OD Present and Future: Conversations with Prof. T. V. Rao
The lessons from his book co-edited book (editors S. Ramnarayan and T. V. Rao: “Organization Development: Accelerating Learning and Development; Sage India, 2011) are presented in a conversational form with T. V. Rao in this interview. Prof. Rao attempts to answer the following questions here. It is hoped that this conversation highlights the lessons from the book and points also to the future directions.
1. What we conclude from various OD experiences in India about OD in this part of the world
2. What do you consider as some of the success experiences in your own OD work?
3. What are some of the challenges OD and OD practitioners face today?
4. What do you conclude from various OD experiences?
5. What do you think is the future of OD?
Q: What do you conclude from Various OD in this part of the world?
OD as a planned change with long term involvement of OD facilitator has become a trend of the past. There have been many success experiences of the past. For example Dr. Udai Pareek, Dr. Abad Ahmed, Somnath Chattopadhyay, Dharni Sinha, Ishwar Dayal and Suresh Srivastava and such NTL trained OD facilitators worked with Organizations like the L7T, LIC, Medical Mission Sisters, ICI, State Bank of India etc. now a days you rarely find this work perhaps organizations like Tata Chemicals is an exception. As Dr. Santrupt Misra mentioned today OD has come to be short-term, quick and multiple intervention based. Specialization has gone up. So a variety of consultants are used. Some of assessment centers, other for 360 a few for executive coaching and the like. With enhancement of tendering process in PSUs, Component tendering process in PSUs, Component tendering has gone up rather than integrated development and planned and guided change. These have been successful with short-term gains. While they may cumulatively do some good for the organization, and integrated approach is still welcome. I have a feeling corporation like GE still continue to have long term engagement of the OD consultants.
Q: What do you consider as some of the success experiences in your own OD work?
The HRD work we had done both at L&T and State Bank of India is a success experience during that period. Recent work with Steel Authority of India and Bharat Electronics and Aditya Birla Group on Leadership Development using 360 Degree Feedback based interventions are another two examples of successful OD.
Everything is time bound. What is successful today may lay foundation for tomorrow. Once it is done the corporation grows and may not even remember that someone laid the foundation. For example strong foundations were laid in SBI through its training system in initial years. Later Udai and I worked for integrated HRD between 1975 and 1985. There was a sustained effort and hard work. It was successful. However it has gone to the background due to intensive dialogues with officers associations, change of leadership both at top level and in HRD. I re-entered along with Prof. S K Chakravarthy in mid nineties for specific task of a subsystem change. It was not continued beyond 5 years due to change of leadership both at the SBI top level and at Government level the Secretaries handling banking. They brought in new experts who did not have a clue of the history. For them it became a year to year event than planned change.
This is not to say short-term OD interventions don’t work. The HRD audit as a self-renewal mechanism, the 360 Degree Feedback as a change promoting intervention and Assessment Centers has worked well. As mentioned by Santrupt we were involved almost for a 5 year period with 360 DF in Birla Group. It was a great success as are of the inputs. In BEL we are involved in Leadership Development over the last seven years. A lot of change is taking place. A review of the work indicated both short and long term changes. For example short term it resulted in vision formulation, new product innovations and problems solving. Long term is resulted in increased openness and transparency.
A two day self-renewal workshop in XIM resulted in increased focus on Vision and deciding future course of action besides faculty involvement. A diagnostic study followed by a one day feedback workshop presenting the findings resulted in consolidation and increased focus on future strategies. So was the case of survey feedback in Bharat Petroleum, Cochin Refineries and the like. In Bharat Petroleum it was used to consolidate the gains of restructuring. After restructuring was done an employee satisfaction survey was conducted. The feedback communicated to employee revalidated the gains of restructuring and pointed the gaps in HR policies and helped BPCL to initiate new HR activities. Gati is a great example of sustained work coming out of top management commitment. There 360 DF has become of regular part of self renewal. Again a quick diagnosis of the Institutional concerns and a presentation to the entire team of the findings and with Aga Khan Foundation has become a stepping stone for consolidating gains and taking the Foundation in the direction its Founders have envisaged under the leadership of Dr Abad Ahmad is a success story of how short term interventions can lay foundation to facilitate the change process.
Q: What do you conclude from various OD experiences?
I think the following conclusions can be drawn.
1. The term OD is not used popularly. Like in the west OD in this part of the world has also undergone a lot of change. Process facilitation and OD interventions have become a part of organizational improvement and change management programs in India. Many of them may not even use the term OD and still carry out OD activities.
2. A variety of HR interventions have been used ranging from individual based, interpersonal and role based, group and subsystem improvement based to total system change, process facilitation and quality improvement program.
