HR and OD ‘should be one and the same’

Organisational development needs to start with the business and HR’s role is to facilitate it, delegates at the CIPD annual conference heard from a panel of OD experts

“Ultimately it starts with the chief executive and the board, but in practice they have a business to run and the expertise is in HR,” said Nigel Jeremy, head of learning and organisation development at Marks & Spencer.

Tess Field, vice-president of OD for EMEA, Latin America and Asia Pacific at Research in Motion (RIM), added: “The business’s request of us is to be the facilitators for the right discussions. 

“Our job is to drag them away from the business now and then. You should have an opinion and challenge but your job is to facilitate.”

Field said RIM, the mobile telecoms company behind Blackberry, approached OD in a different way to many other organisations. 

“We do not have an HR department, we only have OD,” she said. “I find it difficult to understand the logic of business partners who sit in the business handing over to OD specialists. We are trying to make them one and the same at senior levels.”

Richard Crouch, head of HR and OD at Somerset County Council, pointed out that as a facilitator, HR needed to think slightly differently to the rest of the organisation.

“You need someone who questions the norm, who questions the way of doing things that should be questioned,” he said. 

“You also need to make absolutely sure that the message is really understood about why an OD intervention is there. If you can’t sell it to those who are delivering it at the sharp end, then you need to question why you are doing it.”

Crouch said he has always had a chief executive who has been “with it” as far as OD is concerned but “if you have a leadership team that does not get it you have a real problem”.

Jeremy added: “Many boards may not have come across this stuff. You need to educate them but if they know it and they don’t buy it then you probably need to go and do it elsewhere.”