What’s the Soup (or Diagnosis) of the Day?

by Elham Assadi

There have been many discussions regarding how OD consultants should refer to themselves in order to fairly represent the skills and values they bring to the organization. The field of organizational development involves a mixture of different types of work, and many consultants seem to be becoming confused about what they should call themselves. OD consultants, Change Management Consultants, Leadership Development Experts, Business or Life Coaches, and whatever else sounds good, create a new mix for the soup of the day. And rightfully so, as the basis of OD work is to help organizations and improve the quality of working life for employees. OD consultants have developed many skills in order to support client organizations by looking at out-of-the-box opportunities. And sometimes when clients involve consultants in their daily organizational issues and problems, it is difficult for the consultants to automatically slow down and take the time to match the type of OD skills required to the variety of issues their client faces.

Consider the client as a patient who’s going to the doctor for diagnosis. The patient sits down and dumps all the issues that they have starting with a headache, stomach ache, nausea, coughing, etc. A good doctor, rather than saying, “You could have a brain tumor, or colon cancer, and a cold,” and giving the patient a prescription for all of the above, takes it one step at a time: first by understanding the big picture, then by narrowing down the problem through asking additional questions, and then by testing various possibilities before making the final diagnosis. The work of an OD Consultant is very similar to that of a doctor’s. The main difference is that instead of an individual, it is the well-being of an entire organization and the individuals in it that need to be considered.

The goal of this article is to provide an understanding of the wide variety of client needs, a mapping of the OD consulting skills needed to address them, and suggestions as to how the consultant appropriately responds to those needs.

One Step at a Time – May I Take Your Order?

In the early days of organizational development, when machines were replacing people on the manufacturing lines, OD consultants identified a gap in the system. That gap was the human factor in the organization as a system in itself. Therefore they called themselves Organizational Development consultants and the work that they did was to look at organizations, primarily using the Social Technical

Systems approach. Due to the nature of manufacturing organizations, this approach was more process based.

Then came the time of computers and the boom of technology, and OD consultants noticed the opportunity for collaborating with those in the field of IT. OD consultants started looking at IT infrastructure and employee adaptation to rapid changes associated with the growth of technology and systems. The term Organizational Change Management Consultants evolved, as did the practice of OD. The two types of work were almost one and the same, except that due to the nature of IT implementations, OCM required more visible project management skills.

Today however, with the ups and downs of the economy, and the flattening of organization structures, a new opportunity has unveiled itself. Organizational leaders need a survival kit. They need to change their way of working and look at the workforce in a different way than they used to. At this point, many OD consultants are referring to themselves as Leadership Development and Executive/Business Coaches in order to highlight their related skills in a way that is currently accepted by the business world.

Does this mean the work of OD Consultants has changed and they should no longer be known as OD Consultants? Or have OD Consultants simply redirected their work to the evolving needs of the business world? Should the name of this field be changed? Or should clients’ needs simply redirect our path in mapping OD skills to what will most add value to their organizations?

The answer is, nothing has changed. From the beginning OD consultants did the same type of work that they do today; however, depending on the clients’ need, the degree of support shifted from one skill to the next, and therefore a different subtitle is used to better describe this shift. Today, OD consultants need to simply look at OD as the bigger umbrella and everything else as a branch that supports it.

Additionally, OD language does not change. However, as the audience changes, the level and style of the language shifts. For example, the language used when talking with the C level is much more goal and economy centric; when involved in implementation, then OD language becomes quite tactically oriented.

In the next sections, we will take a look at situations that call on a variety of OD capacities used in various OD consulting work. We will use subtitles such as Business Strategist, Leadership Development and Training, and Executive Communication and Coaching.

Testing Various Possibilities – Would You Like to Try the Chicken Soup?

There are two levels of intensity or concentration of OD work. One occurs before the change is initiated and the second starts once the change is initiated. For both these levels the consultant uses all of their related skills; however, the depth of various parts of the

skill set is used differently at different times. Before the change is initiated, consultants need to work more on a strategic level with the heads of the organization. During this initial work with the client, consultants tend to use the skills that have been more typically considered OD work. Some examples are: visioning and business strategy development, business coaching and leadership development, and process skills.

Normally the initial activity with the heads of the organization results in some type of idea for change in the organization. These changes then need to be implemented. That’s when the next set of tools needs to be pulled out of our pockets. They include, but are not limited to such skills as executive communication, training plans, and meeting facilitation. This, however, does not mean that the consultant stops the more strategic work; it just means that the consultant has shifted from one side of the spectrum to the other. The graph below provides an overview of a project life cycle and shows the proportion of skills used during different stages of the work with the client organization.

