OD Practitioner Skills and Activities:Consultant’s Abilities, Marginality

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Organization Development ­ MGMT 628
Lesson 12
OD Practitioner Skills and Activities
Much of the literature about the competencies of an effective OD practitioner reveals a mixture of
personality traits, experiences, knowledge, and skills presumed to lead to effective practice. For example,
research on the characteristics of successful change practitioners yields the following list of attributes and
abilities: diagnostic ability, basic knowledge of behavioral science techniques, empathy, knowledge of the
theories and methods within the consultant's own discipline, goal-setting ability, problem-solving ability,
and ability to perform self-assessment, ability to see things objectively, imagination, flexibility, honesty,
consistency, and trust. Although these qualities and skills are laudable, there has been relatively little con-
sensus about their importance to effective OD practice.
Two ongoing projects are attempting to define and categorize the skills and knowledge required of OD
practitioners. In the first effort, fifty well-known practitioners and researchers annually update a list of
professional competencies. The most recent list has grown to 187 statements in nine areas of OD practice,
including entry, start-up, assessment and feedback, action planning, intervention, evaluation, adoption,
separation, and general competencies. The statements range from "staying centered in the present, focusing
on the ongoing process" and "understanding and explaining how diversity will affect the diagnosis of the
culture" to "basing change on business strategy and business needs" and "being comfortable with quantum
leaps, radical shifts, and paradigm changes." The discussion is currently considering additional items related
to international OD, large-group interventions, and trans-organizational skills.
The second project, sponsored by the Organization Development and Change Division of the Academy of
Management, seeks to develop a list of competencies to guide curriculum development in graduate OD
programs. So far, more than forty OD practitioners have worked to develop the two competency lists.
First, foundation competencies are oriented toward descriptions of an existing system. They include
knowledge from organization behavior, psychology, group dynamics, management and organization theory,
research methods, and business practices. Second, core competencies are aimed at how systems change
over time. They include knowledge of organization design, organization research, system dynamics, OD
history, and theories and models for change; they also involve the skills needed to manage the consulting
process, to analyze and diagnose systems, to design and choose interventions, to facilitate processes, to
develop clients' capability to manage their own change, and to evaluate organization change.
The information in Table.1 applies primarily to people specializing in OD as a profession. For them,
possessing the listed knowledge and skills seems reasonable, especially in light of the growing diversity and
complexity of interventions in OD. Gaining competence in those areas may take considerable time and
effort, and it is questionable whether the other two types of OD practitioners--managers and specialists in
related fields--also need that full range of skills and knowledge. It seems more reasonable to suggest,
whether they are OD professionals, managers, or related specialists. Those items would constitute the
practitioner's basic skills and knowledge. Beyond that background, the three types of OD practitioners
likely would differ in areas of concentration. OD professionals would extend their breadth of skills across
the remaining categories.
Based on the studies available, all OD practitioners should have the following basic skills and knowledge to
be effective:
1. Intrapersonal skills. Despite the growing knowledge base and sophistication of the field, organization
development is still a human craft. As the primary instrument of diagnosis and change, practitioners often
must process complex, ambiguous information and make informed judgments about its relevance to
organizational issues. Practitioners must have the personal centering to know their own values, feelings, and
purposes as well as the integrity to behave responsibly in a helping relationship with others. Because OD is
a highly uncertain process requiring constant adjustment and innovation, practitioners must have active
learning skills and a reasonable balance between their rational and emotional sides. Finally, OD practice can
be highly stressful and can lead to early burnout, so practitioners need to know how to manage their own
2. Interpersonal skills. Practitioners must create and maintain effective relationships with individuals and
groups within the organization and help them gain the competence necessary to solve their own problems.
