Thursday, September 21, 2017

The OD Quest: Part 5 – Face to face with the antithesis?!


 "I don’t have an opening in my OD team now. But, you can join our recruitment team and do recruitment in the OD way”, I heard the Senior HR Leader telling a candidate who was hell-bent on joining the OD team. This was my fifth ‘encounter’ with this gentleman (See 'Passion for work and anasakti ‘, 'Appropriate metaphors for organizational commitment ‘ ,‘To name or not to name, that is the question’ and ‘A Mathematical approach to HR’ for the outcomes of my previous interactions with him).

I was a bit taken aback by what I just heard. I knew that often these kind of ‘solutions’ will end in tears or worse. However, similar to what had happened during my previous encounters with him, this interaction forced me to think a bit more deeply about the underlying issue - the application of OD(Organization Development) to the various functional areas in HR (Human Resource Management). That, in turn, has prompted me to write this series of posts on 'The OD Quest' where we will look at the possibilities  that arise when OD ventures into other parts of the people management terrain.

In the first post in this series (see The OD Quest: Part 1- Mapping the terrain) we did a cartography of the Human Resources (HR) and Organization Development (OD) domains to map out the current world (the terrain) inhabited by HR and OD and also the evolving worldviews in HR and OD (ways of looking at the terrain). In the second post (see The OD Quest Part 2 : Doing Recruitment in the OD way) we made a visit to the land of Recruitment and explored the value OD can add to Recruitment. In the third post (see The OD Quest: Part 3 – Rendezvous with L&D) we covered the Rendezvous with L&D
. In the fourth post we saw how OD can sweeten Rewards and make it ‘Total Rewards’ (see The OD Quest: Part 4 – Totally Rewarding) In this post, let’s take our OD Quest to a domain that has often been considered as the antithesis of OD – Industrial Relations (IR).

Prima facie, OD and IR make strange bedfellows. Isn’t IR  the rough and tough side of HR whereas OD is the gentle and soft side of HR? Doesn’t IR happen in the context of an essentially adversarial relationship whereas OD assumes a win-win relationship. Isn’t IR about tangibles (like wages and working conditions) whereas OD is about the intangibles (like culture & values). Isn’t IR the bread and butter stuff for HR while OD is more like the icing on the cake? Have you ever come across an HR professional who is an expert in both IR and OD? Doesn’t IR happen in reality of the shop floor whereas OD interventions typically happen off-site locations that are as far away from the work reality as possible?

To me, these questions are based on the stereotypes of IR and OD and are not based on reality (See Decoding the ‘IR mindset’ and ‘Organization Development Managers as Court Jesters’  for more details). Yes, these stereotypes have existed for such a long time that they have become some sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy. After all (organization) reality is socially constructed to a large extent. But if we go beyond the outward appearances, significant possibilities for value addition begin to emerge. Yes, in aspects like creating a congenial organization climate, the convergence between OD and IR are apparent whereas in other aspects we need look more carefully to see the convergence.

Let’s start with the most typical (stereotypical?) part of IR – collective bargaining leading to long-term settlements(LTS). There are often significant disruptions (at least distractions) to work before the LTS is signed.  Also the productivity improvement clauses in LTS are often notoriously difficult to implement. All these can be avoided if the process of working towards, signing and implementing the LTS is carried out as an integrated change management activity. Change management is the core skillset in OD and hence OD can be of immense value this case.

Another important area where OD can contribute to IR is Workers’ Participation in Management(WPM). Most of the WPM efforts remain ineffective or superficial as insufficient attention is given to the key enablers like working on the underlying assumptions and attitudes (of workers and management towards each other), building communication, trust and collaboration etc. OD can be of immense help in working on these enablers and hence can enable real and effective participation(WPM).  Similarly OD can be of help when implementing any sort of changes in the workplace (e.g. changes in production processes, introduction of new equipment & technology, multiskilling etc.). OD can also help in promoting attitudes and behaviours that enhance quality and industrial safety apart from creating better focus on distributive, procedural & interactive justice at the workplace.

Yes, there is often some inherent conflict in the union management relationship. However, conflicts exists between various group of employees also (e.g. between various functions). So the more effective way is to recognize the conflict and work on it and that is an area where OD can definitely help (See ‘A political paradox for HR and OD’ for a more detailed discussion).

It is interesting to note that there are fundamental similarities between OD and IR. While most of the HR processes (e.g. recruitment, performance management, career development etc.) impact the employees primarily as individuals both OD and IR deal mostly with groups. Understanding of the formation and evolution of groups and group dynamics is key to both IR & OD. By the way, OD is not only useful for the ‘management team’ of the  but also for the unions. After all union is essentially a group of people who have to work together. It can be argued that the need for group cohesion is the highest for the unions as their power (or even existence) comes from being able to act together as a group.

