Business, Connection, Development, Dialogue, Learning, Organisational Change, Reflecting

Working The Gap

Reading Sukh Pabial’s Blog  (@sukhPabial) post today, I thought it might be a good invitation to have a go at answering his “what am I for?” question.

I’m not getting existential in particular… It’s just I have been in a number of very good conversations of late about what this OD malarkey might be. I guess I’m also turning my mind to the upcoming  first Scottish L&D Connect event & sorting out my blog post for the next version of Humane Resourced where I’ll be writing more about my experience of working in an OD context (Hello to David D’Souza @dds180) .

I keep coming back to a drawing I sketched in Loudon’s bakery in Edinburgh, whilst talking with the deeply fabulous Julie Ashworth of Broadreach Consulting as we were processing out what we had just done..


This isn’t the original sketch – more of a distillation, following other conversations. On the left, I had the current reality – where the organisation is now. From here – questions form about what strategy and direction are you looking to move out from?

On the right is kind of where you land organisationally. You can see it as new world if you’re that way inclined. I’m less linear and fixed than that – I  see the other side as being shifting sands.

Which ever your metaphorical frame of preference, for me the OD work is in the gap. It’s working with the grey, unstructured, unnamed, nebulous stuff. We use structures ( Org charts, setting values, mapping internal brand, developing staff) to help us name and understand that gap, but essentially, every day we work with the predictable and the unexpected to move the core people part of the organisation from the Now to the Soon.

To be in OD is to have a grasp of HR and the technicalities ( legally, financially and politically) of change; it is to be future-focussed enough to look at the skills development and future-workforce needs through both a Learning and a Development perspective and crucially, it is to be able to articulate and argue for these; it is to have the PR and Internal Comms skills that ensures the organisation has good, clear communications to define a way for getting through that Gap. It is to hold the lack of ego to require the Big Recognition, but enough ego to know just how good you are in the face of constant questioning (And friends. You need friends internally and externally…but I’d argue that’s a fact of organisational life irrespective of which function you hang out in..)

My trope is that change happens in conversation – It’s part of what I truly came to understand through working with Ashridge – You’ll hear me say that a lot when you work with me.  This being the case, OD practitioners can’t control or predict every single conversation or outcome in an organisation – but they can set the parameters around that Gap and set good environments for conversations to happen ( even if the conversations are tough or unpleasant). They can understand the importance and significance of dialogue. They understand the importance of giving people time to process, contribute and reflect on what is happening around and to them

In this line of work, you dance in a whole world of don’t knows – you can make assertions that some stuff is likely, try to write the algarithm , ponder on the bell curve and  take calculated action, knowing that certain outcomes will mostly hold to be true… and then find yourself in a face-palm moment when the person who is One Down From God upsets it all at the staff meeting where she/he makes a snarky remark.

What am I for?  I’m for good, honest conversations about what is necessary and possible in organisations.

I’m for bringing practitioners together to have the sorts of dialogue and conversations that help us define and work in that damned lovely gap.

and I’m all for working to brighten up the grey.

The first Scottish L&D Connect Unconference will run on 20th February in Central Edinburgh. 

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