their intranet, and to engage employees in just in time training. To ensure the transfer of learning, a pre-assessment must be in place, followed by post evaluation diagnostics. Sounding the horn of common sense, learning initiatives should be followed with coaching, evaluation, and more coaching. How else can a company do an efficacious return on investment study. If CEOs continue to whine about how their training dollars are being spent, they have to match their groan with the dollars to support an organizational solution that has teeth and takes hold.
Organization Development professionals are constantly being asked to justify their existence. Is this a good thing? I think perhaps it is. On the other hand, not all outcomes can be measured by metrics alone. Often, organization improvement outcomes are qualitative. Customer service departments receive fewer complaint calls. Janice, the pain in the tush manager, isn’t such a pain anymore, and people now like working for her. Plant floor employees are generating stronger productivity, and product is arriving to stores on time.

Are outcomes like the above mentioned consistently tied to return on investment studies? Not always.

As I continued my research I came across two great articles that discuss trends that include the value of learning management systems and the road to economic recovery:

5 Key trends- Learning Management Systems have been around for a long time. They have their place. They reduce the cost of travel, content development and the cost of paying the price of live content delivery. However, just in time desk top learning solutions lack the human touch. Therefore, I favor blended learning solutions.

Bob Nelson's thoughts on the road to recovery- I love this article and added it to this post because it encapsulates hope for our future, and is packed with great ideas. We have to lace our bad news exclamations with good news and solutions that are solid, and are backed by research. Ok, I’m a bit of a research dweeb, but it’s how I was trained.
I remember when I was in graduate school, one of the adjunct professors exclaimed, “training is dead.” The entire class was crest-fallen. But then, we woke up, and realized that if OD dies it’s because we killed it by not justifying our value, and the worth we provide to the organization. That’s the bottom line. Even though OD departments have been decimated, and the roads are littered with unemployed OD and Learning and Development Professionals, we have to bear in mind that the need for the work we do has not gone away. It will never go away. The trends and research are starting to show that much of what OD practitioners do will be outsourced. This creates a new opportunity for the OD Profession. And as Martha Stewart would say, “That’s a good thing.”

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Comment by Hassan Rizwan on December 9, 2009 at 6:28am
Great post. OD is really dead and we are culprits.
Comment by Blake Moser on December 9, 2009 at 12:40pm
I enjoyed your post and wanted to say that I feel you are talking more about Training and Development (T&D) than Organizational Development (OD). I agree with your perspectives; organizations are looking for ways to save $$$ or even just survive. One way they are doing so is by cutting back on T&D. After all, the really bright employees are recruited away. At whose expense? Exactly. So, in this sense organizations are limiting themselves from being "learning organizations." This is kind of a lose-lose situation, and recruiters are not helping businesses in this matter.
As for the term OD: A number of definitions for OD exist, but one that I like is Cummings and Worley's (2009), "Organization development is a system-wide application and transfer of behavioral science knowledge to the planned development, improvement, and reinforcement of the strategies, structures, and processes that lead to organization effectiveness." OD then is more closely related to Change and Strategic interventions than that of T&D. However, T&D can certainly be a part of OD, but not always. As recruiters we are brokers of OD, and therefore contribute to the use of OD practices rather than damage OD. I would say that OD has its own set of problems, and perhaps that could be a new post altogether.
I appreciate your post and the opportunity to discuss perspectives.
Comment by Karen Lynn on December 9, 2009 at 1:22pm
I realize there is not much evidence (empirical data) or even much chatter about the following point but I believe it is a critical consideration for millennial business so I'm putting it out there.

OD, like many 20th century business functions, is in the midst of a major transformation. The old is dead and the new is quite here yet!

Sure we get the sense that things are dead or dying - the way it always been done, the tiny place at the table it has occupied and many of our beloved 20th century practitioners and leaders.

But that's not the end of the story.

Generation Jones members (43-55 yrs old) value skill enhancement so much so that they ask about it during interviews and choose jobs based on learning opportunities (Boomers asked about advancement opportunities). This trend is not only likely to continue but will likely intensify as hundreds of millennials enter the workforce because they don't even ask but expect to be offered learning as a benefit. But what they what is hard core, practice-based, strengths-based highly interactive training blips delivered across multiple channels.

So the most critical consideration for modern OD and T & D practitioners is RELEVANCE not value or cost. Organizations do not need us to capture the learning archives from retiring boomers to preserve the status quo - they need us to re-align fresh skill-sets with new missions, for the long haul and to get out in front of the dip.

Example: Desktop telephone technology training for example may become outmoded because of mobile business communication devices and intranet-based talk devices which have Ma Bell headed in the same path as newspapers and mail order catalogs.

Most verbal conversations are far less relevant today than concise messaging, consistent across business domains, delivered electronically and unrestricted by outmoded technologies like desks, large administrative pools and land-lines. Are we training and consulting to that reality?

The economy simply sped up the transformation process - a change in relevant OD strategy is long overdue, I say.
Comment by Karla Porter on December 9, 2009 at 5:32pm
No way..... you know Janice?

In all seriousness, though I most identify with Blake's take on OD, if we're discussing T&D I'll have to say that the MSA in which I live has not seen a significant downsizing. What it has seen is "do more with less", and tasked trainers with becoming more creative, requiring them to write more of their own material.

I don' think it's a bad thing. Because training budgets are usually the first to be tapped into or reallocated I'm thinking it's LMS vendors who have had it the roughest. What have LMS vendor companies been doing the past 18 months? If they have hung on hopefully they have also been furiously improving their products in anticipation of wooing training dollars when they again become available.