Where does this leave us? IR is not the antithesis of OD. IR is essentially about balancing (in the dynamic sense) the economic efficiency of organizations with equity, justice and the development of the individual to find ways of avoiding, minimizing and resolving disputes and conflict and to promote harmonious relations between and among the parties involved. OD can definitely add value to IR – especially in terms of change management, facilitating greater alignment with the vision, mission and values of the organization, enhancing communication, collaboration, psychological commitment  & trust and better sensing & management of the group dynamics.

OD can enable IR (Industrial Relations) to transition to Employee Relations (which goes beyond the collective bargaining level to include non-union organizations also where dialogue might be between employers and their employees, although with alternative bargaining structures) and then to Employment Relations (that looks more broadly at employment and the forces that impact it to enable greater cooperation between management and employee to add value to the organization). Yes, for this his to happen HR professionals need to go beyond the stereotypes about IR and OD and look at the core of the domains. Yes, it also means that OD and IR professionals have to spend more time working together! We must also remember that even in those situations where there is really a ‘thesis’ and an ‘antithesis’, we can find often find a ‘synthesis’ that integrates the thesis and antithesis at a higher level!

Any comments/thoughts before we take our OD quest to the next domain in the HR land?!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The OD Quest: Part 4 – Totally Rewarding!

"I don’t have an opening in my OD team now. But, you can join our recruitment team and do recruitment in the OD way”, I heard the Senior HR Leader telling a candidate who was hell-bent on joining the OD team. This was my fifth ‘encounter’ with this gentleman (See 'Passion for work and anasakti ‘, 'Appropriate metaphors for organizational commitment ‘ ,‘To name or not to name, that is the question’ and ‘A Mathematical approach to HR’ for the outcomes of my previous interactions with him).

I was a bit taken aback by what I just heard. I knew that often these kind of ‘solutions’ will end in tears or worse. However, similar to what had happened during my previous encounters with him, this interaction forced me to think a bit more deeply about the underlying issue - the application of OD(Organization Development) to the various functional areas in HR (Human Resource Management). That, in turn, has prompted me to write this series of posts on 'The OD Quest' where we will look at the possibilities  that arise when OD ventures into other parts of the people management terrain.

In the first post in this series (see The OD Quest: Part 1- Mapping the terrain) we did a cartography of the Human Resources (HR) and Organization Development (OD) domains to map out the current world (the terrain) inhabited by HR and OD and also the evolving worldviews in HR and OD (ways of looking at the terrain). In the second post (see The OD Quest Part 2 : Doing Recruitment in the OD way) we made a visit to the land of Recruitment and explored the value OD can add to Recruitment. In the third post (see The OD Quest: Part 3 – Rendezvous with L&D) we covered the Rendezvous with L&D
. In this post, let’s take our OD Quest to the land of Rewards that is also known by names like ‘Compensation & Benefits’ (C& B) and by more interesting ones like ‘Monies & Goodies’.

If we look at Rewards essentially in terms of compensation surveys, compensation structures and benefits the possible value addition from OD is not apparent with exception of facilitating deeper discussions around the compensation philosophy (the ‘why’ of what we do in Compensation &a Benefits and its alignment with the company values). However, when we look at Rewards as a tool to drive appropriate employee behaviors to achieve a particular set of business results, the possible value addition from OD  becomes clearer.  

Employee behaviors (and also employee engagement and performance) are driven by the ‘total employee deal’ offered by the company that include (in addition to compensation and benefits) factors like the organization culture, work environment, development & growth, meaning & purpose etc. OD plays a key role in enhancing these aspects. Most importantly, the underlying messages conveyed by the Compensation & Benefits provided by the company must be in sync with the messages conveyed by the other parts of the total employee deal. For example if an organization wants to provide a highly collaborative environment the Reward system should also support that. 

One of the ways to enhance the alignment between Rewards and OD is to jointly create a coherent and internally consistent ‘Employee Value Proposition’ or a ‘Total Rewards Statement’ that include all these dimensions. This would ensure better integration between the transactional aspects (traditionally the domain of Compensation & Benefits) and the relational aspects (traditionally the domain of OD) of the total employee deal. Please see ‘Of Rewards, OD and Passing the buck’ for more details. For example, it creates cognitive dissonance when the organization looks at salary purely as a 'matter of supply & demand' and at the same time wants the employees to develop a deep emotional connect with the organization beyond the rational connect  (or even consider the organization as their extended family).


