Saturday, July 30, 2005

Why HR and OD Don't Get Along

Why HR and OD Don't Get Along

There is an article in the current issue of Fast Company magazine, Called "Why We Hate HR," that is getting a lot of discussion at places like ODNET and HRNET. I have even weighed in a bit at those two discussions.

In this blog entry, however, I am going to look at a different angle, the relationship between HR and OD.

HR and OD are related functions in many organizations, where both are concerned about critical people processes. Sometimes they get along fine; but at other times, they eye each other with suspicion. Why is it that HR and OD don't get along sometimes?

Although quite often they have a common reporting structure (e.g. to the VP of HR), they often have different areas of focus. HR tends to focus on short-term tactical people processes such as recruiting, benefits, salary structure, policy, pay, and performance reviews. OD tends to focus on longer-term strategic people processes such as training, development, leadership, succession, mission, vision, and values.

HR's purpose leans toward organizational maintenance, while OD's leans toward organizational performance and renewal.

In the best of situations, the two functions find areas of commonality, where working together, collaboration, and creativity can surface and be applied to needs of the business.

Sometimes, however, there can be trouble. Because practical HR is more here-and-now, and visionary OD is more there-and-then, there can be misconceptions and misunderstandings. HR can view OD as fuzzy and "in the air." OD can view HR as unimaginative and plodding.

There can also be turf issues if one group strays into an area that the other group feels it owns. For example, performance management. OD stakes a claim because of the link to organizational performance and competencies, while HR stakes a claim because of the link to merit and bonus pay.

Like a married couple, each brings its own personality to the relationship. Hopefully the union will last. May it be a long and fruitful one! As long as each party can adapt to the needs of the other, appreciate the other's gifts, and adjust to the differences of the other, HR and OD should have a nice long run.

Note: See the 2010 update of this entry here.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Faith in Organizations

At an OD discussion list, there is an exchange going on about whether or not it's appropriate to consider religion and spirituality when working with organizations. Are they germane to the practice of OD?

I am a faith-filled person who also practices OD (I am an internal consultant for a natural gas utility in New Jersey).

I find that most of the people I work with are also faith-filled, whatever their faith may be.

But where does their faith enter into their organizational lives? From what I've experienced, it seems that most make a separation. While it is not unusual to see someone wear a symbol of their faith (e.g. a crucifix on a chain worn around the neck), it is very unusual to find faith entering into a business decision.

So where does faith fit into our work as OD folk? Speaking just for myself (though I know some other ODers who have a similar outlook), since my faith is a major part of who I am as a person, it comes with me when I work with my clients. Do I "wear it on my sleeve?" No. But it informs my practice.

For example, part of my faith is the belief that all individuals are gifted with talents ("God does not make junk."). From this belief, I endeavor to operate with a focus on discovery of gifts, and appreciation and utilization of talents.

I also believe that all individuals posses a share of the wisdom required to discern the right course of action when faced with a difficult quandary. As I work with groups, I try to follow the approach articulated by Sr. Mary Benet McKinney in her book Sharing Wisdom, where she says that each member of the group has a "piece of the wisdom" that the group needs to hear in order to discern the "calling of the Spirit."

As the son of a Jewish mom and a Christian dad, who was raised with a set of values and expectations that I am now passing on to my sons (two teenaged boys, one a 6 footer who towers above me), I feel blessed, like I received the "best of both worlds" in the Judeo-Christian heritage.

However, in today's world, where the West is slamming head-on with the Muslim world, I feel uneasy and ill-prepared for the collision of cultures.

Yet, I wonder if the following wisdom will stand us in good stead:

- Love your neighbor as yourself.

- Do justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly with your God.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Sustainable Enterprise

Sustainable Enterprise

Last week, I attended a mind-expanding presentation called "Building the Sustainable Enterprise: How OD Can Pave the Way," given by Jeana Wirtenburg, and sponsored by the New Jersey Organization Development Network.

Jeana Wirtenberg's presentation addressed the need for long-term, systemic, large-scale change to address intractable global problems such as global warming, health crises (e.g. AIDS), hunger, poverty, terrorism and the like. Her position, in part, is that corporations need to think about the "triple bottom line" of profits, people, and planet. Corporations should think further about the meaning of "social responsibility" and ask themselves if they can do more to partner with educational and governmental institutions to find solutions to these seemingly insurmountable issues.

After presenting these heady concepts, Jeana engaged the audience of OD practitioners in several rapid breakout discussions, including:

- What are the implications of Sustainable Enterprise for the field of organization development?

- What are the three biggest barriers, and the three biggest enablers, of Sustainable Enterprise in today's organizations?

