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Helen Green

Quest Leadership

Leadership Collaborator

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Leading development


If I asked you to name the top reasons why organisational development (OD) fails in many companies what would your answer be? Setting aside the obvious answer, that for some leaders the day-to-day is so all-consuming they never get around to looking towards the future, it’s a fair bet that lack of resources, resistance to change, time challenges and legacy systems would all feature in many responses.

But there is one key factor which may not feature on many lists but which is critical to OD success or failure. That factor is the person who is tasked with delivering OD within an organisation. Why? Quite simply, because unless OD is directly linked to business strategy, it is never going to deliver the game changing synergies which are necessary in order to deliver success.

In smaller organisations there is a fair chance that the delivery of OD is firmly in the hands of the leadership team. Whilst leaving the responsibility for delivering the strategy in the hands of those who create the strategy can be challenging, not least in terms of time, in those circumstances it is hoped that the leadership team will have considered delivery implications when they created the strategy.

Success here will come from focusing on ‘vertical' (applied to the business needs) development in order to deliver maximum effect. Other factors to consider include the impact of change, overcoming barriers to change and return on investment. Here, leaders who are able to engage hearts and minds in the change and to communicate it effectively will have the greatest chance of engaging their employee team in seeking OD opportunities and delivering them in line with the strategy.

Appointing OD specialists

From our work with companies we have found that tying OD efforts to strategy is not always so successful when individuals are appointed as OD specialists. By the nature of their work, those appointed to deliver OD can be inclined to focus on the specialism of OD; trying to impose change on the organisation rather than seeking to deliver the strategy through OD.

This is where strong leadership and focus comes very much to the fore. Whenever internal or external OD specialists are appointed it is vitally important that they build a deep understanding of the business, strategy and goals before taking any action or making any recommendations.

Here again, it is the interaction between the leadership and the OD specialist which can ensure that OD efforts are directed towards delivering the strategy. Taking the time to explain, to develop understanding and to engage those who have been tasked with OD in the business vision, values and strategy may seem like a waste of resources in the first place, but ultimately it will pay dividends in terms of outcome

For example, let’s consider the case of a process which has been repeated on a weekly basis for decades. It is possible that the business has moved on and technology has improved and there is absolutely no reason for that process to continue. On the other hand, continuing that process may ensure that a vital piece of information is delivered regularly to a key customer or supplier. Without an understanding of the business, without stopping to ask why, it could be all too easy to make a decision which, whilst it may save time or cost, in the long run is to the detriment of the business.

Delivering OD

What does all this mean for those who are tasked with delivering OD within an organisation? Are they doomed to be micromanaged by a leadership whose sole focus is delivery of the immediate strategy? Far from it! In fact, OD specialists who need to be micromanaged aren’t really doing their job properly.

The fact is that although the leadership are ultimately responsible for creating the strategy, those tasked with delivering OD have an equally important role in helping to guide, define and deliver the strategy. But (and this is a big but) in order to be effective, those tasked with delivering OD have to take responsibility for linking their projects to business strategy, rather than applying blanket solutions.

Success therefore depends on getting connected to the key operations in a business and developing a deep understanding of investor and consumer and business drivers. Approach this in the right way and not only is OD linked to strategy, it becomes an intrinsic part of strategy delivery and development.




Author Profile Picture
Helen Green

Leadership Collaborator

Read more from Helen Green

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