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CIPD OD Conference 2019


Jemma MacLean, Insight’s Client Relationship Manager, recently attended the CIPD Organisational Development conference.  Here are her reflections…

Last year’s CIPD Organisation Development conference was centered around the development of OD skills to drive organisational change. It also posed a question that I hadn’t thought about before – Should/would/could OD be more central to the business than HR? In my experience, HR and OD are symbiotic; both enablers of organisational performance and surely more reliant on each other’s expertise than not.

This year’s conference was structured differently – more case studies and panel debates over the two days – but that theme of HR vs OD came up again. A basic difference in the two is assuming HR is transactional and OD has a strategic focus. But many organisations don’t have the luxury of a separate OD function so ‘HR’ takes on responsibility across the whole people agenda. Does it really matter what we’re called as long as we’re focused on driving organisational and individual effectiveness? In a nutshell, as one speaker commented, we exist to “stop interactions becoming transactions”.

Throughout the conference panel discussions were more future-focused – exploring the role OD plays in shaping the workplaces of the future – and case studies focused on what has been done across organisations in the public, private and third sectors. There was a feeling that we need to move from traditional organisational structures which are very hierarchical to environments that create networks of empowered teams underpinned by efficiencies in technology. That alters the focus of the skills we need our leaders to demonstrate and develop – collaboration, resilience, agility, critical thinking, emotional intelligence.

And the focus for OD practitioners has to be ensuring a focus on the individual. This is despite – or alongside – the need to embrace digital capabilities. We need to ensure we fully grasp the business issues that affect culture rather than setting out to ‘change the culture’. We need to ensure there is a connectedness to the values and purpose of organisations, and help people engage during, and in preparation for, periods of uncertainty.

We heard views on the future of performance management and the importance of regular developmental conversations that focus on how someone is doing rather than what they are doing. We heard how important it is to involve everyone in transformational change and to develop the skills used by Marketing colleagues: knowing and involving your customers, using language that encapsulates your business, knowing your impact on the bottom line.

And the session that had the biggest impact on me and many in the audience was by Jennifer Flint from Karbon Homes. She shared the story of the mergers and acquisitions that shaped Karbon Homes and the creation and re-creation of values that reflected the growing organisation. But the bit that really resonated was her honesty in sharing the pitfalls of being a leader, and the importance of encouraging leaders to ask for help when they need it. Where OD and HR can really make a difference is in creating environments where people can be their authentic selves, where vulnerability is seen as a strength and where success is achieved as a team. And we can do that regardless of whether our job titles say HR or OD.

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