Fostering Organization Development (OD) to sanitize Organizational Leadership

Author: Justine Chinoperekweyi, Ph.D.,

People must always come first in any process of sustainable development” Robert Mugabe.
Most working professionals are in bondage of ‘sugarcoated or marinated’ modern day slavery. Some have been locked in the same cubicles for years, some are denied their basic rights as workers, some are discriminated, others are bullied, and harassed; globally there are increasing issues of debt bondage, forced labour, intimidation and violence against employees. We face these issues from people, probably it’s more accurate to say ‘abnormal people’ in organizations and societies. There is need for the sanitization of abnormal people in decision making positions. As a multi-disciplinary field premised on whole system interventions, I submit that cultivating OD thinking in organizational leadership will lead to broader outcomes at self, group, organizational and societal levels.
The challenge of organizations today resembles the challenges that organizations were facing at the time the OD field was introduced. Leaders of the post World War 2 time, and leaders of today are merely concerned with driving performance ‘Now’, using people as machines. We are living in an economic environment that seemingly demands increased productivity, so much such that ‘leaders’ are tightening controls and asking people to do more work in less time. Most ‘leaders’ no longer pay attention to human fulfillment, employees’ development and employee satisfaction – its accurate to say, most employers and ‘corporate leaders’ don’t care about employees’fulfillment or more broadly improvement of the human condition. Most strategies in organizations are exclusively driven by weekly or quarterly performance rather than quality and the values of the people. Leaders, actually it’s inaccurate to call them leaders, rather let say those in decision making positions are always battling the demands for quick results and pressure from boards and oversight committees. They are executionary, competitive, and acquisitive in the strategic and operational roadmaps. This has left most of those in decision making positions, and even Consultants, with no time for employee development or learning interventions.
Despite all the information shared through different learning platforms and those in decision making positions attending numerous workshops, employees in most organizations are still evaluated on short-term results, yet these do not really measure anything of value for the longevity of the company. Unfortunately, these short-term results get tied to incentives and rewards and start to transform employee behaviour in a negative way. Most organizations blindly reward external competencies such as revenue, profit, new product breakthrough, cost savings, and market share growth. The blind and single-minded focus on these external results has caused most organizations to miss the underlying dynamics supporting sustainable value creation and peak performance. Value creating conversations are nolonger on the board room agenda, as those with decision making powers always get soaked in driving external competencies now. Unfortunately, value creation discussions are gossip subjects in office hallways and social media platforms by ordinary and powerless employees.
Furthermore, we live at a time were training, development and education systems focus on learning about things. Employees are forced to learn ‘what to think’ and not ‘how to think and be’. Training, development and education systems focus on filling up the participants’ knowledge containers, but rarely consider comprehension of knowledge, expansion of knowledge, and effective application of knowledge. After training and development engagements, very few organizations provide a conducive environment for employees to flourish and prosper. In the end, whatever is accumulated withers; like a turtle sensing danger, the employees hide in their shells.
Modern organizations, just like those in of the 1920s and 1930s, also glorify models that promote employees’ split personality phenomenon and impression management. In order to appeal to superiors and attract external rewards and incentives, employees are forced to intentionally alter their true personalities – both by acting more aggressive than usual or by being uncharacteristically taciturn at work. We see in most organizations employees put a ‘work face’ when dealing with their colleagues, teams, bosses and clients. Folks, changing personality is tiring and wearing a false face is stressful. Impression management undermines individuals’ engagement and thwarts their development thereby reducing potential. It further stifles innovation due to ‘cookie cutter’ environments that create employee clones unable to see one another’s shortcomings, or for that matter, opportunities.
It’s unfortunate that in today’s information age, we have people we call leaders instituting policies against employees engaging in commerce or in the use of social media during working hours; yet they are engaged in such activities. Let’s be reasonable, without knowing business or what’s in a business plan, how are employees supposed to understand the strategic underpinnings of goals, serve cross-functional customer needs, and even innovate new products or services. OD thinking recognizes that when an organization teaches its employees about business, they can better serve the needs of all stakeholders. Moreso, policies about personal time versus work time need to be reasonable. In open organizations, with employee who know what is expected on them, prohibiting the use of social media at work is short-sighted. Smart, engaged, and responsible employees can surely do wonders for your brand through social media platforms.
Just like in the 1930s and early 1940s, there is need to adapt our business methods to demonstrate alignment with the environment and stakeholders and position our organizations as instruments for the betterment of the human condition. OD brings about interventions that use data to focus attention on areas in need of improvement and on improving the human condition. OD enables organizations to develop a macro-perspective of industry evolution and enable leaders to recognize the powerful dynamics of “dislocations”, the forces that give birth to industries, foster their growth, and cause their decline (Kaplan and Johnston, 1998).
OD was born out of earlier concern for global social justice. Stories of the leadership crises at individual, family, organization, and societal levels today confirm the need for the rebirth of OD in order to help organizations assume the dominant position of improving the human condition. The roots of social justice need to be upheld by existing and contemporary OD practitioners as a way to liberate people and societies from the ‘sugarcoated and marinated’ modern day slavery approaches in organizations and societies. In 1946 Kurt Lewin emphasized the need for OD to address not only the individual, the group, and the organization but also the larger society on issues such as discrimination against minority groups. Though these acts of social injustice are prevalent in our societies and organizations, they have been normalized through certain phrases regarded as wisdom and policies regarded as instruments for the protection of stakeholders. Organizations have normalized the Taylorism, Fayolism, Weberism (TFW) Virus and the employees and common man are at the receiving end.
In order to lead change, continuous improvement, and more importantly improve the human condition, there is need to uphold the Soul of OD and the Heart of Leadership. As new OD values emerge, lest we forget the foundational humanistic, societal and democratic values or pillars of OD. As beautifully put by Greiner and Cummins (2004), OD was designed to “democratize” life in organizations.
Want to learn more about Organization Development and Leadership, follow Centre for Organization Leadership and Development (COLD), read the Organization Leadership and Development Quarterly (OLDQ), and join the Organization Leadership and Development Network (OLDN). Established in Zimbabwe, OLDN has active Chapters in Nigeria, Botswana, Kenya, South Africa, India, and Afghanistan. Visit or write to

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