What are the key responsibilities of an Organisation Development Consultant?
I work as an Organisation Development Consultant for Distinction along with my co-founder Dani Bacon. Together we work with a fascinating variety of companies in different industries to achieve their strategic objectives. We provide a wide range of support for leaders. This could involve developing the next generation of leaders or helping them build a high-performing team. It could be breaking down barriers between different teams and improving coordination and key priorities.
We work on the full client lifecycle, so that covers:
- the initial discovery meeting where we start to understand what the leader and their organisation is looking to achieve
- conducting in-depth research
- designing and delivering the interventions
Organisation development is all about taking a systems approach to helping organisation achieve their goals. The main methods we use for delivering organisation development solutions are workshops, coaching, research and consulting. Dani and I split the responsibilities for marketing and finances which means our roles have a lot of variety and are intensely rewarding.
What’s a typical day for an Organisation Development Consultant?
I set my alarm at 5.30am, which is painfully early, but the only way to get some exercise in before my 3 year-old and 10 month old wake up. Today is primarily, a development day rather than delivering work.
The first piece of work I do is completing the first draft of an article I’ve been asked to write for HRZone. It’s a 4-part series on Organisation Design. I’ve already read a number of academic papers to find the latest research and ensure everything I share is evidence-based. This article is about how to engage your stakeholders in the process. Dani and I are writing a book on Decision Making, so I also take 15 minutes to edit one of the sections I’ve written and post it on LinkedIn to see what people think of it. This post is about the impact of emotions on decision-making. Spoiler alert emotions matter a lot!
08:00 Content Creation
Our clients are primarily based in London, but we also have clients from further afield such as New York. Since Covid struck I’ve gone from working 3-4 days a week in London to delivering most work remotely, although people are slowly starting to return to work but mainly hybrid. Many of our workshops are now Hybrid which requires extra thought to ensure they are inclusive, engaging, and interactive for everyone however they join the session.
09:30 Executive Coaching
After sending the first draft over to Dani to review, I have an Executive coaching session with the partner of a professional services firm. The practice they are leading is growing extremely quickly, so it’s about helping them stay proactive, build their team across different European locations and balance their many different responsibilities. It’s a really enjoyable coaching assignment. You always have to grade the tasks you set and the difficulty of the coaching questions you ask according to the experience, ability and capacity of the individual.
11:30 Client Discovery Meeting
Just before lunch, Dani and I have a discovery meeting with an independent school to scope an event for all of their back office and support staff. It’s a really big investment in time for the team, so we want to make sure it’s a really impactful event. We spend some time understanding some of the challenges they are having, the culture they are looking to create and how they would like the participants engage to on the day. We explore different options and agree to develop a proposal for them. I haven’t been back up to Newcastle since I was at University so I’m really looking forward to it.
13:30 Leadership Programme Design
This afternoon, Dani and I have been putting the final touches on a leadership programme we’re developing for a Technology Start-Up company. It’s a venture capital-backed start-up so they are very ambitious.
We’ve been working with them to help establish their way of working and leadership culture. They are committed to supporting their new managers as they navigate fast-growth and changing contexts, so we’re designing a programme that will help define what it means to be a leader in their organisation and providing them with the mindset skills and tools to be effective.
Dani has been doing the hard work on this one. However, we come together regularly to codesign different elements of the programme and test out ideas with each other. We’re bringing a systemic approach to the programme by inviting the senior managers into the training. They will be working with the managers to define the culture and clarify expectations of each other along the way.
15:00 Strategy Design
We got confirmation today that we’re going to be working with the senior leadership team of a company in the renewables sector to develop their strategy. So we’re beginning the process of designing it. Before we do field research, the first thing we do is sign a non-disclosure agreement and ask for lots of information such as their corporate strategy and business plans. This gives us valuable insights into the level of their ambition and the required shift in capability. It also helps us understand how well articulated the strategic direction is. We have 4 weeks to get ready, so we have to get the research booked in as soon as possible.
16:00 Coaching Check Ins
My final Distinction task for today is to do a weekly check-in with the different people I’m coaching. They all have actions plans to implement so I send them a friendly reminder about their action plan and see how they’re progressing. This can be through email and I’m increasingly using WhatsApp voice messages. This additional interaction between the formal coaching sessions really helps my clients feel supported, ensures they keep up the momentum and encourages them to implement any difficult actions they may be procrastinating about
17:00 CIPD Central London Branch
As I’m finishing up for the day, the last thing I do is work on my CIPD responsibilities. I’m a very active for volunteer for the CIPD. I’m currently the vice chair of the CIPD Central London branch. This involves lots of behind the scenes organising to keep the team enthused and ensure our work is aligned with the strategy. I also deliver 9 live events a year. We’ve just signed off the strategy for 2022/3 so I’ll be leading on our OD programme. I’m looking forward to delivering a session called ‘Leading Change Without the Chaos”. I’m also the Chair of the CIPD Central London Organisation Development group, so I’m currently trying to find an OD expert on inclusion for our next event
What skills are needed to succeed as an Organisation Development Consultant?
