What makes a true Organisational Development Consultant?

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I work with a broad swathe of people specialists. Learning and strategy experts too. They call themselves many different names, from executive coaches (although many don’t coach executives), to facilitators (who mainly train), to consultants (who do little more than simply respond to the immediate brief of a client) and even consulting psychologists (who are actually not that at all). The truth is, many people working in the people development space scramble to find words to describe what they do, and when they do settle on a name, it’s usually long and triple barreled. In other words, clumsy. So here is how I might be able to help. If you are in the people business, both within and outside of organisations is this what you do?

1. Aim to improve employee well being
2. And organisational effectiveness
3. And support planned change interventions that influence and impact the above

If that’s pretty much what you do, then you might be (drum roll), an organisational development specialist. Still triple barreled but accurate, or maybe not.

Let’s try again, do you:

1. Identify a problem/challenge facing an organisation?
2. Then Design an intervention to solve it?
3. Then Evaluate impact and entrenchment of the new way of doing things?
4. Then Enable the intervention to be internalised and accepted?

Mmm, number 3 and 4 are tricky, and I know for a fact many don’t get it right, and more scarily, don’t even attempt them. So maybe you are not yet ready to be an OD consultant. Let’s look at these and see what they tell us, do you:

1. Focus only on micro-approaches at individual level for example, you are just a coach.
2. Have only one solution to offer for example a single tool or content
3. Take on ad hoc and random work within an organisation just to pay the bills
4. Do not exclusively aim to raise morale and attitudes of people within an organisation

A yes to any of these, and I am sorry to say, you are further and further away from being a true OD consultant. Here is the final list, and it’s all about ethics, and you may need to imagine a final hammer being nailed into your aspirations of a multi syllabled title. Have you ever:

1. Misrepresented or exaggerated the efficacy of your work
2. Colluded with a certain party or function to serve their interests within an organisation
3. Misused data (or misunderstood research) to serve your own ends and gain more work
4. Manipulated or coerced people into working with you
5. Overstated your qualification to work within organisational change and effectiveness
6. Over emphasised organisational results and profits as a result of your engagements

Ouch! Not many people will admit to these at the next Community of Practice gathering but these lists have certainly made me think. I have no doubt our intentions are good, but are we ALL equipped to bleed across the boundaries of our own focus area and truly claim to be OD consultants. My blunt response is no, and here is why; because if OD consulting is about supporting planned change to enhance organisational effectiveness and employee well-being, then we had all better be specialists in change, behavioural science and complex systems. Not many people can claim that pedigree. Makes you think, doesn’t it?


  1. Thanks for the insight Marc. It’s certainly got me asking some self awareness questions this morning.

    The naming/labeling what you call yourself does throw up an interesting dilemma though. From what you have described I would say a lot of what I do could be described as an organisational development specialist. However it is a not a term that will help me drive sales. It’s not something recognised by the SME businesses we mainly deal with. To be honest it’s not a title even some of the blue chips we work with would understand.

    So the dilemma is this; even though getting the title right for you as an individual may fit nicely, taking that title out into the real world creates an even bigger challenge during the sales process. In a world where many consultants unfortunately don’t add value and as such are viewed with trepidation by many, a title that is unknown to the masses only adds to the smoke and mirrors.

    So some of us may well be an ODS’s but for us to start calling ourselves organisational development specialists requires a bigger marketing push from a collective within the consulting/business world so it is a recognised term.


    1. thanks Mike, a very useful challenge of how this could all be useful. I think where your work sits most comfortably is in the change space. Effecting change requires an in-depth understanding of behavioral science, and so whilst using the term OD may not add value in your pursuit of work, it will be important to understand the basic tenets of planned change. Being agents of change may be as nebulous, but it is a critical point of departure.


  2. Hello Marc! A typically well considered and thought provoking set of Insights and questions. Thank you.
    An associate of mine had on his business card only three things:
    No three syllabled words at all ! The fact that he is one of the great dispute resolvers falls under the category “Friend”.
    I wonder how we can be more of a “Friend” to our clients?
    Working with them to find the best resolutions to their issues and opportunities which may fall directly out of our own store rooms.
    Being honest about where we can add value.
    Using research which sits comfortably or uncomfortably with them rather than for the wrapping paper of our own stories.
    Sharing stories and truly eliciting the learning and wisdom from within their very own potential.
    I would like to put “Energy Elicitor” on my card, but if OD Consultant is a hard sell, I’m not sure how much more difficult this title may be?


    1. thanks Steve, I absolutely agree that we need to find our unique voice and then let the title (if any) fit. I however observe too many people in our field masquerading as consultants when in fact their space is more niche. They have deeper expertise in a smaller focus area, but begin to meddle and advise in larger organisational change, and without context and understanding, can make some ill informed recommendations. I believe there is a danger lurking there.


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