Consulting skills for HR or not for HR?

A few years ago I wrote an article published by Croner, 'HR and Organisation Development: what is the relationship? Is it going anywhere?' in which I said:

The history of the two disciplines [Human Resources and Organisation Design and Development – HR and ODD] makes it appropriate to ask whether they have the "gene compatibility" to converge. There are good arguments from both those who feel they should remain separate and also those who maintain either that OD is a subset of HR, or that HR is a subset of OD.'

I then explored the various arguments. Last week variants of this discussion surfaced again in multiple forums and in real life, not in theory. I won't go into the ins and outs of it but the sensitivities and tensions around it have caused me – well various emotions, thoughts, and reasons to consider the stances.

Not only that and in the usual synchronicity of stuff, this week I've been asked if I'd facilitate two workshops – two unrelated requests – later this year on skills for organisation design and development consultants, and I've been commenting on a capability guide we've been developing for internal consultants based on the Institute of Consulting's framework.

Additionally, we've been having a debate on whether HR Business Partners can be good ODD consultants.

So I'm back to similar questions I posed in the Croner article. Specifically on the HR v ODD skillsets I wrote that:

It is not sensible or right to "re-badge" HR practitioners (or training and development people) as OD people as happens in some organisations. (Notice this rarely happens the other way round). Neither is it fair to expect people to retrain or retool to one or other discipline if it is not something they want to do.

And I'm (still) of the view that an HR skillset and ODD skillset are very different. Note that way back in 1991 Robert Goldberg wrote an article now reprinted in the 2012 Handbook for Strategic HR: Best Practices in Organization Development from the OD Network in which he says 'Little did I know in my romanticized vision of becoming a change agent that the very factors that helped me succeed in human resources would be the major obstacles in my career in organizational development.'

Even though both HR and ODD fields have changed a lot since he wrote the piece I think it holds true. I regularly see many people with HR skillsets struggle to 'transform' into ODD consultants, and I still see ODD capability 'housed' in HR functions with an implied assumption that ODD is an HR 'thing' and thus subject to all the perceptions and reputations that HR has in an organisation.

But let's separate the 'thing' of HR and the relationship with the 'thing' of ODD and look the skills and capabilities that individuals need to become really good ODD consultants. We need people who can help organisations to solve issues, create value, improve business performance and find new and better ways of doing things, including developing their services, reducing costs and making savings, and growing/shrinking/changing the organisation. We need people who use their business skills to provide objective advice and expertise.

If we take this approach it doesn't matter what discipline they are rooted in, what matters is that are they are good consultants. Paradoxically, what we are looking for in a good consultant might also be what would be a good idea to look for in a good manager. An intriguing research study which formed the basis of the book Management as Consultancy, published in 2015, illustrates how the boundaries between management and consulting are changing.

Should ODD skills be vested in HR, in management, in specialist ODD consultants? Let me know.

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