Organization Development: Part 3, Evaluation

What is the difficulty with evaluating OD work? There are several reasons that I've come across

• There's very little client or consultant appetite for reviewing and evaluating effectiveness, so that part of the process doesn't get built into the proposal or business case. Without making an ROI case for the evaluation piece why should it happen?

• Designing a rigorous evaluation takes time and specific skills in research methodology, internal auditing, or similar.

• Organisational circumstances move on and the focus switches to the next thing so once an intervention is either designed or implemented it becomes time to lose interest.

• On a trade off basis clients would rather put money into the more visible pieces of work than the behind the scenes pieces of work (like evaluation).

• There are no standards against which to evaluate. So while there are, for example, bodies developing 'sustainability' standards, or 'green building' standards, or 'management' standards I don't know of any bodies developing OD standards.

To sum up the three postings (definition, theory, evaluation)

To my mind if there are no comparative OD frameworks and OD practitioners can't define something, can't consistently theorize on it, can't evaluate effectiveness of interventions, and don't have consistent practitioner standards, then they are vulnerable to budget cuts, derision from managers and analysts, and perhaps being the target of a Fast Company article on the lines of "Why we hate HR". Without the frameworks and the rigor OD can be dismissed as all smoke and mirrors. I think this matters.

Where does one go from this current state of affairs? Well there are many moves from individuals and organizations pushing towards more transparency and quality control (without loss of diverse approaches).

  • There is a strong OD Network in the US, with local chapters. It's strapline is 'advancing the theory and practice of OD'.
  • The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), UK has recently developed competency standards (part of their HR Profession Map) for OD practitioners.
  • The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) has an Organizational and Employee Development Newsletter and a selection of books on the topic
  • The OD Institute has a suggested Code of Ethics for OD consultants. (This is dated 1991, and 22nd revision, and I'm not sure how widely it has been adopted or disseminated since then).
  • Many universities offer degrees in the subject. One of the more widely known US ones at American University

What's lacking is, again, obvious collaboration between and among the key players – not necessarily to force standardization, but to help clarify for clients and potential clients what it is they are buying, the professionalism of the people they are buying it from, and how they will know that they are getting a good return on investment. One way of tackling this would be through an OD intervention like Future Search, or using a collaborative software like Imaginatik's – getting all interested parties in one forum to agree as a starting point, a standard definition and a code of ethics.