Internal and external OD & D consulting

A friend has just asked me what she can expect moving from being an internal to being an external consultant in the field of organisation development and design (OD & D) and how she should prepare herself for the move.

It’s too easy to look at two-column tables that highlight the differences.  I have one from Gary McLean’s book Organization Development: Principles, Processes, Performance . This tells me, for example that internal consultants ‘know the organisational culture better than an external can ever know it’ while external consultants ‘do not have pre-knowledge of the organisational culture, so do not enter the process with any preconceived notions.’   And, ‘[Internal consultants] have relationships established that can get cooperation more quickly’, while external consultants are ‘Often given more respect by insiders because they are not known except by reputation’.  You can see another table adapted from Field Guide to Consulting and Organizational Development here.

At first glance these differentiations look ok but take a more critical look and you’ll see several assumptions around the statements. For example, can we safely assume that external consultants do not come to an organisation with preconceived notions?

Additionally, the lists appear binary – know the culture/don’t know the culture.  In terms of giving support to someone making the transition from internal to external consulting, the statements are not that useful. They are superficial observations not actionable insights that would help my friend get to grips with a different take on what is often perceived to be a similar role.  Consultancy.UK, for example, states, ‘An internal consultant is, at first glance, just like an external consultant: a professional that is hired to solve an organisational problem and implement the solutions in order to improve the performance of an organisation.’

More importantly these types of comparisons don’t address how:

  1. Theories and approaches to OD & D are evolving
  2. Changes are being made to way the OD & D is being ‘done’ in organisations (assuming it is ‘do-able’ see last week’s blog)
  3. The evolution of theories of OD & D and the way it is done has a consequential impact on the role of internal and external OD & D consultants and the relationships and interdependencies they are part of

O & D is about changing aspects or the whole organisation.  As Sturdy and Wylie find ‘change has become normalised or business as usual in many contexts’ and, to paraphrase, that rationalist theories that suggest that ‘change’ is a ‘thing’ amenable to linear, planned and structured approaches, is shifting towards theories that change is complex, ‘fragmented and incoherent’.

This evolution is leading to thinking that OD & D is less of specialist/expert capability and more of a generic leadership/management capability,  or even a whole organisation one which is ‘dispersed and decentred’ in a number of ways including through various individuals, formal teams and informal groups.

If OD & D consultants are to migrate from structured approaches e.g. Appreciative Inquiry’s four step model of discovery, dream, design, destiny/deliver, and if OD & D is becoming accepted as both a management capability and an organisational capability then what does that mean for the expert OD & D consultant?

It means thinking about a different ‘offer’.  This is a challenge to management consultancy in general, as managers become less commanders, and more consultants themselves.  McKinsey, for example, is one consulting company changing its offer.  It ‘is targeting medium-sized companies, which would not have been able to afford its fees, by offering shorter projects with smaller “startup-sized” teams. As it chases growth, the firm is also doing things it used to eschew as being insufficiently glamorous. In 2010 it moved into business restructuring and it has also set up a global strategy “implementation” practice. That is a far cry from the days when its consultants stuck mainly to blue-sky thoughts in their ivory towers.’

This shifting landscape me wondering what I can tell my friend to expect as she moves from internal to external OD & D consulting.   Some thoughts:

  • On the whole context shift that I outlined above she can expect to have to keep a close watch on organisations she is interested in a see how their approach to hiring and using external consultants is changing, although for this she’d have to have access to insider knowledge.
  • She can expect to have to keep her own skills honed as the theories and practices of OD & D change.  I wrote on this topic in 2014 and re-reading the piece I can see an update is necessary as skills required have moved on since then.
  • As OD & D becomes a capability reliant less on individual expertise and more on collective capability she can expect to act more as a coach, mentor and support to managers (assuming her knowledge is current or even in the vanguard of thinking).
  • In terms of her own job satisfaction she can expect to feel a range of emotions that are different from those she might have felt as an internal consultant.  There’s the financial insecurity, the worry about business development, and the isolation if you go-it-alone.  These types of downsides are balanced against the autonomy to accept or reject work, the ability to develop skills and experience by working with a variety of organisations, and the opportunity to meet and build relationships with more people than you typically meet as an internal consultant.

What do you think she can expect as she moves from an internal to an external OD & D consulting role?  Let me know.

Image:  Henry Moore, Upright Internal External Form

Organization design: a toolkit of toolkits

Need a tool?  Look in the toolkit?  But which toolkit and which tool?  I’m often scrambling around looking for exactly the right tool for the piece of work that I’m engaged in.  I’ve got a very extensive toolkit myself garnered over the years.   At some point I’m going to categorise and order them so I don’t have such difficulty locating them when I’m looking.  I know I have them somewhere.  I’d like a virtual pegboard with the painted-on outline of the tool, so I can easily spot which ones are missing from their peg.