3. Total system change related interventions are being used selectively using LSIP, future search etc. methods (Indian Railways, Mawana Sugar etc.)
4. OD has become short term focused and quick-fix solution oriented. Focus on cultural change has become less important.
5. OD is being constantly evaluated for its effectiveness in serving the organizational good.
Q: What are some of the challenges OD and OD practitioners face today?
Execution is the major issue. Organizations seem to be highly short term result driven. They profess culture and values as important dimensions but focus extraordinarily on results and short term targets. This creates enormous difficulty for OD practitioners who like to work on long term and sustainable change.
Second mergers and acquisitions have become very common. In one company the executives told me that four years ago they belonged to a different company, two years ago to a different company and since the last six months he is working for a different company. In a four year period his organization has gone through three changes. While this may be a little uncommon most organizations live with certain amount of uncertainty. Ironically when mergers and acquisitions take place that is the best time for process work as it calls for adjustments and cultural change. Under uncertainties sustained focus on values, culture and long term thinking becomes difficult. OD becomes a short term quick fix problem solving exercise than a planned change for long term.
Appreciation for behavioral science based interventions and behavioral scientists have not in any way gone up while appreciation for specific techniques and technologies has gone up. For example the top management seems to appreciate the use of assessment cents for a specific group of people and at a given point of time. For example when they need to develop a group of high fliers or when they find shortage of tenant rather than making it a continuous process to upgrade talent or as a talent development tool. Same way survey feedback or 360 degree feedback, or outbound training becomes a onetime exercise to bring in process sensitivity than a continuous effort.
On the positive side many technologies are being used. The OD filed has expanded to include a variety of techniques and methods.
HRD and OD have come face to face. Two decades ago there used to be issues like whether OD is part of HRD or HRD is a part of OD. Today the content is not so much as what it is part of what but more on which technology or intervention works better and under what circumstances. Some organizations are using LSIP technologies and others role based interventions and while some others use Assessment centers and 360 Degree feedback and a few others HRD audit, survey feedback and vision mission exercises etc. What is being undertaken is a technology based OD rather than a change oriented value driven process sensitive OD.
OD specialists as class is on the decline and specialization has gone up so much like in medicine rather than general practitioners today e see Executive Coaches, Assessment Center experts, survey feedback experts and performance management specialists. Sub system specialization has gone up.
Training focus remained and continues to remain the same as before and so are the concerns.
Q: What do you think is the Future of OD and what Direction it is taking and it should take?
I think OD as discipline and science deserves more attention than what it has commanded so far. Process sensitivity and Behavioral science knowledge provides the base for good OD work. We need to understand people in different settings as individuals, role holders, dyads, teams or subsystem members and organizational members and multiple role holders and mute-organizational stake holders besides citizens of a nation or products of a culture. In Asian region people are highly talented and are products of complex interactions of history, culture, families, heritage and other dynamic factors. Modern organizations and competitive world adds to this complexity. Unlike in the west where people tend to be systems driven and norm respecting in this part of the world there is no one norm or no one system to follow. People seem to respect one another perhaps a lot more than they respect systems. Given these complexities of human nature, we need to study people in their current and changing contexts more deeply before we can plan and carry out interventions for change. Unfortunately such a systematic and scientific study of people is lacking. Psychologists in this part of the world have not enhanced our insights about human beings and their motivational patterns, learning styles etc. We are still dependent on the past knowledge and knowledge from the west. It is only in the recent past attempts to learn from our Vedic culture about the nature of human being has gone up. Even this is limited to a set of hypotheses of fitting ancient wisdom into the modern organizations.
What is needed in future is a systematic and scientific study of the human being and his nature in the current organizational contexts.
Change and drivers of change and success stories and failure of change are required in large quantities and with more perspectives- psychological, sociological and anthropological and organizational. Only when such studies are conducted can a body of knowledge develop. The future therefore has to focus on more systematic research to discover he fundamental nature of the human being in the context of modern organizations and enhance our ability to predict behavior.
Therefore there is a need for scientific base for OD. More researches need to be trained in OD.
Institutions like the ISABS have got reduced some times to social networks without any scientific rigor and research base. The involvement of Institutions like the IIMA that used to happen in seventies has tremendously come down. As a result the teams of Applied Behavioral scientists that get trained or certified from these institutions have become at best factories for conducting training programs with limited knowledge. The future has to be research driven and should lay more foundation for scientific knowledge. If this does not happen OD will die its natural death and at best will be handled by a few people who lack depth and get called as OD Facilitators mainly on the basis of a few programs they attended than out of scientific study and affecting change.