Reward systems must focus on what is valued in the organization (stated values of the organization). Clarifying these values is an area where OD can help. There must be a clear connection between the valued behaviors and the Rewards. Money speaks louder than words! So if there is a disconnect between the espoused values of the organization and what is actually rewarded, the employee behaviors would be influenced by what is rewarded. It is also a sure way to lose credibility and trust.

Another very important contribution that OD can make is to better manage the formation and evolution of the psychological contract. While salaries are more in the domain of the employment contract, the way salary negotiations are conducted during the various phases of the employee life cycle can have a huge impact on the formation and evolution of the psychological contract and hence outcomes like employee engagement, performance and retention. Please see ‘Of Salary negotiations and Psychological contract’ for more details. Also, how Reward decisions are handled (especially when the organization is not doing well or when the organization can afford to drive a hard bargain with the employees) with both shape and reveal the organization culture and values.


OD can help in facilitating better change management around the changes made to compensation and benefits (especially on tricky ones like discontinuing a benefit or redesigning incentive/variable salary schemes to derive more value). Of course, it works the other way around also. When OD is driving an organization-wide change management effort, Rewards can be of immense help by rewarding the desired (new) behaviors/ways of working and hence facilitating them to take root. For example, if the organization wants to build a more performance-driven culture, increasing the level of differentiation in Rewards for the various levels of performance can be a key enabler.


So where does this leave us? OD can add a lot of value to Rewards. OD can help Rewards to evolve from Compensation & Benefits to Total Rewards! We can say that the application of OD makes Rewards better just like ‘sugar sweetens milk’ in the famous story* about Parsis. Of course, it is important to keep working on the Rewards & OD partnership to take it to higher levels of excellence and to ensure that things doesn’t fall through the cracks (or fall in ‘no man’s land’). Considering that we are on an OD quest and not a conquest continuous exploration of the possibilities of the Rewards and OD partnership definitely fits into the spirit of the OD quest!

 The story goes something like this.: Parsis came to India fleeing from persecution in their Motherland Iran and landed in Gujarat. There they approached the local king Jadi Rana and requested asylum. Jadi Rana motioned to a vessel of milk filled to the very brim to signify that his kingdom was already full and could not accept refugees. In response, one of the Parsi priests added a pinch of sugar to the milk, thus indicating that they would not bring the vessel to overflowing and indeed make the lives of the citizens sweeter. Jadi Rana gave shelter to the emigrants and permitted them to practice their religion and traditions freely. Parsis are still adding “sugar” to our lives!

Any comments/thoughts before we take our OD quest to the next domain in the HR land?!

Monday, April 24, 2017

Remarkable Encounters - Part 1 : Teacher

It is said that we discover some parts of ourselves only in the context of our interaction with others. Some of these interactions are so enriching that they leave us feeling more complete, integrated, alive and human. In this series of posts, we will look at the impressions from some of the remarkable encounters I have had. To be of greater relevance, I have grouped these interactions into categories based on roles. In the first post, we will look at my impressions from an encounter with a remarkable teacher.

I have learned much from you, and it is not limited to what you have taught.

I have taken much from you, but I haven't diminished you. A lamp that lights another lamp Is not diminished in the process.

You taught straight from the heart, with your deeds amplifying your words. True integrity is the integration of thoughts, words and actions.

You gave me the courage to accept what I have known all along and to stand on your shoulders to see what you never been able to see. You gave me the benefit of doubt, perhaps more than what I deserved.

You encouraged me to experiment with new behaviors and perspectives and to discover the joy of learning . You discovered potentials in me that I could not recognize myself.

Yes, you have often cut me very deeply, to open up my channels of learning. But you used a surgeon's blade and not a butcher's knife and that too with infinite care and compassion.

You enabled me to be more of myself with all my peculiarities. For it is in our sharpness and not in our well-roundedness that we become unique and truly human as individuals.

You have demonstrated so beautifully that the teacher and the student can learn together.

In a world with so much information and so little understanding, a great teacher can indeed be the bridge from sight to insight. Yes, I do feel blessed, in more ways than one, that our paths have crossed!

Friday, March 10, 2017

The OD Quest: Part 3 – Rendezvous with L&D

"I don’t have an opening in my OD team now. But, you can join our recruitment team and do recruitment in the OD way”, I heard the Senior HR Leader telling a candidate who was hell-bent on joining the OD team. This was my fifth ‘encounter’ with this gentleman (See 'Passion for work and anasakti ‘, 'Appropriate metaphors for organizational commitment ‘ ,‘To name or not to name, that is the question’ and ‘A Mathematical approach to HR’ for the outcomes of my previous interactions with him).