Most of the work is with those at ground zero

Most of the work is with those at 5000 fit

Diagnosis – Here is Your Order!

Once the initial work with the client is completed, generally there are six different Change Implementation Categories into which all consulting activities fall.

1. Strategy Development: This is used when the board of directors or executive management of a company sense that something needs to change; either they’re not sure what it is, or if they know what needs to change, they’re not sure how to go about it. For example, when a company isn’t making their economic goals and numbers, they will often seek a strategy change. The consultant will use their OD skills to:

1) Build deeper relationships with the client through understanding the organization and its social technical system.

2) Facilitate, coach, and support the client towards a solid direction for the organization.

Once the direction is established, the client often realizes a need for further expertise and support in such areas as goal setting, visioning, articulating business strategy, leadership development, organizational readiness … in other words: implementation.

At this time, the type of consulting the client should consider using would be provided:

At the Executive level, by: Executive Coaches, Organizational Development Consultants, Leadership Development Consultants, Business Strategists, Facilitators, Graphic recorders

At the Project level, by: Executive Communication Consultants, Change Management Consultants, Process Consultants

2. Restructuring and Reorganization: Although this can happen as a result of a strategy development activity, it often takes place when a new management team is brought on board. For example, when the Board of Directors of a company decides to replace the CEO to bring in fresh ideas and change or when a C level or a VP level executive moves on to a new organization and takes his/her “entourage” along, their replacements tend to bring in the crew that they most trust. Restructuring and reorganization is also naturally initiated as a result of merger and acquisition, strategy development, and downsizing initiatives.

During these types of change implementation projects, the client normally needs support in creating organizational alignment: analyzing, understanding and updating job/position requirements and criteria, managing the related chaos, developing an exit strategy, etc.

These types of change implementations usually happen in collaboration with the HR function, and the types of consulting skills the client will look for can be provided:

At the Executive Level by: Executive Coaches, Organizational Development Consultants, Leadership Development Consultants, Facilitators, Graphic recorders

In the HR Organization and at the User Level by: Performance Management Experts, Job Analysts, Communication Specialists, Team Developers and Facilitators, Change Adaption Leads, Facilitators, Graphic Recorders

3. Culture Change: Mergers and acquisitions are inevitable triggers for culture change. With mergers and acquisitions come new people, new attitudes, sometimes new infrastructure, new policies and procedures and interaction, and generally new social and technical system paradigms. Also, leadership changes and rapid organizational growth (bringing in new employees and new products and services) ignite changes to the existing organizational culture.

Clients are looking to obtain support in terms of maintaining the existing culture or managing culture changes, goal setting, visioning and related activities. The types of consulting that will add value in these types of change implementations can be provided:

At the Executive Level by: Executive Coaches, Organizational Development Consultants, Leadership Development, Facilitators, Graphic Recorders

At the Organizational Level by: Team Building Experts, Team Developers and Facilitators, Change Adaption Leads

4. Re-Engineering: These types of changes normally happen as a result of Strategy Development activities as well as technical system changes. What this means is simply that organization revisits their business processes and ensures that they align with the new strategy or/and IT infrastructure, while also considering human processes. We’ve also seen some mini projects initiated through restructuring and reorganizations as well as culture changes.

SoX (Sarbanes Oxley) is a great example of when an organization needed to revisit not just their business processes, but how their IT changes required control points as well as employees complying with new processes and procedures. Another example of re-engineering is in manufacturing quality assurance areas where they change their processes as they validate and implement faster and higher quality-driven flows.

During these process re-engineering initiatives, the client can take advantage of OD and OCM consultant expertise in such areas as Gap Analysis, Process Analysis and Validation, and understanding dependencies.

Types of consulting that the client might use for support would be provided:

At the Project Level by: Process Managers, Change Project Managers, Training Managers, Communication Managers, Facilitators, Graphic Recorders

At the User Level by: Change Adaption Leads, Communication Specialists, Trainers, Training Coordinators, Web Designers, E-Learning Developers

5. Technology and System Driven Change: This normally results from some type of strategy development project, or restructuring and reorganization activity. Often big companies tend to develop multiple systems that do not interface, and therefore slow down organization interaction. Normally through a series of strategy development activities, the executive team decides to change or update their IT system infrastructure to keep up with their growth, or with client demand. Technology and System Driven Change can also be a result of a merger or acquisition when the organization goes through system integration or changes from one company to the next, in order to eliminate overlaps and duplication and streamline information sharing throughout the merged organizations.