Group dynamics, comparative cultural perspectives, and business functions are considered to be the
foundation knowledge, and managing the consulting process and facilitation as core skills. All of these
interpersonal competencies promote effective helping relationships. Such relationships start with a grasp of
the organization's perspective and require listening to members' perceptions and feelings to understand
how they see themselves and the organization. This understanding provides a starting point for joint
diagnosis and problem solving. Practitioners must establish trust and rapport with organization members so
that they can share pertinent information and work effectively together. This requires being able to
converse in members' own language and to give and receive feedback about how the relationship is
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To help members learn new skills and behaviors, practitioners must serve as concrete role models of what
is expected. They must act in ways that are credible to organization members and provide them with the
counseling and coaching necessary to develop and change. Because the helping relationship is jointly
determined, practitioners need to be able to negotiate an acceptable role and to manage changing
expectations and demands.
3. General consultation skills. OD starts with diagnosing an organization or department to understand its
current functioning and to discover areas for further development. OD practitioners need to know how to
carry out an effective diagnosis, at least at a rudimentary level. They should know how to engage
organization members in diagnosis, how to help them ask the right questions, and how to collect and
analyze information. A manager, for example, should be able to work with subordinates to determine
jointly the organization's or department's strengths or problems. The manager should know basic
diagnostic questions some methods for gathering information, such as interviews or surveys, and some
techniques for analyzing it, such as force-field analysis or statistical means and distributions.
In addition to diagnosis, OD practitioners should know how to design and execute an intervention. They
need to be able to define an action plan and to gain commitment to the program. They also need to know
how to tailor the intervention to the situation, using information about how the change is progressing to
guide implementation. For example, managers should be able to develop action steps for an intervention
with subordinates. They should be able to gain their commitment to the program (usually through
participation), sit down with them and assess how it is progressing, and make modifications if necessary.
4. Organization development theory. The last basic tool OD practitioners should have is a general
knowledge of organization development. They should have some appreciation for planned change, the ac-
tion research model, and contemporary approaches to managing change. They should be familiar with the
range of available interventions and the need for evaluating and institutionalizing change programs. Perhaps
most important is that OD practitioners should understand their own role in the emerging field of
organization development, whether it is as an OD professional, a manager, or a specialist in a related area.
The role of the OD practitioner is changing and becoming more complex, Ellen Fagenson and W. Warner
Burke found that the most practiced OD skill or activity was team development, whereas the least
employed was the integration of technology (see Table 1).
The results of this study reinforce what other theorists have also suggested. The OD practitioners of today
are no longer just process facilitators, but are expected to know something about strategy, structure, reward
systems, corporate culture, leadership, human resource development and the client organization's business.
As a result, the role of the OD practitioner today is more challenging and more in the mainstream of the
client organization than in the past.
Table 1: OD Practitioner Skills and Activities
Susan Gebelein lists six key skill areas that are critical to the success of the internal practitioner. These are
shown in Figure15. The relative emphasis on each type of skill will depend upon the situation, but all are
vital in achieving OD program goals. The skills that focus on the people-oriented nature of the OD
practitioner include:
·  Leadership. Leaders keep members focused on key company values and on opportunities and
need for improvement. A leader's job is to recognize when a company is headed in the wrong
direction and to get it back on the right track.
·  Project Management. This means involving all the right people and department to keep the
change program on track.
·  Communication. It is vital to communicate the key values to everyone in the organization.
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Problem-Solving. The real challenge is to implement a solution to an organizational problem.
Forget about today's problems: focus constantly on the next set of problems.
Interpersonal. The number-one priority is to give everybody in the organization the tools and the
confidence to be involved in the change process. This includes facilitating, building relationships,
and process skills.
Personal. The confidence to help the organization make tough decisions, introduce new
techniques, try something new, and see if it works.
Figure 15: Practitioner Skills Profile
The OD practitioner's role is to help employees create their own solutions, systems, and concepts. When
the practitioner uses the above-listed skills lo accomplish these goals, the employees will work hard to make
them succeed, because they are the owners of the change programs,
Consultant's Abilities:
Ten primary abilities are key to an OD consultant's effectiveness. Most of these abilities can be learned, but
because of individual differences in personality or basic temperament, some of them would be easier for
some to learn than for others.
1. The ability to tolerate ambiguity. Every organization is different, and what worked before may
not work now; every OD effort starts from scratch, and it is best to enter with few preconceived
notions other than with the general characteristics that we know about social systems.
