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Organizational Development English Library

O.D. Institute Newsletter

 April 2005


What's to Become of OD?

Terry R. Armstrong RODC

What’s to become of O.D.?  In a recent conversation with Don Cole at his home in Chesterland, Ohio I brought up the issue that it seemed to me that during the 1980s large management and accounting consulting firms started branding proprietary products.  That the 80s was a decade of repackaging O.D. and marketing it as proprietary brands and that people were being socialized into O.D. and getting much of their training through the consulting firms rather than from the traditional ways of learning about and becoming socialized into O.D.

Don responded, “That’s because we haven’t yet become a profession.”

I congratulated Don for his insight and he just smiled as if to say why do you think I’ve been trying so hard to develop O.D. as a profession?  On my drive back to Washington through rain and fog I reflected on Don’s comment and mused about the future of O.D. as a profession.  I certainly recalled many of Don’s attempts at professionalizing O.D. such as encouraging Bill Gellermann to work on developing an O.D. Code of Ethics; Ron Sullivan to define competencies for O.D. Practitioners and Warner Burke to develop an O.D. test for professionals.  Also there has been the untiring commitment to the O.D. Journal to provide an outlet for research on O.D. and of course, providing two conferences a year to bring O.D folks together to discuss their work and provide a comfortable meeting place where O.D.ers from novice to accomplished professional could come together to learn from one another and share their insights, ideas and research.

Don and many others under the umbrella of the O.D. Institute have worked hard and long to develop O.D. into a profession.  I am afraid we still haven’t made it.  It had not occurred to me, however, that many of the complaints we now hear about O.D. have to do with our inability to create a profession.  No other organizational entity in O.D. has had as its goal the creation of an O.D. Profession.  Others have been devoted to research, networking, and promotion of O.D. and its practitioners. 

We O.D.ers often bemoan how others such as coaches, TQMers, strategist and even psychologist are moving into O.D. and packing it in profitable ways.  Many among our ranks sell themselves as management consultants, trainers, and gurus of all shades.  I have often though this had to do with the personalities of those who enter the field.  Many of them are entrepreneurs and individualist who don’t like anyone telling them what to do or how to do it.  In other words, we are an independent lot. How long can we remain radically independent?  We often talk to our clients about interdependence, co-creating designs, mutual trust, cooperation, valuing people, listening to employees and customers, collaborative management, etc.; however, we like running our own practices and doing O.D. our way.  I know I do.  Is that hypocrisy or just independence? 

There is something about these independent entrepreneurs that I like.  They take risk and have taken a lot of risk.  They often challenge the status quo and confront clients about needed changes.  Even Don Cole has been a challenger as well as an encourager.  There is a paradox that seems to be the hallmark of ODers; their ambiguity about power and control.  They love freedom and encourage change and resist being co-opted by the powers that be.  The very characteristic that have made O.D. and many of its parishioners successful also work against the professionalization of the field.  What’s to become of O.D.?  I suspect we will inch towards professionalization while resisting it.  We probably won’t become a powerhouse like medicine, law or accounting, but we will probably continue to be managed by the conscious of a few individualists who will attempt to keep our feet to the fire by reminding us of our potential.

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