How Organizational Development Professionals Are Shaping the Future of Work

Andrew Chandler & I Fireside Chatting
Andrew Chandler & I Fireside Chatting

This week, I had the pleasure of hosting a fireside chat with my friend and colleague, Andrew Chandler, Genentech’s Head of People and Organizational Development. The evening was to kick off the 40th anniversary of the University of San Francisco’s Master of Science in Organizational Development degree program (USF MSOD).

It had been about eight years since Andrew and I had seen each other, so it was wonderful to have an hour for an intimate catch-up with 100 former and current students of the USF program (!). We talked about what organizational development is (and isn’t), what’s next with the field, and the hopes we have for shaping the future of work. Three primary themes stood out from our discussion:

  1. Build and Evolve Learning Networks
  2. We are the intervention
  3. Keep listening & asking questions

Build and Evolve Learning Networks

One of the core values of USF is that learning is a humanizing social activity rather than a competitive exercise. I think that’s a beautiful statement to which we could all aspire.

Andrew and I met through a mutual friend ten years ago. Soon after, we realized a number of us in our friend groups were going through similar situations at work.  Five of us were all organizational development practitioners all currently taking on expanded roles at different companies. We decided to create what we called “our learning group.” We would meet to share our challenges, explore opportunities, and relentlessly learned from each other. Since then, Andrew and I have continued to create several other learning groups with a range of people. We both agree that these groups and support systems have been an integral part of our career success and overall happiness.

As student, we are in a natural learning group. Once we leave school, it’s up to us to create our own ongoing learning groups and networks. Andrew and I were heartened to learn that many students attending the fireside chat were already thinking about how to set up a support system after they graduate.

We Are the Intervention

One classic definition of organization development comes from Richard Beckhard’s 1969 Organization Development: Strategies and Models. He defines organization development as an effort that is planned and organization-wide to increase organization effectiveness and health. Interventions are structured to solve a problem, thus enabling an organization to achieve the goal.

What we often forget as learning and organizational development (OD) professionals is that we are the most powerful and versatile tool we have. Frameworks, models, and PowerPoint slides are only as impactful as the person delivering them. Therefore, a cornerstone of becoming an OD consultant is to understand ourselves. This is referred to as “Self as instrument”.

If we do not do the work on ourselves, understand our triggers, our habits, and reactions, we are no longer in control of our responses. Strong self-awareness expands our capacity to intervene and navigate change effectively in a variety of situations because we do not let our own thoughts get in the way of a situation.

In order to be a strong intervention, we need to have a high degree of self-knowledge and a commitment to always be developing ourselves. Evolving ourselves as instruments of change is hard work. It starts with knowing our values, what we stand for, our triggers, our strengths, and our areas for growth.

When we are more self-aware, we react less to our emotions and and respond more effectively to the presenting problem. Leveraging ourselves as instruments of change is still the best organizational intervention around.

Keep Listening & Asking Questions

The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs study predicts that before 2020, 5 million jobs will be lost as artificial intelligence, robotics, nanotechnology, and other socio-economic factors replace the need for human workers. It states that the top ten skills to safeguard one’s self against this job loss  are:

  1. Complex problem solving
  2. Critical thinking
  3. Creativity
  4. People management
  5. Coordinating with others
  6. Emotional intelligence
  7. Judgement and decision making
  8. Service orientation
  9. Negotiation
  10. Cognitive Flexibility

What’s common in the top five skills? Our ability to communicate clearly. Andrew and I talked about the importance of asking questions, listening, and our ability to have empathy. These are still skills and tools that machines are unable to do today or in the near future.

No matter how automated our jobs become, we will still always have a need for basic human skills. Asking, “What is the problem we’re trying to solve?” is a key question that good OD practitioners ask on a regular basis. And when answered, we ask again. We know that often the first problem presented is not the problem that needs to be solved. So, asking courageous questions, listening intently, and empathizing are skills to keep honing as we design roles and organizational structures for the future.

It was a great night. Thanks to Andrew, USF, those of you who came, and to all of the OD practitioners out there shaping the future of work, one situation and courageous question at a time.

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