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Article: The Organizational Development Consultant’s Role in Organizational Change

This article is an excerpt from the author's book on leadership, which will be released in the spring of 2024.

Organizational change is a systematic process that aims to transform operations and people. It entails structural, technological, and cultural changes that can impact various stakeholders, such as management, employees, customers, suppliers, and business partners. Rapid external changes have prompted (gradual and strategic) changes in how organizations operate. Organizations must constantly look for external changes that necessitate a response to avoid misalignment and productivity decline. The increased impetus for change raises the demand for organizational development professionals to manage the process and produce positive outcomes. Despite the pervasiveness of change management, the scorecard of successful implementation is bleak, indicating a clear need for organizations to navigate change with a deeper understanding of the attendant opportunities and pitfalls. Organizational development consultants are trained to assist in this effort by avoiding disaster.

This article explains how organizational development consultants can assist management in successfully implementing change initiatives. It answers fundamental questions like

         What is organizational development?

         What actions should organizational development consultants take to ensure success?

         What is the role of culture in transformation initiatives?

         How should success be measured and evaluated?

When orchestrating change, organizational development consultants will be involved in the following activities:

         Prepare the organization for change by gathering data, preparing assessment tools, and completing the preliminary assessment.

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         Make a plan of action and carry it out.

         Use evaluation methods.

What is organizational change, exactly?

Organizational development and change are present in various shapes and forms. It provides a method for dealing with change, which frequently occurs nonlinearly and involves systems and psychological factors.

The psychological elements of organizational change, which focus on cultural and behavioral aspects and human resources, are more easily implemented. Because the human component is fluid, assessing impact is more complex than determining the structural element. For example, purchasing and installation are less demanding in an information systems implementation than staff training and business process reorientation. Because culture is embedded in organizational practices, changing it necessitates more effort and coordination, resulting in a perpetual deficit gap between external and internal response systems. This dynamic gave rise to the open systems approach, which requires organizations to maintain a “steady state” by constantly aligning with the external environment.

Effective organizational change requires effective leadership in managing the process from start to finish. Organizations that want to implement change initiatives should proceed cautiously, as the journey is delicate and fragile. Transformations are more likely to fail if the process is not managed by trained, influential, and trustworthy leaders with excellent interpersonal skills.

What kind of training should an organizational development consultant have?

Effective change management implementation requires qualified leadership. Management should ensure that competent leadership with training and experience is deployed by appointing someone who can navigate the process and coordinate the disparate parts. The OD team leader should have knowledge, skills, and understanding of change. Many things can cause change. Mergers and acquisitions, technology, competition, supply chain disruptions, and aggressive growth goals can all cause organizations to change their operations and strategy. The OD consultant and supporting team members should bring subject matter expertise to the assignment.

Many universities now offer specialized degrees in organizational development (from undergraduate to doctoral level). Organizations should strive to hire (internally and externally) professionals with a balanced blend of theoretical knowledge and practical experience and those who can think systematically and demonstrate leadership abilities. Technical skills are essential for correctly scoping problems and developing practical and long-term solutions. Many OD engagements fail due to a failure to assess the underlying situation accurately, and a misdiagnosis results in inappropriate treatments.

What Specific Interventions Should the OD Consultant Implement?

The start of the OD consultancy establishes the tone for the rest of the assignment. When change initiatives fail, the root causes can be traced back to mistakes made during the initial engagement with management. The OD consultant uses the initial phase to assess the organization’s readiness for change, establish the need for change, scan the internal and external environments, and establish a clear trajectory for the intervention. Understanding the need for adaptation or identifying the organization’s defining problem is critical to finding long-term and sustainable solutions.

Organizations frequently misdiagnose their situation, so the OD consultant should approach problem identification with an open mind, looking for opportunities to uncover issues that management has not mentioned or considered. Establishing organizational readiness is essential for project success. Technology-based tools for assessing employee readiness for change are becoming more popular, and they can be used to test the environment before committing resources.

During the early consulting phase, teams are also formed. Because of the interdependence factor, a multidisciplinary team is generally well-suited to undertake change initiatives. Experience has shown that change is never localized; it frequently involves multiple systems and processes that must be considered when formulating long-term solutions; thus, a team with diverse skills is well-suited to tackle holistic challenges. The OD consultant may serve as a team leader or as an advisor.

