What can L&D learn from OD?

The world of OD can sometimes seem a bit of a mystery. Is it about change management? Is it about leadership development? Is it about employee engagement? Is it about performance management? Is it about programmes of change? Is it about process improvement? Is it about facilitation?

In L&D we have questions about what we do which are no less confusing.

I guess for me, it’s less about trying to define OD by saying it is a set of things and more about the mindset and how we invite people to have dialogue with one another on all manner of topics – like the above questions and also many other organisational components too.

I see how L&D goes about its work, and at the best of what L&D can offer it approaches things with an OD approach. When programmes of learning solutions are designed really well, leaders are clearly bought into the way forward, there are clear comms helping people navigate from old world to new world, and organisations are enabled to progress.

It’s this piece I want to unpack for a moment to help fellow L&Ders broaden their thinking with regards to OD. One of the key things that helped me understand OD better is by considering an organisation as a system where each part impacts on and influences how other parts of the organisation work. Change something in one part of the organisation and there will almost certainly be an impact to other parts. Realising that this happens then means we have to consider:

  • How Team A are gearing up for the change
  • How Teams B, C and D are informed about the change and they are invited to help further think how the change will impact them and what they may need to change
  • How Team A are letting the wider organisation know what it’s planning to do
  • The potential upskilling of team members and/or potential of different leadership for the new thing
  • Clarity on how processes will need to change and be updated/improved
  • Potential of new technology and the way this changes things

Thinking of things from this approach means you cultivate collaboration across teams, have better comms processes, improve leadership, are mindful of organisational impact. This is just one example of how OD as an approach can help.

If we’re designing e-learning or buying in e-learning, it can be hard to consider the way it gets taken forward and embedded as a learning option in the context of the above. There’s often been an attitude of “if you build it they’ll come”. And to some extent people will seek out and/or complete e-learning, but mostly they only do this because it helps meet compliance training requirements. How often are questions asked around:

  • How will the e-learning enable better performance?
  • What other support mechanisms are needed for learning from e-learning to be readily practised at work?
  • How are managers equipped to facilitate learning from e-learning?
  • If compliance is the need, how else is it reinforced outside of the e-learning?
  • How are leaders reinforcing messages related to content available via e-learning?
  • Is it enough for 100% of people to complete the e-learning or are other metrics needed?

These are just some questions that can be asked and I’ve focused on e-learning as an example.

And I often see that when L&D design and deliver its learning solutions, they can be really good and really effective solutions, but may not always be well received by the organisation. Often that’s because it hasn’t taken the time to use an OD approach to communicating, including others, and making things accessible. It’s taken the approach of “if you build it they’ll come” and that is where it has stopped.

I think what I’m trying to share and provide some insight into is that often times L&D act in isolation from the business by just remaining responsible for the L&D provision. When L&D is at its best, it enables organisations to come together and be progressive organisations. For learning solutions to be effective and for them to be well received in the organisation requires broader thinking of organisational impact.

And I’m also mindful to not suggest that all L&D solutions need an OD approach. Some things we do in L&D can just carry on and will make little organisational difference to people. (Like whether or not we use evaluation sheets at the end of courses). And sometimes taking an OD approach can over-complicate the delivery of a learning solution and that’s not helpful to the organisation either.

As ever, thoughts and comments are welcome.

Published by

Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

2 thoughts on “What can L&D learn from OD?”

  1. Thanks for the post Sukh – my view has always been that OD is like L&D in that it means very different things between organisations. I’ve seen some OD/L&D combined roles where the OD is pitched as the strategic element of L&D, others where OD is really just synonymous with restructuring and much more besides. Perhaps the variance is based on an organisations historic approach to L&D – i.e. where it is stuck in ‘delivery’ mode then OD is added as an extra layer whereas in other orgs OD simply exists as a function of more strategic HR/L&D roles?

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