The Old Shoe Dog Trick – A New “Old” Tool For OD


By Jennifer Johnson

I used to work for a shoe factory. In that shoe factory was a manager who had worked there for 40 years. He now was the operations director for the region. He was a formally uneducated man he had finished high school, maybe? He spoke plainly, and he liked to ride a motorcycle. He was well respected by the employees at the shoe factory—he was “one of them.” Now, this shoe factory had started out small and in the early years had the sweatshop décor with dark, dirty windows, housekeeping was, lets’ just say, “what housekeeping?” Today that shoe factory is a global organization; modern, sophisticated, classy. The factory itself is clean, bright, well-lit, and refurbished to a modern, sophisticated manufacturing facility. People from the neighborhood picnic down on the lawn because it is pretty, like a park.

Along with all that growth over the many years came all the newest manufacturing technology. The support systems and structures for the organization come from all the brand name organizations: SAP, ADP, Apple, Dell, Six Sigma, TPS, Lean, WorkDay, Peoplesoft, Icims, Siemans, Direct Logic, etc… Everything you need to be efficient, effective, problem solve, run analytics, get to the root cause—you get my drift. With all of these items in place–every time the numbers went South, whenever quality started to fail when production objectives were not met–this long time manager, this “Old Shoe Dog”, would leave his office and go out on the floor.

And his first question was always, “What are you trying to do here? What are you trying to make?” He knew the answer would always end up at, “make a pair of shoes.” His follow up, “So ARE you focused on making a pair?” “Because we have to focus first on making the pair.” Then he would share his “Old Shoe Dog” trick. He would always say go back to the beginning and focus on making that pair go back to the basics. He could always realign everyone involved with making that pair back to the basics of how to make that pair of shoes.

So, “What’s the point?” The point is what is the future of organization development? Every year every decade there are new models, new interpretations, new methodologies, new science, and creative departures from the scholarly studies in organizational development. What’s interesting to me is that no matter how far we depart, no matter what we uncover, no matter how we bend, twist, and pretzel ourselves the fundamentals of OD remain the same. We as human species want to do well. Knowing how to gauge what “well” means is up to interpretation. It is trackable/traceable. It is something we can quantify/qualify through research, through monitoring, through goal setting, through gap analysis. We have tools and techniques that span generations and they all have the potential to be effective to do what we want them to do. We still have room to enhance, improve, and expand. We still have all the options to help humanity in business “do well.”

But I do have to admit, I may have an argument that may seem radical. My radical theory is to return to the “non-radical” basics. Through all of the changes, all of the modifications, all of the turns, all of the hills, all of the valleys, complexities, new initiatives we have too often lost direction, and no longer always know where we started and don’t always know where we will finish.  Sometimes our finish line is beyond what we can see. And I know many OD philosophers, including myself, often start with the end in mind and build our platform steps backward from where we want to end up. But that is different from tracing back to the fundamentals. Back to the beginning. Back to where we can identify where we started; so that we can work our way through in a consistent way, a formatted way, a simplified less complex way, to get us to the finish line. Perhaps there is no “finish line” and that’s why it’s important for us to chart our course in a way that anyone can follow and understand.

Corporations, organizations, and businesses typically have terrible knowledge transfer. And when you lose “the beginning” in memory you lose more than you can calculate! How many people have retired with the basics left inside of them?!  So, I think the future of OD, especially in this incredible time of COVID-19 pandemic, will demand a change in workplaces. And that change will come from every level of the organization There will be desires for different workplace design from entry-level positions up the food chain to the CEOs. I think OD practitioners can capitalize on the opportunity to help organizations reinvent themselves. Using the fundamentals approach will help organizations with the basics. Delving back into the origins will help organizations to identify what it is that they need and want for their organizations to be successful going forward. By bringing them back to the basics, back to the original purpose, back to who they really are, back to the core values, back to the mission, will help them to identify the steps needed to keep it simple and build in the history around what is important to the product and organization.  Documenting and maintaining the basics isn’t just “a nice to know” it is a need to know for future success.  Don’t take it from me–take it from the “Old Shoe Dog” who knew how to make it right.


Author,  Jennifer  Johnson recently attained the  OD Certified Consultant distinction.   Jennifer is a sought after Coach and Consultant who can be reached directly at


The Institute of Organization Development (IOD) is recognized as one of the top 5 organizations offering OD Professional Development –  If you would like more information regarding our OD Certification Programs, please contact us at



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