“OD Practitioners are behavioural scientists who, through effective relationship-building skills, deliver help and support to a client system with the dual goal of improving the performance as well as the internal health of the system. While they can be experts in specific areas of organisation as well as being technically competent, they are primarily process-oriented practitioners with an aim to pass on the process skills to the client system, so that the client can pursue continuous development independently. The practice design skills of OD practitioners are heavily influenced by their value set and their theory orientation.” (Cheung-Judge 2021)
Unpacking this description reveals that the practice of OD is rich and complex. The field of OD work is with and within living systems—infinitely intertwined and nuanced; impossible ever to fully grasp—there is no obvious ‘end point’.
The description also makes it clear that there are a variety of areas in which an OD practitioner needs to gain mastery, making it critically important for them to engage in the continuous maintenance and development of their knowledge base, their skills and ability sets, not to mention the continuous development of their ethics, values and character. These may include, for example, understanding what organisations are and how they work, being competent in a number of technical areas, cultivating process specialist skills, getting deeper understanding of applied behavioural science—knowing how to design processes to shift people and systems. They need to know how to be an educator and capacity builder, intentionally building skills in those systems with which they work. And they need always to become increasingly savvy at spotting and working with complex human dynamics. In other words, they become specialists at working with complex living human systems.
It is in light of these requirements that the OD practitioner’s commitment to life-long learning is so critical, seeking always to expand their insights into human nature, human behaviour, and human systems, exploring how contexts matter—the whole affecting the parts and the parts influencing the whole.
As a committed learner, the competent OD practitioner will consistently seek feedback, drilling deeper into success and failure, drawing out lessons for future application, eager always to acquire new knowledge, while refreshing old learning. As a learner, they are open to emerging insights in all the academic and practical disciplines related to OD, committed to apply what is true and useful to their OD practice.
Experienced by clients
An OD practitioner competent as a life-long learner is experienced by clients as humbly curious while also deeply knowledgeable across a variety of relevant domains. The practitioner is a trusted source of wisdom built on solid theory and practice. Clients are comfortable bringing their questions and concerns, knowing that they will receive considered answers backed up by appropriate research and data. Moreover, this OD practitioner is a role model to their clients of being committed to continuous growth and development, seizing opportunities to coach and encourage clients as fellow learners. Clients will also be encouraged by the humility of the OD practitioner’s seeking and incorporating feedback for further development.
What the competence ‘looks like’
The characteristics and qualities noted below are not intended to be exhaustive or definitive. Nor are they in any particular order. Nor are the distinctions between ‘Knowledge’, ‘Skills/Abilities’ and ‘Character/Attitude’ hard and fast—rather they are heuristic categories with obviously overlapping edges. The intention is merely to provide a frame of reference for considering important elements of the OD Life-Long Learning competence.