The initial engagement with the senior management team allows for a solid, trusting relationship. Trust is the foundation for developing a client relationship; it clears the way for an open exchange of information and significantly increases the likelihood of success.

The OD consultant is ready to begin the intervention after establishing an interpersonal client relationship, assessing readiness, identifying the root causes of the problem, and developing a work plan.

The organizational development consultant champions the change management process, providing insights to the team on the efficacy of the numerous options available and how to overcome challenges.

During the planning phase, the OD consultant determines which change management model is most appropriate for the problem. Many situational models can be applied to a given assignment. This article delves into four models recommended by David P. Baker, a sociology professor at Penn State, in his book on strategic change management.

         Hard System Approach (HSA) is appropriate for well-defined and predictable problem variables.

         Soft System Methodology (SSM) is appropriate for engagements with a high human factor.

         HSA and SSM are combined in the Systems Intervention Strategy (SIS). This method takes a systems approach to change, looking at all possible solutions involving people, organizations, and technologies triggered by environmental shifts.

         Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is a method of inquiry that seeks to highlight the positive aspects of organizations before attempting to replicate those structures.

Regardless of the model chosen, the OD consultant must take a systems-based approach to change management. The adage “a part of a part is a part of the whole” applies perfectly to OD consulting. When implementing change, consider all elements of the organization to account for the interconnectedness of the various parts. A systems approach ensures alignment between the design intervention, organizational units, and the environment, resulting in a long-term solution that benefits the enterprise.

Because lasting transformations invariably necessitate a mindset shift, all change initiatives will have cultural implications. The OD consultant must incorporate cultural transition into the work plan and focus on influencing behavior and thinking following the desired outcome. A mindset shift is required at all levels to achieve a successful result, beginning with the leaders and ending with the rank-and-file. Examining the culture will reveal existing characteristics supportive of the change and habits adaptable to the new regime. The organizational development consultant will guide the process of retaining cultural elements that support the cause and introducing new behaviors that align with the change, including developing incentives that positively reinforce the desired behavior, attitudes, and mindset. Cultural change takes more time to implement; allow enough time for the process to complete.

How should success be evaluated and measured?

The post-project evaluation allows the OD consultant to distill the success or failure of the change intervention and learn lessons for future projects. Evaluations allow stakeholders—both leaders and rank and file—to provide feedback on the impact of the change on daily operations. The critical actors involved in the transition are best placed to assess its impact and provide information on whether the shift achieved its goal, had no effect, or, in the worst-case scenario, had a negative impact. Quantitative or qualitative data on related metrics or key performance indicators (KPI) collected through questionnaires, or other appropriate means can aid the assessment process.

The evaluation results can objectively measure the efficacy of resource expenditure and provide information about the logic and wisdom of launching the initiative. The evaluation determines how well the project met its intended goal. The upfront effort at project inception to define goals is critical during evaluation. Clear and well-defined objectives are more straightforward to evaluate than vague and imprecise ones. Although the assessment provides a snapshot of the post-implementation conditions, the change process is dynamic, promoting sustainable systems through integration. The OD consultant must ensure that the required physical and psychological behavior changes are not just a sham but are an integral part of the company’s culture.

The difficulties associated with evaluating change include developing the appropriate measuring tools and techniques, the data collection process’s precision, and the evaluation method’s intensity or rigor. Some organizations collect post-implementation data at regular intervals to measure trends and provide a foundation for comparison with pre-implementation data.


The OD consultant’s role in change management is critical to the intervention’s success. In addition to technical assistance, the consultant provides the necessary leadership and interpersonal skills to develop a strong client relationship and orchestrate the multifaceted effort. The consultant directs the process to achieve the best results possible by utilizing specific models, techniques, and tools.

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The author’s bio: P. Ernest Parker, Jr. is a certified public accountant with Parker & Company, LLC, and a partner in Monrovia, Liberia, and Ashburn, Virginia, USA. He is a CPA educated in the United States and holds an MBA/MS in general and strategic management from Indiana University’s Kelly School of Business. He is pursuing a doctorate at Regent University’s School of Business and Leadership and can be reached at zurrick@msn.com.

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