However.. I can develop myself via online/LMS courses from the comfort of my laptop anywhere. Not sure I need a trainer.. Others surely feel the same and equally dread being herded into a training room filled with squishy toys, scented markers, role play and tootsie rolls.

Maybe you are right....
Comment by Valentino Martinez on December 9, 2009 at 11:56pm
OD has not rides on the shoulders of those who can carry it. T&D continues to be essential as long as the future stays unpredictable.

And lumping people into simple generational codes simply because they chronologically fit into one is very much like judging them based on their Zodiac sign. Peter Drucker got to be as old as dirt and is now dead but still speaks to all ages on the logic of sustaining and carrying a viable business forward. So a boomer may be a boomer but there is no law requiring them to act their age.

OD processes are dependent on who carries them forward to positive outcomes...regardless of the technology that rules the day. A simple power outage can cripple the most sophisticated technology, but not those who can operate in sunshine and rain...e.g., Apollo 13.
Comment by Charles Van Heerden on December 10, 2009 at 12:28am
Just building on the discussion, most of the post related to T&D. I see the distinctions differently. OD is fundamentally about building capability in organizations, including through transformation and change management. T&D is one of the enablers, as highlighted by Blake.

In my experience, the implementation of a new system requires project management to drive the technological changes, work flow changes and process improvements. By contrast, transformational change involves large-scale change management, involving a clear and compelling case for change (building awareness of the need for change), ongoing communication (building the desire to change), training (building the knowledge to change), resources (developing the ability to change), and aligning systems to support the change being embedded into the organizational culture (reinforcing the change for long-term sustainability).

In the model I've used here T&D supports large-scale paradigm shifting - the people side of change. There are many business where OD and T&D are viewed as a critical part of the business. I know of one leading organization that has just created an OD role reporting to the CEO.

The need for change remains and the organizations that will be successful that are realizing the value of a strategic OD approach to building sustainable capability. This equally applies to continuing to grow and develop employees, otherwise the organization will not have the skills needed for the current and future strategies, which will lead to a slow and painful death.
Comment by Karen Lynn on December 10, 2009 at 11:09am
I'm following this conversation because it matters to me. Some of the comments (streams of thought) are hard to follow but it seems clear that role distinctions (labels and definitions) are important here. I think Charles laid out some important distinctions.

But is this stream of thought about defining OD or T&D roles important to the business leaders who are struggling to 'survive' the recession and the storm of market trend tides?

My question is: who is actually doing this work now in the majority of contemporary companies? One OD leader? or a small executive team of department heads (run more like a start up)?

Now that companies trimmed up the fat with layoffs, are running lean machines similar to the start up phases of business and decimated OD and Learning and Development departments, how do we get back in there? What role do we play? Can we offer anything essential?

Concrete ideas might be more helpful than philosophy / theroy.
Comment by Karen Lynn on December 10, 2009 at 11:14am
I recently responded to a T & D job announcement by pushing my business acumen skills more than my my training skills (business analyst vs a one note training professional).

Too early to tell if it worked but what do you think about that approach?
Comment by Margo Rose on December 11, 2009 at 10:22am
Killer comments Karen, Karla, and Charles, and Blake. I believe these are some of the very best comments I’ve ever had on this blog from its inception in terms of content knowledge, and intention. First, you are correct: O.D. and Training are not the same, but they do get lumped into the same boat. Second, we have to speak in business terms, not in sub industry lingo. If we want to have leverage with senior staff, and people at the CEO level, we have to be able to make tangible case for our value to the business. As a friend of mine says, we have to be business people in HR/OD not HR/OD people in the business. Next, point: I want a solution, but as you said, be careful what you call it. As discussed, I wouldn’t go to a proctologist and ask him to remove my wisdom teeth. Nor would I ask the VP of Sales to conduct an organizational assessment. We have to be clear about our roles and what we contribute. On the other hand, we have to be able to communicate, and articulate what we are doing in a way that conveys meaning. One day, we will come to terms the fact that OD interventions (barfy buzz word) do have a place. But, as in any service there are good adaptations and bad. My practice and experience bears the following to be true-there is a place for organization analysis when the culture is toxic, dysfunctional, or causing business failure. Unfortunately, many of these organizations either cannot afford to conduct the analysis, are blind to their problems, or don’t care about the consequences until it is too late-and the business starts falling apart. It’s the healthy organizations that take their temperature, and if there’s a fever, they take the appropriate remedy. I’ve conducted organization analysis, presented my findings, and have leaders look at me and say, “this is great, we know, but we don’t want to work on that problem right now…or interesting, Margo-but we can’t afford to conduct the follow up at this time.” There’s nothing more frustrating than taking a look at the condition on an organization, identifying their goals and where they want to be, analyzing the gaps, only to find the organization is willing to spend the money on the study, but not on the recommended soultions. This leads me to my next comment: why pay for a service and not take the service providers advice. That makes about as much sense as visiting your doctor, being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, and after serious warning, binging on candy and not take the insulin. Obviously it would kill a diabetic. Doesn’t the same hold true for organizations? With businesses folding left and right, I wonder how many spent thousands of dollars on consulting fees and studies before they folded? Sure as a CEO, Steve you can feel my pain. It’s one of the reasons OD is dying. With that said, the necessity for good analyis, followed up by rigorous action will never die. Long live O.D. Thank you for visiting my blog. You absolutely and totally made my day.
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