Organisational risk – how to soothe your CEO's brow

Why we need to up the game on how we talk about organisational development

I have been associated with organisational development (OD) for around twenty years now, and many of the individuals and HR functions with whom I work still ask the same question: ‘What is OD? How do I get the senior team engaged in it?’

In this question lies the essence of OD, for there is no single answer. Why? Because OD is contextual to a specific organisation. I think we have muddied the water by being too introspective around OD in many instances – presenting it as a particular set of approaches to effectively manage change. As such, it becomes difficult to distinguish between OD and other disciplines, such as change management, team effectiveness, skills development, efficiency improvement and similar topics. These are very HR-centric perspectives of OD. However, if we put ourselves in the shoes of our CEO, and consider how they look at the world; we uncover a much more powerful opportunity.

You see, the principle deliverable of a CEO is confidence among stakeholders – confidence in an organisation’s health, its sustainability, its future ambitions and in the growth of value over time. Strategy itself is just a promise about the future; a post-dated cheque that must be cashed by the structures, processes, systems, skills and behaviours of an organisation. As such, a CEO’s focus is very much on understanding the validity and achievability of the promises they are making. They do not have the expertise to assess the implications of strategy on the organisation, or where the risks to delivery may lie, but HR does.

HR can add massive value to the top team by picking up this challenge. It doesn’t matter whether it is called ‘OD’, ‘organisational capability’ or nothing at all; unless HR is connecting the strategy ahead of time with the big-ticket organisational risks and the people who will enable its execution, then the strategy is ultimately in the hands of fate.

This is exactly how we start the conversation around OD in the one-day Henley OD Masterclass. We examine what OD means in the context of our own organisations, look at how it can shed light on what matters most to our top teams, and then how we can create value, not through working at project level, but by creating insights around both current effectiveness and future risks to strategy in a joined up and cost-effective way.


Professor Nick Kemsley

Co-director, Henley Centre for HR Excellence

Nick is a highly experienced HR practitioner, and has led organisational development, resourcing, talent and leadership, performance and L&D functions in a number of major businesses. He has an industry reputation as someone who challenges both HR and wider business to think differently and is a creator of innovative thinking in the organisational arena. He works with Boards and HR functions on a variety of topics including organisational capability and risk, strategy, workforce planning and HR effectiveness.  As Co-Director of the Henley Centre for HR Excellence he contributes to its research and member events as well as the design and delivery of custom programmes for corporate clients.