Business acumen is important. You need to be able to understand and interpret an organisation’s strategy or operating model. This means understanding where a client needs to build capacity and where the performance gaps might lie. Also strategic documents may not answer the vital questions, so you need to be comfortable raising this with a senior leader who may feel sensitive to being challenged.
As a minimum you need a deep understanding of the behavioural sciences especially around leadership, group dynamics and work design. Emotional intelligence gives you the ability to understand your client’s perspective and really understand what influences are shaping their decisions and how they are interpretating different situations. If you can understand what’s driving their behaviour you can work out how to challenge them constructively.
Having a systemic mindset allows you to identify patterns and put the different pieces of the jigsaw together to create a complete picture of how the organisation work and integrate (or not!). This helps you to differentiate between what are the symptoms, and what are the fundamental issues you need to fix in order for the organisation to move forward.
What challenges do you face as an Organisation Development Consultant?
Getting whole organisation buy-in to the solutions we create can be a challenge. We work hard to co-create solutions with our clients and the different stakeholders, so they have a sense of ownership. The commissioner of the work is usually onboard, however, the challenge is identifying and engaging with stakeholders who may perceive our work as potentially threatening their status or they been through so many change projects they see this as just another ‘HR fad’. They think that if they keep their head down this will pass. The key is to engage them early in the process, really listen to them and build their ideas into the solution. They can see that if they advocate for our programme it will help them achieve their personal and business goals.
The other challenge Dani and I face is the balance between delivering work and generating new work. One of our main strategies is to deliver excellent projects so that people refer us. We also regularly publish articles and appear on podcasts to share our best tips and techniques. The idea is to spread the idea of OD. We believe if everybody practiced a little bit OD it would make a huge difference to the way organisations work. Organisation development solutions are often quite complex and are delivered over a period of time, so you need to be disciplined and be thinking 6 months into the future to ensure you have a healthy pipeline of work.
What keeps you motivated to go into work every day?
It’s very satisfying when you create positive change in an organisation. You can see organisations adopt a more productive way of working and people grow in confidence in front of your eyes. You can never entirely predict what the change will be because organisations are complex adaptive systems. However, you know there are a number of consistent steps that you can take that will create positive change.
There is a lot of unnecessary stress in organisations and the work we do alleviates this. As an experienced external consultant, you’re able to take a unique view of an organisation and quickly understand the points of maximum leverage to make a change. Organisation development allows you to make a fundamental difference to people’s working lives and improve the conditions they find themselves in. The great thing is that if you improve the culture and the system that employees work in, business results will improve as well!
What advice would you give someone considering a career as an Organisation Development Consultant?
You need to have an absolute commitment to learning as new research is constantly emerging and the workplace is always changing. I spend a minimum of 5 hours a week learning. On top of that I’m always listening to podcasts (my current favourite is ‘Talking About Organisations’) and audible books. I’m currently working my way through 29 hours of the Laws Of Human Nature by Robert Greene. It’s a fairly dark take on human behaviour but contains some interesting insights.
If you’re keen to get into Organisation Development, I’d recommend an academic course with a practical component. As Kurt Lewin, the father of the organisation development profession, said, “there is nothing so practical as a good theory”. I studied a Masters in Systemic Leadership and Organisation Development. On top of the great content, being a 3-year course allowed me to really soak up OD over a long period of time and apply it. OD is as much a mindset as a skillset. You write lots of papers on your engagements which encourages you to reflect on your practice.
The workplace is evolving with the introduction of hybrid working, digital transformation, machine learning and automation. There are new generations of employees entering the workforce, while older workers are staying longer than ever. There is a greater drive for Diversity and Inclusion than ever before so it’s important to stay informed of the latest research on trends.
You learn as much from your clients as they learn from you. No two organisations are the same and therefore no two solutions you design are the same! You also need to be open minded and be able adapt your approach to different situations.
Curiosity is critical. You really need to be curious to understand how organisations work. You need to have a systemic way of seeing organisations and be able conceptualise how the different parts connect to each other. This allows you to think through how your intervention will affect the organisation. All OD interventions have unintended consequences!
Finally, I’d also recommend developing the discipline of project management, As an Organisation Development Consultant most of your work is based around initiating and executing pieces of work around specific timelines while being focused on achieving specific outcomes and outputs. It’s a really useful discipline to develop and clients really value it.
We have some great resources on Organisation Development in our Knowledge Hub so do take a look. We add to it regularly so check back for new content and subscribe to our weekly newsletter to get more updates.
Organisation Development Consultant
FCIPD MSc FLPI