Currently a consultant and co-founder of the Institute for Sustainable Enterprise (ISE) at Fairleigh Dickinson University, Jeana has worked in government, non-profit, as well as the corporate world for companies such as AT&T and PSEG.

Personal Response: I found this session very stimulating, very challenging. The global problems that Jeana has identified are huge, complex, and entrenched. For corporations, such as Coca Cola or HP, to embrace the "triple bottom line," means committing their resources (including people) to a higher purpose. It means engaging in a long-term collaborative inquiry into issues that may be fraught with politics and conflict.

For OD practitioners, several skill areas, such as change management, conflict resolution and collaboration, will be required in this work, but may not be sufficient. Part of the work that Jeana is pursuing at the ISE is to envision what additional competencies (e.g. appreciative inquiry, positive political skills) OD professionals should start developing today.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

The Muslim Problem

Thomas L. Friedman wrote a great op-ed piece in the NY Times about the bombings in London

The writer says:

"So this is a critical moment. We must do all we can to limit the civilizational fallout from this bombing. But this is not going to be easy."

And then goes on to put the greater portion of the burden on the "Muslim village" i.e. the elders, religious leaders, and others in influential roles, who can exercise restraint.

While I do not disagree with this strategy, I think it is too one-sided. What about the rest of us, so-called Western people? What do our Western values tell us we ought to do?

The writer is concerned that, if the West takes charge of this problem, the masculine aspect of our Western psyche will come to the fore: use of force, internments, and the like.

That doesn't have to be. We have other sides to our nature.

As the child of faith-filled and religious parents (my mom was Jewish and my dad was Irish Catholic), who went to Catholic school and attended Mass every Sunday (and still do 50 years later), I have been formed in a tradition that says there is another way. It's not an easy way...certainly far more difficult than using violence to settle things.

It's not easy because it runs counter to our programming, our baser instincts to lash out, to have our revenge, to obtain that eye for an eye. We are more practiced at this. We have applied far more resource to building our skill in this approach.

It's not easy because it says there is a higher purpose that we, people of all faiths, are called to. Hearing that call...and really heeding not easy. There are other gods that we listen to, that speak more loudly to us, that drown out that quiet whisper of the one that created us all.

I pray that we may find a just path to peace in this world.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Bombings in London

It’s so sad that, with all of our technological brilliance, this hate that dwells in the human heart has not yet been eradicated.

What can we do to address the root causes of this problem? Will the world leaders (Bush, Blair and the others) do the right thing? Or are we doomed to continue spiraling down into a world of threat and fear?

I pray that women and men of good will in all countries and of all faiths will stand for peace and justice . . . and take appropriate action steps to heal the divisions that fuel the hatred.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

What the 4th of July Means to Me

This July 4th holiday weekend was lovely. With my wife and two sons, we saw some good fireworks last night in Piscataway. Before that, we celebrated my baby brother's 41st birthday.

Also, earlier in the weekend, we went down to the Jersey Shore to visit some dear friends. We made pasta dinner together and quaffed some wine. We sat on their deck, enjoying their garden, watching the birds landing on their bird-feeders and the flock of mallards landing on their back lawn. It was a lovely.

At such times, I realize how fortunate I am. My list of blessings is a long one indeed. And on that list are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

What is July 4th about for me? When our Founding Fathers chose to break with the King, they gave us a model to follow. A model of self-determination.

My mom, who passed away in 1981, always used to say, "Life is what you make it." The grandchild of Russian Jewish immigrants, she was an all-American woman.

Peace and blessings to all.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Blogging: Good Idea or Playing With Fire?

As blogging proliferates, so too does concern about the hazards. HR people are seeking sample anti-blogging policies. In the case of employees who blog in parallel to their corporate lives, there is the risk of displeasing one's employer.

Although I never bad-mouth my employer in my blog entries, I am one of those who is running that risk. As an OD guy, I often write about the challenges I encounter in my work, e.g. leadership, coaching, and managing organizational change.

Blogs are just the latest current in an old stream. Even before blogs appeared, I was (and still am) an active contributor to a number of online discussion boards like trdev, hrnet, and odnet.

Some bloggers use protection by keeping their identity fuzzy. Rather than use a cute pseudonym, I use my real name. Usually I end my entries with the following signature:


Terrence Seamon, OD Guy & Transitionist
AGL Elizabethtown Gas
Union, NJ

Contributing-author of the new edition of Practicing Organization
Development: A Guide for Consultants, edited by Rothwell & Sullivan

Will blogging be a habit, like smoking, that kills me? Only time will tell.