Basic roles of Organization Development Practitioners during periods of epochal change

Justine Chinoperekweyi, Ph.D.,

The 21st Century is characterized by unprecedented change. In such disruptive environment, Organization Development Consultants need to help organizations integrate traditional, planned, structural change methods with the unpredictability and emergence of new approaches. Though not sufficiently captured in most literature and training programs, today’s change is inherently emergent and unpredictable. It is accurate to state that change is becoming increasingly continuous and disruptive. Emergent change is described as unpredictable, often unintentional, can come from anywhere, and involving relatively informal self-organizing. Literature suggests most organizations these days operate at the ‘edge of chaos and far-from-equilibrium’ with instability and stability intertwined and difficult to separate. In view of emergent change, organizations should cultivate cultures that foster ongoing re-alignment with the environment, ongoing learning and strategy making.
The understanding that organizations are non-linear systems requires a re-conceptualization of the role of leaders and decision makers. In epochal change times, leaders and change agents should expand their effort beyond being mere initiators and implementers of planned organizational change. This demands a shift from becoming merely reactive agents to emergent change forces. In an emergent change environment, change agents should develop the ability to create meaningful synergies and co-create emergent interventions to sustain business activities. It is accurate to posit that leaders and decision makers need to become facilitators and supporters of change rather than controllers of planned change initiatives.
In view of the rapid changes and disruptions in the business environment, contemporary organizations experience fundamental transformations in terms of their structure, systems, strategies, and culture. These transformations demand innovative practices and technologies, greater reliance on collaborative networks, and renewed understanding of change. The transformations also facilitate the need for renewed thinking regarding the roles of OD professionals, with an emphasis on the dual identity of the field – science of change and practice of changing. To aid memory, this article uses the SMART acronym to summarize the roles and responsibilities of OD practitioners:
Support senior leaders and all other organizational members;
Modelling the OD way;
Asking good and penetrating questions;
Research, Report & Recommend; and
Transfer knowledge.

Supporting senior leaders and other organizational members
In line with Process Consultation and a consideration of emergent change, OD Consultants need to support senior leaders and all other organizational members to understand change and cope with paradoxes that emergent change bring. This process should enhance ownership and readiness for change through reframing perspectives or members’ structure of reality and creating collaborative networks. The OD Consultant should facilitate the shift from problem-solving to the endless search for possibilities and partnering with them to co-create further alternatives and achieve efficiency and effectiveness. In supporting senior leaders and other organizational members, OD consultants need to cultivate gadfly mindset and nurture the art of asking good, provocative questions.

Modelling the OD way
OD consultants do not own the change process but engage with the client to unravel the expansive world of possibilities and partner with them for co-creation. This demands a shift from the excessive focus on problems. OD consultants need to facilitate effective leadership culture as a way to encourage new thinking around people in organizations, change and the adoption of sustainable and strategic alternatives. The co-creation process requires a leadership culture premised on positive influence and impact. In modelling the OD way the Consultant continually reviews the design of the organization and what that design does to people mindset, information flow and entire organizational network. In modelling the way, OD Consultants empower their clients to manage their strategies, systems, structure, and culture in ways that facilitates systematic progression.

Asking good and penetrating questions
The Action Research model relies on engagement and inquiry; and yes, OD is an Action Research oriented field. In order to fully understand change and the influencing factors, OD consultants need to be good at asking provocative and generative questions. The process of asking appreciative questions help the consultant, client and client system understand and manage continuous and disruptive change. The ability to ask critical questions also facilitates ownership and readiness for change by the client and the entire client system.

Research, Report, and Recommend
In order to lead sustainable strategic change, OD consultants rely on Action Research to understand the situation and help the client solve problems, manage change effectively and take advantage of emerging possibilities. Research fosters ongoing re-alignment with the environment, ongoing learning and strategy making. This involves reporting on the need for change and making recommendations for improvement and transformation of the client processes and systems.

Transfer knowledge
Without adopting an Expert or Doctor-Patient approach to consulting, OD consultants transfer knowledge that is useful to help the client understand the system and all the influencing factors, The transfer of knowledge is premised on the understanding that organizations are operating at the ‘edge of chaos and far-from-equilibrium’ with instability and stability intertwined and difficult to separate
This article emphasize the need for OD and Change professionals to focus on helping clients and client systems successfully adapt to emergent change. This ambidexterity competence requires fostering collaboration, cooperation, and constellation of strengths between the consultant, client and client system. Be SMART!

Dr. Justine Chinoperekweyi is the CEO at Centre for Organization Leadership and Development (COLD), Zimbabwe. He is an OD Practice-Academic and Instructional Practitioners. He can be reached at

Leave a Comment