How to Get Started in O.D. (Without the Degree)

The one question I am asked almost weekly is, “How do I get started in Organization Development?” After 20 years in the field, I am starting to see that to excel as an organizational consultant is less about specialized knowledge and skills and more about a way of perceiving and thinking. Let me explain.

The best consultants I have worked do not all have masters’ degrees. Some don’t even have undergraduate degrees. What they do have in common are these five attributes:

  1. They have mastered systems thinking which means they get how organizations function in order to create value. They have an intuitive understanding that in order to improve a business result like customer service, many internal performance levers such as customer insight, employee performance expectations, service processes, employee training & selection as well as leadership performance and culture need to be enhanced and aligned.
  2. They have a vision for what organizational health looks like. They know that in order for a company to deliver long-term sustainable health that all of the disciplines and roles within the company need to be equally respected valued and leveraged.
  3. They have an ability to simplify the complex. Their framing skills enable them to help their clients get their arms around all their issues and challenges so that the best path to greater success can be seen.
  4. They know how to position their expertise against business performance gaps (vs. being a pair of hands that simply implements a solution that a client requests.) They see themselves as peer-to-peer partners who fully understand that when their expertise is applied leadership and organizational capacity and business results are dramatically improved.
  5. They have an ability to simultaneously manage the tactical and relational dynamics of the client/consultant relationship. Every consulting engagement winds up including some group facilitation, individual coaching and/or project management. To do this well, the best consultants are always aware that with change comes resistance and complicated corporate politics.

If you are interested in becoming a consultant and landing work in large organizations, you have probably considered graduate school. While there are so many benefits to graduate school (I have a masters in Organization Development and cannot say enough positive words about my experience) if you do not have the time, money or inclination for advanced degrees there are other ways. You can get started now, in your current job. Here’s three tips to get started:

  • Proactively learn more about “organizational anatomy” and systems thinking
  • Hone your framing skills. Learn how to sort and organize information so that others experience the gift of being understood.
  • When you are asked to implement a solution, try out some basic contracting skills. Before you say yes, probe to better understand the business outcomes that the requested solution is supposed to achieve and proactive suggest additional ways to create value.

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