After graduating from university, I started my career in Recruitment Process Outsourcing for large organisations. I was then headhunted by a high-growth company that wanted to set up an enterprise wide function. It was a really demanding role and highlighted how important it was for the different functions of an organisation to be aligned around the strategy. The challenges I faced really got me thinking about how to create organisational change when different parts of the company have competing agendas!
I decided that I wanted to be an external consultant, however, I recognised that I needed to get exposure to different operating environments. So, I resigned from my job and went to work in Asia Pacific to see first-hand how international businesses operate and experience different work cultures. I became a training manager in Shanghai working with international companies such as eBay and Intel. It was an incredible eye opener on so many levels. While out there, I discovered Organisation Development, and immediately saw how it could create sustainable change. I then moved to Sydney and got a job with a consulting firm that was working with large firms like Visa and IBM. I really benefited from working alongside experienced consultants and learning from them on the job. While I was with the firm, I studied extensively in the evenings. I became accredited in a range of behavioural and consulting tools and learned how to apply different diagnostic frameworks and change management methodologies.
After a few years, I moved back to the UK and took the big step of starting my own Organisation Development practice. Since then I’ve gained a Masters in Systemic Leadership and Organisational Development and gained my Chartered Status with the CIPD. This has really enhanced my understanding of how companies work and increased my effectiveness as a consultant.
I’m responsible for the full client lifecycle. I meet with prospective new clients, conduct the initial research meetings, and design and deliver the interventions. The main methods I use for delivering organisation development solutions are through workshops, coaching, research or consulting. I also oversee the functions such as marketing and finances. I really enjoy the variety of the work.
Most of my clients are based in central London so I’m out of the office 3 – 4 days a week. When I’m onsite with a client I’m typically either conducting research meetings, coaching executives or delivering workshops.
When I’m back in the office, my responsibilities are usually researching and planning interventions, account management or the many tasks that come from running my own business!
Today I’m writing a proposal for an engagement focused on developing a project governance framework for an organisation going through digital transformation. I’m also meeting with the Chief Executive of a high growth company to work on the restructure of his senior leadership team and I’ve got a 60 minute skype coaching session with an HR Director. I also have to provide some follow-up activities for a board away day that I ran last week. If I have time, I’m also speaking to our marketing consultant about the brand refresh for Outstand.
Good commercial awareness is essential to engage fully with your clients. You need to be able to read an organisation’s strategy or target operating model and understand where they will need to build capacity to achieve this and identify where the performance gaps might lie.
As a minimum you need a deep understanding of the behavioural sciences especially leadership, group dynamics and work design.
Listening skills and emotional intelligence. You need to have the ability to understand your client’s perspective and really understand what influences are shaping their decisions and interpretation of situations. You may not agree with their actions but if you can understand what’s driving their behaviour you can work you can develop a partnership to help drive change. As you meet different stakeholders, you start to identify patterns and put the pieces of the jigsaw together to develop a complete picture of how an organisation operates. This helps you to get to the heart of the matter and enables you to identify what are the symptoms, and what are the fundamental causal problems you need to address in a system.
Getting a whole organisation to buy-in to the solutions we come up with. The commissioner of the work is usually onboard, however, the challenge is identifying and engaging with stakeholders who may perceive our work as threatening or just another ‘HR fad’. The key is to engage them early in the design of the solution so that they feel part of the process and can see the value that your work will bring to their area of responsibility.
The other challenge I face when running a consultancy is striking a balance between delivering work and generating new work. Organisation development solutions are often quite complex and all consuming, so you need to be disciplined and be thinking 6 months into the future to ensure you have a healthy pipeline of work.
There is a lot of unnecessary stress and challenge within organisations. As an external consultant you’re able to take a unique view of an organisation and use your role to connect different stakeholder groups who may not work easily together and facilitate a more constructive relationship. Organisation development allows you to make a fundamental difference to people’s working lives and improve the conditions they find themselves in. The great thing is that if you improve the culture and the system that employees work in, business results will improve as well!
You need to have an absolute commitment to learning as new research is constantly emerging. I’d recommend an academic course with a practical component. As Kurt Lewin, the father of the organisation development profession, said, “there is nothing so practical as a good theory”. The workplace is changing so it’s important to stay informed of the impact of trends such as technology, flexible working and diversity and inclusion.
You need to be open minded and be able adapt your approach to different situations. You will learn as much from your clients as they learn from you. No two organisations are the same and therefore no two solutions you design are the same!
You also need to have a systemic way of seeing organisations and be able conceptualise how the different parts connect to each other. This allows you to think through how your intervention will affect the organisation. All OD interventions have unintended consequences!
Finally, I’d also recommend gaining experience in project management, as most of your work is based around initiating and executing pieces of work around specific timelines. It’s a great discipline to have and clients really appreciate it.
There’s much more to our profession than HR and L&D – which area would you like to specialise in?
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