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Constant Change is the New Normal: it’s time to re-think OD. Guest post by Randy Rothschiller

hryaknobubbleIn our recent HR Executive Forum, a peer coaching community built by Suzanne Elshult of HRNow, some 20 or so of my peers and I explored “OD.” Two driving questions guided our discussions:



  1. What are the prevailing schools of thought around OD.
  2. Why should business leaders care about it?

I learned a lot from my peer HR Executives. Firstly, it was clear that OD does not have a straightforward meaning anymore. For that matter, I’m not certain that it ever did. It’s fuzzy. Certainly two widely recognized definitions were expressed amongst the group. For many, OD addresses the traditional boxes and lines form the org. chart of an enterprise. And to others, it refers to the development of a company’s effectiveness as it competes in the marketplace.

Wondering if there really is a well-recognized and widely used OD model, I took a moment to search the internet for the most common models out there. There are five common models: Galbraith’s Star Model (1960), Weisbord’s Six Box Model (1970s), Nadler and Tushman’s Congruence Model (1980), McKinsey’s 7S model (1980s), and Burke-Litwin Model (1992). By the way, search the internet and you’ll find that there are hundreds of models that exist.

The Galbraith “Star” model was widely recognized amongst our group as an effective structure for analyzing an organization’s effectiveness. It looks beyond the structure into alignment of polices and other levers that affect employee behavior. Since 1960, it has stood the test of time with books being written, and classes being taught about its theory and application.

Everybody agreed, however, that the “model” is strictly “eyes only” and top secret for Human Resources use. Attempts to educate the rest of the business on a framework of OD can be fruitless. For the rest of leadership, it’s less the journey than the destination. Just fix it! But we still know that it’s an organization-wide effort. This might be one reason for an emerging approach.

The latest trend in OD is “dialogical.” Sounds rather like HR mumbo jumbo to me. On the contrary! Dialogic Organizational Development means using open and ongoing conversation, or dialogue, throughout the organization. Through dialogue, leaders can elicit every day, common sense perspectives from the team, engage with their developing ideas, and learn ways to keep the company competitive in rapidly changing market conditions. Successful companies function as a community, where conversation is organic and dynamic; the way OD must be.

Dialogic OD has been around since the 1960s, but in the 80s it started to evolve and apparently is emerging as a more mainstream framework today. Learn more about it by searching the internet, or go to these links: “An Introduction to Advances in Dialogic Organization Development” at or “Dialogic Organization Development” at

Why should a company’s top brass care about OD? They shouldn’t. But I can’t help but want to shout: “you should care about OD because it’s THE biggest tool you have to evolve the company and drive results!” On a rational note, we should all be focused on our companies attaining success. Which means staying competitive and flexible in an ever-changing and evolving marketplace. HR knows that OD tackles change and we should care about OD for the rest of the leadership team.

As HR executives, we know that through OD, our organizations have the potential to change culture, build capacity, achieve goals and purposefully manage challenges in a dynamic environment. Regardless of the model, it’s the end goal that really matters: enabling a company’s effectiveness and helping it achieve success. We know that constant change is the new normal; HR and our tools must be nimble and “dialogical.” This forum helped me to re-think OD, and I left realizing I need to think even more about it.

Interested in re-thinking OD? Check out this article:




  • Suzanne Elshult says:

    Here are some other reflections I had coming out of this session:
    1) Line managers often come to HR and OD professionals hell bent on what they want – with a solution to a perceived problem that may not actually get at the root cause. This is testing our competencies as consulting/coaching professionals. Do we have the ability to ask the incisive questions that need to be asked to open up the conversation to a bigger narrative and encouraging our clients to question some of their assumptions and consider alternative strategies?
    2. Are we – HR and OD professionals – open to whatever the solution might be, regardless of where it takes us? We need to take out our need for quick wins and achievement out of the equation: get over ourselves!
    3. The conversation needs to be focused on the change/transformation that is emerging and how we engage people in the narrative and relationships, not so much change that is happening in a structured way. We need to listen more and act less (though this does not mean we don’t need any structure – if we align around models we can achieve better results faster). The crux lies in striking the right balance and allowing people to anchor change/transformation into “something” while staying fluid in the narrative. We cannot put solutions out as if they are the finish, but simply a way for us to get from A to B – think of it as stop gaps that help us get to the next major change.
    4. With the breathtaking speed of change in the market place, the destination is coming towards us faster and faster. Almost immediately after we put something in place we have to start looking for what to replace it with. For example, we have jobs today that may not have existed a few months ago and we will have jobs a few months from now that we don’t even know abut – there is just not enough time to create all the boxes. So, while we probably still need to hang on on to boxes to some degree, the reality is increasingly that what is in between the boxes – the informal narrative and network – is becoming more and more important in a context of increasingly virtual, global and matrixed organizations.

    Question: How do we get at the right balance between fluidity and predictability?

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