Gaining Clarity in What You Care About Most Deeply in Your OD Work

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    (This post was written by co-host, John Dupre.)

    I was recently talking to a group of students in a master’s program in OD. They were interested in pursuing OD consulting, whether it be internal or external. The problem with offering advice is that there are so many definitions of OD now. The profession has become filled with niche players……executive coaching, team building, process improvement, change management, etc. The days of listening to clients talk about what they are struggling with and coming up with an original proposal are over. We now have expert solutions often in search of problems.

    Nonetheless, it’s critical to figure out what you care most deeply about in your work….. what gives you passion and what values you aren’t willing to violate. This can then serve as a compass to guide you through your career. I can still remember the exact moment I gained clarity for myself……

    Years ago I was interviewing for a job in a large consulting firm in NYC. They put me through a long, exhaustive interviewing process before they finally offered me the job. I was excited about the offer. It paid quite well and I liked the consultants who I had met.

    After they had offered me the position but before I had accepted, I was sitting in the Senior Partner’s office informally chatting. He wanted to get a sense of the type of work that I loved so he asked me to describe a project that I had enjoyed.

    I thought about it and said, “ I love two types of projects. On one hand, I like projects that enable me to work with employees to figure out how to improve their business. For example, say I’m working with a team of people representing a bottling operation in a brewery, and the team has figured out how to redesign the bottling operation to reduce costs, simplify the process, and increase production. I love that type of project.”

    “On the other hand, I love projects in which there are none of those types of breakthroughs. But, at the same time, several people come up to me, shake my hand and say, “ I just wanted to thank you. You have changed my life at work. You have pushed me to act with courage, you have helped me accept my own contribution to problems, and you have challenged me to take responsibility. I’ll never be the same.”

    “ I also love that type of project.” And then I paused and said, “Actually, the projects that I love the most are those second types….. they are more personal and more sustaining.” The moment that I said this, I could see the Senior Partner kissing me off. Not in a cruel way. He just realized that it was not a good fit. So he said, “ I don’t think you should accept the offer, John. You are more interested in personal change, in having an impact on people. In many ways, you are more of a social activist. This is worthy, but it is not our intent. We focus on business results, your first type of project….. the project you did not choose.”

    It hit me over the head. He was absolutely right. I had never really thought about it—the high salary and the glamour of the position had seduced me. I loved organizational change projects and had years of experience in leading them. But I was passionate about changing peoples’ lives at work. It’s what I cared most deeply about. They are both connected but are not the same thing. So, I turned down the offer and began to shift directions in my career.

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    For more resources, see the Library topics Consulting and Organizational Development.

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    John Dupre is an organization development consultant who designs innovative ways to involve people in building more productive and satisfying workplaces. He can be reached at http://www.johndupreconsulting.com/.