I was a bit taken aback by what I just heard. I knew that often these kind of ‘solutions’ will end in tears or worse. However, similar to what had happened during my previous encounters with him, this interaction forced me to think a bit more deeply about the underlying issue - the application of OD(Organization Development) to the various functional areas in HR (Human Resource Management). That, in turn, has prompted me to write this series of posts on 'The OD Quest' where we will look at the possibilities  that arise when OD ventures into other parts of the people management terrain.

In the first post in this series (see The OD Quest: Part 1- Mapping the terrain) we did a cartography of the Human Resources (HR) and Organization Development (OD) domains to map out the current world (the terrain) inhabited by HR and OD and also the evolving worldviews in HR and OD (ways of looking at the terrain). In the second post (see The OD Quest Part 2 : Doing Recruitment in the OD way) we made a visit to the land of Recruitment and explored the value OD can add to Recruitment. In this post, let’s take our OD Quest to one of OD’s closest neighbors – Learning & Development (L&D) also known as ‘Training’ (though the term ‘Training’ is becoming increasingly unfashionable especially for behavioral training)


OD and L&D (as opposed to OD and Recruitment) are often considered to be siblings or even twins. In some of the organizations they also live in the same house (function) called 'Learning & OD'. When OD becomes more like OE/Organization Effectiveness that focuses more on the 'structural' dimension (e.g. Organization structure, job design, congruence of structural elements, workforce planning etc.) as opposed to the 'human process' dimension and/or when L&D is clubbed with Technical/Functional Training, they are more likely to live apart, in terms of the boxes and arrows in the organization chart, often with unfortunate consequences!

When it comes to the nature of work, the boundary between OD and L&;D is not often clearly defined (and it varies significantly across organizations). Typically, individual level capability building is considered to be in the L&;D land and group and organization level capability building is considered to be in the OD land. ‘Coaching’ is a hotly disputed territory between OD and L&D. Territorial disputes also erupt when it comes to  ‘change management’/’mindset/culture change’ kind of training.   

To me, the separation between OD and L&D is arbitrary and counterproductive. Learning’ is defined as ‘sustainable change in behavior’ and OD is about ‘facilitating change’. So, it is very difficult to determine where one ends and the other begins. This is even more true these days when L&D has moved away from being primarily 'event-driven' and OD has moved away from 'conducting isolated ('hit and run')interventions'. Efforts to force a separation between the two often leads to 'things falling through the cracks'. More importantly, this can adversely affect the mutual value addition.

Let’s look at an example. One of the serious ‘crimes’ committed in the L&D land is that of ‘Training the victim’ where problems at the strategy/structure/process/culture levels are conveniently misdiagnosed as ‘capability issues’ and employees are sent for remedial training to fix their capability gaps (see ‘Training the victim’ for details)!  

A closer partnership between L&D and OD can improve the quality of the diagnosis/need identification and also help in better change management to sustain the ‘change in behavior’ and ‘transfer of learning’ as the OD function often brings in excellent diagnosis and consulting skills. Also ,OD can help a lot in terms of structuring the 70% (on the job learning) part of the 70:20:10 learning model (see ‘Truths stretched too far’ for more details).  Again, ‘Leadership Training’ often degenerates into some sort of ‘Corporate Rain Dance’  (see 'Leadership Training and Corporate Rain Dance' for details). Partnership with OD can help in addressing this also.

Similarly, large scale OD interventions often involve a lot of capability building where L&D can help. Again the L&D function often brings in significant program management capability that can be leveraged to enhance the effectiveness of the roll out of change management initiatives.

A closer partnership between L&D and OD also ensures that high impact domains like ‘coaching’ don’t fall through the cracks and that they are effectively addressed. Another key area where the collaboration between OD and L&D can add a lot of value is in enabling employees to transition from one responsibility level to another responsibility level that requires a different mindset in addition to a different skillset (See ‘Accelerated learning & Rites of passage’ for a related discussion).

So where does this leave us? OD and L&D can add a lot of value to each other. This works best when their ‘natural affinity’ (in terms of nature of work) is maintained in terms of organization structure. Hence an HR organization structure that combines the L&D and OD functions into ‘Learning &OD’ is much more likely to be impactful. This also facilitates better crosspollination of skillsets and a more integrated perspective!

Any comments/thoughts before we take our OD quest to the next domain in the HR land?!