Reflections on the role of OD in the NHS

Richard French-Lowe

26 / 9 / 2015 10.25am

By Richard French-Lowe

Richard is a senior consultant at Birmingham Community Healthcare NHS Trust and received the NML Training and Development Manager of the Year Award in 2013. Find out more about Richard in his interview with Do OD for superstar of the month. You can also follow Richard on Twitter or connect with him on LinkedIn.

Over the past year I have been fortunate enough to undertake academic studies in organisation/organisational (there is a difference) development and change. My understanding and ability to use the tools of OD have greatly increased and my role as a change agent and internal consultant has been greatly enhanced. But it has led me to reflect on the role of OD and the role of learning and development in the NHS and how we market what we do. 

I have worked in the NHS, largely in learning and development (L&D) roles for over 20 years. I’ve worked for some of the largest NHS trusts who could afford to invest in staff development. Along the way I’ve worked with some truly inspirational people who have sought to improve learning for staff improvement and of course, for improved patient care.  

Five years ago I started to notice a change in the job titles in the L&D world. We are no longer L&D 'something or other' but now we are 'OD manager', 'OD practitioner', 'OD director', even 'OD cleaner' (okay I made the last one up but I think you get my point).

I wondered - what has changed and what is so different about being OD? 

I was concerned that we were saying 'OD is better than L&D' and that OD was by itself more effective. What was the evidence for this? Why would it have such a broad impact across learning services in the NHS? Perhaps most importantly, what do our clients think about this? 

Until recently I worked in a small L&D team that didn’t, in the main, work on organisation development (whole organisation change) projects.  In our view much of our work was focused on systems rather than individual staff members so we couldn't be classed as organisational development  and even having an organisation development impact. The services of that team are not likely to change; there is still a need for small team development and other training based interventions. In that team there was one role focused on (‘pure’) OD and I could see the benefits and the differences of that role.

I have pondered for some time about my place within the OD community, do I belong (really I think I'm learning and development with a strong hint of OD)? 

Why has OD taken on such a primary place recently? Are we in L&D seeking to transform ourselves into something better for our organisations or are we really just taking on a tag to seek greater credibility within our organisations? 

The recent Do OD Capability report started to explore these issues. Many of us are primarily engaged in what traditionally would be classed as L&D supported by a heavy dose of coaching. We have though, through Do OD, begun to build a community of practice and hopefully of sharing. Most of us get our CPD from Do OD. But do we really understand and 'do' OD? 

I’m left with two questions.

  • Can we, those not engaged in ‘pure’ OD, really market ourselves with integrity to our organisations as OD?
  • Does it matter whether we call ourselves L&D or OD, if the services and skills that we bring to our organisations are meeting their needs?  
I think it does matter what we call ourselves, not least, as many of our clients don’t understand the term 'OD'. But I don’t think it matters to our clients. I also think we should seek to continue to develop our skills and impact via the Do OD network and others.

Organization Development & Change (General Introduction), 2015, Cummings and Worley 10th Edition CENGAGE Learning, Stamford, USA

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