Organization Development as a Profession: Will Certification or Licensing Help You Choose Your Consultant?


Should the profession of Organization Development (OD) require professional certification or licensing for practitioners to practice?

As we look to the future of OD, some questions come to mind :

–  Should anyone wanting to “hang out a shingle” as an OD practitioner be allowed to do so?

–  Should there be minimum educational requirements?  If so, what should they be?

–  Should OD practitioners be licensed through a formal licensing or certification process?

–  How would a governing body for licensing or certification be “selected”?

–  What risks to the OD profession are posed if licensing or certification is required?

–  How do you market your practice to differentiate and distinguish yourself?

Having practiced in the field for 30 years, now, I have seen OD grow to encompass a broad range of “specialty” areas beyond its origins in the area of “group dynamics”, “human relations research”, and “action research” back in the 1940’s and 50’s.  (See the Wikipedia article on OD here). Over the past nearly 60 years, the field of OD has grown and expanded to include a multitude of “sub-disciplines”, including organization design, change management, executive coaching and development, team building, appreciative inquiry (AI), future search, systems theory, employee engagement, organizational culture/climate, employee surveys, performance improvement, process improvement, strategic planning–the list goes on and on.

As with any field – whether it be medicine, law, chemistry, biology, engineering, etc. – this trend toward increased specialization affords exciting opportunities for people practicing in these fields to deepen their skills and knowledge in areas that are valued by society.  Just as deepening the field of medicine in, say, the specialization of oncology, can lead to new and more effective treatments for cancer, so can deepening the field of OD in, say, the specialization of organization design, can lead to new and more effective organizational forms.

But imagine that you are a potential client for a project that requires you to hire an OD consultant, and that project is going to cost your business $500K for the next 6 months.  You put out a request for proposal (RFP) stating your requirements, wait for the proposals to come in, and then interview the top finalists.  How do you, the somewhat uninformed client, know how to identify the right consultant or consulting firm?  They all claim to be OD consultants.  They all claim to have the right experience.  Each one of them tells you a different story about your problem, one saying that it’s a “performance management” problem, another saying that it’s a “reengineering problem”, and yet another saying that your executive team needs team-building or executive coaching.  How do you, as a client, know how to sort through the inevitable “BS” and make an informed buying decision?

Now, imagine that you’re the OD consultant!  How do you avoid being a “Johnny-one-note” with a “pet solution” designed to fit every problem?  (In other words, a hammer in search of a nail!)  Or how do you differentiate yourself from “OD wannabees” who have had little to no formal education or training in OD without sounding arrogant or prideful?  Or how do you market yourself so that you demonstrate depth in key (hopefully marketable) areas, without becoming so narrowly specialized that you miss out on potentially interesting and profitable consulting opportunities?

Paradigm shifts aside, for now let’s consider the future of OD as a cohesive “field”: OD “purists” and those who teach in academic institutions continually emphasize the need for empirical research and scientific methods in the field of OD to establish the validity of OD interventions and give the profession its due credibility in the business world.  But as a seasoned OD practitioner, how often are you asked for scientific evidence for your recommendations, or for the statistical validation of the efficacy of your group facilitation techniques?  I would imagine, however, that you have been asked to share specific examples of where your efforts have led to measurable improvements in business results and/or increased employee engagement. I am eager to hear from other professionals and engage in a debate on these matters!

(We encourage public comments! Private comments may be sent to Chagen_at_PlusDelta_dot_net)

Posted in business, OD Insights, OD Network Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,
2 comments on “Organization Development as a Profession: Will Certification or Licensing Help You Choose Your Consultant?
  1. The question of certification is an interesting one for both clients and consultants.

    When trying to make the right choice, I think first the client needs to determine what levels and types of experience they need. How important is a track record in their industry or with the type of OD engagement they need (org change, tech adoption, coaching, learning, teamwork, conflict, org design, etc.)? Then they need to decide what other attributes will be important, including education, but also many other factors. I find that a specific certification or degree is not a top criteria for most people. More important is the “fit” or chemistry between the consultant(s) and the client(s). Prior experience of the client also makes a big difference. What has worked or not worked with other consultants before?

    Maybe most important is a direct referral from someone who has worked with the consultant before.

    If I thought any certification could guarantee success in any given engagement, I would advise clients to look for that, but I have not found one yet.

    For consultants, I would say get any certification you want to learn and become more effective and valuable, but do not do it only expecting to gain more clients. Some of the best and most sought after consultants I know have no certification or degree in “OD”.

  2. crishagen says:

    Great post, Michael! Thanks for responding. You've confirmed what I, too, believe to be true, and that is that the reputation of the consultant (through word of mouth, referral, or prior relationship) is key to getting hired as a consultant. Proven results is always the key to success.


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