2. The ability to influence. Unless the OD consultant enjoys power and has some talent for
persuasion, he or she is likely to succeed in only minor ways in OD.
3. The ability to confront difficult issues. Much of OD work consists of exposing issues that
organization members are reluctant to face.
4. The ability to support and nurture others. This ability is particularly important in times of
conflict and stress; it is also critical just before and during a manager's first experience with team
5. The ability to listen well and empathize. This is especially important during interviews, in
conflict situations, and when client stress is high.
6. The ability to recognize one's feelings and intuition quickly. It is important to be able to
distinguish one's own perceptions from those of the client and also be able to use these feelings
and intuitions as interventions when appropriate and timely.
7. The ability to conceptualize. It is necessary to think and express in understandable words certain
relationships, such as the cause-and-effect and if-then linkages that exist within the systemic
context of the client organization.
Organization Development ­ MGMT 628
8. The ability to discover and mobilize human energy, both within oneself and within the client
organization. There is energy in resistance, for example, and the consultant's interventions are
likely to be most effective when they tap existing energy within the organization and provide
direction for the productive use of the energy.
9. The ability to teach or to create learning opportunities. This ability should not be reserved for
classroom activities but should be utilized on the job, during meetings, and within the mainstream
of the overall change effort.
10. The ability to maintain a sense of humor, both on the client's behalf and to help sustain
perspective: Humor can be useful for reducing tension. It is also useful for the consultant to be
able to laugh at himself or herself; not taking oneself too seriously is critical for maintaining
perspective about an OD effort, especially since nothing ever goes exactly according to plan, even
though OD is supposed to be a planned change effort.
Role of Organization Development Professionals Position:
Organization development professionals have positions that are either internal or external to the
organization. Internal consultants are members of the organization and often are located in the human
resources department. They may perform the OD role exclusively, or they may combine it with other tasks,
such as compensation practices, training, or labor relations. Many large organizations, such as Intel, Merck,
Abitibi Consolidated, BHP, Philip Morris, Levi Strauss, Procter & Gamble, Weyerhaeuser; GTE, and
Citigroup, have created specialized OD consulting groups. These internal consultants typically have a
variety of clients within the organization, serving both line and staff departments.
External consultants are not members of the client organization; they typically work for a consulting firm, a
university, or themselves. Organizations generally hire external consultants to provide a particular expertise
that is unavailable internally and to bring a different and potentially more objective perspective into the
organization development process. Table.2 describes the differences between these two roles at each stage
of the action research process.
During the entry process, internal consultants have clear advantages. They have ready access to and
relationships with clients, know the language of the organization, and have insights about the root cause of
many of its problems. This allows internal consultants to save time in identifying the organization's culture,
informal practices, and sources of power. They have access to a variety of information, including rumors,
company reports, and direct observations. In addition, entry is more efficient and congenial, and their pay
is not at risk. External consultants, however, have the advantage of being able to select the clients they want
to work with according to their own criteria. The contracting phase is less formal for internal consultants
and there is less worry about expenses, but there is less choice about whether to complete the assignment.
Both types of consultants must address issues of confidentiality, risk project termination (and other
negative consequences) by the client, and fill a third-party role.
During the diagnosis process, internal consultants already know most organization members and enjoy a
basic level of rapport and trust. But external consultants often have higher status than internal consultants,
which allows them to probe difficult issues and assess the organization more objectively. In the
intervention phase, both types of consultants must rely on valid information, free and informed choice, and
internal commitment for their success, However, an internal consultant's strong ties to the organization
may make him or her overly cautious particularly when powerful others can affect a career. Internal
consultants also may lack certain skills and experience in facilitating organizational change. Inside he may
have some small advantages in being able to move around the system and cross key organizational
boundaries. Finally, the measures of success and reward differ from those of the external practitioner in the
evaluation process.
