What makes a commercial head of OD?

Written by
Changeboard Team

20 Sep 2011

20 Sep 2011 • by Changeboard Team

For starters, what is OD?

The OD role is one of those few roles that are mysterious and misunderstood, mostly by those who have never had one in their organisation. In fact, your organisation is either one that's committed and passionate about OD, or it doesn’t have such a role and probably never will. You tend to find these roles in European or very large and complex companies. If you're recruiting a head of OD for the first time, it's most likely that you have used consultants to perform this role to date. 

So what does a Head of OD do? What does OD actually stand for? Is it organisation development, organisational development or organisation design? And how does this differ from organisation effectiveness? One of the first challenges in appointing a commercial Head of OD is defining what you want the role to do. This may seem obvious but given the confusion about OD it's important to be clear what they will deliver and how they will interact with other functions.

There are many definitions of organisational development and even the website www.ODportal.com admits there's no single definition. In my experience, the most common outcome of the OD function is a workforce that works more effectively and productively together in furtherance of the company strategy.

What characteristics make a commercial head of OD?

As a head of OD, you must be able to articulate the company strategy in terms of the workforce design, culture, behaviours and working practices and processes that will drive the strategy. You should know how to analyse the gap between this desired state and the current state. You should be able to design, plan and cost the interventions that bring about the desired change and you should be able to place a financial value on the target state e.g. how it will affect sales, what costs it will save, what financial risks it will mitigate.

Finally, you must have actually implemented these interventions and produced the desired result, or something close to it, both in human terms and financial outcomes. 

One of the key attributes that sets commercial Heads of OD apart is their ability to combine their belief in human potential with a focus on business outcomes. They understand how human endeavour and organisational purpose can be combined to create mutual benefit to the employee, the customer and investors. They won’t flinch about recommending tough actions that make the company more effective but neither will they lose sight of how the manner in which these actions are decided and implemented will impact on employee engagement.

What does it take?

Being a commercial Head of OD requires courage - the courage to challenge divisive and damaging decisions that pursue short-term or personal goals at the expense of the overall health of the organisation, the courage to recognise when an organisation has lost its way and to help steer it away from disaster, the courage to act in the company’s interest rather than any one person’s interest. Such courage is based on a desire to make the organisation great not just successful.

Every company fulfills a role in society, depending on the desirability and utility of its products and services. However, the one thing they all have in common is that they also provide a means of channeling the potential of its employees to produce meaningful and valuable work. The truly commercial OD leader knows how to bring these two purposes together to create mutual success resulting in specific and lasting performance outcomes for the company. This is what makes companies great - the ability to create a win-win for all involved and sustain it over time.

So, when you next interview an OD candidate, have the courage to ask them what difference they have really made to both the company and it’s employees; how they made that company greater than before. But don’t accept vague answers and assertions that they made a difference, ask them for evidence of this impact. As we all know, commercial success is not built on good intentions alone.