O.D. Institute Newsletter
The Socialization of OD Practitioners
Terry R. Armstrong, RODC firstname.lastname@example.org
The education of the OD Practitioner has changed since the inception
of OD. It will probably change even further as new entrants
join the ranks, adaptations to expectations about what is and
isn’t OD emerge and the field itself changes. What I will
be describing in this essay is a compilation of what I have
seen as an OD Practitioner and Educator as well as what I have
heard from others about the early days of OD in the U.S.
I realize there was a parallel development in Europe and that
there have been sporadic interactions between U.S. and European
OD professionals. I will look at this short history in
terms of how OD Practitioners have developed and been educated
in the U.S. This will provide a backdrop to my brief
discussion of the challenges facing OD as a discipline and suggested
actions that need to be taken by the discipline.
very brief history
early days, 1940s and 50s, people learned about the field through
NTL and the works of people such as Kurt Lewin, Eric Trist,
Saul Alinski, Ronald Lippitt, Lee Bradford and Kenneth Benne.
There were many others, of course, that followed this early
group of leaders, but much of the awareness and training came
from having direct contact with these early founds or their
immediate cadre of followers.
During the 1960s many were introduced to the field through social
action projects such as the War on Poverty and the Peace Corps.
A large number of NTL folks were trainers for the Peace Corps
and various War on Poverty programs. NTL’s publications
also were influential.
In the 70s the concern for productivity in industry and Affirmative
Action legislation spurred a demand for people with knowledge
about organizational change. Individuals learned about
the field from their work place and organizations started to
promote people into formal OD positions who had no or little
training or exposure to OD. Many were engineers, technical
trainers, personnel people, teachers and pastors armed with
University Associates Annual Handbooks. If they were lucky
they were sent to an NTL course but most entered the field simply
because of the demands on the organizations for which they worked.
As might be expected, many of these people soon left the field
but some actually stayed and became productive crafts-persons.
Also during the 70’s a number of universities began masters
programs and a few doctoral programs and these became serious
training grounds for new OD practitioners.
During the 1980s large management and accounting consulting
firms started hiring MBAs and graduates from OD programs but
borrowed and relabeled what had been OD into branded proprietary
products. The 80s was a decade of repackaging OD and marketing
it. By this time a number of influence-makers were claiming
that OD was dead or had been co-opted by the large firms and
used for corporate rather than social ends. People were
being socialized into OD and getting much of their training
through the consulting firms.
During the 1990s “free market economics” drove organizations
to outsourcing and many employees were “fired” or received severance
packages. Many of these unemployed professionals began
“reinventing themselves” as OD consultants and the market became
flooded with a wide range of folks most unprepared or untrained
in the field of OD. A demand, especially outside the U.S.,
for certification and credentials began to grow. Since
9-11 the concerns for social action, personal growth, productivity,
and team-work have been replaced by a concern for individual
and national security and a turning towards economic and social
facing ODC as an academic discipline
what I have outlined in my very brief history of OD it should
be apparent that the academic discipline has played a rather
minor role in the development of the field. I would argue
there is no academic discipline of OD. Until very recently
most of the research has come from the various social science
disciplines and most of the influence has come from the “Field”
and has been experiential and reflective rather than discipline
OD as a field was originally driven by values rather than theory
or research. An early attempt at “Accrediting OD Academic
Programs” focused on:
and teaching OD theory
and reflection on OD ethics
an experiential component in degree programs
socialization into the field
Since then several efforts at identifying competencies have
been undertaken by the Organization Development Institute and
the ODC Division of the Academy of Management.
Actions that need to be taken
complete history of OD needs to be written and all students
should have an understanding of OD’s history
OD research needs to be stimulated. This will primarily
come from a handful of doctoral programs.
and creative research methodologies need to be created
with practitioners needs to be initiated. Research
needs to be based on praxis as well as theory.