Future of OD in VUCA World

In the world that faces change at the most rapid pace than ever before, the scope of Organizations to benefit from the practice of Organization Development becomes greater and larger than ever before. It is not just the pace at which the world is changing; it is also the nature of change and the dimensions in which the change is taking place that suggests the enormous need for organizations to reorient themselves towards Organization Development perspectives.

The perspective with which the ‘future of OD’ is required to be viewed is two-fold. One is how will OD help organizations of the future and remain relevant; and the other, how OD is evolving as a practice and profession. The future that all industries and professionals are facing is rapidly changing environment in the VUCA world. New challenges are thrown by constant and fast-paced technological advances, increasingly expanding virtual communities, flatter organizations, changing organizational hierarchies, expanding teams across geographies, newer structures or organizations and new emerging markets etc. The relevance of OD as a practice and profession depends on the OD practitioners and community to respond to these rapid changing situations and be able to help client organizations respond to the challenges faced due to these.

Since the client organizations are facing different challenges than they were facing earlier, the response to these ought to be different too. Addressing this, calls for OD profession & practice to also initiate transformation in its functioning, if not fundamentals. While most of the fundamental grounds of OD still remain relevant in today’s time, there is still a need to look at how these fundamentals may be applied differently to better respond to the future needs of the organizations. OD as a practice has adopted some polarities with élan; for example, looking at change as an episodic phenomenon as well as a continuous phenomenon; interventions intended to work on individual development and change as well as those that address the organization as a whole; the presence of the external consultant and also internal consultant, furthermore the inclusion of organizational members as change agents etc. Apart from these several different approaches are accepted to be adopted by different OD practitioners as OD intervention approach.

Being the robust professional practice, OD practice may still continue to withhold these polarities and make the best use of these and the range in between. However, certain questions still stare strongly at the OD practitioners of today. One of the underlying understandings that OD practitioners are constantly aware of is that ‘implementing Planned Change takes time’. The challenge put forth by the emerging future is that the organizations, technologies and market environments now change at much rapid pace than ever before, under such circumstances, how relevant the Planned Change would be? Would it even be possible to always have an episodic planned change as a strategy to deal with the challenges? Would ‘continuous change’ become the norm of change management? How would the older interventions and methodologies be relevant in future? What integrations would the OD practitioners need to adopt to respond to the new challenges? The answers to these are perhaps possible only in the ‘here & now’ in which the practitioner is at the moment. It would also require that the OD community needs to work much closely, than ever, to integrate their individual strengths and learning to advance the profession.

The other challenge would be to maintain the ‘humanistic’ approach to solving organizational issues and challenges. The practitioners would need to walk a tight rope to maintain the ‘humanistic’ approach to solutions while additionally using strategic and critical thinking skills to solve organizational issues with help of technology.

Despite the challenges, there is an enormous scope of OD being a highly useful practice, not just for organizations but also for the larger society. The future is posing complex challenges at the social and human level as well. The OD interventions, having grown out of the psychology, sociology and anthropology underpinnings are grounded in human and social approaches to solve behavioral change issues which would be much required in the time of Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity.

The ‘future-ready’ OD approaches, to look out for, would involve complex adaptive systems, complex responsive systems and dialogues between the various entities of the organization systems.

Volatile – Dealing with the impact of technology

The influence, use and general uncertainty of technology has made the digital conversation in organisations a much higher priority than ever before. On one hand technology offers opportunities, opens up possibilities and promotes efficiency, while its very disruptive nature also poses a near-constant threat to established businesses.

Emerging communication technologies are amongst the areas with the biggest impact to L&D, consistently providing opportunities to diversify and scale. In just a few years, mobile drastically changed the way we approach work, while its long-term impact and integration into the workplace remains to be seen. The opportunities that wearable, immersive and other emerging technologies provide us are even hazier, leaving L&D to try and make sense of when a shift in technology might happen and, if so, how the workplace can benefit from it.

Uncertain – global skills shortages

With a potential shortage of 40 million high-skilled workers by 2020 (Mckinsey, June 2012), increasing competition for top talent and a growing crisis regarding the lack of future leaders, leadership is a very real issue within organisations today. The first world’s ageing population has lead to a shrinking of the labour pool while jobs are changing – companies aren’t able to go out and easily recruit the all-in-one graduate, technical and varied talent that’s needed to bridge the skills gap.

It is the responsibility of talent, L&D and HR to develop existing employees and new hires into the talent that not only fills this void, but can lead an organisation into the future. In a VUCA world of pace and uncertainty, leadership development is of the utmost importance to the future success of leading companies.

Complex – increased regulation

Industry regulation is an important driving force for learning and development because it triggers so much training to be commissioned. Even in recent years, events such as the global banking crisis keep the pressure on risk, safety and increased regulation, which has a knock-on effect to L&D.

The increasing transparency and visibility of global operations also drives compliance. Not only is global accountability and safety a key concern of multi-national organisations, but compliance training also offers a means of standardising process at a global scale. While it doesn’t necessarily pose a constant, direct threat to any one area of business, global and industry regulation certainly has a bearing on many decisions and business initiatives.

Ambiguous – organisation-wide leadership

Leadership training has historically been about training leaders, but with a lack of future leaders in today’s organisations, that must drastically change. The messages and skills of leadership can no longer be filtered from the top downwards; they must spread deeper and wider into an organisation, with the skills taking root at all levels. In essence, it’s about deploying training that’s more effective, brings permanent change and doesn’t cause a huge uplift in training cost per person.

Investing in leadership can bridge the skills gap, deal with the impact of technology and help take an organisation into the future, despite the VUCA world we find ourselves in. If you’re interested in exploring how to develop and retain the leaders of tomorrow while delivering higher quality leadership to a wider audience, check out LEO Learning’s Chief Strategy Officer Piers Lea’s slides from his September webinar ‘Solving the leadership crisis’ or get in touch with one of our learning solutions experts here.

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