A promising approach to having the advantages of both internal and external OD consultants is to include
them both as members of an internal-external consulting team. External consultants can combine their
special expertise and objectivity with the inside knowledge and acceptance of internal consultants. The two
parties can use complementary consulting skills while sharing the workload and possibly accomplishing
more than either would by operating alone. Internal consultants, for example, can provide almost
continuous contact with the client, and their external counterparts can provide specialized services
periodically, such as two or three days each month. External consultants also can help train their orga-
nization partners, thus transferring OD skills and knowledge to the organization.
Although little has been written on internal-external consulting teams, recent studies suggest that the
effectiveness of such teams depends on members developing strong, supportive, collegial relationships.
They need to take time to develop the consulting team; confronting individual differences and establishing
appropriate roles and exchanges, member's need to provide each other with continuous feedback and make
a commitment to learning from each other. In the absence of these team-building and learning activities,
Organization Development ­ MGMT 628
internal-external consulting teams can be more troublesome and less effective than consultants working
The difference between External and Internal Consulting
Stage of change
External consultant
Internal consultant
·Source clients
·Ready access to clients
·Build relationships
·Ready relationships
·Learn company jargon
·Knows company jargon
·"presenting problem" challenge
·Understands root causes
·Time consuming
·Time efficient
·Stressful phase
·Congenial phase
·Select project/client according to own criteria
·Obligated to work with everyone
·Unpredictable outcome
·Steady pay
·Formal documents
·Informal agreements
·Can terminate project at will
·Must complete projects assigned
·Guard against out-of-pocket expenses
·No out-of-pocket expenses
·Information confidential
·Information can be open or
·Loss of contract at stake
·Risk of client retaliation and loss
·Maintain third-party role
of job at state
·Act as third party, driver (on
behalf of client or pair of hands)
·Meet most organization members for the first ·Has  relationships  with  many
organization members
·Prestige from being external
·Prestige determined by job rank
·Build trust quickly
and client stature
·Confidential  data  can  increase  political ·Sustain reputation as trustworthy
over time
·Data openly shared can reduce
political intrigue
·Insist on valid information, free and informed ·Insist on valid information, free
choice, and internal commitment
and informed choice and internal
·Confine activities within boundaries of client  commitment
·Run interference for client across
organizational  lines  to  align
·Rely on repeat business and customer referral as ·Rely on repeat business, pay raise
key measures of project success
and promotion as key measures
·Seldom see long-term results
of success
·Little recognition for job well
A promising line of research on the professional OD role centers on the issue of marginality. The marginal
person is one who successfully straddles the boundary between two or more groups with differing goals,
value systems, and behavior patterns. Whereas in the past, the marginal role always was seen as
dysfunctional, marginality now is seen in a more positive light. There are many examples of marginal roles
in organizations: the salesperson, the buyer, the first-line supervisor, the integrator and the project manager.
Evidence is mounting that some people are better at taking marginal roles than are others. Those who are
good at it seem to have personal qualities of low dogmatism, neutrality, open-mindedness, objectivity,
flexibility, and adaptable information-processing ability. Rather than being upset by conflict, ambiguity, and
stress, they thrive on it. Individuals with marginal orientations are more likely than others to develop
integrative decisions that bring together and reconcile viewpoints among opposing organizational groups
and are more likely to remain neutral in controversial situations. Thus, the research suggests that the
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marginal role can have positive effects when it is filled by a person with a marginal orientation. Such a
person can be more objective and better able to perform successfully in linking, integrative, or conflict-
laden roles,
There are two other boundaries: the activities boundary and the membership boundary. For both, the
OD consultant should operate at the boundary, in a marginal capacity.
With respect to change activities, particularly implementation, the consultant must help but not be directly
involved. Suppose an off-site team-building session, for a manger and his subordinates, he would help the
manager with the design and process of the meeting but would not lead.
With respect to membership, the OD consultant is never quite in nor quite out. Although the consultant
must be involved, he or she cannot be a member of the client organization. Being a member means that
there is vested interest, a relative lack of objectivity. Being totally removed means, he cannot sense, cannot
be empathetic, and cannot use his or her feelings. Being marginal means that the consultant becomes
involved enough to understand client's feelings and perceptions yet distant enough to be able to see these
feelings and perceptions for what they are.
