HR and OD - What Does the Future Hold?

Over five years ago, I published a blog entry, on the relationship between HR and OD, that has consistently been one of the most read posts on Here We Are. Now What?

Now the OD Network has released the latest issue of OD Practitioner devoted to the same topic. While my copy has not come in the mail yet, I've heard it has a great line-up including Ed Schein, Matt Minihan, and Dave Hanna.

So in view of this resurgent interest, I thought I should re-publish my take from 2005, plus add some current thoughts at the end. Enjoy.

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.

Added Thoughts in October 2010:

So here we are five years later. What's new? A lot.

For one thing, we now have a brand new HR buzzword, Talent Management. Take a look at any OD job opening and check out the reporting structure and the duties. OD is still reporting to HR and is now focused on talent management, succession management, and performance management. Don't get me wrong, however. It's nice work, if you can get it, especially in this economy.

Another new development, Coaching. The field of executive coaching has exploded, with books, consultants, schools, and certifications (carrying hefty price tags). HR people have always been internal coaches, meeting with their clients one-on-one to advise and guide, often through treacherous employee relations and organizational dilemmas.

One more, Employee Engagement. Of the three new developments I've singled out, this one may be the most controversial. Academics look upon it with disdain, while consultants have been running with it. Unfortunately, inside of organizations, neither HR nor OD has embraced it in a big way. Interestingly, business leaders and Corporate Communications have had no trouble "getting it" at all: a highly engaged workforce is happier, more productive, more innovative, and better at taking care of customers. The proof is in the financials.

Bottom line: A lot is new. And that means new opportunities to do exciting and meaningful work for both HR and OD.

Added Thought re What Does the Future Hold?

I'm adding this coda on October 31 because I had to wrap up the above and head out to a Halloween party last night.

Thinking about the future for HR and OD, a couple thoughts...

In both HR and OD, many have been thinking about what it means to play a strategic role and "have a seat at the table" with the CEO and other senior leaders in the organization. In HR, the rise of Talent Management has become the answer. I'd strongly recommend that HR also embrace Employee Engagement, in partnership with OD and Corporate Communications.

In OD, many are continuing the soul-searching effort to connect with the essence of the field. Some see the rise of coaching as a distraction, perhaps even a "wrong turn," away from the true core. But what is that true heart of OD? There are different perspectives to be sure. One that feels, at least to me, like the "real thing" is represented by OD consultant Roland Sullivan who, for over five years, has been diligently working with OD figures in Asia to help build the Asia OD Network.

For Sullivan, OD isn't really OD unless the practitioner is working on the whole system, with the intention of transformation.

With this view of OD catching fire in India and other parts of Asia, I would expect it to rise in the coming years as a dominant force in the field of Organization Development. Maybe it will help change our world for the better...

Posted by Terrence Seamon on October 30, 2010. For more ideas on HR, OD, talent, coaching, engagement, and change, invite Terry into your organization.


Anonymous said…
An additional problem with what you described is that HRM DOES think of themselves on the here-and-now, but that is not the work they should be doing. Compensation is a highly strategic function that can completely dismantle a strong culture if not aligned. I really think that HRM and HRD have to be a single focus, using the best of both worlds. That'll take some waking up on both sides.
Terrence Seamon said…
Thanks for commenting, Carol. You are definitely inspiring me to update this blog post.
Carol Anderson said…
I have to chuckle, Terrence - I'm preparing for a presentation on HR/OD and came across your blog post from 2010 and found my own comment on your post - it was from an earlier blog I tried to start. You and I are connected now through LinkedIn and Twitter.

So I am still musing through this conflict - OD/HR and will share my thoughts with the ODN on February 23, 2016. Join us if you can...
Terrence Seamon said…
Hi Carol, Check out my follow up

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