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How new OD mindsets can empower leaders, employees and organisations

Organisational development as a field is constantly evolving and adapting to suit modern ways of working.

OD practitioners are always looking for the best ways to support organisations, leaders, employees and stakeholders, and this means being forward-thinking and research-driven in their approach. It is through this constant moving forward, looking for better ways of working, doing, structure and process, that OD practitioners are able to help businesses with any issues they may be facing. 

As a result of this ever-evolving approach to their work, OD practitioners and the field of organisational psychology, design, effectiveness, and development are able to brainstorm and solve complex problems with new mindsets that allow for complexity, and natural change processes to surface. 

With the recent COVID-19 crisis, finding ways for organisations to keep advancing and exploring new ways of working are essential. 

New OD mindsets, as discussed by Francis and Holbeche, include the following ideas:

Language and Action

The use of language as a practice, not just description or communication. This is understanding how language is interwoven and can shape reality for the listener depending on context, delivery and relationship between listener and speaker. Language and action also looks at the idea that leaders (or speakers) need to be ‘conversationally responsible’, and acknowledge that their words, the delivery and context of them, will have a wider reaching impact than they often realise. 

Authenticity and Mutuality

This places emphasis on employees becoming active players who are involved with driving change and creating their own work environment. It focuses on building skills and capabilities for all staff to create a more mutually beneficial and authentic environment to work and thrive in. This mindset also encourages senior managers and employees to create new ways of working, and create methods that focus on sharing power and responsibility at work. 

Paradox and Ambiguity

There is a need to confront the idea that anything perceived as risky or challenging to management control is stifled – this is untrue in many organisations, but there can be a sense of ‘self preservation’ in business and resistance to change based on fear. A paradox and ambiguity mindset instead focuses on creating progressive management and organisational effectiveness that allows for ‘constructive tension.’ This allows room for discussion to open up and new ways of working and managing to challenge current constructs and explore new methods. It works to balance all levels of tensions, desired outcomes and team or individual needs against those of the business. 

Leadership and Management

As a staple of good business practice, the leadership and management mindset takes the angle of challenging conventional leadership, instead looking to promote employee agency and autonomy in practice. By focusing on promoting leadership forms that are distributed, dispersed or otherwise shared, as it is more likely to result in greater innovation and employee involvement. This mindset also works with HR to act as the ethical touchpoint for organisational development, allowing commercial outcomes and humanistic values to be realised. 

What is important is that these mindsets are approached in ways that better understand what employees and leaders need from each other in the dynamic of the organisation. For example, language and action – how we understand language and the context of it, including how language in the hands of leaders can effectively shape reality for those on the receiving end, is a focus area for developing community and organisational culture. 

In an era of media overload, we are likely to turn to people we trust to get an understanding of what’s happening around us. In organisations, we turn to our leaders; we trust them to give us the truth and reality of a situation. Language has gone beyond a simple communication tool and now instead has the power to shape the reality of the organisation. Language that displays transparency, honesty, and empowerment of individuals can be heartening for employees. More organisations are likely to make use of it as a method and mindset in their way of working and structuring. 

Why new mindsets now?

So much of the context behind the new OD mindsets reflects a shift in the desires of employees. People have a greater desire for flexible working hours, more autonomous ways of working, and to spend more time working on themselves – whether that is through further education, developing new skills, spending time with friends and family, or looking after mental and physical health. People are more aware of their own health and wellbeing than ever before, and they want to feel and be healthier – including at work. Employees have a desire for accountability and autonomy, and when this is achieved, better staff wellbeing and ways of working are easier to work towards and realise.

Employees that are encouraged to expand and develop their skills do benefit a business, but whether the business should be the one to facilitate self-development or employees should take accountability for their development is a new area of opportunity. Business pressures may not always have alignment with the desires of employees, but in order to keep moving forwards and adapting to modern ways of working, a level of flexibility and finding a medium between the operational needs of the business and the desires of employees will need to be balanced.

One of the best things OD practitioners can do in imparting these new mindsets to organisations is to collaborate with HR teams internally, as well as leaders, stakeholders, and employees. By engaging with HR, practitioners can share their ‘outside’ perspective on an organisation, while gaining intimate details of how relationships and power dynamics function within. HR is also close to c-suite stakeholders, and as a balancing force between the business needs and the employee needs, OD practitioners can work effectively with HR to impart these new, more empowering mindsets and ideas while helping an organisation restructure, resolve pain points and overcome issues they may be facing. 

An Example of HR and OD collaboration

As HR teams are increasingly required to be involved in more OD-style practices, including employee engagement and staff wellbeing, they will inevitably need support and collaboration from OD practitioners who can help guide them down the right path. OD practitioners, when entrenched within an organisation, can help educate line managers, team leaders, stakeholders, and even influential employees – all of which will help find the right way of working for the organisation to achieve better results for all in the long term. 

With the uncertain climate around COVID-19 looking set to continue for some time, the benefits that can be realised with the help of OD practitioners is more important than ever. Employee health and wellbeing programmes and initiatives can be developed with OD practitioners and supported by existing HR staff. This type of workplace wellbeing investment can help staff develop greater emotional awareness and clarity, advance their communication skills in this challenging time, understand self-reflection, and promote self-care practices.

Practitioners can also support management and leadership in helping them to manage change effectively (particularly if a restructure or change in working is needed). Part of managing change effectively means helping leadership to have difficult conversations, implementing new organisational design structures, as well as creating reward and recognition programmes that build on the wellbeing investment. 

By embracing new mindsets in OD, organisations can start to put employee wellbeing at the heart of their operations, which ultimately feeds into all areas of productivity, efficiency, innovation, motivation and commitment.  


Francis, H, Holbeche, L and Reddington, M (2012). People and Organisational Development: A New Agenda for Organisational Effectiveness. Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, London. 

Holbeche, L and Sprigett, N (2004). In Search of Meaning in the Workplace. Roffey Park Institute Ltd, Horsham

Distributed Leadership https://www.businessballs.com/leadership-philosophies/distributed-leadership/


Carol Dweck ‘What Having a Growth Mindset Actually Means’ https://leadlocal.global/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Dweck-What-Having-a-%E2%80%9CGrowth-Mindset%E2%80%9D-Actually-Means-HBR.pdf

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