Being marginal is critical for both an external consultant and an internal consultant. The major concern
regarding the internal OD practitioner's role is that he or she can never be a consultant to his or her own
group. If the group is an OD department, a member of this department, no matter how skilled, cannot be
an affective consultant to it. It is also difficult for an internal OD practitioner to be a consultant to any
group that is within the same vertical path or chain of the managerial hierarchy as he or she may be. Since
the OD function is often a part of corporate personnel or the human resource function, it would be
difficult for the internal OD consultant to play a marginal role in consulting with any of the groups within
the corporate function, because the consultant would be a primary organization member of that function.
Consulting with marketing, R&D or manufacturing within one's organization, for example, would be far
more feasible and appropriate, since the OD consultant could more easily maintain a marginal role.
Emotional Demands:
The OD practitioner role is emotionally demanding. Research and practice support the importance of
understanding emotions and their impact on the practitioner's effectiveness. The research on emotional
intelligence in organizations suggests a set of abilities that can aid OD practitioners in conducting
successful change efforts. Emotional intelligence refers to the ability to recognize and express emotions
appropriately, to use emotions in thought and decisions, and to regulate emotion in oneself and in others. It
is, therefore, a different kind of intelligence from problem-solving ability, engineering aptitude, or the
knowledge of concepts. In tandem with traditional knowledge and skill, emotional intelligence affects and
supplements rational thought; emotions help prioritize thinking by directing attention to important
information not addressed in models and theories. In That sense, some researchers argue that emotional
intelligence is as important as cognitive intelligence.
Reports from OD practitioners support the importance of emotional intelligence in practice. At each stage
of planned change, they must relate to and help organization members adapt to resistance, commitment,
and ambiguity. Facing those important and difficult issues raises emotions such as the fear of failure or
rejection. As the client and others encounter these kinds of emotions, OD practitioners must have a clear
sense of emotional effects, including their own internal emotions. Ambiguity or denial of emotions can lead
to inaccurate and untimely interventions. For example, a practitioner who is uncomfortable with conflict
may intervene to diffuse conflict because of the discomfort he or she feels, not because the conflict is
destructive. In such a case, the practitioner is acting to address a personal need rather than intervening to
improve the system's effectiveness.
Evidence suggests that emotional intelligence increases with age and experience. In addition, it can be
developed through personal growth processes such as sensitivity training, counseling, and therapy. It seems
reasonable to suggest that professional OD practitioners dedicate themselves to a long-term regimen of
development that includes acquiring both cognitive learning and emotional intelligence.
Use of Knowledge and Experience:
The professional OD role has been described in terms of a continuum ranging from client-centered (using
the client's knowledge and experience) to consultant-centered (using the consultant's knowledge and
experience, as shown in Figure 16), Traditionally, OD consultants have worked at the client-centered end
of the continuum. Organization development professionals, relying mainly on sensitivity training, process
consultation, and team building, have been expected to remain neutral, refusing to offer expert advice on
organizational problems. Rather than contracting to solve specific problems, the consultant has tended to
work with organization members to identify problems and potential solutions, to help them study what
they are doing now and consider alternative behaviors and solutions, and to help them discover whether, in
fact, the consultant and they can learn to do things better. In doing that the OD professional has generally
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listened and reflected upon members' perceptions and ideas and helped clarify and interpret their
communications and behaviors.
Figure 16: Use of Consultant's Versus Client's Knowledge and Experience
With the recent proliferation of OD interventions in the structural, human resource management, and
strategy areas that limited definition of the professional OD role has expanded to include the consultant-
centered end of the continuum. In many of the newer approaches, the consultant may have to take on a
modified role of expert, with the consent and collaboration of organization members. For example, if a
consultant and managers were to try to bring about a major structural redesign, managers may not have the
appropriate knowledge and expertise to create and manage the change. The consultant's role might be to
present the basic concepts and ideas and then to struggle jointly with the managers to select an approach
that might be useful to the organization and to decide how it ' might best be implemented. In this situation,
the OD professional recommends or prescribes particular changes and is active in planning how to
implement them. This expertise, however, is always shared rather than imposed.