The client normally gains the most advantage from OD and OCM skills in the areas of scoping and working with the human side of the project (or what we refer to as an adaption strategy), stakeholder and impact analysis, creating internal and external change roadmaps (depending on the size of the impact), translating IT and business languages, organizational readiness, etc.

Types of consulting the client might choose to bring on board are offered:

At the Project level by: Change Project Managers (more of a generalist), Global Communication Managers, Business Analysts (process specialists), Training Managers

At the User Level by: Change Readiness Managers (more of a specialist), Change Adaption Leads, Communication Specialists, Trainers, Training Coordinators, E-Learning Developers, Web Content Developers, Web 2.0 & Community Building Experts

6. Flexible Work Environment & Sustainability: These changes happen due to a variety of triggers. They include:

• Globalization and technology advancements in the virtual adaptability of the organization.

• Business strategies in terms of the organizational work requirement and its geographically disbursed employee base also result in these types of

changes. For example those companies that are more project- or sales-based require more collaborative work activities and tend to need a supportive work environment. Similar to an IT system implementation, the redesign of the space alone cannot be successful in terms of increasing collaboration, knowledge sharing, etc.

• Lastly, due to the new environmental efforts throughout the world, organizations often change their environmental setting and space design

in support of environmental use and sustainability. This comes about through IT, HR, and Facility collaboratively supporting the change implementation.

The client normally seeks support in understanding organizational readiness, their management decision making process, increasing involvement and enthusiasm of the organization.

Consulting skills that can add value to the client organization include the importance of the integration of Social Technical System within today’s agile organizations. Clients normally seek support provided:

At the Executive Level by: Executive Coaches, Organizational Development Consultants, Business Strategists, Facilitators, and OD experts who specialize in mapping environmental and organizational sustainability.

At the Project Level by: Change Project Managers (more of a generalist), Training Managers

At the User Level by: Change Readiness Managers (more of a specialist), Change Adaption Leads, Communication Specialists, Trainers, Training Coordinators, E-Learning Developers, Web Content Developers, Web 2.0 & Community Building Experts

Narrowing Down the Diagnosis for a Prescription – May I Wrap this Up for You?

How does a consultant know how to lead the conversation to an OD or OCM solution? The consultant will know by getting a snapshot of the organization today and comparing it to what it can be, based on the different change categories previously described. There are a number of ways consultants can ask questions to get a picture of the organization. The key is to listen actively to the client, and probe appropriately. Below are some examples of questions that could be asked. But remember, first the consultants need to understand which of the categories they need to probe for, keeping the client situation in mind. This is quite important as the consultant’s job as an OD or OCM expert is to diminish confusion for the clients and not overwhelm them with the variety of work that can be value add to their organization. Consultants need to narrow down the picture to what the client can take on at the time; Consultants need to meet the client where they are.

Opening Question Examples

• Knowing as much as you do about your company, if you were to categorize your organization’s number one change issue, under which of the following would you categorize it? Strategy Development

Restructuring and Reorganization

Culture Change


Technology and System Driven Change

Flexible Work Environment and Sustainability


• Knowing as much as you do about your company, which of the following do you believe your organization is spending most time on? Strategy Development

Restructuring and Reorganization

Culture Change


Technology and System Driven Change

Flexible Work Environment and Sustainability

Immediate Follow-Up Questions

What was your thought process when you categorized it in the way you did? What made you put it under that category?

• What are your organization’s key objectives and goals for this year?

• What are your key objectives and goals?

Additional Questions that Could Be Asked

• What’s your vision for what things will look/be like at the end of this project?

• What do you hope to achieve?

• How far does it make sense to you to go with the project in terms of pushing organizational boundaries?

• What has to go right for you to reach your goals?

• What is the level of change impact?

• Who do you believe will be impacted? What groups for now?

• What are your timelines and how do you think that would affect the impact of the change?

• What are some other changes your organization has recently gone through?

• How has your organization responded to change in the past?

• What was the level of leadership involvement?

• If success was achieved, how did they come to success and what did it mean to them; if they didn’t succeed, why do they think they didn’t?

• How would you measure your progress so far?

• What would you save in lost productivity and frustration if the quality of your critical leadership meetings markedly improved?

Note that there are many other clarifying questions that need to be asked after some of those questions above.

In summary, once again, the goal of this article was to provide an overview of the variety of client needs, mapping OD and OCM skills against those needs, and identifying what consultants do, do in terms of client needs and requirements. When consultants get

involved in clients’ day to day issues, they need to slow down and separate the client issues and their own skills and experiences to translate the type of work the client is asking for. They need to narrow it down to where to begin and where to concentrate their attention.

Elham Assadi can be reached at Sedaa, at eassadi@sedaa.net.

%d bloggers like this: