Organization Development, Shanghai

Running a two-day organization development workshop in Shanghai last week was food for thought. I was there at the invitation of the HR Excellence Center a membership organization that provides training, development, conferences, and other information to HR professionals. (Non-members can still participate in many of the events). It is run on similar lines to the UK's Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development and the US's Society for Human Resource Management.

Thirty attendees, for the most part from large multi-national companies, participated. The food for thought came through the huge variety of questions that participants asked. (Far from being reticent – as I'd been told to expect – there was consistent interaction, involvement, interest, challenge, and engagement.)

The course was designed to cover

Definitions: What is OD?
Scope: What does OD cover?
Steps: How do you do an OD piece of work?
Toolkit: What tools help in OD practice?
Knowledge base: Where do you go for OD information?
Developing skills: How do you improve OD skills?

And as the two days proceeded a raft of questions emerged related to these topics:

One set of questions was about the position and role of Organization Development in an organization. These included:
1. Should it be a separate function i.e. not part of HR?
2. If so, how should it be set up e.g. as an internal consultancy, as a center of excellence, etc?
3. What is the role of a separate Organization Development function e.g. expert in organization assessment and intervention design or deliverer of change projects?
4. What is the scope of the work typically done in OD functions?

A second concerned the handoffs and interdependencies with other parts of the organization. These included:
1. Are OD consultants content or process experts? When do we need to involve legal, finance, HR, etc?
2. How do OD consultants interact with HR Business Partners?
3. What are the respective roles of the OD consultant and the HR Business Partner – how are role definitions agreed in order to avoid conflict.
4. What is the relationship between the business strategy and the OD work?
5. What is the relationship between a central OD function and a local (geographic) function?

A third set related to the work an OD consultant does, including:
1. Is it just change management (and what does that mean)?
2. What level in the organization are OD consultants working at e.g. strategic or operational and organizational, management, group or individual?
3. How do we get the work – from HR, by internal business development, from the strategy department, etc?
4. How do we develop skills, knowledge, expertise and an OD toolkit?
5. What are the top three skills an OD consultant needs?
6. In what phase is the consultant's work most important: assessment, planning, delivery or evaluation?
7. Can an HR generalist (or specialist) become an OD consultant?

A fourth set was concerned with developing positive perceptions of OD in the organization including managing conflicts with managers and other departments. Here questions included:

1. How do we influence a manager whose decisions/points of view we disagree with?
2. What do we need to do to be called in at the start of a business change (e.g. an acquisition, a change of focus, the introduction of a new system, etc).
3. How do we get the respect and trust we need that will enable us to get involved in helping to shape the business strategy in a way that is in line with current and projected organizational capability?
4. How do we manage conflicts that occur in the organization?

These are all excellent and timely questions. Most of the participants are working for organizations where they are just beginning to think about OD v HR in the local (China) market, and what the strengths are that each discipline can bring to successful business growth. It's a great opportunity for Chinese OD practitioners to lead the way in developing an OD profession that is soundly based in consistent theory and practice, and well respected as a necessary business skill. Over the next few days I'll discuss each of the four areas of questions.