How to Get Started in the Field of OD

How to Get Started in the Field of OD


Many people have asked me this question – “How do I get started in the field of Organization Development?”  The first step is: understand the role of the Organization Development Professional (OD) and how you can provide value to the organization with your skills and knowledge.

OD Professionals have a special mindset that sets them apart from others.  They must use strategic thinking skills to help leaders identify the issues and problems organizations face and lead them to where they want to be.

How do you learn to be a strategic thinker?  1. Identify the organization’s goals, strategies, and history, 2. Recognize how the organization is currently performing in comparison to their competitors, and 3. Define their leadership style and culture.  Where do they want to go in the future?  4. Identify the gaps and the steps needed to go from the current state to the future state.

Next, you must understand the role of the OD Professional.  OD Professionals help senior leaders solve business problems.  In order to be successful, OD professionals guide senior leaders by gaining their commitment, buy-in and trust, and understanding their priorities.  OD Professionals do not solve client problems!  Instead, they offer tools and processes to help clients get to the root cause of the problem to find the most effective solution.

OD professionals are teachers!  They teach others how to practice OD.  Organization learning is integrated into the project so the organization learns how to implement change now and in the future.

One of the most important skills needed are facilitation skills to plan and facilitate successful meetings. Using tools such as brainstorming, affinity diagrams, appreciative inquiry, setting norms, voting techniques, dialoguing, parking lot, just in time learning, intervening, debriefing and giving feedback, helps groups to effectively work together to achieve their goals and outcomes.

Process skills are also valuable as an OD Professional.  Leading and supporting the senior leadership team through a change management initiative implementation, supporting a team project, working with six sigma teams, conducting a process improvement initiative, are some of the areas OD Professionals can support the organization. Some of the tools used are gantt charts, control charts, fishbone diagrams, analyzing data, problem solving and decision making tools, process mapping, force field analysis—these tools help the teams to be successful.

Influence skills and interpersonal skills are necessary to develop the rapport needed to interact successful with senior leader teams.  OD professionals must understand how others communicate, their motivators and personal preferences, their value drivers, and their conflict and negotiation styles.  When OD professionals meet with their business clients, they need to develop rapport, identify the client’s needs, ask questions to understand their business challenges, gain agreement and contract to identify deliverables and outcomes, gain buy-in and commitment to the OD process and establish roles and responsibilities.

To gain experience as an OD professional, you need to start by working on a project.  Roland Sullivan and William Rothwell identified three intervention areas– organization, team, and Individual.  In each of these areas are different types of interventions such as strategic planning, process improvement, performance management, leadership development, team performance, project planning, group conflict, succession planning, job enrichment, career development, etc.

Offer your support to help a client with one of these interventions using an OD approach.  Interview the client to establish the need, contract for deliverables, co-create a data collection tool and collect data, provide the client feedback on the data, and help the client identify the priorities and create an action plan. Finally, implement the plan, measure the results and conduct a feedback session with the client to analyze the outcomes.

Recognize your strengths as an OD Professional by completing an OD Self- Assessment created by Rothwell and Sullivan.  Identify your development needs and your areas of strength.  Determine areas where you can transfer your expertise into OD.  Update your bio and list your strengths, transferable skills, projects you’ve completed, and other contributions you’ve made.

I recommend completing an advanced professional development programs in several specialized areas to add to your credentials.  Several areas to consider: Conflict Management, Assertiveness Training, Using Assessments (e.g., DISC, Myers Briggs Type Indicator, various Culture Surveys) Strategic Planning, Leading Effective Meetings, Statistical Quality Tools, DDI’s Behavioral Training, Training Certification, and Presentation Skills.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that while certification is not required, some employers prefer or require certified job candidates. In order to operate as an independent consultant, OD consultants may benefit from a reputation verified by industry credentials. Although graduate programs in organizational development are available, students who earned their degree in another field may enroll in an organizational development certificate program.

Explore OD certificate programs. Most OD consultants may have backgrounds in business, HR, training and development or psychology so it is important to find a certificate program that provides OD guidelines and processes to help Organizations implement an OD approach to change.

The Institute of OD offers an 8 month online OD Certification Program meeting 3 hours per month to help participants gain the experience needed to practice OD.  This OD certification program demonstrates how to apply OD’s model for change (Action Research Model, ARM) and uses a human interaction technology approach to help the client successfully implement change and achieve sustainable results.  To learn more about the OD Certification Program:

Author:  Nancy L. Zentis, Ph.D., CEO, Institute of OD
She can be reached at, 955-341-2522.

1., How to Become an Organization Development Consultant.
2.     Practicing Organization Development, A Guide for Consultants. William J. Rothwell, Roland L. Sullivan, John Wiley & Sons, Mar 4, 2005.
3.     E-Book – Practicing Organization Development, A Guide for Leading Change.  Self-Assessment included.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column]


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