With the development of new and varied intervention approaches, the OD professional's role needs to be
seen as falling along the entire continuum from client-centered to consultant-centered. At times, the
consultant will rely mainly on organization members' knowledge and experiences to identify and solve
problems. At other times, it will be more appropriate to take on the role of expert, withdrawing from that
role as managers gain more knowledge and experience.
Table of Contents:
  1. The Challenge for Organizations:The Growth and Relevance of OD
  2. OD: A Unique Change Strategy:OD consultants utilize a behavioral science base
  3. What an “ideal” effective, healthy organization would look like?:
  4. The Evolution of OD:Laboratory Training, Likert Scale, Scoring and analysis,
  5. The Evolution of OD:Participative Management, Quality of Work Life, Strategic Change
  6. The Organization Culture:Adjustment to Cultural Norms, Psychological Contracts
  7. The Nature of Planned Change:Lewin’s Change Model, Case Example: British Airways
  8. Action Research Model:Termination of the OD Effort, Phases not Steps
  9. General Model of Planned Change:Entering and Contracting, Magnitude of Change
  10. The Organization Development Practitioner:External and Internal Practitioners
  11. Creating a Climate for Change:The Stabilizer Style, The Analyzer Style
  12. OD Practitioner Skills and Activities:Consultant’s Abilities, Marginality
  13. Professional Values:Professional Ethics, Ethical Dilemmas, Technical Ineptness
  14. Entering and Contracting:Clarifying the Organizational Issue, Selecting an OD Practitioner
  15. Diagnosing Organizations:The Process, The Performance Gap, The Interview Data
  16. Organization as Open Systems:Equifinality, Diagnosing Organizational Systems
  17. Diagnosing Organizations:Outputs, Alignment, Analysis
  18. Diagnosing Groups and Jobs:Design Components, Outputs
  19. Diagnosing Groups and Jobs:Design Components, Fits
  20. Collecting and Analyzing Diagnostic information:Methods for Collecting Data, Observations
  21. Collecting and Analyzing Diagnostic information:Sampling, The Analysis of Data
  22. Designing Interventions:Readiness for Change, Techno-structural Interventions
  23. Leading and Managing Change:Motivating Change, The Life Cycle of Resistance to Change
  24. Leading and managing change:Describing the Core Ideology, Commitment Planning
  25. Evaluating and Institutionalizing Organization Development Interventions:Measurement
  26. Evaluating and Institutionalizing Organization Development Interventions:Research Design
  27. Evaluating and Institutionalizing Organization Development Interventions
  28. Interpersonal and Group Process Approaches:Group Process
  29. Interpersonal and Group Process Approaches:Leadership and Authority, Group Interventions
  30. Interpersonal and Group Process Approaches:Third-Party Interventions
  31. Interpersonal and Group Process Approaches:Team Building, Team Building Process
  32. Interpersonal and Group Process Approaches:Team Management Styles
  33. Organization Process Approaches:Application Stages, Microcosm Groups
  34. Restructuring Organizations:Structural Design, Process-Based Structures
  35. Restructuring Organizations:Downsizing, Application Stages, Reengineering
  36. Employee Involvement:Parallel Structures, Multiple-level committees
  37. Employee Involvement:Quality Circles, Total Quality Management
  38. Work Design:The Engineering Approach, Individual Differences, Vertical Loading
  39. Performance Management:Goal Setting, Management by Objectives, Criticism of MBO
  40. Developing and Assisting Members:Career Stages, Career Planning, Job Pathing
  41. Developing and Assisting Members:Culture and Values, Employee Assistance Programs
  42. Organization and Environment Relationships:Environmental Dimensions, Administrative Responses
  43. Organization Transformation:Sharing the Vision, Three kinds of Interventions
  44. The Behavioral Approach:The Deep Assumptions Approach
  45. Seven Practices of Successful Organizations:Training, Sharing Information