I also have a number of off-the-shelf toolkits: do-it-yourself starter kits as it were.  Here are ten of them with brief notes. Each one is free and downloadable.   I’m not specifically recommending one over the other.  Like any off-the -shelf pack they all have some useful bits and some that you may not use but come as part of the kit.   (See also my blog ‘Skateboards and Speedbumps’)

1              Virtual crash course in design thinking. This is a Stanford D-school, 90 minute  online version with video, handouts, and facilitation tips.  It goes step by step through the process of facilitating a design challenge.  I first used it with a group of 30 to redesign our organisational room booking system.  People loved the interactivity and the fact that they were able to collectively redesign the system from a user perspective in ways that we can take forward.

2              Brains, Behaviour, and Design toolkit   Someone told me about this toolkit around 5 years ago and I’ve used elements of it in many workshops. It’s billed as ‘five tools to help designers apply findings from the field of behavioral economics to their practice in order to provide a head start on framing research as well as developing new strategies for solving user problems.’ The tool I use most frequently – and have used it this week – is the one on Losses and Gains.  It’s really helpful in situations where people’s only focus is on their loss of something in a situation – for example, their own desk if we’re moving to hot-desking.  Having a discussion on what they might gain gives another perspective.

3              The Iriss toolkit has been designed to support people to consider community and societal issues particularly in health and social care.  But don’t be put off if you’re not in that sector.  It’s got a wide range of tools that are easily adaptable to other contexts.  The D-Cards (Difficulties, decisions, deliberations) tool comprises nine ‘think’ cards for planning and preparing for difficult discussions, and 13 ‘activity’ cards which present methods that can be done in a group. ‘The cards explain what the process is, it’s purpose, how to engage in this process and what we thought did and did not work when engaging in this process.’

4              IDEO Human Centered Design Toolkit You can download a free pdf of the design kit by signing up.  I downloaded mine several years ago (mine is second edition) and haven’t checked if the one currently available for download is the same as that or not.  However, mine is in three chunky sections:  hear, deliver, create, each with instructions, methods and case studies.  I’ve found the the P.O.I.N.T. technique useful.  In this you translate problems and needs identified in storytelling (one of the methods) into insights (also a method) and Themes. P = Problems, O = Obstacles, I = Insights, N = Needs,T = Themes

5              NHS Developing Together OD Toolkit – in this toolkit OD means organisational development.  It’s extensive, well-written and practical, without neglecting the theory.   It takes as a start-point that OD is “an interdisciplinary and primarily behavioural science approach that draws from fields such as organisation behaviour, management, business, psychology, sociology, anthropology, economics, education, counselling and public administration”.   This makes it a complement to the organisation design approach.  It’s well worth browsing though and I like all the additional references that it lists.

6              Frog Design Collective Action Toolkit.  This is lovely toolkit – well designed and presented.  It ‘uses an action map with activities arranged into six areas. All you need is motivation and enthusiasm to get started.’  Each of the six action areas has a number of immediately practical tools.  One group I worked with had great fun with the ‘Knowledge Hunt’ tool which asked them to ‘Find out what your team already knows about your group’s challenge— and what else you’d like to learn.’  It led to lively discussion, a lot of learning and several avenues to explore further.

7             DPSA Guide and Toolkit on Organization Design.  This is one from the Government of South Africa and is good for people looking for an organisation design phased methodology focused on structures.  It’s very detailed with 290 pages each phase described by process, tools and execution.  It’s got 76 excellent tools categorised by design phase, plus some helpful ‘Decision Points’  e.g. Decision point 1 ‘Is it a structural problem?’.

8            State Government Victoria, Organisational Design: an ideas source book.  This is another government’s guide to Org Design.  It takes a different tack from South Africa’s in that it is not as prescriptive and instructional, rather, saying ‘the publication has been developed to provide information, insights and advice that may be useful for organisational leaders working in any public organisation and thinking about adopting or abandoning any type of design’.  It’s an ‘ideas sourcebook’.  Striking (and welcome) is the statement ‘The fact is that there is an increasing number of organisational forms that cannot be simply illustrated by an organisational chart.’

9           Mind Lab Methods Cards This is a set of cards presenting Mind Lab’s ‘most used methods for policy and iterative design processes’.   The one on cultural probes is useful for gaining insight into ‘aspects of peoples’ daily lives, attitudes and values that do not emerge from traditional interviews’.  This is helpful in organisation design work when we are trying to work out the ‘say-do’ disconnects that pepper organisational life and that are part of the current design whether acknowledged or not.

10         Design Thinking Bootleg this, like the Virtual Crash Course mentioned above, is also from the Stanford D-school. It is ‘more of a cook book than a text book, and more of a constant work-in-progress than a polished and permanent piece.’ That said it is a good resource for some tools not commonly used, but that I’ve found are helpful, in organisation design work, like ‘Powers of Ten’ and ‘Why, How Laddering’.

11       Others I use which are also free and downloadable: HRBP Organization Design Toolkit ,  Good work ToolkitKelly Sears Organization Design Toolkit

What toolkits are in your toolkit?  Let me know.

Since writing the above I have found ‘The Nesta DIY Toolkit [that] has been especially designed for development practitioners to invent, adopt or adapt ideas that can deliver better results.’  And theSystems Thinking Toolkit‘ from FSG.


Image: Estate sale tools