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You Said Your Job Was to Make Us Look Good | Reflections on internal Organization Development Practice Today

Mike Horne
March 17, 2023
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Have you ever heard or used the expression “my job is to make you look good”? Consider the statement, just for a moment.

For those who have used the expression, there must be merit, some redeeming value, in the expression. Isn’t that right? After all, who wouldn’t want another person to look good? I do, in part, because of perceived reciprocity. Alternatively, there are probably a few naysayers, considering that organizations are rarely paragons of virtue. Instead, contemporary organizations are spaces and places where we all work out a shared humanity. Some days find us more civically minded than on other days when self-interest trumps service to organizational purpose. Organization Development (OD) consultants can make good use of the “my job is to make you look good” expression in a few ways, including the work of OD, the motivation to do OD work, and the nature of outcomes in OD work.

I received a comment from a client who echoed me, stating, “You said your job was to make us look good, and you did it.” It has been years since I received the comment, and I only recently reflected on the feedback in the context of experience and the consultant I have become. Today, in a contracting conversation with a client, I cannot imagine myself defining my role or job as making someone else look good. Please do not mistake this as circumspect or suspicious of human nature. Rather, I understand this expression as a way of coming to terms with OD work.

When it is all said and done, one word characterizes OD, and that is change. Alone, it is insufficient to describe how OD professionals assist others to be change-ready and to transition well, but it is foundational to understand what OD professionals do. With the concept of change, the OD specialist and the client can initiate a meaningful dialogue to make the vision possible. All too often, in contemporary OD practice, the focus is on incremental improvement, yielding few outcomes other than a well-deserved or earned personal eureka (not to be underestimated at one level). OD work that focuses narrowly on the details of questionable metrics, whether those arise from Human Resources or elsewhere, is not only deficient, but it stands in the way of assisting with change that contributes to the development or, in a different perspective, to innovation.

The job of the OD practitioner is not about making others look good. If that was the measure of success, we could opt for the reintroduction of charm school back into the executive development curricula of substantive organizations! Sorely, today is lacking enough OD work focused on mission and vision in organizational life. Driven to accelerate results, clients want to know the fastest, cheapest, and best approach to solving an organizational need. While arguably admirable, to counter this influence, the skillful OD practitioner brings an approach that blends the best of a feet-on-the-ground approach with a head-in-the-clouds perspective. By adopting this approach, the consultant assists a client in creating powerful and meaningful change.

Today, we need to consider the work of OD, particularly as it relates to those tasked to provide internal OD services. What would you add to this conversation about internal OD work today?

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